Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Mar 22, 2022

The Housing Inflation Puzzle

With Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist

Transcript

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Tuesday, March 22nd at 2:00 p.m. in London.

Our base case at Morgan Stanley is that the U.S. economy sees solid growth over the next two years, with inflation moderating but still being somewhat higher than the Federal Reserve would like. We think this means the Fed raises interest rates modestly more than the market expects, flattening the US yield curve.

But what are the risks to this view? Specifically, what could cause inflation to be much higher, for much longer, putting the Federal Reserve in a more pressing bind? I want to focus here on core inflation as central banks have more leeway to look through volatile food or energy prices. This is a story about shelter.

The cost of shelter represents about 1/3 of U.S. core consumer price inflation. That makes sense. For most Americans, where you live is your largest expense, whether you rent or pay a mortgage.

The CPI measure of inflation assumes that the cost of renting has risen 4.5% in the last year. Now, if that sounds low, you're not alone. At the publicly traded apartment companies covered by my colleague Richard Hill, a Morgan Stanley real estate analyst, rents have risen 10% or more year-over-year. There are reasons that the official CPI number is lower. For one, not everyone renews their lease at the same time. But with a strong labor market and limited supply, the case for higher rents going forward looks strong.

Owner occupied housing is even more interesting. Since 2016, U.S. home prices have risen about 56%. But the cost of a house that goes into the CPI inflation calculation, known as "owners’ equivalent rent", has risen only 21%. That's a 35% gap between actual home prices and where the inflation calculation sits.

This is a potential problem. Even if home prices stop going up, the official measure of housing inflation could keep rising at a healthy clip to simply catch up to where home prices already are. And given high demand, low supply, and still low interest rates, home prices may keep going up, meaning there's even more catching up to do from the official inflation measure.

Higher shelter costs are also a challenge because they're very hard for the Federal Reserve to address. Raising interest rates, which is the usual strategy to combat inflation, makes buying a house less attractive relative to renting. Which means even more upward pressure on rental demand and even higher rents. And higher interest rates make building homes more costly to finance, further restricting housing supply and raising home prices.

Housing has long been a very important sector for the economy and financial markets. Over the next 12 months, expect it to be central to the inflation debate as well.

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While the cost of shelter has risen quickly, the measure of housing inflation has been slow to catch up, creating challenges for renters, homeowners and the Fed.

Important note regarding economic sanctions. This research references country/ies which are generally the subject of comprehensive or selective sanctions programs administered or enforced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the European Union and/or by other countries and multi-national bodies. Users of this report are solely responsible for ensuring that their investment activities in relation to any sanctioned country/ies are carried out in compliance with applicable sanctions.

 

Each week, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets, or a member of his team, offers perspective on the forces shaping the markets as well as insights on investment opportunities and risk across global asset classes.

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