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  • Writer's pictureJason Tuvia

Elevated Services Costs Stymie Fed's Bid to Rein in Core Inflation

Rising Shelter Prices and Expensive Housing Costs

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage reached above 7.5 percent in October, marking a 23-year peak. Previous actions by the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates, coupled with soaring home prices, have contributed to the rising cost of housing. The shelter index, which measures housing costs, saw a 7.2 percent year-over-year increase in September. This increase was primarily driven by the owner's equivalent rent segment, which captures the cost of homeowners renting their own residences. These rising ownership expenses, combined with high home values, highlight the long-term cost benefits of renting an apartment. Multifamily rentals, with their comparatively lower expenses and greater availability, are expected to attract some of the single-family housing demand, thus helping to curb this component of services inflation over time.

Overall Pricing Pressures and Core Inflation

The headline Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed a 3.7 percent annual increase in September, matching August's reading. Elevated food and gasoline prices continued to contribute to inflation. However, when excluding these more volatile components, core CPI decelerated to a two-year low of 4.1 percent in September. While this slowdown is a positive sign for consumers, it remains above levels that the Federal Reserve considers acceptable. The Fed's final challenge in taming core inflation lies in persistently elevated services costs.

Transportation Expenses on the Rise

Transportation services costs played a significant role in keeping core pricing pressures elevated. The transportation services index saw a 9.1 percent increase, with motor vehicle insurance being the largest component, advancing by 18.1 percent. Earlier inflation in vehicle repair costs, including parts and labor, necessitated insurers to raise premiums. While this expense is a necessity for consumers and may not significantly affect behavior, it underscores the higher cost of owning and operating vehicles. For e-commerce and transportation companies with large fleets, this rising operational expense could become a hurdle in the future.

Market Predictions for the Fed's Next Moves

Wall Street is currently pricing in a close-to 95 percent chance that the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates flat in November. Core CPI inflation has fallen by 250 basis points from its peak in September 2022, and the remaining challenge—rising services costs—is one the Fed is aware of and understands works with lags. The potential for a Fed pause is reinforced by the shelter index's tendency to reflect trends from prior periods, owing to the annual basis of most leases. Greater interest rate stability should improve the deal-making process for lenders and investors in the commercial real estate industry.

The Fed's Ongoing Efforts to Temper Investment Activity

As the Federal Reserve's overnight lending rate stabilizes, the central bank continues to cool the economy by reducing its balance sheet. In the past year, the Fed has unloaded $900 billion. This reduction has pushed up long-term interest rates, limited lenders' liquidity, and necessitated higher yields for commercial real estate deals to make financial sense. This ongoing process has impacted cap rates, with the effects varying by individual property performance, location, and asset type.

The interplay between inflation, interest rates, and the Federal Reserve's actions is crucial for real estate professionals and investors to monitor. The real estate market is deeply intertwined with these economic forces, and understanding the trends can help in making informed decisions in a rapidly changing environment.

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