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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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war