U.S. Economy Expected to Expand at 6.7 Percent Clip in 2021
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. economy is expected to grow 6.7 percent in 2021, an improvement not only from last year’s 2.5 percent contraction but up, too, compared to last month’s forecast of 5.3 percent, according to the February 2021 commentary from the Fannie Mae (FNMA/OTCQB) Economic and Strategic Research (ESR) Group. The latest forecast upgrade of full-year 2021 real GDP growth reflects greater-than-expected consumer spending in the winter months, slowing COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations, and the likelihood of an impending fiscal stimulus package. However, the ESR Group notes that some of the expected growth quickening stems from a pull-forward of growth that was previously expected to take place in 2022; subsequently, its forecast of full-year growth in 2022 decreased 0.8 percentage points this month to 2.8 percent. The ESR Group’s updated forecast also highlights greater uncertainty and downside risks, including stronger inflation and higher interest rates, as well as potentially weaker growth if COVID-related restrictions persist beyond the spring.
While housing is still expected to moderate in the new year from its unsustainably high pace in the second half of 2020, the ESR Group did upwardly revise its 2021 sales forecast on new data suggesting that the expected cooling will occur over a longer time frame than previously anticipated. Annual single-family starts were also upgraded to 18.6 percent growth in 2021, up from last month’s forecast of 12.5 percent. Combined with continued strength in refinances and an otherwise upgraded housing forecast, the ESR Group projects mortgage originations in 2021 to hit $4.1 trillion, a $0.2 trillion improvement from its prior forecast.
“If 2020 was the year of the virus, then 2021 will more than likely be the year of the vaccine,” said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Whether the vaccines are effective, including with the new virus strains, and how broadly and timely they can be distributed remain key questions; our forecast assumes such efficacy and that they’ll be widely administered by summer. Further, the recent upward creep of Treasury rates suggests that financial markets currently expect the same.”
“Consumer interest in locking-in historically low mortgage rates helped drive continued high volumes of refinancing and aggressive levels of homebuying,” Duncan continued. “We believe that this will continue in 2021. We assume that the proposed fiscal stimulus of around $1.7 trillion will be passed in mid-March, and that growth will accelerate sharply beginning in the second quarter.”
“However, with the Fed committed to low rates for the foreseeable future, a recovering economy, and already the highest level of debt-funded stimulus in place since World War II, the proposed additional stimulus heightens the risk of rising inflation and interest rates, as well as a potential boom-and-bust scenario. Very strong growth in the second half of 2021 could push inflation, and thereby rates, up significantly in 2022, thus invoking a Fed response of tightening and a significant deceleration later in 2022. This is not our base case scenario, but we see it as a significant risk moving forward.”
Visit the Economic & Strategic Research site at fanniemae.com to read the full February 2021 Economic Outlook, including the Economic Developments Commentary, Economic Forecast, Housing Forecast, and Multifamily Market Commentary. To receive e-mail updates with other housing market research from Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group, please click here.
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Opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts and other views of Fannie Mae's Economic & Strategic Research (ESR) Group included in these materials should not be construed as indicating Fannie Mae's business prospects or expected results, are based on a number of assumptions, and are subject to change without notice. How this information affects Fannie Mae will depend on many factors. Although the ESR group bases its opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts and other views on information it considers reliable, it does not guarantee that the information provided in these materials is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. Changes in the assumptions or the information underlying these views, including assumptions about the duration and magnitude of shutdowns and social distancing, could produce materially different results. The analyses, opinions, estimates, forecasts and other views published by the ESR group represent the views of that group as of the date indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of Fannie Mae or its management.