Michael W Hudson’s book-length investigative journalism piece on the subprime meltdown, The Monster, is both a brilliant example of skeptical business journalism done right, and a brilliant example of the storyteller’s art.
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According to Case-Shiller/S&P, US housing prices have fallen to levels not seen since the 1890s (adjusted for inflation, of course), in 11 of 20 markets. It looks like this is slightly skewed by the serious economic problems in rustbelt cities, which is not to say that things aren't pretty terrible -- and the same analysis predicts a further decline of 15-20%.
Some years back, Yale Professor Robert Shiller produced a long-run nominal home price index for the U.S. by fusing together data that had been gathered from a number of historical archives.
Home prices falling to level of 1890s
Shiller then adjusted the index for inflation revealing the very interesting fact that, in real terms, prices for U.S. homes changed very little over the span from 1890 to the mid-1990s.
This might come as a surprise to many since recent "common sense" notions held that homes were always a great investment carrying the implication that they must typically increase in value yet, the reality is that over the long run home prices must stay in-line with changes in the level of income (the source generally used to fund the home cost) or else typical households would not be capable of making a purchase.
Michael "Liar's Poker" Lewis has a fantastic, captivating piece on the Irish econopocalypse in the new Vanity Fair
. Lewis ranges freely from slice-of-life observations about Dublin as a city occupied by foreign management consultants trying to figure out what to do with the disastrous worst-of-the-worst banks, to the history of the Celtic Tiger economy, to the ebb and tide of Polish workers in Ireland as an economic indicator, to the incredible and bizarre housing boom that, inevitably, turned into a world-class bust. It's vintage Lewis, gripping, savage, illuminating:
Even in an era when capitalists went out of their way to destroy capitalism, the Irish bankers set some kind of record for destruction. Theo Phanos, a London hedge-fund manager with interests in Ireland, says that "Anglo Irish was probably the world's worst bank. Even worse than the Icelandic banks."
When Irish Eyes Are Crying
Ireland's financial disaster shared some things with Iceland's. It was created by the sort of men who ignore their wives' suggestions that maybe they should stop and ask for directions, for instance. But while Icelandic males used foreign money to conquer foreign places--trophy companies in Britain, chunks of Scandinavia--the Irish male used foreign money to conquer Ireland. Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, the Irish decided what they really wanted to do with it was to buy Ireland. From one another. An Irish economist named Morgan Kelly, whose estimates of Irish bank losses have been the most prescient, made a back-of-the-envelope calculation that puts the losses of all Irish banks at roughly 106 billion euros. (Think $10 trillion.) At the rate money currently flows into the Irish treasury, Irish bank losses alone would absorb every penny of Irish taxes for at least the next three years.
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!
(Image: Budget Day In Dublin - Useless Gobshites, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from infomatique's photostream)
Barry Ritholz sez,
In this case, what she wrote is not technically incorrect, but its very misleading. The lowest this rate has been over the past few decades is 8.5%. So while 11% sounds shocking, it is only somewhat elevated after the worst housing crash in the US since the Great Depression.
The typical data point used to describe vacant homes is the Home Ownership Vacancy Rate. In the US, that number is 2.7% for owner occupied houses and 9% for rental properties, apartments, etc.
The sensationalistic number referenced in the CNBC story (repeated by Consumerist) is not commonly used -- indeed, its towards the end of the Census Bureau release that reports such things.
What it references is the total number of structures that are unoccupied -- this includes a whole laundry list of empty properties -- abandoned old farm houses, (Not sure if vacation properties/second homes are included -- I need to check that). No one usually pays much attention to this number, as it provides very little useful insight.
Welcome to America after the housing bubble, where, according to the census, 11 percent of homes are vacant:
Now to vacancies. There were 18.4 million vacant homes in the U.S. in Q4 '10 (11 percent of all housing units vacant all year round), which is actually an improvement of 427,000 from a year ago, but not for the reasons you'd think.
Nearly 11 Percent of US Houses Empty
The number of vacant homes for rent fell by 493 thousand, as rental demand rose. 471,000 homes are listed as "Held off Market" about half for temporary use, but the other half are likely foreclosures. And no, the shadow inventory isn't just 200,000, it's far higher than that.
(Image: Doors, Vacant House, Spring, Texas 0329091251, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from nakrnsm's photostream)
Writing in next week's Rolling Stone
, Matt Taibbi is incandescent
on the fraud-riddled, corrupt, closed-door "Rocket Docket" courts set up in Florida to expedite the process of dirtbag lenders kicking people out of their homes without having to provide any real evidence that the banks own the note or that the homeowners are delinquent. Taibbi smuggles himself into the court and documents in ghastly, clinical detail the dirty process by which banks use (badly) forged documents and judges who don't give a damn about justice to steal peoples' houses, all the while making indignant noises about "people who don't pay their mortgages shouldn't be in those houses."
Now, months after its first pass at foreclosure was dismissed, the bank has refiled the case -- and what do you know, it suddenly found the note. And this time, somehow, the note has the proper stamps. "There's a stamp that did not appear on the note that was originally filed," Kowalski tells the judge. (This business about the stamps is hilarious. "You can get them very cheap online," says Chip Parker, an attorney who defends homeowners in Jacksonville.)
Matt Taibbi: Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners
The bank's new set of papers also traces ownership of the loan from the original lender, Novastar, to JP Morgan and then to Bank of New York. The bank, in other words, is trying to push through a completely new set of documents in its attempts to foreclose on Kowalski's clients.
There's only one problem: The dates of the transfers are completely fucked. According to the documents, JP Morgan transferred the mortgage to Bank of New York on December 9th, 2008. But according to the same documents, JP Morgan didn't even receive the mortgage from Novastar until February 2nd, 2009 -- two months after it had supposedly passed the note along to Bank of New York. Such rank incompetence at doctoring legal paperwork is typical of foreclosure actions, where the fraud is laid out in ink in ways that make it impossible for anyone but an overburdened, half-asleep judge to miss. "That's my point about all of this," Kowalski tells me later. "If you're going to lie to me, at least lie well."
The dates aren't the only thing screwy about the new documents submitted by Bank of New York. Having failed in its earlier attempt to claim that it actually had the mortgage note, the bank now tries an all-of-the-above tactic. "Plaintiff owns and holds the note," it claims, "or is a person entitled to enforce the note."
Soud sighs. For Kessler, the plaintiff's lawyer, to come before him with such sloppy documents and make this preposterous argument -- that his client either is or is not the note-holder -- well, that puts His Honor in a tough spot. The entire concept is a legal absurdity, and he can't sign off on it. With an expression of something very like regret, the judge tells Kessler, "I'm going to have to go ahead and accept [Kowalski's] argument."
(Image: no equity, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from thetruthabout's photostream)
This insanely complex chart represents securitization auditor Dan Edstrom's best attempt to figure out who actually owns his mortgage: "The following flow chart reverse engineers the mortgage on the Ekstrom family residence. It took Dan over one year to take it this far and it clearly demonstrates what happens when there are too many lawyers being manufactured."
Just When You Thought You Knew Something About Mortgage Securitizations
(Thanks, Mr. Tough!)
David J. Stern is a Florida lawyer who operates a foreclosure mill, a firm that foreclosed on more than 70,000 homes last year. According to a deposition from Tammie Mae Kapusta, a former employee, Stern's firm cut many corners, foreclosing on homes without serving notice, ignoring mortgage payments that would have prevented foreclosure, and "yelling at" employees who talked to homeowners on the phone, because that was "giving them too much time."
Apparently, it's working for Stern, who just bought the mega-mansion next to his mega-mega-mansion on a private island so he could tear it down and install a tennis court. Seriously, this guy sounds like the villain in a Carl Hiaassen novel, except Hiaassen's villains are more believable and less evil.
But while the banks are ultimately responsible, the root of the problem appears to lie with "foreclosure mill" law firms like Stern's. These operations process foreclosure cases on behalf of lenders, and their business model is based on moving the paperwork through as quickly as possible. That's why such firms have pioneered practices like "robo-signing" -- whereby their employees process thousands of court documents in pending foreclosures without ever actually reviewing them, as the law requires. Of course, it's in the banks' interest for their contractors to move quickly, because the faster a foreclosure moves, the less time a struggling borrower has to fight it...
And from Mother Jones
His $15 million, 16,000-square-foot mansion occupies a corner lot in a private island community on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It is featured on a water-taxi tour of the area's grandest estates, along with the abodes of Jay Leno and billionaire Blockbuster founder Wayne Huizenga, as well as the former residence of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. (Last year, Stern snapped up his next-door neighbor's property for $8 million and tore down the house to make way for a tennis court.) Docked outside is Misunderstood, Stern's 130-foot, jet-propelled Mangusta yacht -- a $20 million-plus replacement for his previous 108-foot Mangusta. He also owns four Ferraris, four Porsches, two Mercedes-Benzes, and a Bugatti -- a high-end Italian brand with models costing north of $1 million a pop.
Is David J. Stern the poster boy for the foreclosure mess?
(via Lowering the Bar
(Image: Sign Of The Times - Foreclosure, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from respres's photostream)