Housing Bubble II: But This Time It’s Different

Published on Testosterone Pit, by Wolf Richter, March 18, 2013;

We have seen it for several years now: foreclosure sales—there were 5 million since the peak of the housing bubble—have become the hunting grounds for investors with two goals: hanging on to these homes until the Fed’s flood of money drives up their value; and defraying the expenses of ownership by renting them out. And funds have a third goal: collecting management fees. Thousands of smaller investors have piled into the game. And so have the giants.  

Blackstone Group LP, the world’s largest private equity firm, plowed over $3.5 billion into the housing market, according to Bloomberg, to gobble up 20,000 vacant and foreclosed single-family homes. It just fattened up a credit line to $2.1 billion to do more of the same. Colony Capital LLC, which already owns 7,000, is putting $2.2 billion to work.

Last year, institutional investors made up 19% of all sales in Las Vegas, 21% in Charlotte, 23% in Phoenix, and 30% in Miami. It had an impact. In the latest Case-Shiller report—a three-month moving average for October, November, and December—home values soared 9.9% in Atlanta, a bigger jump than even during the peak of the housing bubble. Las Vegas popped 12.9%, and Phoenix 23%. It’s getting hotter. In February, compared to prior year, asking prices jumped 14% in Atlanta, 18% in Las Vegas, and 25% Phoenix. Seen from another point of view: in January, the median price of a single-family home in Phoenix skyrocketed 35%.

“We recognized that prices were moving faster than people expected,” explained Devin Peterson, a Blackstone real estate associate, to Bloomberg. Despite that, they’re still “finding opportunities to buy.” They might not be able to rent them out very quickly, but they’d rather not be “missing out on a few points in home price appreciation.” The race to buy is on. The next housing bubble is inflating.

And that’s great. Money—which the Fed hands to its cronies at the frenetic pace of $85 billion a month—magically finds places to go and drives up values, and transactions take place, and paper gets shuffled around, and homes change hands as banks get out from under them, and fees and commissions change hands too. It inflates GDP, which is what everyone wants. And Chairman Bernanke can contort his arm slapping himself on the back … //

… As the Fed’s money is trying to find a place to go, prices may continue to rise. But with the economics to support these prices—namely rental revenues—giving way, the remaining reason to buy would be a singular hope: economically unsustainable price appreciation. The definition of a bubble. At some point, not being able to make money on rentals, investors will try to bail out. Then, the process of a Fed-inspired housing bubble blowing up starts all over again.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher often warned about the nefarious effects of this flood of money. But he was shuffled off to “an out-of-the-way ballroom” at the CPAC, where Republicans struggled with the future, and drew barely two dozen people; yet he had a pungent message. Read: The Fed’s Token Voice Of Reason: Megabanks Undermine Americans’ Faith In Democracy.
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Update for Links:

Cypriot parliament votes against deposit levy, on Russia Today RT, March 20, 2013;

Playing Chicken: Why the Euro Zone Must Play Hardball with Cyprus, on Spiegel Online International, by Christian Rickens, March 20, 2013: The Cypriot rejection on Tuesday night of the euro-zone bailout package for the country’s ailing banks has triggered a power struggle between the island nation and the European Union. If Brussels gives in, future efforts to save the euro will be made more difficult. All hopes are now on Russia …;

Cyprus warned over parliament’s bailout rejection, on BBCnews Europe, March 20, 2013.

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