Have nothing to do with the [evil] things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light... [For] when all things are brought out into the light, then their true nature is clearly revealed...

-Ephesians 5:11-13

Tag Archives: Recession

Home Ownership Rates Continue to Fall; New Plans to Reflate Underway

When the Census Bureau announced on Tuesday that the rate of homeownership in the US continued its nearly 9-year decline, pundits were quick to lay the blame on higher lending requirements, bankers reluctant to make loans, increasing interest rates and a weak economy with slow job growth. In addition, young people are living at home longer due to student loan debt and poor job prospects. As a result, according to the Census Bureau, rental rates are climbing as families needing a place to live have few other options.

Having fallen from the peak of 69 percent reached in 2004, current home ownership has dropped to 65 percent, back to where it was in 1995. Robert Schiller, economics professor at Yale, thinks the rate will continue to fall further.

Home prices are increasing not because of demand by new buyers but because of investors seeing the opportunities in buying distressed properties and turning them into rentals. In some places in the country one out of every two home purchases are paid for in cash.

But something else is afoot: fewer citizens are buying into the notion that home ownership makes economic sense and is equivalent to a savings plan that can be turned into income in later years. As Emily Badger noted at The Atlantic Cities, “We have traditionally considered homeownership to be a sign of the health of the economy. But some of these people who would have been homeowners 10 years ago … have concluded that they would rather rent [today]…”

Some have no doubt been so badly mauled financially in the recession that they have few options. Others have long memories and remember the pain and suffering they endured as a result of deliberate government policies instituted to make homeownership possible to millions of unqualified buyers.

One of those with long memories is Henry Cisneros, a key player in developing the “National Homeownership Strategy” while he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under Bill Clinton. Unanimously confirmed by the Senate, Cisneros took over at HUD in January, 1993 and by 1997 had boosted the US homeownership rate from 63.7 percent to 65.7 percent. Even after leaving office, his strategies continued blowing up the real estate bubble so that by the time Clinton left office in 2001 home ownership was at 67.5 percent on its way to peaking during the summer and fall of 2004.

In a remarkably candid and forthright article about Cisneros’ role in creating the real estate bubble, The New York Times told the story of a compassionate government bureaucrat with big dreams of providing home ownership to people who couldn’t afford them under current rules. So he changed the rules and invited bankers, realtors and homebuilders to participate in the party guaranteed by taxpayers. In 2008 as he contemplated the damage he had wrought while head of HUD, Cisneros claimed that his intentions were honorable, at least in the beginning, but that his plans to provide low-interest loans and much weaker underwriting requirements through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were hijacked by “unscrupulous participants – bankers, brokers, secondary market people. The country is paying for that, and families are hurt because we … did not draw line.” He expressed regret that his efforts had not only lured people into homes they couldn’t afford, but that his policies ultimately ejected them from those homes as a result. He said, “I’ve been waiting for someone to put all the blame on my doorstep.”

His strategy was to lower underwriting standards by allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to require less documentation and approve higher debt to income levels than normal. He reduced down payment requirements from 20 percent to 10 percent, and then to 5 percent, then down to 3 percent and ultimately to 0 percent. His strategy allowed these unqualified buyers to cover their closing costs with another loan, putting them into a home with truly nothing out of the own pockets. Lenders were happy with the new rules as the US taxpayer stood behind the loans bought by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Cisneros created a monster.

Once the ball got rolling, it was impossible to stop or even slow down. Said Cisneros:

You think you have a finely tuned instrument that you can use to say: Stop! We’re at 69 percent homeownership. We should go no further. There are people who should remain renters.

But you really are given a sledgehammer and an ax. They are blunt tools.

I’m not sure you can regulate when we’re talking about an entire nation of 300 million people and this behavior becomes viral.

Cisneros drank his own Kool-Aid. He joined with a major homebuilder to develop a housing project in San Antonio, Texas which made him wealthy but which turned sour during the collapse.

Those lessons are about to be learned again as there are new efforts to reflate the ownership bubble. Under the Dodd-Frank Act there’s something called the Qualified Mortgage Rule (QMR) which requires lenders to keep part of the loans they make in their own portfolios – they must have “skin in the game” to reduce the chances of another bubble. But more than 50 organizations tied to the real estate industry are advocating a softening of that rule, putting more government money into the market, with less risk to the lenders. One of those supporting such softening is Sarah Rosen Wartell, president of the Urban Institute, who sounds an awful lot like Cisneros:

I’m not suggesting indiscriminate access to home ownership, but there are many borrowers who are capable of demonstrating the capacity to pay…

[They include] those who had a job loss or foreclosure, in many cases through no fault of their own [and a result are] being shut out of a rising market.

Gary Thomas, the president of the National Association of Homebuilders, expressed his delight at the softening of the rules:

If what we’re heard about the [weakening of] the proposed QMR rule is true, the we are very pleased that the agencies are moving towards a broad definition that will benefit the American people by ensuring access to safe, affordable options for buying a home.

And then of course there’s the inevitable college professor who hasn’t learned from history, or from Cisneros. Christopher Mayer, professor of real estate at Columbia Business School, exulted:

Having a path that people can become a homeowner is an important path. And it’s really important for middle to lower-income folks who have a hard time saving…

At present efforts to reflate the real estate bubble through relaxing underwriting requirements and low-interest loans don’t appear to be working very well. But Washington has a mission where past experience and lessons and pain and hardship don’t matter. The Cisneros mentality remains alive and well in Foggy Bottom.

 

 

 

President’s Speeches on the Economy Draw Attention Away from His Scandals and Falling Poll Numbers

From the New York Times to Politico.com the president’s speech to students at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois on Wednesday was headline news. More than an hour long, it contained enough platitudes, sound bites and falsehoods to keep pundits busy and away from more about the Benghazi, IRS, NSA surveillance scandals and Obamacare fallout which have caused the president’s poll numbers to plummet. It was time to get out of Dodge and take

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Consumer Confidence Not Matched by Reality

The consumer confidence numbers announced on Tuesday by The Conference Board surprised even the economists who had expected a decline rather than the nearly 10-point increase that the board reported. The index came in at 81.4 compared to economists’ expectations of

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Central Banks’ bubble is bursting, sending markets down worldwide

When the Japanese stock market lost more than 6 percent of its value on Wednesday in a massive selloff, pundits jumped on the move to try to explain what happened, and what it all means. Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG Markets, wrote:

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S&P Issues an Upgrade of US sovereign debt along with a warning

In the announcement by credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Monday that affirmed its AA+ rating of United States sovereign debt while revising upward its outlook from “negative” to “stable,” the agency explained that in the short run there has been some perceptible improvement in the country’s fiscal situation but in the long run

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Obamanomics is to Blame for Worst Recession since the Great Depression

When libertarian scholar Peter Ferrara asked rhetorically in Sunday’s issue of Forbes, “Economically, Could Obama be America’s Worst President?” he relied heavily on statistics provided by the chief enabler of the Great Recession,

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Joint Bills Introduced to Cut SNAP

During his introduction of a bill to save $30 billion from the old food stamp program – now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) said that

Since President Obama assumed office, participation in SNAP, which was formerly referred to as food stamps, has increased from 32 million to

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Gold, Germany and the worldwide recession

It’s unnerving and yet comforting when a worthy such as Bill Bonner agrees with me. What’s more likely is we’re both singing off the same sheet of music. In Monday’s newsletter Bonner titled his entry “The Recovery That Never Happened,” and I agree. Whatever green shoots (remember green shoots, the ever hoped-for, greatly anticipated but never sustained recovery from the Great Recession?) appeared have withered away, leaving the US, Germany and the world with

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If you were sick, what would you do if your doctors told you this?

You’re sick. You’ve been sick for several weeks now. You’re long past the “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” protocol. You’re jaundiced, you’re not sleeping well, you’re losing weight, people are asking if you’re ok, the whole deal. You decide to find a doctor. You find four, all in the same office.

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The Modern German Economic Model is a Myth

Dessau, a small and steadily shrinking town in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt in what used to be East Germany, is doing the best it can. Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall the anticipated “miracle” enjoyed by West Germany following World War II failed to materialize for Dessau and so it is in the process of

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Europe is going into Depression

William L. Watts is a writer for MarketWatch, a division of The Wall Street Journal that posts a robust and highly informative website for avid readers of the economic tea leaves (like me). What’s interesting is that I can’t find out anything about Mr. Watts:

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Are Equities About To Tip Over?

Please note: This is an article I wrote last Friday for the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor. I’ve republished it here in its entirety:

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Friday’s Jobs Report In Line with Reduced Expectations

Friday’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only surprised those with unrealistic expectations about the health of the economy, showing that job growth of just 88,000 new jobs in March not only was far less than establishment economists had predicted, at 200,000, but

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Everything’s just fine: stress levels are back to normal

This is called “paralysis of analysis.” If it can be measured it must mean something. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the home of statistics for the Fed, just issued a reassuring statement: “The Kansas City Financial Stress Index (KCFSI) continues to indicate that financial stress remains

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Friday’s Surprisingly Strong Jobs Numbers Aren’t Real

At first blush Friday’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics looked pretty good, catching establishment economists off-guard by about 80,000 jobs. Instead of the 160,000 new jobs expected in February, the BLS reported 236,000, which pushed down the unemployment rate to 7.7%. This came on top of a

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Politicians are quick to claim credit for the improving economy

With the stock market hitting new all-time highs, bolstered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on Friday that the economy added 236,000 new job in February which brought the unemployment rate down to 7.7%, politicians who had nothing to do with it are claiming credit.

Austan Goolsbee, who had little to cheer about during his brief 10-month stint as Chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, tweeted

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Britain enters third recession in four years

You would think that politicians and central bankers would learn from their mistakes, wouldn’t you? They would learn that if something doesn’t work then try something else (or try doing nothing, instead!). But no, despite warnings from Moody’s (I wrote about their downgrade of Great Britain on Monday here), which is simply a rear-view mirror of what’s already happened and their very late recognition of their faltering economy, they continue to

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Those Wal-Mart Emails and the US Economy

Much was made of some internal emails from Cameron Eiger, a Wal-Mart VP, expressing his frustration over slow sales at the start of the year. In a February 1st email to company executives, he wrote:

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Moody’s Downgrades Britain’s Credit, Expects Little Improvement for Years

Last Friday Moody’s Investors Service announced its downgrade of the United Kingdom’s government bond ratings by one notch, from AAA to Aa1, a move that was anticipated a year ago when the credit rating agency moved its rating on UK bonds from

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Those sequester cuts are really going to hurt. Not.

Leave it to my favorite establishment mouthpiece to put things into perspective: according to the Washington Post those sequester cuts starting March 1st are really going to hurt, pushing the economy into another recession (another?) and costing

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Many of the articles on Light from the Right first appeared on either The New American or the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor.

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