Eric Gaylord, CFA
Senior Vice President
Recently, the decline in the U.S. housing market has shown some evidence of bottoming. The national average home price has crept up off of lows according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, and inventories of existing homes on the markets have shrunk significantly since the outset of the credit crunch. Given this new data and a Federal Reserve fiscal policy including QE3 designed to induce access to home financing, it begs the question, “Has access to home financing returned?”
The Federal Reserve conducts a quarterly survey of banks operating in the U.S. called the Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices. As part of this survey, mortgage lenders report changes in demand for residential loans as well as whether standards for loan approval are becoming more or less stringent. To assess the health of the loan market, this week’s chart focuses on prime mortgage borrowing, since this category reflects loan seekers that should be considered creditworthy. In the chart, we see that banks are reporting a notable increase in demand for prime residential loans this year. Meanwhile, lending standards required by banks remain strict. The data appears to show that for Americans with control over their personal finances, the affordability of home ownership is starting to outweigh the risks. Meanwhile, banks remain cautious. The percentage of outstanding prime mortgages on their balance sheets remains elevated above the historical average. If these trends continue, investors can expect slow improvements in the residential real estate market, but given the persistent attention to high lending standards that was absent pre-crisis, these improvements should prove to be sustainable and accretive to long-term value.
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