October 4, 2022

Optimists On Housing Recovery May Have To Wait Another Decade – Humpty Dumpty Vs The Fed

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Housing prices were never supposed to decline year over year.

Economic depressions were supposed to be a relic of the past.

If the economy weakened, the Fed would fix everything with lower interest rates and Congress would pass some new laws to create new jobs.

If things got really tough, the government would temporarily increase the debt and the magic of Keynesian economics was supposed to quickly “re-stimulate” the economy.

Our children were expected to lead more prosperous lives.  They were not supposed to move back in with Mom and Dad after four expensive years of college – arriving on the doorstep with a diploma in one hand, student loan notes in the other, telling us that they couldn’t find a job.

Day by day, we are discovering that a lot of things that were never supposed to happen are happening and no one seems able to turn things around.

The Federal Reserve and the White House promised to re-inflate the collapsed humpty dumpty real estate bubble with printed money and bailout programs for banks and defaulted homeowners.

An ex Princeton professor, now Chairman of the Federal Reserve, spent his life studying the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  He was supposed to know how to prevent another one, or so he assured us.

Fast forward to 2022 – housing prices that were supposed to have recovered a decade ago are still at levels seen more than 20 years ago.

Not possible you say?  Optimists and shills for the housing industry might want to consider some inconvenient truths.

Will the U.S. have 20 years of stagnant home prices?

What if real estate prices remain the same for another decade?  As I look at economic trends in our nation including the jobs we are adding, it is becoming more apparent that we may be entering a time when low wage jobs dominate and home prices remain sluggish for a decade moving forward.  Why would this occur?  No one has a crystal ball but looking at the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program, growth of lower paying jobs, baby boomers retiring, and the massive amount of excess housing inventory we start to see why Japan’s post-bubble real estate market is very likely to occur in the United States.  It is probably useful to mention that the Case-Shiller 20 City Index has already hit the rewind button to 2003 and many metro areas have already surpassed the lost decade mark in prices.  This is the aftermath of a bubble.  Prices cannot go back to previous peaks because those summits never reflected an economic reality that was sustainable.

Courtesy: doctorhousingbubble.com

The days of “no doc” loans are long gone and not likely to return anytime soon.  Lenders have reactivated a quaint old mainstay of mortgage underwriting and now require borrowers to verify the capacity to service debt payments.  Higher home prices require rising incomes but real incomes for many Americans have been declining for decades.

The income of the typical American family—long the envy of much of the world—has dropped for the third year in a row and is now roughly where it was in 1996 when adjusted for inflation.

The income of a household considered to be at the statistical middle fell 2.3% to an inflation-adjusted $49,445 in 2010, which is 7.1% below its 1999 peak, the Census Bureau said.

The Census Bureau’s annual snapshot of living standards offered a new set of statistics to show how devastating the recession was and how disappointing the recovery has been. For a huge swath of American families, the gains of the boom of the 2000s have been wiped out.

Earnings of the typical man who works full-time year round fell, and are lower—adjusted for inflation—than in 1978.

Gary Shilling, who correctly called the housing bubble collapse, tells the Wall Street Journal that housing prices could decline another  20% or more.

It will take a 22% drop to return median single-family house prices to the trend identified by Robert Shiller of Yale University that stretches back to the 1890s and prevailed until the housing bubble began. (It adjusts for inflation and the tendency of houses to get bigger over time.) And corrections usually overshoot on the downside just as bubbles do on the upside.

The problem is excess inventories. They are the mortal enemy of prices, and we’ve calculated an excess of two million housing units, over and above normal working levels of inventories of new and existing homes. That is huge, considering that before the housing market collapsed, about 1.5 million new homes were being built annually, a figure that shrank to 568,000 in February. At current rates of housing starts and household formation, it will take four years to work off the excess inventory, plenty of time for those surplus houses to drag down prices.

Additionally, our inventory estimate doesn’t even include future foreclosures, some five million of which are waiting in the wings. The 49% drop in new foreclosures since the second quarter of 2009 is a mirage, and was partly due to the Obama administration pressuring mortgage lenders to try to modify troubled mortgages to keep people in their homes. (They were largely unsuccessful.)

We can say that “We are not Japan” but every passing day proves otherwise.  And for those misguided souls who still believe that the government and Fed can put humpty dumpty back together again, don’t you think that if they could have they would have?

What Financial Issues Do People Worry The Most About?

Besieged by the rising cost of energy and food, many consumers are barely able to make ends meet.  Throw in the fact that for many consumers real wages have been stagnant for decades and you have the makings for the establishment of a permanent financial underclass that is living on the edge of financial disaster.

According to a survey of 2,016 Great Britain consumers done by MoneySupermarket, the financial worries most on the minds of people is the rising cost of fuel and food.  Portraying the deep financial distress of the average consumer, only 9% of survey respondents said that they foresaw no financial worries in the next year.

The survey also showed that 8% of people had no one to turn to for help if a financial emergency arose.

The infographic shown below breaks out the financial worries of the survey respondents by age group.  It is interesting to note the older respondents had the greatest worries about the cost of fuel, utility bills and food costs, suggesting that the older age groups have less disposable income and/or are worried about having enough money for retirement.

The precarious financial condition of  many individuals in the survey is highlighted by the impact that a relatively small amount of money would have on their financial situation.  Shown below are the survey results to the question of what respondents would do if they suddenly received 1,000 British pounds, the equivalent of US $1,584.  Almost 50% of respondents replied that a 1,000 pound windfall would help to relieve their financial anxiety.

Although the survey does not directly inquire as to what amount of financial assets the respondents had, it appears somewhat obvious from the survey answers that most had very little or no savings on which to fall back on.  Nor does the survey report on what is the biggest problem confronting virtually every developed country in the world – the crushing level of debt burdens on consumers and governments.

Central banks have probably prevented a 1930’s style deflationary depression by printing trillions in paper currency to support over-leveraged banks, consumers and governments.  Unfortunately, Central Banks cannot manufacture what is most needed in weak economies which is  jobs and higher incomes.

How Much Is A Trillion Dollars? – U.S. Debt Levels Exceed Comprehension

With little press coverage and no debate by Congress, the U.S. debt level is set to automatically increase by another $1.2 trillion in January.

The most remarkable aspect to the latest huge increase in U.S. debt is the manner in which the debt limit was implemented.   As part of last year’s budget agreement, even if Congress decided to vote against the debt increase, the President has the power to issue a veto.  In other words, the debt increase is a done deal – no debate, no discussion.

Massive deficit spending by the U.S. government was supposed to stimulate growth and bring us out of recession as it has in previous economic downturns.  This time, it’s simply not working and the debt levels have reached a tipping point at which economic growth slows as debt increases.

An impressive body of research covering eight centuries of government debt defaults (“This Time Is Different” by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff) resulted in ominously accurate predictions since its publication in 2009.  The collapse of the real estate bubble lead to a collapse of the banking industry which lead to massive government borrowings to bail failed banks and other institutions.

According to Reinhart and Rogoff, a slowdown in the economy leads to further government deficit spending which ultimately puts the solvency of sovereign governments into doubt, which is exactly what’s currently happening across Europe.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. approaches its own tipping point towards insolvency, Americans remain remarkably obliviously to the dangers of mortgaging our future.

How much is a trillion dollars of debt?  The number is so large that it is inconceivable for the average American to understand.  Deep down, the country has a foreboding of impending disaster from our crushing debt burden, but remains oblivious as to the real extent of the problem.

Here’s a visual to put things into perspective.

One Hundred Dollars $100 – Most counterfeited money denomination in the world.
Keeps the world moving.

One Billion Dollars $1,000,000,000 – You will need some help when robbing the bank.
Now we are getting serious!

One Trillion Dollars $1,000,000,000,000
When the U.S government speaks about a 1.7 trillion deficit – this is the volumes of cash the U.S. Government borrowed in 2010 to run itself.
Keep in mind it is double stacked pallets of $100 million dollars each, full of $100 dollar bills. You are going to need a lot of trucks to freight this around.

If you spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, you would have not spent $1 trillion by now…but ~$700 billion- same amount the banks got during bailout.

15 Trillion Dollars – US GDP 2011 & Debt $15,064,816,000,000- The U.S. GDP in 2011. The debt as of Jan 1st, 2012 is 15,170,600,000,000. United States now owes more money than its yearly production (GDP).

Statue of Liberty seems rather worried as United States national debt soon to pass 20% of the entire world’s combined GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

114.5 Trillion Dollars $114,500,000,000,000. – US unfunded liabilities
To the right you can see the pillar of cold hard $100 bills that dwarfs the
WTC & Empire State Building – both at one point world’s tallest buildings.
If you look carefully you can see the Statue of Liberty.

The 114.5 Trillion dollar super-skyscraper is the amount of money the U.S. Government
knows it does not have to fully fund the Medicare, Medicare Prescription Drug Program,
Social Security, Military and civil servant pensions. It is the money USA knows it will not
have to pay all its bills.
If you live in USA this is also your personal credit card bill; you are responsible along with
everyone else to pay this back. The citizens of USA created the U.S. Government to serve
them, this is what the U.S. Government has done while serving The People.

The unfunded liability is calculated on current tax and funding inputs, and future demographic
shifts in US Population.

Note: On the above 114.5T image the size of the base of the money pile is half a trillion, not 1T as on 15T image.
The height is double. This was done to reflect the base of Empire State and WTC more closely.

Nine Reasons Why You Should Absolutely Not Own Gold

As the mainstream press becomes more aware of gold’s decade long advance, the chorus of reasons for not owning gold seems to become louder ever day.   What if the conventional thinkers are correct?  Is gold an over owned and over priced asset that was run up by uninformed investors who are now on the verge of incurring steep losses?

With an open mind, this writer decided to dispassionately review the reasons for NOT owning gold.  I read numerous articles detailing why gold is a bad investment, why it should not have increased in price and why it is certain to disappoint investors.   At the conclusion of my reading exercise, it became obvious that there are, in fact, reasons why gold should be avoided.

I have listed, in no particular order, nine sound reasons for not owning gold.  If you believe that the following events will occur, there is absolutely no reason to own gold, other than perhaps an occasional jewelry purchase.

  1. The Federal Reserve and other central banks worldwide will institute sound money policies that eliminate inflation and maintain the purchasing power of their currencies.
  2. The world economy is on the verge of a golden era of long term, uninterrupted real economic growth.
  3. The risk of default by over indebted nations, businesses and consumers will disappear as the world economy enters a period of high growth.
  4. The return on competing assets such as real estate, bank savings, stocks and bonds will all exceed the return available from holding gold, a non income producing asset.
  5. The rate of inflation will remain minimal.
  6. The benefit of gold’s negative correlation in a portfolio will become unnecessary due to the elimination of black swan events by world governments.
  7. The price of oil and other commodities will remain stable due to abundant and uninterrupted supplies.
  8. The central banks and other large gold holders will liquidate gold positions to redeploy assets into higher return paper assets.
  9. The belief  that gold has intrinsic value, a concept dating from the dawn of human civilization, will gradually disappear as the glow of world prosperity ushers in a new era of  intellectual enlightenment.

Artificial Mortgage Rates Drop To 4.75%

Fed Manipulation Of Mortgage Rates Continues

Mortgage rates continue their downward trend with the perfect borrower now able to obtain a rate of 4.75% with a two point buy-down on a 30 year fixed rate mortgage.  As expected, with mortgage rates now back in the 4% range, mortgage applications have increased.   The latest stats from the The Mortgage Bankers Association show large increases in mortgage activity, with refinances accounting for almost 60% of total mortgage applications.

The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 17.0 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier.  On an unadjusted basis, the Index increased 15.8 percent compared with the previous week and 64.5 percent compared with the same week one year earlier.

While fluctuations in mortgage rates are historically based on many factors, the biggest factor affecting mortgage rates today are the manipulations by the Federal Reserve.   With the mortgage market dominated by the government, it is difficult to determine where rates would be in a free market but indications are that rates would be much higher.  For example, non agency lenders who do not sell mortgage loans to the government agencies but portfolio them instead, are currently quoting 30 year fixed rates at around 6 to 6.5% depending on credit and loan to value (obviously, the non agency lenders are not doing much conforming loan business).

Fed Price Fixing Efforts With Mortgages Will Fail

So what’s the problem with having low mortgage rates?  The  government manipulations in the mortgage market allow homeowners to refinance and buy at low rates.   If mortgage rates drop low enough, perhaps the government will succeed in its objective of re-inflating housing prices.  There just might be a few problems with the government’s manic quest to keep mortgage rates low.

  • How long will investors continue to buy securities backed by mortgages on which payments are guaranteed by the government?  Perhaps forever, but perceptions of the value of a “government guarantee” may diminish as the financial condition of the US Government continues to erode.  At some point, rational buyers will give little credence to the guarantee of a government that needs to borrow 40% of its year outlays while running multi trillion dollar yearly deficits.
  • How long can the Federal Reserve continue to purchase mortgage backed securities and treasury debt with printed money?  It may not seem to be causing a problem in this country (yet) but some of the USA’s largest foreign creditors are getting very nervous – See China Alarmed By US Money Printing.

Banks Load Up On Mortgages

Theoretically, the Federal Reserve can buy every mortgage backed security in existence but at what point does the bond market react with higher rates based on the risk that the Fed is going to monetize debt on a colossal scale?  Fed purchases of mortgage backed securities are fast approaching the announced goal of $1.25 trillion.

Courtesy wsj

Courtesy wsj

As it turns out, the Fed has a willing and able partner in the purchase of mortgage backed securities.  With the banking industry facing massive losses on defaulting mortgages, how is this for irony? – Banks Load Up On Mortgages.

As of June 30, the roughly 8,500 federally insured banks and thrifts were holding $113.5 billion of Ginnie securities, compared with just $41 billion a year earlier, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of bank financial disclosures. It is the largest amount that banks have reported holding since at least 1994.

Banks, sometimes with the blessing of federal regulators, have been loading up on Ginnie securities for one main reason: They make their balance sheets look healthier. Since the securities are guaranteed by the government, federal banking regulators have deemed them risk-free, meaning that adding them to a bank’s investment portfolio, or replacing assets deemed riskier, lowers the overall risk of the portfolio in the eyes of regulators.

Some banks have used government cash infusions under the Troubled Asset Relief Program to buy Ginnie Mae bonds.

Holding Ginnie bonds help banks look better because federal bank-capital guidelines give the Ginnie securities a “risk weighting” of 0%. That means banks don’t have to hold any cash in reserve to protect against losses.

At the same time that the banks are choking on defaulted mortgages and reluctant to lend, they are purchasing vast quantities of government guaranteed mortgages to shore up their capital ratios, sometimes using TARP funds.

The Great Unwind

The Fed fostered the bubble in the housing market with easy money, leaving us with collapsed housing prices and oceans of defaulted mortgage debt.  The Fed is now inviting a similar disaster in the mortgage market, again with super easy monetary policies.

The massive purchases by the Fed and the banks of mortgage backed securities is artificially inflating the prices of mortgage backed securities, consequently curtailing purchases by private investors.  This leaves the Fed and the banks as the only (irrational) buyers.

At some point mortgage rates will rise regardless of the Fed’s manipulations.  The taxpayers will be stuck with massive losses on the Fed’s mortgage backed securities as yields climb and prices plunge.  Banks, as always, will be heavily invested in the wrong asset at the wrong time.  Due to the magic of FASB accounting rules, the banks won’t have to take losses if they do not sell their mortgage backed securities; but neither will they be able to increase lending with capital frozen in underwater mortgages.

The government’s obsession with housing has resulted in the misallocation of untold trillions of dollars.   Meanwhile, urgent human and infrastructure needs of the country are left unfunded.   With the mortgage markets now completely dominated by the government, we can look forward to a continuation of the same failed policies.

Fiscal Discipline – Endorsed By All, Practiced By None

Has anyone noticed the correlation  of “fiscal discipline” chatter to rising interest rates?  Efforts by the Fed to manipulate rates lower through the outright purchases of treasuries and mortgage securities seem to be failing as the long end of the yield curve continues to steepen.  Is the fiscal discipline talk simply an effort to calm bond investors or is the plan deeper?

Consider some recent comments by the President and the Fed Chairman.

Obama Urges Congress To Pass Law Enforcing Fiscal Discipline

(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama said he is committed to imposing fiscal discipline on the government and called on Congress to pass a law requiring any new spending be matched by higher taxes or cuts elsewhere. Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, said that while his initiatives to confront the economic crisis have deepened the country’s debt,

“We need to adhere to the basic principle that new tax or entitlement policies should be paid for,” Obama said.

“We cannot sustain deficits that mortgage our children’s future, nor tolerate wasteful inefficiency,” Obama said.

Earlier this week, Obama was criticized as doing too little to confront the deficit when he ordered his Cabinet to cut $100 million out of the budget

And right on cue, Mr Bernanke followed up with  sobering remarks on the perils of deficit financing and fiscal imbalances.

Fed Chief Calls For Plan To Curb Budget Deficits

“Unless we demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal sustainability in the longer term, we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth,” he said.

The deficit is expected to reach $1.8 trillion this year as the country spends feverishly on financial bailouts, a sweeping stimulus package, lending programs, rescues for the automobile industry and more.

Why Bernanke is Right to be Worried

Mr Bernanke states that ”even as we take steps to address the recession and threats to financial stability, maintaining the confidence of the financial markets requires that we, as a nation, begin planning now for the restoration of fiscal balance. Prompt attention to questions of fiscal sustainability is particularly critical because of the coming budgetary and economic challenges associated with the retirement of the baby-boom generation and continued increases in medical costs.”

These are strong words, and appropriately so given the worrisome fiscal outlook facing the US. By necessity, Mr Bernanke will increasingly be in the business of countering monetisation and inflation concerns.

Indeed, the markets have already fired a couple of clear warning shots in the last couple of weeks, as illustrated by recent moves in US bonds and the dollar.

It’s Your Problem, Bernanke Tells Congress

Congress and the people who elected it must decide how much government they want to afford, Bernanke said. Stating the obvious, he went on to say: “Crucially, whatever size of government is chosen, tax rates must ultimately be set at a level sufficient to achieve an appropriate balance of spending and revenues in the long run.”

Unfortunately, Congress and the people have seldom gotten the balance right. We want the benefits of a large government without paying the costs, just as we wanted a loftier personal living standard than our income could support.

The current economic crisis — which demanded “strong and timely actions,” in Bernanke’s view — has accelerated the day of reckoning for our public and private debt…

Both Obama and Bernanke are intelligent men.  I doubt that either one truly believes that unlimited borrowing or printed money create enduring economic prosperity.   The bailouts, guarantees and deficit spending were necessary to prevent the economic crisis from turning into something much worse, but the cost has  accerlerated  the “day of debt reckoning”.

Now that the crisis seems contained and rates are rising,  the emphasis by both Obama and Bernanke is on ‘balancing spending with revenues”.   Since neither man  mentions reduced  spending, what exactly do they have in mind?

The way this plays out should be interesting.  The President wants his numerous costly programs implemented and Bernanke, a “student of the depression” will be loathe to endorse tax increases on a still very fragile economy.  Bernanke tells Congress that paying the bills is their problem and Obama states that new entitlements should be paid for.  So what is the solution? 

The solution is the only one it has ever been-  defer any meaningful action to the next administration, defer the unwinding of the excesses to the next business cycle, and defer  the debts to the next generation.  The “solution”  will keep on working until it doesn’t.

Hyperinflation Worries – The Next Black Swan Or A Contrary Indicator?

Inflation Concerns Increase

There has been much speculation lately about the end results of the US Government’s massive deficit spending.   Many analysts are predicting that the end result will be hyperinflation as the Fed is forced to monetize debt that the US Government is unable to borrow in the credit markets.  These concerns have already turned to reality as rates on the 10 year Government have increased sharply from approximately 2% to 3.5% since the start of the year

Always quick to response with a new product to meet investor demand, Wall Street has come up with a product to protect investors from the risk of hyperinflation.

Wall Street Journal – A hedge fund firm that reaped huge rewards betting against the market last year is about to open a fund premised on another wager: that the massive stimulus efforts of global governments will lead to hyperinflation.

The firm, Universa Investments L.P., is known for its ties to gloomy investor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the 2007 bestseller “The Black Swan,” which describes the impact of extreme events on the world and financial markets.

Funds run by Universa, which is managed and owned by Mr. Taleb’s long-time collaborator Mark Spitznagel, last year gained more than 100% thanks to its bearish bets.

Unlike last year’s sudden market implosion, inflation isn’t an unimaginable event that few currently anticipate. In fact, many fear inflation right now amid government efforts to goose the economy. Universa’s bet, however, is that inflation will reach levels few expect.

The fund will also bet against Treasury bonds, which tend to weaken in inflationary environments. Last week, Treasury yields shot to their highest level since November as prices fell on inflation concerns. Oil topped $66 a barrel. Gold is creeping nearing $1,000 an ounce.

Also, some investors are worried not about inflation but about deflation and its pernicious effects were the economy to remain stalled.

David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff, a Toronto wealth-management firm, believes inflation won’t take hold until consumer spending rebounds, which he thinks could take years.

Mr. Taleb said any deflation would be matched by an aggressive move by governments to stimulate their economies, leading inevitably to an uncontrollable surge in prices.

Deflation Vs. Inflation

The emergence of Wall Street products to protect against hyperinflation may, in fact, be a contrary indicator.  Many times in the past, eager buyers have rushed into investments pushed by Wall Street as a trend was nearing its peak.

Washington’s massive deficit spending and the lack of fiscal discipline it represents will no doubt end badly.   At this point, however, stimulus spending, bailouts, guarantees and deficits have done nothing to reverse the decline in real estate values, corporate profits, consumer spending and consumer incomes.  Events of the recent past have shown how quickly the country’s finances can change, but deflation rather than inflation seems to be today’s enemy.  The rampant price cutting and decreasing incomes that we observe today are not the classic ingredients of inflation.

The event that may mark the tipping point into hyperinflation is how the Federal Government responds to the deficit crisis facing virtually every State in the country.  Discussing the perils of a federal bailout of California, Peter Schiff recently noted that :

However, if Obama comes to the rescue, none of the needed cuts will be made. Instead, California will continue to operate its bloated bureaucracy and will be in constant need of more bailouts. In other words, if Schwarzenegger gets his bailout, look for him to utter his famous line – “I’ll be back.”

But it’s not just Schwarzenegger who will be back, but governors from all the other states as well. After all, if the Federal government bails out California, by what right can they deny similar aid to other states? The bailout will send a clear message that states do not need to cut spending.

The need to make good on state and federal obligations will further depress the appeal of all U.S. dollar-denominated debt. As a result, as real buyers flee the market, the Fed will have to run its printing presses even faster to pick up the slack. This will set into motion a self-perpetuating spiral of money printing and Treasury sales with a predictable result: hyperinflation.

Should we reach the point where the Federal Government winds up bailing out virtually every State in the United States, we will have reached the point of total financial absurdity.   As I have previously pointed out, “The United States is not an abstract construction with a separate economic destiny,  immune to events in the rest of the nation.  The United States are 50 States joined as one.  If nearly every one of the 50 states is an economic train wreck, the conclusion for Uncle Sam  is obvious.”

If the Federal Government adds the States to the bailout list, Universa’s hyperinflation fund will have more customers than it can handle.

Mortgage Rates Skyrocket As Fed’s Rate Manipulation Fails

Markets Will Ultimately Determine Long Term Interest Rates

Treasuries continued their sell off today as the yield on the 10 year benchmark bond climbed to 3.72%, a stunning increase from the recent lows just over 2% in late 2008.  Investors have become concerned that record amount of debt sales and quantitative easing by the Treasury that may lead to inflation.

10 Year Treasury

10 Year Treasury

Courtesy Yahoo Finance

Further contributing to the huge bond selloff today were comments by Marc Faber that the US might enter “hyperinflation” based on the Fed’s super low rate policy, huge increases in government debt and massive liquidity injections into the banking system.

Mortgage Rates Explode Upward

The yield on the 10 year bond has been climbing since early January, gradually putting pressure on mortgage rates.  Until recently mortgage rates did not jump dramatically since the spread between the 30 year fixed rate mortgage and the 10 year treasury narrowed.

Some analysts have speculated that the  Fed was able to manipulate mortgage rates lower over the short term through purchases of mortgage backed securities.  Today, the Fed discovered the limits of  establishing artificial price points.  The Fed may be able to manipulate rates in the short term, but the markets will ultimately set the price of money based on the reality of  US financial conditions.

Bloomberg – The difference between yields on Fannie Mae’s current- coupon 30-year fixed-rate mortgage bonds and 10-year Treasuries had been narrowing. It was at 0.92 percentage point today, down from as high as 2.38 percentage points in March 2008, according to Bloomberg data. The Fed’s purchases drove the spread to 0.70 percentage point, the lowest since 1992, on May 22. The yield gap jumped from 0.71 percentage point yesterday.

“Many investors who felt MBS spreads were too tight thought it might be time to take chips off the table,” Credit Suisse’s Swaminathan said. “This is something we anticipated would build up” as many mortgage-bond holders who were previously wary of lightening their positions on the view the Fed buying would continue to support the market finally decided to act.

“The last two months have been quite abnormal” as mortgage rates generally held in a range between 4.5 percent and 4.75 percent even while Treasury yields began climbing, he said.

Today, the “abnormal” pricing situation was shredded.  Major banks sent out multiple mortgage rate increase notices as the day progressed.  Here’s an example of how mortgage rates have increased with one large bank over the past couple of days.

Mortgage Rates In The 4% Range Disappear

On Thursday, May 21st, a prime mortgage borrower could have obtained a 30 year fixed rate of 4.75% with a half point fee.  On May 27, the equivalent rate for a prime borrower is 5.375% with a half point fee.

To obtain the 4.75% rate today, a borrower would need to pay approximately $5,400 on a $250,000 loan to buy the 4.75% rate.  The monthly payment difference on a $250,000 mortgage loan at 5.375% vs. 4.75% amounts to $96 or $1152 per year.

Are 6% 30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgages Coming Soon?

So much for Mr. Bernanke’s grand experiment of buying mortgage debt with printed money.  If the spread between mortgage bonds and the 10 year treasury widen to the spread of 238 basis points seen in March 2008, the 30 year mortgage rate will be over 6%,  even if the 10 year treasury remains at 3.72%.

US Treasury-Owned Gold – What Would It Buy?

Some Thoughts On The Value Of  US Owned Gold

The United States Treasury Department recently issued a report on the total amount of US Treasury-Owned Gold. As of April 30, 2009 the US Treasury held a total of 261.5 million fine troy ounces of gold. The Treasury report uses a book value of $42.22 per troy ounce to calculate the total value of gold held at approximately $11 billion.   Based on the current market price, total gold holdings of the US Treasury amount to approximately $238.5 billion.

Department of the Treasury
Financial Management Service
STATUS REPORT OF U.S. TREASURY-OWNED GOLD
April 30, 2009
Summary Fine Troy Ounces Book Value

Summary

Fine Troy Ounces

Book Value

Gold Bullion

258,641,851.485

$10,920,427,976.14

Gold Coins, Blanks, Miscellaneous

2,857,047.831

120,630,844.95

Total – Treasury-Owned Gold

261,498,899.316

$11,041,058,821.09

It is interesting to note that although the US dollar used to be a  gold-linked currency, the current market value of gold held by the US Treasury is now nothing more than pocket change on the Federal balance sheet.  In today’s new financial world,  here’s a short list of what the U.S. government could buy with the entire U.S. gold stockpile of $238 billion.

  • cover the interest due on $9 trillion of government debt for one year.
  • buy General Electric, American Express and McDonalds
  • cover 40% of the $599 billion in bank losses expected by the US Government over the next year
  • pay for 6.6% of next year’s $3.6 trillion dollar US spending budget
  • cover less than half the cost of the TARP program
  • pay for 35% of the 2010 U.S. defense budget
  • cover less than two years of war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • cover the cost of a stimulus check of around $800 for each American

The value of the nation’s gold supply is a rounding error on the Federal balance sheet and irrelevant to overall governmental finances.  Maintaining a stockpile of gold as a store of value  to back a nation’s financial system seems little more than  a relic of past history.  Citi commodity analyst Alan Heap recently stated that gold is “a crowded trade and fundamentals are not supportive”.

All of the above factors would seem to represent a contrarian dream.  As the economies of the world continue to create trillions of  new paper money,  gold appears to be on the cusp of a multi year price breakout above $1,000 and the K-Ratio is still screaming to buy the gold stocks.  In addition, China is calling for the establishment of a new gold linked reserve currency and the approximate market value of the fifteen biggest gold producers is only $135 billion.

Adding to gold stocks at this point as part of a diversified investment portfolio would seem to carry a good risk/reward ratio.   The time to sell gold will be when there is a “crowded trade” in analysts telling us to buy.

Although Kinross Gold (KGC), Goldcorp (GG) and Randgold (GOLD) have all appreciated since last discussed, these are my favorite long term gold stock positions and merit additional purchases on price pullbacks.   Newmont Mining (NEM) and Yamana Gold (AUY) round out the gold stock portfolio and should also continue to perform well.

Gold Chart

Gold Chart

Disclosures:  Holding positions in KGC, GG, GOLD, AUY, NEM