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2023 Fourth Quarter Market Report | Christie's International Real Estate Summit Colorado

2023 Second Quarter Market Report
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Ellen Winter
Published on Jan 19, 2024
Report Written By: Elliot F. Eisenberg, Ph.D. Source: Summit Board of Realtors Multiple Listing Service

Economic Overview:

As we look towards 2024, it likely won’t be a year of significant economic growth with fiscal policy contractionary, and bank lending and thus the money supply contracting due to high interest rates. Importantly, consumer spending is likely to pull back because the current very low savings rate is not sustainable and must necessarily rise, and as more than 28 million borrowers have resumed payments on student loans. As an example of the financial stress on some households, the 23Q3 credit card delinquency rate was 8%, up from a low of 4.3% in 21Q3 and at its highest level since 11Q3 when we were extricating ourselves from the housing bust and the unemployment rate was a staggering 9.1%. Similarly, in 23Q3, 7.4% of auto loans transitioned into delinquency, up from their low of 5.0% in 21Q3. Seeing this much credit deterioration with a 3.7% unemployment rate is somewhat troubling. While the current bull market has been a boon to investors and household retirement accounts, equities are at or above historic P/E ratios, and it’s also an unusual market in that 72% of equities in the S&P 500 have underperformed the index, the highest level since at least 2000. As such, earnings will play a key role in stock market performance in 2024. Private-equity deal activity dropped from $1.44 trillion in 2022 to $846 billion in 2023, a decline of 41%. In 2021, private-equity deal-making exceeded $2 trillion, so there is plenty of room for growth in 2024, and as interest rates fall, we may start to see rising deal activity and IPOs. All signs are that the labor market continues to slowly soften. In November, job openings slumped to 8.8 million, from 10.8 million Y-o-Y and a peak of 12.0 million in March 2022. Thus, the number of available jobs/unemployed person fell to a still high 1.4, but down from 1.8 Y-o-Y and a peak of 2.0 in March 2022. Relatedly, the quit rate is now 2.2%, down from 2.7% Y-o-Y and a peak of 3.0 in November 2021. The December jobs report provided mixed signals, with job creation at a solid 216,000 and unemployment unchanged at a low 3.7%. On the flip side, the labor force participation rate sank to 62.5% from 62.8%, suggesting that either the slowing job market is making job hunting less appealing or the pool of eligible workers is running low. With December wage growth up a strong 0.44% and Y-o-Y wage growth still too strong at 4.1%, the Fed will be keeping a sharp eye on labor markets before they contemplate rate cuts. If inflation continues to slow and the labor market cools somewhat, the Fed will reward us with rate cuts no later than June, hopefully slightly earlier. However, households and businesses with existing mortgages or business loans have thus far shown little sensitivity to interest rate changes because of their ‘locked-in’ low rates. That works in both directions, and as a result, the expected rate cuts may not be as stimulative as hoped. I suspect that with a little bit of luck, we will see GDP growth somewhere around 1% in 2024, with a reasonable possibility of a mild and shallow recession sometime during the year.

Driven by all the above and despite some weakening in 23Q2, job creation has been well above pre-pandemic levels. Some sectors, such as education and leisure/hospitality, are simply struggling to get employment back to pre-Covid levels, while in other areas, such as healthcare, although employment is back to pre-pandemic levels, it is still well below trend. While most labor economists believe that wage growth has peaked, an increasing number of employees seem to be convinced that the labor market will remain tight and that meaningful wage increases are still in their future, and they are spending accordingly. Finally, because hiring has been so difficult for so long, some employers are still hiring or postponing layoffs, even if they are currently overstaffed.

Regarding inflation, while it has fallen dramatically, from as high as 9.1% in mid-2022 to around 3% now, this decline has been the easiest part of the inflation puzzle to fix, and the remainder will be much tougher. The reduction in inflation so far has been primarily the result of declining energy prices and related transportation prices, accompanied by a decline in the price of goods as supply chains recovered and demand declined, and, finally, slowing food inflation. Over the last few months, we have seen declining rents and falling used car prices, and those should start being reflected in inflation data in the next few months. However, just as the increase in these areas was almost entirely pandemic-induced, so too have been the declines as Covid impacts fade. Unfortunately, it is the remaining inflationary pressures that are not Covid-related that the Fed must now battle and getting inflation down to 2% will continue to be a struggle.

Most of the key measures of inflation that the Fed looks at are all in the 5% range, and while they will fall over the rest of the year, the challenge of bringing them down to 2% will be difficult, and the Fed has made it very clear that they will not increase their inflation target above 2%. Other central bankers, with the exceptions of Japan and China, are similarly keeping the pressure on interest rates to quell inflation. Historically, interest rate hikes of this magnitude have, more than three-quarters of the time, led to recessions, and when they did not, it has been luck that has intervened. Moreover, the yield curve has been highly inverted for over a year and the last eight times it has inverted dating back to 1970, there has been a recession. In terms of the scope of the probable upcoming recession, it should be similar in magnitude and duration to the recessions of 1970, 1990, and 2000; it will be a ‘garden-variety’ recession, not necessarily deep or painful, unlike the Housing Bust of 2008-2009 or the Double-Dip recession of 1980-1982.

Q4 2023 National Housing Market Overview:

Across the country, active inventories remain incredibly tight, largely due to the unwillingness of existing homeowners to forfeit their low current mortgage rate and venture out into the world of 6-7% mortgages. The last quarter of 2023, at least in terms of the housing market, was particularly tough as rates hovered near 8% for much of the fall while limited inventories kept pushing prices higher. During November, after annualization and seasonal adjustment, 3.82 million existing homes sold, up from a slightly worse 3.79 million in October, and that was the weakest monthly sales activity since August 2010, during the depths of the Housing Bust. With rates now south of their October highs, existing inventory improving, albeit slightly, and new single-family construction approaching pre-Covid peaks, home sales and mortgage applications should rise. However, as a potential warning light, some 45,000 home purchases fell through during November 2023, 16.9% of homes under contract, and the highest rate since recordkeeping commenced in January 2017. The previous record was the April 2020 Covid peak of 16.8%, while pre-Covid the rate was about 12.5%. This rise in cancellations may simply be cases of cold feet, but it could also be an indication that we are approaching the upper limit of many buyers’ finances. In terms of new construction, a staggering number of new apartments will be brought online in 2024, and that is likely to push vacancy rates still higher and rents down. Add to that high interest rates, and thus high cap rates, and the multifamily market is likely to struggle in 2024. Still, while apartment vacancies hit 5.4% in 23Q4, up from 4.9% Y-o-Y, and near their pandemic peak of 5.5%, they’re not close to the 8% of 2010. By contrast, office vacancies hit 19.6%, surpassing the previous top of 19.3% set in 1986, when building was unstoppable, and 1991, during the S&L crisis induced recession. While builders have stepped up the pace of new home construction with the resolution of many Covid supply chain issues, high interest rates, materials inflation, and higher labor costs mean those homes are more costly to build, and as a result, they are likely to be higher end homes, as builders have limited incentive to build entry-level homes. In summary, the 2024 housing market will likely start out relatively weak and then improve gradually as the year progresses, especially as the Fed lowers rates and more potential sellers finally step off the sidelines. Importantly, the spread between the 10-year Treasury and the 30-year mortgage should fall because the fear of mortgage re-fi will decline as interest rates decline. Overall, 2024 is likely to be a year of transition for the housing market, better than 2023, but not by much, and we will probably have to wait until 2025 to see a return to pre-Covid activity levels.

Q4 2023 Colorado Overview:

Unemployment in Colorado is 3.3% as of 11/23, up from last November’s 2.8%, after hitting a peak of 11.6% in 05/20 (for comparison, the pre-pandemic rate was 2.8%) and well below the U.S. national average, making it difficult for Colorado employers to fill positions. Statewide continuing claims for unemployment hit a high of 265,499 for the week ended 5/16/20 (compared to a pre-pandemic level of 20,735) and are now at 32,332 for the week ended 12/30/23, a year ago it was 29,038. Statewide, the December 2023 median price of a single-family home of $549,950 was 3.8% higher than December 2022, while the year-over-year average price rose 8.7% to $703,502. In the condo/townhome market, the year-over-year median price gained 3.0% to $424,995, while the average price increased 8.2% to $569,881. Through December, closed sales across the state are down 19.1%, while new listings are down 16.3%. There are 14,941 active listings statewide at the end of December, down 14.8% compared to December 2022, representing 2.1 months’ supply of inventory. Across the state, the percentage of list price received at sale was 98.1%, the same as last year and down from 98.7% at the end of September 2023, and days-on-market has increased to 62 days, up from 56 days last year, suggesting a market that is slightly weakening but still very strong.

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