Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Housing permits and starts decline slightly, but housing still an economic positive over the next 12 months


 - by New Deal democrat

Housing permits and starts declined, but not by much, in April.

Importantly, while typically permits, especially single family permits, lead these series, in the past year there has been a unique divergence between permits and starts due to construction supply shortages.  This has been reflected in the number of housing units authorized but not started increasing to 50+ year records. In April that number declined by a tiny 0.6 million annualized to 293.3: 

As a result, I am paying the most attention to the three month average of housing starts (blue in the graph below) for the time being, as these reflect actual economic activity, vs. permits (gold) which don’t. And that three month average increased slightly to 1.743 annualized, a new 15 year record:

Meanwhile, single family permits (red above, right scale) declined .53 million units annualized to a 5 month low of 1.110. This is -9% off from their peak in January 2021, and does give us the best signal as to where housing is going in the near future.

And what does that future hold? Below are the YoY% change in starts (blue) and single family starts (red), vs. the YoY change in mortgage rates (inverted, *10 for scale), showing that mortgage rates are higher by 2% YoY (shown as -20%). The last time this drastic an increase in mortgage rates YoY happened was in 1994. Note that housing permits and starts declined 20% in the next year, and changes in mortgage rates in 1999 and 2018 resulted in similar declines in permits in starts in 2000 and 2019.  At present the three month average of starts is still 13% higher YoY, while single family permits are now down -4% YoY:

The “demographic tailwind” that buoyed housing activity 5 and 10 years ago has dissipated, as the number of 25-35 year old first time buyers has stopped increasing. Thus I expect a 20% YoY decline in housing permits and starts to manifest in roughly the coming 12 months. But while ordinarily that would be a major negative long leading indicator, actual construction starts mean the downturn will be delayed until the 50+ year record backlog has been cleared - which might take another 6 to 12 months. Since starts are the actual, hard economic activity, this indicates that housing is still going to make a positive to the economy looking out ahead 12 months.