Wednesday, September 13, 2006

US Housing Market Crash

When will the tsunami of foreclosures hit?

With millions of adjustable-rate mortgages about to reset this fall, experts expect a wave of foreclosures by Americans in every income bracket. Here's why they could soar in late 2006 and beyond.

Those easy-mortgage chickens are coming home to roost.

This fall the adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) that millions of Americans took out during the recent housing boom will be reset, and many homeowners will see their monthly mortgage payments shoot up by as much as 20%. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, of all mortgages financed in 2005, 36% were ARMs -- the highest ever.

National foreclosures up 24%

Property foreclosures nationwide increased 24 percent in August from the previous month and 53 percent from a year ago, marking the highest rate so far this year, a foreclosure service reported today.

A total of 115,292 properties entered some stage of foreclosure during the month, according to a report from RealtyTrac. The report also shows a national foreclosure rate of one new foreclosure filing for every 1,003 U.S. households, the second-highest monthly foreclosure rate reported year to date.

This report is much bleaker than numbers reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association today. In a survey of more than 42.5 million loans nationwide, homeowners appeared to be keeping up with their mortgage payments.

What will it mean for Canada. Well for one thing its going to kick the crap out of Softwood lumber exports. Leaving those who take Harpers deal wth cash in hand but no market to export to. All those jobs the BQ is counting on...gone...poof.

As the lumber bosses take their cash and run. Canadian Banks operating in the U.S. will take loan losses. The Canadian dollar will rise against the American dollar and our manufacturing sector will cry the blues, more layoffs.

Housing prices have finally outrun incomes."

Runaway real estate prices, which had been growing in double digits throughout much of the country, are now pricing potential homeowners right out of the market. The ability of Americans to afford a home is the worst it's been in two decades, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The past year has been rough on consumers. First, mortgage rates began to rise. Then, there was the jolt from sharply higher energy prices. And now the apparent end of the long real estate boom is at hand. It's all combined to make Americans feeling distinctly poorer, and less confident. Mirroring other recent surveys, the U.S. Conference Board reported last week that its consumer confidence index suffered its biggest one-month drop in August since the devastation of hurricane Katrina a year ago.

Think it all doesn't matter to you? Think again. For nearly a decade now, the United States has been the economic driver for much of the world -- Canada included. The United States has been sucking up excess savings and consuming everything in sight, from cars to homes and everything that goes in them.

"It's hard to imagine that a U.S.-centric global economy wouldn't be at risk in the aftermath of a bursting of the U.S. housing bubble," warned Morgan Stanley chief economist Stephen Roach, one of Wall Street's most outspoken worrywarts.

"The non-U.S. world remains heavily reliant on selling exports to wealth-dependent American consumers. As the United States comes to grips with the aftershocks of another post-bubble shakeout, so too must the rest of the world."

As he put it: "If the American consumer sneezes, countries in both the developed and the developing world could easily catch a cold."

Globally this is a major consumer market crash, not seen since the crash of 1984 when the FIRE market in Americas cities, and around the world crashed. Australia is reporting record housing foreclosures.

House-price inflation is faster than a year ago in roughly half of the 20 countries we track... Apart from America, only Spain, Hong Kong and South Africa have seen big slowdowns. In ten of the countries, prices are rising at double-digit rates, compared with only seven countries last year. European housing markets—notably Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, France and Sweden—now dominate the top of the league. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even the German market is starting to wake up after more than a decade of flat or falling prices... Calculations by The Economist show that in Britain and Australia the ratios of prices to rents are respectively 55% and 70% above the long-term average... By the same gauge property is “overvalued” by 50% in America."

Canadas housing market is cooling off too. And in hot Alberta, the boom bubble could burst with ominous results despite high wages. The market is overpriced, it is inflationary and it means well paid workers are overextending their personal debt. Once again putting conditions on us that we saw in 1984 when the Oil Boom bottomed out. Despite a labour shortage in no way are average wages keeping up with home costs.

Central Bank Warns Over [Canadian] House Prices (Globe and Mail, September 7th): "the central bank said yesterday that one of the key risks to the Canadian economy is that housing prices will continue to climb steeply here, exerting inflationary pressure, even as the entire U.S. economy is dragged down by its crumbling real estate market. The Bank of Canada surprised no one and left its key interest rate unchanged yesterday... Average home prices are expected to reach an all-time high in 2006, although the increase from 2005 is not as big a leap as the year before, said Gregory Klump, chief economist of the Canadian Real Estate Association. He expects average prices to rise 6.1 per cent in 2006 and 4.7 per cent in 2007. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. is forecasting a 12-per-cent increase in housing prices this year and 6.4 per cent in 2007."

The American economy will be a basket case, having to take out more loans to offset the crash in consumer spending which is the only thing holding up Wall Street. While Wall Street has made money off companies that layoff workers, that too will come to bite them in the ass.

WHEN THERE ARE MORE "home for sale" than "help wanted" signs, the U.S. economy may be mired in recession.

Most gauges are confirming that the housing market has hit the brakes and may be in a tailspin. Existing-home sales dropped a more-than-expected 4 percent in July and the number of unsold houses is the largest since 1993. New-home sales fell 22 percent from the same month last year. And construction spending fell the most in five years.

While higher mortgage rates and affordability concerns have been the bogeymen in the current U.S. housing decline, little attention has been paid to the combined demons of unemployment and adjustable-rate mortgages.

WSJ Economist Survey -- Housing Slowdown to Continue; Recession a Possibility (Eli Hoffman in Seeking Alpha, September 8th): "In a recent survey of 52 economists, most believe cooling in the housing market will extend into next year. Housing forecasts: Many predict no change, or even a decline, in home prices next year. The average prediction for next year was a 0.43% increase in housing prices, well below the 2.7% forecasted CPI inflation measure. The last time housing trailed inflation was in 1996."

Risk of U.S. Recession Growing: HSBC (Reuters, September 8th): "Investment bank HSBC has revised downward its forecast for 2007 economic growth and cautioned that the risk of an outright recession is growing as a retreat in housing threatens household balance sheets... They now see gross domestic product expanding just 1.9 percent next year, down from an earlier forecast of 2.6 percent and from an expected rate of growth around 3.5 percent for 2006."

Like his daddy before him, George will have to either raise taxes or take out more loans from China. Either way just in time for the November election. Republicans lose both houses.

The Return of Saving
The U.S. savings rate has been falling for decades. But that downward trend will likely soon be reversed, as factors such as rising mortgage interest rates force Americans to start saving more. The change will ultimately be for the better, but in the short term it could cause serious problems for the United States and its trading partners unless they start preparing immediately.

Also See:

Housing Bubble


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Aaron said...

Interesting analysis, Eugene.

You talk of "average wages" not keeping up with the housing boom; however, it might be real wages, or the inflation-adjusted real purchasing power of a unit of labour that's not keeping up as well.

I'll be keeping a close eye on this in my new job down in the US (yeah, I joined the brain drain, but I'll be back - Calgary just doesn't like me).

In the spirit of reciprocity, I'll share with you my favorite treasure trove of reading materials:

Read Michael Hudson's "The Mathematics of Compound Interest". He's a very unorthodox economist who is schooled in non neoclassical economics and is one of my favorite authors.

eugene plawiuk said...

You are correct it is also real wages, inflation adjusted wages. Even though workers here on average are making two dollars over minmum wage, and even as high a ten dollars an hour, which I consider the base for a living wage, it does not keep up with the hot housing market that jumped 20-30% in six months.
Thanks for the links...LETS is an interesting system which was used in Argentina when their currency collapsed, and I would point you to checking out the Mutualist writings of Kevin Carson for an interesting take on anarchist economics.....see my link inthe sidebar under blogs I read.