Sunday, June 20, 2021

Interest Rates and Home Prices

 A couple of quick thoughts on recent home price appreciation.

In graph 1, I estimate a national median gross rent/price yield from Zillow rent and price data.  I compare it to the 30 year TIPS (real) interest rate (plus 8%).  Certainly a case can be made that some of the recent price movement has been related to declining real long term yields.  However, without more historical data, this doesn't tell us much.  Two measures both moved in a certain direction over a period of time, and so it's easy to match them up on the y-axis.

Here is a longer series with similar measures.  Here, I estimate the national average gross rent/price level with total rent/total residential real estate value for owned homes.  I also used the CPI rent inflation measure with the Case-Shiller national home price index, with a scaling constant as a second version of the estimate.  Both estimates of rent/price yields follow similar trends.

Here, I use a 30 year TIPS bond issued in 1998 and then in more recent years the general estimate for 30 year TIPS yields.  Here I only added a 3% spread to the TIPS yields.  Part of the difference is that the mean yield is lower than the median yield. (Price/rent is not the same across the market.  It is systematically higher where rents and prices are higher.)  Part of the difference is that we imposed a one-time shock on housing during the financial crisis, adding a 2-3% spread on housing yields compared to other assets, so the spread in the first graph from 2014 onward is much higher than it had been before.

When I first started looking at these things years ago, I excused the pre-2006 price increases with this relationship.  I still more or less stand by that.  It isn't controversial to say that home prices are related to interest rates. In fact, I think it helps clarify the analysis to show that it is specifically real long-term rates that seem to correlate with housing yields.  But, even in 2005, that doesn't tell the whole story.  Rent/price yields are not uniform across cities.  They decrease systematically where rents are high.  Some of that might be attributed to expectations of future rent increases.  Some of it might be attributed to lower cost of ownership where rent is a product of location rather than structures and services.  In any event, before 2000, gross housing yields had been between 6-7% for some time, and after 2000 they continued to be in that range in most cities.  In some cities like LA or NYC, they declined to more like 3-4%.  The aggregate yield around 5% was an average of a country increasingly becoming bifurcated into at least two different stories.

So, it may be that the correlation between 30 year TIPS and housing yields from 1998 to 2008 overstates the relationship.  In most places the gross housing yield didn't decline as much as the 30 year real rate.  Yet, even if one assumes that a 2% spread remains in place between long term real rates and housing yields, the recent drop in real interest rates is enough to support recent home price increases, even if the relationship is slight.

Actually, I think the causality may go both ways a bit.  In other work, I have mentioned that housing used to be cyclical in terms of quantity and now, because we have obstructed construction so much, it is cyclical in terms of price.  It is hard not to notice a similar regime shift in interest rates.  Before 2000, real interest rates were relatively stable, and changes in interest rates were largely related to inflation expectations.  Since 2000, real long term interest rates have become strangely volatile.

In the mid-20th century, housing yields remained stable because when rents increased, a lot of new homes were built until rents declined again.  All those new units required capital.  Mortgages, construction loans, home equity.  An increase in demand for investment (in generally safe assets and securities) drove GDP growth higher and put upward pressure on interest rates.

There is a lot of concern about a lack of safe assets, which is driving down interest rates.  Homes in California used to be safe assets.  They aren't any more.  They are risky investments in a cartel.  Mortgages used to be safe assets for investment, but many aren't legal any more, so the trillions of dollars worth of new homes they would have funded, which also would have been safe assets in Texas, Nebraska, and Tennessee, also don't exist.

So, there is an interesting set of interacting variables here.  If inflation rises, I don't think that will have much effect on real home prices or construction activity.  If real rates rise, which will be associated with real economic growth (and probably with a mitigation of short-run inflation), then it should have a moderating influence on home prices.  But, unless mortgages can flow, multi-unit projects can be easily approved, and construction can run hot, then rents will continue to rise and long-term real interest rates will continue to be limited.  In that case, it seems like a "hot" market is likely to remain, with housing growth (but at historically low construction rates) and high prices (low housing yields), while the "have nots" who are under the "tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims" will face rising rents.

I suspect that a construction boom would both lower rents and raise real long-term interest rates.  But, the boom must come first.  In the meantime, housing is in a peculiar space, where we should expect there to be some sensitivity to rising rates if the economy continues to recover, yet also housing yields continue to retain at least a 2% spread to long-term 30 year rates, compared to pre-crisis norms, so that nobody should expect home prices to revert to earlier relative levels (especially as rents continue to rise).

Monday, March 22, 2021

Brig Burton and Carly Burton, again

I have good news, or at least not bad news, I guess.

I sold my business to Brig Burton in 2010.  He ended up defrauding me in that transaction.  I had to sue him.

I previously mentioned the Burtons here.

The key part:

I had to sue him in civil court in order to get fully paid for the business.  The judgments I was granted against him included fraud and conversion.  He appealed the rulings, and the appeals court upheld them, including the punitive damages that were assessed.  The appeals court confirmed that "based on the record in this case, the jury could have found by clear and convincing evidence that Burton’s conduct was aggravated and outrageous, evincing an evil mind. Therefore, we decline to set aside the punitive damages awards."

Anyway, I thought I was through with them, but the Burtons sued me after I posted that post.  We were able to make them to post a bond, so that when the judge dismissed the case (which she eventually did), the Burtons would have collectible funds to use to pay my legal expenses.  Which the judge also ruled they had to do.

Brig seems busy lately. For example:



Here:  Brig Burton – Business Growth Leader Worldwide (

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

December 2020 Yield Curve

 The yield curve looks pretty good.  Long term rates still are recovering.  The expected date of the first short term rate hike also appears to be coming closer.  This all seems like good news to me.  All in all, pretty good monetary management for the COVID-19 recession, I think.

It seems to me that a short position in early 2023 Eurodollar contracts has a nice risk/reward balance.  Not much room for downside (declining interest rates), but quite a bit of room to run higher (higher interest rates).

Thursday, November 12, 2020

October 2020 Inflation Update

 I haven't updated the inflation numbers for a while.  Covid-19 has probably made it difficult to say too much, because there are so many compositional shifts in the demand basket.  But I think it is worth taking a look at what is happening in rent inflation.

Much of the drop in the stated core CPI number is coming from declining rent inflation (or shelter inflation).  Core inflation excluding shelter is still below 2%, so the Fed has room to goose spending within their mandate.  Trailing 12 month shelter inflation has declined from about 3.4% to 1.7% since the Covid-19 outbreak, and the run-rate may not be positive.

Real-time data suggests that much of this appears to be related to some amount of exodus from expensive cities like San Francisco and New York City.  However, declining CPI-measured rent inflation is pretty evenly distributed among the major metro areas.

There are three periods of sharply declining rents in this period, and it is interesting to compare them.  In 2002-2003, construction was hot and new supply was bringing down rents in cities with elastic supply (Dallas and Atlanta, but not New York and LA).  Then, from 2008-2010, the foreclosure crisis and the sharp tightening in lending markets created a negative demand shock for shelter, driving down rent inflation everywhere.  That was associated with very low rates of construction.

Now, the decline in rent inflation is associated with low but moderately rising construction activity.  If that continues, it would suggest that lower rent inflation is mostly due to income shocks and the specific character of the Covid-19 context, where landlords may be opting for more leniency until the market settles.  If there really is a persistent shift of housing preference into less dense cities and housing units, then that should be associated with rising demand for shelter and more construction, not lower rents.  In that case, there would be a compositional shift out of the expensive cities, and rent inflation might decline as tenants leave the expensive cities (pulling rents there down) and move to cities where new demand is met by supply rather than price inflation.  The fact that rent inflation is currently declining in cities like Phoenix, which we should expect to be the destination for some of those moving tenants, suggests that income shocks are more important now than inter-MSA migration.

October 2020 Yield Curve Update

 The yield curve has taken a strong bullish move as a result of the election and the Covid-19 vaccine progress.  The long end of the Eurodollar curve is nearly back to the pre-Covid level.

The date of the first rate hike remains in mid-2021, but the escape velocity has increased significantly.  Forward inflation breakevens remain level at about 1.6%, which suggests that the recent improvement has been due to real shocks.  The Fed probably still has room for more traditional accommodation.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

September 2020 Yield Curve Update

 The yield curve continues to slowly show optimism.  The long end of the curve continues to climb.  It's now back up above the yields of early April.  This suggests that the market foresees continued relatively strong recovery in employment and that the Fed is adequately providing liquidity.  Forward inflation expectations have leveled out below 2%, but they are basically as high as they were before the Covid-19 outbreak.  That's probably reasonably good news.  And, the expected date of the first rate hike is settling in around the June 2021 contract, which is pretty bullish.  The market seems to think recovery is in the works.

Both because there is an endemic lack of adequate supply and because of some of the demand responses to Covid-19, residential investment should be strong to help with a continuation of positive trends.  This suggests to me that if there is much of a pullback in stocks, it will be from an unforeseen negative real shock.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Getting the word out.

There have been a couple of great citations recently of my housing boom work.

As I mentioned recently, Mercatus published a paper that Scott Sumner and I had written.  Matthew Yglesias at cited it in a nice article about the need for more housing.

Also, Congress' Joint Economic Committee issued a new report on monetary policy that surprisingly pushes the envelope on new ideas. Stable Monetary Policy to Connect More Americans to Work

It was penned by Senior Economist Alan Cole.  The report cites Shut Out and supports the NGDP targeting policy that the Mercatus Center Monetary Policy group has been advocating for.

Here is Scott Sumner's reaction to it.  It's worth reading both Scott's reaction and the report itself.  It is very encouraging to see the building blocks being put in place for future improvements on these policies.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

August 2020 Yield Curve

Inflation breakevens continue to rise, slowly.  After really flattening out last month, the yield curve perked up in August, somewhat, especially helped by recent Fed discussion about allowing for more catch-up inflation and a more of a symmetrical 2% inflation target.

The move up is a good sign, but higher would be better.  (Sorry, the graphs a bit of a mess.  Sept. 2 is the light blue line in the group of curves toward the bottom.)

The date of the first expected rate hike is displaying a good trend.  Last month, the expectation had moved all the way toward 2022.  Now, it's moved back to June 2021.  It looks like it might have some staying power.  Of course, the Fed communicates loose policy intentions by saying they are committed to keeping rates low for longer.  It is staggering to think such a useless communication policy is the norm, but it is what it is.  The better (more accommodating) they are the faster they will get to the first hike.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Housing Policy, Monetary Policy, and the Great Recession

Here's a link to a research paper the Mercatus Center has published by me and Scott Sumner.

Housing Policy, Monetary Policy, and the Great Recession

It's a combination of Scott's work on Federal Reserve policy and my work on the housing bust.  Here is our takeaway:


Policymakers should not slow the economy in an attempt to prevent bubbles, which are not easy to identify in real time. Such efforts to reduce demand in 2007–08 were not only unnecessary but were also responsible for the reces­sion and financial crisis. 

Instead, US policymakers should adopt regulatory, credit, and monetary policies that can help stabilize the econ­omy, allowing the creation of an environment for healthy growth in living standards. Such an approach involves three components:

  1. Reform zoning regulations in urban areas. This would allow for more construction of new housing, espe­cially in closed-access cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, where con­strained growth is currently resulting in high housing prices. The United States could sustainably employ many more workers in home construction if restrictions on building were removed. 
  2. Avoid a situation where lending regulations are most lax during booms and tightest during recessions. It was this sort of regulatory pattern that almost certainly exacerbated the severity of the Great Recession. 
  3. Monetary policy should seek stable growth in nominal gross domestic product (NGDP). Rather than target­ing inflation and unemployment, policymakers should aim for a relatively stable rate of growth in NGDP, the dollar value of all goods and services produced within a nation’s borders. Attempts to use monetary policy to pop bubbles in individual asset markets such as real estate often end up destabilizing the overall economy. A stable NGDP growth rate, however, will provide an environment that is conducive to a stable labor market and a stable financial system.


If you're interested, at the link there is a link with a pdf download.  We address a wide range of evidence, some of which I am certain you have not seen before.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Trends in Housing Supply

Here's a little sneak peak into some work I've been finishing up.   This graph shows the number of permits issued for single family homes and multi-unit projects (duplexes on up to high rise condos).  The measure is the number of units as a percentage of existing homes.  In other words, what is the gross percentage growth in the housing stock, due to single unit and multi unit building.  The black lines are the averages among all large metros.  The red lines are the averages among the "Closed Access" cities - New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose.

I find several interesting items to note here:

1) Of course, the Closed Access cities build single family homes at much lower rates than anywhere else.  Also, there was absolutely no supply response in the Closed Access cities in the single family market due to the subprime lending boom.  The rate of single family building was lower in 2005 than it had been in any year since 1996.  I have heard anecdotal defenses of the housing bust, claiming that even cities like LA had excess supply where single family homes were being built in the suburbs, where there wasn't really demand for them.  That idea is belied by the data.

2) However, as prices increased, there was a tremendous supply response in the Closed Access cities in multi-unit projects.  In spite of the horror stories of the local hoops one must jump through to build apartments, the Closed Access cities really are building many more apartments than they had before 2003.

3) Since 2004, in fact, the rate of multi-unit building in the Closed Access cities has matched the national average.  In the end, the regulatory obstacles create higher prices.  Potential residents push prices up until it is worth the trouble to build units.  The regulatory obstacles now are raising prices rather than pushing down new supply, relative to other cities.  This suggests that demand is inelastic.  Agglomeration effects, etc. are strong.  This is, in fact, bad news.  This suggests that the regulatory limits to multi-unit housing are more widespread than just the Closed Access cities.  As bad as the regulatory environment is in the Closed Access cities, other cities are not building multi-unit housing at a rate significantly higher than they are.

4) The deep cuts to mortgage lending since 2007 have cut into single family building in the Closed Access cities just as much as they have in other cities.  Building in the Closed Access cities has nearly recovered to pre-crisis levels, but that's all multi-unit.  In the 1970s and 1980s, it was common for multi-unit building to be double or triple what it is today.  To get anywhere close to that today would require a wholesale regulatory overhaul across the country.

Fortunately, the political center seems to be moving in that direction.  We have a long way to go.

I am finishing up a paper with much more detail on housing supply before the crisis, and another with much more detail on the influences on home prices.