Wednesday, May 13, 2009

MEW, Consumption and Personal Saving Rate

by Bill McBride on 5/13/2009 09:29:00 PM

Here is a new paper on Mortgage Equity Withdrawal (MEW): House Prices, Home Equity-Based Borrowing, and the U.S. Household Leverage Crisis by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi (both University of Chicago Booth School of Business and NBER) (ht Jan Hatzius)

From the authors abstract (the entire paper is available at the link):

Using individual-level data on homeowner debt and defaults from 1997 to 2008, we show that borrowing against the increase in home equity by existing homeowners is responsible for a significant fraction of both the sharp rise in U.S. household leverage from 2002 to 2006 and the increase in defaults from 2006 to 2008. Employing land topology-based housing supply elasticity as an instrument for house price growth, we estimate that the average homeowner extracts 25 to 30 cents for every dollar increase in home equity. Money extracted from increased home equity is not used to purchase new real estate or pay down high credit card debt, which suggests that consumption is a likely use of borrowed funds. Home equity-based borrowing is stronger for younger households, households with low credit scores, and households with high initial credit card utilization rates. Homeowners in high house price appreciation areas experience a relative decline in default rates from 2002 to 2006 as they borrow heavily against their home equity, but experience very high default rates from 2006 to 2008. Our estimates suggest that home equity based borrowing is equal to 2.3% of GDP every year from 2002 to 2006, and accounts for over 20% of new defaults in the last two years.
emphasis added
A couple of key points:

  • "[W]e estimate that the average homeowner extracts 25 to 30 cents for every dollar increase in home equity."

  • "[T]hese findings lend support to the view that home equity-based borrowing is used for consumption."

    And this brings us to the personal saving rate.

    In an earlier post I argued that the saving rate declined into the early '90s because of demographic changes, however I expected the saving rate to start to rise as the boomers reached their mid-40s (in the late 1990s). Obviously this didn't happen.

    I posited that the wealth effect from the twin bubbles - stock market and housing - had led the boomers into believing they had saved more than they actually had.

    This research suggests that MEW played a significant role in suppressing the saving rate too. And since the Home ATM is now closed, this is more evidence that the saving rate will increase (probably back to 8% or so) - and keep pressure on the growth of personal consumption expenditures (PCE).

    For background, here are couple of graphs:

    Personal Saving Rate Click on graph for large image.

    The first graph shows the annual saving rate back to 1929.

    Notice that the saving rate went negative during the Depression as household used savings to supplement income. And the saving rate rose to over 25% during WWII.

    There is a long period of a rising saving rate (from after WWII to about 1974) and a long period of a declining saving rate (from the early '80s to 2008). (corrected text)

    Some of the change in saving rate was related to demographics. As the large baby boom cohort entered the work force in the mid '70s, the saving rate declined (younger families usually save less). But, as I noted above, I expected the saving rate to start to increase in the last '90s.

    And here are the Kennedy-Greenspan estimates (NSA - not seasonally adjusted) of home equity extraction through Q4 2008, provided by Jim Kennedy based on the mortgage system presented in "Estimates of Home Mortgage Originations, Repayments, and Debt On One-to-Four-Family Residences," Alan Greenspan and James Kennedy, Federal Reserve Board FEDS working paper no. 2005-41.

    NOTE: Anyone who wants the Equity Extraction data, please see this post for a spreadsheet and how to credit Dr. Kennedy's work.

    Kennedy Greenspan Active Mortgage Equity Withdrawal This graph shows what Dr. Kennedy calls "active MEW" (Mortgage Equity Withdrawal). This is defined as "Gross cash out" plus the change in the balance of "Home equity loans".

    This measure is near zero ($7.2 billion for the quarter) and is an estimate of the impact of MEW on consumption. When people refinance with cash out or draw down HELOCs, they usually spend the money.