Expectations for full-year 2021 economic growth were revised upward in May to 7.0 percent, a modest improvement from last month’s projection of 6.8 percent, attributable primarily to stronger-than-expected first quarter real GDP growth and an improved near-term outlook for consumer spending, according to the May 2021 commentary from the Fannie Mae (OTCQB: FNMA) Economic and Strategic Research (ESR) Group. The additional strength in consumer spending was previously projected to occur later in 2021 or early 2022, but recent incoming data increasingly points to eagerness on the part of consumers amid continued progress mobilizing COVID-19 vaccinations and waning virus-related restrictions. With stronger growth expected in the current year, the ESR Group slightly downgraded its expectations for 2022 real GDP growth by 0.2 percentage points to 2.8 percent. Despite expectations that the economy will continue to grow over the forecast horizon, downside risks to the forecast are increasing and include supply chain disruptions, labor scarcity, and rising inflationary pressure.
On housing, the ESR Group expects home sales in 2021 to increase 6.3 percent as the industry continues to grapple with strong demand and limited supply. While a lack of existing homes for sale is heightening the demand for new homes, supply constraints – most notably lumber – and a dearth of buildable lots, as well as hiring difficulties, are limiting homebuilders’ pace of single-family construction, which is still forecast to be 24.8 percent higher in 2021 than 2020. The ESR Group’s mortgage origination forecast remains largely unchanged at $4.1 trillion in 2021, but the recently lower mortgage rate environment contributed to a slight shift in its composition, with the expected refinance share ticking up a couple percentage points to 55 percent.
“While most indictors point toward brisk economic growth over the second quarter, the combination of a disappointing employment report and an unexpectedly strong burst of inflation has raised in the minds of many market participants the potential confluence of broad-based supply restraints, very strong house price growth, and the posture of monetary and fiscal policies,” said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Supply constraints across multiple sectors are pointing toward ongoing price pressure, most prominently in microchips and the auto sector. This has yet to significantly affect mortgage rates, except to the extent that the rise in the 10-year Treasury since the beginning of the year contains an increased expected inflation component and has prevented mortgage rates from retreating further from their temporary recent peak.”
Duncan continued: “Stronger inflation and a resultant move in interest rates are risks that we believe should be monitored. As the effects of expansionary monetary policy continue to work their way through the economy, inflationary expectations may continue to rise. This could lead to prices rising further even with growth concurrently slowing in the presence of diminished labor market slack and waning fiscal policy support. If such a scenario were to play out, the question then becomes whether this necessitates a response by the Federal Reserve. While momentum in the housing market will likely continue in the near term, this is an increasingly important consideration for 2022.”