Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fraud and Failure

Recent news on the housing front confirms what we have been saying about that market since the inception of Financial Jenga. In sum, there is no real stabilization much less recovery, the costs of attempting to maintain the illusion continue to rise rapidly and any cessation of government interference and manipulation results in rapid breakdown of the fake "market" which was created by those policies.

In the first instance, we now see the failure of HAMP as redefault rates among those "helped" by the program soar. An absolute majority of the government-sponsored loan modifications have now re-defaulted but they did give utterly baseless hope to debtors, thus trapping them into making continuing payments on a hopeless mortgage.

The ongoing cost to prop up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continues to rise. Last week the
NY Times reported that the cost of those bailouts has now reached $148 billion and will likely total $389 billion. Bloomberg cites a "reasonable worst case scenario" for the ultimate tab which could be $1 trillion or more.

The creation of the tax credit for housing purchases induced a temporary uptick in the number of sales. But like many other government actions, this merely succeeded in pulling forward future demand into the present - which is now the past. We have now entered the void created by that pulling forward. The existing home sales number yesterday and the new home sales number today both demonstrate that in clear terms. Today's existing sales number was nothing short of a disaster. The headline on
Marketwatch says:

New-home sales plunge 33% to record low in May
But that fails to reflect the full scale of the drop. In addition to May being down, April was also revised lower. This is a game we should all be familiar with by now. Actual may sales were 300k annualized. But the April report had 504k units sold but it has now been revised to 446k. That allowed the comparison to be reported as merely 33% down rather than over 40%. Either way it's not good and May set a new record low. Apparently, new houses just don't sell unless a big tax credit is piled on top of the subsidized mortgage loans.

Yesterday's existing home sales number was less dramatic but still indicated a housing market in trouble. The decline of 2.2% contrasted with an expected gain of 4%. The tax credit doesn't seem to have accomplished anything of value but at least it
fraudulently paid out $9 million to 1,300 prison inmates.