Mortgage Rates Hinder Homebuilding, Stalling Housing Market | ORBITAL AFFAIRS

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The State of Homebuilding in the U.S.: High Mortgage Rates and Housing Shortages

Key Takeaways

  • Homebuilding stalled out in May and builders are not optimistic about the near future.
  • Economists have said more homes need to be built to meet housing demand.
  • The Federal Reserve’s fight against inflation has raised interest rates, keeping many buyers out of the market.

If the U.S. is to build its way out of the current housing shortage, it needs homebuilding to take off like a rocket. In May, at least, it fizzled on the launchpad. The pace of homebuilding slowed in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.28 million per year, the Census Bureau said Thursday. That’s down from 1.35 million in April and well below the 1.38 million forecasters expected, according to a survey of economists from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. It was also the slowest pace of new home construction since June 2020.

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Building permits, an indicator of future groundbreaking, were also down, falling to an annual rate of 1.39 million from 1.44 million in April, and missing the median forecast for 1.45 million.

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There’s no lack of people who need new homes. High demand for housing, driven partly by a worsening housing shortage, has pushed home prices to record highs. But those high prices, combined with high mortgage rates, have pushed monthly mortgage payments out of reach of many would-be buyers.

“The scarcity of existing homes on the market should benefit new construction, though affordability remains a substantial challenge for many homebuyers, particularly those purchasing for the first time,” wrote Wells Fargo economists Sam Bullard and Patrick Barley.

Homebuilders Aren’t Optimistic

As a result of high mortgage rates, leaders in the homebuilding industry have become pessimistic that customers can afford what they build.

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The June edition of the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, which measures how builders assess business conditions, fell to its lowest level since last December, the association said Wednesday. At a rating of 43, the indicator stayed below the significant “50” mark, which indicates more builders believe the outlook is good rather than bad.

“Builders are in an ‘if you build them, they won’t come’ market, as continued high mortgage rates keep more potential buyers out of the market,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union. “Real relief to the housing crisis may now have to wait until next year when, presumably, the Fed will reduce rates as inflation continues its slow decline.”

A Federal Reserve Rate Cut Could Loosen the Gridlock

There is some possible relief on the horizon for potential homebuyers.

The average rate for a 30-year mortgage offered this week was 6.87%, continuing a downward trend that began in early May, according to Freddie Mac. However, that’s still far above the record low of 2.65% reached in 2021.

Mortgage rates are influenced by the fed funds rate, which the Federal Reserve has kept at a 23-year high in order to drive up borrowing costs, reduce borrowing and spending in the economy, and keep inflation in check.

Inflation has been more tame in the past few months and that has made financial markets hopeful the Fed might cut its key interest rate later in the year, potentially providing some relief on mortgage rates.

“While a growing population and workforce are providing some support, U.S. home builders won’t become busier until borrowing costs fall,” wrote Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO. “Thankfully, this is one more report pushing the needle toward a Fed rate cut later this year.”

Overall, the state of homebuilding in the U.S. is facing challenges due to high mortgage rates and a housing shortage. Builders are struggling to meet demand while potential buyers are being priced out of the market. However, there is hope on the horizon with the possibility of a Federal Reserve rate cut that could provide some relief to both builders and buyers alike.

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