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The Second Bubble Bursts

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While the next down-leg in the U.S. housing market actually began when the market turned lower earlier in the spring, when it comes to an asset bubble “bursting”, such crises are usually characterized by some news or event to shock the market – followed by a mass-epiphany, as both market-sheep and “experts” belatedly remove their “blinders”.


In the case of the U.S. housing market, we have this week's disastrous news on U.S. new home sales (the lowest reading in the near-fifty years of recording such data), followed by the sudden realization by the deluded majority that the “U.S. housing bottom” was in fact just a trap-door. The reason why this next, more serious collapse is a “surprise” to so many is because when it comes to the U.S. housing market, there are two entirely different worlds.


In one world, the U.S. housing market had already absorbed its pain. All that remained was to “restore confidence” to U.S. home-buyers (and maybe create a few jobs), and the U.S. housing market would once again start chugging higher. In the meantime, the plucky Obama government was doing its utmost to “save” U.S. homeowners, along with the assistance of the banker oligarchs – and everyone was in agreement never to repeat the “mistakes” of the past.


Then there is the real world.


In the real world, the U.S. housing market has fallen less than half the distance it needed to fall, to bring U.S. housing prices back to sane levels. While defining “sanity” is an ever more difficult task in this age of disinformation, let's start by going back to the mid-1990's. It was in the second half of that decade U.S. housing prices began a much steeper incline than previous years, and (depending on whose numbers you look at) U.S. home prices roughly tripled from that point.


Since that point in time, the wages of the vast majority of U.S. workers have been steadily declining (in fact this decline goes back more than 30 years). The question becomes: how do people making less money support any increase in U.S. home prices (over the long term)? The answer is that such prices can only be propped-up (temporarily) by depleting the savings of those with savings, increasing the debt of those with no savings, and generally lowering lending standards. The longer that such short-sighted recklessness is allowed to continue, the nastier the meltdown when sanity returns to the market.

 

In the case of the U.S. market, not only are none of the price-gains since the mid-90's sustainable, but since incomes are substantially lower than that point in time, savings are gone, and debt-levels are much higher, it is extremely doubtful that U.S. home prices can even be maintained at that level – especially with long-term unemployment at its highest rate since the Great Depression. Instead U.S. homeowners, and the small number of potential buyers out there should look back much further in time for an idea of how low U.S. home prices can go. The following chart (from a wonderful site) is sobering.


The “moon-shot” in the U.S. housing market over the decade from 1996 – 2006 was nothing but the hype of the U.S. media, the easy-money force-fed into the U.S. economy by the Federal Reserve, and the endless Ponzi-schemes which Wall Street used to pump-up the market even further, through “securitizing” mortgages and inflating their derivatives-bubble to a notional value exceeding $1 quadrillion.


A more realistic, long-term price level is found by looking back to the early 1970's. It was at that point in time that “high inflation” caused prices to begin a much steeper, long-term trajectory – while wages for all but the highest wage-earners began a permanent erosion, as wage increases failed to come close to matching inflation, year after year.


More specifically, it was at this time that the gold-standard died at the hands of Richard Nixon, a “casualty” of the massive deficit-spending which he and all the other warmongers sought, in order to “win” the Vietnam war. With no gold standard, U.S. bankers were free to drown the world in their fiat-currency. Indeed, all “inflation” is a function of increasing the money supply, price-inflation is merely the consequence of all that money-printing – as diluted currencies obviously and rightfully lose their value.


As Alan Greenspan pointed out in a famous essay in 1966, “inflation” is the primary means for wealthy bankers to “confiscate” all the wealth of the average citizen, and the permanent era of high inflation brought about by the death of the gold standard has resulted in the greatest collapse in the standard of living of the average, Western citizen in centuries.


This collapse in real wealth has been largely concealed through three parallel phenomena. First, there was the mass-entry of women into the workforce – creating more two-income households than at any time in history: two incomes in order to be slightly better off than a one-income family of a generation earlier. Second, Westerners in general, and North Americans in particular have allowed their savings to dissipate. Meanwhile debt-levels are now at their highest in history.


The graph below points out two stark realities. First, it points out that in real-dollar terms, average U.S. wages have fallen all the way back to levels during The Great Depression. Secondly, it points out another “dividend” for the U.S. government in lying about inflation. Using the phony numbers of the CPI, workers would be deluded into believing that they have only suffered a tiny dip in their earning power – not a complete erosion of all gains in their standard of living, going back nearly 80 years.


 

Should U.S. homes fall back to 1970 prices (while U.S. workers earn their 1930's wages), that implies that U.S. home prices will fall more than 75% from today's prices. Such a devolution cannot be prevented by two-income households. Thanks to the refusal of our governments to deal with massive, structural unemployment, the vast majority of two-income families now have at least one of those wage-earners working part-time, or at minimum wage.


...And this isn't even the bad news. The “bad news” comes when we examine two more downward drivers for the U.S. housing market: under-funded retirements and option-ARM mortgages.


As I pointed out over a year ago, U.S. pensions are underfunded by at least $2 trillion – and likely more. With savings at their lowest level in history, this means that huge bulge of baby-boomer retirees will either have to slash their spending to keep within dramatically reduced budgets (and destroy this “consumer economy”), or, they will have to dump $trillions in real estate to fund their retirements – since real estate comprises 75% of their meager assets.


This implies that for an entire generation real estate will be dumped onto what is already the most over-supplied real estate market in history – once the “shadow inventories” come out of the shadows. Indeed, as I recently pointed-out, even Fannie Mae has now acknowledged that simply bulldozing excess homes may be the only option – to cut into the stockpile of 20 million empty homes.


Then there is the option-ARM time-bomb, where millions of totally-underwater mortgages are about to create an explosion of new defaults, when the mortgages reset to a payment schedule likely multiples of the current monthly-payments for these mortgage-holders. Having never paid any principal on these mortgages, they are all “underwater” - meaning these are the most likely homes yet to end up as “walk-aways” or foreclosures.


A lack of space prevents me from going into a number of lesser fundamentals which will also depress U.S. house prices going forward. Instead, it's time to address the issue in most readers' minds. While I have demonstrated that U.S. homes are grossly overvalued (and grossly over-supplied), and destined for decades of downward movement in prices, what evidence do I have of a “second bubble”?


  1. 0% interest rates

  2. zero-downpayment mortgages

  3. lax lending standards

  4. massive, hidden inventories


If allowing interest rates to plunge to 1% for a couple of years could lead to the biggest housing bubble in human history, then we can only cringe as we ponder interest rates set permanently at 0%. As I have pointed out on many previous occasions, with $60 trillion in total public/private debt, the U.S. cannot afford to make payments on that debt, should rates rise by a mere 1%.


After factoring-in the $8000 home-buyers's credit, more than half of all homes purchased in the U.S. in 2009 had zero down-payment. This means that none of these homeowners started their mortgages with any equity, at all. With mortgages which have immediately sunk into “underwater” status, these newer homeowners have much less incentive than previous homeowners to even attempt to keep up with payments. As “walk-aways” surge to epidemic levels, and option-ARM mortgage-holders default by the millions, the glut of U.S. homes after this second bubble has burst will be far worse than the first U.S. collapse.


Meanwhile, the only way that the Obama regime could find enough chump-buyers to simulate a “bottom” in the U.S. housing market was to once again lower lending standards – after promising never to do so again. There is a very good reason why the U.S. government was forced to nationalize the entire U.S. mortgage market – and guarantee all those trillions of dollars of mortgage-debt: because U.S. banks wouldn't touch such mortgages with the proverbial “ten-foot pole”.


Lastly, there are simply far too many homes, of every shape and description (with the possible exception of low-end units – which is all that U.S. buyers can afford). Millions of homes held off the market by U.S. banks. Millions of homes tied-up in foreclosure courts – but certain to come onto the market. “Monster homes” and “exurb” homes which will never have buyers. And even with the collapse in new home construction, U.S. home-builders continue to start more units than they sell every month.


Both I and other realistic commentators have insisted all along that there was never a real “bottom” in the U.S. housing market, and that the next down-leg for this bubble-plagued market would begin (at the latest) by the middle of 2010. That day is here. Now all that remains is to get out of the way – as this house of cards collapses.

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paxjds
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written by paxjds, June 28, 2010
Jeff,
Almost at the same time, 1971, Richard Nixon took us off the Gold Standard, and gold is up around 3500% since then. Replacement cost of holmes are also way up due to labor and material cost. Government and Banks are stalling on forclosures and holding actual foreclosures off the market to keep holmes from falling possibly as low as you have projected (-75%). Government now controls the loan/mortgages and the interest rates. My bet is they will hold things the way they are until hyperinflation kicks in. The the Banksters and their Government puppets will cash in again on the people who live on Main Street.
Remember, all markets are fixed by the 1%, including bullion prices.
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, June 28, 2010
Hi NOTaREAL.

The point from where to base analysis is 1970. This is because that represents the point where wages turned permanently and dramatically lower AND the point in time when inflation took off (and lying about inflation began) AND the point in time when structural unemployment began to explode. In EVERY way, our economies have gotten poorer and sicker since then, along with most households. ONLY the fat cats at the top have been getting richer every year (due to a grossly flawed tax system).

The two-income household hides the fact that Americans (and Canadians?) are earning (in real terms) 1930's wages. The point to note in 1970 was that two years' (average) income was enough to buy a house. Today, average wages and average house prices make houses at least twice as expensive (or wages are only half as high). So on that metric alone house prices could/should fall by 50%.

However, with households servicing HUGE amounts of debt (on average) that dramatically reduces buying-power still further. Then when you add the grossly excessive supply of U.S. housing, that depresses price still further. Then when baby-boomers dump a $trillion (or so) of real estate onto the market to finance their retirements, that depresses prices still further. So a 75% decline in U.S. home prices (from today's prices) doesn't sound so extreme once we strip away the smoke-and-mirrors.
NOTaREALmerican
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written by NOTaREALmerican, June 28, 2010
Interesting charts.

I like having the BLS & SS inflation plots.

If we assume that ShadowStats is correct, that would imply that housing is below the 1945 -> 1995 (relatively flat) levels, but with wages at 1935 levels. But, as you state, females are earning too now, so that's got to be worth something.

If we assume the BLS is right, that would imply that housing is above the 1945 -> 1995 (relatively flat) levels, with wages at roughly 1980 level.

Based on the number of peasants I know (which isn't many) it seems we're not at 1935 wages, perhaps it's just the safety net is keeping them alive. (who knows...)

Definitely worth showing both inflation adjustments tho. (Nice site, followed a link from Patrick Housing Crash site.

paxjds
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written by paxjds, June 25, 2010
Grumley,
The Banksters and the Federal Reserve are a Cartel, all under the Bank of International Settlements based in Switzerland and totally out of reach of any existing legal/political system till a worldwide revoulution occurs. The Banksters own and buy off the politicians of both Parties in US and Canada, in Europe and Japan, etc. Most Politicians are typical Narcissist who want power, money, prestige, the limelight etc, and therefore will do and say anything for more of the same. Look at the failed decision recently to audit the Federal Reserve, shot down by the infamous and dunce US Senate with almost 70 votes to not audit the FED. The sick politicians are mad with power and getting more wealth, and to them the tree of printing presses will never stop in their lifetime. So the Puppet representatives wether in the US congress or the Russian Duma mean very little, as these Puppets vote whichever way the puppetmasters pull the strings.
Jeff started this blog response with a Quote from Edmund Burke "The only thing that is necessary for evil to triumph is for men of good will to do nothing". We all must realize the Banksters(wealthiest families in the world) control the puppet strings formally in 1913 with the founding of the Federal Reserve and took their Power grab worldwide when they formed the Bank of International Settlements around 1926 or so. By the way, the Bank of I.S. employees do not have to pay taxes, I wonder if this is why Timothy Geitner did not pay taxes. Bernacke?
Only when men of good will take William Burkes comment to a lifelong commitment to stopping this evil that is being dictated on the world by the Banksters do "we the people of planet earth" even have a slight chance.
ecliving
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written by Jeff (the other one), June 25, 2010
This is probably a good time to mention a site I follow, that many here will find useful...

http://www.sovereignman.com

He preaches the idea of multiple flags -- residency in one country, banking in another, investing in 2 or 3 others.

He's someone who practices what he preaches -- he has no permanent home, and keeps most of his assets where the US government can't get them. For instance, it's only a matter of time before the US gov't. takes a portion of every (that's EVERY) IRA and 401K that's invested in a bank, stock market, mutual funds, etc. They're going to make you buy an amount of Treasuries.

But an Open Opportunity IRA allows you to invest in pretty much anything you want, including a house in another country, gold and silver, and other hard assets. And since those assets can be outside the country, the gov't. can't get access to them.

Go check out that site. You'll learn a lot. But one warning -- you'll develop an insatiable wish to be a permanent traveler, as Simon is.
Grumley
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written by Grumley, June 25, 2010
Amen to that Jeff. I'm not entirely confident we can get someone like Peter Schiff or Rand Paul into Congress in time to make a difference. I am encouraged however by possible signs that some European countries are beginning to see through the insanity of our administration's belief that we can spend our way to prosperity.

While we arrogantly believe the US is the best, at everything, at this stage our best hope is that Europe continues to remember Weimar and we, out of sheer desperation, turn into monkeys and look outside the country for guidance.
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, June 25, 2010
Grumley, it's almost enough to make you reject the paradigm of 'free will' instead of the opposing ethos: determinism.

If we (collectively) INSIST on repeating the same patterns and playing the same roles, generation after generation, era after era, then maybe it's "free will" that is the illusion. Because the puppet's strings are invisible, the puppet doesn't think he has any?

Canada is only different from the U.S. in terms of degree, apart from a couple of basic cultural differences. There is this "monkey see, monkey do" attitude up here that ensures most U.S. mistakes will eventually be repeated in Canada.

That's why I'm trying to alert my neighbours south of the border. Because if you can find a way to fix your own political system, and come up with some progressive solutions to deal with your other problems, then we can copy that!
Grumley
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written by Grumley, June 25, 2010
Very true Jeff. And I can say without hesitation that our US representatives are indeed "Leaders", elected from a country of "followers", through a platform of gluttony and sloth.

I can report first hand that the US citizenry has lost all sense of accountability. I mean this literally. Teachers and schools are blamed for bad grades, Asperger's is blamed for rude, fat, and lazy children, and the Chinese are now blamed for our toxic levels of debt and overconsumption.

I live in the San Francisco area and even here most people consider the Tea Movement a bunch of weird fanaticals. We truly deserve what is coming and when the second wave of the tsunami reaches the shore ninety-nine out of each hundred observers will watch in complete and utter bewilderment.

I believe our leaders are far too stupid to understand any of this, and we simply cannot be surprised as they were elected by a wholy apathetic population.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink" he suggests that the Group is actually smarter than its individuals. Clearly he did not use Congress in any of his examples. In the famous words of Buck Murdock..."Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes".
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, June 25, 2010
Yes, this is true. In the sleazy popularity contests we call "elections", "leadership" has been replaced by either popularity, or the complete absence of scruples necessary to torpedo your opponent.
ecliving
...
written by Jeff, June 25, 2010
Jeff, you're confusing leaders with people who direct us or tell us what to do, or how to think.

Leaders can't lead unless they have followers. In other words, there are no leaders unless the followers give them permission to lead. And that permission usually comes only if the followers believe the leaders will better the entire group, including the leader and the followers.

What the US (especially) and just about every other country now has is a group of people who simply devise ways to tell us what we can and can't do, how to do it, when and where to do it.

It doesn't require leadership to do that, just force (either militarily -- police or armed forces -- or financially -- IRS, Revenue Canada, etc.). So the herd mentality absolutely can run a country (into the ground).

Their group think is why Democrats are no different from Republicans, Canada's Liberals no different from the Conservatives, except perhaps by degree.

All we can do is continue to educate others, and prepare for what's coming. I actually managed to convince my 84 year old mother that she needs some hard assets. It didn't take a whole lot of convincing since she's earning all of 1% on her money in a "special" bank account. When I told her that inflation is 1.2% in Canada right now, and she realized she'll be losing money every year, she decided some silver was a prudent move.
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, June 25, 2010
Forgot to address your question about the politicians. Is it a HUGE "conspiracy" or simply a collection of the most dim-witted, knuckle-draggers in history?

I ask myself this over and over, and NEITHER answer makes sense. It couldn't be a government-wide conspiracy - since that is much too large. On the other hand, if only a handful in each party are genuinely corrupt, what does this say about the intellects of the rest?

I understand the phenomenon of "herd-mentality" and "group-think", but that principle is NOT supposed to apply to our governments - which by definition are supposed to be our "leaders", and thus should not be capable of a herd-mentality.
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, June 25, 2010
Hi Grumley. Thanks for the support. The problem is the "bubble-itis" which has infected the media. That's why we hear about "bubbles in China", and various other places (but of course no more bubbles in the U.S.).

Without lots of leveraged debt, you don't have a "bubble" merely an overvalued market - since it is the IMPLOSION of too much leveraged debt which creates the "popping" phenomenon.

The situation in Canada, China, and many places is that markets are overvalued - the consequences of too much "easy money" (i.e. 0% interest rates). But the sort of radical over-leveraging which exists in the U.S. MAY exist in a few of the European economies, but not the economies of Asia, nor of Canada.

The sicker the economy, the more likely it is to resort to over-leveraging to try to mimic the growth of healthier economies. Look to the big-debtors, and that's where you will find your "bubbles".
Grumley
...
written by Grumley, June 25, 2010
Jeff, I have been reading you for some time, and I have to say that while I read many writers on the subject of economics, you are without a doubt one of the most insightful on the web.

I have two things:

1) While I agree that the banks and the Fed understand the long term damage they are inflicting, I would claim that the politicians have much less real world understanding of their actions in relation to economics. Sure they understand that spending more will eventually require cuts or higher taxes, but understanding the widespread catastrophe they have ignited I think is simply beyond their brain power (in most cases). People like Ron Paul and Alan Grayson are exceptions, but what chance do we have that Congress will not just stop making critical errors before EVERYTHING is on fire, let alone get smarter?

2) You pointed out recently how the Canadian Banking system avoided much of the subprime mess due to the unusually strict rules imposed on an older and smaller group of oligarchs. However am I mistaken that you nevertheless have a housing bubble in Canada wherein the housing cost to income ratio is growing to levels we saw in the US? How serious IS the housing problem in Canada (or is not)?

Grumley
Jeff Nielson
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written by Jeff Nielson, June 25, 2010
Jeff, I think you might be creating a problem here (lol). Older readers know that I LOVE those cliches and "pearls of wisdom" from the past...and I trot-out that Plutarch quote at least once a month.

To all readers: no, I am NOT writing comments to myself!

Thanks for those "golden oldies".
ecliving
...
written by Jeff, June 25, 2010
Since you're the one you forced me to go over to that "wonderful site," smilies/wink.gif I'm saddling you with all these quotes that I picked up from there. If only Will Rogers's first quote could be turned into reality...

"Only the small secrets need to be protected. The big ones are kept secret by public incredulity."
-- Marshall McCluhan


"You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself."
-- Galileo Galilei

"Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened."
-- Winston Churchill

"Paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic value - zero."
-- Voltaire, 1729

"An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."
-- Plutarch

"The difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is."
-- Tom Vogl

"The only thing that is necessary for evil to triumph is for men of good will to do nothing."
-- Edmund Burke

"If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?"
-- Will Rogers

"Don’t gamble! Take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it ‘till it goes up, then sell it. If it don’t go up, don’t buy it."
-- Will Rogers

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