Category Archives: Real Estate

Affordable Housing

From Sfgate:

In San Francisco, the minimum income required to purchase a median-priced home leapt from $350,400 to $450,800 from the second quarter of 2021 to the second quarter of 2022. It was even worse in San Mateo — the minimum income jumped from $390,400 to $512,000.

China Property

In a symptom of the bursting property bubble in China, the issuance of Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) has fallen 92% so far this year. No new RMBS have been issued since February. This is an indicator in the loss of confidence in the world’s largest asset class. The business model of property developers in China is to sell uncompleted units, taking not only a down payment but a mortgage so they are fully paid, in many cases before construction has even started. Predictably enough, many end up not only short of cash, but in default on their debts. Now hundreds of thousands of people are refusing to make mortgage payments as their units go unfinished long past their contracted delivery dates.

Of course the failures of the developers impact on their suppliers, their banks and the local governments that rely on land sales for much of their revenue.

Rate Shock

The median price of a new home has fallen by -11.9% over the last 2-month period,

Image

Thanks to Liz Ann Sonders.

The Price Of Moderation

From my last blog post of 2020:

William Greider, in his book, Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs The Country, reports Nixon (’69-’74) as saying: “We’ll take inflation if necessary, but we can’t take unemployment.” The nation eventually had to take both. Note that Fed Chair Powell has indicated a willingness to let inflation “run hot” to encourage economic growth. That’s what they thought in the 1960s, too.

Well, inflation is running hot. Too hot for comfort. Discretionary spending is falling rapidly as the cost of essential goods and services takes more of people’s income. Fed Chair Powell is raising interest rates in baby steps, presumably in an attempt to quell inflation without slowing the economy significantly. People seem to think that raising rates to 2 1/2 percent will achieve this result, and are competing to time the “pivot” when the Fed returns to easy money. All I can say is good luck with that. History says that once inflation starts to surge – as it has – it is not easy to stop, as all kinds of feedback loops keep driving prices higher. Weakness now will only make the pain worse.

Perfect Storm Plus

The Perfect Storm began as an extratropical system, absorbed a tropical system (i.e., Hurricane Grace), and ended somewhat uneventfully as an unnamed hurricane. In the process it caused considerable damage on the US East Coast, and sank the fishing vessel Andrea Gail, with the loss of all hands.

We are now living through the early stages of the economic Perfect Storm Plus. The “Plus” is due to the near-simultaneous collapse of four great bubbles – China, Japan, North America and Europe. All are due to central bank monetization of government deficit spending, coupled with over-expansion of consumer and property credit. As Austrian economics teaches, there are only two paths out of these bubbles – stop the credit expansion and accept the resulting recession or depression, or continue to hyperinflation and the destruction of the currency.

The collapse of China began with the cascading failures of property developers, such as Evergrande, when President Xie’s “three red lines” reined in their ability to raise new debt. Then his idiotic “zero-Covid” policy drove a dagger into the beating heart of China’s economy, Shanghai. Then failures in a handful of smaller banks were mishandled by local governments which failed to honor deposit insurance guarantees, instead hiring toughs to beat up demonstrators. This has been followed by a wave of buyers refusing to continue mortgage payments on unfinished properties, especially where cash-starved developers have stopped working on them. A loss of confidence in the CCP government has resulted. It is attempting to stop the collapse with promises of more government funding, but so far success is elusive.

Japan is, so far, following the path of currency destruction. Even though Japan’s central bank now owns virtually all government debt and a very large chunk of the stock market, it continues its path of yield curve control – at zero. This has led to a downward slide in the yen as the US Fed has reacted to inflation, well a little bit anyway. Japan is short of natural resources and must import many commodities, especially energy as the Fukushima disaster has constrained the use of nuclear power. One could easily see a return of the yen to dollar valuations like the pre-1989 mid-200s, compared to 140 today and the 2012 high in the 70s. Needless to say, this would kick off serious inflation in Japan.

North America’s asset bubble, in property and financial assets of all kinds has finally been joined by rapidly inflating prices of consumable goods and services. While Alan Greenspan started the Fed’s monetization addiction around the turn of the century, rapid growth in outsourcing to China, India and numerous other countries kept consumer prices and wages under pressure. Finally the combination of supply chains ruptured by Covid and government payments that put large sums directly in the hands of consumers started to drive up prices, and also allowed large numbers of people to withdraw from the labor force. The coup de grace was Biden’s decision to follow the urging of the climate fanatics and cut off investment in future fossil fuel supply. Anecdotally, a farmer of 1,800 acres in Canada reports that his annual diesel fuel bill has doubled from $40K to $80K, and nitrogen fertilizer (made from natural gas) has gone from $270/tonne to $900/tonne. The Fed’s reaction has been a minor increase in interest rates. A recession is either already underway or set to begin anytime now.

Europe (including the UK) is a basket case. It shares many of the same problems as North America, but in addition climate fanatics and the Russian attack on the Ukraine have conspired to leave it desperately short of energy. EU inflation is running high (8.8%) but the real problem is yet to come. Germany continues to shut down its remaining nuclear plants, while Russia has just notified Germany that it is terminating natural gas deliveries. Germany lacks the terminals needed to import LNG.

A key component of the coming confluence of these storms is the climate mania. This mania is based on bad science, but socialist politicians and activists see an opportunity to disrupt the status quo.

Quo Vadimus?

We are either in recession already or about to enter one. Lakshman Achuthan of ECRI thinks we’re in a Roadrunner moment – we’re off the cliff but  haven’t looked down yet. It sure feels like that – too many analysts are supremely confident that inflation will fall away, the Fed will pivot back to money-printing and everything will be back to the way it was – the “new normal.” It just sounds too good to be true.

Powell isn’t fighting inflation. Dinky little increases in interest rates are an attempt to build confidence that the Fed is doing something. This excellent article makes a good case that he’s channeling Arthur Burns, not Paul Volcker.

The massive government deficit hasn’t gone away. Sure, it has moderated somewhat, but the Biden administration still firmly believes that it can spend whatever it wants without consequences. Biden is channeling Nero.

The “climate change” idiocy continues. No need to repeat previous posts on this subject, other than to observe that reducing the availability of fossil fuels without providing a new base load infrastructure is economic suicide.

Tight labor markets mean that the wage/price feedback loop can – and will – be sustained.

The housing market continues manic, despite rising mortgage rates. Of course the individual first-time buyer is affected, but institutional buyers with cash have moved in. Shelter is the largest component of CPI and is a lagging indicator.

This spring and summer’s crops were planted with last year’s fuel and fertilizer costs. These costs will bite with the fall harvest. And by the way the west of the country is in severe drought.

Other than that, Joe, how’s it going? Joe? Anybody home?

The Return Of Goldilocks

Everywhere I look in the financial press, I see predictions of a Fed “pivot”, by which is meant the abandonment of inflation-fighting and the return to the lowering of interest rates and printing of money.

This pivot is to occur sometime in the fall, apparently. The economy will be in recession, which will cause the Fed to panic and return to bubble-blowing. Inflation will have magically disappeared, because recession. The result will be the return of the bull market, “To infinity and beyond”, I guess. Biden will be carried on Powell’s shoulders to the mid-terms, supermarket shelves will be overflowing with foods, gas will be back to the $2s, unemployment will have taught the working classes the folly of asking for higher wages….

Too good to be true, I fear. But we’ll see.

Don’t Look Now

But the Chinese economy is collapsing. Two reasons – One, the zero-Covid lockdowns are strangling industrial production and two, the fallout from the failure of Evergrande and other developers has killed confidence in the perpetual appreciation of the world’s largest asset class.

Reality Check

Everywhere I read the pontifications of eager interpreters of yield inversions, and other signs and portents, predicting smooth sailing for the economy until a possible recession in 2023.

All I can say is you have to be kidding me. First of all, markets are still at unprecedented and artificial extremes. It seems to me to be a trifle naive to assume that scenarios from the past apply here. Markets have never been here before and hopefully will never return again. Secondly, there are major and poorly understood economic disruptions underway:

China: The world’s largest asset class, real estate in China, is in trouble. March sales of new homes are down 29% y-o-y. Lockdowns in Shanghai and other large cities in China are stalling production and shipments of many goods.

Ukraine: The Russian invasion and its corollary sanctions are negatively impacting agricultural and commodity exports. Restricted supply and high prices of fertilizer will reduce agricultural production around the world.

United States: Historically high consumer price increases have resulted from years of low interest rates and massive expansion of the money supply. Measures announced so far to deal with this issue are unlikely to have much effect. The 10-year Treasury yield has doubled since the beginning of 2022, with direct impact on mortgage rates and thence real estate prices. “Green” policies have driven up energy prices by restricting supply.

EU: “Green” policies have left the EU (and the UK) without reliable domestic sources of energy, leaving the group dependent on imports from the rest of the world, but without adequate LNG terminals to replace Russian pipelines. The EU is expected to announce an embargo on Russian oil immediately after the French election, which will drive prices higher.

Japan: The third most traded currency, JPY, the Japanese yen, is falling rapidly, now down more than 10% since the beginning of 2022 against the US dollar. The Bloomberg Commodity Spot Index rose 8.2% in JPY terms over just the past week. It’s up 29% since end of Feb., more than 48% ytd and 177% over the past two years (all in JPY terms). The possibility of intervention is being bruited about. Currency wars are the nuclear option for financial markets.

Look out below.

The Largest Asset Class In The World

Little, if any, attention is being paid to the slow-motion collapse of the largest asset class in the world, Chinese real estate. Property sales in China (100 largest developers) were down 53% in March and 47% in Q1 on a year-over-year basis. Here is an excellent video from the Financial Times which provides perspective on this key driver of global growth.