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52% Of Sentiment Survey Respondents: Economy’s On The Wrong Track

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Fannie Mae survey shows perceptions of the economy

In the latest Fannie Mae National Housing Survey, 52% of respondents said the economy is on the wrong track, a decrease of 1% from last month and a decrease of 9% over the past year. The number of people who believe the economy is on the right track is up 4% over the past year but is down from 4% last month. This corresponds to other consumer sentiment surveys that show the negativity is fading.

That said, attitudes about the economy are still highly negative.

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The virtuous cycle needs to begin

The economic recovery has been subdued because housing construction has lagged. Typically, housing construction leads the economy out of recessions. It isn’t unusual to see housing starts fall to about 1 million during the depth of a recession and then rebound close to 2 million early in the recovery. A normal level for housing starts is about 1.5 million per year.

This time around, we’ve had housing starts below 1 million for four years. Even now, four years into the recovery, starts are still about where they bottomed in prior recessions. To get the economy out of first gear, we need to start building more houses, as homebuilding employs a lot of people. Increasing construction hiring will increase aggregate demand, which will increase confidence. Unfortunately, the first-time homebuyer is struggling with student loan debt and isn’t confident enough in their financial situation to buy.

What breaks the cycle?

We’re in a bit of an economic catch-22. We need confidence for homebuilding to rebound, and we need homebuilding to rebound in order to increase confidence.

What will change things? Life changes. Despite a lousy economy, people still get married, have kids, ditch the roommates, and move out of their parents’ basement. Low household formation over the past four years isn’t due to fertility rates 30 years ago. It’s due to the lousy economy, and it represents pent-up demand.

Once that changes, that pent-up demand will drive earnings for builders such as Lennar (LEN), PulteGroup (PHM), D.R. Horton (DHI), Toll Brothers (TOL), and KB Home (KBH) for years to come.

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