“The psychological factors are harder to assess. People aren’t flipping condos for sport the way they were during the bubble when mortgages were available to anyone regardless of whether they had income or assets. Yet it seems there’s a widespread desire to own assets – stocks, bonds, and real estate – regardless of price. It’s not an obviously happy mania, where people are motivated by promises of great wealth. It’s more like a need to be an asset owner in an economy that continues to hurt workers without college degrees and becomes more automated. Nevertheless, the price insensitivity of many buyers is enough to cause concern.” – John Coumarianos
It is an interesting comment and John is correct. Low rates, weak economic growth, cheap and available credit, and a need for income has inflated the third bubble of this century.
But when it comes to housing, as I was digging through the employment data yesterday, I stumbled across the “rental income” component which is included in national compensation. When I broke the data out into its own chart, I was a bit surprised.
Let’s step back for a moment to build a bit of a framework first. While there has been much speculation about a resurgent “housing boom” in the economy, the data suggests something very different which is that housing has simply become an asset class for wealthy investors to turn into rentals.
As the “Buy-to-Rent” game drives prices of homes higher, it reduces inventory and increases rental rates. This in turn prices out “first-time home buyers” who would become longer-term homeowners, hence levels of homeownership rates first seen in the 1970’s. (Also, note surging debt levels are supporting higher homeownership.)
The chart below shows the number of homes that are renter-occupied versus the seasonally adjusted homeownership rate. As noted above, with owner-occupied housing at the lowest levels since the 1970’s, “renters” have become the norm.
The surge in “renters” since the financial crisis, due to a variety of financial reasons, has pushed rental income to record levels of nearly $800 billion a year. Given the sharp surge in incomes, it is not surprising that multifamily home construction and “buy to rent” continues apace in the economy for now. For investors, it has become an alternative asset class with increasing asset values and income yielding well above the current 10-year Treasury rate.
With roughly a quarter of the home buying cohort either unemployed or underemployed and living at home with their parents, the ability to create households has become more problematic. The remaining members of the home buying, household formation, contingent are employed but at lower ends of the pay scale and are choosing to rent due to budgetary considerations. This explains why the 12-month moving average of household formation, used to smooth very volatile data, is near its lowest levels going back to 1955.
The risk to the “renter nation” bubble is a “rush for the exits” by the herd of speculative buyers turning into mass sellers. With a large contingent of homes being held for investment purposes, if there is a reversion in home prices a cycle of liquidation could quickly occur. Combine that with the onset of a recession, and/or a bear market, and the problem could well be magnified. Of course, it isn’t just the liquidation of homes that is an issue but the inability to find a large enough pool of qualified buyers to absorb the inventory.
Just something to think about as you catch up on your weekend reading list.
Real Investment Advice is powered by RIA Advisors, an investment advisory firm located in Houston, Texas with over $1 billion in assets under management. As a team of certified and experienced professionals, we seek to provide our clients with educational services and the necessary information and tools to educate you in the field of finance, investing and economics. To this end, you can use the Real Investment Advice Platform to avail yourself of various video, audio and proprietary collections of information at your leisure to learn and gather the necessary information that you may need in the fields of investment news, investment opinion, financial news, financial opinion, economic news and economic opinion, finance, investing and economics. Utilizing the functionality and tools provided by Real Investment Advice, you can access this information in a variety of ways, including via video and audio programming, audio and visual media content streaming services, downloadable audio-visual media, uploaded, posted or tagged third-party videos, receiving or viewing audio and video clips, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos, all of which are accessible on the Real Investment Advice media platform and/or various Internet and communications links that are accessible via the Real Investment Advice Platform and allow for the broadcasting, transmission and streaming of the information and audio-visual content to your media devices and other communications platforms for your viewing and listening pleasure. All of these tools and sources of information are made available to you so that you can utilize the same to make the right financial, economic and investment decisions.
RIA Advisors offers multiple custodial arrangements, either directly of through wholly owned subsidiaries, with Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab and Interactive Brokers.
Coverage of global markets, bond markets, equity markets, commodities and economic news.