A leaked recording by the vice-chairman of Vanke Group (China’s biggest property developer), confirms, as The Telegraph's Amrbose Evans-Protchard reports, what the bears have been saying for months, 'it is a dangerous bubble, and already deflating'. Mao Daqing's words, translated, are ominous: "In 1990, Tokyo’s total land value accounts for 63.3% of US GDP, while Hong Kong reached 66.3% in 1997. Now, the total land value in Beijing is 61.6% of US GDP, a dangerous level... China has reached its capacity limit for new construction of residential projects... and I don’t see any possibility for a rise in home prices." The simple chart below highlights all one needs to know - inventory is exploding - and as Mao concludes: "housing production per 1000 people reached 35; even when the housing market is hot, no country has a figure of greater than 14 - this should cause alarm."
Overnight one of the main stories is that the European Union has been downgraded to AA+ from AAA by S&P. While the market digests the impact of the downgrade, all eyes remain on the US treasury market. As Deutsche Bank notes, treasuries are increasingly being viewed as a potential sign of the success or not of the Fed taper in early 2014. From the lows in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s FOMC, 10yr UST yields have added more than 10bp. Yields continue to leak this morning (-2bp to 2.95%) though we’re still hovering at levels last seen in early September just before the Fed surprised markets with its non-taper. Despite this, US equities and credit were both reasonably well supported yesterday. However the combination of higher UST yields and a stronger dollar resulted in a fairly difficult day for EM. In EMFX, the Brazilian Real fell 1.1% against the USD, underperforming most other EM currencies. The move was exacerbated by the announcement from the BCB that it would wind back its intervention in the currency market, following the initial positive reaction to tapering on Wednesday. Other EM currencies also struggled including the TRY (-0.7%), MXN (-0.7%) and IDR (-0.3%). A number of EM equity markets struggled including in Poland (-0.7%) and Turkey (-3.5%).
If anyone is still wondering why back in June Zero Hedge first presented what the adverse impact on housing affordability as a result of soaring rates, today's NAR release on existing home sales should set all questions to the side. Because after rising in a seemingly relentless fashion, existing home sales have (and this is before the traditional downward revision by Larry Yun's conflicted organization which will expose all of its numbers as flawed regardless) finally hit a brick wall, and not only did November existing home sales tumble from 5.12MM to 4.90MM, missing estimates of 5.02MM, they also posted the first year over year decline in 29 consecutive months of increases.
Why Obama's Home Affordable Modification Program Failed (Spoiler Alert: Thank Bank Of America et al)Submitted by Tyler Durden on 12/16/2013 20:41 -0400
Back when the Executive and Congress at least pretended not to abdicate all power to the Fed, one of the centerpiece programs designed to boost the housing market for the benefit of the poor (as opposed to letting Ben Bernanke make marginal US housing a rental industry owned by a handful of private equity firms and hedge funds), was Barack Obama's Home Affordable Modification Program or HAMP, which attempted to prevent foreclosures by lowering distressed borrowers’ mortgage payments. Under the program, homeowners would be given trial modifications to prove they can make reduced payments before the changes become permanent. The program was a disaster as of the 3 million foreclosures that were targeted for modification in 2009, only 905,663 mods have been successful nearly five years later - a tiny 13% of the 6.9 million who applied (still, numbers which Obamacare would be delighted to achieve). Part of the reason: the program's reliance on the same industry that sold shoddy mortgages during the housing bubble and improperly sped foreclosures afterward. But there was much more. For the definitive explanation of everything else that went wrong, we go to Bloomberg's Hugh Son whose masterpiece released today explains how and why once again the banks - and especially one of them - won, and everyone else lost.
It seems, despite the Fed's efforts to unscamble the treasury complex's eggs, that the rate shock of a taper/no-taper decision has become sticky in the housing market. With the fast money exiting, existing home sales missed expectations for the 4th month in a row - dropping to the lowest annualized number since June (very much against the trend in recent years). This is the biggest month-over-month drop in existing home sales since June 2012 but, of course, NAR has an excuse... "low inventory is holding back sales." So, in other words, they could sell loads more houses if only there were more available for sale (or prices were lower...)...
Wonder why the Fed and the banks are so desperate to reflate the second housing bubble, to the delight of flippers and taxpayer consequences (deja vu) be damned? Simple: as Goldman points out in a note released last night, "without the boost from housing, real GDP growth would fall below 1% this year." That's the revised GDP by the way, the one that now includes iTunes song sales and underfunded pension plans in the sumtotal. Which in reality means that ex housing, GDP would almost certainly be negative. So the bigger question is what happens to housing which has already seen a shock to the system following the surge in interest rates in the past month and which hobbled both homebuilders and mortgage applications? This is what Goldman sees there: "On house prices, we have started to see the first signs of deceleration and expect a slowdown from the 10%+ pace observed over the past year. Our bottom-up house price model projects 4-5% annual growth rate in the next two years." Alas, since prices moves from top and bottom inflection point never happen in a straight line as everyone rushes to buy, or sell as the case may be, resulting in a skewed and pronounced move, once the reality seeps in that the artificial housing 'recovery' is over, watch what happens when everyone rushes for the door. That goes for GDP as well.
And now a few words from Cognitive Dissonance's better half on creating a lifestyle change we can live with.
How Another Housing Bubble Was Blown … And Why
Residential housing is the single largest "tangible" US real estate asset, worth roughly $18 trillion (but well below the total financial assets in circulation in the US).Housing inventory as of May was 133.2 million units, of which owner occupied is 78.9 million, renter occupied was 41.7 million, but most troubling: 12.6 million was Vacant. Some shortage... It is this mismatch between 11.1 million in negative equity "owner occupied" units and 12.6 million vacant units that all those who peddle the rent-to-own dream are focused on as America becomes increasingly a society of rents. It also means that the millions in soon to be formerly owner-occupied homes have to stay on bank books and not enter the market in other to generate the illusion of scarcity or else the myth that there is a housing shortage will be blown right out of the water.
Well, you have to admit one thing - the United States Senate certainly has its priorities straight. Summing it up - what governments in Europe and the Land of the Free are telling us this week is:-
Beer and Populism: good.
Private property rights, freedom, privacy, business, price stability: bad.
I really need to stop being so pessimistic. I’m getting richer by the day. My home value is rising at a rate of 1% per month according to the National Association of Realtors. At that rate, my house will be worth $1 million in less than 10 years. Every mainstream media newspaper, magazine, and news channel is telling me the “strong” housing recovery is propelling the economy and creating millions of new jobs. Keynesian economists, Wall Street bankers, government apparatchiks and housing trade organizations are all in agreement that the wealth effect from rising home prices will be the jumpstart our economy needs to get back to the glory days of 2005. Who am I to argue with such honorable men with degrees from Ivy League schools and a track record of unquestioned accuracy as we can see in the chart below? These are the facts. But why trust facts when you can believe Baghdad Ben and the NAR? It’s always the best time to buy.
When it comes to "get rich quick" housing schemes, one can be a bank prop trading desk or a hedge fund, with access to the Federal "REO-To-Rent" program which grants a costless purchase of distressed real estate with zero cash down, in order to facilitate the subsidized removal of housing inventory from the market, or, if one is not too big to fail, one can simply pull off an Andre Barbosa, the infamous Boca Raton squatter who used the "adverse possession" loophole to claim title to a multi-million mansion. Or, as it turns out now, one can take advantage of the latter and lever it up even more, by renting out other people's foreclosed property without ever being present, while claiming ownership rights through "adverse possession", keeping the inbound cash flow while having someone else on the hook should the cops come knocking.
The mainstream media is overflowing with stories proclaiming the global economy is on the mend. Really? Based on what engine of growth? If we cut through the Keynesian jargon of aggregate demand and other Cargo-Cult mumbo-jumbo, what we find is the Status Quo is hoping to boost its precious aggregate demand with the same bag of tricks that imploded so spectacularly in 2008: the wealth effect based on phantom collateral created by Centrally Planned asset bubbles. Though you will not find a Keynesian pundit or economist with the courage required to admit it, the same problem of phantom collateral applies to Federal and state debt: the consumption all that debt funded is soon forgotten, but the debt remains to be paid, essentially forever.
Since 2009 all cash buyers have purchased roughly one third of all Southern California home sales. This is a significant number and unlike the early 2000s, many of these buyers are looking to hold onto properties as rentals. A good portion of buying has come from larger hedge funds and an increase of foreign money has caused competition on an already low selection of homes to become more pronounced. The latest inventory report for California is telling in many ways. Many of the larger metro areas in California are seeing annual inventory drops of 50 to 70 percent. Those looking to buy are facing added competition from a variety of unlikely sources. Last year in February we set a record with the number of homes sold to absentee buyers (29.9 percent). Where is all the inventory going in California?
The optimism over the housing recovery has gotten well ahead of the underlying fundamentals. While the belief was that the Government, and Fed's, interventions would ignite the housing market creating an self-perpetuating recovery in the economy - it did not turn out that way. Today, these repeated intrusions are having a diminished rate of return and the risk now is that interest rates rise shutting potential homebuyers out of the market. It is likely that in 2013 housing will begin to stabilize at historically low levels and the economic contribution will remain fairly weak. The downside risk to that view is the impact of higher taxes, stagnant wage growth, re-defaults of the 6-million modifications and workouts, elevated defaults of underwater homeowners and a slowdown of speculative investment due to reduced profit margins. While many hopes have been pinned on the 2012 stimulus fueled, China investing, and supply-deprived housing recovery as "the" driver of economic growth in 2013 - the data suggest that may be quite a bit of wishful thinking.