Freddie Mac downwardly revised its forecast for Q1 GDP growth from 1.8 percent down to 1.1 percent. The “advance” estimate for GDP growth in the first quarter will be released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) on Thursday, April 28. The GDP grew at an annual rate of just 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015 but then shot up to 3.9 percent for Q2; for the third and fourth quarter, the real GDP grew at rates of 2.0 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively.
The first quarter for the last few years has been punctuated by slow economic growth. While some of this can be attributed to seasonality, Ten-X (then Auction.com) Chief Economist Peter Muoio said that last year’s dismal GDP showing in the first quarter could be attributed to the brutal winter which slowed economic activity, labor disagreements at a bunch of the West Coast ports that really slowed the flow of cargo in Q1, and low oil prices (though this was partially offset by lower gas prices which put more money in consumers’ pockets).
“We’ve revised down our forecast for economic growth to reflect the recent data for the first quarter, but our outlook for the balance of the year remains modestly optimistic for the economy,” Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti said. “However, we maintain our positive view on housing. In fact, the declines in long-term interest rates that accompanied much of the recent news should increase mortgage market activity, particularly refinance.”
On the positive side, Freddie Mac expects the unemployment rate will fall back below 5 percent for 2016 and 2017 (last month it ticked back up to 5.0 percent after hovering at 4.9 percent for a couple of months). Reduced slack in the labor market will push wage gains above inflation, although the gains are expected to be only modest, according to Freddie Mac.
While the economic forecast for Q1 has grown darker, the forecast looks bright for housing in 2016, however.
“We expect housing to be an engine of growth,” Freddie Mac stated in the report. “Construction activity will pick up as we enter the spring and summer months, and rising home values will bolster consumers and help support renewed confidence in the remaining months of this year.”
Low mortgage rates have boosted refinance activity in the housing market during Q1. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged 3.7 percent for the first quarter, which drove an increase for the 1-4 single-family originations estimate for 2016 up by $50 billion up to $1.7 billion. Rates are expected to bump up, however, and average 4 percent over the full year of 2016, according to Freddie Mac. House prices are expected to appreciate by 4.8 percent over 2016 and 3.5 percent for 2017; homeowner equity is expected to rise as a result of the home price appreciation, which could mean more refinance opportunities.
The low mortgage rates combined with solid job growth are expected to make 2016 the strongest year for home sales since the pre-crisis year of 2006 despite the persistently tight inventory of for-sale homes, according to Freddie Mac.
“Sales were slow in the first quarter, but trends in mortgage purchase applications remain robust and we expect home sales to accelerate throughout the second quarter of 2016 as we approach peak homebuying season,” Freddie Mac said.
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Click here to view the entire Freddie Mac Economic Outlook for April 2016.