Category Archive for: Housing [Return to Main]

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Foreclosures Fueled Racial Segregation

Via EurekAlert!:

Study finds foreclosures fueled racial segregation in US: Some 9 million American families lost their homes to foreclosure during the late 2000s housing bust, driving many to economic ruin and in search of new residences. Hardest hit were black, Latino, and racially integrated neighborhoods, according to a new Cornell University analysis of the crisis.
Led by demographer Matthew Hall, researchers estimate racial segregation grew between Latinos and whites by nearly 50 percent and between blacks and whites by about 20 percent as whites abandoned and minorities moved into areas most heavily distressed by foreclosures.
Forthcoming in the June print issue of the American Sociological Review and recently published online, the paper, "Neighborhood Foreclosures, Racial/Ethnic Transitions, and Residential Segregation," noted that the crisis spurred one of the largest migrations in U.S. history, changes that could alter the complexion of American cities for a generation or more. ...
Examining virtually all urban residential foreclosures from 2005 to 2009, Hall and co-authors find that mostly black and mostly Latino neighborhoods lost homes at rates approximately three times higher than white areas, with ethnically mixed communities also deeply affected. They estimate that the typical neighborhood experienced 4.5 foreclosures per 100 homes during the crisis, but the figure rises to 8.1 and 6.2 homes in predominately black and Latino areas, respectively, while white neighborhoods lost only 2.3 homes on average. ...
"Not only were white households less likely to be foreclosed on, but they also were among the first to leave neighborhoods where foreclosures were high, particularly those with racially diverse residents," said Hall. ...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Video: Demystifying the Chinese Housing Boom

Friday, April 24, 2015

'No Price Like Home: Global House Prices, 1870-2012'

Interesting paper:

No Price Like Home: Global House Prices, 1870-2012, by Katharina Knoll, Moritz Schularic, and Thomas Steger: Abstract: How have house prices evolved over the long‐run? This paper presents annual house prices for 14 advanced economies since 1870. Based on extensive data collection, we show that real house prices stayed constant from the 19th to the mid‐20th century, but rose strongly during the second half of the 20th century. Land prices, not replacement costs, are the key to understanding the trajectory of house prices. Rising land prices explain about 80 percent of the global house price boom that has taken place since World War II. Higher land values have pushed up wealth‐to‐income ratios in recent decades.

Monday, April 20, 2015

'Credit Supply and the Housing Boom'

This is from the Liberty Street Economics Blog at the NY Fed:

Credit Supply and the Housing Boom, by Alejandro Justiniano, Giorgio Primiceri, and Andrea Tambalotti: There is no consensus among economists as to what drove the rise of U.S. house prices and household debt in the period leading up to the recent financial crisis. In this post, we argue that the fundamental factor behind that boom was an increase in the supply of mortgage credit, which was brought about by securitization and shadow banking, along with a surge in capital inflows from abroad. This argument is based on the interpretation of four macroeconomic developments between 2000 and 2006 provided by a general equilibrium model of housing and credit.
The financial crisis precipitated the worst recession since the Great Depression. The spectacular rise in house prices and household debt during the first half of the 2000s, which is illustrated in the first two charts, was a crucial factor behind these events. Yet, economists disagree on the fundamental causes of this credit and housing boom.

Real House Prices

Household Mortgages-to-GDP Ratio

A common narrative attributes the surge in debtand house prices to a loosening of collateral requirements for mortgages, associated with higher initial loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, multiple mortgages on the same property, and expansive home equity lines of credit.
The fact that collateral requirements became looser, at least for certain borrowers, is fairly uncontroversial. But can higher LTVs account for the unprecedented increase in house prices and debt, while remaining consistent with other macroeconomic developments during the same period?
Two facts suggest that the answer to this question is no. First, if the relaxation of collateral constraints had been widespread, it should have resulted in a surge of mortgage debt relative to the value of real estate. In the data, however, household debt and real estate values rose in tandem, leaving their ratio roughly unchanged over the first half of the 2000s, as shown in the chart below. In fact, this ratio only spiked when home prices tumbled, starting in 2006.

Household Mortgages-to-Real Estate Ratio

Second, more relaxed collateral requirements make it possible for the borrowers to demand more credit. Therefore, interest rates should rise to convince the lenders to satisfy this additional demand. In the data, however, real mortgage interest rates fell during the 2000s, as shown below in the fourth chart.

Real Mortgage Interest Rates

The fall in mortgage interest rates depicted in the fourth chart points to a shift in credit supply as an alternative explanation of the credit and housing boom of the early 2000s. We develop this hypothesis within a simple general equilibrium model in Justiniano, Primiceri, and Tambalotti (2015).
In the model, borrowing is limited by a collateral constraint linked to real estate values. Changes to this constraint, such as when the maximum LTV increases, shift the demand for credit. On the lending side, there is a limit to the amount of funds that savers can direct toward mortgage finance, which is equivalent to a leverage restriction on financial intermediaries. Changes to this constraint shift the supply of credit.
Lending constraints capture a host of technological and institutional factors that restrain the flow of savings into the mortgage market. Starting in the late 1990s, the explosion of securitization together with changes in the regulatory environment lowered many of these barriers, increasing the supply of mortgage credit.
The pooling and tranching of mortgages into mortgage-backed securities (MBS) played a central role in loosening lending constraints through several channels. First, tranching creates highly rated assets out of pools of risky mortgages. These assets can then be purchased by those institutional investors that are restricted by regulation to hold only fixed-income securities with high ratings. As a result, the boom in securitization channeled into mortgages a large pool of savings that had previously been directed toward other safe assets, such as government bonds. Second, investing in these senior MBS tranches freed up intermediary capital, owing to their lower regulatory charges. This form of “regulatory arbitrage” allowed banks to increase leverage without raising new capital, expanding their ability to supply credit to mortgage markets. Third, securitization allowed banks to convert illiquid loans into liquid funds, reducing their funding costs and hence increasing their capacity to lend.
International factors also played an important role in increasing the supply of funds available to American home buyers, as global saving flowed into U.S. safe assets, including agency MBS, before the financial crisis (Bernanke, Bertaut, Pounder, DeMarco, and Kamin 2011).
The fifth chart plots the effects of a relaxation of lending constraints in our model. When savers and financial institutions are less restricted in their lending, the supply of credit increases and interest rates fall. Since access to credit requires collateral, the increased availability of funds at lower interest rates makes the existing collateral—houses—scarcer and hence more valuable. As a result of higher real estate values, borrowers can increase their debt, even though their debt-to-collateral ratio remains unchanged. These responses of debt, house prices, aggregate leverage, and mortgage rates match well the empirical facts illustrated in the previous four charts. We conclude from this experiment that a shift in credit supply, associated with looser lending constraints, was the fundamental driver of the credit and housing boom that preceded the Great Recession.

Response to a Change in the Lending-Limit

This interpretation of the sources of the credit and housing boom is consistent with the microeconometric evidence presented in the influential work of Mian and Sufi (2009, 2010). They show that an expansion in credit supply was the fundamental driver of the surge in household debt and that borrowing against the increased value of real estate accounts for a significant fraction of this build-up in debt.
 Our model, by providing a theoretical perspective on the important factors behind the financial crisis, should prove useful as a framework to study policies that might prevent a repeat of this experience.

Disclaimer
The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.

Friday, February 27, 2015

'Credit Supply and the Housing Boom'

Alejandro Justiniano, Giorgio Primiceri, and Andrea Tambalotti at Vox EU:

Credit supply and the housing boom: ... Conclusion In this column, we argued that any reconstruction of the fundamental causes of the housing and credit boom that preceded the Great Recession must be consistent with four stylised facts: house prices and debt surged, the ratio of debt to house values was roughly constant, and real mortgage rates fell. From the perspective of these four facts, explanations that rely exclusively on an increase in credit demand associated with more generous credit conditions—for instance in the form of higher loan-to-value ratios—are lacking. On the contrary, a shift in credit supply associated with the emergence of securitisation and shadow banking, is qualitatively and quantitatively consistent with the four facts.
This interpretation of the macroeconomic facts has the additional merit of being consistent with the micro-econometric evidence of Mian and Sufi (2009 and 2010). They show that an expansion in credit supply was the fundamental driver of the surge in household debt, and that borrowing against the increased value of real estate accounts for a significant fraction of this build-up in debt.
Shifting the focus of the inquiry into the causes of the boom from credit demand to credit supply has potentially important implications for the study of macro-prudential policy, since much of the literature on this topic has tended to model the boom as stemming from looser borrowing constraints. Exploring the normative implications of the alternative view proposed in this article is an exciting avenue for future research.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

'Betting the House: Monetary Policy, Mortgage Booms and Housing Prices'

How risky is it when interest rates are held too low for too long?:

Betting the house: Monetary policy, mortgage booms and housing prices, by Òscar Jordà, Moritz Schularick, and Alan Taylor: Although the nexus between low interest rates and the recent house price bubble remains largely unproven, observers now worry that current loose monetary conditions will stir up froth in housing markets, thus setting the stage for another painful financial crash. Central banks are struggling between the desire to awaken economic activity from its post-crisis torpor and fear of kindling the next housing bubble. The Riksbank was recently caught on the horns of this dilemma, as Svensson (2012) describes. Our new research provides the much-needed empirical backdrop to inform the debate about these trade-offs.
The recent financial crisis has led to a re-examination of the role of housing finance in the macroeconomy. It has become a top research priority to dissect the sources of house price fluctuations and their effect on household spending, mortgage borrowing, the health of financial intermediaries, and ultimately on real economic outcomes. A rapidly growing literature investigates the link between monetary policy and house prices as well as the implications of house price fluctuations for monetary policy (Del Negro and Otrok 2007, Goodhart and Hofmann 2008, Jarocinski and Smets 2008, Allen and Rogoff 2011, Glaeser, Gottlieb et al. 2010, Williams 2011, Kuttner 2012, Mian and Sufi 2014).
Despite all these references, there is relatively little empirical research about the effects of monetary policy on asset prices, especially house prices. How do monetary conditions affect mortgage borrowing and housing markets? Do low interest rates cause households to lever up on mortgages and bid up house prices, thus increasing the risk of financial crisis? And what, if anything, should central banks do about it?
Monetary conditions and house prices: 140 years of evidence
In our new paper (Jordà et al. 2014), we analyse the link between monetary conditions, mortgage credit growth, and house prices using data spanning 140 years of modern economic history across 14 advanced economies. Such a long and broad historical analysis has become possible for the first time by bringing together two novel datasets, each of which is the result of an extensive multi-year data collection effort. The first dataset covers disaggregated bank credit data, including real estate lending to households and non-financial businesses, for 17 countries (Jordà et al. 2014). The second dataset, compiled for a study by Knoll et al. (2014), presents newly unearthed data covering long-run house prices for 14 out of the 17 economies in the first dataset, from 1870 to 2012. This is the first time both datasets have been combined. ...

After lots of data and analysis, they conclude:

... We have established that loose/tight monetary conditions make credit cheaper/dearer and houses more expensive/affordable. But what about the dark side of low interest rates – do they also increase the risk of a financial crash?
The answer to this question is clearly affirmative, as we show in the last part of our paper using crisis prediction models. Over the past 140 years of modern macroeconomic history, mortgage booms and house price bubbles have been associated with a higher likelihood of a financial crisis. This association is even stronger in the post-WW2 era, which was marked by the democratization of leverage through the expansion of housing finance relative to GDP and a rapidly growing share of real estate loans as a share of banks’ balance sheets.
Conclusion
Our findings have important implications for the post-crisis debate about central bank policy. We provide a quantitative measure of the financial stability risks that stem from extended periods of ultra-low interest rates. We also provide a quantitative measure of the effects of monetary policy on mortgage lending and house prices. These historical insights suggest that the potentially destabilizing by-products of easy money must be taken seriously and considered against the benefits of stimulating flagging economic activity. Policy, as always, must strike a fine balance between conflicting objectives.
An important implication of our study is that macroeconomic stabilization policy has implications for financial stability, and vice versa. Resolving this dichotomy requires central banks to make greater use of macroprudential tools alongside conventional interest rate policy. One tool is insufficient to do two jobs. That is the lesson from modern macroeconomic history. ...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Low-Income Loans Didn't Cause the Financial Crisis

At MoneyWatch:

Low-income loans didn't cause the financial crisis, by Mark Thoma: What caused the housing bubble and collapse of the financial system? Many fingers have pointed to a lack of regulation, financial innovation that didn't live up to its promises of risk-sharing and risk-reduction, and low interest rates from the Fed, which created an excess of liquidity.
Another cause that's often cited says the financial crisis was the result of government pressure to make subprime home loans to those at the lower end of the income scale. But recent work from the National Bureau of Economic Research provides no support for that claim. ...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Don't Blame Poor People for the Housing Crisis

Tyler Cowen:

Were poor people to blame for the housing crisis?, by Tyler Cowen:
When we break out the volume of mortgage origination from 2002 to 2006 by income deciles across the US population, we see that the distribution of mortgage debt is concentrated in middle and high income borrowers, not the poor. Middle and high income borrowers also contributed most significantly to the increase in defaults after 2007.
...That is from the new NBER working paper by Adelino, Schoar, and Severino.  In other words, poor people (or various ethnic groups, in some accounts) were not primarily at fault for the wave of mortgage defaults precipitating the financial crisis.  The biggest problems came in zip codes where home prices were having large run-ups. ...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

'Borrowers Forgo Billions through Failure to Refinance Mortgages'

Why don't more households refinance their mortgages when it would be beneficial to do so?:

Borrowers Forgo Billions through Failure to Refinance Mortgages, by Les Picker, NBER Digest: As of December 2010, approximately 20 percent of households with mortgages could have refinanced profitably but did not do so.
Buying and financing a house is one of the most important financial decisions a household makes. It can have substantial long-term consequences for household wealth accumulation. In the United States, where housing equity makes up almost two thirds of the median household's total wealth, public policies have been crafted to encourage home ownership and to help households finance and refinance home mortgages. The impact of these policies hinges on the decisions that households make.
Households that fail to refinance when interest rates decline can lose out on tens of thousands of dollars in savings. For example, a household with a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage of $200,000 at an interest rate of 6.5 percent that refinances when rates fall to 4.5 percent will save over $80,000 in interest payments over the life of the loan, even after accounting for typical refinancing costs. With long-term mortgage rates at roughly 3.35 percent, this same household would save roughly $130,000 over the life of the loan by refinancing. But in spite of these potential savings, many households do not refinance when interest rates decline.

In Failure to Refinance (NBER Working Paper No. 20401), Benjamin J. Keys, Devin G. Pope, and Jaren C. Pope provide empirical evidence that many households in the U.S. fail to refinance, and they approximate the magnitude of forgone interest savings. The analysis utilizes a nationally representative sample of approximately one million single-family residential mortgages that were active in December 2010. These data include information about the origination characteristics of each loan, the current balance, second liens, payment history, and interest rate being paid. Given these data, the authors calculate how many households would save money over the life of the loan if they were to refinance their mortgages at the prevailing interest rate while adjusting for tax implications and probability of the household moving.
A key challenge in determining whether households are failing to refinance is knowing whether a household had the option to refinance - especially given the tightening banking standards over this time period. The authors take advantage of the rich data environment to make reasonable assumptions about the ability of individuals to refinance based on various factors (e.g. loan-to-value ratios) and provide evidence of robustness to the assumptions made.
The authors find that, in December of 2010, approximately 20 percent of households that appeared unconstrained to refinance and were in a position in which refinancing would have been beneficial had failed to do so. The median household would have saved $160 per month over the remaining life of the loan, and the total present discounted value of the forgone savings was approximately $11,500. The authors estimate that the total forgone savings of U.S. households was approximately $5.4 billion.
In 2009, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the Department of the Treasury announced a refinancing program entitled "Home Affordable Refinance Program" (HARP). This program enabled homeowners who were current on their federally guaranteed mortgage and met other conditions of the loan to refinance to a lower interest rate even if they had little or no equity in their homes. When HARP was announced, FHFA and the Treasury estimated that four to five million borrowers whose mortgages were backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could take advantage of it. By September 2011, however, fewer than a million mortgagors had refinanced under HARP. Although modifications to the program have resulted in more households taking up refinance offers, the overall take-up rate remains low.
These results raise questions about why borrowers do not take advantage of refinancing opportunities that would substantially lower their interest payments. The authors suggest that there may be information barriers regarding potential benefits and costs of refinancing, and that expanding and developing partnerships with certified housing counseling agencies to offer more-targeted and in-depth workshops and counseling surrounding the refinancing decision could alleviate barriers for people in need of financial education.
The authors also suggest that psychological factors, such as procrastination, mistrust, and the inability to understand complex decisions, may be barriers to refinancing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'How Morgan Stanley Pushed Risky Subprime Mortgage Lending'

Danielle Kurtzleben, vox.com:

Damning court filings show Morgan Stanley pushed risky subprime mortgage lending:
  • Court filings say Morgan Stanley, a major Wall Street bank, pushed subprime lender New Century into making riskier and riskier mortgage loans, the New York Times reports.
  • The filings include damning emails, showing that Morgan Stanley employees knew about and even joked about some borrowers' inability to pay on their mortgages.
  • The Justice Department is now investigating the connection between Morgan Stanley and New Century.
  • The fines further tarnish the reputation of a big bank that, despite its heavy involvement in mortgage-backed securities, until recently had few crisis-related legal troubles.

...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Makes Cities Successful?

This is related to yesterday's post "State 'Income Migration' Claims Are Deeply Flawed":

At the intersection of real estate and urban economics: Albert Saiz uses big data to understand real estate dynamics. As a professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and director of MIT’s Center for Real Estate, his work is at the confluence of urban policy and city-making and the factors that drive real estate markets. An urban economist and director of the MIT Urban Economics Lab, Saiz studies the industrial composition of cities with an eye toward understanding what makes cities successful. He also creates and studies incredibly-detailed information about housing markets and how urban growth impacts real estate markets.
Immigration explains half of city growth
Saiz’s focus is primarily on housing markets, with a particular view on understanding the demographic influences impacting their growth. “Immigration explains 50 percent of the differences in growth between metropolitan areas in the United States,” he says. “If you want to understand real estate markets or housing markets, construction values, etc., you have to understand immigration and immigration trends.”
He also studies several other key drivers of city growth and demand for housing and real estate assets. These include areas of low taxation, high levels of an educated population, and more lifestyle-oriented influences. “As recently as 20 years ago, we tended to believe that people followed jobs,” Saiz explains. “It is still the case that productive areas are becoming more attractive for housing demand, but it is also true that jobs are following people. And people are moving more for lifestyle and amenities.” Today, Saiz’s students are more likely to indicate they want to work in a particular city than for a particular company. That means firms that want to attract young professionals have to locate in these more highly desirable areas. ...

Friday, September 19, 2014

'Home Free?'

James Surowiecki:

Home Free?, by James Surowiecki: In 2005, Utah set out to fix a problem that’s often thought of as unfixable: chronic homelessness. The state had almost two thousand chronically homeless people. Most of them had mental-health or substance-abuse issues, or both. At the time, the standard approach was to try to make homeless people “housing ready”: first, you got people into shelters or halfway houses and put them into treatment; only when they made progress could they get a chance at permanent housing. Utah, though, embraced a different strategy, called Housing First: it started by just giving the homeless homes.
Handing mentally ill substance abusers the keys to a new place may sound like an example of wasteful government spending. But it turned out to be the opposite: over time, Housing First has saved the government money. ...

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Minority Mortgage Market Experiences and the Financial Crisis

Stephen Ross at Vox EU:

Minority mortgage market experiences leading up to and during the Financial Crisis, by Stephen L. Ross, Vox EU: The subprime lending crisis in the US triggered a broad financial panic that lead to the global recession. Domestically, it meant bankruptcy and disaster for many households. This column analyses racial discrimination in subprime lending. Careful estimation of a detailed dataset reveals across-lender effects to have substantially disadvantaged black and Hispanic borrowers.

The concluding paragraph:

... Minority homebuyers – especially blacks – tend to face a higher cost of mortgage credit and had substantially worse credit market outcomes during the recent downturn than white homebuyers with equivalent mortgage risk factors. In terms of the price of credit, a majority of the unexplained differences are associated with the lender from which the homebuyer obtained credit. These effects are felt most among minority borrowers with the lowest levels of education, and are likely due in part to the concentrated activity of subprime lenders in minority neighborhoods and a lack of knowledge of financial markets among minority borrowers with low levels of education. On the other hand, most of the racial differences in loan performance that are unexplained by traditional credit risk factors cannot be captured by controlling for the lender or other aspects of subprime lending. African-Americans and Hispanics appear to be more vulnerable to an economic downturn and to the associated risks of unemployment and housing price declines than observationally similar white homeowners. This higher vulnerability is most pronounced for borrowers who purchased their homes right before the onset of the financial crisis, even after controlling for the increased risk of negative equity associated with buying at the peak of the market. While the expansion of the subprime sector may have contributed to a higher cost of credit for black homebuyers, their concentration in high cost loans (and in the subprime market more generally) can explain only a small portion of the racial differences in foreclosure. Rather, a broad spectrum of black and Hispanic borrowers appear to be especially vulnerable to the economic downturn and associated shocks to their ability to meet their mortgage commitments.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Minority Mortgage Market Experiences During the Financial Crisis

Via Vox EU:

Minority mortgage market experiences leading up to and during the financial crisis, by Stephen L. Ross, Vox EU: The foreclosure crisis that followed the subprime crisis has had significant negative consequences for minority homeowners. This column reviews recent evidence in the racial and ethnic differences in high cost loans and in loan performance. Minority homeowners, especially black homebuyers, faced higher price of mortgage credit and had worse credit market outcomes during the crisis. This is largely due to the fact that minority borrowers are especially vulnerable to the economic downturn. ...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

'Debt, Great Recession and the Awful Recovery'

Cecchetti & Schoenholtz:

Debt, Great Recession and the Awful Recovery: ... In their new book, House of Debt, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi portray the income and wealth differences between borrowers and lenders as the key to the Great Recession and the Awful Recovery (our term). If, as they argue, the “debt overhang” story trumps the now-conventional narrative of a financial crisis-driven economic collapse, policymakers will also need to revise the tools they use to combat such deep slumps. ...
House of Debt is at its best in showing that: (1) a dramatic easing of credit conditions for low-quality borrowers fed the U.S. mortgage boom in the years before the Great Recession; (2) that boom was a major driver of the U.S. housing price bubble; and (3) leveraged housing losses diminished U.S. consumption and destroyed jobs.
The evidence for these propositions is carefully documented... The strong conclusion is that – as in many other asset bubbles across history and time – an extraordinary credit expansion stoked the boom and exacerbated the bust. Of that we can now be sure.
What is less clear is that these facts diminish the importance of the U.S. intermediation crisis as a trigger for both the Great Recession and the Awful Recovery..., while the U.S. recession started in the final quarter of 2007, it turned vicious only after the September 2008 failure of Lehman. ...
What about the remedy? Would greater debt forgiveness have limited the squeeze on households and reduced the pullback? Almost certainly. ...
The discussion about remedies to debt and leverage cycles is still in its infancy. House of Debt shows why that discussion is so important. Its contribution to understanding the Great Recession (and other big economic cycles) will influence analysts and policymakers for years, even those (like us) who give much greater weight to the role of banks and the financial crisis than the authors.

They also talk about the desirability of "new financial contracts that place the burden of bearing the risk of house price declines primarily on wealthy investors (rather than on borrowers) who can better afford it."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Great Recession's 'Biggest Policy Mistake'

At MoneyWatch:

The Great Recession's "biggest policy mistake", by Mark Thoma, CBS News: Two recent books, Timothy Geithner's "Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises" and "House of Debt" by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, have reignited a discussion over the Obama administration's policies and attitude on mortgage debt relief.
In contrast with the former New York Fed president and later Treasury Secretary's account about the efforts to save the U.S. economy from the collapsing housing market, others say the administration -- more particularly the Geithner-led Treasury -- did not push aggressively for mortgage debt relief .
As a result, very little was done to help households struggling with mortgage debt. Indeed, Mian and Sufi argue that "The fact that Secretary Geithner and the Obama administration did not push for debt write-downs more aggressively remains the biggest policy mistake of the Great Recession."
Who is correct? ...[continue]...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

'You Don’t Have to Fill a Tire Through the Leak'

Brad DeLong:

Reviewing Ryan Avent’s Review of Amir Sufi and Atif Mian’s House of Debt, by Brad DeLong:  ... Mian and Sufi do an excellent job of documenting the size of the negative shock to spending from the household sector via the housing equity-underwater mortgage-wealth channel–and in the process do, I think, successfully demolish Tim Geithner’s claims in his Stress Test that aggressively refinancing mortgages would not have materially helped the economy. ...
As Larry Summers, Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, and Laura Tyson all like to say: you don’t have to fill a tire through the leak. restoring consumer spending via successfully rewriting mortgage contracts to rebalance household balance sheets would have been a wonderful thing to do. It would still be a wonderful thing to do. But it was and is not the only thing to do to get us out of our current mess. ...
I thought–from the Great Depression era history of the HOLC and the RFC, from the 1980s history of the Latin American debt crisis, from the 1990s history of the RTC, from innumerable emerging-market crises, et cetera, that we understood very well that this is what we should do. Whenever the financial system got sufficiently wedged we resolved it–we turned debt into equity, and we crammed losses down onto debt holders whose investments were ex post judged to have been ex ante unwise.
And from my standpoint the true puzzle is why Bernanke, Geithner, and Obama were so uninterested in pulling out the Walter Bagehot-Hyman Minsky-Charlie Kindleberger playbook and following it in housing finance from 2009-2014. Did they read no history? ...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

'The Moment Is Right for Housing Reform'

Jason Furman and James Stock on housing finance reform:

The Moment Is Right for Housing Reform, Commentary, WSJ: ... The reformed housing-finance system should enable the dreams of middle-class and aspiring middle-class Americans to own homes by supporting consumer-friendly mortgage products such as the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. It should provide help ... to creditworthy first-time borrowers who might otherwise have trouble qualifying for a mortgage; and it should stimulate broad access to mortgages for historically underserved communities.
A reformed housing-finance system should support rental housing... It should stimulate competition and innovation..., while building in consumer protections... And it should protect the taxpayer by placing substantial private capital in front of any government guarantee—and ensure that the taxpayer be properly compensated for that guarantee.
Less discussed, but also important...: Housing-finance reform presents an opportunity to enhance macroeconomic stability by making the housing sector more cyclically resilient. Housing has long been one of the most volatile sectors of the economy,... with ... the most vulnerable and disadvantaged bearing the brunt of housing-related or magnified recessions. ...
Housing-finance reform is a key unfinished piece of business from the financial crisis, and putting all the parts together is a complex undertaking. But the current period of relative economic calm is exactly the right time to do so. ...

Monday, April 21, 2014

'House Prices and Secular Stagnation'

Simon Wren-Lewis:

House prices and secular stagnation: This post starts off talking about the UK, but then goes global
 ...Housing is becoming more and more unaffordable for first time buyers. Yet prices are currently booming (at least in London), and demand is so high estate agents are apparently now holding mass viewings to cope. In the UK the media now routinely call this a bubble, and the term ‘super bubble’ is now being used. ...
Bubbles are where prices move further and further away from their fundamental value, simply because everyone expects prices to continue to rise. ...
If we think of housing as an asset, then the total return to this asset if you held it forever is the weighted sum of all future rents, where you value rents today more than rents in the future. Economists call this the discounted sum of rents. (If you are a homeowner, it is the rent that you are avoiding paying.) So why would house prices go up, if rents were roughly constant and were expected to remain so? The answer is that prices would go up if the rate at which you discounted the future fell. The relevant discount rate here is the real interest rate on alternative assets. That interest rate has indeed fallen over much the same time period as house prices have increased, as Chapter 3 of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook for March 2014 documents. ...
It is the expected return on other assets that matters here. The fact that actual real interest rates have fallen in the past would not matter much if they were expected to recover quickly. A key idea behind today’s discussion of secular stagnation is that real interest rates might stay pretty low for a long period of time. That in turn implies that house prices will be much higher relative to incomes than they were when real interest rates were higher.
So what appears to be a bubble may instead be a symptom of secular stagnation. ...
Does this mean we should stop calling what is happening in the UK a bubble? The first point is that secular stagnation is just an idea, and it may prove wrong, and if it does house prices may come tumbling down. Second, even if it is not wrong, it is still possible to have a bubble on top of the increase implied by lower interest rates. Indeed one of the concerns about the lower real interest rates associated with secular stagnation is that, by raising asset prices not just in housing but elsewhere, it may encourage bubbles to develop on top. So all we can say with certainty, for the UK at least, is that the Financial Policy Committee will have their work cut out when they next meet in June.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Moving Day

I am moving today, so blogging is unlikely until much later (sold my house and am moving to an apartment temporarily until I figure out what I want to do).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

'U.S. Says One Thing, Does Another on Mortgage Fraud'

Are you surprised by this?:

U.S. Says One Thing, Does Another on Mortgage Fraud, Watchdog Says, by Matt Apuzzo, NY Times: Four years after President Obama promised to crack down on mortgage fraud, his administration has quietly made the crime its lowest priority and has closed hundreds of cases after little or no investigation, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said on Thursday.
The report by the department’s inspector general undercuts the president’s contentions that the government is holding people responsible for the collapse of the financial and housing markets. The administration has been criticized, in particular, for not pursuing large banks and their executives. ...
Meanwhile, the Justice Department repeatedly exaggerated its accomplishments using inaccurate data, the report found. ...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

'Housing Weakness: Temporary or Enduring?'

CR:

Housing Weakness: Temporary or Enduring?, by Bill McBride: The recent data for housing has been weak, with new home sales and housing starts mostly moving sideways over the last year (with plenty of ups and downs, and I expect downward revisions to Q4 new home sales). Existing home sales have declined 14% from a peak of 5.38 million in July 2013 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR), to just 4.62 million SAAR in January.

There are several reasons for the recent weakness...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Does Sweden Have a Housing Bubble?

Disagreement:

Does Sweden have a housing bubble?: Nobel laureate in economics Paul Krugman told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet recently that based solely on the fact that "prices have gone up a lot and that household debt is quite high", Sweden is probably showing the symptoms of a housing bubble.

His claim prompted a response from his former colleague Lars E.O. Svensson.

"Prices have gone up for good fundamental reasons" (interview)

The former deputy governor of the Swedish Central Bank and an economics professor himself, Svensson told Radio Sweden he disagrees that Sweden has a housing bubble.

"If you look at the facts since 2007, prices have increased only a little in real terms and they have actually fallen relative to disposable income. So that doesn't look like a bubble," says Svensson.

Krugman told SvD that over the last few years, "all the places where people said oh this is different, it's turned out that no, actually it wasn't. So, just on that general thing, I'd say probably it's a bubble."

However, Svensson insists that Sweden's case is different from other countries which have proven to have housing bubbles. "Typically, you've had a lot of speculation, a lot of construction, very little savings..." he says, whereas in his view, Sweden has the opposite situation.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Government Homeownership Policy Does *Not* Explain the Housing Bubble

Once again, Dean Baker takes on Peter Wallison's claim that government homeownership policy caused the housing bubble:

Peter Wallison's Housing Bubble, Beat the Press: Peter Wallison, who was White House Counsel under President Reagan and has long been a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told NYT readers today that the housing bubble is back. Wallison is right to be concerned about the return of a bubble, as I have pointed out elsewhere, but his account of the last bubble and the risks of a new one are strangely off the mark.
Wallison wants to blame the bubble on government policy of promoting homeownership. There certainly has been a problem of a housing policy that is far too tilted toward homeownership, but this does not explain the bubble. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were bad actors in the bubble years, buying up trillions of dollars of loans issued on houses purchased at bubble inflated prices, as I said at the time.
However the worst loans were securitized by folks like Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs. They weren't securitizing junk mortgages to meet government goals for low-income homeownership, they were doing it to make money. And they made lots of money in these years. In fact, the private securitizers were so successful in securitizing junk mortgages that they almost put the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) out of business. Since the FHA maintained its lending standards it couldn't compete with the zero down payment loans being securitized on Wall Street. It saw its market share fall to 2 percent at the peak of the bubble. Some of us warned about the problem posed by the bubble in low-income communities at the time. ...
As I have frequently noted, house prices were growing very rapidly in the first half of 2013 posing a real risk of a return to a bubble. However Bernanke's taper talk in June and the resulting rise in mortgage rates appears to have curbed the irrational exuberance, although it will be important to watch future price appreciation closely. In any case, it appears that the main culprits today are private equity funds and hedge funds who have been buying up large blocks of homes as investment properties, not low income buyers.

Here are many, many more posts making te same argument. It wasn't Fannie and Freddie, and it wasn't the CRA.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Predatory Lending and the Subprime Crisis

From the NBER:

Predatory Lending and the Subprime Crisis, by Sumit Agarwal, Gene Amromin, Itzhak Ben-David, Souphala Chomsisengphet, Douglas D. Evanoff, NBER Working Paper No. 19550 Issued in October 2013: We measure the effect of an anti-predatory pilot program (Chicago, 2006) on mortgage default rates to test whether predatory lending was a key element in fueling the subprime crisis. Under the program, risky borrowers and/or risky mortgage contracts triggered review sessions by housing counselors who shared their findings with the state regulator. The pilot cut market activity in half, largely through the exit of lenders specializing in risky loans and through decline in the share of subprime borrowers. Our results suggest that predatory lending practices contributed to high mortgage default rates among subprime borrowers, raising them by about a third.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

'Housing Market Is Heating Up, if Not Yet Bubbling'

Robert Shiller:

Housing Market Is Heating Up, if Not Yet Bubbling, by Robert Shiller, Commentary, NY Times: Home prices have been rising rapidly, so much so that there is talk that we are entering another national bubble. ...
Is it possible that we are lapsing into what I call a bubble mentality — a self-reinforcing cycle of popular belief that prices can only go higher? ...
People who are now inclined to buy a home are most often just thinking that we are gradually recovering from a recession and that this is a good time to buy. The mental framing still seems to be about economic recovery and the likelihood that interest rates will rise. People mostly don’t seem to be prompted by the anticipation of another housing boom.
That’s the thinking at the moment. But whether these attitudes mutate into a national epidemic of bubble thinking — one big enough to outweigh higher mortgage rates, fiscal austerity in Congress and other factors — remains to be seen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'Regulators Repeat What They Did During the Last Housing Boom'

James Kwak is not happy:

Regulators Repeat Exactly What They Did During the Last Housing Boom, by James Kwak: The Dodd-Frank Act was supposed to require securitizers to retain 5 percent of the credit risk of the mortgage-backed securities that they issued, in order to reduce the risk of a repeat of the last housing bubble. Today, the federal financial regulators said, “Whatever,” and ignored that requirement. In particular, they created an exemption that would have covered at least 98 percent of all mortgages issued last year.

Why? Because

“adding additional layers of regulation would have contracted credit for first time home buyers and borrowers without large down payments, and prevented private capital from entering the market.”

That’s according to the head of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

This is the exact same argument that was made in favor of deregulation during the two decades prior to the last financial crisis, without the slightest hint of irony. It’s further proof that everyone has either forgotten that the financial crisis happened or is pretending that it didn’t happen because, well, maybe it won’t happen again?

Even leaving aside the specific merits of this decision, the worrying thing is that the intellectual, regulatory, and political climate seems to be basically the same as it was in 2004: no one wants to to anything that might be construed as hurting the economy, and no one wants to offend the housing industry.

Friday, August 23, 2013

'Three Key Comments' on New Home Sales

New home sales fell in July (see New Home Sales decline sharply to 394,000 Annual Rate in July). Calculated Risk (Bill McBride) has "Three key comments":

1. This is just one month of data (I note this whenever we see a weak or strong sales report). There is plenty of month-to-month noise for new home sales and frequent large revisions.

2. The downward revisions to previous months were expected (In the weekly schedule I wrote: "Based on the homebuilder reports, there will probably be some downward revisions to sales for previous months."). But these revisions do suggest the housing recovery was not as strong as previously thought.

3. Important: Any impact from rising mortgage rates would show up in the New Home sales report before the existing home sales report. New home sales are counted when contracts are signed, and existing home sales when the transactions are closed - so the timing is different. For existing home sales, I think there was a push to close before the mortgage interest rate lock expired - so closed existing home sales in July were strong - and I expect a decline in existing home sales in August.

For New Home sales, I expect some buyers were shocked by the increase in rates - and they held off signing a contract in July.  But this doesn't mean the housing recovery is over - far from it.  In fact I think the housing recovery (starts / new home sales) has just begun. 

Looking at the first seven months of 2013, there has been a significant increase in sales this year.  The Census Bureau reported that there were 271 new homes sold in the first half of 2013, up 21.5% from the 223 thousand sold during the same period in 2012. This was the highest sales for the first seven months of the year since 2008.

And even though there has been a large increase in the sales rate, sales are just above the lows for previous recessions. This suggests significant upside over the next few years.  Based on estimates of household formation and demographics, I expect sales to increase to 750 to 800 thousand over the next several years - substantially higher than the current sales rate. ...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fed Watch: Negative Feedback Loops?

More on housing from Tim Duy, and how it might or might not influence thinking at the Federal Reserve:

Negative Feedback Loops?, by Tim Duy: Earlier this week, we were greeted with news that new homes sales posted a solid increase in June:

HOMESSOLD072513

Calculated Risk has more here and here, with the conclusion that is was "a solid report even with the downward revisions to previous months." More interesting, though, is that the gains came amid a spike in mortgage rates. This could be taken as evidence that the rate rise has had only minimal impacts on housing markets, thus clearing the way for the Fed to scale back asset purchases sooner than later.
That said, today we learned this, via Bloomberg:
Rising mortgage rates contributed to increased cancellations and a dropoff in traffic in June, according to Fort Worth, Texas-based D.R. Horton....
....Homebuyers are “shocked and disturbed” rates have moved up so fast, D.R. Horton Chief Executive Officer Donald Tomnitz said on a conference call.
But not everyone in the industry is singing the same tune:
Richard Dugas, PulteGroup’s chief executive officer, said on a conference call today that the higher mortgage rates haven’t hurt demand and buyer traffic remained consistent throughout the quarter and into July.
“We’re in the camp that if higher rates reflect improving economic conditions we’d expect a housing recovery to remain on track,” Dugas said. “As an industry, we can sell more houses if more people have jobs, even with modestly higher rates.”
On the margin, some buyers were certainly impacted by the sharp gain in rates, but rates are only one part of the buying decision - factors like job growth also matter. The initial sticker shock might only be temporary. And perhaps even higher rates are necessary to make a significant dent in the housing market. From Bloomberg:
As Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist wrote yesterday, homebuyers say rising rates is their top worry when looking to buy, even more so than rising prices or finding a home they like. But as Kolko points out, people’s actions aren’t matching their words so far. Despite the higher rates, applications for purchase mortgages rose in June, as did asking prices for homes. Trulia’s data suggest that mortgage rates around 6 percent would be a tipping point that cause a majority of people to reconsider buying.
Overall, I would say the negative anecdotal housing evidence is too limited at this point to have a policy impact. And note the positive anecdotal evidence from the latest Beige Book:
Residential real estate activity increased at a moderate to strong pace in most Districts. Most Districts reported increases in home sales. Cleveland noted that June sales of single-family homes were down compared with earlier in the spring but up from last year. Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco noted strong residential real estate markets. Home prices increased throughout the majority of the reporting Districts. Boston, New York, Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Dallas noted low or declining home inventories and upward pressures on home prices in some areas. Residential construction activity also improved moderately across the Districts, and contacts in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, and San Francisco reported faster growth in multi-family construction, in particular.
Moreover, it is not clear that taking some steam off the housing market was not an intent of some policymakers. San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams was quoted recently saying:
“The outsized response” in the yields of 10-year Treasuries in recent weeks may have stemmed from complacency and “froth” in the market, Williams said. Some investors expected the Fed to keep quantitative easing and zero interest rates in place for longer than officials were anticipating.
“The market reaction to me probably is a sign that there was complacency and excesses going on,” Williams said. “It’s a good thing that maybe came to an end, or maybe was lessened.”
But earlier in the article he said:
Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President John Williams, who has never dissented from a policy decision, said “it’s still too early” for the Fed to begin trimming its bond-buying, warning of risks to the economy from low inflation and government budget cuts.
“We need to be sure that the economy can maintain its momentum in the face of ongoing fiscal contraction,” Williams said in a speech today in Rohnert Park, California. “It is also prudent to wait a bit and make sure that inflation doesn’t keep coming in below expectations, possibly signaling a more persistent decline in inflation.”
I find a lot of inconsistency in Fedspeak of late. If the economy needs continued support, why even begin the tapering discussion? And if the economy needs continuing support, then the rate rise represents a real tightening of monetary conditions, not just a lessening of accommodation, so how can Fed officials cheer-lead the rate rise? We saw something similar from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke:
The second reason for increases in rates is probably the unwinding of leveraged and perhaps excessively risky positions in the market. It's probably a good thing to hav e that happen, although the tightening that's associated with that is unwelcome. But at least the benefit of that is that some concerns about building financial risks are mitigated in that way and probably make some FOMC participants comfortable with this tool going forward.
In my opinion, we no longer know the Fed's reaction function. The reaction function does not appear to be entirely dependent on unemployment and inflation. There was never any reason to adjust QE on that basis, that's why Bernanke's post-FOMC comments caught everyone by surprise. If you take the economy off the table, then the Fed appears to have a financial stability variable now built into their reaction function. Perhaps that variable reflects concerns about leverage, perhaps, as Izabella Kamiska suggests, it reflects liquidity issues. Maybe they were worried about lighting a fire beneath Housing Bubble 2.0. We just don't know; we just know that they are not entirely dissatisfied with rising rates despite the potential for negative feedback on the economy.
Bottom Line: Still too early to conclude the extent of the negative feedback of the recent rise in rates. Moreover, it is not clear to what extent Fed officials are unhappy with that feedback. Less so than we might suppose if they now have a financial stability variable in their reaction function. If so, policy efforts will center less on reversing the rate increase than in moderating the pace of increases.

'Comments on New Home Sales'

Haven't checked in with Calculated Risk for awhile. He remains optimistic:

A Few Comments on New Home Sales, by Bill McBride, Calculated Risk: ... Looking at the first half of 2013, there has been a significant increase in sales this year.  ... This was the highest sales for the first half of the year since 2008.
And even though there has been a large increase in the sales rate, sales are just above the lows for previous recessions. This suggests significant upside over the next few years. Based on estimates of household formation and demographics, I expect sales ... substantially higher than the current sales rate.
And an important point worth repeating every month: Housing is historically the best leading indicator for the economy, and this is one of the reasons I think The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades. ...

I'm a bit more cautious about the future (and I hope policymakers don't assume that we can sound the all clear). What do you think?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Shiller: Owning a Home Isn’t Always a Virtue

Robert Shiller argues that "national policy needs to take away much of the enormous subsidy to homeownership":

Owning a Home Isn’t Always a Virtue, by Robert Shiller, Commentary, NY Times: Encouraging homeownership has been considered a national goal at least since “Own Your Own Home Day” was introduced in 1920 by various business and civic groups as part of a National Thrift Week. The newly popular word “homeownership” represented a goal and a virtue for every good citizen — to get out of the tenements and into one’s own home. Homeownership was thought to encourage planning, discipline, permanency and community spirit.
In the aftermath of the subprime mortgage crisis, our national commitment to homeownership is sure to be questioned as we consider what to do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the enterprises that are meant to increase the supply of money available for mortgages and are now under government conservatorship; the Federal Housing Administration, which directly subsidizes homeownership; and the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program, which was intended to lower interest rates. For both political and economic reasons, any or all of these encouragements for homeownership — not to mention the mortgage interest deduction — could be sharply curtailed.
Which is why this is a good time to ask a basic question: In today’s world, is it wise for the government to subsidize homeownership? ...

His arguments, at least as I read them, seem to favor home ownership over renting (especially if you toss out the argument about mobility, as you should). But maybe that's just my own biases (I think home ownership is better than renting for a variety of reasons, perhaps connected to growing up in a small town rather than a big city, but that seems to be a fairly lonely position these days). But even if homeownership is better, subsidies aren't justified unless there is a market failure of some sort (e.g. a positive externality to neighbors from owning rather than renting, and so on), differences in the ability to purchase a home due to historical inequities in the distribution of income, wealth, and opportunity, that kind of thing (which I believe are present).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

'The Myth of the Lock-In Effect'

From the Cleveland Fed, the "lock-in effect" -- the inability to move because homeowners are underwater and would lose money if they sold their homes -- was not the cause of "stubbornly" high employment. As they say, the more likely reason that people didn't move to take new jobs was the lack of good job opportunities. Why move if the job opportunities elsewhere are no better than where you are? When jobs did exist, "underwater homeowners are probably more likely to move than borrowers with equity in their homes":

The Myth of the Lock-In Effect: One story that made the media rounds during the recession and early recovery claimed that under­water homes — when people owe more than the property’s value —  were deterring unemployed people from moving to get new jobs. People with negative equity could sell only at a loss, an option so unattractive that they refused to pull up stakes in search of work.
It was a good story with a catchy name, “the lock-in effect.” It seemed to help explain why joblessness persisted so stubbornly during the recovery’s first fitful years. And it seemed to support data showing that mobility was declining in the states with the most underwater homes.
But now a team of researchers is spoiling that story, perhaps once and for all. These economists, including the Cleveland Fed’s Yuliya Demyanyk, found conclusive evidence that negative home equity is not an important barrier to labor mobility. In fact, underwater homeowners are probably more likely to move than borrowers with equity in their homes.
“If a hypothetical unemployed, underwater homeowner gets a job offer, he is going to take it,” Demyanyk said.
The study was twofold. First, the researchers looked at credit-report data. The reports gave them enough longitudinal information about borrowers to infer whether they moved to new regions and whether falling home prices limited mobility — particularly for people with negative home equity.
Next, the researchers designed a theoretical model to replicate the experience of real-world homeowners. It churned out results suggesting that the findings — that underwater homeowners weren’t reluctant to move — were plausible. Key to the model is the idea that people would rather move to get a steady paycheck than stay in an underwater home in a place with no job prospects.
This paper is not the first to debunk the lock-in-effect story. Others, including work by the San Francisco Fed, have likewise found little evidence that people didn’t move during the recession because of the condition of their mortgages.
More plausible is that Americans faced almost uniformly dismal employment options across the country — opportunities to move for good jobs were few and far between.
An implication for national policy­makers is that job creation efforts need not focus on the regions hit hardest by the housing bust. Consider that at the end of 2009, the under­water problem was concentrated in four “sand” states — Arizona, Florida, California, and Nevada — and in Michigan, all with negative equity rates topping 35 percent of total mortgages. If national policymakers thought only about creating jobs in those states out of fear that negative-equity borrowers wouldn’t move to other states for employment, they might be missing an opportunity to lift employment more broadly.

More details on the study here, working paper here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Homeowners Do Not Increase Consumption When Their Housing Prices Increase?

New and contrary results on the wealth effect for housing:

Homeowners do not increase consumption despite their property rising in value, EurekAlert: Although the value of our property might rise, we do not increase our consumption. This is the conclusion by economists from University of Copenhagen and University of Oxford in new research which is contrary to the widely believed assumption amongst economists that if there occurs a rise in house prices then a natural rise in consumption will follow. The results of the study is published in The Economic Journal.
"We argue that leading economists should not wholly be focused on monitoring the housing market. Economists are closely watching the developments on the housing market with the expectation that house prices and household consumption tend to move in tandem, but this is not necessarily the case," says Professor of Economics at University of Copenhagen, Søren Leth-Petersen.
Søren Leth-Petersen has, alongside Professor Martin Browning from University of Oxford and Associate Professor Mette Gørtz from University of Copenhagen, tested this widespread assumption of 'wealth effect' and concluded that the theory has no significant effect.
Søren Leth-Petersen explains that when economists use the theory of  'wealth effect' the presumption is that older homeowners will adjust their consumption the most when house prices change whilst younger homeowners will adjust their consumption the least. However, according to this research, most homeowners do not feel richer in line with the rise of housing wealth.
"Our research shows that homeowners aged 45 and over, do not increase their consumption significantly when the value of their property goes up, and this goes against the theory of 'wealth effect'. Thus, we are able to reject the theory as the connecting link between rising house prices and increased consumption," explains Søren Leth-Petersen. ...
The research shows that homeowners aged 45 and over did not react significantly to the rise in house prices. However, the younger homeowners, who are typically short of finances, took the opportunity to take out additional consumption loans when given the chance. ...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

'Are We Purging the Poorest?'

“Should public resources go to the group most likely to take full advantage of them, or to the group that is most desperately in need of assistance?”:

Are we purging the poorest?, by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office: In cities across America over the last two decades, high-rise public-housing projects, riddled with crime and poverty, have been torn down. In their places, developers have constructed lower-rise, mixed-use buildings. Crime has dropped, neighborhoods have gentrified, and many observers have lauded the overall approach.

But urban historian Lawrence J. Vale of MIT does not agree that the downsizing of public housing has been an obvious success.

“We’re faced with a situation of crisis in housing for those of the very lowest incomes,” says Vale, the Ford Professor of Urban Design and Planning at MIT. “Public housing has continued to fall far short of meeting the demand from low-income people.”

Take Chicago, where the last of the Cabrini-Green high-rises was torn down in 2011, ending a dismantling that commenced in 1993. Those buildings — just a short walk from the neighborhood where Vale grew up — have been replaced by lower-density residences. But where 3,600 apartments were once located, there are now just 400 units constructed for ex-Cabrini residents. Other Cabrini-Green occupants were given vouchers to help subsidize their housing costs, but their whereabouts have not been extensively tracked.

“There is a contradiction in saying to people, ‘You’re living in a terrible place, and we’re going to put massive investment into it to make it as safe and attractive as possible, but by the way, the vast majority of you are not going to be able to live here again once we do so,’” Vale says. “And there is relatively little effort to truly follow through on what the life trajectory is for those who go elsewhere and don’t have an opportunity to return to the redeveloped housing.”

Now Vale is expanding on that argument in a new book, “Purging the Poorest: Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-Cleared Communities”...

“Chicago and Atlanta are probably the nation’s most conspicuous experiments in getting rid of, or at least transforming, family public housing,” Vale explains. However, he notes, “It’s hard to find an older American city that doesn’t have at least one example of this double clearance.”

Essentially, Vale says, these cities exemplify one basic question: “Should public resources go to the group most likely to take full advantage of them, or to the group that is most desperately in need of assistance?”

Vale sees U.S. policy as vacillating between these views over time. At first, public housing was meant “to reward an upwardly mobile working-class population” — making public housing a place for strivers. Slums were cleared and larger apartment buildings developed, including Atlanta’s Techwood Homes, the first such major project in the country. 

But after 1960, public housing tended to be the domain of urban families mired in poverty. “The conventional wisdom was that public housing dangerously concentrated poor people in a poorly designed and poorly managed system of projects, and we are now thankfully tearing it all down,” Vale says. “But that was mostly a middle phase of concentrated poverty from 1960 to 1990.”

Over the last two decades, he says, the pendulum has swung back, leaving a smaller number of housing units available for the less-troubled, which Vale calls “another round of trying to find the deserving poor who are able to live in close proximity with now-desirable downtown areas.”

Vale’s critique of this downsizing involves several elements. Projects such as Cabrini-Green might have been bad, but displacing people from them means “the loss of the community networks they had, their church, the people doing day care for their children, the opportunities that neighborhood did provide, even in the context of violence.”

Demolishing public housing can hurt former residents financially, too. “Techwood and Cabrini-Green were very central to downtown and people have lost job opportunities,” Vale says. Indeed, the elimination of those developments, even with all their attendant problems, does not seem to have measurably helped many former residents gain work...
“We don’t have very fine-tuned instruments to understand the difference between the person who genuinely needs assistance and the person who is gaming the system,” Vale says. “Far larger numbers of people get demonized, marginalized or ignored, instead of assisted.” ...
Ultimately, Vale thinks, the reality of the ongoing demand for public housing makes it an issue we have not solved. 

“The irony of public housing is that people stigmatize it in every possible way, except the waiting lists continue to grow and it continues to be very much in demand,” Vale says. “If this is such a terrible [thing], why are so many hundreds of thousands of people trying to get into it? And why are we reducing the number of public-housing units?”

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Dream House?

A quick one from the road - Robert Shiller on housing:

Today’s Dream House May Not Be Tomorrow’s, by Robert Shiller, Commentary, NY Times: Houses are just buildings, but homes are often beautiful dreams. Unfortunately, as millions of people have learned in the housing crisis, those dreams don’t always comport with reality.
Economic and demographic changes may severely impair the value of a home when it’s time to sell, a decade or more in the future. Will a particular home still be fashionable then? Will social and economic shifts tilt demand toward new designs and types of communities —even toward renting rather than an outright purchase? Any of these factors could affect home prices substantially. ...

His bottom line is that:

Forecasting is indeed risky, because of factors like construction productivity, inflation, and the growth and bursting of speculative bubbles in both home prices and long-term interest rates. The outlook is so ambiguous that there is no single answer to the question of housing’s potential as a long-term investment.

And:

... it may be wisest to choose the housing that best meets your personal needs, among the choices you can afford.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Is There an Upward Slope to Real House Prices?

Calculated Risk disagrees with Robert Shiller:

Shiller and the Upward Slope of Real House Prices, by Bill McBride: Professor Robert Shiller wrote in the NY Times: Why Home Prices Change (or Don’t)

Home prices look remarkably stable when corrected for inflation. Over the 100 years ending in 1990 — before the recent housing boom — real home prices rose only 0.2 percent a year, on average. The smallness of that increase seems best explained by rising productivity in construction, which offset increasing costs of land and labor.

Shiller's comment on the stability of real house prices is based on the long run price index he constructed for the second edition of his book "Irrational Exuberance".

As I've noted before, if Shiller had used some different indexes for earlier periods, his graph would have indicated an upward slope for real house prices. Here was an earlier post on this: The upward slope of Real House Prices. ... The indexes I used captured a larger percentage of the market than the indexes Shiller used.

Tom Lawler has also written in depth about this: Lawler: On the upward trend in Real House Prices. ...

A key reason for the upward slope in real house prices is because some areas are land constrained, and with an increasing population, the value of land increases faster than inflation. ...

The bottom line is there is an upward slope to real house prices.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Calculated Risk on New Home Sales

Calculated Risk:

New Home Sales at 437,000 SAAR in January, by Bill McBride: ... On New Home Sales: The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 437 thousand. This was up from a revised 378 thousand SAAR in December (revised up from 369 thousand). ...
This is the strongest sales rate since 2008. This was another solid report. ... [New Home Sales graphs]

There are, of course, lots of graphs in the original post. In another post, he adds:

1) January is seasonally the weakest month of the year for new home sales, so January has the largest positive seasonal adjustment. Also this was just one month with a sales rate over 400 thousand - and we shouldn't read too much into one month of data. But this was the highest level since July 2008 and it is clear the housing recovery is ongoing. 
2) Although there was a large increase in the sales rate, sales are still near the lows for previous recessions. This suggest significant upside over the next few years (based on estimates of household formation and demographics, I expect sales to increase to 750 to 800 thousand over the next several years).
3) Housing is historically the best leading indicator for the economy, and this is one of the reasons I think The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades. Note: The key downside risk is too much austerity too quickly, but that is a different post. ...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Shiller: Don't Count on a New Housing Boom

Robert Shiller says caution is in order in housing markets:

A New Housing Boom? Don’t Count on It, by Robert Shiller, Commentary, NY Times: We're beginning to hear noises that we’ve reached a major turning point in the housing market — and that, with interest rates so low, this is a rare opportunity to buy. But are such observations on target?
It would be comforting if they were. Yet the unfortunate truth is that the tea leaves don’t clearly suggest any particular path for prices, either up or down..., any short-run increase in inflation-adjusted home prices has been virtually worthless as an indicator of where home prices will be going over the next five or more years. ...
The bottom line for potential home buyers or sellers is probably this: Don’t do anything dramatic or difficult. There is too much uncertainty... If you have personal reasons for getting into or out of the housing market, go ahead. Otherwise, don’t stay up worrying about home prices any more than you do about stock prices. ...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'Wealth Effects Revisited: 1975-2012'

Housing cycles matter:

Wealth Effects Revisited: 1975-2012, by Karl E. Case, John M. Quigley, Robert J. Shiller, NBER Working Paper No. 18667, January 2013 [open link, previous version]: We re-examine the links between changes in housing wealth, financial wealth, and consumer spending. We extend a panel of U.S. states observed quarterly during the seventeen-year period, 1982 through 1999, to the thirty-seven year period, 1975 through 2012Q2. Using techniques reported previously, we impute the aggregate value of owner-occupied housing, the value of financial assets, and measures of aggregate consumption for each of the geographic units over time. We estimate regression models in levels, first differences and in error-correction form, relating per capita consumption to per capita income and wealth. We find a statistically significant and rather large effect of housing wealth upon household consumption. This effect is consistently larger than the effect of stock market wealth upon consumption.
In our earlier version of this paper we found that households increase their spending when house prices rise, but we found no significant decrease in consumption when house prices fall. The results presented here with the extended data now show that declines in house prices stimulate large and significant decreases in household spending.
The elasticities implied by this work are large. An increase in real housing wealth comparable to the rise between 2001 and 2005 would, over the four years, push up household spending by a total of about 4.3%. A decrease in real housing wealth comparable to the crash which took place between 2005 and 2009 would lead to a drop of about 3.5%

Thursday, January 17, 2013

'More Ideological Excuse Making for Bad Banks'

 Barry Ritholtz takes on:

...this bit of AEI silliness:

“And here I thought it was the borrower’s job to determine if he has the means to repay a loan.”

It used to be. Homebuyers would look at their income, assets, monthly cash flow, job security, debt outstanding and things like that to determine if the family could afford to own a home. The lender’s job was to perform adequate due diligence and protect against loss by requiring a down payment.

No. That is Wrong. It so wrong on so many many levels that I have to stop what I was going to be doing this morning and respond to this silliness instead:

1. Banks — not borrowers — are the ones who actually make the loan decision.

2. Banks have access to capital. Depositors give banks money (FDIC helps that) and banks also can tap the Fed for even more capital. The banks have obligation to all of these entities to adhere to good lending standards.

3. It is the banks job to determine credit worthiness. THAT IS WHAT THEY DO. If they do not care to be bother to make this determination, then perhaps they should consider something other than the money lending business as a vocation.

Left to themselves, most humans would borrow much more money than they can reasonably handle. This is not a political statement, it is an observation about Human Nature.

Banks and other credit sources know this — that is why they review income and FICO scores and past payment history and debt load and employment record and tax returns. It is to verify the credit worthiness of the applicant.

No, this isn’t an exercise in due diligence — “Hey, figure out what you can afford, and we will check your work for you.” That is not what maintaining Lending Standards means.

This is why the no doc, no credit check, liar loans were destined to fail. ...

He is discussing a column by Caroline Baum:

Further..., Ms. Baum could not help herself to bring up the usual bugaboos: “Without re-litigating the cause of the housing bubble — greedy bankers or government housing policy” — that’s because that debate is over, and the Peter Wallisons and Ed Pintos of the world overwhelmingly lost it.
The only reason to go back to that debate — as was done repeatedly in the column — is because the outcome of that disagrees with your ideology. The statement “Government housing policies caused the crisis” is enormously useful, however, as it signifies cognitive dissonance on the part of its proponent.

No matter how much evidence piles up against it, and there is presently a significant amount, they can't let go of the idea that the housing crisis was caused by the government trying to help poor people. That's not what happened, but the facts are a large blow to their ideology and they aren't about to admit that what they've been claiming is wrong.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

'The Blame the Community Reinvestment Act Industry'

Dean Baker:

The Blame the Community Reinvestment Act Industry, by Dean Baker (Creative Commons License): One of the major occupations for economists these days is blaming efforts to help poor people for the housing bubble and bust. The main villains in this story are Fannie Mae, Freddic Mac, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). A reader recently sent me another work in this proud tradition.
I just did a quick reading of the paper, but it seems that the smoking gun in this one is that banks subject to the CRA appeared to do more lending in CRA tracts in the periods where their lending behavior was being scrutinized by regulators. Just to remind folks, the CRA requires banks to make loans in the areas from which they were taking deposits, in particular focusing on areas that are disproportionately African American or Hispanic. The authors take this timing result, which is especially pronounced in the peak bubble years of 2004-2006, as evidence that the CRA played a major role in the pushing of bad loans on moderate income people. As they note, the loans issued in these tracts in these periods had a much higher default rate than other loans.
It's not clear that this gun is smoking quite as much the paper implies. First, it is important to remember that the biggest peddlers of subprime loans were mortgage lenders like Ameriquest and Countrywide. These lenders were for the most part not subject to the CRA since they were not banks (they raised money through the capital markets, not by taking deposits). Therefore the CRA was not a gun to the head of these lenders forcing them to make bad loans.
However even for the banks to whom the CRA did apply the evidence in this paper is less compelling than it may seem. Let's assume that banks do care about their CRA ratings for the reasons mentioned in the paper. (The CRA rating would likely be a factor that would come up when a bank was interested in a buyout or merger.) Let's also imagine that banks time their loans to CRA tracts so that they can show more loans in the periods where their compliance is being reviewed. Let's also hypothesize that in total the CRA doesn't get banks to make any more loans to CRA tracts than they would otherwise.
In this case, we would get exactly the sort of pattern of lending found in this study. Banks that are subject to the CRA would refrain from focusing on CRA tracts when they know no one is looking. Then when the light is on, they would make a stronger effort to make loans in the neighborhoods covered by the CRA. If banks engaged in this sort of timing of loans to CRA tracts, we would find that loans during CRA review periods were higher than in other times, even if there was no net increase in loans as a result of the CRA.
As a practical matter, I would be surprised if the CRA had no effect whatsoever on lending to the covered tracts. But it's not clear how this paper can distinguish a timing effect from a situation where banks actually increased lending to CRA tracts beyond what they would have done without the law.
In the process of prosecuting the case against the CRA, the paper produces some exonerating evidence for Fannie and Freddie. It finds that the CRA effect was strongly associated with private securitization because the investment banks had lower standards than Fannie and Freddie. It comments on this finding:
"We conjecture that banks are more likely to originate loans to risky borrowers around CRA examinations when they have an avenue to securitize and pass these loans to private investors after the exam."
And, just to remind folks, the FHA became almost irrelevant in the peak bubble years, with its share of the market dwindling to almost nothing. At the time it was derided as an outmoded relic since the private sector was so much more efficient in providing loans to low and moderate income families.
Anyhow, I don't think there is any doubt that the efforts to push homeownership went seriously awry in the bubble years. Many of the organizations that encouraged moderate income families to buy homes at badly inflated prices as a wealth building strategy should be wearing bags over their heads for the next three decades. But there is no escaping the fact that the main motivation for issuing the bad mortgages was money: the banks were booking huge profits in these years. And no believer in the free market can think that bankers have to be told by government bureaucrats to go out and make money.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Shiller: Housing Fever Can Work Both Ways

One of these days I'll figure out why I am so resistant to Robert Shiller's "stories" approach to economic issues:

Housing Fever Can Work Both Ways, by Robert Shiller, Commentary, NY Times: The boom and bust in the housing market was a dual social epidemic. First, there was an epidemic of positive thinking that led to high expectations for long-term home price appreciation — and for the economy, too. Then, after 2005, an epidemic of negative thinking discouraged many people from buying a house or from spending in general, and kept many employers from hiring.
We would all like to think that our economy makes more sense than that, and, in some ways, it does.
Certainly, there were other factors behind this boom and bust. But many of them — for example, Federal Reserve actions, government policies toward housing, even the effects on the United States of developments in other countries’ economies — were arguably driven by this same social epidemic. ...
People waiting to buy a home may be waiting for a sense that prices have a rosy long-term future. Home prices in the United States have been rising for several months, and that is generating some optimism that now is the time to buy. However, the social waves also carry other, less encouraging stories that compete with such optimism — for example, foreclosures, unemployment, Europe’s troubles and the Asian slowdown.
Will optimism about real estate emerge as a leading story? If this is a major upturning point for the housing market, it is still sociologically opaque.

Friday, October 05, 2012

'The Community Reinvestment Act Did Not Induce Subprime Lending'

Via Richard Green:

Rub ́en Herna ́ndez-Murillo, Andra C. Ghent, and Michael T. Owyang show that the Community Reinvestment Act did not induce subprime lending: They look at lending originations and loan performance on either side of the CRA thresholds. If CRA encouraged subprime lending, one should see a discontinuity at the thresholds, but there is none.
These are originations for 2-28 subprime loans. Under CRA, lenders received credit for originating and funding loans in census tracts whose median incomes were below 80 percent of area median income. If the CRA was inducing lending, we should see a jump in lending to the left of the 80 percent cut-off--there isn't (either visually or econometrically). They find the same result when looking at pricing and default.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Should Home-Ownership be Discouraged?

Richard Green, in a debate at The Economist on home ownership:

The opposition's closing remarks Sep 26th 2012, by Richard K. Green: In his comments, Ed Glaeser makes a point that I wholeheartedly agree with: the American system of housing subsidies makes little sense. The largest housing subsidy, the mortgage interest deduction,... does little to help those at the margin of home-owning...
Nevertheless, I think Mr Glaeser sells his own study short when he argues that the civic connections established through home-owning are not very important. Home-owning can help countries overcome legacies in which property owners have exploited property users—legacies that include the hacienda system in Latin America and the Philippines, and sharecropping and company towns in America. There are important links between ownership, personal independence and the sense of control, as well as the ability to be socially mobile.
One could argue that we in America engaged in an experiment in discouraging home-ownership for ... minorities in general and African-Americans in particular. For many years, real-estate agents and lenders in America discriminated against minorities who tried to purchase houses, and American housing finance policy discriminated against African-American and central city neighborhoods. ... Hence the inability of African-Americans to own homes was very much the result of policies that targeted African-Americans.
One of the upshots of this is that the home-ownership rate among African Americans, at 46%, is considerably lower than it is for white Americans, at 71%. Controls for wealth, income and demographics are not sufficient to explain the gap. And ... African-Americans continue to get loans at less favorable terms than others.
But does any of this matter? ...—home equity explains the likelihood that children will complete college better than any other type of asset... It seems that a lack of access to owner-occupied housing has prevented African-Americans' access to a college degree. ... Educational attainment is crucial to social mobility. ... This is both economically and socially destructive.

The entire debate is here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

'Mitt Romney's Housing Market Plan Has to Be a Joke'

Brad DeLong points to Joe Weisenthal's response to the Romney campaign's housing plan (calling it a "plan" gives it more credit than it deserves):

Mitt Romney's Housing Market Plan Has Got to Be a Joke, by Joe Weisenthal: At this point, we have no choice but to conclude that the Mitt Romney campaign is just trolling whiny journalists who have complained about the lack of detail in his plans.

Yesterday evening (a Friday evening!) the campaign revealed a whitepaper titled Securing the American Dream and The Future of Housing Policy that's so unsubstantial, we half-suspect the timing was done so that nobody would see it amid the release of the 2011 tax documents, which came out about 20 minutes earlier. This is honestly a sentence in his whitepaper on The Future Of Housing Policy:

The Romney-Ryan plan will completely end “too-big-to-fail” by reforming the GSEs.

Romney and Ryan believe that "too-big-to-fail", which generally refers to the assumption that a collapse of a major Wall Street institution would be catastrophic to the overall economy, thus making a bailout imperative, would be solved by the reform of Fannie and Freddie. Or maybe Romney and Ryan believe that only Fannie and Freddie are too big to fail, and that the collapse of a mega-bank would be fine. Those are the only possible readings of that sentence. As for Romney and Ryan's plan to reform the GSEs, the plan is to... reform them..., basically there are no details at all. Too Big To Fail will be fixed by reforming the GSEs, and the GSEs will be fixed... somehow….

It's reasonable to think that the challenger who is trying to disrupt the status quo, actually says something that would... disrupt the status quo. Failing to provide any details or a plan during the heart of the campaign undermines the notion that he is a serious alternative.

Bonus Brad DeLong ridicule of the "plan":

"End 'Too-Big-to-Fail' by Reforming the GSEs": Are Romney and His Campaign That Pig-Ignorant?

The Romney-Ryan plan will completely end “too-big-to-fail” by reforming the GSEs. The four years since taxpayers took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, spending $140 billion in the process, is too long to wait for reform. Rather than just talk about reform, a Romney-Ryan Administration will protect taxpayers from additional risk in the future by reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and provide a long-term, sustainable solution for the future of housing finance reform in our country.

That is the Romney housing white paper's section on the GSEs and "Too-Big-to-Fail".

That is not the introduction to the section.

That is the section.

That is the entire section.

I don't know which is scarier:

  1. That Romney and everybody else in his campaign think that a "white paper" on housing can cover both the GSEs and "Too-Big-to-Fail" in 85 words.

  2. That Romney and everybody else in his campaign think that if the GSEs are somehow "reformed" that that can somehow magically resolve "Too-Big-to-Fail" as well--make it so that there are no longer any problems of systemic risk associated with the potential bankruptcy of Citi, JPMC, Wells-Fargo, BoA, GS, Morgan Stanley, or any of the other systemically-important financial institutions.

People: which scares you more?...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mass Mortgage Refinancing

Joe Stiglitz and Mark Zandi endorse the Merkely plan for mass mortgage refinancing: 

The One Housing Solution Left: Mass Mortgage Refinancing, by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Mark Zandi, Commentary, NY Times: ...With 13.5 million homeowners underwater ... the odds are high that many millions ... will lose their homes.
Housing remains the biggest impediment to economic recovery, yet Washington seems paralyzed. ... Late last month, the top regulator overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac blocked a plan backed by the Obama administration to let the companies forgive some of the mortgage debt owed by stressed homeowners. ...
With principal writedown no longer an option, the government needs to find a new way to facilitate mass mortgage refinancings. With rates at record lows, refinancing would allow homeowners to significantly reduce their monthly payments... A mass refinancing program would work like a potent tax cut. ...
Well over half of all American homeowners with mortgages are ... excellent candidates to refinance. ... But many ... can’t refinance because the collapse in house prices has wiped out their home equity.
Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, has proposed a remedy. Under his plan,... underwater homeowners who are current on their payments and meet other requirements would have the option to refinance to either lower their monthly payments or pay down their loans and rebuild equity. ...
If the program was very successful, we envisage that two million outstanding loans could be placed in ... trust at its peak. If the average mortgage balance was $150,000, then at the peak there would be $300 billion outstanding. ...
Since the Great Recession began almost five years ago, housing has been at the heart of our economic woes. If we do nothing, the problem will eventually resolve itself, but only with significant pain and a long wait. Mr. Merkley’s plan would speed the healing.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

'The Making of America’s Imbalances'

Via Menzie Chinn at Econbrowser, Paul Wachtel and Moritz Schularick look at the evidence for Bernanke's savings glut hypothesis, and find that "the American credit boom of the 2000s had few direct links to reserve accumulation in emerging markets. The mortgage boom was financed by the US financial sector which intermediated foreign funds from private sources." Thus, if there is blame here, it should be assigned to private markets -- they are not as infallible as some woud like you to believe -- rather than government behavior:

Guest Contribution: The Making of America’s Imbalances, by Paul Wachtel and Moritz Schularick: Many observers in the West have embraced a reading of the financial crisis in which global imbalances and the surge in uphill net capital flows from poor to rich countries play a dominant role. ... Such explanations conveniently blame events that took place outside of the advanced economies for at least providing the initial impetus for the economic and financial mess Ben Bernanke’s savings glut hypothesis (Bernanke 2005) skillfully argues that a large and sudden rise of desired savings from developing countries – a savings glut – flooded the US economy. The implication is that low American interest rates and, ultimately, the financial crisis were due to the unusual saving behavior elsewhere.
Others disagree with such an imbalance-centered view of the crisis. ... This debate suggests that a closer look at the composition and role of imbalances in the run up to the crisis is warranted. ...
In our new paper -- “The Making of America’s Imbalances” -- we examine the evolution of sectoral financial balances in the US economy in the past 50 years using the Flow of Funds accounts. ... What do we find? ... Who financed the household borrowing binge of the 2000s? China and other emerging markets played virtually no direct role in the financing flows behind the American credit bubble. In brief, the U.S. financial sector provided the financing for mortgage-hungry America (until it collapsed with the crisis). But where did Wall Street find the savings to fuel to fire?
In the 2000s, the American financial system fed the credit hunger of the American economy mainly by issuing debt liabilities in international financial markets; but it was the foreign private sector, not foreign governments, that provided most of the fuel for the fire. Foreign official inflows went almost exclusively into Treasury securities while private investors bought bonds and other instruments issued by U.S. financial. In other words, those who are looking for international drivers of the American credit bubble, should not look to Beijing and Riyadh, but to international private capital markets. The capital inflow bonanza of the 2000s that enabled the American credit bubble (Chinn and Frieden 2011) was primarily a private sector inflow... Beijing may have financed the war in Iraq at low cost while Wall Street, foreign banks and private investors fueled the housing bubble. ...

As they emphasize in the paper, "the flows that fed the bubble were private, not official. ... Our results ... stand in clear opposition to arguments that link the bubble in US housing markets in the 2000s with the global glut of savings (Bernanke 2005). The increase in leverage in the US plays as important a role as the capital inflows from the rest of the world."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

'Fire Ed DeMarco'

Yep:

Fire Ed DeMarco, by Paul Krugman: Do it now. ... DeMarco heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie. And he has just rejected a request from the Treasury Department that he offer debt relief to troubled homeowners — a request backed by an offer by Treasury to pay up to 63 cents to the FHFA for every dollar of debt forgiven.
DeMarco’s basis for the rejection was that this forgiveness would represent a net loss to taxpayers, even if his agency came out ahead.
That’s a very arguable point even on its own terms, because the paper he cited (pdf) in support of his stance took no account of the positive effects on the economy of debt relief — even though those effects are the main reason for offering such relief. ... Furthermore, even if there’s a small net cost to taxpayers, debt relief is still worth doing if it yields large economic benefits.
In any case, however, deciding whether debt relief is a good policy for the nation as a whole is not DeMarco’s job. His job — as long as he keeps it, which I hope is a very short period of time — is to run his agency. If the Secretary of the Treasury, acting on behalf of the president, believes that it is in the national interest to spend some taxpayer funds on debt relief, in a way that actually improves the FHFA’s budget position, the agency’s director has no business deciding on his own that he prefers not to act.
I don’t know what DeMarco’s specific legal mandate is. But there is simply no way that it makes sense for an agency director to use his position to block implementation of the president’s economic policy, not because it would hurt his agency’s operations, but simply because he disagrees with that policy.
This guy needs to go.

If households can't get help repairing their balance sheets, then the recovery from the balance sheet recession -- such as it is -- will be even slower. Banks got the help they needed with their balance sheet problems, but households have not received as much attention.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Has the Market Finally Bottomed Out?

Is the housing market bottoming out? Joshua Abel, Richard Peach, and Joseph Tracy of the NY Fed have a highly hedged answer:

Just Released: Housing Checkup–Has the Market Finally Bottomed Out?, by Joshua Abel, Richard Peach, and Joseph Tracy, Liberty Street Economics: In this post, we examine a number of important housing market “vital signs” that collectively help to indicate the health status of local markets at the county level. The post also serves as an introduction to a set of interactive maps, based on home price index data from CoreLogic, that we will regularly update on the New York Fed's website for readers interested in continuing to track the convalescence of the U.S. housing markets. The maps show the year-over-year change in home prices for nearly 1,200 counties through May and include a video sequence tracking these price changes since 2003.
Over the past few months, some national housing market indicators have begun to look a bit brighter. As of May, the CoreLogic national home price index had risen three months in a row. While still at a relatively low level, housing starts now have a clear upward trend. These developments have led some analysts to declare that, after five years of generally declining prices and activity, the housing market has finally bottomed out. While the national statistics are encouraging, whether or not the housing market has bottomed out is actually a much more difficult question to address for a couple of reasons. First, the United States is not a single housing market but rather a collection of numerous local housing markets. Second, the health of a local housing market is determined by a variety of indicators in addition to prices....

And the conclusion:

Overall Health Assessment
The stabilization of the housing market suggested by various national indicators is corroborated by looking at a number of indicators disaggregated to the county level. Importantly, the median county is now experiencing stable house prices on a year-over-year basis. Transaction volumes in most markets, while still far below normal, have steadied. Finally, the share of distressed sales, although still very high in many markets, appears to have peaked. If these trends continue, then local housing markets are making progress in their convalescence. However, our analysis indicates that most local housing markets still have a way to go to achieve a clean bill of health.

Calculated Risk says:

... I think it is likely that prices have bottomed, although I expect prices to be choppy going forward - and I expect any nominal price increase over the next year or two to be small.
I've seen some forecasts of additional 20% price declines on the repeat sales indexes. Three words: Not. Gonna. Happen.
Others, like Barry Ritholtz at the Big Picture, have argued that we could see an additional 10% price decline in the Case-Shiller indexes. I think that is unlikely, but not impossible. The argument for further price declines is that there are still a large number of distressed properties in the foreclosure pipeline - and that there are over 10 million property owners with negative equity, and that could lead to even more distressed sales. So even though prices are pretty much back to "normal" based on real prices and price-to-rent ratio (see below), the argument is that all of these distressed sales could push prices down further. Also, Barry argues that prices following a bubble usually "overshoot".
Those are solid arguments, but I think that some of the policy initiatives (refinance programs, emphasis on modifications, REO-to-rental and more) will lessen the downward pressure from distressed sales - and I also think any "overshoot" will be in real terms (inflation adjusted) as opposed to nominal terms. It is probably correct that any increase in house prices will lead to more inventory (sellers waiting for a "better market"), but that is an argument for why prices will not increase - as opposed to an argument for further price declines.
My view is prices will be up slightly year-over-year next March (when prices usually bottom seasonally for the repeat sales indexes). Some analysts see a small decrease (like 1% to 2%) over the next 12 months, but that isn't much different than a small increase (when compared to forecasts of 10% or 20% declines). ...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Minority Borrowers Paid More for Mortgages

Nope, there's no need for regulation of financial markets, or for something like a consumer financial protection bureau:

Justice Department Details Higher Rates Charged to Minority Borrowers, by Janet Paskin, WSJ: At least 34,000 African-American, Hispanic and other minority borrowers paid more for their mortgages or were steered into subprime loans when they could have qualified for better rates, according to the Department of Justice. The DOJ settled a fair-lending lawsuit with Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, on Thursday.

That adds up to real money – and, in some cases, real stress:

As a result of being placed in a subprime loan, an African-American or Hispanic borrower… was subject to possible pre-payment penalties, increased risk of credit problems, default, and foreclosure, and the emotional distress that accompanies such economic stress.

The complaint also says that between 2004 and 2008, “highly qualified prime retail and wholesale applicants for Wells Fargo residential mortgage loans were more than four times as likely to receive a subprime loan if they were African-American and more than three times as likely if they were Hispanic than if they were white.”

During the same period, the complaint says, “borrowers with less favorable credit qualifications were more likely to receive prime loans if they were white than borrowers who were African-American or Hispanic.” ... Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million in settling similar charges in December. ...

I suppose I should add: It wasn't the CRA.