The American Dream Is Getting Smaller, And The Reason Why Is Painfully Obvious…

Over the past decade, an unprecedented stock market boom has created thousands upon thousands of new millionaires, and yet the middle class in America has continued to shrink.  How is that even possible?  At one time the United States had the largest and most vibrant middle class in the history of the planet, but now the gap between the wealthy and the poor is the largest that it has been since the 1920s.  Our economy has been creating lots of new millionaires, but at the exact same time we have seen homelessness spiral out of control in our major cities.  Today, being part of the middle class is like playing a really bizarre game of musical chairs.  Each month when the music stops playing, those of us still in the middle class desperately hope that we are not among the ones that slip out of the middle class and into poverty.  Well over 100 million Americans receive money or benefits from the federal government each month, and that includes approximately 40 percent of all families with children.  We are losing our ability to take care of ourselves, and that has frightening implications for the future of our society.

One of the primary reasons why our system doesn’t work for everyone is because virtually everything has been financialized.  In other words, from the cradle to the grave the entire system has been designed to get you into debt so that the fruits of your labor can be funneled to the top of the pyramid and make somebody else wealthier.  The following comes from an excellent Marketwatch article entitled “The American Dream is getting smaller”

More worrying, perhaps: 33% of those surveyed said they think that dream is disappearing. Why? They have too much debt. “Americans believe financial security is at the core of the American Dream, but it is alarming that so many think it is beyond their reach,” said Mike Fanning, head of MassMutual U.S.

Almost everyone that will read this article will have debt.  In America today, we are trained to go into debt for just about everything.

If you want a college education, you go into debt.

If you want a vehicle, you go into debt.

If you want a home, you go into debt.

If you want that nice new pair of shoes, you don’t have to wait for it.  Just go into more debt.

As a result, most Americans are currently up to their necks in red ink

Some 64% of those surveyed said they have a mortgage, 56% said they had credit-card debt and 26% said they have student-loan debt. Many surveyed said they don’t feel financially secure. More than a quarter said they wish they had better control of their finances.

You would have thought that we would have learned from the very hard lessons that the crisis of 2008 taught us.

But instead, we have been on the greatest debt binge in American history in recent years.  Here is more from the Marketwatch article

It makes sense that debt is on Americans’ minds. Collectively, Americans have more than $1 trillion in credit-card debt, according to the Federal Reserve. They have another $1.5 trillion in student loans, up from $1.1 trillion in 2013. Motor vehicle loans are now topping $1.1 trillion, up from $878.5 billion in 2013. And they have another nearly $15 trillion in mortgage debt outstanding.

That is one huge pile of debt.

We criticize the federal government for running up 21 trillion dollars in debt, and rightly so, but American consumers have been almost as irresponsible on an individual basis.

As long as you are drowning in debt, you will never become wealthy.  In order to build wealth, you have got to spend less than you earn, but most Americans never learn basic fundamentals such as this in our rapidly failing system of public education.

Many Americans long to become financially independent, but they don’t understand that our system is rigged against them.  The entire game is all about keeping consumers on that debt wheel endlessly chasing that piece of proverbial cheese until it is too late.

Getting out of debt is one of the biggest steps that you can take to give yourself more freedom, and hopefully this article will inspire many to do just that.

To end this article today, I would like to share 14 facts about how the middle class in America is shrinking that I shared in a previous article

#1 78 million Americans are participating in the “gig economy” because full-time jobs just don’t pay enough to make ends meet these days.

#2 In 2011, the average home price was 3.56 times the average yearly salary in the United States.  But by the time 2017 was finished, the average home price was 4.73 times the average yearly salary in the United States.

#3 In 1980, the average American worker’s debt was 1.96 times larger than his or her monthly salary.  Today, that number has ballooned to 5.00.

#4 In the United States today, 66 percent of all jobs pay less than 20 dollars an hour.

#5 102 million working age Americans do not have a job right now.  That number is higher than it was at any point during the last recession.

#6 Earnings for low-skill jobs have stayed very flat for the last 40 years.

#7 Americans have been spending more money than they make for 28 months in a row.

#8 In the United States today, the average young adult with student loan debt has a negative net worth.

#9 At this point, the average American household is nearly $140,000 in debt.

#10 Poverty rates in U.S. suburbs “have increased by 50 percent since 1990”.

#11 Almost 51 million U.S. households “can’t afford basics like rent and food”.

#12 The bottom 40 percent of all U.S. households bring home just 11.4 percent of all income.

#13 According to the Federal Reserve, 4 out of 10 Americans do not have enough money to cover an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing the money or selling something they own.

#14 22 percent of all Americans cannot pay all of their bills in a typical month.

This article originally appeared on The Economic Collapse Blog.  About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is publisher of The Most Important News and the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

As The Wealthy Flock To The Major Cities On Both Coasts, Poverty And Suicide Soar In Rural Areas

America is increasingly becoming a divided nation.  Those with money are flocking to the major cities on both coasts, while many of those that don’t are fleeing to rural areas.  As a result, economic conditions can look vastly different depending on where you live.  In large cities on the east and west coasts that have been heavily “gentrified”, it can seem like times have never been better.  Alternatively, there are certain areas in rural America where it feels like we are in the midst of a horrifying economic depression that never seems to end.  Some elitists derisively refer to the rural areas between the east and west coasts as “flyover country”, and they have little sympathy for the struggles of rural Americans.  But those struggles are very real, and in this article you will see that poverty and suicide rates are soaring in non-urban parts of the country.

A new study that was just released contains some hard data about the “income sorting” that is going on nationwide.  According to CBS News, the study found that those that are moving into expensive cities make much more money than those that are leaving, and conversely those that are moving into poorer cities make much less than those that are leaving for greener pastures…

America’s wealthy households are increasingly moving to coastal cities on both sides of the country, but those with more modest incomes are either relocating to or being pushed into the nation’s Rust Belt, according to a new study.

That’s creating “income sorting” across the country, with expensive cities like Los Angeles, New York and Seattle drawing wealthier residents. For instance, Americans who move to San Francisco earn nearly $13,000 more than those who move away, the study found. Conversely, those who are moving into less expensive inland cities such as Detroit or Pittsburgh earn up to $5,000 less than those who are leaving.

One of the consequences of this phenomenon is that real estate prices are wildly different depending on where you live.  As wealthy people have steadily migrated into expensive cities such as New York and San Francisco, this has pushed housing prices into the stratosphere

The trend may not only hurt poorer residents who are forced out, but also the rich Americans who move to coastal cities. Well-off residents who move to already expensive cities like San Francisco are bidding up real estate prices until property becomes unaffordable for all but the very richest families. Many end up renting — until that, too, becomes unaffordable.

The California real estate bubble has reached dizzying heights in recent years.  Earlier today, I came across an article about a rancher in Marin County that has reluctantly decided to sell his ranch, and he seemed quite sad about it.

So what made him decide to pull the trigger?

Well, the ranch that he once paid $40,000 for is now worth a cool 5 million dollars

Mark Pasternak is a Marin County-based rancher who produces specialty meat products for local shoppers and some of the toniest restaurants in the Bay Area. He bought his 75-acre Devil’s Gulch Ranch in western Marin County back in 1971 for $550 an acre and has been raising pigs, sheep, rabbits and poultry ever since. The farm is a fixture in the local community, so it shocked many when Pasternak announced the ranch is for sale.

He said he’s selling because of the jump in value. The land around his has already been snapped up by wealthy people for private ranches with large homes. The property Pasternak paid less than $40,000 for is now worth about $5 million.

Meanwhile, things continue to go from bad to worse in many rural parts of the country.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly one out of every four children in rural America is living in poverty

According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly a quarter of children growing up in rural America were poor in 2016, compared to slightly more than 20 percent in urban areas.

It was a southwestern state, Arizona, according to the report, that had the highest rural child rate of any state, with 36 percent.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the report found the highest concentrations of child poverty, overall, in the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and on Native American reservations.

These days, most of the good jobs are concentrated in the major cities.  Small businesses and family farms have traditionally been the lifeblood of rural communities, but our “modern economy” has not been kind to small businesses and family farms.

In rural America, times are tough, and that is one of the reasons why the suicide rate is much, much higher in rural areas than it is in the large cities.  The following comes from CNN

The suicide rate in rural America is 45% greater than in large urban areas, according to a study released last fall by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A more recent CDC report said Montana’s suicide rate leads the nation, coming in at nearly twice the national average. A third long-touted CDC study, currently under review, listed farming in the occupational group, along with fishing and forestry, with the highest rate of suicide deaths.

That occupational study was based on 2012 data, when farming was strong and approaching its peak in 2013, says Jennifer Fahy, communications director for the nonprofit Farm Aid. Farmers’ net income has fallen 50% since 2013 and is expected to drop to a 12-year low this year, the US Department of Agriculture reports.

If things are this bad now, what will it be like when economic conditions really begin to deteriorate?

We live at a time when the gap between the wealthy and the poor is exploding, and this is putting a tremendous amount of strain on our society.  At one time the wealthy lived in the “good parts” of our major cities and the poor lived in the “bad parts”, but now the poor are being completely forced out of our expensive cities on a massive scale.

It is most definitely a tale of two Americas, and I don’t think that it is going to have a happy ending.

This article originally appeared on The Economic Collapse Blog.  About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is publisher of The Most Important News and the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

Housing Crash 2.0? Experts Warn That ‘The U.S. Housing Market Looks Headed For Its Worst Slowdown In Years’

Is the United States heading for another absolutely devastating housing crash?  It has been 10 years since the last one, and so many of the exact same signs that immediately preceded the last one are starting to appear once again.  Back in 2007, home prices were absolutely soaring and it seemed like the party would never end.  But interest rates went up, home sales slowed down substantially, and eventually prices began to crash.  Millions upon millions of Americans were suddenly “underwater” in their homes just as a crippling recession hit the economy, and we plunged into a foreclosure crisis unlike anything that we had ever seen before.  Well, now the cycle is happening again.  Home prices surged to unprecedented heights in 2017, and this was especially true in the hottest markets on the east and west coasts.  But now interest rates are going up and home sales are starting to slow down substantially.  We certainly aren’t too far away from the next crash and another horrible foreclosure crisis, and many experts are beginning to sound the alarm.

For example, the following very alarming numbers come from a recent Bloomberg article entitled “The U.S. Housing Market Looks Headed for Its Worst Slowdown in Years”

Existing-home sales dropped in June for a third straight month. Purchases of new homes are at their slowest pace in eight months. Inventory, which plunged for years, has begun to grow again as buyers move to the sidelines, sapping the fuel for surging home values. Prices for existing homes climbed 6.4 percent in May, the smallest year-over-year gain since early 2017, and have gained the least over three months since 2012, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Those are definitely troubling figures, but perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that mortgage applications are way down right now

Mortgage applications to purchase both new and existing homes have been falling steadily, and mortgage rates are rising again. Single-family home construction also fell and was lower than June 2017.

Of course economic numbers always go up and down, and just because we have had a few bad months does not necessarily mean that disaster is looming.

But when you step back and take a broader perspective on the housing market, it really does start to feel like early 2008 all over again.

In fact, Nobel Prize-winning author Robert Shiller says that this “could be the very beginning of a turning point”

“This could be the very beginning of a turning point,” said Robert Shiller, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who is famed for warning of the dot-com and housing bubbles, in an interview.

Just like last time, the slowdown is being felt the most in the markets that were once the hottest.  In southern California, home sales just fell to the lowest level in four years

Southern California home sales hit the brakes in June, falling to the lowest reading for the month in four years. Sales of both new and existing houses and condominiums dropped 11.8 percent year over year, as prices shot up to a record high, according to CoreLogic. The report covers Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties.

And as I explained in a previous article, much of this drop is being fueled by a record decline in foreigners buying U.S. homes.

Meanwhile, red flags are popping up on the east coast as well.  New York foreclosure actions have skyrocketed to an 11 year high, and many analysts expect them to go much higher.

If you follow my economics website on a regular basis, then you already know that I have been warning about a downturn in the housing market for months.  As the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates, it was only a matter of time before the housing market really cooled off.  And if the Federal Reserve keeps raising rates, we are going to see home prices collapse, another massive foreclosure crisis, and enormous stress on our largest financial institutions.

This is one of the reasons why we must abolish the Federal Reserve.  By allowing a panel of central planners to determine our interest rates, it is inevitable that artificial “booms” and “busts” are created.

Yes, there are always “booms” and “busts” in a free market economy as well, but they would not be as severe.

In recent months, central banks all over the world have been tightening, and other global real estate markets are really starting to feel the pain as well.  For instance, home prices are really cooling off in Canada, and it appears that they are on the precipice of a full-blown market crash.

When a new recession didn’t hit in 2015 or 2016, a lot of Americans assumed that the threat had passed.  But just because a threat is delayed does not mean that it has been diminished.  In fact, the coming recession is probably going to be substantially worse than it would have been in 2015 or 2016 because of the central bank manipulation that delayed it until this time.

And the signs are all around us.  An indicator that tracks the vehicle buying plans of Americans just plunged to the lowest level in five years, and even USA Today is running articles with titles such as “Are you ready for the next recession? How to prepare now for a potential downturn”.

Yes, we just got good GDP data for the second quarter, but virtually everyone agrees that the number for the third quarter will be significantly lower.  And it would be foolish to ignore all of the harbingers that are emerging on an almost daily basis now.  Just recently, I explained that the U.S. economy has fallen into recession every single time that the yield curve has inverted since World War II, and now it is about to happen again.  We live at a time when there is great turmoil at home and abroad, and the elements for a “perfect storm” are definitely coming together.

It is only a matter of time before the next recession begins, and it looks like it could be a really, really bad one.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is publisher of The Most Important News and the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

Nearly 51 Million Households In The United States ‘Can’t Afford Basics Like Rent And Food’

If the U.S. economy is performing well, then why can’t 51 million households in the United States “afford basics like rent and food”.  A stunning new report that was just put out by the United Way ALICE Project shows that the gap between the wealthy and the poor in this country is perhaps the biggest that it has been in any of our lifetimes.  In some of the wealthiest areas of the nation, homes are now selling for up to 100 million dollars, but meanwhile tens of millions of families are barely scraping by from month to month.  Many believe that this growing “inequality gap” is setting the stage for major societal problems.

In general, the U.S. economy seems to be performing better than expected so far in 2018, but the ranks of the poor and the working poor just continue to grow.  The following comes from CNN

Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study released Thursday by the United Way ALICE Project. That’s 43% of households in the United States.

The figure includes the 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that the United Way has dubbed ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group makes less than what’s needed “to survive in the modern economy.”

If 43 percent of all Americans cannot even afford “the basics”, what does that say about the true state of the U.S. economy?

Of course the biggest reason why so many American families are struggling is the lack of good jobs.

In America today, 66 percent of all jobs pay less than 20 dollars an hour.

66 percent.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

You cannot support a middle class family on 20 dollars an hour.  As a result, many Americans are working more than one job, and in many households both the mother and the father are working more than one job.

Housing costs account for the biggest item in most family budgets, and the fact that housing costs have just continued to soar is putting a huge amount of financial stress on hard working families.  Just today we learned that there is a tremendous rush to buy homes as mortgage rates rise rapidly

Today, according to the latest Freddie Mac mortgage rates report, after plateauing in recent weeks, mortgage rates reversed course and reached a new high last seen eight years ago as the 30-year fixed mortgage rate edged up to 4.61% matching the highest level since May 19, 2011.

But while the highest mortgage rates in 8 years are predictably crushing mortgage refinance activity, they appears to be having the opposite effect on home purchases, where there is a sheer scramble to buy, and sell, houses. As Bloomberg notes, citing brokerage Redfin, the average home across the US that sold last month went into contract after a median of 36 only days on the market – a record speed in data going back to 2010.

If you will remember, we witnessed a very similar pattern just before the subprime mortgage meltdown in 2008.

History is repeating itself, and we never seem to learn from our past mistakes.

Housing prices in some cities are absolutely obscene right now, and many working families find themselves completely priced out of the market.  That has some people asking one very simple question

Many San Francisco renters I met while reporting an article on affordable housing lotteries had responded to the region’s housing crisis by putting up with great discomfort: They crammed in with family; they split apartments with strangers. Some even lived out of their cars.

Why, lots of readers wanted to know, didn’t they simply move away instead?

Yes, some people are moving, and this is something that I plan to do an article about very soon.

But for most hard working families, moving across the country simply is not an option.  Moving out of state is very expensive, it can be very difficult to find a similar job in an entirely new area, and many families are very dependent on the social networks where they currently live…

People who struggle financially often have valuable social networks — family to help with child care, acquaintances who know of jobs. The prospect of dropping into, say, Oklahoma or Georgia would mean doing without the good income and the social support. Those intangible connections that keep people in places with bad economies also keep people in booming regions where the rent is too high.

In the end, moving is just not an option for a lot of people.

We need to structure our economic system so that it works for all Americans – not just a few.  Unfortunately, it is probably going to take another major crisis before people are ready for such a restructuring.

And such a crisis may not be that far away.  In fact, even Pope Francis is now warning about the dangers of derivatives

In a sweeping critique of global finance released by the Vatican on Thursday, the Holy See singled out derivatives including credit-default swaps for particular scorn. “A ticking time bomb,” the Vatican called them. The unusual rebuke — derivatives rarely reach the level of religious doctrine — is in keeping with Francis’s skeptical view of unbridled global capitalism.

“The market of CDS, in the wake of the economic crisis of 2007, was imposing enough to represent almost the equivalent of the GDP of the entire world. The spread of such a kind of contract without proper limits has encouraged the growth of a finance of chance, and of gambling on the failure of others, which is unacceptable from the ethical point of view,” the Vatican said in the document.

I have written about derivatives extensively in the past, and Pope Francis is 100 percent correct when he says that they are a ticking time bomb which could absolutely devastate the global financial system at any moment.

We don’t know exactly when it will happen, but we do know that such a crisis is coming at some point.

Sadly, most of the population is completely asleep, and they will be completely blindsided by the coming crisis when it does finally arrive.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist.  He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

The $23 Trillion Credit Bubble In China Is Starting To Collapse – Global Financial Crisis Next?

Bubble - Photo by Jeff KubinaDid you know that financial institutions all over the world are warning that we could see a “mega default” on a very prominent high-yield investment product in China on January 31st?  We are being told that this could lead to a cascading collapse of the shadow banking system in China which could potentially result in “sky-high interest rates” and “a precipitous plunge in credit“.  In other words, it could be a “Lehman Brothers moment” for Asia.  And since the global financial system is more interconnected today than ever before, that would be very bad news for the United States as well.  Since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, the level of private domestic credit in China has risen from $9 trillion to an astounding $23 trillion.  That is an increase of $14 trillion in just a little bit more than 5 years.  Much of that “hot money” has flowed into stocks, bonds and real estate in the United States.  So what do you think is going to happen when that bubble collapses?

The bubble of private debt that we have seen inflate in China since the Lehman crisis is unlike anything that the world has ever seen.  Never before has so much private debt been accumulated in such a short period of time.  All of this debt has helped fuel tremendous economic growth in China, but now a whole bunch of Chinese companies are realizing that they have gotten in way, way over their heads.  In fact, it is being projected that Chinese companies will pay out the equivalent of approximately a trillion dollars in interest payments this year alone.  That is more than twice the amount that the U.S. government will pay in interest in 2014.

Over the past several years, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England have all been criticized for creating too much money.  But the truth is that what has been happening in China surpasses all of their efforts combined.  You can see an incredible chart which graphically illustrates this point right here.  As the Telegraph pointed out a while back, the Chinese have essentially “replicated the entire U.S. commercial banking system” in just five years…

Overall credit has jumped from $9 trillion to $23 trillion since the Lehman crisis. “They have replicated the entire U.S. commercial banking system in five years,” she said.

The ratio of credit to GDP has jumped by 75 percentage points to 200pc of GDP, compared to roughly 40 points in the US over five years leading up to the subprime bubble, or in Japan before the Nikkei bubble burst in 1990. “This is beyond anything we have ever seen before in a large economy. We don’t know how this will play out. The next six months will be crucial,” she said.

As with all other things in the financial world, what goes up must eventually come down.

And right now January 31st is shaping up to be a particularly important day for the Chinese financial system.  The following is from a Reuters article

The trust firm responsible for a troubled high-yield investment product sold through China’s largest banks has warned investors they may not be repaid when the 3 billion-yuan ($496 million)product matures on Jan. 31, state media reported on Friday.

Investors are closely watching the case to see if it will shatter assumptions that the government and state-owned banks will always protect investors from losses on risky off-balance-sheet investment products sold through a murky shadow banking system.

If there is a major default on January 31st, the effects could ripple throughout the entire Chinese financial system very rapidly.  A recent Forbes article explained why this is the case…

A WMP default, whether relating to Liansheng or Zhenfu, could devastate the Chinese banking system and the larger economy as well.  In short, China’s growth since the end of 2008 has been dependent on ultra-loose credit first channeled through state banks, like ICBC and Construction Bank, and then through the WMPs, which permitted the state banks to avoid credit risk.  Any disruption in the flow of cash from investors to dodgy borrowers through WMPs would rock China with sky-high interest rates or a precipitous plunge in credit, probably both.  The result?  The best outcome would be decades of misery, what we saw in Japan after its bubble burst in the early 1990s.

The big underlying problem is the fact that private debt and the money supply have both been growing far too rapidly in China.  According to Forbes, M2 in China increased by 13.6 percent last year…

And at the same time China’s money supply and credit are still expanding.  Last year, the closely watched M2 increased by only 13.6%, down from 2012’s 13.8% growth.  Optimists say China is getting its credit addiction under control, but that’s not correct.  In fact, credit expanded by at least 20% last year as money poured into new channels not measured by traditional statistics.

Overall, M2 in China is up by about 1000 percent since 1999.  That is absolutely insane.

And of course China is not the only place in the world where financial trouble signs are erupting.  Things in Europe just keep getting worse, and we have just learned that the largest bank in Germany just suffered ” a surprise fourth-quarter loss”

Deutsche Bank shares tumbled on Monday following a surprise fourth-quarter loss due to a steep drop in debt trading revenues and heavy litigation and restructuring costs that prompted the bank to warn of a challenging 2014.

Germany’s biggest bank said revenue at its important debt-trading division, fell 31 percent in the quarter, a much bigger drop than at U.S. rivals, which have also suffered from sluggish fixed-income trading.

If current trends continue, many other big banks will soon be experiencing a “bond headache” as well.  At this point, Treasury Bond sentiment is about the lowest that it has been in about 20 years.  Investors overwhelmingly believe that yields are heading higher.

If that does indeed turn out to be the case, interest rates throughout our economy are going to be rising, economic activity will start slowing down significantly and it could set up the “nightmare scenario” that I keep talking about.

But I am not the only one talking about it.

In fact, the World Economic Forum is warning about the exact same thing…

Fiscal crises triggered by ballooning debt levels in advanced economies pose the biggest threat to the global economy in 2014, a report by the World Economic Forum has warned.

Ahead of next week’s WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the forum’s annual assessment of global dangers said high levels of debt in advanced economies, including Japan and America, could lead to an investor backlash.

This would create a “vicious cycle” of ballooning interest payments, rising debt piles and investor doubt that would force interest rates up further.

So will a default event in China on January 31st be the next “Lehman Brothers moment” or will it be something else?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  The truth is that what has been going on in the global financial system is completely and totally unsustainable, and it is inevitable that it is all going to come horribly crashing down at some point during the next few years.

It is just a matter of time.

Prepare For Tough Times If Your Job Has Anything To Do With Real Estate Or Mortgages

Housing Crash 2013If you have a job that involves building homes, buying homes, selling homes or that is in any way related to the mortgage industry, you might want to start searching for alternate employment.  Seriously.  Interest rates are starting to rise dramatically, and mortgage lenders such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are all cutting thousands of mortgage-related jobs.  Last week, mortgage refinance activity plunged to the lowest level that we have seen since June 2009 and total mortgage activity dropped to the lowest level since October 2008.  Unfortunately, this is only the beginning.  Mortgage rates closely mirror the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries, the the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has nearly doubled since early May.  But it is still only sitting at about 3 percent right now.  As I have written about previously, it has a ton of room to go up before it hits “normal” historical levels, and so do mortgage rates.  As I noted the other day, some analysts believe that the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is going to hit 7 percent eventually.  If that happens, mortgage rates will be more than double what they are today.  And we have already seen the average rate on a 30 year fixed rate mortgage go from 3.35 percent in May to 4.57 percent last week.  If interest rates continue to rise we could be heading for a “housing Armageddon” that will make the last housing crash look like a Sunday picnic.

The mini-housing bubble that we have been enjoying for the last couple of years is coming to an abrupt end.  It doesn’t matter what the mainstream media is telling you about a “sustainable” housing recovery.  Just look at how the big mortgage lenders are behaving.  They know the gig is up.  According to Bloomberg, Bank of America has just announced that they will be eliminating 2,100 mortgage-related jobs…

Bank of America Corp., the second-largest U.S. lender, will eliminate about 2,100 jobs and shutter 16 mortgage offices as rising interest rates weaken loan demand, said two people with direct knowledge of the plans.

Would they be doing that if we were really heading into a “sustainable housing recovery”?

And Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are also both eliminating thousands of mortgage-related jobs

Mortgage lenders are paring staff as higher interest rates discourage refinancing and cast doubt on how long the housing market rebound will last. Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. home lender, plans more than 2,300 job cuts, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. may dismiss 15,000.

Would they be doing this if they thought that brighter days were ahead?

Of course not.

In fact, Well Fargo just announced that it expects to make 30 percent fewer home loans this quarter because of rapidly rising interest rates.

It’s over folks.

The mini-housing bubble that the mainstream media has been hyping so much is over.

If your job has anything to do with real estate or mortgages, it is time to start thinking about a career change.

This is especially true if your job is related to refinancing mortgages.  All of the smart people have already refinanced.  As rates continue to rise rapidly, the only ones that will be refinancing are really stupid people.  According to Zero Hedge, mortgage refinance activity has already dropped by a whopping 70 percent since early May…

For the 16th of the last 18 weeks, mortgage refinance activity plunged (dropping 20% this week alone). Since early May, when the dreaded word “Taper” was first uttered, refis have collapsed over 70%. With mortgage servicers and providers large and small laying people off, it seems hard for even the most egregiously biased bull to still suggest that the housing recovery is sustainable.

And this rise in interest rates is just getting started.  The Federal Reserve has not even begun to “taper” yet.  Once that starts happening, the consequences could be quite dramatic

“In early 1994, when the U.S. recovery gained strength, the Fed started a tightening cycle and bond markets crashed not only in the U.S. but also around the world,” European Central Bank Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen said on Tuesday.

“If spillovers were large in 1994, we can expect them to be even larger today in an even more deeply interconnected world,” he added in the text of a speech for delivery in Brussels.

Of course when the Federal Reserve “tapers” their quantitative easing it won’t really be “tightening” as much as it will be slowing down the pace at which they are recklessly creating tens of billions of dollars out of thin air.  But the effect will be similar to what we saw back in 1994.

As interest rates rise, it will become much more expensive to buy a home and much more difficult to sell a home.  To give you an idea of how dramatically interest rates can affect housing affordability, I wanted to share some numbers from one of my previous articles

A year ago, the 30 year rate was sitting at 3.66 percent.  The monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1374.07.

If the 30 year rate rises to 8 percent, the monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $2201.29.

Does 8 percent sound crazy to you?

It shouldn’t.  8 percent was considered to be normal back in the year 2000.

Are you starting to get the picture?

As interest rates go up, home prices will have to fall.  Otherwise, nobody will be able to afford them.

In the end, we could end up with tens of millions more homeowners that are substantially “underwater” on their mortgages.

So who is to blame?

The Federal Reserve of course.

They created this bubble by forcing interest rates down to record low levels.

At some point it was inevitable that interest rates would start reverting back to more “normal” levels, and that “adjustment” is going to be immensely painful for the U.S. economy.

As we saw back in 2008 and 2009, when the housing industry suffers the entire economy suffers.

And the higher that interest rates go, the more suffering there will be.

So let us hope and pray that interest rates do not go any higher, but let us also start preparing for the very worst.

Why Another Great Real Estate Crash Is Coming

ForeclosureThere are very few segments of the U.S. economy that are more heavily affected by interest rates than the real estate market is.  When mortgage rates reached all-time low levels late last year, it fueled a little “mini-bubble” in housing which was greatly celebrated by the mainstream media.  Unfortunately, the tide is now turning.  Interest rates are starting to move up steadily, even though the Federal Reserve has been trying very hard to keep that from happening.  A few weeks ago, when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed may start to “taper” the rate of quantitative easing eventually, the bond market had a conniption and the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries shot up dramatically.  In an attempt to calm the market, the Fed stopped all talk of a “taper” and that helped settle things down for a brief period of time.  But now the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is starting to rise aggressively again.  Today it closed at 2.71 percent, and many analysts believe that it will go much higher.  This is important for the housing market, because mortgage rates tend to follow the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries.  And if mortgage rates keep rising like this, another great real estate crash is inevitable.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that he could use quantitative easing to control long-term interest rates.  He assured us that he could force mortgage rates down for an extended period of time and that this would lead to a housing recovery.

But now the Fed is losing control of long-term interest rates.  If this continues, either the Federal Reserve will have to substantially increase the rate of quantitative easing or else watch mortgage rates rise to absolutely crippling levels.

Three months ago, the average rate on a 30 year mortgage was 3.35 percent.  It has shot up more than a full point since then…

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average on the 30-year loan rose to 4.39% from 4.31% last week. Rates are a full percentage point higher than in early May.

And as the chart below shows, mortgage rates have a lot more room to go up…

30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Average in the United States

As mortgage rates go up, so do monthly payments.

And monthly payments are already beginning to soar.  Just check out this chart.

So what happens if mortgage rates eventually return to “normal” levels?

Well, it would be absolutely devastating to the housing market.  As mortgage rates rise, less people will be able to afford to buy homes at current prices.  This will force home prices down.

To a large degree, whether or not someone can afford to buy a particular home is determined by interest rates.  The following numbers come from one of my previous articles

A year ago, the 30 year rate was sitting at 3.66 percent.  The monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1374.07.

If the 30 year rate rises to 8 percent, the monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $2201.29.

Does 8 percent sound crazy to you?

It shouldn’t.  8 percent was considered to be normal back in the year 2000.

And we are already seeing rising rates impact the market.  The number of mortgage applications has fallen for 11 of the past 12 weeks, and this has been the biggest 3 month decline in mortgage applications that we have witnessed since 2009.

Rising interest rates will also have a dramatic impact on other areas of the real estate industry as well.  For example, public construction spending is now the lowest that it has been since 2006.

And I find the chart posted below particularly interesting.  As a Christian, I am saddened that construction spending by religious institutions has dropped to a stunningly low level…

Total Construction Spending Religious

So what does all of this mean?

Well, unless interest rates reverse course it appears that we are in the very early stages of another great real estate crash.

Only this time, it might not be so easy for the big banks to swoop in and foreclose on everyone.  Just check out the radical step that one city in California is taking to stop bank foreclosures…

Richmond is the first city in the country to take the controversial step of threatening to use eminent domain, the power to take private property for public use. But other cities have also explored the idea.

Banks, the real estate industry and Wall Street are vehemently opposed to the idea, calling it “unconstitutional” and a violation or property rights, and something that will likely cause a flurry of lawsuits.

Richmond has partnered with San Francisco-based Mortgage Resolution Partners on the plan. Letters have been sent to 32 servicers and trustees who hold the underwater loans. If they refuse the city’s offer, officials will condemn and seize the mortgages, then help homeowners to refinance.

If more communities around the nation start using eminent domain to stop foreclosures, that is going to change the cost of doing business for mortgage lenders and it is likely going to mean more expensive mortgages for all the rest of us.

In any event, all of this talk about a “bright future” for real estate is just a bunch of nonsense.

You can’t buy a home if you don’t have a good job.  And as I wrote about the other day, there are about 6 million less full-time jobs in America today than there was back in 2007.

You can’t get blood out of a stone, and you can’t buy a house on a part-time income.  The lack of breadwinner jobs is one of the primary reasons why the homeownership rate in the United States is now at its lowest level in nearly 18 years.

And we aren’t going to produce good jobs if our economy is not growing.  And economic growth in the U.S. has been anemic at best, even if you believe the official numbers.

We were originally told that the GDP growth number for the first quarter of 2013 was 2.4 percent.  Then it was revised down to 1.8 percent.  Now it has been revised down to 1.1 percent.

So precisely what are we supposed to believe?

Overall, since Barack Obama has been president the average yearly rate of growth for the U.S. economy has been just over 1 percent.

That isn’t very good at all.

But remember, the government numbers have been heavily manipulated to look good.

The reality is even worse.

According to the alternate GDP numbers compiled by John Williams of shadowstats.com, the U.S. economy has continually been in a recession since 2005.

And now interest rates are rising rapidly, and that is very bad news for the U.S. economy.

I hope that you have your seatbelts buckled up tight, because it is going to be a bumpy ride.