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


  • 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

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.