Wednesday Briefs – 21 April 2021

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THIS WEEK: The Billionaires’ Skyline; Troop Movements in Ukraine and Afghanistan; Immunity and Secrecy.

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Wednesday Briefs – 21 October 2020

A weekly commentary on current events. Follow populyst to receive notification.

This week: Coronavirus Third Wave; Housing’s Boom and Bust; Are the Polls Wrong?; Where the Media Would Miss Trump; Reading List.

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How Refinancings Fueled the Housing Bubble

The wave of mortgage refinancing by millions of households has distorted the housing market and contributed to the 2000s bubble.

It makes sense for a household to refinance their mortgage when interest rates decline. In addition to lowering monthly payments, refinancing can be highly advantageous if home prices have risen from the time of the initial mortgage.

But are the millions of refinancings also distorting housing’s supply and demand and de facto feeding the real estate bubble? In my view, YES. I make the case below.

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In essence, market prices are set at the margin when a small percentage of properties changes hands. When conditions are favorable, prices will trend upward because the supply is small and the demand is higher. But when large numbers of homeowners refinance, they are able to monetize the higher value of their homes without – and this is the key point – adding their homes to the overall supply. When a household refinances their mortgage and takes cash out in the process, they are liquidating part of their property through a private transaction without adding to the official supply.

As an example, say a household has a $400,000 mortgage on a $500,000 home. Five years later, the home is valued at $750,000 and interest rates have dropped from 6% to 4%. The household decides to refinance and to maintain its monthly payment at the same level. Because interest rates are lower, it is able to increase the loan from $400,000 to about $500,000 without increasing its monthly payment. By now, the principal on the old mortgage has dropped to $375,000 and the owner can extract $125,000 in cash during the refinancing process. This amount is the difference between the new mortgage $500,000 minus the principal outstanding on the old mortgage $375,000. So far so good.

But what happened to the homeowner’s equity in his home? On the eve of refinancing, the owner’s equity in his home was $750,000 – $375,000 = $375,000, equivalent to 50% of the new market value.

After refinancing, the owner owes $500,000 and his equity has dropped from $375,000 to $250,000 ($750,000 market value – $500,000 new mortgage), equivalent to 33% of the new market value.

Because the owner now has $125,000 of extra cash, you could say that he “sold” 17% (50%-33%) of his home equity for $125,000. The owner was able to sell one sixth of his house without subjecting his transaction to the pricing scrutiny of the market and without adding to the official supply. This is not a big issue if only a few people refinance their mortgage, but it could, and probably did, distort the normal mechanism of supply and demand when millions of people refinance.

Through refinancing, a large number of households have monetized their home values (or fractions thereof) through private transactions. Had there been an open liquid supply and demand market where existing homeowners actually sold 17% of their homes, the values of all properties would have been reset at lower levels, owing to the existing homes fractional sales.

Further exacerbating the distortion, the household may have taken that $125,000 cash and made a down payment on a second home, giving a further boost to home prices. So, a transaction figure, $125,000, which would have depressed prices under normal supply and demand conditions ended up pushing prices higher.

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Putting this in the right context, we see in the chart above that the volume of existing home sales in the US now has an annual run rate of approximately 4.8 million units. According to the US Census bureau, there are nearly 133 million housing units in the country, which means that 3.6% change hands every year. So the market value of all residential property in America is determined by the marginal 3.6% that transact annually. Yet, using the model above, if we said that 10% of homeowners “sell” say 10% of their homes by refinancing, that would amount to an additional 1.33 million homes sold or a 28% increase which should have been added to the supply, had the fractional sale occurred in the open market rather than through a private transaction between owner and lender.

The general issue is that 20% or more of transactions took place in private deals between owners and lenders without any competitive bidding or the disciplining effect of supply and demand. It is a fair bet that without these refinancings and private deals, the real estate market could have avoided the bubble of the 2000s decade and could skirt the new bubble now threatening in some cities.

Other populyst posts on housing and real estate:

Manhattan Real Estate: A Conversation with Lisa Larson

New Home Sales: Better but Still Historically Weak

US Demographics and Housing

New Home Sales: Better but Still Historically Weak

New home sales for February were stronger than expected, at an annualized pace of 539,000 units vs. 465,000 expected. This is good news because it is the highest number since early 2008. However, the chart below shows that we are still dealing with a depressed single-family housing market.

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First, it is clear that we are very far below the peak recorded near 1.4 million in the mid-2000s. Second, if we dismiss that period as an irrational bubble, it is still a fact that a 539,000 reading is in the bottom half of the historic range of 400K-800K. In fact, if we ignore recessionary periods (shaded areas), new home construction has not been this low since the 1960s when the US population totaled under 200 million vs. about 320 million now and when household size was larger than it is today.

It is true that multi-family construction is now more prominent than in the past and that it mitigates the sluggishness in single-family construction. As seen below, multi-family housing volumes now exceed the high preceding the 2008 crisis.

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But if we use a back of the envelope approach and use a figure in the low 300,000 multi-family annual units as an historic average, we could say that the last multi-family reading is about 150,000 units above average. We could then argue that these 150,000 were ‘shifted’ from single-family homes. (That may be a generous assumption, considering that a large share of these multi-family buildings are destined to be rentals. Nonetheless the higher demand for rentals can also be considered a secular ‘shift’ that should be counted.)

Without this shift in living preferences, we could then argue that single-family sales would have been about 150,000 higher and closer to a 700,000 annual pace. That is a much better figure than 539,000 but still not very robust compared to the past, given low interest rates, the growth in population and the decrease in household size. In my view, keeping these factors in mind, an adjusted figure north of 800,000 single-family units would be closer to the historic norm. We should therefore be looking for a monthly report of at least 650,000 single family homes before we can talk about a return to normal.

In US Housing and Demographics, I made an argument three years ago that the housing market would be weak until at least 2020 because of adverse demographics. So far, it looks like the recent data supports my thesis. Homebuilder stocks have risen since then. This is based in part on optimistic anticipation of greater home sales, and in part on the fact that homebuilders have been quite adept at identifying and directing their efforts at higher growth areas of the country.

 

What’s Holding Back Affordable Housing in India?

The demand is huge but poor infrastructure, antiquated business models, government bureaucracy and lack of financing are all impediments.

From KNOWLEDGE@WHARTON:

When real estate developer Xrbia recently launched a 170-acre housing project in Hinjwadi, a suburb on the outskirts of Pune in Maharashtra, all the 3,400 apartment units were sold within a week. The biggest unit in this apartment complex was 550 square feet and the smallest was close to 250 square feet. The units were priced at Rs. 22 lakh (around US$40,000) and Rs. 9 lakh (US$ 16,000) respectively.

Pointing to the quick sale of these homes, Rajesh Krishnan, managing director and CEO of Brick Eagle, a Mumbai-based land banking firm that acquires land and promotes affordable housing in partnership with developers, says: “In a way, this shows the demand-supply gap [in the affordable housing segment in India]. People physically queue up under the sun to apply for allotment of these houses.” He considers affordable housing in India to be homes that cost less than US$40,000. READ MORE.

USA: Will Property Prices Need a Crutch as the Population Ages?

MARK HESCHMEYER at the COSTAR GROUP writes:

There has been much speculation that single-family housing prices could take a hit as increasing numbers of baby boomers downsize and leave larger homes behind as they move into retirement age. That assumption is too general to be entirely accurate, according a pair of major economic papers on the topic of aging and property prices.

What is clear is that this ongoing population shift holds important ramifications for the multifamily property sector, including senior and assisted living facilities. And it is also becoming an issue of increasing importance for commercial real estate investment researchers.

“As Baby Boomers enter retirement age, many ’empty nesters’ may downsize, leaving their current homes in favor of smaller condos or age-restricted communities. Therefore, prices for large single-family homes located in high property tax areas could be under pressure over the next decade,” Tim Wang, senior vice president and head of investment research for Clarion Partners in New York, told CoStar News. “However, seniors today are often healthier and live longer; because of this we believe it is still premature to invest in assisted living or nursing homes.” READ MORE.

Video: ‘Detropia’ Official Trailer

From DETROPIA’s website, by Caroline Libresco:

Detroit’s story has encapsulated the iconic narrative of America over the last century— the Great Migration of African Americans escaping Jim Crow; the rise of manufacturing and the middle class; the love affair with automobiles; the flowering of the American dream; and now . . . the collapse of the economy and the fading American mythos. With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, DETROPIA sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. These soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive postindustrial America and begins to envision a radically different future.

DETROPIA Trailer from Loki Films on Vimeo.

Nine Out of 10 Latin Americans Will Live in Cities by 2050

Region is already the world’s most urbanized, with 80 percent of the population living in cities. 

FROM FOX NEWS LATINO:

RIO DE JANEIRO –  Almost nine out of every 10 people in Latin America will live in a city by the year 2050, and the region should use this moment of economic stability and slower population growth to make those cities more equitable, said a UN report issued Tuesday.

The report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme said the region is already the world’s most urbanized, with 80 percent of the population living in cities. This growth came at a cost: it was “traumatic and at times violent because of its speed, marked by the deterioration of the environment and above all, by a deep social inequality,” the report said.

“The main challenge is how to develop in a way that curbs the enormous inequalities that exist within cities,” said Erik Vittrup, the head of human settlements of UN-Habitat’s regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean. “There are other cities that have been through these urban transformations and don’t have this level of inequality. It goes against the economic model in Latin America. Cities didn’t grow more inclusive; the prosperity wasn’t for everyone.” READ MORE.

China Entering Demographic Danger Zone, BOJ Official Says

PATRICK HARRINGTON writes at BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK:

China is entering a “danger zone”where a financial crisis may become more likely because of increases in loans and property prices coinciding with an aging of the population, a Bank of Japan (8301) official said.

“If a demographic change, a property-price bubble, and a steep increase in loans coincide, then a financial crisis seems more likely,” BOJ Deputy Governor Kiyohiko Nishimura said in a speech for a conference in Sydney, posted on the central bank’s website today. “And China is now entering the danger zone.”

China is at risk of emulating crises in Japan in the 1990s and the U.S. in the 2000s, according to Nishimura, who cited a Chinese working-age population that is “close” to peaking as a proportion of the total. Demographic changes can provide fertile ground for “malign property bubbles” because of the effect on demand for real estate, he said. READ MORE.