MIKE WHITNEY
Counterpunch
March 4, 2012

“The national housing market took a hit in the latter half of 2011, falling to new lows not seen since the housing crisis began six years ago, according to data out Tuesday by S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices……The index is down 33.6 percent from its peak in mid-2006.”

Washington Post

The reason that housing prices have dipped only 33.6 percent in the United States instead of 60 percent as they have in Ireland, is because the big banks have been keeping inventory off the market. If the millions of homes–that are presently headed for foreclosure–were suddenly dumped onto the market, prices would plunge and the biggest banks in the country would be declared insolvent. That’s why the banks have slowed the flow of foreclosures. According to Amherst Securities Group’s Laurie Goodman, “….2.8 million borrowers haven’t made a payment in over a year. Add that to the over 450,000 real estate owned (REO) units and you have approximately 3.2 million that are in the shadows. We are liquidating about 90,000 homes a month. That’s about 36 months of overhang; a really shocking number.” (See the whole interview here.)

Indeed, it is shocking, but what’s more shocking is that the banks are allowed to game the system this way and get away with it. New home buyers are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they would be if the banks were not manipulating inventory, so there are real victims in this scam. . And is it really conceivable that Fed doesn’t know that nearly 3 million people are living in their homes for free? Of course, they know; they’re in on it too. The bankers even have a name for this arrangement; they call it “squatters rent” and they estimate it costs them an extra $60 billion per year. They would rather pay that hefty sum then foreclose quickly and have to write down the losses which would leave them broke.

Some readers will probably dispute the claim that housing prices could dip 60 percent in the US as they have in Ireland. These skeptics may want to read a new study titled “Housing, Monetary Policy, and the Recovery” released by the chief economists from the country’s two largest banks (Find it here.)

On page 29 of the report, the authors conclude that it would take “a 57% fall in housing prices would in our accounting sense eliminate housing overhang”. Their second projection estimates that it would take “a 68%” drop. So, if you bought a house in 2005
for $400,000. That house would currently be worth $128,000, a big enough loss to poke holes in anyone’s retirement plans.

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