Markets are flattish ahead of the Brexit vote tomorrow. Bonds and MBS are down small.
Mortgage Applications rose 2.9% last week as purchases fell 2.4% and refis rose 6.5%. Refis rose to 57.7% of all loans as rates bombed out on the FOMC decision.
The FHFA House Price index rose 0.2% in April, and is up 5.9% year-over-year. Interestingly, New England went from cellar-dweller to the leader in monthly price appreciation. The region is still lagging the most on a YOY basis however. The FHFA index is the only housing price index that has regained all of the losses from the crisis. This is because it concentrates only on houses with a conforming mortgage, so it ignores the all-cash distressed sales and the jumbo space.
Existing home sales rose 1.8% in May to 5.53 million. This is the highest pace since February 2007. The median house price was $239,700 up 4.7% YOY. Total housing inventory is at 2.15 million units, which represents a 4.7 month supply. Inventory is still tight. The first time homebuyer accounted for 30% of all sales, a decrease from last month and last year. Days on market dropped to 32 days, a record.
On Lennar’s earnings conference call, CEO Stuart Miller summed up Lennar’s view of the housing market. In a way, he also explained why housing starts remain so low. “As we’ve noted consistently over the past years, the overall housing market has been generally defined by a rather large production deficit that has continued to grow over the past years. While questions have been raised as to the real normalized levels of production that are required to serve the U.S. current population, we believe that production levels in the 1 million to 1.2 million starts per year range are still too low for the needs of American household growth that is now normalizing.While measuring current production levels against historical norms of 1.5 million starts per year might be flawed logic as there may be a new normal, we believe that the very low inventory levels in existing and new homes and the low vacancy rates and high and growing rental rates for apartments indicate that we are in short supply nationally.
The idea of a “new normal” being somewhere above current production levels (1.2 million units) and the historical average (1.5 million units) is as good an explanation as any. Lennar mentioned on their call that they have been transitioning from the early growth phase of the cycle to the mature phase of the cycle. In other words, they aren’t looking for the typical 2 million level of starts you usually see in the recovery from a recession. They do give a good graphic analysis of the supply / demand state of the housing market in this slide from a recent JP Morgan housing conference.
Notice that the current level of production (sub 1.2 million units is closer to the the “housing depression” line than the “normal production” line. That would make 2009-2012 “nuclear winter.” Lennar is making the same bet a lot of other builders are making that multi-fam is the way to go as they see the Millennials happy to rent. Actually, the meta-bet they (and everyone else in the financial markets) are making is that inflation is gone, dead, buried, and never, ever, ever coming back. The only reason why you would lend money to the government for no return is that you think inflation is gone. It truly is a “this time is different” argument, which is the most dangerous argument in all of investing. Especially when every central bank on the planet is on a mission to create inflation. Inflation is a debtor’s best friend, and if the Millennials can get out from under their student loan debt, we should see a bull rush for new SFR housing. The cautious homebuilders will probably be caught with too little inventory, and will suddenly start bidding against each other for workers, land and materials. And that is how recessions end.
KB Home also reported earnings last night. Earnings were better than expected, and they see a return of the first time homebuyer. Note that the current number of first time homebuyers (30%) is well below the historical average of 40%. Average selling prices were up 2%, which is much lower than the other builders.