Matrix Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Barry Ritholtz’

We’re at “Peak Anti-Homeownership”

May 21, 2014 | 11:00 am |

Joe Weisenthal, Executive Editor of Business Insider, pronounced we’re at “Peak Anti-Homeownership” after reading Barry Ritholtz’ Bloomberg View piece on homeownership a few weeks ago.

If financial journalists and housing pundits today truly reflect the US sentiment about housing and homeownership, then we’re clearly manic about our largest asset class.

The conversation by a number of financial journalists and a particular Nobel Prize winning economist has morphed into a homeownership-is-a-false-aspiration pronouncement, almost entirely supported by treating this asset class as a stock. Didn’t we learn the hard way that this was flawed thinking during the prior boom? And unless I’m mistaken, the majority of US homebuyers, aside from investors, used leverage for much of the last 50 years. How about we estimate the ROI on what real people actually do and stop thinking about homeownership as a stock transaction? Good grief.

2012-2013 – Last year’s housing market “recovery” pronouncement was based on nothing fundamental, merely Fed policy of QE and years of pent-up demand released after the “fiscal cliff” came and went without a major catastrophe. Pundits caught up in the price euphoria said the housing market was firing on all cylinders. Yet surging price growth was largely based on sales mix-shifting, less distressed sale buying, tight credit causing, lack of inventory inducing, fear of rate rising, double-digit price growth. Positive housing news was refreshing news to many, but there was nothing fundamental driving the market’s performance to such incredible rates of growth. I couldn’t wrap my arms around 13% price growth with tight credit, stagnant income growth and unacceptably high under-unemployment as economic fundamentals.

2014 – This year’s housing market, which is being compared to the year ago frenzy, is showing weaker results. The housing recovery “stall” is being blamed on the weather, falling affordability and weaker first time buyer activity. This has brought some in the financial media to conclude that homeownership is over rated.

An aside about the weather – a homebuyer last January didn’t say “Gee, since it is 0 degrees outside, let’s cancel our appointment with the real estate agent and delay our home buying plans for 5 years.” Of course not – the harsh weather merely delayed the market for a month or two. However since it hasn’t “sprung back” yet, then clearly there is something else going on besides the weather.

Falling homeownership and anemic household formation is the result of a lackluster economy and a global credit crisis hangover. I can’t make the connection how these weaker metrics have anything to do with a flaw in the homeownership aspiration. Homeownership is falling because it rose to artificial highs (Fannie Mae was shooting for 75% during the housing boom) and is now overcorrecting because credit is unusually tight, the byproduct of a lackluster economy, the legacy of terrible lending decisions and fear over additional forced buybacks of flawed mortgages among other reasons.

I’m quite confident that a significant, sustained economic recovery will go a long way to ease credit conditions and eventually revert homeownership to the mean and we can stop with the “cart before the horse” orientation. While homeownership has never been right for everyone, recent calls that it’s not right for anybody is just as flawed.

Then we’ll pronounce “Peak-Homeownership” in our own manic way.

Tags: , , , , ,


The Bi-Partisan Fannie and Freddie Solution That Isn’t A Fix

March 16, 2014 | 11:35 am | wsjlogo |

fanniefreddieredone
[Source: WSJ, click to expand]

Roughly 90% of the residential market has passed through Fannie and Freddie since the onset of the financial crisis. Reliance on these institutions was only around 50% before the crisis – and are they making a lot of money for the federal government right now. I’ll leave out the part where FHA stepped in to pick up the high risk slack. The private secondary mortgage market was obliterated by the credit crunch/housing crash and in the half decade that has passed, investors are just now dipping their toes in the water.

There is a great summary piece by Nick Timiraos at WSJ: “What Can Take the Place of Fannie and Freddie” on the proposed Fannie and Freddie “overhaul.”

Big Dumb Banks
As my friend Barry Ritholtz over at Big Picture once told me that the former GSEs are merely “Big Dumb Banks.” In other words, they do as they were told.

Swapping them with another alphabet soup named agency doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, I contend that replacing Fannie and Freddie completely would likely create more problems since little if anything has been done to reduce the systemic risks that nearly brought down the financial system – and whose impact are still being felt by most Americans today.

If we can agree that Fannie and Freddie created a stable mortgage market environment for decades (Fannie since the Depression and Freddie since the 1960s) and then blew up in the recent decade or more (problems began back in late 1990s), there are clearly other issues in play. I’ve always seen Fannie and Freddie as the symptom not the cause of our current economic problems.

Fixing the symptom may make some feel better, but it does nothing to reduce the probability of a systemic credit collapse. The bailout of the GSEs was a result of policy from Washington – the congress, the executive branch and both political parties who in various ways encouraged proactive neutering of regulatory powers, allowed the revolving doors of regulators with Wall Street, allowing Wall Street to compete directly with commercial banks with mind boggling leverage, limited separation of competing interests (ie rating agencies and investment banks) and incentivizing a shifting culture to serve the shareholders over the taxpayers.

I suspect that last point is the impetus for this bi-partisan proposal – reduce the risk exposure to the taxpayer by getting the private market to take over. Congress clearly has an image problem that it is trying to fix as of late (until mid-terms).

Setting Standards to Follow
One of the under appreciated functions of Fannie Mae and to a lesser degree Freddie Mac, was to serve as the leader to the private mortgage market. When Fannie Mae adopted a standard or policy, the private market (ie jumbo mortgage investors), followed their lead. With Fannie and Freddie floating in limbo with a potential looming overhaul, it’s hard to imagine a robust private market developing anytime soon. This would be a completely new institution that would replace and reinvent the former GSEs, you simply invite anywhere from chaos to uncertainty into the financial system and instability to the housing market, a key economic engine for the economy.

The whole plumbing of the mortgage market runs through these companies. You can’t just take these things away without having a very clear and specific view about what’s going to replace them,” said Daniel Mudd, Fannie’s former chief executive, in an interview last year.

No real alternative to the system has been proposed that I’m aware of and this is really window dressing to show bi-partisanship in Washington. There is no time frame proposed and very little details to reinvent the secondary mortgage market have been brought forward.

Here’s a great podcast from WNYC called “Money Talking” featuring Heidi Moore and Joe Nocera covering the proposal.

Key Issues to Fix
The WSJ piece summarizes the key issues that need to be address quite succinctly:

  • Make the “implied” guarantee explicit and require any successors to Fannie and Freddie to pay a fee for that guarantee.
  • Get rid of those investment portfolios, or shrink them to the point where they don’t create systemic risks.
  • Require more capital and tighter regulation, since too little of both is what got Fannie and Freddie into trouble.

The trouble is, the solution to over-reliance on Fannie and Freddie is too complex for Congress to solve in this era of gridlock. Record revenue being generated by the former GSEs make long term solutions unobtainable for now. I don’t see how any major changes can be inserted into the financial systems for a long time.

Tags: , , , , , ,


Bloomberg View’s Super Cool Visual: Bubble to Bust to Recovery

February 25, 2014 | 2:09 pm | bloomberglogo |

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 1.52.41 PM
[Click to view presentation]

Matthew C. Klein does an amazing presentation on the housing cycle (h/t Barry Ritholtz) – think of it as a Kahn Academy presentation on visual steroids.

Bloomberg View’s “Bubble to Bust to Recovery.”

Required viewing.

Tags: , , ,


Housing Can’t “Recover” Until Fundamentals Recover

August 20, 2013 | 1:58 pm | Videos |


Source: Yahoo! Finance

I had a nice conversation with Lauren Lyster today over at Yahoo!’ The Daily Ticker.

I find the bifurcation (yes Bernice, I actually used this word!) between those who see the housing market as recovered and those who don’t fascinating. A recovery is a process and we are in the middle of it – but it hasn’t reached it’s destination. As far as the <7% unemployment comment in their post headline goes…I see housing as normalizing when employment normalizes – not that 7% is a trigger for housing to suddenly recover below this threshold. Nuance, baby.

Why else would so many fret about rising mortgage rates? Nearly every comment on the video – 146 when I wrote this, referenced the weakness of the job market, under employed, lower wages.

I think rising rates are a good thing for housing, long term because they take some of the froth out of the market. Seriously – how can prices rising more than 12% YoY with flat income, high (but improving) unemployment and tight credit? One could even argue that a better rate spread with higher rates and bank business decision pressure to loosen standards as refi volume drops sharply will bring some easing to underwriting standards eventually.

Aside
If you want to get some clarity, watch this video earlier this morning over at The Daily Ticker on Why Investors Should Ignore Economists. No one makes a point more clear (or more bluntly) than my friend Barry Ritholtz.

Tags: , ,


Money for Nothing Movie Trailer

March 28, 2013 | 5:29 pm | fedny | Videos |

I can’t wait for the documentary Money for Nothing to be released. In fact I donated to IndieGoGo.com because I was so impressed that I wanted my own copy.

This documentary is compelling and so are all the cast members. It includes a who’s who list of current and past members of the Federal Reserve as well as economists and Wall Street experts. Cast members include my friend Barry Ritholtz and Gary Shilling who both have been on my podcast. Todd Harrison of the great site Minyanville.com and John Mauldlin who I have always looked to for insights. Jim Grant of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer who called me at the height of the crisis to get a gauge on the Manhattan housing market.

During the housing bubble I often felt like screaming as I saw the financial world through my appraisal glasses thinking I missed an important math class in 8th grade. Fast growing banks with gigantic mortgage volume and many of my appraisal competitors in bed with mortgage brokers were clearly smarter than me – they could make the numbers work and I couldn’t.

In 2003 and 2004 I remember being absolutely confident as a non-economist that the Fed was keeping interest rates too low for too long. I could see it in the loss of lending standards and the lavish incomes enjoyed by those around me who embraced a world of based on moral flexibility. The froth was simply ignored.

Don’t mean to get sentimental on you dear readers, but this movie struck a chord with me. Enjoy the trailer and watch for the release date announcement.

Tags:


[NYT] Donut Housing Market Economics Rebranded As “Hard to Trade-up” Market

December 26, 2012 | 2:06 pm | nytlogo | Charts |

Back from a short self-imposed overwhelmed-with-year-end-deadline-work-blogging-hiatus. Hope everyone had a nice holiday.

So I’m a bit late but the donuts are still fresh…

Michelle Higgins at the New York Times wrote a great piece weekend before last on the current stratification of the housing market that I call a “donut.” Strong on bottom, strong on top and weak in the middle. Mortgage rates are pulling in first time buyers at entry-level and high end is being driven high net worth and international buyers, leaving a weaker middle. The NYT editors weren’t very excited about my “donut” analogy even when I suggested a more New York City-ish bagel or bialy. However the piece correctly focused on the challenges the “trading-up” market in today’s houisng market.

I had lunch with my friend Barry Ritholtz last week and he didn’t like my donut analogy saying it should have been a “barbell” – but seriously, can you put icing or frosting on a barbell? I thought so.

Tags: , ,


[The Housing Helix Podcast] Barry Ritholtz Part 2

September 23, 2012 | 6:36 pm | Podcasts |

Read More

Tags:


[The Housing Helix Podcast] Barry Ritholtz Part 1

September 23, 2012 | 3:57 pm | Podcasts |

Read More

Tags: ,


[Interview PART II] Barry Ritholtz, CEO, Director of Equity Research, Fusion IQ, Author, Bailout Nation, The Big Picture Blog

October 6, 2011 | 8:21 am | Podcasts |

Read More

Tags: , ,


[Interview PART I] Barry Ritholtz, CEO, Director of Equity Research, Fusion IQ, Author, Bailout Nation, The Big Picture Blog

October 5, 2011 | 12:15 pm | Podcasts |

Read More

Tags: , ,