Is the housing crisis over?

Well maybe in America.

The infamous US housing crisis which spilled over into worldwide markets and was a major cause of the 2008 global financial crisis seems to finally be over. In the US at least.

Residential real estate prices released by S&P/Case Shiller this past week show that the US residential market has begun to recover after 5 years of negative growth.

The results show that in the 12 months to February 2013, US house prices rose by 9.3 per cent.

This index is based off the property values in 20 major cities. The largest gainers were Phoenix with 23 per cent growth, followed by San Francisco (19 per cent growth) and Las Vegas (18 per cent growth).

The two largest US cities, Los Angeles and New York, also both recorded price growth over the 12 month period. Los Angeles registered strong growth of 14 per cent, while New York recorded more moderate growth of 1.9 per cent.

Compared to peak levels

Despite this recent growth, home prices nationwide are still 29 per cent below their peak reached at the height of the housing bubble in July 2006. They are only back to where they were in the fall of 2003.

Some cities such as Dallas and Denver are almost back to where they were in July 2006. They are both within 5 per cent of peak levels. However, the likes of Los Angeles and New York are both over 25 per cent below peak levels.

Background to US housing crisis

Timeline

  • Prior to 1996 only wealthier people were able to get sub-prime mortgages. All this changed in 1996, when the US housing department set a goal for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that at least 42 per cent of the mortgages they purchase be issued to borrowers whose household income was below the median in their area.
  • This target was then increased to 50 per cent in 2000 and 52 per cent in 2005. This led to increased sub-prime lending, particularly to lower income groups.
  • During 2001, US interest rates were decreased from 6.0 per cent to less than 2.0 per cent in order to fuel consumer spending. Rates were then kept at this low level until 2005.

The points above fuelled increased mortgage lending and speculation which caused US house prices to increase by 57 per cent over the period between 2000 and 2006. Rates were then put up to just over 5.0 per cent in 2006 as the Fed suspected a property bubble was developing.

The US property market then began to contract in 2007, with house prices falling by 9.0 per cent during the year. A larger decline occurred a year later, in 2008, when US house prices fell by 18.6 per cent. This led to widespread panic in the market and a large number of home owners defaulted, resulting in a run on a number of investment banks that had bought and sold large volumes of ‘toxic debt’ instruments related to mortgages including credit default swaps.

The five largest US investment banks (with combined debts of US$4 trn) either went bankrupt (Lehman Brothers), were taken over by other companies (Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch) or were bailed out by the US government (Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) during 2008.

The US property market continued to decline in 2009 but by a more moderate 3.1 per cent. This was followed by a decline of 2.4 per cent in 2010 and a 4.1 per cent decline in 2011.

Recovery Begins

In 2012, US housing prices recovered by 6.9 per cent and by 9.0 per cent  in the 12 months to February 2013.

According to London based wealth consultancy, WealthInsight: “this increase bodes well for the future. However, confidence in the asset class has been heavily eroded and it will take more time to restore investor confidence”.

Andrew Amoils is a writer for WealthInsight

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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.