October 3, 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?

Opposition To Stimulus Plan Grows

As Americans learned more about the stimulus package that proposes to put us $1 trillion deeper into debt, logical minds are beginning to question the wisdom of the plan.  Public approval for the stimulus plan is at 38% and dropping.

Reasons for opposition to the plan

-Workers receive only a small tax cut

-The decline in home values, the insolvent banking industry and foreclosures are not addressed

– The majority of the money is to be spent on special interest group programs

-Little of the spending has a direct connection to job creation

Home values, the banks and foreclosures are to be addressed separately by Congress at a later date.  My question is, how many trillion dollar plans can the country afford?  Excessive debt and leverage is in large part responsible for the financial crisis.  The cure cannot be the same as the disease.

As a nation, we need to do something – here’s what people are saying.

Thoughts From Around the Web

Obama Losing Stimulus Message War

At this crucial juncture in the push to pass an economic recovery package, President Barack Obama finds himself in the most unlikely of places: He is losing the message war.

Despite Obama’s sky-high personal approval ratings, polls show support has declined for his stimulus bill since Republicans and their conservative talk-radio allies began railing against what they labeled as pork barrel spending within it.

The New York Times

The most serious charge against the stimulus package is that it does not pack enough punch. Two different camps have been making this argument over the last few weeks. Publicly, the Obama administration hasn’t really answered either one.

And Obama aides say they are open to adding some tax cuts that specifically encourage spending. They looked into the possibility of sending debit cards to all 150 million American households, but decided it was not yet logistically feasible. Instead, the final package may include some smaller programs, like a home-buying subsidy the Senate began discussing on Tuesday.

But targeted tax cuts — in effect, a bribe for households to spend more money — bring their own problems, officials say. One of the economy’s big weak spots right now is consumer indebtedness. Additional spending will help the economy this year, but it could also lead to more credit card and mortgage defaults — which would undermine the Treasury Department’s efforts to revive the financial system.

Third, as Mr. Summers said, “Fiscal measures are only one prong — one component — of our overall approach.” The response also “includes financial rescue, support for housing and global economic cooperation,” he said.

Obama’s First Fumble

The Wall Street Journal edit page reckoned it out at about 12 percent stimulus.  What about the other 88 percent?  It was mostly the usual liberal special-interest spending, 40 years of pent-up pet projects.  Things looked so bad that the Journal’s other edit page, the liberal news side, decided to put out a calming analysis piece.  Obama aides “say this is a baseball game in its early innings, or a football game at halftime,” Gerald F. Seib assured us.

You’d think the Democrats would do a better job of camouflaging their real agenda, given the effort they have put, starting with the 2006 mid-term elections, into wooing the middle class.  According to pollster Alex Lundry, “middle class” is the number one positive thing that people associate with Democrats.  But the stimulus bill proves that it’s not about the middle class.  It’s about the Democratic patronage state.  Always was, always will be.

The Burden Of Proof

There are a lot of people in my comments saying, apparently in all earnesty, “I really think the burden of proof is on the wackos who don’t want the stimulus.”

I am frankly flabbergasted.  The proponents of the stimulus are proposing to spend nearly a trillion dollars.  That’s about $3,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States.  Do you have $3,000 lying around that could just be spent on any old thing without you really caring?  You may call me crazy, but in the McArdle household, we view $3,000 as quite a tidy sum, the kind of money we want to make sure is wisely spent.

At least with the tax cuts, there’s little risk that the money will, from the taxpayer’s standpoint, be wasted.  It may not create much in the way of stimulus, but it’s essentially a neutral act–give them money now, take it later.  Cash transfers, too, offer relatively few of those frictions; there’s some deadweight loss, but whatever those on unemployment or welfare buy, they presumably valued more highly than alternative uses for the money.  Government spending, on the other hand, comes with no guarantee that whatever it buys will be worth as much to the polity as the alternative uses for the money.  Hell, badly done government projects can actively destroy value–go up to Buffalo and look at the empty, useless subway that killed Main Street, for example.

Given that, it seems to me that the burden of proof ought naturally to be on the stimulus proponents to satisfy the public that their highly theoretical models are basically sound, especially for the parts of the bill that aren’t tax cuts or transfer payments.  Let’s recall that the evidence for this kind of stimulus working in this kind of situation basically rests on a single instance (World War II)–the other two times it was tried (Japan in the 1990s and America in the 1930s) the economy basically rolled along in the doldrums for the rest of the decade.

Stimulus Package Should Address The Housing Problem

As the economic stimulus package moves to the Senate, the drumbeat is growing louder for new provisions that directly address the housing crisis.

Key senators from both parties said they will push for measures intended to spur sales and help homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

Advocacy in the Senate for more housing measures in the stimulus bill comes while President Obama is expected to release a comprehensive plan to fix the financial system within the next two weeks.

Obama has been promising for the past month that he would soon propose a foreclosure prevention program, and many believe that could be part of a plan he announces in the coming week. Indeed, he said Saturday that his plan will include a proposal to lower mortgage costs.

Each Taxpayer Could Get $9718 From The Stimulus Money

Question: “If we just gave all the bailout money to taxpayers, how much would we each get? I’ve seen $25,000, $300,000, $1 million – what’s the real answer?” — Miranda Marquit, Logan, Utah

Answer: $9,718.49

To arrive at that figure, CNNMoney.com took the total of the bank bailout, $700 billion, and added that to the proposed stimulus spending in the House of Representatives bill, $819 billion. That totals $1.519 trillion.

We then divide that number by 156.3 million, which was the total number of U.S. filers in 2008.

So: $1.519 trillion divided by 156.3 million equals $9,718.49 per U.S. taxpayer.

Economist’s View

There were really only two glimmers of hope that the US could avoid a Japan-like multi-year stagnation. One was the offsetting effect of a strong global economy. Of course, we all know how that story ended. Poorly. The other was my certainty that US policymakers like NEC head Lawrence Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had studied the Japanese crisis up and down and realized that you needed to meet a banking crisis head-on, not with halfway measures that left the system crippled.

But today, reading CNBC’s coverage of the plan, it becomes painfully clear that we are headed full speed on a policy bullet train designed to repeat Japan’s errors.

The financial crisis has been so mismanaged that the public will not support package with a high price tag, a price tag that could climb into the trillions. And there is no way to even bring the issue to the public unless taxpayers effectively buy troubled banks, which can only be justified after first wiping out shareholders and bondholders. Then the

The “New Math” of Stimulus

First you have our darling President Obama, who believes that his Porkulus will somehow create or save 3 million jobs. Did he pull that number out of his supreme ass? Nah. He’s using the most Bizarro math of all, the multiplier effect touted by our homie and economic slumlord John Maynard Keynes:

The multiplier theory, made famous by John Maynard Keynes in his 1936 book General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, basically says that each dollar of government spending “injected” into the economy will create a larger increase in national output.

Indeed, it seems like multiplier madness is sweeping the nation, with Keynesian economic theory dominating political and mainstream economic thought once again.

With so many experts placing so much at stake on the basis of this theory, the multiplier must be a sound foundation for public policy, right?

Not exactly.

As economic journalist Henry Hazlitt stated in his 1959 book, The Failure of the ‘New Economics’, “There are, in fact, so many things wrong with the multiplier concept that it is hard to know where to begin in dealing with them.”

Enough With The Stimulus

You better love me forever for reading through 161 pages of absolute bullshit just so you can read what is actually ON this stimulus bill without having to read through 161 pages of absolute bullshit.

The anatomy of OMGObama’s stimulus (that word never gets old): Pages 1 – 50:

Pro & Con

President Obama: “A failure to act and to act now will turn crisis into catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession.”

Senator Graham (R) South Carolina: “Scaring people is not leadership”.

“Financial Catastrophe” – Part II

President Predicting Catastrophe

President Obama declared today that “A failure to act and to act now will turn crisis into catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession.”

Alan Blinder, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, echoed the President by proclaiming “It would be an act of extreme stupidity not to enact a big stimulus”.  Mr Blinder did not expound on the logic of his remark.  Presumably, if you were too stupid not to vote for spending one trillion dollars, then you would be too stupid to understand his rationale.

A short 6 months ago President Bush, Chairman Bernanke and Treasury’s Paulson were predicting a financial meltdown if the $700 billion TARP bill did not pass.   The $700 billion was approved and the money passed out to banks and other assorted supplicants.  How wisely was the $700 billion spent?   All we do know is that the bankers managed to pay themselves huge bonuses, the money is gone and we now face financial Armageddon (again) if we do no spend another massive amount of borrowed money.   All we really know about the new, almost $1 trillion dollar “stimulus package”, is that it must be passed immediately, no questions asked.   Maybe more questions should have been asked the first time, when $700 billion was supposed to have solved the financial crisis.

Bernanke Proclaims Financial Crisis Resolved: October 2008

In October 2008, after passage of the $700 billion TARP bill, Chairman Bernanke spoke at the Economic Club of New York.

“The problems now evident in the markets and in the economy are large and complex, but, in my judgment, our government now has the tools it needs to confront and solve them.

Generally, during past crises, broad-based government engagement came late, usually at a point at which most financial institutions were insolvent or nearly so. Waiting too long to respond has usually led to much greater direct costs of the intervention itself and, more importantly, magnified the painful effects of financial turmoil on households and businesses. That is not the situation we face today. Fortunately, the Congress and the Administration have acted at a time when the great majority of financial institutions, though stressed by highly volatile and difficult market conditions, remain strong and capable of fulfilling their critical function of providing new credit for our economy. This prompt and decisive action by our political leaders will allow us to restore more normal market functioning much more quickly and at lower ultimate cost than would otherwise have been the case.

Reading the Chairman’s comments today, we know that his assessment of the situation was wrong. TARP 2008 did not resolve anything nor will the stimulus package of 2009.

Did the original $700 billion “save” our country from a “catastrophe”?.  In hindsight, much of the money spent was wasted on zombie banks that should have been shut down.  The executives running Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo, etc. still have their high paying jobs, while many others are unemployed.

What Does The Stimulus Spending Accomplish?

If we are facing a financial catastrophe, why is so little of the spending being directed  towards solving the root of the problem –  insolvent banks and the decline in home values?  Some of the spending goes towards minimalistic tax breaks – up to $500 per individual or $1,000 per couple.  Is an extra $10 or $20 a week going to make a real difference to most people?  The vast majority of the spending goes for expanded funding of various social programs and special interest groups.  The money will be disbursed through Government agencies that will need a much larger bureaucratic staff to administer spending and regulation.  This will accomplish nothing for the real economy and we are still left with insolvent banks and foreclosed homeowners.   Maybe after passing the bill, someone should say “mission accomplished”.

End Result

The one certainty is that this will not be the last trillion asked for.  The banking industry will need many more trillions of dollars to become solvent.  Fortune Magazine estimates the ultimate banking bailout cost at $4 trillion, maybe more.  Yet there is still no overall coherent plan for resolving this crisis.  Watching the elite ruling class operate in Washington reminds me of Groundhog Day.   Washington keeps doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result – isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Early Results On “Stimulus Package” – Greed, Corruption & Stupidity

The US Senate and House of Representatives is busily putting together a stimulus package that should cost $825 billion.  The massive spending package, all conducted with borrowed money, will be spread over a wide variety of programs designed to “stimulate the nation back to prosperity”.   All of the debate on the stimulus package seems to center on how the money should be spent.  No one is debating whether we can afford this massive spending.  There has been no intelligent discussion or analysis of whether the stimulus will work, despite the historical evidence that it won’t (See Stimulus Plan Condemns Us To Further Wealth Destruction.

Most Americans seem optimistic that the stimulus plan will work and that the money will be wisely spent.

Let’s look at some early returns for an idea of how $850 billion will be spent.

Politicians Asked Feds to Prop Up Ailing Bank

Two Illinois congressmen urged the Treasury in October to avoid taking any regulatory action against a struggling bank in their state, illustrating the aggressive efforts some politicians are taking to help hometown lenders during the bank crisis.

“This is a disturbing parallel to precisely some of those things that made the savings-and-loan debacle into a political scandal as well as a financial scandal,” said William Black, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who was a bank regulator in the S&L crisis.

Regulators didn’t think National Bank of Commerce qualified for a cash injection because its financial condition was so perilous. On Oct. 22, Ronald G. Schneck, an official of the bank’s federal regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, told the bank it should “act as if capital replenishment funds will not be received,” according to the letter by Reps. Davis and Gutierrez.

Instead, on Nov. 6, OCC officials told the bank it wouldn’t be getting any TARP money. They said the Treasury had decided “to not grant assistance to restore to the Bank to an adequately capitalized status,” according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

An OCC spokesman said: “While we don’t comment on TARP applications, it should be noted that the amount needed to recapitalize the bank was far in excess of what was allowable under TARP’s capital purchase program.”

The US Treasury did the right thing when they refused to invest more money in this failing bank.  What thought process lead these 2 congressmen to believe that they would be spending money wisely by investing taxpayer money in a Zombie bank?

Political Interference Seen in Bank Bailout Decisions

Troubled OneUnited Bank in Boston didn’t look much like a candidate for aid from the Treasury Department’s bank bailout fund last fall.

The Treasury had said it would give money only to healthy banks, to jump-start lending. But OneUnited had seen most of its capital evaporate. Moreover, it was under attack from its regulators for allegations of poor lending practices and executive-pay abuses, including owning a Porsche for its executives’ use.

Nonetheless, in December OneUnited got a $12 million injection from the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. One apparent factor: the intercession of Rep. Barney Frank, the powerful head of the House Financial Services Committee.

Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner, testifying Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing, acknowledged “there are serious concerns about transparency and accountability…confusion about the goals of the program, and a deep skepticism about whether we are using the taxpayers’ money wisely.”

“It’s totally arbitrary,” says South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. “If you’ve got the right lobbyist and the right representative connected to Washington or the right ties to Washington, you get the golden tap on the shoulder,” says Gov. Sanford, a Republican.

Several Ohio banks received funds after Ohio’s congressional delegation complained bitterly about the treatment of Cleveland-based National City Corp., which regulators forced into a merger rather than provide with cash. And in Alabama, the state’s top banking official says a windfall there — five banks are slated to receive funds — is testament to the influence of two powerful Alabama lawmakers who sit on key congressional committees.

Rep. Frank, besides heading the Financial Services Committee, has longstanding ties to OneUnited, and recalls having had a deposit account at a predecessor bank in the 1960s.

Later that month, Rep. Frank was intimately involved in crafting the legislation that created the $700 billion financial-system rescue plan. Mr. Frank says that in order to protect OneUnited bank, he inserted into the bill a provision to give special consideration to banks that had less than $1 billion of assets, had been well-capitalized as of June 30, served low- and moderate-income areas, and had taken a capital hit in the federal seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

On Oct. 27, the FDIC and Massachusetts bank regulatory officials, alleging poor lending practices and executive-compensation abuses by OneUnited, slapped it with a strong enforcement action, a cease-and-desist order. Among other things, the officials told the bank to get rid of a 2008 Porsche for executives.

Mr. Frank said he didn’t try to interfere with the regulatory process. “We have never told the regulators that they should ease up on them or not order them to do this or that,” he said.

He cites the bank’s status as the state’s only financial institution owned by African-Americans.

The free market should have been allowed to work in this case and this poorly run bank with its overpaid executives should have been closed.  Instead, based on Mr Frank’s parochial interests and ties to this corrupt institution, OneUnited receives $12 million from the taxpayer.  It would be interesting to know how much in political contributions Mr Franks received from OneUnited.

Even at a time of an unprecedented national crisis, our politicians cannot take the high road and look at the situation from a standpoint of the National interest.  The US itself will be just as bankrupt as OneUnited if we attempt to bailout every failed business entity in the country.  If the nation survives this crisis, it will be in spite of the actions taken in Washington.

In an incredibly ironic statement on the stimulus plan, Democratic Senator Inouye of Hawaii stated that “We must respond to this crisis with all the weapons at our disposal.  If we fail to act, the situation will almost certainly worsen, and the American people will continue to pay a heavy price.”  With clueless fools like Senator Inouye voting to spend trillions of taxpayer dollars to help us, we will be lucky to survive as a nation.  The Senator clearly does not see that the government and the Fed caused the financial meltdown.  He clearly does not see that the government is only going to make the situation far worse by trying to reflate the asset bubble.  Most of all he clearly does not see that he is putting the nation on the road to financial destruction by burying us in more debt.

My take on the stimulus plan is that the money will be largely wasted by keeping alive Zombie business entities that are poorly run by overpaid executives.  Money to the losers will only serve to hurt the successful.  The successful should not have to subsidize those who fail; this type of wealth shifting will  make us all equally poor.  Much of the stimulus money spent will be based on political connections, self interest and self dealing.   The economic situation will worsen as borrowed money is spent foolishly.  The only sure result of the stimulus package will be to put the sovereign credit of the United States at further risk.