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The Housing Holocaust

Don’t look now, but someone just pushed the housing market off a cliff. The National Association of Realtors announced on Tuesday that the sales of existing homes fell a staggering 27.2 per cent to a seasonally adjusted rate of 3.83 million units. This is the lowest number of sales since 1995. The reaction on Wall Street has been swift. Shares plunged in a wild sell-off that pushed stocks down more than 100 points in a matter of minutes. US Treasuries rallied on the news, sending bond yields lower as jittery investors sought safety from the ongoing avalanche of dismal economic data. The 10-year slid to 2.49 per cent while the 2 year note dipped to 0.46 per cent. Bond yields are a gauge of investor pessimism. At present, confidence in the management of the economy is at a nadir.

Analysts expected that housing sales would suffer after the Obama administration’s First-time Home-buyer credit expired in April, (deals had to close by the June 30 deadline) but they hadn’t expected a real estate holocaust ending in sales that are a paltry 25 per cent of their peak in 2005. The shocking drop in sales has added 2.5 months to the massive stockpile of unsold homes that is presently clogging the system and threatens to send prices into freefall. The pace of existing home sales is now slower than any time on record.

This latest housing smackdown will put more pressure on homeowners who are already in arrears or trying to decide whether its in their interest to make payments on a $300,000 mortgage for a house that is currently worth only $150,000. Expect foreclosures to rise sharply. 24 per cent of all mortgages already have negative equity. That’s 11.2 million loans. According to housing expert Charles Hugh Smith:

“Since there are about 47 million outstanding mortgages, and 24 million homes owned free and clear (no mortgage), then we can calculate that free-and-clear owners hold about a third of the $16.5 trillion in home equity — roughly $5.3 trillion. That leaves about $1.2 trillion in equity spread amongst the 47 million homes with mortgages…..

“Never before have American homeowners with mortgages held such a thin slice of equity, and never before have so many homeowners been at risk of negative equity. Predicting accurately how many homeowners end up underwater is impossible, as the future of home prices is unknown. But anyone claiming that the number of underwater homes can’t rise further is on thin ice.” (“Real Estate: The Worrying Numbers Behind Underwater Homeowners”, Charles Hugh Smith, Daily Finance)

It’s been four years since problems with subprime mortgages triggered the deepest slump since the Great Depression. Still, housing has yet to find a bottom. $6 trillion in home equity has been wiped out, leaving baby boomers scrambling to make up for lost wealth so they can add to their battered retirement savings.

Foreclosures have exceeded 300,000 for 17 months in a row. 10 per cent of the population is presently subsisting on foodstamps and handouts. The unemployment lines have lengthened in every city and town across the country. The shelters are full, the food banks are empty, and the economy is flat on its back. And, yet, not one banker has been indicted, prosecuted, arrested, convicted or sent to prison. Where’s the justice?

Today’s bleak housing numbers are not the result of a “cyclical downturn”, but of a crime perpetrated on the American people. There must accountability. Someone’s gotta pay!

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

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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.

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