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.
Denial doesn't change reality. It only cripples our response to reality. Psychologists and behavioral economists have found that we deceive ourselves (conceal the truth) to serve our own interests. Perhaps this is why the mainstream ignores the Id Monsters in the shadows: shadow banking, shadow housing inventory and shadow liabilities.
"After six years of declines, lending for so-called Helocs will rise 30 percent to $79.6 billion in 2012, the highest level since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, according to the economics research unit of Moody’s Corp. Originations next year will jump another 31 percent to $104 billion, it projected."
After an almost uninterrupted period of decline over the last few years, US home prices now have some positive momentum. For one, the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities has seen its highest increase in more than two years. In addition, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon recently stated that his bank was seeing a surge in mortgage applications. And perhaps most importantly, the National Association of Realtors has reported that the nation’s inventory of homes on the market has dropped to its lowest level since March 2006, while the median home price is 11.3% higher than a year ago. These are definitely good signs for housing. But remember, nothing goes up or down in a straight line. Just like a stock market that suffers a serious crash, housing has been due for an upward correction. But it is a false premise to conflate ‘rebound’ with full blown ‘recovery’. The market could just as easily improve, then decline once again in a few months’ time. Positive data is great, but doesn’t necessarily portend long-term growth.
Och-Ziff Calls Top Of "REO-To-Rental", And Distressed Housing Demand, With Exit Of Landlord BusinessSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 10/17/2012 19:25 -0400
The primary, if not only, reason there has been a brief spike in subsidized demand for housing in recent months, has been the GSE/FHFA endorsed REO-To-Rental plan, and associated securitization conduits, in which large asset managers have been encouraged to take advantage of government funded, risk-free financing (and entirely bypassing banks who have given up on loan origination due to legacy liability issues which have every bank tied up in litigation from now until Feddom come - just see today's Bank of America results) and purchase foreclosed properties in bulk, with the intention of converting them into rental properties. Needless to say, the subsidization of this wholesale purchasing of foreclosures, coupled with the ongoing "foreclosure stuffing" pursued by the big banks (as a reminder days to foreclose in New York just hit a record 1,072 per RealtyTrac as banks simply refuse to clear housing inventory faster knowing full well withheld inventory is an additional clearing price subsidy) is the main reason why the punditry has been confused into believing there is a housing rebound. That this "rebound" is merely a subsidized demand pull phenomenon a la the "cash for clunkers" auto sales program is patently clear to most. Nonetheless what little confusion is left, is finally coming to an end, thanks to none other than one of the first entrants in the REO-To-Rental space, $31 billion hedge fund Och Ziff, which a year after entering the program with hopes of quick riches, is now looking to cash out.
Lately there has been an amusing and very spurious, not to mention wrong, argument among both the "serious media" and the various tabloids, that US households have delevered to the tune of $1 trillion, primarily as a result of mortgage debt reductions (not to be confused with total consumer debt which month after month hits new record highs, primarily due to soaring student and GM auto loans). The implication here is that unlike in year past, US households are finally doing the responsible thing and are actively deleveraging of their own free will. This couldn't be further from the truth, and to put baseless rumors of this nature to rest once and for all, below we have compiled a simple chart using the NY Fed's own data, showing the total change in mortgage debt, and what portion of it is due to discharges (aka defaults) of 1st and 2nd lien debt. In a nutshell: based on NYFed calculations, there has been $800 billion in mortgage debt deleveraging since the end of 2007. This has been due to $1.2 trillion in discharges (the amount is greater than the total first lien mortgages, due to the increasing use of HELOCs and 2nd lien mortgages before the housing bubble popped).
With the US presidential election looming in just two months, there is hardly a state that is as critical to the outcome of who America’s next president will be, as Florida. As Bloomberg vividly summarizes, Florida - and specifically its five swing counties: Hillsborough, Orange, Pinellas, Seminole and Volusia - was the state that determined the president in all of the last 3 elections: set between the Republican-dominated North Florida and the more Democratic southern counties, these suburban communities of middle-class voters are known for their shifting allegiances. In 2008, Obama took four of the five counties to capture Florida. George W. Bush won three of the counties, and the state, in 2004. In 2000, Volusia’s vote count was disputed by Vice President Al Gore. Gore won the county yet lost Florida by 537 votes, giving Bush his first term as president. It is quite fitting then that these five counties are very much indicative of the primary malaise that has plagued the country for the past 4 years: the inability of the housing market to rebound no matter how many trillions in printed dollars are thrown at it. Which brings us to the key number that probably should (but most likely won’t in this age of ultra short-term attention spans and constant redirection and focus shifts): 11% - this is the foreclosure rate in these 5 critical counties, double what it was 4 years ago, and three times higher than the national foreclosure average rate of 3.4%. In other words, if there ever was a time and place when economics, through its sheer failure to restore “household wealth” in this most decisive region, was a key issue, now is the time.
"It's defining a new category in real estate" is how the ultra-luxury apartment business is seen in New York. Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein and his buddies (including Sting) at 15 Central Park West are set to double their money as Bloomberg reports four condos in the Richie-Rich style extravaganza of a building have hit the market at asking prices at an average 192% over what owners paid in 2007 and 2008. The most expensive (a five-bedroom 35th floor pied-a-terre), topping Oaktree's Howard Mark's previous $52.5mm record purchase at 740 Park, is priced at a stunning $95mm. Testing the glass ceiling of a $100mm apartment is nothing though - as just like the rest of the nation's apparent house price recovery 'tight supply is supporting the current spate of eye-popping asking prices' which obviously will mean an influx of 'very expensive' inventory hitting the market in the coming years. For $95mm we wondered exactly what the apartment comes with? Perhaps $90mm of gold bars on the coffee-table? Perhaps Hugh Verrier and his wife Celia sum up the largesse perfectly: "we just thought of it as a living space". Indeed, Hugh, indeed.
The Status Quo around the globe is trying to manage perceptions to foster the illusion that all the high expectations can be met; but the reassurances are increasingly hollow, and the promises increasingly threadbare. People are waking up, one at a time, to the reality that all the promises and guarantees are fantasy, and their emotional response is deeply negative: they feel betrayed by the Status Quo and its institutions, and they feel a volatile mixture of rage, distrust and resignation. Studies have found that people (usually those in the lower social and financial tiers) with low expectations tend to be happier than those with high (and unmet) expectations. The Status Quo bought the support of the masses by raising expectations of permanently rising prosperity and security for all. Now that these near-infinite claims cannot be fulfilled, the Status Quo has no institutional ability to lower expectations to more realistic levels. It only knows how to spin artifice and fantasy, in the vain hope that managing perceptions will substitute for managing reality. This is how credibility is lost. Managing perceptions is a dangerous game, as the perceptions are pushed ever-farther from reality, increasing the shockwave when the two snap together: it won't be reality rising to meet lofty perceptions, it will be perceptions and expectations plummeting to meet reality. This is how the Status Quo will collapse: it will lose the faith of its people, and become the target of their wrath.