Record Low Mortgage Rates, A Record Low Federal Funds Rate And Obscene Economic Stimulus Spending Have All Failed – Will Nothing Stimulate This Dead Horse Of An Economy?

Over the past several years, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government have tried everything that they can think of to stimulate this dead horse of an economy but nothing has worked.  The Fed has slashed the federal funds rate to record low levels, mortgage rates have been pushed to all-time lows and the U.S. government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in an effort to get the economy going.  But despite all these of these extraordinary efforts, the U.S. economy continues to just lie there like a dead corpse.  Never before have the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government done more to try to stimulate the economy and never before have their efforts produced such poor results.  Home sales continue to set new record lows, more than 14 million Americans continue to be unemployed, foreclosures continue to soar, personal bankruptcies continue to soar and an increasing number of Americans continue to sign up for food stamps and other anti-poverty programs.  All of the things that once worked so well to stimulate the U.S. economy seem to be doing next to nothing here in 2010, and the American people are becoming increasingly frustrated by economic problems that just keep getting worse.

Once upon a time, a big drop in mortgage rates would get Americans running out to buy homes in big numbers.  But that is just not happening this time. 

As you can see from the chart below, mortgage rates are at ridiculously low levels right now.  The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.32 percent this week.  That is the lowest it has ever been since Freddie Mac began tracking mortgage rates back in 1971.

These low rates have motivated millions of Americans to refinance their existing home loans, but sales of new and existing loans remain at record low levels.  In fact, the number of Americans refinancing their homes is now at its highest level since May 2009, but the U.S. housing crisis just continues to get worse.  Despite these record low mortgage rates, existing home sales declined 27 percent during the month of July and new homes sales dropped to the lowest level ever recorded in July.

So if Americans are not buying houses when mortgage rates are this ridiculously low, what in the world is going to cause a turnaround in the U.S. housing market?

The Federal Reserve has sure been trying to do what it can to resuscitate the U.S. economy.  For decades, a drop in the federal funds rate could always be counted on to give the economy a jump start.  But the Fed has dropped the federal funds rate almost to zero for quite some time now and it has done next to nothing to get things moving again. 

So is the Federal Reserve out of ammunition?  Well, let’s just say that they have used up all of their “best” ammunition.  The Fed has been telling us since March 2009 that the federal funds rate will remain between zero and 25 basis points “for an extended period” of time, but the U.S. economy doesn’t seem to care. 

Of course Ben Bernanke insists that the Fed is not out of ammunition and that everything is going to be okay, but at this point there is just not a lot left of Bernanke’s fading credibility.

The U.S. government tried to do their best to help the economy by passing stimulus bill after stimulus bill, but it just has not helped much.  The government spent hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars on some of the most wasteful things imaginable, and while the massive injection of cash may have helped temporarily stabilize the economy, it has not brought about the “recovery” that our politicians were hoping for.

Now the pendulum has swung the other way in Congress and there is very little appetite for more economic stimulus spending.  But if the economy was not recovering when the government was throwing giant piles of money at it, what is going to happen as the economic stimulus totally dries up?

Already there are signs that the U.S. economy is in big, big trouble.  General Motors announced this week that U.S. sales in August fell 24.9% to 185,176 vehicles from 246,479 vehicles in August 2009.

But don’t let up and down sales reports fool you.  One month they may be down and the next month they may be up a bit.  The important thing is to keep your eyes on the truly disturbing long-term trends.

Thanks to the nightmarish U.S. trade deficit, far more wealth leaves the United States each month than enters it.  That means that the United States is getting significantly poorer each month.  As I noted yesterday, the United States spends approximately $3.90 on Chinese goods for every $1 that the Chinese spend on goods from the United States.  That is not sustainable and China is going to continue to bleed us dry for as long as we allow it to continue.

In addition, the United States continues to go into more debt every single month.  Each month the U.S. national debt gets bigger, state governments go into more debt and local governments go into more debt.

So what we have is a nation that is getting poorer and that is going into more debt month after month after month.

We are on the road to economic hell, and the American people don’t even realize it because things are still relatively good – at least for now.

But as the economy continues to unravel, is there anything that the folks over at the Federal Reserve can do?

Well, yes there is.  It is called “quantitative easing” and the Fed has already indicated that they are going to start doing it again.  Essentially, quantitative easing is when the Federal Reserve creates money out of thin air and starts buying things like U.S. Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities and corporate debt.

But isn’t there a good chance that this could cause inflation?

Well, yes.

But “Helicopter Ben Bernanke” seems determined to live up to his nickname.  Anyone who thinks that Bernanke is going to just sit there and do nothing is delusional.  At some point he is going to fire up his helicopter and start showering the economy with money. 

And the reality is that feeding massive quantities into the economy will create more economic activity.  However, it will also come with a price.

Someday soon, you may wake up to newspaper headlines that declare that our economy is growing at a 10% annual rate, but what they won’t tell you is that the real rate of inflation will be running about 15 or 20 percent at the same time.  In fact, the U.S. government will probably try to convince us that the “official” rate of inflation is only about 5 or 6 percent.

The cold, hard truth is that the U.S. economy is going to continue to get worse.  Whether it will be a deflationary decline or an inflationary decline depends on the boys over at the Fed.  But it is going to be a decline.

Meanwhile, millions of American families are hanging on by their fingernails and are hoping in vain for the great economic recovery which is never going to come.

Home Sales Drop 27 Percent In July And Things Are Only Going To Get Worse For The U.S. Housing Industry

On Tuesday the National Association of Realtors announced that existing home sales in the United States dropped a whopping 27.2% in the month of July.  The consensus among analysts was that we would see a drop of around 13 percent, so when the 27 percent figure was announced it sent a shock through world financial markets.  To say that the real estate industry is alarmed by these numbers would be a tremendous understatement. What we are seeing unfold is essentially “Armageddon” for those involved in the housing and real estate industries.  The real estate market is grinding to a standstill and a shockingly low number of people are actually in the market to buy a home right now.  In the months ahead home sales may pick up a little bit, but only if housing prices start to fall.  Why?  Because right now there are tons of houses on the market and there are very few qualified buyers available to purchase them and potential buyers are starting to realize this.  Buyers are beginning to understand that they have all the leverage now and they are waiting for prices to fall.

Anyone who has taken Economics 101 in college knows that when supply is high and demand is low prices will fall, and that is exactly the situation we have in the U.S. housing market right now.

At the moment, most home sellers in the United States are very hesitant to lower the prices on their homes too much.  Many have no intention of selling their homes below what they originally paid for them, and many others truly believe that the housing market will eventually rebound.

But the truth is that housing prices are simply not going to rebound to 2006 levels.  If anything, they are going to continue to fall.

The following are the three basic points that every American needs to understand about the U.S. housing market right now….    

1) There Is A Gigantic Mountain Of Unsold Homes On The Market

There are a staggering number of unsold homes on the market right now.  As you can see from the chart from the Calculated Risk blog below, there is now over a year’s worth of unsold homes flooding the marketplace….

So who is going to buy all of those unsold homes with so few qualified purchasers in the marketplace?

That is a very good question.

Unfortunately, all the signs indicate that the glut of unsold homes is going to get even worse.

As of this March, U.S. banks had an inventory of 1.1 million foreclosed homes, which was a new all-time record and which was up 20 percent from one year ago.

And the tsunami of foreclosures and repossessions just keeps growing….

*One out of every seven mortgages were either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010.

*According to RealtyTrac, a total of 1.65 million U.S. properties received foreclosure filings during the first half of 2010.

*U.S. Banks repossessed 269,962 U.S. homes during the second quarter of 2010, which was a new all-time record.

The supply of unsold homes is already incredibly massive and it is growing at a staggering rate. 

With such a flood of homes on the market, why in the world would anyone in their right mind pay a premium price for a home in 2010?

2) There Are Not Nearly Enough Qualified Buyers Seeking To Buy Homes

The banks and lending institutions that survived the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 and 2008 learned some very valuable lessons.  The days when even the family dog could get approved for a home loan are long gone.  Now the pendulum has swung to the other end of the spectrum.  Fearful of making more bad loans, banks and lending institutions have really, really tightened up lending standards.  So a lot fewer people are getting approved for home loans these days.

That makes a lot of business sense for banks and lending institutions, but it also means that there are a lot fewer qualified buyers out there looking for homes.

Not only that, but millions of Americans who could potentially buy homes are waiting for the market to go down even further.

When you add that all together, you get the kind of home sales numbers discussed at the beginning of the article.

The Mortgage Bankers Association recently announced that demand for loans to purchase U.S. homes has sunk to a 13-year low.  Unless the number of Americans getting approved for home loans starts increasing, you simply are not going to see housing numbers recover much.

And the truth is that Americans are not even doing much browsing for homes right now.  Even Internet searches for homes are way down.  Internet searches on real estate websites are down about 20 percent compared to this same time period in 2009.

So with a massive flood of houses on the market and with very few qualified buyers to purchase them, how in the world are housing prices supposed to go up?

3) The Housing Industry Will Never Fully Recover Without A Jobs Recovery First

In order to get qualified for home loans, Americans have to have good jobs first.  But in this economy that is a huge problem.

Robert Dye, a senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group, recently told USA Today what he believes the bottom line problem of this housing crisis is…. 

“Jobs, jobs, jobs”

Today, 14 million Americans are unemployed and millions more are underemployed.  Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough good jobs for all of them.

Today it takes the average unemployed American over 8 months to find a job.  The number of Americans receiving long-term unemployment benefits has risen a staggering 60 percent in the past year alone.

Things have gotten so bad that according to one recent survey 28% of all U.S. households have at least one person that is searching for a full-time job.

To get an understanding of how horrific the unemployment situation has become in the United States, take 38 seconds to watch the incredible video posted below….

The truth is that without jobs, Americans simply cannot buy homes.

So is there any hope that we will see a robust jobs recovery any time soon?

Well, as I have written about previously, unfortunately there is every indication that the employment market is going to get even worse.

So the bottom line is that the housing market is going to continue to suffer.

There is going to continue to be a massive glut of unsold homes on the market.

There are going to continue to be very few qualified buyers in the marketplace.

Large numbers of Americans are going to continue to be unemployed.

Yes, that is a lot of bad news, but you aren’t reading this column to get the same kind of mindless optimism that you get from the mainstream media news.

5 Trillion MORE Dollars To Fix Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac???

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have become gigantic financial black holes that the U.S. government endlessly pours massive quantities of money into.  Unfortunately, if the U.S. government did allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to totally implode, both the mortgage industry and the housing industry in the United States would completely collapse.  So essentially the U.S. government finds itself between a rock and a hard place.  Prior to the financial crisis of the last few years, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were profit-seeking private corporations that also had a government-chartered mission of expanding home ownership in America.  But now that they have been officially taken over by the U.S. government, they have become gigantic bottomless money pits.  It is hard to even describe just how much of a mess Fannie and Freddie are in.  However, the unprecedented intervention by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the mortgage market over the past couple of years has been about the only thing that has kept it from plunging into absolute chaos.  So what does the future hold for Fannie Mae and for Freddie Mac?  Well, according to one estimate, it could take another 5 trillion dollars to “fix” Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac.

Yes, you read the correctly.  According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are facing $5 trillion dollars in liabilities that the federal government is going to have to deal with one way or another….

An exit strategy could involve adding Fannie and Freddie’s roughly $5 trillion in obligations, in effect, to a federal balance sheet that already includes $13.3 trillion in federal government debts. The GSE obligations would be a different animal, because those liabilities would need to be covered by taxpayers only if things went bad in the housing market.

It is hard to even put into words how much money that is.  If you were alive when Jesus was born, and you spent one million dollars every single day since then, you still would not have spent one trillion dollars by now.

But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not a one trillion dollar problem.

They are a five trillion dollar problem.

And if the housing market gets even worse (which it will), that figure could rise substantially.

Of course the U.S. government should have never gotten into the mortgage business in the first place, but these days the U.S. government is intervening in virtually every industry.

And don’t expect U.S. government support for the mortgage industry to stop any time soon.  In fact, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that the U.S. government plans to continue to play a prominent role in back-stopping mortgages in order to keep the U.S. economy stabilized.

But if the only thing keeping the U.S. housing industry from plunging into the abyss is unprecedented intervention by the U.S. government, what does that say about the overall health of the U.S. economy?

Mortgage defaults and foreclosures continue to set new all-time records even with all of this government intervention.  In fact, major U.S. banks wrote off about $8 billion on mortgages during the first 3 months of 2010, and if this pace continues it will even exceed 2009’s staggering full-year total of $31 billion.

Not only that, but construction of new homes in the U.S. and applications to build new homes in the U.S. both declined to their lowest levels in more than a year during July.

And things are rapidly getting even worse for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie are going delinquent at a very alarming pace as the Christian Science Monitor recently explained….

As of March 31 this year, 6.3 percent of mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie are either seriously delinquent or in foreclosure. Although that’s down slightly from the figure three months earlier, it represents a big one-year rise (from 3.9 percent in early 2009).

An increase in delinquencies of over 50 percent in just one year?

That is not a promising trend.

If the U.S. housing market takes another big dive in the next few years, and things certainly look very ominous at the moment, what in the world is that going to do to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

So what is the solution?

Well, on Tuesday the Obama administration invited prominent banking executives to offer their thoughts on the mortgage market.

So what was the consensus?

It was something along the lines of this: “Please, oh please, oh please continue propping up the 11 trillion dollar mortgage market.”

So much for capitalism, eh?

When even the banksters are begging for massive ongoing government intervention you know that the game has changed.

Adam Smith must be rolling over in his grave.

But this is where we are at.

We are on the verge of a horrific economic collapse, and it is only enormous intervention by the U.S. government that is holding things together.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration backed approximately 90 percent of all home loans made during the first half of 2010.

So where would we be without the government?

Of course we could let the whole thing collapse and allow housing prices to eventually settle at a level where people could actually afford them, but what fun would that be?

No, for now the U.S. government will continue to endlessly spend billions of dollars to prop up a system that is artificially inflated and that is destined to collapse one way or another.

The truth is that the American middle class is slowly being wiped out and they just can’t afford to pay $300,000, $400,000 or $500,000 for their houses anymore.

Without good jobs, the American people are not going to be able to afford hefty mortgages.  Unfortunately, millions upon millions of middle class jobs are being offshored and outsourced every single year and they are not coming back.

There simply will never be a recovery in the housing market without jobs.  But in the new global economy, American workers have been put in direct competition with the cheapest labor in the world.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that jobs are going to be taken away from American workers and given to people who are willing to work for less than ten percent as much.

So, no, the housing market is never going to fully recover.  Things got dramatically out of balance over the past couple of decades, and the housing market is going to try to restore that balance regardless of what the U.S. government does. 

The U.S. government can continue to throw billions (or even trillions) of dollars at the problem, but in the end the underlying economic fundamentals are simply not going to be denied.

Foreclosures Continue To Dramatically Increase In 2010

In a very alarming sign for the U.S. economy, foreclosures have continued to dramatically increase in 2010.  But there has been a shift.  Back in 2007 and 2008, experts tell us that most foreclosures were due to toxic mortgages.  People were being suckered into mortgages that they couldn’t afford with “teaser rates” or with payments that would dramatically escalate after a few years, and when those mortgages reset, the people who had agreed to them no longer could make the payments.  But now RealtyTrac says that unemployment has become the major reason for foreclosures.  Millions of Americans have become chronically unemployed during the economic downturn and many of them are losing their homes as a result.  But whatever the cause, one thing is certain – foreclosures have continued to skyrocket at a staggering rate.

According to a new report from RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings climbed in 75% of the nation’s metro areas during the first half of 2010.  At a time when the Obama administration believes that we are “turning the corner”, things just seem to get even worse. 

Some areas of the country continue to be complete and total disaster areas when it comes to real estate.  For example, you have got to feel really sorry for anyone trying to sell a house down in Florida right now.  According to RealtyTrac, Florida led the way with nine of the top 20 metro foreclosure rates in the country during the first half of 2010.

Ouch.

But the worst city for foreclosures continues to be Las Vegas.

According to RealtyTrac spokesman Rick Sharga, unemployment has replaced bad loans as the number one cause of foreclosures there….

“Las Vegas has seamlessly shifted from having a high level of foreclosures due to bad loans to defaults caused by a high level of unemployment.”

But other cities with high unemployment rates are having huge problems as well.

For those who believe that the economy is supposed to be “improving”, it must seem really odd that foreclosure rates in major cities such as Chicago continue to soar.

RealtyTrac says that foreclosure filings in Chicago have increased 23 percent year-over-year to one out of every 48 households.

But it isn’t just cities like Las Vegas and Chicago that are nightmares right now.

The truth is that this is a national crisis.

The Mortgage Bankers Association recently announced that more than 10% of all U.S. homeowners with a mortgage had missed at least one mortgage payment during the January to March time period.  That was a new all-time record and represented an increase from 9.1 percent a year ago.

Unfortunately, new all-time records are being set all over the place….

*The number of home foreclosures set a record for the second consecutive month in May.

*Banks repossessed 269,962 U.S. homes during the second quarter of 2010, which was a new all-time record.

*As of March, U.S. banks had an inventory of approximately 1.1 million foreclosed homes, which was a new record and which was up 20 percent from a year ago.

So is there any hope that things are going to get better soon?

Well, according to RealtyTrac’s CEO James Saccacio, that depends on the U.S. economy….

“The fragile stability achieved in many local housing markets hinges on improvements in the underlying economy, specifically job growth. If unemployment remains persistently high and foreclosure prevention efforts only delay the inevitable, then we could continue to see increased foreclosure activity and a corresponding weakness in home prices in many metro areas.”

Without good jobs, the American people are not going to be able to pay their mortgages.

So are the millions upon millions of jobs that have been lost coming back soon?

No, unfortunately they are not.

As we discussed at length in a previous article, the big global corporations that dominate our economy are figuring out that they don’t really need the rest of us anymore.  The American worker is becoming obsolete.  After all, why pay an American ten times as much to do the same job?  Big corporations can hire two people in China or India to do the same job and still pocket 80% of the difference.

In addition, big corporations don’t really need the headache of making employer contributions to Social Security, setting up benefit packages and pension plans or of trying to comply with the thousands upon thousands of ridiculous regulations that the U.S. government continues to spew out.

At this point, the American worker has become extremely unattractive for large corporations, and so jobs will continue to migrate to other areas of the world.

We allowed our politicians to merge us into a “global economy”, so now we are all going to have to deal with being part of a “global workforce”.

As jobs continue to be offshored and outsourced, more Americans are going to become unemployed and the foreclosure crisis is going to continue to be a nightmare.

It would be nice to put a positive spin on all of this, but there isn’t one.

Mortgage Horror Stories: The U.S. Housing Industry Will Never Recover If Qualified People Can’t Get A Home Loan

Back about five or six years ago, when the housing bubble was still rising, just about anyone could get a mortgage.  Lending institutions were handing out ridiculously bloated home loans to almost anyone who breathed.  It didn’t matter if you had a rotten credit history, it didn’t matter if you didn’t have a job and in some cases it didn’t even matter if you had any income at all.  It was basically an orgy of mortgage lending.  But now the pendulum has swung 180 degrees in the other direction.  Severely burned by the subprime mortgage crash, mortgage lending institutions have been seriously tightening their lending standards.  As a result, in 2010 it is extremely difficult to get a home loan or a mortgage modification.  In their determination not to get burned again, mortgage lenders have completely overreacted and now a lot of highly qualified people can’t get a home loan.

This point was beautifully illustrated recently by one of our readers named John….

I was just turned down for a home loan. My credit score is 799, my wife’s 804. We had $40,000.00 to put down, which was almost 30%. BUT! Our bank turned down our application! Why? They required us to have 6 months “operating expenses” in the bank after all closing costs were covered. They came up with an arbitrary number on their own, based on our bills and such. We had that amount and more on top of our closing monies. Then why were we denied the loan? Several thousand dollars were from “cash” and the bank required that “cash” be in the bank for at least 60 days or they wouldn’t consider it fluid funding. Needless to say we didn’t make the closing date and are hiring an attorney to avoid being sued (by the seller).

A reader named distressedinbham on another website had an even more frustrating experience trying to get a home loan modification….

I am self-employed, have been all my life and have owned a home for 30 years. When I started my Loan Modification process in August of 09 I WAS NOT behind on any payments. I sent full documentation, over 150 pages, with the things they needed to verify my income. I am now 2 payments behind and I am getting nowhere. They keep flipping me between Loss Mitigation and Imminent Default, back and fourth month end month out. I made a habit of calling every week, then every two weeks just to be sure all was moving forward. From the middle of November I was told my file was with the underwriter and it would only be 30-60 days. I began automatically updating my income verification, verification that I still resided at the property and an updated 4506-T every month. In the middle of April a rep finally told me I was not in the loan modification process. In fact, that I had been denied on March 2. Keep in mind, I’m talking to these people every 2 weeks. She did a financial interview and sent me a new packet so that I could start all over, resubmitting all the documentation yet again. She told me she was my Account Manager. I completed the packet, called with a question (2 weeks later – over a week to receive the packet and another few days to complete it and gather all my documents again) and learned that my “Account Manager” was on maternity leave and I now didn’t have an account manager. Also, I was told that I had received the incorrect packet…it was the old version rather than the updated version. She asked me to fax four or five pieces of information in the hopes it would, quote, “jump start my file back into the process” and said she we send me another packet. That was mid April. Here we sit, 2-1/2 months later, I have still not received anything in writing about my rejection. And, though I’ve now had people tell me on three separate occasions that I would receive a new packet, it has yet to show up on my door step. I asked several times why my application was denied and the answer I finally got last week was that it was because I was DELIQUENT in my payments. Call me crazy but I thought that was the whole point??!! I almost hired a third party but am so hesitant to take that step. Every time I get on the phone with them it takes an hour out of my day and I am usually so upset I find it difficult to work, so I just don’t call. I’m going to sit back and regroup and decide what I need to do next.

The truth is that scenes such as these are being repeated over and over again across the United States right now.

Scott Stern, the CEO of Lenders One, says that a lot has changed since 2007….

“Lending standards have tightened dramatically between 2007 and 2009.”

In an attempt to avoid the mistakes of the housing bubble, the mortgage industry has now created a situation where standards are so tight that the entire industry is freezing up.

In May, sales of new homes in the United States dropped to the lowest level ever recorded.  To be more exact, new home sales dropped 32.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 300,000. 

Keep in mind that a “normal” level for new homes sales is an annual rate of about 800,000. 

New homes have never sold this slowly ever since the U.S. Commerce Department began tracking this data back in 1963.

Now, a lot of the drop in new home sales has to do with other factors, but certainly the fact that people are having such a hard time getting approved for loans is playing a role.

If large numbers of qualified people are getting turned down for mortgages that is going to suck a lot of money out of the marketplace.

And without enough qualified buyers, the U.S. housing industry is simply not going to recover.

But it isn’t just a lack of qualified buyers that is the problem.

The truth is that the U.S. real estate market is a complete and total disaster right now and there is every indication that things are going to get even worse.

So what does all of this mean?

It means that it is going to remain very difficult to sell homes.

It means that prices are going to continue to come down.

It means that real estate agents will continue to suffer and there will continue to be high unemployment in the construction industry.

In fact, every industry that is highly dependent on the U.S. housing market is likely to continue to feel a lot of pain for a long time to come.

So do you have a mortgage horror story to share?  If so, please feel free to leave it in a comment below…..

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