FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Bottomless Pit

by MIKE WHITNEY

“There are many good reasons to believe that the 5.5 million foreclosures we have seen are barely halfway through their full course. The United States may end up with a total of 8-10 million foreclosures before we are finished.”

— Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture

It all gets down to supply and demand. The banks have been keeping millions of homes off the market until a settlement was reached in the $25 billion robosigning scandal. Now that the 49-state deal has been finalized, the banks are preparing to put more of their of distressed homes up for sale. That will lead to lower prices and the next leg down in the 6-year long housing crisis.

According to Reuters, new foreclosures “begun by Deutsche Bank were up 47 percent from 2011. Those of Wells Fargo’s rose 68 percent and Bank of America’s, including BAC Home Loans Servicing, jumped nearly seven-fold — 251 starts versus 37 in the same period in 2011.”

So BofA, which unwisely purchased Countryside following the Crash of ’08, is scrambling to get its house in order by removing the deadwood from its balance sheet. Good luck with that.

In order to avoid a sudden plunge in prices–which would be devastating for bank balance sheets–the banks will continue to control the number of homes that are released onto the market. In 2011, existing home inventory shrunk by 20 percent year over year while the shadow backlog of distressed homes continued to grow in leaps and bounds. This shows that the banks are managing inventory to minimize their losses.

But even though “visible” inventory has shrunk by as much as 30 percent in some markets, housing prices have continued their downward trek, dropping roughly 4 percent in 2011. This reflects the truly dismal condition of the underlying economy that is wracked by high unemployment, flat wages, and soaring personal debt. Absent another round of fiscal stimulus, there’s little chance that housing sales
will rebound in 2012 despite historic low rates and myriad government loan modification programs.

The biggest problem facing housing now is that ordinary working people can’t make their monthly payments. An article in Reuters summed it up like this: “The subprime stuff is long gone,” said Michael Redman, founder of 4closurefraud.org. “Now the folks being affected are hardworking, everyday Americans struggling because of the economy.”

So what we’re seeing now is the knock-on effects from high unemployment, tight credit, shitty wages and deep protracted economic stagnation. This is a policy issue, but policymakers refuse to address it, so housing will bump along the bottom for years to come. Now take a look at this article in the Wall Street Journal:

“Delinquent mortgage borrowers, take note: Banks still aren’t moving very fast to kick you out of your homes. February’s foreclosure settlement between big U.S. banks and state attorneys general should have been bad news for mortgage deadbeats — and for house prices. Having resolved charges that they had filed bogus documents to speed up repossessions, the banks should have felt free to move ahead with millions of foreclosures. They should also have started selling more repossessed houses, an influx of cheap supply that would weigh on the market.

So far, though, that’s not happening. …. as a result, the average number of days since the last mortgage payment had been made on homes in the foreclosure process rose to 667, up from 660 the previous month and 253 in February 2008. In other words, the average delinquent borrower could live rent-free for nearly two years without getting evicted, assuming the borrower chose to stay in the house.” (“The Foreclosure Deal Spares the Housing Market (So Far)”, Bloomberg)

Just to be clear, we do not agree with the author that the people who were victims in this vast criminal mortgage laundering scam– that destroyed the financial system and pushed the global economy into a Depression–can be fairly characterized as “mortgage deadbeats”. Even so, the point he makes is important, because it illustrates how the banks are fiddling with supply to avoid the losses on non performing loans. Screwball accounting regulations allow the banks to keep mortgages on their books at fictitious prices (artificially high) until the house is sold. Only then, are they required to write down the difference. Considering that they still have millions of distressed homes on their books, this is no small matter. An accurate accounting of bank real estate inventory would show that most of the biggest banks in the country are technically insolvent.

So what does this mean for people who are thinking about buying a house in the near future? Should they hang on to their money and wait for another year or so or jump at that $450,000 McMansion with the Gothic parapets and custom Swedish sauna that’s been marked-down to a mere $185,000?

That’s hard to say. It depends on one’s own priorities. But one thing is certain, housing prices won’t be going up for a very long time. Maybe never. Moody’s ratings agency forecasts that we’ll see “an 8% to 10% decline in housing prices” due to a 25 percent uptick in repossessed properties from 1 million in 2011. Unfortunately, Moody’s calculations are far too optimistic. In fact, “top housing analyst Laurie Goodman estimates the amount of shadow inventory at between 8 and 10 million homes, and Michael Olenick, using a different methodology, comes in at just under 9 million homes.” (“Moody’s Foresees 10% Drop in US Housing Prices“, naked capitalism)

Even if Goodman-Olenick’s predictions are wrong by half–which is unlikely–prices have a long way to go before they hit bottom.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). He 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