The Beginning Of The End
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Soaring Mortgage Rates Are Going To Make It Far More Difficult To Buy Or Sell A House

Home For SaleDid you actually think that mortgage rates were going to stay at all-time lows forever?  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was able to grossly distort the market for a while by buying up massive amounts of government bonds and mortgage-backed securities, but there was no way in the world that the market was going to stay that distorted forever.  It simply does not make sense to give American families 30 year mortgages at a fixed interest rate of less than four percent when the real rate of inflation is somewhere around eight to ten percent and the mortgage delinquency rate in the United States is 9.72 percent.  If we actually did have “free markets” and they were behaving rationally, mortgage rates would be far, far higher.  Well, now that the Fed has indicated that they are going to be starting to “taper” QE at some point, bond yields have skyrocketed and this is rapidly pushing up mortgage rates.  According to Freddie Mac, we just witnessed the largest weekly increase in mortgage rates in 26 years.  Sadly, this is only just the beginning.  Unless the Federal Reserve intervenes, mortgage rates are going to continue to try to revert to normal.

When mortgage rates go up, so do monthly payments.  All of a sudden, families that could afford the monthly payments on a $300,000 mortgage are no longer able to do so.  This is why when mortgage rates rise, it tends to push housing prices down.

If rates continue to go up, it is going to become increasingly difficult to sell your house.  Less people will be able to afford the monthly payments as rates rise.  Many families will have to end up reducing their selling prices.

And right now we are watching rates rise at a rate that we have not seen since the 1980s.  According to Freddie Mac, the average rate of interest on a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage jumped by more than half a percentage point just last week…

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose from 3.93 percent last week to 4.46 percent this week; the highest it has been since the week of July 28, 2011. This represents the largest weekly increase for the 30-year fixed since the week ended April 17, 1987.

A year ago, the 30 year rate was sitting at 3.66 percent.

The monthly payment on a $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1374.07.

Currently, the 30 year rate is sitting at 4.46 percent.

The monthly payment on a $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1512.93.

If the 30 year rate rises to 7 percent, the monthly payment on a $300,000 mortgage would be $1995.91.

Does 7 percent sound crazy to you?

It shouldn’t.

As the chart posted below demonstrates, a 7 percent mortgage was considered “normal” a decade ago…

30 Year Mortgage Rate

As you can see, mortgage rates have nowhere to go but up.

And as they go up, they are going to absolutely crush any semblance of a “housing recovery”.

Meanwhile, Americans continue to get poorer.

This week we learned that real per capita disposable income plunged at an annualized rate of 9.21 percent in the first quarter of 2013.

That is absolutely astounding.  We haven’t seen anything like that since the darkest days of the last recession.

If Americans do not have money to spend, that is going to hurt every industry – including housing.

And already we are seeing pain in the housing market.  For example, the number of mortgage applications has fallen by 29 percent over the last eight weeks.

And rising rates are also causing a lot of families to turn to adjustable rate mortgages.

Remember those?

They played a major role in the last housing crash, and according to CNBC they are now making a comeback…

After hovering around record lows for the past few years, mortgage rates are rising dramatically. That has consumers not only shopping more but also considering adjustable rate mortgages, which offer lower rates and lower monthly payments.

These ARMs, many requiring interest payments only, were popular during the latest housing boom but quickly fell out of favor when safer, fixed-rate loan rates fell to record lows.

So what does all of this mean?

It means that the tiny little “mini-bubble” that we have seen in housing this year is rapidly coming to an end.

It also means that it is going to become far more difficult to buy or sell a house.  Monthly payments are going to go up substantially, and many homeowners are going to find that they are not going to be able to sell their homes for what they had anticipated.

If you are already in the process of buying a house, hopefully you locked in a really good rate while you could.  Those record low mortgage rates sure were nice, and we will probably never see them again.

Now we are headed for a very painful “adjustment” thanks to Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve.  They should never have distorted the housing market so much, and now we are all going to suffer the consequences.

Will The New Housing Bubble That Bernanke Is Creating End As Badly As The Last One Did?

Will The New Housing Bubble Lead To Another Housing Crash?Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has done it.  He has succeeded in creating a new housing bubble.  By driving mortgage rates down to the lowest level in 100 years and recklessly printing money with wild abandon, Bernanke has been able to get housing prices to rebound a bit.  In fact, in some of the more prosperous areas of the country you would be tempted to think that it is 2005 all over again.  If you can believe it, in some areas of the country builders are actually holding lotteries to see who will get the chance to buy their homes.  Wow – that sounds great, right?  Unfortunately, this “housing recovery” is not based on solid economic fundamentals.  As you will see below, this is a recovery that is being led by investors.  They are paying cash for cheap properties that they believe will appreciate rapidly in the coming years.  Meanwhile, the homeownership rate in the United States continues to decline.  It is now the lowest that it has been since 1995.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Number one, there has not been a jobs recovery in the United States.  The percentage of working age Americans with a job has not rebounded at all and is still about the exact same place where it was at the end of the last recession.  Secondly, crippling levels of student loan debt continue to drive down the percentage of young people that are buying homes.  So no, this is not a real housing recovery.  It is an investor-led recovery that is mostly limited to the more prosperous areas of the country.  For example, the median sale price of a home in Washington D.C. just hit a new all-time record high.  But this bubble will not last, and when this new housing bubble does burst, will it end as badly as the last one did?

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has stated over and over that one of his main goals is to “support the housing market” (i.e. get housing prices to go up).  It took a while, but it looks like he is finally getting his wish.  According to USA Today, U.S. home prices have been rising at the fastest rate in nearly seven years…

U.S. home prices in the USA’s 20 biggest cities rose 9.3% in the 12 months ending in February. It was the biggest annual growth rates in almost seven years, a closely watched housing index out Tuesday said.

In particular, home prices have been rising most rapidly in cities that experienced a boom during the last housing bubble…

Year over year, Phoenix continued to stand out with a gain of 23%, followed by San Francisco at almost 19% and Las Vegas at nearly 18%, the S&P/Case-Shiller index showed. Most of the cities seeing the biggest gains also fell hardest during the crash.

But is this really a reason for celebration?  Instead of addressing the fundamental problems in our economy that caused the last housing crash, Bernanke has been seemingly obsessed with reinflating the housing bubble.  As a recent article by Edward Pinto explained, the housing market is being greatly manipulated by the government and by the Fed…

While a housing recovery of sorts has developed, it is by no means a normal one. The government continues to go to extraordinary lengths to prop up sales by guaranteeing nearly 90% of new mortgage debt, financing half of all home purchase mortgages to buyers with zero equity at closing, driving mortgage interest rates to the lowest level in 100 years, and turning the Fed into the world’s largest buyer of new mortgage debt.

Thus, with real incomes essentially stagnant, this is a market recovery largely driven by low interest rates and plentiful government financing. This is eerily familiar to the previous government policy-induced boom that went bust in 2006, and from which the country is still struggling to recover. Creating over a trillion dollars in additional home value out of thin air does sound like a variant of dropping money out of helicopters.

And the Obama administration has been pushing very hard to get lenders to give mortgages to those with “weaker credit”.  In other words, the government is once again trying to get the banks to give home loans to people that cannot afford them.  The following is from the Washington Post

The Obama administration is engaged in a broad push to make more home loans available to people with weaker credit, an effort that officials say will help power the economic recovery but that skeptics say could open the door to the risky lending that caused the housing crash in the first place.

President Obama’s economic advisers and outside experts say the nation’s much-celebrated housing rebound is leaving too many people behind, including young people looking to buy their first homes and individuals with credit records weakened by the recession.

We are repeating so many of the same mistakes that we made the last time.

But surely things will turn out differently this time, right?

I wouldn’t count on it.

Right now, an increasingly large percentage of homes are being purchased as investments.  The following is from a recent Washington Times article…

Much of the pickup in sales and prices has been powered by investors who, convinced that the market is bottoming, are scooping up bountiful supplies of distressed and foreclosed properties at bargain prices and often paying with cash.

With investors targeting lower-priced homes that they intend to purchase and rent out, they have been crowding out many first-time buyers who are having difficulty getting mortgage loans and are at a disadvantage when competing with well-heeled buyers. Cash sales to investors now account for about one-third of all home sales, according to the National Association of Realtors.

And as we have seen in the past, an investor-led boom can turn into an investor-led bust very rapidly.

If this truly was a real housing recovery, the percentage of Americans that own a home would be going up.

Instead, it is going down.

As I mentioned above, the U.S. Census Bureau is reporting that the homeownership rate in the United States is now the lowest that it has been since 1995.

In particular, homeownership among college-educated young people is way down.  They can’t afford to buy homes due to crippling levels of student loan debt

For the average homeowner, the worst news is that these overleveraged and defaulting young borrowers no longer qualify for other kinds of loans — particularly home loans. In 2005, nearly nine percent of 25- to 30-year-olds with student debt were granted a mortgage. By late last year, that percentage, as an annual rate, was down to just above four percent.

The most precipitous drop was among those who owe $100,000 or more. New mortgages among these more deeply indebted borrowers have declined 10 percentage points, from above 16 percent in 2005 to a little more than 6 percent today.

“These are the people you’d expect to buy big houses,” said student loan expert Heather Jarvis. “They owe a lot because they have a lot of education. They have been through professional and graduate schools, but their payments are so significant, they have trouble getting a mortgage. They have mortgage-sized loans already.”

And the truth is that there simply are not enough good jobs in this country to support a housing recovery.  In a previous article, I used the government’s own statistics to prove that there has not been a jobs recovery.  If we were having a jobs recovery, the percentage of working age Americans with a job would be going up.  Sadly, that is not happening…

Employment-Population Ratio 2013

And as I mentioned above, the “housing recovery” is mostly happening in the prosperous areas of the country.

In other areas of the United States, the devastating results of the last housing crash are still clearly apparent.

For example, the city of Dayton, Ohio is dealing with an estimated 7,000 abandoned properties.

As I wrote about the other day, there are approximately 70,000 abandoned buildings in Detroit, Michigan.

And all over the nation there are still “ghost towns” that were created when builders abruptly abandoned housing developments during the last recession.  You can see some pictures of some of these ghost towns right here.

So the truth is that this is an isolated housing recovery that is being led by investors and that is being fueled by very reckless behavior by the Federal Reserve.  It is not based on economic reality whatsoever.

In the end, will the collapse of this new housing bubble be as bad as the collapse of the last one was?

Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below…

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke

Record Low New Home Sales In 2011

New home sales in the United States are on pace to set a brand new all-time record low in 2011.  This will be the third year in a row that new home sales have set a new record low.  Sadly, this is yet another sign that the U.S. economy continues to grow weaker.  Back in 2005, more than four times as many new homes were being sold as are being sold today.  The home building industry is one of the central pillars of the U.S. economy, and the fact that we are going to set another new record low for home sales in 2011 is a really bad sign for those hoping for an economic recovery.  Unlike most of those that work in the financial industry, those that build new homes produce something of lasting value for American families.  In addition, millions of Americans have traditionally made a solid living by building and selling new homes.  But today the market for new homes has totally dried up and large numbers of those jobs are disappearing.  Some of the reasons for this include high unemployment, a glut of foreclosures on the market and the tightening of lending standards on home loans.  In order for the U.S. to have anything resembling a healthy economy again, we are going to need a revival in the sale of new homes.

But unfortunately, it looks like things are getting even worse.  In August, the number of new home sales declined for the fourth month in a row.  That is a very troubling sign because typically summer is the best time for new home sales.

Celia Chen, the director of housing economics at Moody’s Analytics, is saying the following about the dismal numbers….

“With job growth at a standstill, the stock market swinging wildly, Congress wrangling over the debt ceiling and the euro zone’s problems sending consumer confidence down, sales of new homes are slipping from an already weak pace.”

When you take a close look at the numbers, it really is shocking to see how far we have fallen.

Back in 1963, the U.S. Census Bureau began monitoring new home sales.  Prior to the most recent economic downturn, the record low for new home sales happened in 1982.

In that year, only 412,000 new homes were sold.

Well, that record was broken in 2009.

Then it was broken again in 2010.

And it will be broken again in 2011.

This year, we are on pace to see only 303,000 new homes sold in America.

That is beyond pathetic.

To get an idea of just how bad that is, just check out the following chart which comes from the Calculated Risk blog.  The first number is the year, the second number is the total number of new homes sold during that year, and the third number is the total number of new homes sold through the month of August during that year.  The number of new homes sold during 2011 is a projected number….

2000:  877  608
2001:  908  644
2002:  973  670
2003:  1,086  759
2004:  1,203  841
2005:  1,283  906
2006:  1,051  756
2007:  776  577
2008:  485  365
2009:  375  261
2010:  323  231
2011:  303  211

As you can see, this will be the fifth year in a row that new home sales have fallen.

And yet the folks on television keep telling us that the recession is over.

The frightening thing is that new home sales are this anemic even with mortgage rates at historic lows.

So what is going to happen once mortgage rates start going up?

It is hard to imagine new home sales getting even worse than they are now.

And we desperately need to get things turned around.  New home construction is very good for the economy.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, each new home that is constructed creates the equivalent of 3 jobs for an entire year and generates approximately $90,000 in taxes.

So what is holding things back?

Well, for one thing, if people do not have good jobs they cannot afford to buy new homes.

Back in 1969, 95 percent of all men between the ages of 25 and 54 had a job.  In July, only 81.2 percent of men in that age group had a job.

That is a massive problem that needs to be solved.

Unfortunately, our leaders continue to allow millions of our jobs to be shipped overseas.

If you gathered together all of the people in the United States that are “officially unemployed” right now, they would constitute the 68th largest country in the world.  It would be a nation larger than Greece.

Secondly, there is a gigantic glut of foreclosed homes on the market right now that is competing with new homes for the few qualified home buyers that are out there.

It is absolutely shocking how many vacant homes there are in some areas of the country.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 percent of all homes in the state of Florida are sitting vacant.  That figure is 63 percent larger than it was just ten years ago.

In the city of Detroit alone, there are more than 33,000 abandoned homes.

Until the number of vacant homes goes down, there is just not going to be a need in the marketplace for a lot of new homes.

Sadly, it looks like another huge wave of foreclosures could be on the way.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are currently at least one month behind on their mortgage payments.

That is more than a bit frightening.

Thirdly, lending standards on home loans have dramatically changed.

Five or six years ago, if you were breathing you could get a home loan.

Even the family dog could get a home loan.

But now the pendulum has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Applying for a mortgage today is like getting a series of proctology exams from a very rude and very uncaring doctor.

Many mortgage lenders today will deny you at the slightest hint of a problem.

Even if you have a very high income, near perfect credit, very little debt and a long history of financial responsibility there is still a very good chance that you will be turned down.

If you don’t believe this, just start talking to people that have applied for home loans lately.

A ton of pending home sales are being cancelled because potential home buyers simply cannot get approved.

Until some sort of “balance” is restored to the mortgage lending process, this is going to continue to be a major problem.

It would be nice if I could tell you that things are going to get better soon, but the truth is that there are all kinds of signs that the U.S. economy is getting even worse and there are all kinds of signs that the global financial system is on the verge of a massive nervous breakdown.

So if you make a living by building or selling new homes, you might want to find other ways to supplement your income for a while.

Things are not going to turn around significantly any time soon.

Without Low Interest Rates, The U.S. Financial System Dies

Right now, interest rates are near historic lows.  The U.S. government is able to borrow gigantic mountains of money for next to nothing.  U.S. consumers are still able to get home loans, car loans and student loans at ridiculously low interest rates.  When this low interest rate environment changes (and it will), it is going to absolutely devastate the U.S. economy.  Without low interest rates, the U.S. financial system dies.  When it comes to borrowing money, it is the rate of interest that causes the pain.  If you could borrow as much money as you wanted at a zero rate of interest for the rest of your life you would never, ever have a debt problem.  But when there is a cost to borrowing money that changes things.  The higher the rate of interest goes, the more painful debt becomes.

The only reason that U.S. government finances have not fallen apart completely already is because the federal government is still able to borrow huge amounts of money very cheaply.  If interest rates on U.S. government debt even return just to “average” levels, it is going to be absolutely catastrophic.

So what happens if rates go above “average”?

The reality is that if there is a major crisis that causes interest rates on U.S. Treasuries to go well beyond “normal” levels it is going to cause a complete and total collapse.

In 2010, the U.S. government paid out just $413 billion in interest even though the national debt soared to 14 trillion dollars by the end of the year.

That means that the U.S. government paid somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 percent interest for the year.

Considering how rapidly the U.S. dollar has been declining and how much money printing the Federal Reserve has been doing, a rate of interest that low is absolutely ridiculous.

The shorter the term, the more ridiculous the rates of interest on U.S. Treasuries are.

For example, the rate of interest on 3 month U.S. Treasuries right now is just barely above zero.

The Federal Reserve has been playing all kinds of games in an attempt to keep interest rates on U.S. government debt low, and so far they have been pretty successful at it.

But they aren’t going to be able to do it forever.

Up until now, other nations and investors around the world have continued to participate in the system even though they know that the Federal Reserve is cheating.

However, there are signs that a lot of investors are finally getting fed up and are ready to walk away from U.S. government debt.

China has been dumping short-term U.S. government debt.  Russia has been dumping U.S. government debt. Pimco has been dumping U.S. government debt.

Others are taking things even farther.

In fact, there are some investors that plan on cashing in on the loss of confidence in U.S. Treasuries.  Renowned investor Jim Rogers says that he is now going to be shorting 30 year U.S. government bonds.

Just check out what Rogers recently told CNBC….

“I cannot imagine or conceive lending money to the United States government for 30-years at 3, 4, 5 or 6 percent —you pick a number — in U.S. dollars”

And he is right.  Who in the world would be stupid enough to loan the U.S. government money at a 4 or 5 percent rate of interest for the next 30 years?

Actually, most U.S. government debt is financed in the short-term these days.  In fact, the U.S. government issues a higher percentage of short-term debt than any other industrialized nation.

This trend really got started during the Clinton administration.  Back then they figured out that the U.S. could reduce its borrowing costs substantially by relying much more heavily on short-term debt.  The Bush and Obama administrations have continued this trend.

So these days the U.S. government constantly has huge amounts of debt that are maturing and that need to be rolled over.

This is great as long as interest rates stay very, very low.

But when interest rates rise the whole game will change.

In a recent article, Pat Buchanan explained that the Obama administration is being completely unrealistic when it assumes that interest rates on U.S. government debt will stay incredibly low over the next decade….

“The average rate of interest the Fed has had to pay to borrow for the last two decades has been 5.7 percent. However, President Obama is projecting the cost of money at only 2.5 percent.

A return to the normal Fed rate would, by 2020, add $4.9 trillion to the cumulative deficit”

Most Americans really cannot grasp how incredibly low interest rates are right now.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

The following chart shows how interest rates on 10 year U.S. Treasury bonds have declined over the last several decades.

As confidence in the U.S. dollar and in U.S. government debt declines, interest rates will go up.

In fact, there are troubling signs that we are starting to see a move in that direction right now.  Last week, the yield on 5 year U.S. Treasuries experienced the biggest one week percentage jump ever recorded.

The big danger is that the political wrangling in Washington D.C. will start to cause a panic.  The managing director of Standard & Poor’s recently told Reuters that if the U.S. government starts defaulting on debt at the beginning of August, the credit rating on U.S. Treasury bonds that are supposed to mature on August 4th will go from AAA all the way down to D….

Chambers, who is also the chairman of S&P’s sovereign ratings committee, told Reuters on Tuesday that U.S. Treasury bills maturing on August 4 would be rated ‘D’ if the government fails to honor them. Unaffected Treasuries would be downgraded as well, but not as sharply, he said.

“If the U.S. government misses a payment, it goes to D,” Chambers said. “That would happen right after August 4, when the bills mature, because they don’t have a grace period.”

When a credit rating gets slashed, interest rates on that debt can go up dramatically.

Just ask the citizens of Greece.

Today, the interest rate on 2 year Greek bonds is over 26 percent.

You are delusional if you believe that something like that can never happen here.

Right now the U.S. national debt is completely and totally out of control.  If the U.S. government had to start paying interest rates of 10, 15 or 20 percent to borrow money it would be a total nightmare.

This year the U.S. government will have income of about 2.2 trillion dollars.

If in future years the U.S. government is spending a trillion or a trillion and a half dollars just on interest on the national debt, then how in the world is it going to be possible to even run the government, much less balance the budget?

But rising interest rates would not just devastate the federal government.

It would become much more expensive for state and local governments to borrow money.

Student loans would become much more expensive.

Car loans would become much more expensive.

Home loans would become out of reach for everyone except the very wealthy.

As we saw during the housing crash of a few years ago, rising interest rates can absolutely wipe homeowners out.

On a standard home loan, if you change the rate of interest from 5 percent to 10 percent you increase the mortgage payment by approximately 50 percent.

If you change the rate of interest from 5 percent to 15 percent, you roughly double the mortgage payment.

As the 30 year fixed rate mortgage chart below shows, interest rates are near historic lows right now….

Keep in mind that even with such ridiculously low interest rates the U.S. real estate market has been deader than a doornail.

So what would a significant spike in interest rates do to it?

When all of these low interest rates go away the entire financial system is going to change dramatically.

A significant spike in interest rates would wipe out U.S. government finances, it would push state and local governments all over the country to the brink of bankruptcy, it would bring economic activity to a standstill and it would destroy any hopes for a housing recovery.

This country, and in particular the federal government, is enslaved to debt but right now we are not feeling the full pain of that debt because interest rates are so low.

If you want to know when things are really going to start coming apart, just keep an eye on interest rates.  When they really start spiking you can start sounding the alarm.

The truth is that the state of the economy is going to continue to get worse.  Our debt is growing every single day and our country is getting poorer every single day.  When interest rates start surging it is going to start knocking over a lot of dominoes.

I hope you are getting prepared for when that happens.

Don’t Buy A House In 2011 Before You Read These 20 Wacky Statistics About The U.S. Real Estate Crisis

Unless you have been asleep or hiding under a rock for the past five years, you already know that we are experiencing the worst real estate crisis that the U.S. has ever seen.  Home prices in the United States have fallen 33 percent from the peak of the housing bubble, which is more than they fell during the Great Depression.  Those that decided to buy a house in 2005 or 2006 are really hurting right now.  Just think about it.  Could you imagine paying off a $400,000 mortgage on a home that is now only worth $250,000?  Millions of Americans are now living through that kind of financial hell.  Sadly, most analysts expect U.S. home prices to go down even further.  Despite the “best efforts” of those running our economy, unemployment is still rampant.  The number of middle class jobs continues to decline year after year, but it takes at least a middle class income to buy a decent home.  In addition, financial institutions have really tightened up lending standards and have made it much more difficult to get home loans.  Back during the wild days of the housing bubble, the family cat could get a zero-down mortgage, but today the pendulum has swung very far in the other direction and now it is really, really tough to get a home loan.  Meanwhile, the number of foreclosures and distressed properties continues to soar.  So with a ton of homes on the market and not a lot of buyers the power is firmly in the hands of those looking to buy a house.

So will home prices continue to go down?  Possibly.  But they won’t go down forever.  At some point the inflation that is already affecting many other segments of the economy will affect home prices as well.  That doesn’t mean that it will be middle class American families that will be buying up all the homes.  An increasing percentage of homes are being purchased by investors or by foreigners.  There are a lot of really beautiful homes in the United States, and wealthy people from all over the globe love to buy a house in America.

But because of the factors mentioned above, it is quite possible that U.S. home prices could go down another 10 or 20 percent, especially if the economy gets worse.

So what is the right time to buy a house?

Nobody really knows for sure.

Mortgage rates are near record lows right now and there are some great deals to be had in many areas of the country.  But that does not mean that you won’t be able to get the same home for even less 6 months or a year from now.

In any event, this truly has been a really trying time for the U.S. housing market.  Hordes of builders, construction workers, contractors, real estate agents and mortgage professionals have been put out of work by this downturn.  The housing industry is one of the core pillars of the economy, and so a recovery in home sales is desperately needed.

The following are 20 really wacky statistics about the U.S. real estate crisis….

#1 According to Zillow, 28.4 percent of all single-family homes with a mortgage in the United States are now underwater.

#2 Zillow has also announced that the average price of a home in the U.S. is about 8 percent lower than it was a year ago and that it continues to fall about 1 percent a month.

#3 U.S. home prices have now fallen a whopping 33% from where they were at during the peak of the housing bubble.

#4 During the first quarter of 2011, home values declined at the fastest rate since late 2008.

#5 According to Zillow, more than 55 percent of all single-family homes with a mortgage in Atlanta have negative equity and more than 68 percent of all single-family homes with a mortgage in Phoenix have negative equity.

#6 U.S. home values have fallen an astounding 6.3 trillion dollars since the housing crisis first began.

#7 In February, U.S. housing starts experienced their largest decline in 27 years.

#8 New home sales in the United States are now down 80% from the peak in July 2005.

#9 Historically, the percentage of residential mortgages in foreclosure in the United States has tended to hover between 1 and 1.5 percent.  Today, it is up around 4.5 percent.

#10 According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings in the United States are projected to increase by another 20 percent in 2011.

#11 It is estimated that 25% of all mortgages in Miami-Dade County are “in serious distress and headed for either foreclosure or short sale“.

#12 Two years ago, the average U.S. homeowner that was being foreclosed upon had not made a mortgage payment in 11 months.  Today, the average U.S. homeowner that is being foreclosed upon has not made a mortgage payment in 17 months.

#13 Sales of foreclosed homes now represent an all-time record 23.7% of the market.

#14 4.5 million home loans are now either in some stage of foreclosure or are at least 90 days delinquent.

#15 According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are currently at least one month behind on their mortgage payments.

#16 In September 2008, 33 percent of Americans knew someone who had been foreclosed upon or who was facing the threat of foreclosure.  Today that number has risen to 48 percent.

#17 During the first quarter of 2011, less new homes were sold in the U.S. than in any three month period ever recorded.

#18 According to a recent census report, 13% of all homes in the United States are currently sitting empty.

#19 In 1996, 89 percent of Americans believed that it was better to own a home than to rent one.  Today that number has fallen to 63 percent.

#20 According to Zillow, the United States has been in a “housing recession” for 57 straight months without an end in sight.

So should we be confident that the folks in charge are doing everything that they can to turn all of this around?

Sadly, the truth is that our “authorities” really do not know what they are doing.  The following is what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke had to say about the housing market back in 2006….

“Housing markets are cooling a bit. Our expectation is that the decline in activity or the slowing in activity will be moderate, that house prices will probably continue to rise.”

Since that time U.S. housing prices have experienced their biggest decline ever.

At some point widespread inflation is going to reverse the trend we are experiencing right now, but that doesn’t mean that most American families will be able to afford to buy homes when that happens.

As I have written about previously, the middle class in America is shrinking.  The number of Americans on food stamps has increased by 18 million over the past four years and today 47 million Americans (a new all-time record) are living in poverty.

Millions of our jobs are being shipped overseas, the cost of living keeps going up and an increasing percentage of American families are losing faith in the economy.

More Americans than ever are talking about “the coming economic collapse” as if it is a foregone conclusion.  Our federal government is swamped with debt, our state and local governments are swamped with debt and our economic infrastructure is being ripped to shreds by globalization.

So sadly, no, there are not a whole lot of reasons to be optimistic at this point about a major economic turnaround.

The U.S. economy is going down the toilet and the coming collapse is going to be incredibly painful for all of us.

Hopefully when that collapse comes you will have somewhere warm and safe to call home.  If not, hopefully someone will have compassion on you.  In any event, we all need to buckle up because it is going to be a wild ride.

18 Reasons Why You Can Stick A Fork In The New Home Construction Industry

If you make your living by building or selling new homes in the United States, you might want to consider taking up a different career for a while.  New homes sales in the United States hit yet another new all-time record low in the month of February, and there are a whole lot of reasons why new home sales are going to stay extremely low for an extended period of time.  The massive wave of foreclosures that we have seen has produced a giant glut of unsold homes in the marketplace, mortgage lenders are making it really hard to get approved for home loans, unemployment is still rampant and the global economy looks like it may soon plunge into another major recession.  None of those things is good news for the new home construction industry.  The truth is that we were supposed to have seen new home sales already bounce back by now.  If you look at the historical numbers, new home sales in the U.S. always increased significantly after the end of every recession since World War 2.  But that did not happen this time.  Instead, new home sales have just continued to decline.  This is absolutely unprecedented, and economists are puzzled.  So what is going to happen if the U.S. economy suffers another major downturn?

New home construction has always been one of the foundational pillars of the U.S. economy.  When times were good new home construction would boom, and when times were bad new home construction would falter.

Well, unfortunately the industry is stuck in the midst of a multi-year decline right now.  The reality is that you can stick a fork in the new home construction industry in the United States.  It is toast.  There is going to be no recovery for the foreseeable future.

Not that previously owned homes are doing that much better.  According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of previously existing homes in the United States dropped 9.6 percent in February.  But at least sales of previously owned homes are not at all-time record lows like new home sales are.

As you can see from the facts posted below, new home sales are absolutely abysmal right now, and there are a lot of indications that things may get even worse.  The following are 18 reasons why you can stick a fork in the new home construction industry….

#1 New home sales in the United States set a brand new all-time record low in the month of February.

#2 Only 19,000 new homes were sold in the United States during the month of February. The previous record low for new home sales during the month of February was 27,000, which was set last year.

#3 The “months of supply” of new homes in the U.S. rose from 7.4 months in January to 8.9 months in February.

#4 The median price of a new home in the United States declined almost 14 percent to $202,100 in the month of February.

#5 The median price of a new home in the U.S. is now the lowest it has been since December 2003.

#6 As of the end of 2010, new home sales in the United States had declined for five straight years, and they are expected to be lower once again in 2011.

#7 Now home sales in the United States are now down 80% from the peak in July 2005.

#8 New home construction starts in the United States fell 22.5 percent during the month of February.  This was the largest decline in 27 years.

#9 In February, the number of new building permits (a measure of future home building activity) declined to the lowest level in more than 50 years.  In fact, new building permits were 20 percent lower during February 2011 than they were in February 2010.

#10 There is a major glut of foreclosed homes that still need to be sold off.  David Crowe, the chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, recently told CNN that the constant flow of new foreclosures being put on the market is a huge hindrance to a recovery for new home sales….

“One of the biggest detriments to building new homes is the flow of existing foreclosed homes.”

#11 The number of foreclosures just continues to increase.  This means that those trying to sell new homes are going to continue to be competing against a giant mountain of foreclosed homes for the foreseeable future.  An all-time record of 2.87 million U.S. households received a foreclosure filing in 2010, and that number is expected to be even higher in 2011.

#12 In fact, there are a whole lot of signs that there will be very high levels of foreclosures for years to come.  For example, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are at least one month behind on their mortgage payments at this point.

#13 A stunningly high number of Americans are “underwater” on their mortgages right now.  This could lead to an increase in the number of “strategic defaults”.  31 percent of the homeowners that responded to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey indicated that they are “underwater” on their mortgages, and Deutsche Bank is projecting that 48 percent of all U.S. mortgages could have negative equity by the end of 2011.

#14 The truth is that the U.S. doesn’t need a whole lot of new housing at the moment.  Right now, 11 percent of all homes in the United States are currently standing empty.

#15 Mortgage lending standards have become extremely tight.  Back during the housing bubble, almost anyone that was breathing could get a zero-down mortgage.  Today, mortgage lenders have made it extremely difficult to acquire a home loan, and it is quite typical these days for lenders to demand down payments of 20 percent or more.  This is dramatically reducing the number of home buyers in the marketplace.

#16 American families cannot buy homes if they do not have good jobs.  Unfortunately, it has become extremely difficult to find a job in the United States today.  This is especially true if you are looking for a good job.  It now takes the average unemployed worker in America about 33 weeks to find a job.

#17 There is not going to be a jobs recovery until the overall economy improves.  Unfortunately, the price of oil continues to rise dramatically and economic disasters all over the planet threaten to plunge the global economy into another major recession.

#18 On top of everything else, perceptions regarding home ownership are shifting in the United States.  In 1996, 89 percent of Americans believed that it was better to own a home than to rent one.  Today that number has fallen to 63 percent.

Rich vs Poor: 14 Funny Statistics And 14 Not So Funny Statistics About This “Economic Recovery”

Today there are two very different Americas.  In one America, the stock market is soaring, huge bonuses are taken for granted, the good times are rolling and people are spending money as if they will be able to “live the dream” for the rest of their lives.  In the other America, the one where most of the rest of us live, unemployment is rampant, a million families were kicked out of their homes last year and hordes of American families are drowning in debt.  The gap between the rich and the poor is bigger today than it ever has been before.  In fact, this article is not so much about “rich vs poor” as it is about “the rich vs the rest of us”.  Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke keep touting an “economic recovery”, but the truth is that the only ones that seem to be benefiting from this recovery are those at the very top of the economic food chain.

Below you will find 14 funny statistics about this economic recovery and 14 not so funny statistics about this economic recovery.  Actually, if you find yourself deeply struggling in this economy you will probably not find any of the statistics funny.  In fact, you will probably find most of them infuriating.  After all, there are very few people that actually enjoy hearing about how well the rich are doing when they are barely able to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

In any event, the 28 statistics below show the stark contrast between the “two Americas” that share this nation today.  Many liberals will likely try to use these statistics as an example of why we should tax the rich.  But handing more money to the government is not going to magically create more jobs for the poor.  What the American people desperately need are good jobs, and many liberals don’t seem to understand that.  Many conservatives will likely try to use these statistics as evidence that “capitalism” is working.  But the truth is that what we have in the United States today is not capitalism.  Rather, it is more aptly described as “corporatism”, because money and power is increasingly becoming concentrated in the hands of gigantic corporations that individuals and small businesses simply cannot compete with.  The truth is that when wealth is concentrated at the very top it does not “trickle down” to the rest of us.  In the old days the wealthy at least were forced to hire the rest of us to run their factories and their businesses, but with the advent of globalism that isn’t even true anymore.  Now they can just move their factories and businesses overseas to places where they can legally pay slave labor wages to their employees.

Very large concentrations of money and power are almost always bad for the prosperity of average citizens.  Our founding fathers never intended for our central government to have so much power and they never intended for giant corporations to have so much power.  But we have abandoned the principles of our founding fathers.

When large concentrations of power (whether governmental or corporate) are allowed to flourish, it almost becomes inevitable that the gap between the rich and the poor will grow.  We are seeing this happen all over the world today.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that any of this is going to change any time soon.  In the United States, both the federal government and multinational corporations are constantly attempting to grab even more power.  It has gotten to the point where individual Americans really don’t have much power left at all.

In any event, hopefully you will find the following statistics informative or at least entertaining.  The wealthy are most definitely enjoying an “economic recovery” while most of the rest of us are still really struggling….

Funny – Who said that the titans of Wall Street couldn’t look hot?  According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, facelifts for men jumped 14 percent last year.

Not Funny – According to the U.S. Labor Department, unemployment actually increased in 351 of the 372 largest U.S. cities during the month of January.

Funny – The average bonus for a worker on Wall Street in 2010 was only $128,530.  It appears that more Wall Street bailouts may be needed.

Not Funny – During this most recent economic downturn, employee compensation in the United States has been the lowest that it has been relative to gross domestic product in over 50 years.

Funny – According to DataQuick Information Systems, the sale of million dollars homes rose an average of 18.6 percent in the top 20 major metro areas in the U.S. in 2010.  But is spending a million dollars on one house really worth it?  After all, over the past several years there have been times when you could buy a house in some bad areas of Detroit for just one dollar.

Not Funny – In 2010, for the first time ever more than a million U.S. families lost their homes to foreclosure, and that number is expected to go even higher in 2011.

Funny – According to Moody’s Analytics, the wealthiest 5% of households in the United States now account for approximately 37% of all consumer spending.  Most of the rest of us don’t have much discretionary income to spend these days, but at least we have Justin Bieber, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars to keep us entertained.

Not FunnyAccording to Gallup, the U.S. unemployment rate in mid-March was 10.2%, which was virtually unchanged from the 10.3% figure that it was sitting at exactly one year ago.

FunnyAccording to the Wall Street Journal, sales of private jumbo jets to the ultra-wealthy are absolutely soaring….

Sales of private jumbo jets are so strong that Airbus and Boeing now have special sales forces devoted to potentates and the hyper-rich.

Not Funny – There are now over 6.4 million Americans that have given up looking for work completely.  That number has increased by about 30 percent since the economic downturn began.

Funny – Porsche recently reported that sales increased by 29 percent during 2010.  Even Porsche jokes are coming back into style….

Question: Why did the blonde try and steal a police car?

Answer: She saw “911” on the back and thought it was a Porsche.

Not Funny – Approximately half of all American workers make $25,000 a year or less.

Funny – Cadillac recently reported that sales increased by 36 percent during 2010.

Not Funny – According to the U.S. Energy Department, the average U.S. household will spend approximately $700 more on gasoline in 2011 than it did during 2010.

Funny – Rolls-Royce recently reported that sales increased by 171 percent during 2010.

Not Funny – According to a new study by America’s Research Group, approximately 75 percent of all Americans are doing less shopping because of rising gasoline prices.

FunnyAccording to the New York Post, Barack Obama enjoyed a total of 10 separate vacations that stretched over a total of 90 vacation days during the years of 2009 and 2010.  Apparently Barack Obama was not talking about himself when he told the American people the following….

“If you’re a family trying to cut back, you might skip going out to dinner, or you might put off a vacation.”

Not Funny – When 2007 began, 26 million Americans were on food stamps.  Today, an all-time record 44 million Americans are on food stamps.

Funny – Ralph Lauren reported a 24 percent increase in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2010.  It is good to know that preppies are thriving in this economy.

Not Funny – The Ivex Packaging Paper plant in Joliet, Illinois is shutting down for good after 97 years in business.  79 good jobs will be lost.  Meanwhile, China has become the number one producer of paper products in the entire world.

Funny – Luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. recently announced that their profits increased by 29 percent in the 4th quarter of 2010.  All of the men that did not buy their women jewelry during the holidays are trying to keep this particular news item from getting passed around.

Not Funny – Average household debt in the United States has now reached a level of 136% of average household income.

Funny – In 2009, only 18,288 vehicles with a price tag of $100,000 or more were sold in the United States.  In 2010, 32,144 such vehicles were sold.  It appears that “showing off for chicks” is now very much back in style.

Not Funny – The U.S. economy now has 10 percent fewer “middle class jobs” than it did just ten years ago.

Funny – Porsche has announced that they will soon be taking orders for their first hybrid sports car, the 918 Spyder.  The price tag on one of these puppies will only be $845,000.

Not Funny – The average CEO now makes approximately 185 times more money than the average American worker.

Funny – Barack Obama recently played only his 61st round of golf since moving into the White House.  Many are now concerned that Obama is simply not getting enough free time.

Not Funny – According to one recent study, 21 percent of all children in the United States were living below the poverty line during 2010.

Housing Armageddon: 12 Facts Which Show That We Are In The Midst Of The Worst Housing Collapse In U.S. History

We are officially in the middle of the worst housing collapse in U.S. history – and unfortunately it is going to get even worse.  Already, U.S. housing prices have fallen further during this economic downturn (26 percent), then they did during the Great Depression (25.9 percent).  Approximately 11 percent of all homes in the United States are currently standing empty.  In fact, there are many new housing developments across the U.S. that resemble little more than ghost towns because foreclosures have wiped them out.  Mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures reached new highs in 2010, and it is being projected that banks and financial institutions will repossess at least a million more U.S. homes during 2011.  Meanwhile, unemployment is absolutely rampant and wage levels are going down at a time when mortgage lending standards have been significantly tightened.  That means that there are very few qualified buyers running around out there and that is going to continue to be the case for quite some time to come.  When you add all of those factors up, it leads to one inescapable conclusion.  The “housing Armageddon” that we have been experiencing since 2007 is going to get even worse in 2011.

Right now there is a gigantic mountain of unsold homes in the United States.  It is estimated that banks and financial institutions will repossess at least a million more homes this year and this will make the supply of unsold properties even worse.  At the same time, millions of American families have been scared out of the market by this recent crisis and millions of others cannot qualify for a home loan any longer.  That means that the demand for unsold homes is at extremely low levels.

So what happens when supply is really high and demand is really low?

That’s right – prices go down.

Hopefully housing prices don’t have too much farther to go down.  Ben Bernanke and the boys over at the Federal Reserve are doing their best to flood the system with new dollars in order to prop up asset values, but you just can’t create qualified home buyers out of thin air.

Many analysts are projecting that U.S. housing prices will decline another ten or twenty percent before they hit bottom.  In fact, quite a few economists believe that the total price decline from the peak of the market in 2006 will end up being somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent.

But whether prices go down any further or not, the truth is that the housing crash that we have already witnessed is absolutely unprecedented.

The following are 12 facts which show that we are in the midst of the worst housing collapse in U.S. history….

#1 Approximately 11 percent of all homes in the United States are currently standing empty.

#2 The rate of home ownership in the United States has dropped like a rock.  At this point it has fallen all the way back to 1998 levels.

#3 According to the S&P/Case-Shiller index, U.S. home prices fell 1.3 percent in October and another 1 percent in November.  In fact, November represented the fourth monthly decline in a row for U.S. housing prices.  Many economists are now openly using the term “double-dip” to describe what is happening to the housing market.

#4 The number of homes that were actually repossessed reached the 1 million mark for the first time ever during 2010.

#5 According to RealtyTrac, a total of 3 million homes were repossessed by mortgage lenders between January 2007 and August 2010.  This represents a huge amount of additional inventory that somehow must be sold.

#6 72 percent of the major metropolitan areas in the United States had more foreclosures in 2010 than they did in 2009.

#7 According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are at least one month behind on their mortgage payments.

#8 It is estimated that there are about 5 million homeowners in the United States that are at least two months behind on their mortgages, and it is being projected that over a million American families will be booted out of their homes this year alone.

#9 Deutsche Bank is projecting that 48 percent of all U.S. mortgages could have negative equity by the end of 2011.

#10 Some formerly great industrial cities are rapidly turning into ghost towns.  For example, in Dayton, Ohio today 18.9 percent of all houses are now standing empty.  21.5 percent of all houses in New Orleans, Louisiana are standing vacant.

#11 According to Zillow, U.S. home prices have already fallen further during this economic downturn (26 percent) than they did during the Great Depression (25.9 percent).

#12 There are very few signs that the employment situation in the United States is going to improve any time soon.  4.2 million Americans have been unemployed for one year or longer at this point.  While there has been some nominal improvement in the government unemployment numbers recently, other organizations are reporting that things are getting even worse.  According to Gallup, the unemployment rate actually rose to 9.6% at the end of December.  This was a significant increase from 9.3% in mid-December and 8.8% at the end of November.

But even many Americans that do have jobs are finding out that it has become very, very hard to qualify for a home loan.

In an attempt to avoid the mistakes of the past, banks and financial institutions have become very stingy with home loans.  While it was certainly wise for them to make some changes, the truth is that perhaps the pendulum has swung too far at this point.  The U.S. housing industry will never fully recover if they can’t get their customers approved for mortgages.

Congress is talking about passing even more laws that will make it even more difficult to get home loans.  Even though they give speeches about how they want to help the U.S. housing industry, the truth is that Republicans and Democrats are both backing proposals that would make home mortgages much more expensive and much more difficult to obtain as a Bloomberg article recently explained….

Government officials and lawmakers want to make the market less vulnerable to another credit crisis, and all the options lead the same general direction: Borrowers will need larger down payments than in the bubble years, have higher credit scores, and pay extra fees to cover risks and premiums for federal guarantees on government-backed mortgage bonds.

While all that may sound reasonable, the truth is that the U.S. middle class has become so cash poor that the vast majority of them cannot afford homes without the kind of mortgages that were available in the past.

Not that we should go back and repeat the mistakes of the past 20 years.  It is just that nobody should expect the U.S. housing market to “bounce back” in an environment that has fundamentally changed.

The housing market is not like other financial markets.  It is difficult to artificially pump it up with funny money.  If the U.S. housing market is going to rebound, it is going to take lots of average American families getting qualified for loans and going out and buying houses.  But they can’t do this if they do not have good jobs.  Today, only 47 percent of working-age Americans have a full-time job at this point.  Without a jobs recovery there never will be a housing recovery.

In fact, there are all kinds of warning signs that seem to indicate that the U.S. economy could get even worse in 2011.  Many economists are now openly using the word “stagflation” for the first time since the 1970s.  Back in the 70s we had both high unemployment and high inflation at the same time.

Well, we have already had very high unemployment, and thanks to the relentless money printing of the Federal Reserve, it looks like we are going to have high inflation as well.

Middle class American families are going to be spending even more of their resources just trying to survive, and this is going to make it more difficult for them to purchase homes.

In fact, in recent years average Americans have been getting significantly poorer.  Over the past two years, U.S. consumers have withdrawn $311 billion more from savings and investment accounts than they have put into them.  That is very troubling news.

Now the price of food is soaring and the price of oil is about to cross $100 a barrel again.  So what is going to happen if we have another major financial crisis and we witness another huge spike in the unemployment rate?

The Federal Reserve is trying to smooth all of our problems over with a flood of paper money, but it isn’t going to work.  Yes, increasing the money supply will produce some false highs on the stock market and some false economic growth statistics for a while, but the tremendous damage that will be done to the economy is just not worth it.

In any event, let us all hope that we see some really great real estate deals over the next couple of years, because in the times ahead land will be something very good to own.  In fact, down the road it will be much better to own land than to have your money sitting in the bank where it will continuously decline in value.

Use your paper money wisely.  It will never have more value than it does today.

So what do all of you think?  Is the “housing Armageddon” almost over, or do housing prices still need to decline a bit more?  Feel free to leave a comment with your opinion below….

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