"You’re picking up pennies on a train track. You are not getting paid much but you are sure that there will be a very negative surprise at some point. The risk / reward profile is as bad as ’07." - Portfolio manager speaking to Citigroup
You would think that with all the surefire bets in housing that people would be dialing up their realtors and heading out every weekend to make those lustful multiple offers presented in PowerPoint format on properties. Yet the overall market data shows a different story. The house horniest of them all, investors, are clearly pulling out of markets including sunny and inflated California. Apparently home prices do matter when making investment decisions. Cash strapped hormonal buyers will keep on buying but housing prices are set on the margin. That margin is becoming razor thin on current volume. I find it interesting that the biggest housing supporter of them all, the National Association of Realtors is also somewhat tepid on this recovery. Why? Because home sales volume is pathetic. Keep in mind they make money on selling and buying. Volume is key. Their model doesn’t work so well with banks holding onto properties like Gollum holding onto the ring and the foreclosure process being dragged out like the forever college student enjoying year 10 at Santa Monica City College. You see this overarching trend occurring in many metro areas across the country. Investors have been propping up the market since 2008. They are now slowly pulling back. You are also starting to see a convergence of analysts putting out their predictions on how overvalued housing is and backing it up with mountains of data. The other side of the argument points to prices. Sure, they’ve gone up but value is created by actual price and that is sort of the point. The answer as always isn’t so simple but using your thinking cap it is important to understand that housing is not a “no brainer” decision in this market.
"New starts contracted 15% yoy (vs. -21.9% yoy in March); property sales fell 14.3% yoy (vs. -7.5% yoy); and land sales (by area) plunged 20.5% yoy (vs. -16.9% yoy previously). ... the housing market situation has undoubtedly turned quite gloomy. There has been a constant news stream of falling property prices everywhere, even in the 1-tier cities. A number of local governments, as we expected, have started to ease policy locally, especially relaxation of the home-purchase restrictions." - Soc Gen
There's not much good news for housing these days. For a little while, the Fed's suppression of interest rates juiced housing enough to distract Americans from weak job creation and stagnant real wages. Don't have a job? No problem! Just borrow against the appreciation of your house to feed your family. But Yellen's interest rate wand looks to be out of magic. The government had a pipe dream of white picket fences for everyone. But Americans can't refinance their way to wealth. Especially in the Greater Depression.
I do have a heightened sense of alertness to what may be in store should the hubris of the current market run fail to permeate into forecasts and expectation announcements over the coming months.
Simply put, there is overwhelming evidence of inflation during the decade long era in which the central bankers have been braying about “deflation”. What is more worrisome, David Stockman presents some startling evidence of the complicity of the government statistical mills in using the inflation that is not seen (i.e. “imputed”) to dilute and obscure the inflation that is seen (i.e. utility bills).
If one needed a flurry of "worse than expected" macro data to "explain" why European bourses and US futures are up, one got them: first with UK Q1 GDP printing at 0.8%, below the expected 0.9%, then German consumer prices falling 0.1% in April, and finally with Spanish unemployment actually rising from a revised 25.73% to 25.93%, above the 25.85% expected. All of this was "good enough" to allow Italy to price its latest batch of 10 Year paper at a yield of 3.22%, the lowest yield on record! Either way, something else had to catalyze what is shaping up as another 0.5% move higher in US stocks and that something is the old standby, the USDJPY, which ramped higher just before the European open and then ramped some more when European stocks opened for trading. Look for at least one or two more USDJPY momentum ignition moments at specific intervals before US stocks open for trading. But all of that is moot. Remember - the biggest catalyst of what promises to be the latest buying panic rampathon is simple: it's Tuesday (oh, and the $2-$2.5 billion POMO won't hurt).
While the Fed has clearly had a problem with reflating the broader housing bubble, one which would impact the middle class instead of just those who are already wealthier than ever before thanks to the Russel 200,000, one place which not only never suffered a housing bubble pop in the 2006-2008 years, but never looked back as it continued its diagonal bottom left to top right trajectory is Canada. As the chart below shows, the Canadian housing bubble has put all attempts at listening to Krugman and reflating yet another bubble to shame.
As we noted earlier, The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has continuously been overly optimistic regarding its expectations for economic growth in the United States. A major reason for the FOMC’s overly optimistic forecast for economic growth and its incorrect view of the effectiveness of quantitative easing is the reliance on the so-called 'wealth effect'. However, "There may not be a wealth effect at all. If there is a wealth effect, it is very difficult to pin down..." Since the FOMC began quantitative easing in 2009, its balance sheet has increased more than $3 trillion. This increase may have boosted wealth, but the U.S. economy received no meaningful benefit. Furthermore, the FOMC has no idea what the ultimate outcome of such an increase will be or what a return to a ‘normal’ balance sheet might entail. Given all of this, we do not see any evidence for economic growth as robust at the FOMC predicts. Without a wealth effect, the stock market is not the “key player” in the economy, and no “virtuous circle” runs through the stock market.
So far we have experienced 7 million foreclosures. Beyond that there are still 9 million homeowners seriously underwater on their mortgages and there are millions more who are stranded in place because they don’t have enough positive equity to cover transactions costs and more stringent down payment requirements. And that’s before the next down-turn in housing prices - a development which will show-up any day. In short, the socio-economic mayhem implicit in the graph below is not the end of the line or a one-time nightmare that has subsided and is now working its way out of the system as the Kool-Aid drinkers would have you believe based on the “incoming data” conveyed in the chart. Instead, the serial bubble makers in the Eccles Building have already laid the ground-work for the next up-welling of busted mortgages, home foreclosures and the related wave of disposed families and social distress.
The Fed’s 5-year campaign to drive the 30-year mortgage rate from 6.5% to 3.3% has accomplished nothing except to touch off another of those pointless “refi” booms which enable homeowners to swap an existing mortgage for a new one carrying a significantly lower interest rate and monthly service cost. Such debt churning exercises have been sponsored repeatedly by the Fed since the S&L debacle of the late 1980s. The overwhelming evidence, however, is that America’s shop-till-they-drop consumers have finally dropped. But while peak debt means that the Fed’s entire 5-year money printing spree was destined to fail, it nevertheless has produced massive impacts - all of them bad or stupid. One of the most crucial is that it generated an artificial refi windfall to the Big Banks which now dominate the home mortgage business. And the profit windfall was a doozy. Now that financial results for Q1 2014 have been posted, the impact on Big Four financial results can actually be quantified. The four charts below on mortgage originations per quarter during the course of the Fed’s balance sheet expansion binge are the smoking gun.
Tax time, but not pay-up time.
- Sensitive Market Data Leaked After Government Phone Call (WSJ)
- This is a actual Bloomberg headline: China Fake Data to Skew More Export Numbers (BBG)
- This is another actual BBG headline: U.S. as Global Growth Engine Putt-Putts Instead of Purring (BBG)
- Ukraine wants to buy European gas to boost energy security (Reuters)
- JPMorgan Profit Falls 19% on Trading, Mortgage Declines (BBG)
- Record Europe Dividends Keep $2.8 Trillion From Factories (BBG)
- Why is Goldman shutting down Sigma X: SEC eyes test that may lead to shift away from 'dark pools' (Reuters)
- Ebola Outbreak Empties Hotels as West Africa Borders Closed (BBG)
- Australian PM says searchers confident of position of MH370's black boxes (Reuters)
- Gross Says El-Erian Should Explain Reason for Exit (BBG)
One of the evils of massive over-financialization is that it enables Wall Street to scalp vast “rents” from the Main Street economy. These zero sum extractions not only bloat the paper wealth of the 1% but also fund a parasitic bubble finance infrastructure that would largely not exist in a world of free market finance and honest money. The infrastructure of bubble finance can be likened to the illegal drug cartels. In that dystopic world, the immense revenue “surplus” from the 1000-fold elevation of drug prices owing to government enforced scarcity finances a giant but uneconomic apparatus of sourcing, transportation, wholesaling, distribution, corruption, coercion, murder and mayhem that would not even exist in a free market. The latter would only need LTL trucking lines and $900 vending machines. In this context, the sprawling empire known as Bloomberg LP is the Juarez Cartel of bubble finance.