While in the thick of a recession, the strongest countervailing force that set the stage for the mother of all rebounds, apart from lower prices, was lower interest rates.
All said, the housing market has gone beyond retracing its steps and fully recovering from the end of 2007 – which had marked the peak of a half-decade long boom, concentrated in Western Canada…As of October, both sales and the average price stood 5% higher than their respective 2007 peak…But now that home values are already past their previous peak in such short order, we estimate that the typical home remains overvalued by 12% at the national level. Unfortunately, sheer momentum suggests that this overvaluation is likely to increase over the course of the next few quarters, peaking at 13-15% in H1/2010.
The misalignment of home prices with their fundamental drivers, such as demographics and income, cannot last. That much is known…Because a necessary realignment has been erased so quickly without support from income growth, another adjustment must take place – although it could take many forms. As of our writing this note, early signs of market cooling are emerging and our analysis still suggests the most likely outcome is a soft landing and relative stagnation of home values in real-terms along with a resumption of stronger income growth over the 2011-13 time frame.
As the central bank begins to hint at a tightening monetary policy cycle in the second half of next year, sales could well see a last gasp of strength. Moreover, by that time, the availability of units on the supply side should provide a relief valve helping to cool price growth. And, by 2011, while the overall economy will have improved significantly, housing markets will be losing momentum.
While current price levels are above what we estimate to be long run fundamental values, they do not appear so dramatically out of line as to warrant a sharp correction in the near-term…As for price momentum, it is more clearly unsustainable…Recall that every price increase that is not matched by a commensurate income gain increases the overvaluation gap. Second, more supply should come online in the first half of 2010 in the form of new home and condo completions.
The current market tightness, as measured by the sales-to-listings ratio (limited inventory), while expected to ease gradually over the course of 2010, will not turn on a dime. As a consequence, it will be supportive of price growth in 2010 that is stronger than fundamentals can support over the long haul. After climbing by an estimated 4-5% on an annual basis this year, the average existing home price is expected to gain another 9-10% in 2010 as sales climb to 475K.
In closing, we note that the most important downside risk to our near-term forecast is not that the market cools more than we anticipate. While this risk certainly exists, it would not cause significant market disruptions, and it would ensure that affordability does not continue to erode at the current pace. The risk is rather that the market remains as hot as it currently is for too long, eventually running head-on into monetary policy tightening (and longer term bond yields rising). There is more than adequate time for the housing market to cool before then, but history suggests that if it fails to do so, the ensuing adjustment would be a rude awakening.
Thanks to Larry Yatkowsky of Vancouver’s Yatter Matters for the heads up on this report. See Larry’s overview, “Green Chair Talks.”
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