Pundits who have been announcing the imminent turnaround in housing for the last few years were disappointed once again by the Case-Shiller composite, which declined 0.8% for the month and 3.5% for the year. It has fallen to a level last seen in October 2002. Since that time, inflation has eaten up another 27%, which would take the composite back to the 1990s. And now, even a trend that supported housing for decades has reversed.
Germans are euphoric these days—compared to the dour mood that prevailed for nearly two decades when real wages declined in a stagnating economy with high unemployment. This new optimism is joyriding the powerful German export machine and appears to be impervious to the nightmarish scenarios playing out at the periphery of the Eurozone. And now, Germans have something else to be euphoric about: a housing bubble.
There still are some economic numbers that aren’t seasonally adjusted or manipulated with fancy statistical footwork by governmental, quasi-governmental, or non-governmental number mongers. And they give us the true picture of the worldwide economy: beer, wine, mood, and San Francisco real estate—with more predictive power than is allowed by law.
Among the “good” economic news today was private residential construction, up 2%, confirming trends in building permits and housing starts. Construction creates lots of jobs and contributes significantly to GDP. Everyone, from the President down to local politicians, wants it to grow. It gets them reelected. But for homeowners, banks, and tax payers, these trends are costly.
The government forks over another $13.8 billion to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to cover their losses for the last quarter. The regular drumbeat of bailout billions handed to these zombies barely enters the nation’s consciousness anymore, but it adds up: $184.8 billion since 2008. And there is no end in sight. Supercommittee, where art thou?
According to last week’s GDP number, the economy has been growing supposedly at a rate of 2.5% in the third quarter—thanks largely to the inexplicable American consumer, the toughest creature out there. But there are some pernicious trends and unpleasant zigzags that point the opposite way.
President Obama’s expansion of a mortgage refinancing program is a way for underwater homeowners to reduce their monthly payments. That would save them some money, he said, “…and it gets those families spending again.” But there is an insidious hook buried inside….
The ugly numbers speak volumes on how the Fed’s policies hurt the real economy. But those policies enable Congress and the White House to run up ruinous budget deficits that make those of the Eurozone look benign.
That’s inflation—not jobs, wages, or GDP.
In its schizophrenic manner, the media lamented the ugly housing-starts number. But for the market to heal, that number should be near zero. In Japan, 20 years after the housing bubble burst, land prices are still declining, and even the Yakuza, who’re heavily invested in the construction trade, are complaining.
The economy is going back to hell, but stock markets are surging. Nothing new. It always ends in tears. But this time, the Fed’s money-printing strategy will make things only worse. Today’s horrid numbers show us why.