Real Estate Near The Gulf

Fumes.
Right. If you live anywhere near the Gulf the wind is going to be blowing nasty and worst-case toxic fumes in your direction. If you live in Florida it is going to be terrible and possibly even uninhabitable. Yes we are talking refugees in large numbers if this oil leak continues.
I was already concerned with the effect of global warming on real estate prices when it suddenly sinks in that a lot of land is going to be underwater. Seriously, would YOU buy a house anywhere in a coastal area that has an altitude lower than maybe 30 feet? One of these days everyone is going to realize what that means – all at the same time.
But now, an entire region is going to be covered in (best-case) terrible stink.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – Foreclosures Up 57%

Foreclosures jump 57 percent in last 12 months,

Home foreclosure filings surged 57 percent in the 12 month-period ended in March and bank repossessions soared 129 percent from a year ago, as homeowners struggled to make mortgage payments, real estate data firm RealtyTrac said on Tuesday.

This brings up something I have been thinking about. So many people are “looking for the bottom.” (Signs the bottom is behind us?) They think things are “leveling off.” Well guess what, all the problems, all the foreclosures, all the credit card debt, all developed before the economic downturn began. And now we are entering a recession. No question. And a recession means that people are going to lose jobs, companies are going to go under, etc. And those people and companies are not going to be able to make their payments.
So no, we are not looking at a “bottom.” We’re looking at the beginning.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – Next Year, Not Just Subprime

So far we have been hearing about a “problem” with “subprime” mortgages that went to people with bad credit. Then we heard about problems with “adjustable” mortgages where the payments go up after a period of time and mortgages with no down payments and mortgages where the borrower didn’t have to verify how much income they really had. You can readily see where there could be problems with all of those.
My prediction for next year is that the problem will spread to regular mortgages given to regular people with good credit. The reason I think this will happen is that I think housing prices are going to fall quite a bit. If prices go to where they should be according to historical norms, or according to the historic ratio between rents and prices,or according to what always happens when bubbles pop, then they are going to fall as much as 40-50%. Maybe even more. (And never mind that the “boomers” are starting to retire and will not need the houses many of them have further increasing inventory and decreasing demand…)
So next year we’re going to see a LOT of regular people with regular mortgages go “underwater” — meaning they will owe a lot more than the current market price of their houses. In many states the regulations allow people to get out of their mortgages by giving the house to the lender and not have to make up the difference if the mortgage is for more than the house can sell for. And many will do exactly that. (Which will even further increase inventory and put pressure on prices.)
So next year I predict the credit crisis is going to get a LOT worse.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – New Home Sales Fall More And Expected

A bulletin arrived in my e-mail this morning with the headline, “U.S. new-home sales fall more significantly than forecast in November” All I could think to say was “NOT”
No, everyone who actually learns about what is going on with housing is surprised that ANY new homes were sold, and that ANYone is stupid enough to buy ANY house until the price reverts to the mean. This is a popping bubble, people. If you buy a house now it will be worth a third less in two years. ANY house! Remember how many stocks went to zero after being “golden” for so long? This is what HAPPENS when bubbles pop. DUH!
Sorry.
U.S. Nov. new-home sales fall 9% to 647,000 pace – MarketWatch

Sales of new U.S. homes fell by a more-than-expected 9% in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 647,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch were expecting new home sales to drop to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 710,000 in November. Meanwhile, October’s sales rate was revised downward, to rise by 711,000, or 1.7%. They were previously estimated to have risen to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 728,000. In the past year, sales of new U.S. homes are down 34.4% nationwide.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – Record National Housing Price Drop

U.S. home prices drop 6.1% year over year, Case-Shiller finds – MarketWatch,

Home prices in 20 major U.S. cities were down 6.1% on average in the past year as of October, according to the Case-Shiller price index released Wednesday by Standard & Poor’s.
Since October 2006, prices in 10 cities fell 6.7% — a record drop. The prior largest decline was 6.3% in April 1991.
. . . Miami sustained the largest drop over the past year, with a decline of 12.4%. Next came: Tampa, with a drop of 11.8%, Detroit with a drop of 11.2%, and San Diego with a drop of 11.1%.

This is only the beginning.
By the way, does this price drop take into account 4% inflation? If not the real decline was quite a bit greater.

m4s0n501

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – All Those Buyers…

In for a Surprise… Go read it, but I just had to reproduce the chart here:
smiarograph.jpg
In August, 2006, I wrote a post Today’s Housing Bubble Post – How Far Can Prices Fall?

Suppose rents are $2000 a month for a 3-bedroom house. Subtract from that repairs, maintenance, etc., and let’s say you are clearing $1800. Instead of trying to calculate property taxes let’s just say $400 per month – which is lower than what they would be ($650) if purchased now but you’ll get my point in a minute.
So you’re clearing about $16,800 a year from your investment. Let’s say you are shooting for a 7% return. That means the house SHOULD be priced at about $240K, approx 1/3 of current pricing.

That’s SF Bay Area pricing, by the way. And prices tripled here in the bubble, so that sounds about right.
But I’m not going that far in my prediction. You have to account for ten years of inflation – which is higher than reported. Also the dollar drop means people from other countries will find higher prices cheap and the Bay Area is a premium place to live. And other demographic factors. But I don’t rule out a 50% drop. Prices here really shouldn’t be much higher than maybe $400K

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – The Bailout: Just Another Fraud

From today’s SF Chronicle, MORTGAGE MELTDOWN / Interest rate ‘freeze’ – the real story is fraud / Bankers pay lip service to families while scurrying to avert suits, prison,

It sounds good: For five years, mortgage lenders will freeze interest rates on a limited number of “teaser” subprime loans. Other homeowners facing foreclosure will be offered assistance from the Federal Housing Administration.
But unfortunately, the “freeze” is just another fraud – and like the other bailout proposals, it has nothing to do with U.S. house prices, with “working families,” keeping people in their homes or any of that nonsense.
The sole goal of the freeze is to prevent owners of mortgage-backed securities, many of them foreigners, from suing U.S. banks and forcing them to buy back worthless mortgage securities at face value – right now almost 10 times their market worth.
The ticking time bomb in the U.S. banking system is not resetting subprime mortgage rates. The real problem is the contractual ability of investors in mortgage bonds to require banks to buy back the loans at face value if there was fraud in the origination process.

It’s widespread:

The catastrophic consequences of bond investors forcing originators to buy back loans at face value are beyond the current media discussion. The loans at issue dwarf the capital available at the largest U.S. banks combined, and investor lawsuits would raise stunning liability sufficient to cause even the largest U.S. banks to fail, resulting in massive taxpayer-funded bailouts of Fannie and Freddie, and even FDIC.

So why the “freeze?” What does that really accomplish?

The goal of the freeze may be to delay bond investors from suing by putting off the big foreclosure wave for several years. But it may also be to stop bond investors from suing. If the investors agreed to loan modifications with the “real” wage and asset information from refinancing borrowers, mortgage originators and bundlers would have an excuse once the foreclosure occurred. They could say, “Fraud? What fraud?! You knew the borrower’s real income and asset information later when he refinanced!”

Cuomo in New York is going after some of the fraud – the inflated appraisals, for example. If I had money in these mortgage-backed investments rated AAA I would be demanding MY money back – and if you are in a money-market fund, you just might be who I am talking about.
But you wouldn’t have any money in a money-market fund NOW, would you? You’re smarter than that.
Update – Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis says the fraud / lawsuit avoidance theory from the above article is “preposterous.”

The goal of the freeze is not to “stop bond investors from suing”. The goal of the freeze is to Peddle a Sucker Trap Disguised as Hope.
However, so few people will qualify for the program (see Little Hope For Hope Now Alliance) that no one can possibly claim it will stop much of anything, including lawsuits or foreclosures.

Go read.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – Foreclosures At Record High

U.S. mortgage foreclosures at record high: Mortgage Bankers

A record number of U.S. mortgages were somewhere in the foreclosure process in the third quarter, with 1.69% of all residential borrowers facing the loss of a home, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday. The percentage of homes that entered foreclosure in the third quarter also hit a record at 0.78%, the trade group said. Mortgage delinquencies, those loans with payments that were more than 30 days past due, shot up to a 21-year high at 5.59%, MBA’s quarterly survey showed. Although all types of loans showed an increase in foreclosure starts in the third quarter, subprime adjustable-rate loans remained the biggest problem, accounting for 43% of all new foreclosures, even though they comprise just 6.8% of all loans outstanding, the MBA said.

And the REAL wave of foreclosures is expected next year…

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – Is Your Money Safe?

Fallout from the bursting of the housing bubble is rippling further and further out. In the last few days three state government funds have realized they are in big trouble and are experiencing “runs.” And as a result, in the next few days we are likely to hear about the same thing happening in many other states. These are funds that cities put their cash into until it is needed to pay city employees, teachers, etc. The cities have people who understand finance watching the money, and they understood this so they started getting their money out. And because the fund had lost some of the money in mortgage-backed securities, it couldn’t give money back to all of the cities, and had to say “no more withdrawals until this gets sorted out.” The ones who asked for their cash first are OK, the ones who didn’t will lose out.
This is exactly what could happen to money markets and banks as people realize this is their money everyone is talking about in the news. YOUR money. Find out where your money is, your parents’ money, etc..
Florida moves to stop run on fund

The crisis underscores how the upheaval in credit markets could spread to affect mainstream investors, institutions and their employees. In recent weeks, local authorities in regions as disparate as Australia and Norway have reported similar problems.
[. . .] Most of the securities were short-term debt backed by mortgages and other assets, and issued by off-balance sheet investment vehicles, many of which have run aground in the credit squeeze. Lehman Brothers sold most of the distressed assets to the Florida fund, people familiar with the sales said.

and Florida freezes $15 billion fund as subprime crisis hits,

Florida halted withdrawals from a $15 billion local-government fund Thursday after concerns over losses related to subprime mortgages prompted investors to pull roughly $10 billion out of the fund in recent weeks.
. . . The decision shows how far this year’s subprime-fueled credit crisis has spread. Florida’s Local Government Investment Pool, which had more than $27 billion in assets at the end of September, is like a money-market fund that’s supposed to invest in ultrasafe assets to provide participants with a secure place to stash spare cash. But even these types of funds have been hit by the widening crunch.
“It’s spreading into areas that people didn’t expect and this is a good example,” Richard Larkin, a municipal bond expert at JB Hanauer & Co., said.

Maine Treasurer Criticizes Merrill for Subprime Bet,

Controversy is heating up in the state over who is at fault for having put $20 million, about 3 percent, of the state’s roughly $725 million cash pool this summer into an investment fund called Mainsail II — two weeks before its sterling ratings crumbled to junk.
The investment met all of the state’s investment criteria, but exposed the state to the mortgage market-related losses that have roiled credit markets for a few months.

And Run on Montana Fund,

Montana school districts, cities and counties withdrew $247 million from the state’s $2.4 billion investment fund over the past three days after officials said the rating on one of the pool’s holdings was lowered to default.

But don’t think for even a minute this is limited to state government funds. It’s just that the municipalities that had cash in those funds understood what was happening. MANY holders of money, especially money-market funds are in exactly the same situation, except the depositors in money-market funds are not necessarily as sophisticated as municipal finance officers, and don’t yet realize what all of this means.
But it is starting to hit the news.
How safe is your money market fund?,

Continue reading

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – How Far The Fall?

Calculated Risk: LA Times: How Far Will House Prices Fall?

If SoCal prices fall 25%, then prices in other areas – like Miami and Las Vegas – will probably decline a similar amount.

Keep in mind my own observation that houses near here are not selling even after a price cut of almost a third.
OTHER bubbles, like the “dot com” bubble, have seen prices fall right back to where they would have been without the bubble. In fact, haven’t ALL other bubble fallen like that? Why will this one be different? And that means you’re looking at 50% or more.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – Marked Down From $725K To $495K, Still Not Selling

A for-sale house around the corner from us (SF Bay peninsula) has gone through all the stages, and now even the “price reduced” sign is gone. The house is empty. The flyers are still there, however. Walking the dog the other day I picked one up to see what they’re offering.
The house, a modest three-bedroom in a modest neighborhood, was originally listed at $725,000. Now that is crossed off by hand on every flyer and $495,000 is written in.
So, marked down from $725,000 to $495,000 it still isn’t selling. No one is looking at it. It is still priced higher than the average person can or will pay for a house like this to live in this neighborhood. House prices around here still have a long way to fall, but you can’t expect other houses around here to sell for a lot more than $495,000 now – not with that one sitting there. But most of them are still priced in the $600-700,000 range.
That leaves a long way left to fall.

Money Market Funds

I guess I’m just ahead of my time… I’ve been warning about money market funds, and now it’s really hitting the news:
Mounting concern about money-market funds,

Millions of U.S. investors with cash in these mainstream vehicles are asking that question as some leading banks, investment managers and mutual-fund companies take steps to shield money funds from potential losses on troubled debt in their portfolios.

Do you want your money in a place where managers are “taking steps”?
So what can you do?

… if you are concerned about your money fund, experts say there are some ways to investigate.
The first — calling the company to ask about the fund’s holdings — might seem daunting given the complexities of many of these portfolios. But in fact the request can test a company’s responsiveness to its customers, observes Bruce Bent, who created the money fund 37 years ago.
“A number of funds will say ‘we don’t give that out,'” said Bent, whose New York-based firm, The Reserve, has about $80 billion in money-fund assets, none of which, he adds, is exposed to subprime loans or SIVs.
If the fund company isn’t forthcoming, he says, “take your money out and say goodbye.”

No shit.
And there’s always what I have been recommending:

The ultimate safe move would be to put your cash in a bank money-market or savings account – they’re insured up to $100,000 and sport comparable yields to money funds, which recently averaged about 4.6% for taxable investors.

Meanwhile, Advisers aren’t ready to dump money-market funds yet – MarketWatch

,With money-market mutual funds scrambling to cover their costs as credit meltdowns spread, some advisers say they’re seeing more interest from high net-worth clients in short-term, bond exchange-traded funds.
One of those is Jerry Slusiewicz. But the president of Pacific Financial Planners in Newport Beach, Calif., doesn’t recommend investors pull out of their money-market funds just yet.

Not just yet?

Several major financial services firms have moved to protect money-market assets in recent months. The latest is Bank of America Corp., which on Tuesday said that it plans to use a $600 million reserve to shore up a group of its money-market funds. Another big financial-services firm, Legg Mason Inc. has made public plans to establish credit lines of roughly $238 million to keep intact credit ratings of two money-market funds.

Did I read that right? They’re putting hundreds of millions in to cover their money market funds so people don’t lose money? So if you have money in one of those funds the only reason you aren’t losing money is because the fund managers are pumping their own money in to shore it up? So what happens if the parent companies are in trouble – which they certainly will be if they’reputting in hundreds of millions to cover the money market funds!
Remember, the money you have in a money-market fund can drop – you can lose principal.
And Atrios has found a General Electric managed fund that is already in such trouble it is paying its depositors only 96 cents on the dollar.