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Moneylife » Life » World » Distortions of US housing markets

Distortions of US housing markets

William Gamble | 13/05/2013 12:14 PM | 

Housing is usually more stable because the motivations of the buyers are for long-term occupancy rather than exclusively for profit. But by rigging the market toward speculators, the Fed may have queered the pitch. Sadly, once the money has fuelled a boom, you can’t just take it back

 
One of the brightest parts of the American economy is the housing market. It is considered the strongest proof of a recovery. Recent numbers appear to create a very optimistic story. The S&P/Case-Shiller Index, the best measure of housing prices, showed a 9% increase since last year. The construction trade, which lost 1.92 million jobs in the recession, has recovered 370 thousand jobs. Sales of new homes have increased 18% since last year. Sales of previously occupied homes are up 10.3% over the same period. Inventory of homes for sale is at levels not seen since the height of the bubble in 2006. With this type of shortage new construction is booming. Even the size of new houses is getting bigger. The median size of newly constructed houses hit 2,259 square feet (210 sq m) in 2006, before dropping 6% to 2,132 sq ft (197 sq m). They have now reached a new high of 2,309 sq ft (214 sq m). The best news is that a major cause of this revival, low interest rates, will continue into the foreseeable future.
 
But the beneficial effects of the low interest rates are only part of story. The reason why the US Federal Reserve is manipulating interest rates is to encourage investors to put money into riskier assets. This helps explain record stock markets in a lacklustre economic environment. With yields at record lows many other investments appear attractive including risky junk bonds. For the past 30 years the Barclays US High Yield Index (junk bonds) had never been lower than 6%, but last week it dropped under 5%. The average yield on CCC-rated bonds is now 6.77% down from 10.13% a year ago. The triple C rating for a bonds means that the bond has a 50% or higher chance of defaulting.
 
With yields this low, purchasing housing that can be used for rental income looks very attractive. With cheap financing from the Fed, large investment companies expect to get a 14% to 27% return on a $100,000 home. The rental market in the US is strong because of the housing crisis. The housing crisis not only threw millions of home owners into the streets as their homes were foreclosed, the foreclosures also destroyed their credit histories. Without the ability to qualify for the cheap credit, most of these people had only one option—rent. 
 
Besides excellent rents, investors might also expect the houses to appreciate. The US housing market peaked in 2006. It had its largest decline in 2007 to 2008, but continued to decline until 2012. By buying at the bottom often at 30% to 40% discounts to pre-crash prices, investors can expect appreciation of at least 10%.
 
As you would expect, investors have flooded the real estate market. The combination of low prices and money at practically no cost has been irresistible. Investors have been especially interested in multi-family homes. The optimistic data from house construction is almost entirely due to multi-family dwellings. The 7% rise in new constructions last month was a combination of a 31% rise in multi-family housing. Single family housing, the ones most likely to be purchased by a home owner, fell 4.8%. Multi-family housing starts are running at an annualized pace of 392,000 which dwarfs the ten year historical average of 238,000. Investors bought close to 20% of all homes available in both February and March. Although many of the homes purchased by investors are purchased for cash, last December 13.6% of the mortgages taken out were for second homes or investments topping the 13.4% reached at the peak of the market in January of 2006.
 
The low interest rates have distorted the market. Normally housing recoveries are driven by first time buyers. In healthy recoveries they make up 40% of the market. There are years of pent up demand. But with the high unemployment, many of these first time buyers cannot enter the market. So despite the demand and the low prices, first time buyers made up only 30% of the market. 
 
While the Federal Reserve’s cheap money has been available to speculators and hedge funds, it has not found its way to the ordinary borrower. This situation is due to a number of factors. Borrowers with recent defaults or periods without a job will have trouble qualifying for loans. The concentration of banking has eliminated many of the smaller institutions which might have been more sympathetic. The almost total domination of the mortgage guarantee industry by the federal housing agencies of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have standardized all  of the requirements, so if you don’t fit the mould, you don’t get the loan. This shows up partly in the headline price rise, because only the wealthy can qualify. The prices of larger homes, $500,000 to $750,000, have risen by 25% since last year. Homes between $100,000 and $250,000 have risen only 7%.
 
A good example of what is happening is Las Vegas. Las Vegas—the gambling capital of the United States—is a city of 2 million people. The housing market had one of the biggest run ups of any market in the US. The average price of a house increased from about $120,000 to $240,00 almost 100% from 2003 to 2006 before falling to $100,000 in 2010. There are 20,000 homes in Las Vegas in some state of foreclosure and the jobless rate is two percentage points above the national average. Yet, Las Vegas is experiencing a housing boom. 
 
Home prices have risen 30% in a year. Investment firm, Blackstone, has purchased 400 houses in Las Vegas. Blackstone and other investors have accounted for at least 10% of homes sold last year and 60% of sales are for cash. The investors’ objective is to invest an amount sufficient to fix the house up for rental. The demand from investors for this type of property has increased the median price up to $161,000, much of that since last June. 
 
This model seems like a one-way bet. Borrow at record low interest rates, buy houses at heavily discounted prices often at foreclose auctions, fix them up a bit, rent them out and finally sell them at a profit. The problem is that the real economy can mess up the best spread-sheet projections. Unemployment is Las Vegas is still high. The main industry is gambling, tourism and conventions which are all discretionary spending. With so much supply, rents on single family homes are declining. Normal house buyers are priced out of the market and often investment firms are the only bidders.
 
Las Vegas is an extreme example of what has been occurring across the country. Other depressed markets in Arizona and Florida are seeing similar booms. The problem is that any distortion within a market is inherently unstable. Today’s boom could easily turn into tomorrow’s bust. Housing is usually more stable because the motivations of the buyers are for long-term occupancy rather that exclusively for profit. But by rigging the market toward speculators, the Federal Reserve may have queered the pitch. The central bank may be belatedly recognizing this with its just-announced strategy for winding down the QE program. Sadly once the money has fuelled a boom, you can’t just take it back. 
 
(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages.)
 

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6 Comments
Peter Palms

Peter Palms 1 year ago


HOMES ARE NATIONALIZED
One of the first industries to feel the raw power of "emergency measures" was the home industry. During the early stages of inflation, people were applying their increasingly worthless dollars to pay down their mortgages. That was devastating to the lenders. They were being paid back in dollars that were worth only a fraction of the ones they had lent out. The banking crisis had caused the disappearance of savings and investment capital, so they were unable to issue new loans to replace the old. Besides, people were afraid to sell their homes under such chaotic times and, if they did, very few were willing to buy with interest rates that high. Old loans were being paid off, and new loans were not replacing them. The S&Ls, which in the 1980s had been in trouble because home prices were falling, now were going broke because prices were rising.
Congress applied the expected political fix by bailing them out and taking them over. But that did not stop the losses. It merely transferred them to the taxpayers. To put an end to the losses, Congress passed the Housing Fairness and Reform Act (HFRA). It converted all Bancor-denominated contracts to a new unit of value—called the "Fairness Value"— which is determined by the National Average Price Index (NAPI) on Fridays of the preceding week. This has nothing to do with interest rates. It relates to Bancor values. For the purpose of illustration, let us convert Bancors back to dollars. A $50,000 loan on Friday became a $920,000 loan on Monday. Few people could afford the payments. Thousands of angry voters stormed the Capitol building in protest. While the mob shouted obscenities outside, Congress hastily voted to declare a moratorium on all mortgage payments. By the end of the day, no one had to pay anything! The people returned to their homes with satisfaction and gratitude for their wise and generous leaders.
That was only an "emergency" measure to be handled on a more sound basis later on. Many months have now passed, and

Congress has not dared to tamper with the arrangement. The voters would throw them out of office if they tried. Millions of people have been living in their homes at no cost, except for county taxes, which were also beyond the ability of anyone to pay. Following the lead of Congress, the counties also declared a moratorium on their taxes—but not until the federal government agreed to make up their losses under terms of the newly passed Aid to Local Governments Act (ALGA).
Renters are now in the same position, because virtually all rental property has been nationalized, even that which had been totally paid for by their owners. Under HFRA, it is not "fair" for those who are buying their homes to have an advantage over those who are renting. Rent controls made it impossible for apartment owners to keep pace with the rising costs of maintenance and especially their rising taxes. Virtually all rental units have been seized by county governments for back taxes. And since the counties themselves are now dependent on the federal government for most of their revenue, their real estate has been transferred to federal agencies in return for federal aid.
All of this was pleasing to the voters who were gratified that their leaders were "doing something" to solve their problems. It gradually became clear, however, that the federal government was now the owner of all their homes and apartments. The reality is that people are living in them only at the pleasure of the government. They can be relocated to other quarters if that is what the government wants.

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Peter Palms

Peter Palms 1 year ago

the dollar loss of purchasing power dictates that more of them will be needed to buy the house of the same value it had before for more dollars every day. House values are not increasing.

Whe the dollar becomes worthless
you house will still have its value if you retain ownership. Accepting dollar for it is like accepting green stamps for it, when that inevitably happens.

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Vinay Joshi

Vinay Joshi 1 year ago in reply to Peter Palms

Hi, Peters,

How's you?

Do you know who Ben S Bernanke is?
Well you should.

Regards,

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Peter Palms

Peter Palms 1 year ago in reply to Vinay Joshi

Yes he is the Man managing the inflationary practice of printing notes with nothing behind them. He is in charge of managing the Fed which has collapsed three times in the past and a fourth is imminent and inevitable. However bringing him to trail serves no purpose because he is exempt from the laws of the United States.

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Peter Palms

Peter Palms 1 year ago


http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/the-excha...

Don’t confuse liquidity with credit Why is the Fed issuing QE
There is zero correlation between the Fed printing and the money supply. If you don’t believe this, you owe it to yourself to study up on monetary policy until you do.
This is an issue that brings them out of the bunker like no other in economics. But if you are an investor, trader or economist, understanding—and I mean really understanding, not just recycling things you overheard on a trading desk or recall from Econ 101—the mechanics of monetary policy should be at the top of your checklist. With the US, Japan, the UK and maybe soon Europe all with their pedals to the monetary metal, more hinges on understanding this now than ever before.
The Federal Reserve only provides liquidity. The amount of liquidity it puts in the reserve system has no direct impact on the issuance of credit by banks or shadow banks. Only banks and shadow banks can create credit. And they lend either out of cash on hand or by repo-ing treasuries, mortgages, or deposits, if cash on hand is insufficient. And collateral that is pledged once can be pledged over and over and over (collateral chain). So, even though credit increases, the total amount of banking reserves on deposit at the Fed remains unchanged (though composition across banks may change).
So if the banks and shadow banks can just as easily repo their Treasury and mortgage holdings to finance lending, and there is no link between base money and credit creation, why is the Fed doing QE in the first place?

Details at above URL address

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Vinay Joshi

Vinay Joshi 1 year ago

Hello Sucheta ,

I had this William’s mail to me on May 12, 10:38pm.

I’ll be separately forwarding to him the same reply as in this forum.

If he can’t reply THRO’ your ML, please do not post him in this forum.

But I’ll put up he will reply. [By the way you extract it, IN which manner you forward the responses to him?

Hello Williams,

How are you? I’m fine, as fine as you are. I expect your prompt reply in Suchetas forum. OK.

Should I talk of ‘London Whale’, or ‘Washington Super Whale’?
Well 1994/2003 we are in 2013!

Ben Bernanke ‘is not a whale to be harpooned’!!? Anything you state on this?

How QE is going to play out in say next 5/6 months?

Are Hedge Funds, [rogue traders if any] betting against FED?

Prices soaring, differential fundamentals, or as IMF puts it as three speed recovery. [simply QE.]

C’mon Williams I’m asking you a fundamental a question – can asset bubble be identified?
[By Fed or Central Banks – it can be hubristic you know it.]

If one is trading in currencies, be short on yen not Euro. Make money.

On multi family unit housing I agree with you, rest is pent up demand. Housing is more critical for US economy. Deflation to overcome.

The economy has to strengthen on manufacturing not housing. Fine ten year bond yield risen to 1.92 this evening, how housing demand can be met with jobless growth? [March IP 0.4%.]

But when I heard Ben B, talking in Chicago, I believe that there are fresh signs of excessive risk taking.

Well as of now these things are working to the advantage of India, with inflows, outflows a great risk, not being quality capital flow.

How will FED pump in inflation?

Williams await your priority reply asap.

Regards,






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