The stock market has soared for five years, risks have ballooned, home prices have jumped. Gains built on the quicksand of endless liquidity and a lackluster economy. “Irrational exuberance” is back in the Fed’s vocabulary. As the Fed’s Fisher said, it may end “in tears.”
National averages paper over gritty details on the ground and are a crummy indicator as to what is happening in specific metro areas. But even with this caveat, a national average suddenly sounded an alarm for the housing market: the smart money is bailing out.
Teachers are a symbol of the middle class. In California, they earn on average $69,300 annually, fifth highest in the country. Not exactly a pittance. But it is a ludicrous pittance if they’re trying to buy a home.
First-time buyers, a powerful economic energy, create real demand and make the housing market grow. We’ve been praying for their arrival like we’ve been praying for rain in parched California. But the more we pray, the fewer there are.
OK, I get it. Life-threatening cold temperatures, polar vortices, and snow mayhem can put a damper on home construction, mortgage applications, first-time buyers, and home-builder confidence. But they also plunged on the West Coast where the weather was gorgeous.
The cynic in me says the dizzying jump in foreclosure starts in January in much of the country, after years of sharp and consistent declines, must be some kind of data problem. Maybe RealtyTrac’s computers got hacked, or something. But that’s wishful thinking.
It’s back, a new and improved contraption, a synthetic structured security that on its polished surface looks like that triple-A rated mortgage-backed toxic waste that helped blow up the banks and your 401(k) in 2008. But this time, it’s different. It’s even worse.
The salary you must earn to be able to buy the median home in San Francisco is $125,071. That home costs $705,000 – up 24% from a year ago. San Francisco tops the list of the most unaffordable cities. Households earning the median income of $51,000, well, forget it.
Prices for housing have jumped and rents have jumped too, yet the 38.7 million renters, 34% of all households, watched with dismay as their real wages declined. They’ve got a problem with the “wealth effect” that Bernanke held up as pretext for printing money.
Number one is Palo Alto, epicenter of Silicon Valley craziness, where home prices are now 40% higher than they were at their prior bubble peak. What are we calling this phenomenon? Bubble? Nope. “Housing recovery.” But the middle class has hit a wall.