Fannie Mae: A Patient Fed Could Put Housing on Firmer Footing for 2019

Fannie Mae: A Patient Fed Could Put Housing on Firmer Footing for 2019

In its Economic and Housing Outlook report, the Federal National Mortgage Association says it expects economic growth to slow this year.

Economic growth is projected to slow to 2.2 percent in 2019, down from last year’s estimated pace of 3.1 percent, as financial conditions threaten to deteriorate further and fiscal stimulus is expected to fade, according to the Fannie Mae Economic and Strategic Research Group’s January 2019 Economic and Housing Outlook. While consumer spending was the biggest driver of 2018 economic growth, the boost in household incomes from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will likely wane this year, and the government shutdown and additional volatility in the stock market could weigh on Americans’ confidence and willingness to spend.

The ESR Group expects consumer spending growth to slow to 2.3 percent in 2019 from an estimated pace of 2.8 percent in 2018. However, the group notes that labor market conditions should remain solid, with strong employment and wage growth offering potential bright spots amid some dark clouds in the form of trade tensions and slower growth abroad.

How the Fed proceeds through the year remains central to the forecast. Given the Fed’s recent shift to a more dovish stance – acknowledging that it can “afford to be patient about further policy firming” – the ESR Group expects only one interest rate increase in 2019, with tightening financial conditions and muted inflationary pressure.

The housing market will likely find stable ground as mortgage rates are expected to change little this year, allowing potential homebuyers time to adjust after last year’s erratic interest rate environment. When combined with the ESR Group’s forecast of a slower pace of house price appreciation this year, stable rates should support affordability and buyer confidence. Thus, the ESR Group’s theme for 2019 is The Economy’s Slowing, the Fed Slows, Housing Plateaus.

“Economic growth in 2018 will likely turn out to be the strongest of the current expansion, and inflation remained anchored even as the unemployment rate dipped to multi-decade lows. However, home sales experienced a setback, partly attributable to the most aggressive pace of monetary tightening of the expansion,” said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan.

“This year, the expansion is likely to become the longest on record, but the path to continued growth faces a number of downside risks with fewer upside risks,” said Duncan. “With fading impacts of fiscal policy and tight financial conditions around the globe, we’re seeing moderating economic growth in the next couple of years. The Fed’s continued efforts to unwind expansionary monetary policies implemented during the recession have the potential to add to the headwinds facing the economy. However, we believe that contained price pressures should afford the Fed sufficient latitude to slow or pause rate hikes this year. This will allow the economy to continue growing, albeit at a slower pace, and housing to regain its footing.”

Visit the Economic & Strategic Research site to read the full January 2019 Economic Outlook, including the Economic Developments Commentary, Economic Forecast, Housing Forecast, and Multifamily Market Commentary. To receive e-mail updates with other housing market research from Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group, please click here.