A housing economist who doesn't want the Fed to cut

Posted by: Peter Coy on March 25, 2008


Econ 101 says lower interest rates are good for the housing market. But the chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, Lawrence Yun, worries there could be too much of a good thing. In a recent visit to BusinessWeek (see video), Yun said he fears that if the Federal Reserve cuts rates too much more, it will stir fears of inflation, which will push up rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. Lenders will charge more for loans to make up for the higher inflation they expect. Higher rates on 30-year mortgages would be another blow to the reeling housing market.

A few thoughts on Yun’s theory:

1. At this point, the main reason the Federal Reserve is cutting short-term interest rates aggressively is to save the financial system, not so much housing in particular.
2. Inflation is uncomfortably high right now, but it’s likely to come down if the economy continues to soften, because there’s less pressure on wages and prices of goods and services when recession curtails demand. Lower inflation expectations would help mortgage rates fall.
3. While the Fed’s rate cuts have an ambiguous effect on long-term rates, they are definitely helping lower short-term rates, which is good for the many people who have adjustable-rate mortgages. According to a report released today by Standard & Poor’s RatingsDirect:

“According to our analysis, as of March 18, 2008, the decline in six-month LIBOR from a 52-week peak of 5.6% has reduced subprime payment schock on the average two-year fixed-rate hybrid loan by as much as 95%, has virtually eliminated Alt-A payment shock, and has made the post-reset payments easier for all borrowers to handle.”

Reader Comments

jdj

March 25, 2008 7:05 PM

It would be great if everyone were as indifferent about housing prices dropping as they are about rising inflation.

If asset prices drop -- "OMG!!! Drop rates to zero, fast!"

If inflation is at 4%+ -- "Eh, it'll moderate. Don't worry I got a feeling."

Gary Anderson

March 26, 2008 4:40 PM

I didn't think Nar was afraid of anything. After all, for them, it is always a good time to buy.

Rick Cain

March 28, 2008 12:43 AM

I wasn't a finance major in college, but if you drop interest rates, doesn't that keep people from investing in bank CD's and Money Market accounts, thus making the bank situation worse by reducing their on-hand cash available for loans?

BTW house prices are increasing here, looks like the failed Bush Regime is now giving us a double whammy of worthless money so prices go up on real estate regardless of its real value.

UrbanDigs

March 30, 2008 10:23 AM

why would anyone, let alone the fed, listen to what Yun says? The NAR to this day puts a positive spin on every piece of data they publish, ruining their credibility and tarnishing the reputation of real estate agents in general as used car salesman working on commission only.

Yun has been dead wrong on his predictions consistently, and adds no value to an already tarnished organization

abcd

March 30, 2008 8:29 PM

Nobody should believe anybody from he National Association of Realtors.

norman

April 1, 2008 7:46 PM

Yun has very high credibility. Just revers what he said, you will be right. Chairman Mao in China said, it's not difficult to predict something wrong, the really difficult thing is always being wrong without even once right record. Go back and check what Yun said during the last two years, you will find he is really great.

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About

BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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