How Falling Oil Prices Could Hit the Mortgage Industry

by Trey Garrison


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Oil is pushing its way down to below $47.50 per barrel as of Jan. 12, and there’s no sign it’s going to change anytime soon.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal said in an interview with USA Today that the days of $100 per barrel oil are over.

Some worry the recent plunge in oil prices could cause home prices to slip in the oil-producing markets of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere, according to Jed Kolko, the chief economist for Trulia.

“But it typically takes two years for oil prices to fully affect home prices in those markets,” Kolko said. “At the same time, lower oil prices could boost home values in the Northeast and Midwest.”

Paul Diggle, property economist at Capital Economics, said in a client note that any drag on housing in oil-driven markets from drop in demand and from decline in employment in the United States would be offset by increased consumer spending power.

“If production and employment are scaled back, housing markets in some oil-producing states, which have recently been among the most buoyant, could potentially suffer,” Diggle said. “But any drag that this may generate will be more than offset by the wider boost to household incomes. Combined with looser credit conditions, lower oil prices should therefore give housing a boost.”

He said that the slump in oil prices could have both positive and negative effects on the housing market. The negatives are centered on the shale-oil producing states, where extraction costs over the long-run may be higher than the current $50-per-barrel oil price. A dip in oil production and investment would hit jobs and ultimately housing market activity.

“This is particularly concerning because the shale states have been among the most buoyant housing markets during the recovery,” Diggle said. “Texas, North Dakota and Montana, the largest producers of shale oil, have seen their share of total building permits issued rise strongly, from 8 percent in the middle of the previous decade to 18 percent now.”

“But it may take a year or more of oil prices at their current level before output in the shale sector really starts to suffer, and the housing market along with it,” he continued. “The collapse in oil prices may start to have an adverse impact on housing the longer it goes on or the lower prices sink. But for now, it looks more boon than burden for housing.”

Meanwhile, an examination of break-even inflation rates suggests sharply lower oil prices are a key driver of the 90 basis points rally in 10-year Treasurys, and the 60 basis points drop in mortgage rates in 2014, according to analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Most real estate economists are forecasting that mortgage rates will rise in 2015, but the recent steep drop in oil prices could change all that.

“The possibility of further declines in oil prices increases the chances that mortgage rates drop to the 3.2 to 3.5 percent range, which we believe is necessary to get housing back to affordable levels for many,” said Chris Flannagan, ABS and MBS strategist at BAML. “We have maintained the view that 4 percent mortgage rates are too high to allow for sustainable recovery in housing. In our view, a drop to the 3.25 percent to 3.5 percent mortgage rate range would eliminate the current benign technical conditions prevailing in the agency MBS market, increasing supply from both refinancing and purchase mortgage channels. Such a rate drop would also create significant upside risk to our forecast of roughly $1 trillion of mortgage production in 2015.”



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