Peak Housing Bubble: 2008 Deja Vu All Over Again

Existing Home Sales were released Wednesday and the NAR’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate metric was down 1.7% from July. July was down 1.3% from June. The NAR’s SAAR metric is at its lowest rate since last August. Naturally the hurricane that hit Houston is being attributed as the primary culprit for the lower sales rate. Interestingly, the “not seasonally adjusted” monthly number for the South region was higher in August than in July. Moreover, I’m sure the NAR’s statistical “wizards” were told to “adjust” for Houston. So I’m not buying the excuse.

As for the NAR’s inventory narrative, that’s a bunch of horse hooey. Recall the chart I’ve posted a couple times in previous issues which shows that sales volume is inversely correlated with inventory – this is 17 years of data:

In other words, sales volume increases as inventory declines and sales volume declines as inventory rises. This is intuitive as prospective buyers will get desperate and rush to secure a purchase when inventory is low. Conversely,when a prospective buyer sees inventory climbing, the tendency will be to wait to see if prices come down.

It’s disingenuous for the NAR to claim that low inventory is affecting sales. Based on its own calculus, there’s 4.2 months of supply right now. This is up from 3.8 months in January. In fact, from December through March, months supply was said to have been well under 4 months. And yet, the monthly SAAR sales for each month December through March averaged 4.5% above the level just reported for August. In other words, the excuse put forth by the NAR’s chief “economist” is undermined by the NAR’s own numbers. However, given that the inventory expressed as “months supply” has been rising since April, it should be no surprise that sales are declining. This is exactly what would have been predicted by the 17 years of data in the sales vs inventory chart above.

The other statistic that undermines the “low inventory is affecting sales” propaganda is housing starts. Housing starts peaked in November 2016 and have been in a downtrend since then. Robert Toll (Toll Brothers – TOL) stated directly in his earnings commentary a couple weeks ago that “supply is not a problem.” Furthermore, DR Horton – the largest homebuilder in the country) is carrying about the same amount of inventory now as was carrying at the end of 2007 – around $8.5 billion. The average home price is about the same then as now, which means it is carrying about the same number of homes in inventory. It’s unit sales run-rate was slightly higher in 2007. Starting in 2008, DHI began writing down its inventory in multi-billion dollar chunks. Sorry Larry (NAR chief “economist” aka “salesman”), there are plenty of newly built homes available for purchase.

The Fannie and Freddie 3% down payment, reduced mortgage insurance fee program that has been in effect since January 2015 has “sucked” in most of the first-time buyers who can qualify for a mortgage under those sub-prime quality terms. If the housing market cheerleaders stated that “there is a shortage of homes for which subprime buyers can qualify to buy,” that’s an entirely different argument.

Housing price affordability has hit an all-time low. Again, this is because of the rampant home price inflation generated by the Fed’s monetary policy and the Government’s mortgage programs. The Government up to this point has done everything except subsidize down payments in order to give subprime quality borrowers the ability to take down a mortgage for which they can make (barely) the monthly mortgage payment. At this stage, anyone with a sub-620 FICO score who is unable to make a 3% down payment and who does not generate enough income to qualify under the 50% DTI parameter should not buy a home. They will default anyway and the taxpayer will be on the hook. As it is now, the Government’s de facto sub-prime mortgage programs are going to end badly.

Speaking of the 50% DTI, that is one of the qualification parameters “loosened” up by Fannie Mae. A 50% DTI means pre-tax income as a percentage of monthly debt payments. Someone with a 50% DTI is thereby using close to 70% or more of their after-tax cash flow to service debt. This is really not much different from the economics of the “exotic” mortgages underwritten in the last housing bubble. As the economy worsens, there will be sudden wave of first-time buyer Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage defaults. I would bet that day of reckoning is not too far off in the future.

The Fed has fueled the greatest housing price inflation in history. In may cities, housing prices have gone parabolic. But to make matters worse, this is not being fueled by demand which exceeds supply.

After all, we know that homebuilders have been cutting back on new home starts for several months now. Price inflation is the predominant characteristic of this housing bubble. The price rise since 2012 has been a function of the Fed’s enormous monetary stimulus and not supply/demand-driven transactions.

The effect of the Fed’s money printing and the Government’s mortgage guarantee programs has been to fill the “void” left by the demise of the private-issuer subprime mortgages in the mid-2000’s housing bubble. The FHA has been underwriting 3.5% down payment mortgages since 2008. In 2008, the FHA’s share of the mortgage market was 2%. Today it’s about 20%. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac allow 3% down payment mortgages for people with credit scores as low as 620. 620 is considered sub-prime. On a case-by-case basis, they’ll approve mortgage applications with sub-620 credit scores. Oh, and about that 3% down payment. The Government will allow “sweat” equity as part of the down payment from “moderate to low income” borrowers. Moreover, the cash portion of the down payment can come from gifts, grants or “community seconds.” A “community second” is a subordinated (second-lien) mortgage that is issued to the buyer to use as a source of cash for the down payment.

Again, I want to emphasize this point because it’s a fact that you’ll never hear discussed by the mainstream media:  The Government mortgage programs resemble and have replaced the reckless “exotic” mortgage programs of the mid-2000’s housing bubble.

To compound the problem, most big cities are being hit with an avalanche of new apartment buildings.  In Denver, the newer “seasoned” buildings are loading up front-end incentives to compete for tenants.  There’s another tidal wave of new inventory that will hit the market over the next six months.  This scene is being replayed in all of the traditional bubble cities.   As supply drives down the cost of rent, the millennials who can barely qualify for a mortgage that sucks up more than 50% of their pre-tax income will revert back to renting .  This will in turn drive down the price of homes.

Flippers who are leveraging up to pay top-dollar will get stuck with their attempted housing “day-trade.”  Studies have shown that it was flippers who were unable to unload their homes who triggered the 2008 collapse, as they “jingle-mailed” the keys back to the greedy bankers who funded the “margin debt” for their failed trade.

It may not look exactly the same as late 2007 right now.   But there’s no question that it will be deja vu all over again by this time next year…

The above commentary and analysis is directly from last week’s Short Seller’s Journal. In the latest issue I presented three ways to take advantage of the coming collapse in the housing and mortgage market, one of which is already down 10%.  If you would like to find out more about this service, please click here:  Short Seller’s Journal subscription info.

I look forward to any and every SSJ. Especially at the moment as I really do think your work and thesis on how this plays out is being more than validated at the moment with the ongoing dismal data coming out, both here in the U.K, and in the U.S.   – James

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