FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pop Goes the Bubble!

by MIKE WHITNEY

 

Four months ago I wrote an article, “Doomsday; the Final Months of the Housing Bubble” that predicted a dramatic fall in housing prices that would have a catastrophic effect on the American economy.

In truth, I’m a lousy forecaster and simply collected the relevant data from a number of sources that convinced me that the end was quickly approaching. Now, it seems that dismal day is upon us and the Grim Reaper has begun churning out the disappointing statistics that we’ve dreaded from the very beginning.

In November the sales of new homes plunged by the largest amount in 12 years. The 11.5% decline from October was 4 points higher than expected by Wall Street analysts, fueling the belief that the red-hot housing market is headed for the dumpster.

This sudden downturn is expected to slow the wave of speculation that has kept the market booming for the last few years. According to an Associated Press report, sales dropped by “22% in the West, the biggest decline in the region since February 1995.”

Many readers will wonder why trimming the spec-market threatens the overall economy. The reason is, as The Economist points out is that “23% of all American houses bought in 2004 were for investment, not owner-occupation. Another 13% were bought as second homes. Investors are prepared to buy houses they will rent out at a loss; just because they think prices will keep rising — the very definition of a financial bubble.”

If we consider the effects of 36% of buyers moving out of the market we can grasp the magnitude of the problem.

The crisis is compounded by the enormous effect of the housing market on both growth and jobs.

“Over the past four years, consumer spending and residential construction have together accounted for 90% of the total growth in GDP. And over two-fifths of all private sector jobs created since 2001 have been in housing-related sectors, such as construction, real estate and mortgage broking.” (The Economist)

“2 out of every 5” private sector jobs!?!

“90% of the total growth in GDP”!?!

These are figures that simply boggle the mind. What it tells us is that the market has been artificially inflated by the Federal Reserve’s shortsighted low-interest rates policy and the shabby lending practices of the major mortgage companies.

The banks have lowered the standards for home loans to such an extent that the traditional loan of 20% down and a fixed interest rate is virtually a thing of the past. Instead, those conservative practices have been replaced with “creative financing” schemes that put the entire housing market at risk.

In 2004 “one-fourth of all home-buyers — including 42% of first-time buyers — made no down payment.” (New York Times, July 7, 2005)

Equally troubling is the fact that “nearly one third of all new mortgages this year call for interest-only payments (NY Times) This tells us that a large number of new buyers can barely make their payments, but are gambling that their property value will go up enough to justify their investment. This is “equity roulette,” a shell game that anticipates that salaries will go up while interest rates stay low.

We can nticipate that many overstretched homeowners will begin to fall from the economic precipice in short order. In fact, many markets are already showing a 40% increase in foreclosures even though the air has just begun hissssssing out of the bubble.

The ridiculously low interest rates coupled with the irresponsible lending practices has precipitated a feeding frenzy for cheap money. Greenspan is expected to raise rates another one-half percent before he leaves in January which should be just enough to collapse the market and put the economy in a permanent coma.

As Paul Van Eeden says in ‘the End of the Real Estate Boom”,

‘this is not a trivial matterAs the real estate market goes, so goes the economy and the stock market. The only thing that could keep the US on life-support a little longer is another round of interest rate reductions, but this time it could hurt the dollar, and that would mean higher gasoline prices again, so it’s a double-edged sword.”

Van Eeden provides a good description of the mess that Greenspan has created; a blind alley from which there is no foreseeable escape. The Federal Reserve has managed to keep the economy running on fumes by dropping rates 12 times to a rock bottom 1% after the fall of the stock market (another Greenspan fiasco which cost the American people $7 trillion) It was basically “free money” loaned out to keep the country limping along (and to facilitate Bush’s tax cuts) while millions of Americans tried to recoup from their losses. Regrettably, the cheap money and shaky loans simply created an even bigger and more lethal bubble that is following the same trajectory as the Hindenburg.

Ka-booom!

Adding insult to injury, the Federal Reserve announced 2 weeks ago that new steps will be taken to regulate low-interest, high-risk loans. In the third quarter a full 33% of first-time home buyers took advantage of “non-traditional” mortgages. (“No interest” or “ARMS” adjustable rate mortgages) Try to imagine the chilling effect on the housing market when 33% of first-time homeowners are removed from the pool of potential buyers?

Still think you”ll be able to sell your house at a profit?

Jittery Americans don’t need a crystal ball to spot the shipwreck looming just on the horizon. The last remaining droplets of prosperity are trickling from the ailing economy and Greenspan’s 18 year quest to flatten the American middle class will soon be realized. ‘the Economist” summarized it best when they said, ‘the worldwide rise in housing prices is the biggest bubble in history. Prepare for the economic pain when it pops”.

MIKE WHITNEY can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com

 

More articles by:

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 22, 2017
Jason Hirthler
Invisible Empire Beneath the Radar, Above Suspicion
Ken Levy
Sorry, But It’s Entirely the Right’s Fault
John Laforge
Fukushima’s Radiation Will Poison Food “for Decades,” Study Finds
Ann Garrison
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and the UK’s Socialist Surge
Phillip Doe
Big Oil in the Rocky Mountain State: the Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado
Howard Lisnoff
The Spiritual Death of Ongoing War
Stephen Cooper
Civilized, Constitution-Loving Californians Will Continue Capital Punishment Fight
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
Cuba Will Not Bow to Trump’s Threats
Ramzy Baroud
Israel vs. the United Nations: The Nikki Haley Doctrine
Tyler Wilch
The Political Theology of US Drone Warfare
Colin Todhunter
A Grain of Truth: RCEP and the Corporate Hijack of Indian Agriculture
Robert Koehler
When the Detainee is American…
Jeff Berg
Our No Trump Contract
Faiza Shaheen
London Fire Fuels Movement to Challenge Inequality in UK
Rob Seimetz
Sorry I Am Not Sorry: A Letter From Millennials to Baby Boomers
June 21, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
Resist This: the United States is at War With Syria
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9-11
Diana Johnstone
The Single Party French State … as the Majority of Voters Abstain
Ted Rall
Democrats Want to Lose the 2020 Election
Kathy Kelly
“Would You Like a Drink of Water?” Please Ask a Yemeni Child
Russell Mokhiber
Sen. Joe Manchin Says “No” to Single-Payer, While Lindsay Graham Floats Single-Payer for Sick People
Ralph Nader
Closing Democracy’s Doors Until the People Open Them
Binoy Kampmark
Barclays in Hot Water: The Qatar Connection
Jesse Jackson
Trump Ratchets Up the Use of Guns, Bombs, Troops, and Insults
N.D. Jayaprakash
No More Con Games: Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now! (Part Four)
David Busch
The Kingdom of Pence–and His League of Flaming Demons–is Upon Us
Stephen Cooper
How John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle” Helps Us Navigate Social Discord
Madis Senner
The Roots of America’s Identity and Our Political Divide are Buried Deep in the Land
June 20, 2017
Ajamu Baraka
The Body Count Rises in the U.S. War Against Black People
Gary Leupp
Russia’s Calm, But Firm, Response to the US Shooting Down a Syrian Fighter Jet
Maxim Nikolenko
Beating Oliver Stone: the Media’s Spin on the Putin Interviews
Michael J. Sainato
Philando Castile and the Self Righteous Cloak of White Privilege
John W. Whitehead
The Militarized Police State Opens Fire
Peter Crowley
The Groundhog Days of Terrorism
Norman Solomon
Behind the Media Surge Against Bernie Sanders
Pauline Murphy
Friedrich Engels: a Tourist In Ireland
David Swanson
The Unifying Force of War Abolition
Louisa Willcox
Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Tom Udall Back Tribes in Grizzly Fight
John Stanton
Mass Incarceration, Prison Labor in the United States
Robert Fisk
Did Trump Denounce Qatar Over Failed Business Deals?
Medea Benjamin
America Will Regret Helping Saudi Arabia Bomb Yemen
Brian Addison
Los Angeles County Data Shows Startling Surge in Youth, Latino Homelessness
Native News Online
Betraying Indian Country: How Grizzly Delisting Exposes Trump and Zinke’s Assault on Tribal Sovereignty and Treaty Rights
Stephen Martin
A Tragic Inferno in London Reflects the Terrorism of the Global Free Market
Debadityo Sinha
Think Like a River
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail