Housing Driving Economy for a Change

As reported in the Wall Street Journal the housing market, once a primary factor in sending the economy into a severe recession and an economic laggard ever since, has rebounded and is now one of the country’s economic bright spots:

Economists project U.S. gross domestic product growth will slow in the final three months of the year from the sluggish 2% annual rate in the third quarter. Businesses, unnerved by the prospect of federal tax increases and spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff” taking effect in January, have slowed their pace of investment spending. Defense spending also is expected to slow, further weighing on growth.

But while those economic pillars weaken, an improving housing market is buoying consumers’ spirits and giving the economy its biggest lift since the real-estate boom. Macroeconomic Advisers projects the economy will grow at a 1.4% annual rate in the fourth quarter, with housing contributing 0.4 percentage point. IHS Global Insight is projecting a 1% growth rate, with housing contributing 0.53 of a percentage point—the largest contribution since 2005.

One of the many reasons that housing is making a comeback is the rise in rents:

While rising prices now are driving the housing market forward, that couldn’t have happened without a painful cycle of losses. Lower prices and rock-bottom interest rates have boosted affordability. The average monthly mortgage payment on a median-price home in October, assuming a 10% down payment, fell to $720 at prevailing rates, down from nearly $1,270 at the end of 2005.

Rising rents and an uptick in household formation have ignited demand, which, in turn, has pushed inventories of homes for sale to their lowest level in at least a decade. The upshot: More buyers are chasing fewer homes, pushing up prices.