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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

NY Times: Land of Many Ifs

by Calculated Risk on 1/02/2008 10:05:00 AM

From Peter Goodman and Vikas Bajaj at the NY Times: In the Land of Many Ifs. This is a look at the economy in 2008, and starts with housing:

An era of free-flowing credit and speculation has led to a far-flung empire of vacant, unsold homes — 2.1 million, or about 2.6 percent of the nation’s housing stock ...

This ... will not be whittled down to normal levels, economists suggest, until national home prices fall by at least 15 percent from their peak, reached in the summer of 2006. ...

The glut could be exacerbated if an already alarming wave of foreclosures continues to broaden, claiming even those with supposedly good credit.

Last year, the trouble in the mortgage market was largely confined to subprime loans extended to homeowners with weak credit. ...

... default rates on loans to homeowners with relatively good credit are ... rising sharply ... In November, 6.6 percent of so-called Alt-A home loans ... were either delinquent by 60 days or more, in foreclosure, or had been repossessed. That was up from 4.3 percent in August.

This is a potentially ominous sign, because subprime and Alt-A mortgages issued in 2006 together made up about 40 percent of all mortgages. ...

The spike in foreclosures is happening even before many mortgages have reset to higher rates, suggesting that borrowers are falling behind because their homes are worth less. Many are having trouble refinancing as banks tighten lending standards.

All of which explains why many economists expect national housing prices to fall by 5 to 10 percent more in 2008, and perhaps into 2009 as well, before hitting bottom.

Such a drop could ripple out to the broader economy by depressing consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of all economic activity.
This touches on several key subjects: there is substantial excess housing inventory, the mortgage problem is broader than subprime, foreclosures are spiking before rates are resetting (because of falling house prices), lending standards are being tightened, housing prices will fall significantly, and Mortgage Equity Withdrawal is falling - probably impacting consumption. A nice overview.