The Greenspan Housing Bubble Lives On: 20 Million Homeowners Can’t Trade-Up Because They Are Still Underwater

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Submitted by David Stockman via Contra Corner blog,

One of the most deplorable aspects of Greenspan’s monetary central planning was the lame proposition that financial bubbles can’t be detected, and that the job of central banks is to wait until they crash and then flood the market with liquidity to contain the damage.

In fact, after the giant housing bubble crashed and left millions of Main Street victims holding the bag, Greenspan evacuated the Eccles Building, and then spent nearly a whole chapter in his memoirs explaining how this devastation wasn’t his fault.

Instead, he blamed Chinese peasant girls who came by the millions to the east China export factories where they lived a dozen at a time cramped in tiny dormitory rooms working 14 hour days. According to the Maestro, they “saved” too much, thereby enabling American’s to overdo it on the mortgage borrowing front.  Yes, in so many words he said exactly that!

Lets see. The Maestro was allegedly a data hound. Did he not notice that housing prices in the US rose for 111 straight months from late 1994 to 2006, and during that period increased by nearly 200% on average across US neighborhoods. How in the world could this giant aberration have escaped the notice of the money printers around Greenspan in the Eccles Building?

How in the world could any adult thinker blame this on factory girls in China—that is, a policy regime that caused excessive savings. In fact, it is plainly evident that the People’s Printing Press of China attempted to protect is exchange rate from appreciating against the flood of dollars emitted from the Eccles Building. It did this in mercantilist fashion by pegging the RMB exchange rate and thereby accumulating a massive hoard of US treasury notes and Fannie/Freddie paper.

In short, China didn’t “save ” America into a housing crisis; the Greenspan Fed printed America into a cheap debt binge that ended up impairing the residential housing market for years to come.

So the problem with central bank inflation of financial bubbles is that when they burst the damage is extensive, capricious and long-lasting. On the latter front, new data from Zillow Inc. provide a dramatic case in point.

Here we are 96 months after the housing peak, yet there are still 20 million households which are either underwater on their mortgages or do not have enough embedded equity to cover the transaction costs and down payment needed to move. Since there are only 50 million households with mortgages, that means that as a practical matter 40% of mortgage borrowers  are precluded from trading-up.

It is no great mystery that  historically trade-up borrowers have been the motor force that drove the US housing market. Selling their existing home for a better castle, trade-up buyers vacated the bottom-end of the market so that first time buyers could find a foothold.

Now thanks to Washington’s eternal conviction that debt it the magic elixir of economic growth, first time buyers are few and far between because they are buried in student debt—-about $1.1 trillion to be exact. Each graduating class has more students with loans to carry forward, and in higher and more onerous amounts. Fully 70% of the class of 2014 has student loans, and they average of about $30,000 each. Both figures are triple what they were just a decade ago.

In any event, for those Millennials who do manage to accumulate a down payment by the time they are in their early 30s there is precious little starter home inventory available.  The Greenspan mortgage debt serfs from the previous generation are blocking the way.

Monetary central banking is an economy wrecker.  Here is just one more smoking gun of proof.

 

 By Conor Dougherty at The Wall Street Journa

Nearly 10 million U.S. households remain stuck in homes worth less than their mortgage and a similar number have so little equity they can’t meet the expenses of selling a home, trends that help explain recent sluggishness in the housing recovery.

At the end of the first quarter, some 18.8% of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage—9.7 million households—were “underwater” on their mortgage, according to a report scheduled for release Tuesday by real-estate information site Zillow Inc.

While that is an improvement from 19.4% at the end of last year and a peak of 31.4% 2012, those figures understate the problem.

In addition to the homeowners who are underwater, roughly 10 million households have 20% or less equity in their homes, which makes it difficult for them to sell their homes without dipping into their savings. Most move-up homeowners typically use their home equity to cover broker fees, closing costs and a down payment for their next home. Without those funds, many homeowners can’t sell.

“It’s a sobering appreciation that negative equity is going to be with us for a while to come,” said Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist. “Negative equity is central to understanding a lot of the distortions in the marketplace right now.”

Those distortions include the inventory of homes for sale, which, while rising, is low by historical standards. It also helps explain why first-time home buyers are having such a hard time cracking the market. Real estate is in some ways like a ladder, Mr. Humphries notes, so when underwater homeowners don’t trade up it makes it harder for newcomers to get in.

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