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January 27, 2009

Double Bubble. Double Trouble.

-- by Dave Johnson and James Boyce

Last August, we wrote about the double bubble in the housing market: a more traditional bubble, then over-inflated by a massive asset bubble that drove prices up and up and up. The bigger the bubble, the bigger the pop.

In that post we wrote,

In every modern recession, the fall in housing prices follows the economy slowing down. What we have yet to see is the falling economy's effect on housing prices. So if you think prices have already dropped, and might even be reaching a bottom, we think it's the other way around: prices are about to start dropping.
And so here we are. Yesterday's news of a mind-boggling 50,000+ jobs lost in a single day brings us now to the start of this second bubble popping. Because for all of economic talk about housing markets and prices and fancy new mortgages that were created, at its economic base, housing prices are just about the simplest thing in the world.

When people make more money, or more people move into a market, housing prices slowly go up. When people make less money, or people move out of a market, housing prices slowly go down.

The housing bubble popped, leading to recession, and the recession is now going to lead to a further decline in housing prices. Where will that lead?

The problem at the root of the housing asset bubble is that over the last few decades -- since Reagan and the Republican free-market supply-side, trickle-down policies took over -- Americans have not been earning more, they've just been able to buy more thanks to a litany of mortgage and other debt-raising products that compensate for the lack of earnings.

People used to be required to put 20% down before they could buy a house. How many people do you know, honestly, that have 20% to put down on a house now? How many do you know that actually have 20% equity accrued in the house they already own? We're betting not many.

That 20% down payment requirement kept housing prices in check. But that became a 15% requirement, then 10%, then 5% then a negative 10% requirement, where you could actually get a mortgage for 110% of the value of your house. Well, they helped inflate the bubble.

On top of that, loan standards used to require that people spend no more than 25-28% of their income on housing expenses. This also kept prices in check. This was also set aside, and "liar loans" further inflated the bubble. Now that all has to be undone.

Last August, real estate experts were claiming that 2009 was to be the bottom of the market, and housing prices were going to head back up. Just like they claimed that 2008 was going to be the bottom and that 2007 was when the market would turn.

Sadly, the chances of real estate prices turning back up, in real dollar terms, has vanished for the next decade at least. There are two coherent facts behind this.

First, the size of the bubble means that someone who bought a house for $500,000 in 2005 is already 20-25% down in the price of the house. Factor in inflation, and it's closer to 35 - 40% down right now, four years later. Of the millions of Americans who will lose their jobs this year, many will be unable to cover their mortgages. And foreclosures, short sales, sales right before the short sales, these will continue to increase, driving prices down even further. This all means there is little demand for high-priced houses.

Second, the bubble caused a building boom, and along with all the foreclosures there is now a huge supply of houses and condos waiting to be sold. And only then will the "shadow" market of people waiting on the sidelines for a better market in which to sell their houses kick in.

Only after all of these factors are cleared will market conditions even start to return to normal.

By 2010, perhaps 2011, perhaps we will see signs of a bottom of the real estate market, with prices having returned to their historical norms at a level that many suggest is 30-35% below where they are today.

For many, this will be personal financially troubling, even disastrous. From an economic point of view, it is the fundamental principal of supply, demand, and income proving to be true again, and a return to economic reality.

What can be done about it? The root cause of this and many other problems in our economy is the stagnation of incomes that began when Reagan was elected. Republican policies brought a massive concentration of wealth at the top with a select few reaping all of the benefits of our economic system. But this double-bubble collapsing-economy problem is costing their wealth as well. Trickle-down doesn't, and when the rest of us are tapped out by misguided policies like these it spells disaster for everyone.

Posted by Dave and James at January 27, 2009 11:55 AM


Comments

You missed a few other variables:
- The cold war ended
- The internet was invented (by DARPA)
- The MAC and PC were invented
- Web browsing was invented
- Cellular technology was perfected
- Oil prices dropped all the way to $10 per barrel after Reagan killed Carter's price controls
- Global trade expanded dramatically
- Hundreds of millions climbed out of poverty in parts of India, China and Asian tigers
- The Ted Kennedy led change in immigration law to support family chain immigration in the late '60s. USA population went from 200M to 300million in 30 years
- Clinton and Gingrich reformed welfare and passed NAFTA
- Texas with energy resources and access to Mexico and the Gulf trade flourished
- CA with energy resources and access to Mexico and Asia trade ate all its seed corn
- The USSR fell
- The EU grew. The Euro was created
- More trade flourished
- Reagan cut taxes and dramatically increased REVENUE to the Federal government. Congress spent money faster than Reagan could grow revenue. Clinton modestly increased taxes and cut Government spending, finally delivering on the Reagan/Bush/Clinton plan to keep down taxes and keep Fed spending in line with revenues.

Posted by: Mace [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2009 8:46 PM

Reagan and tax revenue, from something I wrote in 2002:

Here's the numbers. In 1981 the on-budget (not from Social Security) tax receipts were $469 billion which was a 16% increase over the prior year. Then the Reagan tax cuts started. 1982 tax receipts were $474.3 billion, 1.1% over 1981, and the on-budget deficit shot up to $120 billion, an increase of 62% in a single year! 1983 receipts were $453.2 billion, a DROP of 4.4% creating a deficit of $208 BILLION, an increase of 73%!

Tax Increases - Revenues Went Up. This huge jump in deficits panicked Congress enough to pass the 1984 Deficit Reduction Act, the largest tax increase in our history. Tax receipts climbed to $500.3 billion, a 10.4% increase, and the deficit shrank almost 11% to $185.6 billion.

In 1985 Congress passed the Gramm-Rudmann-Hollings Anti-Deficit Act. In 1985 tax receipts were $548 billion, a 9.5% increase. But now the huge military spending increases AND the debt interest were kicking in and the deficit rose to $221 billion, an increase of 19%. That's another story - the TAX RECEIPTS were climbing again, leading to the doubling Republicans claim was brought about by cutting taxes, conveniently leaving out that the largest tax increase in the history of the world occurred in between.

An Aside. Also during this time Congress passed the huge Social Security tax increase, dramatically increasing a tax ONLY paid by poor and middle class working people. This is the largest tax item in most people's paychecks and is not counted when we're told that the rich pay a large share of taxes. In 1984 and 1985 Social Security tax receipts jumped 12%!, and continued to increase through the 80's, generating huge surpluses which were used to make the huge deficits look lower. This money collected from the poor and middle class workers went out to pay for Reagans's tax cuts for the rich. (And now it is being used to pay for Bush's huge tax cuts for the rich.)

See for Yourself. You can look at the numbers here. It's table 1.1, in Excel file format, so I'm not linking directly to it. (Now at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy03/hist.html)

Posted by: Dave Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2009 9:21 PM

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