Posts Tagged ‘Housing bubble’

House Prices At 2002 Levels

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 cities revealed a 3.5 percent decline when compared with last year.  Home prices are now at their lowest levels since November 2002.  “Nine (housing markets) hit post-bubble lows,” said David Blitzer, spokesman for S&P, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Las Vegas and New York.  “While there might be pieces of good news in this report, such as some improvement in many annual rates of return, February 2012 data confirm that, broadly-speaking, home prices continued to decline in the early months of the year,” Blitzer said.

The primary challenge continues to be foreclosures and other distressed property sales, according to Pat Newport, an analyst for IHS Global Insight.  “We still have six million homeowners who are late on their payments,” he said.  “We’ll still have lots of foreclosures, which will depress prices.”  The good news is that some of the worst hit of the index’s 20 cities appear to be on the mend.

“Some (cities) which have declined considerably over the last five to six years now have begun to exhibit an uptick in home prices,” said Luis Vergara, a director with Mission Capital Advisors.  Phoenix prices climbed 3.3 percent year-over-year.  Miami recorded a gain of 0.8 percent over 2011.  Even Las Vegas appears to be turning more positive, with home prices down only 8.5 percent, compared with a drop of nine percent in January.

The weakening may be due to the typical pattern of minimal interest during winter and greater interest in housing during the spring and summer. According to S&P, the unadjusted series is a more reliable indicator.  House prices have fallen by more than one-third from their peak when the bubble burst.  The glut of distressed properties on the market have slowed the market, as has the unemployment rate and tough credit conditions, which have offset the benefit of mortgage rates near or at record lows.

“The broad prospect for home prices is at best flat over the course of the year,” said Tom Porcelli, chief economist at RBC Capital Markets.  “And as much as we have had progress with the supply and demand imbalance, it is still a challenge to gather any momentum here.”

According to the Commerce Department, March home sales fell 7.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted 328,000-unit annual rate.  February’s sales pace was revised higher to 353,000 units, the best showing since November of 2009, from the previously reported 313,000 units.  “The conditions in housing are still extremely weak, but there are some very subtle, less negative, signs suggesting stabilization there,” said Sean Incremona, economist at 4Cast Ltd.

Stabilizing home values are necessary for a sustained rebound in the housing industry by giving prospective buyers confidence. Near record-low borrowing costs and additional hiring may help the market absorb foreclosures, which may mean housing will no longer hinder economic growth.  “Mortgage rates are very, very low, but you really need to see strong job growth,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates, Inc.  “It’s still a very long way to go before we get a full recovery.”

The latest reports indicate that homebuilders are still trying to get back on their feet.  The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo sentiment index in April declined to a three-month low.  This measure of anticipated sales for the next six months was not good news.  Sales of existing houses fell in March for the third time in the last four months.  Home purchases fell 2.6 percent to a 4.48 million annual rate from 4.6 million in February, according to the National Association of Realtors.  The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit an all-time low of 3.87 percent in February and was little changed at 3.90 percent in the week ended April 19, according to Freddie Mac.

Writing for the Index Universe website, Cinthia Murphy says that “A number of encouraging economic indicators such as an improving job market and slowly growing demand for homes loom as factors that some hope should start to help underpin housing values, even if consumer confidence remains low for now.  A clear recovery in housing is deemed crucial for a full-fledged economic recovery in the U.S. after the credit crisis of 2008 sent housing as well as the financial markets sharply lower.  U.S. housing was at the center of that crisis, and much of the developed world remains mired in slow, debt-constrained, growth.

Michael Feder, CEO of Radar Logic, a real estate data and analytics firm, thinks Case-Shiller is underselling the momentum in the housing recovery. Radar Logic’s 25-city index, which tracks daily activity, is expected to show a month-over-month increase of nearly two percent during February, Feder said.  The difference frequently comes when the market is turning, though Feder acknowledges that the mild winter may have created some demand.  Another thing to look at is investment buyers coming into the market, which Feder believes could create something of a “mini-bubble” in prices given their willingness to pay premiums.  News of that willingness spreads pretty quickly.  While it can draw in some fence-sitters who have been waiting for a bottom, there is little evidence of that to date, Feder said.

Equity Loans Putting Homeowners Under Water

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Homeowners who took out second mortgages, or borrowed against their homes to use the money as a cash advance,  may regret their decisions.  Close to 40 percent are now underwater on their loans — owing more than their home is worth, according to CoreLogic Data.  The data show 38 percent of borrowers who took second mortgages are now under water, compared with 18 percent of mortgage holders who haven’t taken out home equity loans.  The study did not examine how the cash was used.  This type of negative equity can result from increased mortgage debt, a decline in home value — or both.  Additionally, the report found that during the 1st quarter of 2011 the number of underwater homeowners fell to 22.7 percent from 23.1 percent in the 4th quarter of 2010.   Although this decrease may seem like good news, it is due to the fact that completed foreclosures lessened the total number of homeowners in the market.

The study illustrates the consequences of easy borrowing amid the housing boom’s inflated prices.  Home-equity loans, which total approximately 10 percent of the mortgage market, have been a problem for both homeowners and lenders.  Second mortgages are any loan taken out on a property that is in addition to the first mortgage; they include home-equity loans and lines of credit.  Second mortgages are taking a toll on a fitful recovery, in which housing has been the weakest spot.  The S&P/Case-Shiller National Index recently showed that home prices fell another 4.2 percent nationally in the 1st quarter, its third straight quarter of price declines after a modest recovery in early 2010.  Across the country, prices have fallen 34 percent since peaking in 2006.  The inventory of unsold homes will take more than nine months to sell, according to the National Association of Realtors.  This is approximately 50 percent longer than is considered a healthy market.  “When a homeowner’s house is under water, “it’s harder to get a credit card or a car loan, you can’t put your home up for a small business loan,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.  “There are all sorts of little, pernicious effects that you don’t necessarily think about.”

Writing on the Mortgage Rates &Trends:  Mortgage Blog, Michael Kraus says “Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between negative equity and home equity loans.  Thirty-eight percent of borrowers with home equity loans are under water.  Those with negative equity and HELOCs (home equity lines of credit) are down $98,000 on average, compared to $52,000 for those without HELOCs.  Intuitively, this makes a ton of sense and serves to illustrate the danger of using your home equity as an ATM.  Hindsight being 20/20, of course.  The negative equity problem remains the most acute in all the same places.  Nevada leads the nation in negative equity, with an incredible 63 percent of Nevada homeowners with mortgages under water.  Fifty percent of mortgaged Arizona homes are upside down, followed by Florida (46 percent), Michigan (36 percent), and California (31 percent).  These figures have changed relatively little since the last report on home equity, and negative equity will likely remain a massive problem in these markets for years to come.  Also of interest is the amount that the average borrower with negative equity is underwater.  Across the country, the average person who has negative equity is $65,000 underwater.  The highest average negative equity is in New York ($129,000), followed by Massachusetts ($120,000), Connecticut ($111,000), Hawaii ($98,000), and California ($93,000).  These areas typically have the highest home prices, so the high amounts of negative equity make sense.”

Treating your home as an ATM by taking out a second loan puts owners in the position of being more than twice as likely as single-mortgage homeowners to owe more than it’s worth.  This scenario isn’t what economic leaders had pictured.  During the housing market’s boom years, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan promoted second mortgages and home-equity loans as a way to tap homeowners’ most valuable asset to pay bills or buy a car.  Then the bubble burst.  Because home values are still falling, those loans have now become just another burdensome payment.

11 Percent Rise In New-Home Sales

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

New home sales rose in March, with the number of properties on the market at its lowest since the 1960s.  Additional gains will be stymied by competition from the market’s glut of previously owned houses.  Single-family home sales rose 11.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted 300,000 unit annual rate, according to the Department of Commerce, during a month when economists had expected a 280,000-unit pace.  Even with the March uptick, new home sales are just bouncing along the bottom.  Despite the good news, the number of houses sold still is 21.88 percent less than the level achieved one year ago.  The news was released by the U.S. Census in its monthly New Residential Home Sales Report for March.

“Investors continue to drive the market and were about 22 percent of the purchasers in March, up from 19 percent a year ago,” said economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, in Holland, PA.  Investors typically look for foreclosures or short sales.  “They love those cheap distressed homes, which now make up 40 percent of the market,” Naroff said.  “Given the tight lending standards cash buyers are more than welcome.  To get a Fannie or Freddie loan, which are the only games in town, a borrower has to have a credit score of about 760.  Before anyone gets excited and thinks housing is on the rebound, understand that we need to more than double the March sales pace to reach decent sales levels,” Naroff said.  “Prices remain soft and are down by about five percent over the year.”

According to Dirk van Dijk of the Wall Street Pit, “The March level was substantially better than the expected rate of 280,000.  The 11 lowest months on record (back to 1963) for new home sales have all been in the last 11 months.  We are down sharply from a year ago, and it is not like a year ago was a great time in the homebuilding industry either.  Relative to the peak of the housing bubble (July ’05, 1.389 million) new home sales are down 78.4 percent.  Inventories of new homes were down 1.1 percent on the month and are down 19.7 percent from a year ago.  Supply is at 7.3 months, down from 8.0 months in February, but up from 7.1 months a year ago.  While that is well off the peak of 12.0 months, it is still above normal.  A healthy market has about a six month supply of new houses and during the bubble, four months was the norm.”

The median price of new houses sold in March was $213,800, according to the Census Bureau.  “It’s a decent start to the spring selling season, but we’re coming off all-time lows here, so we’re not going to get too excited,” said Brett Ryan, economist with Deutsche Bank Securities.  “The overhang of foreclosures drags on new home sales.  Builders are waiting for a clearing process to take place.”

The housing market was either “little changed from low levels” or weaker across the country, the Federal Reserve said in its most recent Beige Book report.  The absence of a continued housing rebound is one of the reasons why policymakers will complete their $600 billion asset purchase plan and keep borrowing costs at nearly zero to encourage growth.

Last year was the fifth consecutive year of declining new-home sales. According to economists, it could take years before sales return to a healthy pace.  Slow new-home sales add up to fewer jobs in construction, which normally powers economic recoveries following recessions.  Each new home creates an average of three jobs for a year and adds $90,000 to the local tax base, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Want to Buy a Toxic Asset? The Treasury Department Is Selling Them

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The Treasury Department is planning to sell $142 billion worth of toxic assets that it acquired during the financial crisis.  According to Treasury, it wants to sell approximately $10 million worth of assets every month, depending on market conditions and hopes to end the program next year.  Treasury acquired the securities — primarily 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac –between October, 2008 and December, 2009 to stabilize the home loan market.

The Treasury has decided to sell the securities now because the market has “notably improved.”  According to Treasury officials, the sale could net $15 billion to $20 billion in profits for taxpayers.  The sale will have a negligible impact on the U.S. debt limit but could delay the ceiling’s arrival by a few days.  In early March, Treasury estimated the U.S. would hit the $14.294 trillion ceiling between April 15 and May 31.  The Treasury in 2008 retained State Street Global Advisors, a leading institutional asset manager, to acquire, manage and dispose of the mortgage-backed securities portfolio.

“We will exit this investment at a gradual and orderly pace to maximize the recovery of taxpayer dollars and help protect the process of repair of the housing finance market, Mary Miller, assistant secretary for financial markets, said.  “We’re continuing to wind down the emergency programs that were put in place in 2008 and 2009 to help restore market stability, and the sale of these securities is consistent with that effort.”

Congress gave Treasury the authority to buy securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The value of these mortgage-backed securities declined significantly after the housing bubble burst, prompting fears that write-downs could drag down individual banks and further plunge the financial system into panic.  The Treasury said that three years after the worst point of the crisis, the market for asset-backed derivatives is now much more robust.

The government bought $221 billion of these bonds, as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.  Treasury announced that it would buy the bonds on the day the government took over Fannie and Freddie.  “The primary objectives of this portfolio will be to promote market stability, ensure mortgage availability, and protect the taxpayer,” Treasury said at the time.  The portfolio is now just $142 billion.  The Congressional Oversight Panel, which supervised the Troubled Asset Relief Program, said that as of February of 2011, Treasury had received $84 billion in principal repayments and $16.7 billion in interest on the securities it holds.

“It was a bit of a surprise, though will likely be easy to digest,said Tom Tucci, head of government bond trading at Capital Markets in New York.  “We spent a year and a half at levels that were unsustainable because they weren’t based on economic fundamentals, they were based on fear.  “Now some of the fundamentals are starting to come back into place.”

Republicans are asking for deeper cuts in government spending before they will agree to raise the debt limit.  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has cautioned that failure to raise the borrowing limit would cause an unparalleled default by the government on the national debt.  Without question, this would drive up the government’s cost of borrowing money.

How Canada Avoided a Housing Bust

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Canada avoided the collapse in housing prices that devastated American homeowners and the U.S. economy, thanks to tighter financial regulations, the lack of subprime lending and securitized mortgages. Foreclosures are rare.  As a result, Canadian real estate steadily appreciated while property values in Florida, Arizona and other hard-hit American markets tanked.

According to James MacGee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, The United States’ and Canada’s “Monetary policy was very similar in both countries from 2000 to 2008, but housing prices rose much faster in the U.S. than in Canada. This suggests that some other factor both drove the more rapid appreciation in U.S. prices and set the stage for the housing bust.

And what is that other factor?  Canadians are a bit plodding: Perhaps the simplest story is that Canada was ‘lucky’ to be a late adopter of U.S. innovations rather than an innovator in mortgage finance.  In addition, bank capital regulation in Canada treats off-balance sheet vehicles more strictly than the U.S., and the stricter treatment reduces the incentive for Canadian banks to move mortgage loans to off-balance sheet vehicles.”

Relaxed lending standards in the United States, highlighted by the rise in subprime lending, played a vital role in creating the housing bubble. This weakening of standards led to an increase in housing demand.  Mortgages were frequently given to people who were likely to have trouble making payments.  Extending credit to risky borrowers helped fuel the housing boom and set the stage for the resulting surge in defaults and foreclosures, which were a big factor in the housing bust.  Additionally, according to the Case-Shiller Index, house prices in the United States from 2000 through 2006 appreciated at a rate nearly double that of Canadian residential real estate.  In contrast with the United States, Canadian house prices continued to appreciate until late 2008, and are now nearly 80 percent higher in value than in 2000.

MacGee said “The potential risks of increased household mortgage debt depend critically upon its distribution across borrowers. To see how the distribution of mortgage debt has changed, we examined the distribution of the ratio of the outstanding loan to house value (the LTV) of borrowers.  A high LTV implies that a small decline in the house price would leave the owner with negative equity.  Negative equity is problematic as it removes the option for a homeowner who is unable to meet their mortgage payments to sell their home to repay the mortgage.”

Canadian home prices are leveling off in 2011, though, with an overall decline of 0.9 percent anticipated for the year.  A home worth $100,000 will likely decline by $900 in 2011.  In some areas, home prices might actually increase while other areas might see prices fall two or three times as much. The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) expects a 7.3 percent decline in home sales in 2011.

“Canadians are debt-averse,” said Kevin Fritz, a Canadian who recently purchased a home and made a 40 percent downpayment. This is an attitude that is partly cultural and partly shaped by banking practices and regulations designed to keep people out of homes unless they can clearly afford them.  “People here don’t leverage.”

“It is a regulatory structure in Canada that created the Canadian mortgage system, and it was a regulatory and political structure in the U.S. that created the U.S. mortgage system,” said Ed Clark, chief executive of TD Bank.  “The irony is…that one of the primal causes of the crisis was the U.S. mortgage system.”

In an interesting aside, more Canadians are finding housing bargains in Florida, and today account for eight percent of residential sales in the state.  Doug Flood, who relocated to the Sunshine State from Toronto in 2008, now runs a business that helps his fellow Canadians find the home they want.  “There’s clearly a perfect storm.  If you’re Canadian, you’ve got very low interest rates at home if you want to borrow against your house.  You’ve got a foreign exchange par, dollar-for-dollar.  And prices down here that are 40 to 50 percent lower than what they were five years ago.”

To listen to our interview with the Brookings Institution about financial regulations, click here.