James Saft

Britain eats (leverages) its young

Nov 22, 2011 21:31 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Four years, several failed banks and at least one global recession later, Britain has finally discovered what its young people need: 19-1 leverage.

Britain has announced a new housing initiative, the centerpiece of which is a plan to entice first-time buyers into buying newly-built properties with as little as 5 percent down.

Under the plan both builders and the government would contribute funds to partially indemnify lenders against what I am betting are the inevitable losses. Borrowers, who are almost by definition younger and less well off, will still bear all losses, but will be rewarded with the chance to take out the kind of loan which has proven time and again to be a bad idea.

This is utterly wrongheaded — the best possible thing that can happen for first-time buyers, and arguably for most Britons, is for housing prices to fall to a level commensurate with earnings.

Why are houses in Britain so difficult to afford? Partly because of problems with supply, issues that the housing plan takes some steps, almost certainly insufficient ones, to address. And also because Britons, first out of necessity and then in the fever of greed, borrowed so much money in order to wedge themselves into what little housing was available that they drove prices up to unaffordable levels.

Housing raises US recession alert

Mar 24, 2011 16:35 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

If housing is the primary force behind the U.S. economic cycle, then the recession early warning bells just started ringing.

Sales of new single-family homes recorded a shocking fall in February, tumbling by 16.9 percent, to a seasonally adjusted 250,000 annual rate, hitting the lowest such figures since records began in 1963.

New home sales are down 28 percent compared to a year ago and the inventory of unsold new homes is now equal to 8.9 months of sales.

Housing means QE is here to stay

Jan 6, 2011 17:45 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

A very poor outlook for housing will hold the U.S. economy back in coming months, making it very unlikely that the Federal Reserve will be able to step back from their emergency room monetary measures.

A genuinely encouraging run of data and very strong asset markets has encouraged some to argue that the Fed’s policy will prove to have been too much for too long, but housing stands out as the one asset market that has failed to respond encouragingly to the adrenaline of quantitative easing.

The Fed acknowledged this in the minutes of their December monetary policy meeting, listing a litany of factors holding housing back and stating: