Everything is going to be just great. Haven’t you heard? The stock market is at an all-time high, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says that inflation is incredibly low, and the official unemployment rate has been steadily declining since early in Barack Obama’s first term. Of course I am being facetious, but this is the kind of talk about the economy that you will hear if you tune in to the mainstream media. They would have us believe that those running things know exactly what they are doing and that very bright days are ahead for America. And it would be wonderful if that was actually true. Unfortunately, as I made exceedingly clear yesterday, the U.S. economy has already been in continual decline for the past decade. Any honest person that looks at those numbers has to admit that our economy is not even close to where it used to be. But could it be possible that we are making a comeback? Could it be possible that Obama and Bernanke really do know what they are doing and that their decisions have put us on the path to prosperity? Could it be possible that everything is going to be just fine?
Sadly, what we are experiencing right now is a “mini-hope bubble” that has been produced by an unprecedented debt binge by the federal government and by unprecedented money printing by the Federal Reserve. Once this “sugar high” wears off, it will be glaringly apparent that by “kicking the can down the road” Bernanke and Obama have made our long-term problems even worse.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t understand these things.
Most Americans just let their televisions do their thinking for them, and right now their televisions are telling them that everything is going to be fine.
Everything is fine, but the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff just told Congress that Obama is considering using the U.S. military to intervene in the conflict in Syria.
Unfortunately, the cold, hard reality of the matter is that everything is not fine.
As a nation, we consume far more wealth that we produce.
As a nation, we buy far more stuff from the rest of the world than they buy from us.
As a nation, our debt is growing at a much faster pace than our economy is.
As a nation, our share of global GDP has been dropping like a rock over the past decade.
Our economic infrastructure is being systematically gutted, Wall Street has been transformed into a gigantic casino and poverty in the United States continues to explode even in the midst of this so-called “economic recovery”.
How in the world can the mainstream media get away with telling the American people that everything is just fine?
The economic fundamentals are absolutely screaming that massive trouble is on the horizon. Hopefully people are getting ready, because a whole lot of pain is on the way for this country.
Are the central banks of the world starting to lose control of the financial markets? Could we be facing a situation where the bond bubble is going to inevitably implode no matter what the central bankers do? For the past several years, the central bankers of the planet have been able to get markets to do exactly what they want them to do. Stock markets have soared to record highs, bond yields have plunged to record lows and investors have literally hung on every word uttered by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other prominent central bankers. In the United States, it has been remarkable what Bernanke has been able to accomplish. The U.S. government has been indulging in an unprecedented debt binge, the Fed has been wildly printing money, and the real rate of inflation has been hovering around 8 to 10 percent, and yet Bernanke has somehow convinced investors to lend gigantic piles of money to the U.S. government for next to nothing. But this irrational state of affairs is not going to last indefinitely. At some point, investors are going to wake up and start demanding higher returns. And we are already starting to see this happen in Japan. Wild money printing has actually caused bond yields to go up. What a concept! And that is what should happen – when central banks recklessly print money it should cause investors to demand a higher return. But if bond investors all over the globe start acting rationally, that is going to cause the largest bond bubble in the history of the planet to burst, and that will create utter devastation in the financial markets.
Central banks can manipulate the financial system in the short-term, but there is usually a tremendous price to pay for the distortions that are caused in the long-term.
In Bernanke’s case, all of this quantitative easing seemed to work well for a while. The first round gave the financial system a nice boost, and so the Fed decided to do another. The second round had less effect, but it still boosted stocks and caused bond yields to go down. The third round was supposed to be the biggest of all, but it had even less of an effect than the second round. If you doubt this, just check out the charts in this article.
Our financial system has become addicted to this financial “smack”. But like any addict, the amount needed to get the same “buzz” just keeps increasing. Unfortunately, the more money that the Fed prints, the more distorted our financial system becomes.
The only way that this is going to end is with a tremendous amount of pain. There is no free lunch, and there are already signs that investors are starting to wake up to this fact.
As investors wake up, they are going to realize that this bond bubble is irrational and entirely unsustainable. Once the race to the exits begins, it is not going to be pretty. In fact, the are indications that the race to the exits has already begun…
During the month of June, fixed income allocations fell to a four-year low, according to the American Association of Individual Investors, as major bond fund managers like Pimco experienced record withdrawals for the second quarter. That pullback sent places like emerging markets and high-yield bonds reeling—just as the Federal Reserve signaled plans to taper its easy-money policies within the coming years. Benchmark bond yields ticked up on that news, and in an unexpected twist, the stock market nosedived as well.
A lot of people out there have been floating the theory that the Fed will decide not to taper at all and that quantitative easing will continue at the same pace and therefore the markets will settle back down.
But what if they don’t settle back down?
Could the bond bubble implode even if there is no tapering?
That is what some are now suggesting. For example, Detlev Schlichter is pointing to what has been happening in Japan as an indication that the paradigm has changed…
My conclusion is this: if market weakness is the result of concerns over an end to policy accommodation, then I don’t think markets have that much to fear. However, the largest sell-offs occurred in Japan, and in Japan there is not only no risk of policy tightening, there policy-makers are just at the beginning of the largest, most loudly advertised money-printing operation in history. Japanese government bonds and Japanese stocks are hardly nose-diving because they fear an end to QE. Have those who deal in these assets finally realized that they are sitting on gigantic bubbles and are they trying to exit before everybody else does? Have central bankers there lost control over markets?
After all, money printing must lead to higher inflation at some point. The combination in Japan of a gigantic pile of accumulated debt, high running budget deficits, an old and aging population, near-zero interest rates and the prospect of rising inflation (indeed, that is the official goal of Abenomics!) are a toxic mix for the bond market. It is absurd to assume that you can destroy your currency and dispossess your bond investors and at the same time expect them to reward you with low market yields. Rising yields, however, will derail Abenomics and the whole economy, for that matter.
The financial situation in Japan is actually very similar to the financial situation in the United States. We both have “a gigantic pile of accumulated debt, high running budget deficits, an old and aging population, near-zero interest rates and the prospect of rising inflation”. In both cases, rational investors should demand higher returns when the central bank fires up the printing presses.
And if interest rates on U.S. Treasury bonds start to rise to rational levels, the U.S. government is going to have to pay more to borrow money, state and local governments are going to have to pay more to borrow money, junk bonds will crash, the market for home mortgages will shrivel up and economic activity in this country will slow down substantially.
Did 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?
As the chart posted below demonstrates, a 7 percent mortgage was considered “normal” a decade ago…
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.
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.
U.S. financial markets are exhibiting the classic behavior patterns of an addict. Just a hint that the Fed may start slowing down the flow of the “juice” was all that it took to cause the financial markets to throw an epic temper tantrum on Wednesday. In fact, one CNN article stated that the markets “freaked out” when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed would eventually start tapering the bond buying program if the economy improves. And please note that Bernanke did not announce that the money printing would actually slow down any time soon. He just said that it may be “appropriate to moderate the pace of purchases later this year” if the economy is looking good. For now, the Fed is going to continue wildly printing money and injecting it into the financial markets. So nothing has actually changed yet. But just the suggestion that this round of quantitative easing would eventually end if the economy improves was enough to severely rattle Wall Street on Wednesday. U.S. financial markets have become completely and totally addicted to easy money, and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen when the Fed takes the “smack” away. When that day comes, will the largest bond bubble in the history of the world burst? Will interest rates rise dramatically? Will it throw the U.S. economy into another deep recession?
Judging by what happened on Wednesday, the end of Fed bond buying is not going to go well. Just check out the carnage that we witnessed…
-The Dow dropped by 206 points on Wednesday.
-The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries shot up substantially, and it is now the highest that it has been since March 2012.
-On Wednesday we witnessed the largest percentage rise in the yield on 5 year U.S. Treasury bonds ever. It is now the highest that it has been in nearly two years.
-We also learned that the MBS mortgage refinance applications index has fallen by 38 percent over the past six weeks.
If the markets react like this when the Fed doesn’t even do anything, what are they going to do when the Fed actually starts cutting back the monetary injections?
Posted below is an excerpt from the statement that the Fed released on Wednesday. Please note that the Fed is saying that the current quantitative easing program is going to continue at the same pace for right now…
To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate, the Committee decided to continue purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. Taken together, these actions should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative.
The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months. The Committee will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability. The Committee is prepared to increase or reduce the pace of its purchases to maintain appropriate policy accommodation as the outlook for the labor market or inflation changes. In determining the size, pace, and composition of its asset purchases, the Committee will continue to take appropriate account of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases as well as the extent of progress toward its economic objectives.
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored. In determining how long to maintain a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy, the Committee will also consider other information, including additional measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation, it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent.
So why doesn’t the Federal Reserve just stop these emergency measures right now?
After all, we are supposed to be in the midst of an “economic recovery”, right?
What is Bernanke afraid of?
That is a question that Rick Santelli of CNBC asked on Wednesday. If you have not seen his epic rant yet, you should definitely check it out…
On days like this, it is easy to see who has the most influence over the U.S. economy. The financial world literally hangs on every word that comes out of the mouth of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. The same cannot be said about Barack Obama or anyone else.
The central planners over at the Federal Reserve are at the very heart of what is wrong with our economy and our financial system. If you doubt this, please see this article: “11 Reasons Why The Federal Reserve Should Be Abolished“. Bernanke knows that the actions that the Fed has taken in recent years have grossly distorted our financial system, and he is concerned about what is going to happen when the Fed starts removing those emergency measures.
Unfortunately, we can’t send the U.S. financial system off to rehab at a clinic somewhere. The entire world is going to watch as our financial markets go through withdrawal.
The Fed has purposely inflated a massive financial bubble, and now it is trying to figure out what to do about it. Can the Fed fix this mess without it totally blowing up?
Unfortunately, most severe addictions never end well. In a recent article, Charles Hugh Smith described the predicament that the Fed is currently facing quite eloquently…
One of the enduring analogies of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (QE) program is that the stock market is now addicted to this constant injection of free money. The aptness of this analogy has never been more apparent than now, as the market plummets on the mere rumor that the Fed will cut back its monthly injection of financial smack. (The analogy typically refers to crack cocaine, due to the state of delusional euphoria QE induces in the stock market. But the zombified state of the heroin addict is arguably the more accurate analogy of the U.S. stock market.)
You know the key self-delusion of all addiction: “I can stop any time I want.” This eerily echoes the language of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who routinely declares he can stop QE any time he chooses.
But Ben, the pusher of QE money, knows his addict–the stock market–will die if the smack is cut back too abruptly. Like all pushers, Ben has his own delusion: that he can actually control the addiction he has nurtured.
You’re dreaming, Ben–your pushing QE has backed you into a corner. The addict (the stock market) is now so dependent and fragile that the slightest decrease in QE smack will send it to the emergency room, and quite possibly the morgue.
We are rapidly approaching a turning point. We have a massively inflated stock market bubble, a massively inflated bond bubble, and a financial system that is absolutely addicted to easy money.
The Fed is desperately hoping that it can find a way to engineer some sort of a soft landing.
The Fed is desperately hoping to avoid a repeat of the financial crisis of 2008.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke insists that he knows how to handle things this time.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is on the way out the door, but the consequences of the bond bubble that he has helped to create will stay with us for a very, very long time. During Bernanke’s tenure, interest rates on U.S. Treasuries have fallen to record lows. This has enabled the U.S. government to pile up an extraordinary amount of debt. During his tenure we have also seen mortgage rates fall to record lows. All of this has helped to spur economic activity in the short-term, but what happens when interest rates start going back to normal? If the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt rises to just 6 percent, the U.S. government will suddenly be paying out a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt. And remember, there have been times in the past when the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt has been much higher than that. In addition, when the U.S. government starts having to pay more to borrow money so will everyone else. What will that do to home sales and car sales? And of course we all remember what happened to adjustable rate mortgages when interest rates started to rise just prior to the last recession. We have gotten ourselves into a position where the U.S. economy simply cannot afford for interest rates to go up. We have become addicted to the cheap money made available by a grossly distorted financial system, and we have Ben Bernanke to thank for that. The Federal Reserve is at the very heart of the economic problems that we are facing in America, and this time is certainly no exception.
This week Barack Obama publicly praised Ben Bernanke and stated that Bernanke has “already stayed a lot longer than he wanted” as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Bernanke’s term ends on January 31st, but many observers believe that he could leave even sooner than that. Bernanke appears to be tired of the job and eager to move on.
So who would replace him? Well, the mainstream media is making it sound like the appointment of Janet Yellen is already a forgone conclusion. She would be the first woman ever to chair the Federal Reserve, and her philosophy is that a little bit of inflation is good for an economy. It seems likely that she would continue to take us down the path that Bernanke has taken us.
But is it a fundamentally sound path? Keeping interest rates pressed to the floor and wildly printing money may be producing some positive results in the short-term, but the crazy bubble that this is creating will burst at some point. In fact, the director of financial stability for the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, recently admitted that the central bankers have “intentionally blown the biggest government bond bubble in history” and he warned about what might happen once it ends…
“If I were to single out what for me would be biggest risk to global financial stability right now it would be a disorderly reversion in the yields of government bonds globally.” he said. There had been “shades of that” in recent weeks as government bond yields have edged higher amid talk that central banks, particularly the US Federal Reserve, will start to reduce its stimulus.
“Let’s be clear. We’ve intentionally blown the biggest government bond bubble in history,” Haldane said. “We need to be vigilant to the consequences of that bubble deflating more quickly than [we] might otherwise have wanted.”
Posted below is a chart that demonstrates how interest rates on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds have fallen over the last several decades. This has helped to fuel the false prosperity that we have been enjoying, but there is no way that the U.S. government should have been able to borrow money so cheaply. This bubble that we are living in now is setting the stage for a very, very painful adjustment…
Ten-year Treasury notes have been kicked down from their historic pedestal last July when some poor souls, blinded by the Fed’s halo of omnipotence and benevolence, bought them at a minuscule yield of 1.3%. For them, it’s been an ice-cold shower ever since. As Treasuries dropped, yields meandered upward in fits and starts. After a five-week jump from 1.88% in early May, they hit 2.29% on Tuesday last week – they’ve retreated to 2.19% since then. Now investors are wondering out loud what would happen if ten-year Treasury yields were to return to more normal levels of 4% or even 5%, dragging other long-term interest rates with them. They know what would happen: carnage!
And according to Richter, there are already signs that the bond bubble is beginning to burst…
Wholesale dumping of Treasuries by exasperated foreigners has already commenced. Private foreigners dumped $30.8 billion in Treasuries in April, an all-time record. Official holders got rid of $23.7 billion in long-term Treasury debt, the highest since November 2008, and $30.1 billion in short-term debt. Sell, sell, sell!
Bond fund redemptions spoke of fear and loathing: in the week ended June 12, investors yanked $14.5 billion out of Treasury bond funds, the second highest ever, beating the prior second-highest-ever outflow of $12.5 billion of the week before. They were inferior only to the October 2008 massacre as chaos descended upon financial markets. $27 billion in two weeks!
In lockstep, average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates jumped from 3.59% in early May to 4.15% last week. The mortgage refinancing bubble, by which banks have creamed off billions in fees, is imploding – the index has plunged 36% since early May.
If interest rates start to climb significantly, that will have a dramatic affect on economic activity in the United States.
And we have seen this pattern before.
As Robert Wenzel noted in a recent article on the Economic Policy Journal, we saw interest rates rise suddenly just prior to the October 1987 stock market crash, and we also saw them rise substantially prior to the financial crisis of 2008…
As Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker left the Fed chairmanship in August 1987, the interest rate on the 10 year note climbed from 8.2% to 9.2% between June 1987 and September 1987. This was followed, of course by the October 1987 stock market crash.
As Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan left the Fed chairmanship at the end of January 2006, the interest rate on the 10 year note climbed from 4.35% to 4.65%. It then climbed above 5%.
So keep a close eye on interest rates in the months ahead. If they start to rise significantly, that will be a red flag.
And it makes perfect sense why Bernanke is looking to hand over the reins of the Fed at this point. He can probably sense the carnage that is coming and he wants to get out of Dodge while he still can.
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.
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…
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.
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…
Reckless money printing by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has pumped up the Dow to a brand new all-time high. So what comes next? Will the Dow go even higher? Hopefully it will. In fact, it would be great if the Dow was able to hit 15,000 before it finally came crashing down. That would give all of us some more time to prepare for the nightmarish economic crisis that is rapidly approaching. As you will see below, the U.S. economy is in far, far worse shape than it was the last time the Dow reached a record high back in 2007. In addition, all of the long-term trends that are ripping our economy to shreds just continue to get even worse and our debt just continues to explode. Unfortunately, the Dow has become completely divorced from economic reality in recent years because of Fed manipulation. All of this funny money that the Federal Reserve has been cranking out has made the wealthy even wealthier, but this bubble will not last for too much longer. What goes up must come down. And remember, a bubble is always biggest right before it bursts.
Fortunately, it looks like an increasing number of people out there are starting to recognize that the primary reason why stocks have been going up is because of the Fed. Just check out this excerpt from a recent article by the USA Today editorial board…
The Federal Reserve’s purchases have driven interest rates to near zero. This has stimulated the economy but not without cost. Savers, particularly older ones trying to live on income from their investments, are starved for safe options. They’ve been forced into stocks, which is one reason the market has been acting as if it’s on steroids. Further, with borrowing costs low, Congress and the White House have less incentive to rein in the national debt. Rock-bottom interest rates have also distorted markets.
The best indication that the Fed’s bond-buying purchases are pushing stocks up artificially is that investors run for cover whenever there is a hint that the Fed might change course, as happened recently. On Monday, billionaire superinvestor Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett told CNBC that markets are on a “hair trigger” waiting for signs of change from the Fed. The market is “hooked on the drug” of easy money, Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told Reuters.
Fisher’s comparison of Fed policies to a drug is apt. Markets might not like the idea of the drug being withdrawn now, when the Fed holds a portfolio of $3 trillion. But the withdrawal symptoms will be a lot worse once the portfolio grows to $4 trillion, or more.
Those sentiments were echoed by Gordon Charlop, a trader at Rosenblatt Securities, during a recent appearance on CNBC…
“The Wizard of the Fed, Ben [Bernanke], has done a great job propping up the market, but the question is how does the wizard move the pin from the balloon without blowing the whole thing up?” said Charlop. “This is getting out of balance and he’s got to figure out a way to justify the levels that we’ve gotten to and draw back on some of the stimulus.”
Of course, in the end, the bursting of this bubble is going to be very messy.
The Fed has dramatically distorted the market in an attempt to make things look good, but now the financial markets are completely and totally addicted to easy money. Is there any chance that the Fed will be able to take away that easy money without causing disaster?
There are only a few ways that this current scenario can play out. The following is what Stanley Druckenmiller recently told CNBC…
“I don’t know when it’s going to end, but my guess is, it’s going to end very badly; and it’s going to end very badly because, again, when you get the biggest price in the world, interest rates, being manipulated you get a misallocation of resources and this is going to end in one of two ways – with a malinvestment bust which we got in ’07-’08 (we didn’t get inflation). We got a malinvestment bust because of the bubble that was created in housing. Or it could end with just monetizing the debt and off we go in inflation. So that’s a very binary outcome – they’re both bad.”
What the Fed has done to the money supply in recent years has been absolutely unprecedented. Just check out how our money supply has skyrocketed since the last financial crisis…
So what happens when the amount of money in an economy rises rapidly?
Well, if I remember Econ 101 correctly, that would mean that prices should go up.
And that is exactly what has happened. And since most of the money that the Fed has created has gone into the financial system first, it should not be a surprise that we have seen a bubble in financial assets.
In a previous article that I wrote last September, I warned that QE3 would cause stocks to go up…
So what have the previous rounds of quantitative easing accomplished? Well, they have driven up the prices of financial assets. Those that own stocks have done very well the past couple of years. So who owns stocks? The wealthy do. In fact, 82 percent of all individually held stocks are owned by the wealthiest 5 percent of all Americans. Those that have invested in commodities have also done very nicely in recent years. We have seen gold, silver, oil and agricultural commodities all do very well. But that also means that average Americans are paying more for basic necessities such as food and gasoline. So the first two rounds of quantitative easing made the wealthy even wealthier while causing living standards to fall for all the rest of us. Is there any reason to believe that QE3 will be any different?
Of course not.
So will stocks continue to go up indefinitely?
As I have also written about previously, the money printing that the Fed is doing right now is not nearly enough to stop the mammoth derivatives crisis that is coming.
A derivatives crisis was one of the primary reasons for the financial crash of 2008, but most Americans still have no idea what derivatives are.
They can be very complex, but I think that it is easiest just to think of them as side bets.
When someone buys a derivative, they are not buying anything real. They are simply betting that something will or will not happen.
For example, if you bet $100 that the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series this year, would you be “investing” in anything real?
Of course not.
Well, it is the same with most derivatives.
Today, Wall Street has become the biggest casino in the entire world and trillions of dollars of very reckless bets have been made.
It would be hard to overstate the recklessness of these banks. The numbers that you are about to see are absolutely jaw-dropping. According to the Comptroller of the Currency, four of the largest U.S. banks are walking a tightrope of risk, leverage and debt when it comes to derivatives. Just check out how exposed they are…
Total Assets: $1,812,837,000,000 (just over 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $69,238,349,000,000 (more than 69 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,347,841,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $52,150,970,000,000 (more than 52 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $1,445,093,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,405,372,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $114,693,000,000 (a bit more than 114 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,580,395,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 362 times greater than their total assets.
When the derivatives crash happens, there won’t be enough money in the entire world to fix it.
So enjoy this little stock market bubble while you can.
It will end soon enough.
And of course stocks should not be this high in the first place. The underlying economic fundamentals do not justify these kinds of stock prices whatsoever.
A recent CNN article noted that the last time the Dow hit a record high that unemployment in the U.S. was much lower…
Consider this. When the Dow hit its now old record high back in October 2007, the economy was still in good shape — although it was just a few months away from the beginning of the Great Recession.
The unemployment rate in October 2007 was 4.7%. In January of this year, the unemployment rate was 7.9%.
And that same article also pointed out that GDP growth and housing prices were also much stronger back in 2007…
Gross domestic product grew 3% in the third quarter of 2007. Revised figures from the government last week showed that GDP in the fourth quarter of 2012 rose a scant 0.1%. But I guess that’s good news considering the first estimate showed a 0.1% decline.
And despite all the hoopla about the steady recovery in the housing market over the past year, real estate is still in a bear market. The most recent level of the S&P Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index, one of the most widely watched gauges of the health of housing, is still 24% below where it was in October 2007.
We have never even come close to recovering from the last economic crisis. Most Americans seem to have forgotten how good things were back then, but a recent Zero Hedge article included some more points of comparison between October 2007 and today…
Dow Jones Industrial Average: Then 14164.5; Now 14164.5
Regular Gas Price: Then $2.75; Now $3.73
GDP Growth: Then +2.5%; Now +1.6%
Americans Unemployed (in Labor Force): Then 6.7 million; Now 13.2 million
Americans On Food Stamps: Then 26.9 million; Now 47.69 million
Size of Fed’s Balance Sheet: Then $0.89 trillion; Now $3.01 trillion
US Debt as a Percentage of GDP: Then ~38%; Now 74.2%
US Deficit (LTM): Then $97 billion; Now $975.6 billion
Total US Debt Oustanding: Then $9.008 trillion; Now $16.43 trillion
US Household Debt: Then $13.5 trillion; Now 12.87 trillion
Labor Force Particpation Rate: Then 65.8%; Now 63.6%
Consumer Confidence: Then 99.5; Now 69.6
And of course anyone that reads my site regularly knows that the U.S. economy has been in a state of persistent decline over the past several years.
Just consider the following data points…
-The percentage of the civilian labor force in the United States that is actually employed has been steadily declining every single year since 2006.
-In 2007, the unemployment rate for the 20 to 29 age bracket was about 6.5 percent. Today, the unemployment rate for that same age group is about 13 percent.
-According to one study, 60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.
-Median household income in America has fallen for four consecutive years. Overall, it has declined by more than $4000 during that time span.
-At this point, an astounding 53 percent of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year.
That is the other side of the Fed’s insidious money printing. Incomes in the United States are going down, but the cost of living is skyrocketing. This is squeezing millions of Americans out of the middle class…
When Debbie Bruister buys a gallon of milk at her local Kroger supermarket, she pays $3.69, up 70 cents from what she paid last year.
Getting to the store costs more, too. Gas in Corinth, Miss., her hometown, costs $3.51 a gallon now, compared to less than three bucks in 2012. That really hurts, considering her husband’s 112-mile daily round-trip commute to his job as a pharmacist.
Perhaps you can identify with this. Perhaps your paychecks are about the same as they used to be back in 2007 but the cost of living has gone up dramatically since then.
I wish I could tell you that things were going to get better, but unfortunately there are all kinds of indications that things are about to get even worse for the U.S. economy. If you doubt this, just read this article and this article.
Yes, the Dow is at an all-time high. But do you want to know what else has hit an all-time high up in New York?
An average of more than 50,000 people slept each night in New York City’s homeless shelters for the first time in January, a record that underscores an unsettling national trend: a rising number of families without permanent housing.
And apparently families and children have been hit particularly hard over the past year…
More than 21,000 children—an unprecedented 1% of the city’s youth—slept each night in a city shelter in January, an increase of 22% in the past year, the report said, while homeless families now spend more than a year in a shelter, on average, for the first time since 1987. In January, an average of 11,984 homeless families slept in shelters each night, a rise of 18% from a year earlier.
Of course New York is far from alone. There has been a surge in homelessness all over the United States. In fact, at this point more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless. This is the first time that has ever happened in U.S. history.
But the Dow just hit a record high so we should all be wildly happy, right?
Hopefully we can get more Americans to understand that the “prosperity” that we are enjoying right now is just an illusion. It isn’t real. It is a bubble created by reckless money printing by the Fed and reckless borrowing by the U.S. government. If you can believe it, the U.S. government borrowed another 253 billion dollars during the month of February alone.
The Fed and the U.S. government will continue to engage in this kind of reckless behavior until the bubble eventually bursts.
So what should all the rest of us do?
We should be feverishly preparing for the hard times that are coming. As Daisy Luther recently wrote about, one of the most important things to do is to create an emergency fund. Instead of going out and blowing your money on the latest toys and gadgets, set some money aside so that you will have something to live on if the economy crashes and you suddenly lose your income.
Just remember what happened back in 2008. Millions of Americans suddenly lost their jobs, and because many of them had no financial reserves, a lot of Americans suddenly could not pay their mortgages and they lost their homes.
So put some money away in a place where it will be safe – and that does not mean the stock market.
Jim Cramer of CNBC and a lot of the other talking heads on the financial news channels are trying to encourage ordinary Americans to jump into “the bull market” right now and make some money, and many people will take their advice.
But the truth is that a bubble is always biggest right before it bursts.
This bubble is awfully big right now, and I don’t know how much larger it can possibly get.
QE3 has barely even started and some folks on Wall Street are already clamoring for QE4. In fact, as you will read below, one equity strategist at Morgan Stanley says that he would not be “surprised” if the Federal Reserve announced another new round of money printing by the end of the year. But this is what tends to happen when a financial system starts becoming addicted to easy money. There is always a deep hunger for another “hit” of “currency meth”. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was probably hoping that QE3 would satisfy the wolves on Wall Street for a while. His promise to recklessly print 40 billion dollars a month and use it to buy mortgage-backed securities is being called “QEInfinity” by detractors. During QE3, nearly half a trillion dollars a year will be added to the financial system until the Fed decides that it is time to stop. This is so crazy that even former Federal Reserve officials are speaking out against it. For example, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker says that QE3 is the “most extreme easing of monetary policy” that he could ever remember. But the big Wall Street banks are never going to be satisfied. If QE4 is announced, they will start calling for QE5. As I noted in a previous article, quantitative easing tends to pump up the prices of financial assets such as stocks and commodities, and that is very good for Wall Street bankers. So of course they want more quantitative easing. They always want bigger profits and bigger bonus checks at the end of the year.
But at this point the Federal Reserve has already “jumped the shark”. If you don’t know what “jumping the shark” means, you can find a definition on Wikipedia right here. Whatever shreds of credibility the Fed had left are being washed away by a flood of newly printed money.
Those running the Fed have essentially used up all of their bullets and the next great financial crisis has not even fully erupted yet.
So what is the Fed going to do if the stock market crashes and the credit market freezes up like we saw back in 2008?
How much more extreme can the Fed go?
One can just picture “Helicopter Ben” strapping on a pair of water skis and making the following promise….
“We are going to print so much money that we’ll make Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic look like wimps!”
Sadly, the truth is that money printing is not a “quick fix” and it never has been. Just look at Japan. The Bank of Japan is on round 8 of their quantitative easing strategy, and yet things in Japan continue to get even worse.
But that is not going to stop the folks on Wall Street from calling for even more quantitative easing.
For example, the top U.S. equity strategist for Morgan Stanley, Adam Parker, made headlines all over the world this week by writing the following….
“QE3 will likely be insufficient to significantly boost equity markets and we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Fed dramatically augment this program (i.e., QE4) before year-end, particularly if economic and corporate news continue to deteriorate as they have over the past few weeks.”
Did you get what he is saying there?
He says that QE3 is not going to be enough to boost equity markets (the stock market) so more money printing will be necessary.
But wasn’t QE3 supposed to be about creating jobs and helping the middle class?
I can almost hear many of you laughing out loud already.
As I have written about before, QE3 is unlikely to change the employment picture in any significant way, but what it will do is create more inflation which will squeeze the poor, the middle class and the elderly.
The truth is that quantitative easing has always been about bailing out the banks, and the hope is that this will trickle down to the folks on Main Street as well, but that never seems to happen.
Wall Street is not calling for even more quantitative easing because it would be good for you and I. Rather, Wall Street is calling for even more quantitative easing because it would be good for them.
The Federal Reserve’s latest easing move has been nicknamed everything from “QE3″ to “QE Infinity” to “QEternal,” but some on Wall Street question whether the unprecedented move will be QEnough.
And of course everyone pretty much understands that QE3 is definitely not going to fix our economic problems. Even most of those on Wall Street will admit as much. In the CNBC article mentioned above, a couple of economists named Paul Ashworth and Paul Dales at Capital Economics were quoted as saying the following….
“The Fed can commit to deliver whatever economic outcome it likes, but the problem is that the crisis in the euro-zone and/or a stand-off in negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff in the U.S. may well reveal it to be like the proverbial Emperor with no clothes”
An emperor with no clothes?
I think the analogy fits.
The Federal Reserve is going to keep printing and printing and printing and things are not going to get any better.
The Federal Reserve’s QE3 bond buying program announced earlier this month could last until the middle of 2015 and eventually reach $2 trillion, according to an estimate from economists at Goldman Sachs.
The Goldman economists also wrote in a report that they believe the Fed will not raise the federal funds rate until 2016. This rate, which is used as a benchmark for a wide variety of consumer and business loans, has been near 0% since December 2008. The Fed said in its last statement that it expected rates would remain low until mid-2015.
So why is Wall Street whining and complaining so loudly right now?
Well, even with all of the bailouts and even with all of the help from the first two rounds of quantitative easing, things are still tough for them.
For example, Bank of America recently announced that they will be laying off 16,000 workers.
In addition, there are rumors that 100 highly paid partners at Goldman Sachs are going to be getting the axe. It is said that Goldman will save 2 billion dollars with such a move.
We haven’t even reached the next great financial crisis and the pink slips are already flying on Wall Street. Meredith Whitney says that she has never seen anything quite like this….
“The industry is as bad as I’ve seen it. So it’s certainly not a great time to be on Wall Street.”
But of course Wall Street is not going to get much sympathy from the rest of America. The truth is that things have been far rougher for most of the rest of us than things have been for them.
When the last crisis hit, they got trillions of dollars in bailout money and we got nothing.
So most people are not really in a mood to shed any tears for Wall Street.
But of course the Federal Reserve is definitely hoping to help their friends on Wall Street out by printing lots of money.
You never know, by the time this is all over we may see QE4, QE5, QE Reloaded, QE With A Vengeance and QE The Return Of The Bernanke.
Meanwhile, Europe is gearing up to print money like crazy too.
“Within our mandate, the European Central Bank is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro, and believe me, it will be enough.”
And of course the Bank of Japan has joined the money printing party too. The following is from a recent article by David Kotok….
The recently announced additional program by the BOJ includes a fifty-percent allocation to the purchase of ten-year Japanese government bonds. The other fifty percent will buy shorter-term government securities. Thus, the BOJ is applying half of its additional QE stimulus to extracting long duration from the government bond market, denominated in Japanese yen.
All of the central banks seem to be getting on the QE bandwagon.
“Another round of QE is understandable – but it will fail to fix the problem. There is so much liquidity in the market that adding more is not going to change the economy.”
Sadly, most Americans have a ton of faith in the people running our system, but the truth is that they really do not know what they are doing. Just check out what Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said the other day….
“The truth, however, is that nobody on the committee, nor on our staffs at the Board of Governors and the 12 Banks, really knows what is holding back the economy. Nobody really knows what will work to get the economy back on course. And nobody – in fact, no central bank anywhere on the planet – has the experience of successfully navigating a return home from the place in which we now find ourselves. No central bank – not, at least, the Federal Reserve – has ever been on this cruise before.”
Can you imagine the head coach of a football team coming in at halftime and telling his players the following….
“Nobody on the coaching stuff really has any idea what will work.”
That sure would not inspire a lot of confidence, would it?
Perhaps the Fed should be open to some input from the rest of us.
Actually, back on September 14th the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco posted a poll on Facebook that asked the following question….