Off The Charts-Homebuilders

In this March 1, 2017, photo, new homes are built in Zelienople, Pa. Housing market trends are shaping up in favor of a solid 2024 for U.S. homebuilders – as long as mortgage rates don’t jump back to the highs they hit late last year. Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Housing market trends are shaping up in favor of a solid 2024 for U.S. homebuilders – as long as mortgage rates don’t jump back to the highs they hit late last year.

Sales of new homes rose nationally in 2023 for the first time in two years, climbing 4.2% from a year earlier, according to the Commerce Department. This bucked the trajectory of the broader housing market, which remained mired in a deep slump as sales of previously occupied U.S. homes sank roughly 19% to a nearly 30-year low.

And in January, sales of previously owned homes rose by the most in nearly a year, according to National Association of Realtors data released Thursday.

Homebuilders were able to mitigate the impact of higher interest rates on home shoppers by lowering prices and offering incentives like paying buyers’ closing costs or buying down the rate on their mortgage. They also benefited from a chronically low inventory of existing homes on the market.

Those market trends are expected to help give homebuilders a leg up again this year, Wall Street analysts say.

Moody’s Investors Service projects that new U.S. home sales will increase 5% in 2024, citing strong demand among millennials and a healthy job market.


The new-home market’s “healthy fundamentals should result in a solid year for U.S. homebuilders,” the Moody’s analysts wrote in the report released this week.

Underpinning much of the optimism are expectations that mortgage rates will continue to decline this year.

Moody’s forecasts that the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage will drop to 6.4% by the fourth quarter. Forecasts by several housing economists see the average rate declining this year, though generally no lower than 6%.

The average rate on a 30-year mortgage has eased since reaching a 23-year high of 7.79% in late October. But rates have been creeping higher in recent weeks as stronger-than-expected reports on inflation and the economy have stoked worries among bond investors that the Federal Reserve will wait longer than anticipated before it begins cutting interest rates.

Indeed, the average long-term U.S. mortgage rate rose this week for the third time in as many weeks, driving up borrowing costs in just as the spring homebuying season ramps up.

The average rate on a 30-year mortgage rose to 6.90% from 6.77% last week, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday. A year ago, the rate averaged 6.5%.


Borrowing costs on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, popular with homeowners refinancing their home loans, also rose this week, pushing the average rate to 6.29% from 6.12% last week. A year ago, it averaged 5.76%, Freddie Mac said.

When mortgage rates rise, they can add hundreds of dollars a month in costs for borrowers, limiting how much they can afford in a market that’s already out of reach for many Americans. They also discourage homeowners who locked in rock-bottom rates two or three years ago from selling. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage remains sharply higher than just two years ago, when it was 3.89%.

Competition for relatively few homes on the market and elevated mortgage rates have limited house hunters’ buying power on top of years of soaring prices. With rates creeping higher in recent weeks, it puts more financial pressure on prospective home hunters this spring, traditionally the busiest period for home sales.

While higher rates are not good for homebuilders, they can still fall back on incentives to help spur sales, as they did last year, said Carl Reichardt, a homebuilding analyst at brokerage firm BTIG.

“My expectation for 2024, which is very modest growth in new home sales, really comes from a stabilization in interest rates and continued lack of competition from existing homes,” Reichardt said.

Wall Street has cheered how homebuilders adapted to a rocky housing market last year. Shares in PulteGroup, Lennar and most other U.S. homebuilders are up substantially over the past 12 months. One prominent exchange traded fund, the SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF, is up roughly 48% in the same period, while the benchmark S&P 500 index is up nearly 25%.

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