MacroScope

Housing boom and bust lesson still not sinking in

Housing markets are booming again in parts of the U.S. and Britain and they haven’t stopped doing so in Canada for the better part of a generation.

What is most striking about the latest round, at least when you listen to those who ought to know, is how nothing much except the price has changed.

We were told a stern lesson in the months and years after the financial crisis, borne out of an over-inflated, over-leveraged U.S. housing market securitised up to the scalp by Wall Street and leaping ever higher up a steeper incline on a blind instinct never to look back.

But as most school teachers know, sometimes a lesson has to be repeated in order to be properly learned. And some students will still fail.

Scanning through the results of the latest Reuters surveys of property market analysts and economists would leave any reader with a memory stretching back before 2008 with a sense of déjà vu.

How to play down a housing boom like it’s 1999

Here’s some of the top reasons from a 1999 Reuters poll on why a housing bubble wouldn’t form, which are re-appearing 14 years later.

The Bank of England will stop a bubble forming

    2013: “If there’s another bubble, the Bank of England and the Government of course have means by which we can anticipate that and ensure that that doesn’t happen again.” – Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the UK Treasury.
    1999 Reuters poll: ”Economists and property specialists say the Bank of England won’t let another inflationary boom happen. The Bank has already said it will monitor house prices closely. ‘It’s unlikely to become inflationary unless the monetary policy stance becomes too loose and that’s highly unlikely,’ said economist Trevor Williams of Lloyds Bank TSB.”

 

House prices expressed in real terms are below their peak and affordability is better

Fed taxonomy: Lacker is a hawk, not a bull

Not to mix too many animal metaphors but, generally speaking, monetary policy hawks also tend to bulls on the economy. That is, they are leery of keeping interest rates too low for too long because they believe growth prospects are stronger than economists foresee, and therefore could lead to higher inflation.

That is not the case, however, for Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, a vocal opponent of the central bank’s unconventional bond-buying stimulus program, particular the part of it that focuses on mortgages. He reiterated his concerns last week, saying the Fed should begin tapering in September by cutting out its mortgage bond buying altogether.

But when I asked him whether upward revisions to second quarter gross domestic product reinforced his case, Lacker was surprisingly skeptical of forecasts for a stronger performance in the second half of the year.

Curious timing for Fed self-doubt on monetary policy

If there was ever a time to be worried about whether the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying stimulus is having a positive effect on the economy, the last few months were probably not it. Everyone expected government spending cuts and tax increases to push the economic recovery off the proverbial cliff, while the outlook for overseas economies has very quickly gone from rosy to flashing red. But the American expansion has remained the fastest-moving among industrialized laggards, with second quarter gross domestic product revised up sharply to 2.5 percent.

Yet for some reason, at the highest levels of the U.S. central bank and in its most dovish nooks, the notion that asset purchases might not be having as great an impact as previously thought has become pervasive.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s 2012 Jackson Hole speech, made just a month before the Fed launched a third round of monetary easing, made a strong, detailed case for how well the policy was working.

U.S. housing outlook still promising despite rise in rates: Citigroup economist

U.S. housing sector fundamentals remain favorable despite the recent rise in interest rates and the sharp drop in housing starts in June, says Citigroup economist Peter D’Antonio.

Housing starts fell 9.9 percent to a ten-month low of 836,000 units in June.

But the decline was almost all in the volatile multi-family sector, D’Antonio notes. Single-family starts remained in a range just below 600,000, while multi-family fell 26 percent to 245,000.

Multi-family starts have been an important growth sector in housing in the past year, but month-to-month changes in multi-family starts – noted for their volatility – are meaningless. Multi-family housing starts rose 21 percent in March, fell 32 percent in April, rose 28 percent in May, then fell 26 percent in June.

Fear the Septaper

Credit to Barclays economists for coining the term ‘Septaper’

A solid U.S. employment report for June appears to have cemented market expectations that the Fed will begin to reduce the pace of its bond-buying stimulus in September.  Average employment growth for the last six months is now officially above 200,000 per month.

Never mind that, even at this rate, it would take another 11 months for the job market to reach its pre-recession levels – and that’s not counting the population growth since then.

John Brady, managing director at R.J. O’Brian & Associates in Chicago, nails the market’s sentiment:

Surge in foreclosures strains social services in Philadelphia: Philly Fed report

In the wake of a historic housing crisis that has just recently begun showing signs of a turnaround, foreclosure counseling services are coming under strain. The foreclosure mess may be over for big banks, which recently settled with regulators for $8.5 billion.

Not so for homeowners, who continue to face a bureaucratic morass in dealing with lenders and servicers. According to a new report from the Philadelphia Fed, the city of Philadelphia’s already weak infrastructure for dealing with the fallout from the foreclosure crisis is fraying at the edges.

The report’s conclusion:

Foreclosure counseling in Philadelphia is in high demand, but the city’s housing counseling agencies have limited resources with which to meet that need. There is a high degree of reliance on public funding for operations, which is particularly problematic in the current environment of increased concern over budget deficits and public debt. Counselors are being asked to provide services to numerous clients, and agencies have to meet multiple sets of requirements to access and to maintain funding from the primary funding sources. In recent years, these pressures have led to a reduction in the number of agencies offering such counseling in Philadelphia and may continue that trend without new sources of funding to bolster service provision.

New drama casts American Dream in a cold light

The American Dream distorted almost beyond recognition by mass foreclosures, women working on straight commission, men not working at all, and an alleged “higher power” who wants you to be rich beyond your wildest dreams, is the subject of the Women’s Project Theater’s production of “Bethany,” a new play by the young playwright Laura Marks.

The central character, Crystal, (played by America Ferrera, star of the “Ugly Betty” television series) is trying to regain custody of her daughter, Bethany, who has been placed in foster care because foreclosure has left her mother homeless.

Crystal is a victim of the American Dream, portrayed in this work as little more than an elaborate con game where honest, frantic people run like rats on a wheel – with firmer, secure ground hopelessly out of reach.

Banks keeping most of QE3 benefits for themselves

Federal Reserve officials have been worried that their policy of ultra-low interest rates may be having less of an effect than usual because of a “broken transmission channel.” In plain English, this means the money hasn’t really been flowing smoothly from liquidity-flooded banks to would-be borrowers.

Economists at TD Securities argue banks have passed on less than half of their lower funding rates as reflected in yields on mortgage-backed securities onto consumers.

During the current iteration of monetary policy easing, pass-though peaked at 66% during the third week following the QE3 announcement, when MBS yields rebounded from their post-QE3 lows and 30-year mortgage rates fell to a record-low 3.36%. However, since the QE3 announcement, our calculations suggest that banks have passed through an average of just 40% of their lower funding rates (i.e. lower MBS yields) in the form of lower mortgage rates.

Four reasons the Fed could buy mortgages

The U.S. Federal Reserve will probably focus on buying mortgage bonds if it decides to launch a third round of quantitative easing or QE3 at its September meeting, says Columbia Management’s senior interest rate strategist Zach Pandl, until recently an economist at Goldman Sachs.
1. Since the second phase of Operation Twist just got underway, “it would be strange to announce outright purchases of Treasury securities.” 2. Fed officials have publicly noted that continued purchases of long-term Treasury securities “might compromise the functioning of the Treasury market — and undermine the intended effects of the policy.” 3. San Francisco Fed President John Williams “directly advocated” mortgage purchases and Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen has said that “beyond the Twist extension, ‘it’s more likely that [the FOMC] would do things that would take a different form.’” 4. “Purchases of mortgage-backed securities may be considered less controversial than Treasury bond purchases amidst the charged political environment, just prior to the presidential election.”