The end of the real estate boom
December 25, 2005
The US economic expansion probably would
have ended somewhere in the mid-1990s were it not for the influx of foreign
capital due to numerous currency crises during that decade. The general
stock market had already run out of steam by 1999 and by 2001 it looked
like the market might collapse, dragging the US economy with it. Aggressive
interest rates reductions prevented a collapse by fueling a real estate
boom that kept both the stock market and the economy on life support.
But now it seems that even the real estate market can take no more. Earlier
this month we learned that the inventory of homes for sale had reached
the highest level in 19 years, and housing affordability was at a 14-year
low. This week there is yet another article in the Wall Street Journal
about housing affordability.
According to a study prepared by Moody’s Economy.com
for the Wall Street Journal, housing affordability fell almost 9% in the
third quarter from a year ago. In some markets, affordability declined
by more than 20%. On a percentage basis you have to go back 25 years to
find a decline in affordability as significant as this.
Earlier I read that there is not one county in the entire
United States where a person working full time, earning minimum wages,
can afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment. But it is not only lower income
families that are having accommodation problems: even middle to upper
income families find it difficult to move up. In some areas of the country,
such as New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Miami, affordability
has declined to levels not seen since the ‘80s.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, mortgage
applications are at their lowest level in almost a year. Also, home ownership
has started declining from the record 69.4% reached in the second quarter
of 2004 and now stands at 68.7%. It may not be a large decline, yet, but
it certainly signals the effect that rising house prices and rising mortgage
rates are having on homebuyers.
I do not believe this is a trivial matter, which is why
I have dedicated so much time to writing about the real estate market.
As the real estate market goes, so goes the economy and the stock market.
The only thing that could keep the US on life support a little longer
is another round of interest rate reductions, but this time it could hurt
the dollar, and that would mean higher gasoline prices again, so it’s
a double-edged sword.
This, however, is the season to be merry, happy and thankful.
I am thankful that I do not have Ben Bernanke’s job.
Paul van Eeden
P.S. I will be taking some time off and so there will not
be another commentary until January 6th.
P.P.S. I may in future stop publishing these commentaries
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Paul van Eeden works primarily to find investments
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or (602) 252-4477.
Paul van Eeden works primarily to find investments for his
own portfolio and shares his investment ideas with subscribers to his weekly
investment publication. For more information please visit his website (www.paulvaneeden.com)
or contact his publisher at (800) 528-0559 or (602) 252-4477.
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