Blog Archives

Here’s Why Housing Must be Propped Up

The Powers That Be have gone to extraordinary lengths to prop up housing by whatever means are necessary since the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008: the Federal Reserve has pushed mortgages rates down by buying mortgage-backed securities, the federal housing agencies (FHA, VA) have issued millions of low-down payment loans, and the federal government has essentially taken over the mortgage industry, backing 90+% of all mortgage loans.

Why is the status quo so keen on propping up housing?


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China’s Leadership: Brilliant or Clueless?

I am often amused by the Western media’s readiness to attribute godlike powers of long-term planning and Sun-Tzu-like strategic brilliance to China’s leadership. A well-known anecdote illustrates the point.

Zhou Enlai, Premier of China in the Mao era, who when asked by Henry Kissinger about the French Revolution, is reputed to have replied, “It’s too early to say.”

This is generally taken to express the Chinese Long View, i.e. that the events of 1789 are still playing out.

But accounts of those present discount this interpretation. Zhou understood Kissinger’s query as being about the 1968 general strike in France. That social revolution was still actively in play in the early 1970s when Zhou and Kissinger were meeting, so the time frame was definitely present-day, not the 18th century.

China’s dramatic rise since the early 1980s, when Deng Xiaoping’s reforms occurred, has been nothing short of phenomenal. This remarkable success has to be attributed in some measure to the leadership’s policies and decisions of the past three decades.

This economic success is the foundation of those who see China’s leadership as brilliant.

But the policies and decisions that worked so well in the boost phase of growth–what we might call the era of low-hanging fruit–do not necessarily work in the next phase, where growth has matured and all the costs that were ignored in the boost phase must now be addressed and paid.

If we look at the problems in China’s economy, environment and foreign policy, it seems the leadership is making it up as they go along, with the one overriding goal being to maintain the domestic political control of the Communist Party.

On the economic front, China’s leadership has actively pursued policies that expanded the shadow banking system and conventional banking system into a $28 trillion debt bubble. This explosive expansion of credit has fueled a real estate bubble of monumental proportions, and a $10 trillion stock market bubble that is now bursting (as all bubbles eventually do, despite claims that “this time it’s different”).

Rather than being brilliant, this is a disaster, as bubbles don’t dissipate without profound systemic consequences.

rather than deal with the crumbling of the real estate bubble, China’s leaders have inflated a stock bubble that promises to bankrupt the tens of millions of households that placed bets in the casino with borrowed money (margin accounts).

On the foreign policy front, China has accomplished the near-impossible, i.e. driving all its neighbors into a united front, as Vietnam, the Philippines, Korea and Japan are all being forced by Chinese belligerence and over-reaching territorial claims to set aside their differences and strengthen ties with the U.S.

Were someone to craft a foreign policy designed to unite all of China’s potential enemies into a powerful alliance, this would be the top choice.

The Chinese leadership is acting for all the world as if it moves from strength to strength, when the reality is the opposite: the leadership moves from one catastrophically ill-planned misadventure to the next.

It is easy to predict the unraveling of the real estate and stock market bubbles and the subsequent collapse of China’s multi-trillion dollar shadow banking system. Having united all its potential enemies into one camp, China has undone decades of careful diplomacy and boxed itself into a diplomatic corner. Now that it has publicly issued extravagant territorial claims, China cannot back down without losing face; but if it continues to push its claims, it further alienates potential allies and pushes them to strengthen ties with the U.S. and other nations threatened by China’s bellicose claims.

In the Great Game, one should never risk one’s position before one has the means to defend that position. China is aggressively pursuing territorial claims that is cannot defend without isolating itself–a policy that would doom its export-and-resource dependent economy.

There are few if any historical precedents for China’s leaders to follow. the boost phase of plucking low-hanging fruit is the easy part, the fun part, the exciting part.

Dealing with the aftermath of burst credit/asset bubbles, environmental destruction, corruption, wealth inequality, global recession and China’s aggressive claim to territory in the South China Sea is the hard part, the not-fun part, the part rife with the potential for catastrophic errors in policy and judgment.

What worked in the post-global financial meltdown era of 2008-2014 (i.e. inflating a $15 trillion credit bubble) will not work the same magic in the next seven years, but there is little evidence that China’s leadership (or indeed, the leadership of the U.S. Japan and the European Union) have a Plan B that will replace strategies that are yielding diminishing returns and raising the risks of a systemic failure.

Brilliant or clueless? As Zhou observed, it’s too early to tell.

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The Echo Bubble in Housing Is About to Pop

The Federal Reserve-induced Echo Housing Bubble is finally starting to roll over, and the bubble’s pop won’t be pretty. Why is the bubble finally popping now?

All the factors that inflated the Echo Housing bubble are running dry. These include:


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Forget the Fake Statistics: China Is a Tinderbox

When China’s tinderbox economy implodes, who will be left to bid up the world’s surplus commodities and real estate?

After 30 years of torrid expansion, perhaps the single most consequential factor in China’s economy is how much of it is a “black box”: a system with visible inputs and outputs whose internal workings are opaque.

There are number of reasons for this lack of transparency:


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Rent Bubble = Housing Bubble = Rent Bubble

Here is the conventional narrative about rents and housing valuations:

1. Rents have soared because people can’t afford to buy a house and have to rent

2. Based on soaring rents, housing is fairly valued

In other words, rents and housing are tautological: rents are rational because housing values are rational, and housing values are rational because rents are rational.

Nice, but wrong: rents and housing are self-reinforcing bubbles:


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Is the Echo Housing Bubble About to Burst?

Speculative bubbles that burst are often followed by an echo bubble, as many participants continue to believe that the crash was only a temporary setback.

The U.S. housing market is experiencing a classic echo bubble. Exhibit A is the Case-Shiller Housing Index for the San Francisco region, which has surged back to levels reached at the top of the first bubble:


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We Need a Crash to Sort the Wheat from the Chaff

When a speculator bought a new particle-board-and-paint McMansion in the middle of nowhere in 2007 with nothing down and a $500,000 mortgage, the lender and the buyer both considered the house as $500,000 of collateral. The lender counted the house as a $500,000 asset, and the speculator considered it his lottery ticket in the housing bubble sweepstakes: when (not if) the house leaped to $600,000, the speculator could sell, pay the commission and closing costs and skim the balance as low-risk profit.

But was the house really worth $500,000?


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When the Current Housing Bubble Finally Bursts

Bubbles are followed by echo-bubbles, and the bursting of the second bubble ends the speculative cycle.

If we have learned anything in the past 20 years of massive asset bubbles and equally massive declines when the bubbles finally pop, it’s this: those caught up in the expansionary phase of the bubble cannot believe the bubble that’s rewarding them so richly could actually burst.

This psychology of mass delusion now dominates housing, stocks and bonds: not only is this not a bubble, the expansion will continue forever.

History, however, suggests otherwise: all bubbles burst, period.


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The Cruel Injustice of the Fed’s Bubbles in Housing

As the generational war heats up, we should all remember the source of all the bubbles and all the policies that could only result in generational poverty: the Federal Reserve.

Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen recently treated the nation to an astonishing lecture on the solution to rising wealth inequality–according to Yellen, low-income households should save capital and buy assets such as stocks and housing.

It’s difficult to know which is more insulting: her oily sanctimony or her callous disregard for facts. What Yellen and the rest of the Fed Mafia have done is inflate bubbles in credit and assets that have made housing unaffordable to all but the wealthiest households.


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[KR675] Keiser Report – CRASH! BOOM! POP!

We discuss ‘American Psycho’ type banker murderers roaming the streets beheading prostitutes. While in the central banks, we see ‘corporatism’ as defined by the World Bank in the 80s and 90s – and that is a balance sheet greater than 25% of GDP. In the second half Max interviews Professor Steve Keen and artist Miguel Guerra about their new crowdfunded graphic novel series – CRASH, BOOM, POP – where economics will be fun to learn. Professor Keen promises Max a naked Margaret Thatcher to keep with the genre. They also discuss the godzilla in the Japanese central banking consuming any debt the population throws at it and where this might lead for the final global debt showdown.

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The Housing Echo-Bubble Is Popping

There is nothing remotely “normal” about the echo-bubble’s rise, and we can anticipate that its deflation will be equally abnormal.

Conventional wisdom on the resurgence of the housing markets takes one of two paths:

1. Housing is not in a bubble, it is merely returning to “normal”

2. Housing is bubbly in some markets, but prices will continue to rise

Here’s an alternative view: housing is in an echo-bubble that’s popping.Courtesy of the excellent Market Daily Briefing, here are some charts that make the case that the housing echo-bubble was just another Federal Reserve-induced speculative asset bubble that’s popping, like every other speculative bubble in recorded history.


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The Housing Bubble’s Silver Lining

As rents climb, developers large and small take out their calculators and dreams of wealth blossom: but no, this is not bubble.

The disastrous blowback from inflating housing bubbles is painfully obvious: as housing becomes unaffordable, households impoverish themselves to “get in now before it’s too late;” malinvestment (i.e. McMansions in the middle of nowhere) flourishes as housing becomes a speculative financial vehicle rather than shelter; retirement funds are sold designed-to-default mortgage-backed securities, and when the bubble finally pops, those lured into buying at the top are left underwater, owing more on their mortgage than their house is worth.

But there is one silver lining to housing bubbles: some of the money squandered in the speculative frenzy ends up rehabilitating old buildings or erecting new housing in useful locales.


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