The U.S. economy is expected to grow 5.3 percent in 2021, a substantial improvement from the currently projected 2.7 percent contraction in 2020, with a strong pick-up in growth projected to commence over the spring months, according to the latest commentary from the Fannie Mae (OTCQB: FNMA) Economic and Strategic Research (ESR) Group. The latest forecast of full-year 2021 real GDP growth is an upgrade of 0.8 percentage points from the previous month’s forecast, reflecting the ESR Group’s view that the expansion of COVID-19 vaccination efforts and the approach of warmer weather will likely reverse the economic weakness experienced at the end of 2020. The ESR Group also noted that the continued recovery will likely be considerably faster than the recovery following the Great Recession and upgraded its 2022 growth forecast by 0.4 percentage points to 3.6 percent. Immediate risks to the forecast center around the path of the pandemic and progress on vaccination distribution. Impediments to that process could result in meaningful, adverse impacts to the timeline of projected growth. Otherwise, the ESR Group believes that conditions are favorable for a strong recovery, with inflationary pressure and higher interest rates being the most significant longer-term risks to growth.
Housing activity is expected to remain strong in 2021, but sector growth will likely decelerate from the torrid pace set in the second half of 2020. While the ESR Group expects home sales to rise 3.8 percent in 2021, the monthly pace is likely to slow through much of the year. Home price appreciation is also expected to slow along a similar timeline. Purchase mortgage originations are expected to rise in 2021 to $1.8 trillion from 2020’s projected $1.6 trillion, while refinance origination activity is forecast at $2.2 trillion in 2021, down from the projected all-time high of $2.8 trillion in 2020. With mortgage rates near historic lows, the ESR Group estimates that 67 percent of outstanding mortgages have at least a half-percentage point incentive to refinance.
“COVID-19 remains the dominant force altering the path of the economy through the behaviors of people, businesses and policy makers,” said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Therefore, the best policy for economic recovery is the broad distribution of an effective vaccine, which is underway. The sooner this can be successfully accomplished the sooner growth can accelerate, and our thought is that by mid-year vaccine distribution efforts will be well-established, allowing for a strong second half.”
“One impact of our projected growth acceleration is likely to be modestly rising interest rates, whether as a result of increased growth expectations – as consumer savings are augmented by stimulus leading to stronger consumer spending – or by a modest increase in inflation driven by demand growth outpacing a recovery in supply,” Duncan continued. “We believe the Fed’s policy of tolerating a modest overshoot of its long-term inflation target is likely to be tested.”
“Our latest forecast projects that the continued waning of pent-up demand from last year’s delayed spring homebuying season, coupled with a modest rise in interest rates, will likely slow the pace of housing, measured both by the volume of mortgages refinanced and by the pace of home sales. However, in our view, a modest slowdown in the sales pace is unlikely to prevent year-end 2021 home sales from being higher than 2020,” Duncan concluded.