Two Federal Reserve economists are warning of an acceleration in rent inflation over the years to come, casting doubt over policy makers’ bet that overall pricing pressure is indeed temporary.
In a recent report, Xiaoqing Zhou and Jim Dolmas of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas say that since the Covid-19 pandemic began in February 2020, the inflation rates of rent and owners’ equivalent rent—which is how economists convert housing from an asset to a service for the purpose of measuring inflation—have declined sharply to around 2%. That’s compared with 3.7% and 3.3%, respectively, before the pandemic.
House-price growth, expressed as a 12-month growth rate, has historically led rent inflation and OER inflation by somewhat less than two years, Zhou and Dolmas say. The high correlations between current house price growth and future inflation of rent and OER suggest that house price growth is useful for forecasting the inflation rates of those housing components, they say, which together make about 40% of the total consumer price index.
The translation: Investors should expect to see the surge in house prices that started roughly 18 months ago begin to push up rents, and in turn drive overall inflation gauges higher. Some economists have said the federal eviction moratorium put in place at the start of the pandemic prevented rents from rising as much as they otherwise might have. The Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s efforts to extend the moratorium, lifting that effective cap on rent prices, though 13 states including New York and California have their own extensions in place.
Looking ahead, Zhou and Dolmas say they expect rent inflation to rise at a 3% pace and OER inflation to increase at a 3.8% pace by the end of next year. More importantly, they see both rent and OER inflation rising at 6.9% clips by the end of 2023. That would be the fastest in 30 years, and it is well after officials have suggested pricing pressures would cool—an expectation that is core to current interest-rate projections.
The Fed’s favorite measure of inflation is the personal consumption expenditure index, with food and energy excluded. Housing also makes up the biggest portion of the PCE, though at about 23% the weighting is much smaller than in the CPI.
Zhou and Dolmas estimate that rent and OER together are expected to add 0.6 percentage point to 12-month core PCE inflation next year and 1.2 percentage points for 2023.
“Rising inflation for rent and OER could push the overall and core PCE inflation rates above 2 percent in 2023, when current supply bottlenecks and labor shortages may have subsided,” the economists say.
The findings suggest rising price inflation will persist longer than central bankers and many economists project. Whether those increases are too hot remains to be seen. The Fed’s new inflation framework allows for above-target inflation–though officials have avoided clarifying how far above its 2% target is too much.
Because shelter represents such a big portion of households’ expenditures and thus makes up such a big portion of inflation baskets, rent bears watching. Economists say shelter inflation is not transitory inflation, and it’s fair to assume that persistently high housing inflation wouldn’t occur in a vacuum. If rising shelter prices are accompanied by ongoing increases in food and other items, upward pressure on wages will build and signal that inflation is more than a temporary problem.
Backupinvestor.com participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, which is an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for websites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com
Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases from Amazon.com. You can learn more about our editorial and affiliate policy .