Saturday, December 27, 2014

Question #8 for 2015: How much will Residential Investment increase?

by Bill McBride on 12/27/2014 08:07:00 PM

Earlier I posted some questions for next year: Ten Economic Questions for 2015. I'll try to add some thoughts, and maybe some predictions for each question.

Here is a review of the Ten Economic Questions for 2014.

8) Residential Investment: Residential investment (RI) picked was up solidly in 2012 and 2013 - up 13.5% and 11.9% respectively - but RI was only up 1.6% through Q3 2014.   Note: RI is mostly investment in new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement and commissions on existing home sales.  How much will RI increase in 2015?  How about housing starts and new home sales in 2015?

A year ago, several builders told me they were optimistic for 2014 (yes, builders are almost always optimistic), and they said the 2013 problem of not enough finished lots was mostly resolved.   Still 2014 was a disappointing year with new home sales up slightly and housing starts only up about 8% (single family up 4%).  There were a number of reasons for the weak year: a severe winter, higher mortgage rates at the beginning of the year, ongoing competition from distressed sales (although that is declining), and - the main reason - higher price points (the builders really increased prices in 2013).

Once again the builders are telling me 2015 will be a good year and that the lot issue is mostly resolved ... I'm a little more skeptical this year! Also there might be some weakness in oil producing states in 2015.  Still I expect growth for both starts and new home sales in 2015.

First a graph of RI as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through Q3 2014.

Residential Investment as Percent of GDPClick on graph for larger image.

Usually residential investment is a strong contributor to GDP growth and employment in the early stages of a recovery, but not this time - and that weakness was a key reason why the recovery was sluggish. Residential investment finally turned positive during 2011 and made a solid positive contribution to GDP in both 2012 and 2013.  However RI only increased slightly in 2014.

But even with recent increases, RI as a percent of GDP is still very low - and still below the lows of previous recessions - and it seems likely that residential investment as a percent of GDP will increase further in 2015.

Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows total and single family housing starts through November 2014.

Housing starts are on pace to increase close to 8% in 2014. And even after the significant increase over the last three years, the approximately 997 thousand housing starts in 2014 will still be the 7th lowest on an annual basis since the Census Bureau started tracking starts in 1959 (the six lowest years were 2008 through 2013).

Here is a table showing housing starts over the last few years. No one should expect an increase to 2005 levels, however demographics and household formation suggest starts will return to close to the 1.5 million per year average from 1959 through 2000. That means starts will come close to increasing 50% over the next few years from the 2014 level.

Housing Starts (000s)
TotalChangeSingle FamilyChange
20052,068.3--- 1,715.8---
12014 estimated

New Home SalesThe third graph shows New Home Sales since 1963 through November 2014. The dashed line is the current sales rate.

New home sales were up less than 1% in 2014 at around 433 thousand, following increases of 20.3% in 2012, and 16.6% in 2013.

New home sales will still be competing with distressed sales (short sales and foreclosures) in  some judicial foreclosure states in 2015.    And there will be some weakness in oil producing states.

Here are some recent forecasts for housing in 2014.  My guess is growth of around 8% to 12% for new home sales, and about the same percentage growth for housing starts.  Also I think the mix between multi-family and single family starts might shift a little more towards single family in 2015.

Here are the ten questions for 2015 and a few predictions:
Question #2 for 2015: How many payroll jobs will be added in 2015?
Question #3 for 2015: What will the unemployment rate be in December 2015?
Question #4 for 2015: Will too much inflation be a concern in 2015?
Question #5 for 2015: Will the Fed raise rates in 2015? If so, when?
Question #6 for 2015: Will real wages increase in 2015?
Question #7 for 2015: What about oil prices in 2015?
Question #8 for 2015: How much will Residential Investment increase?
Question #9 for 2015: What will happen with house prices in 2015?
Question #10 for 2015: How much will housing inventory increase in 2015?