Dean Baker on Bubbles and Recessions
This piece, by Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, comes to us via TomPaine.com:
The Coming Housing Crash
All the economists who missed the stock bubble—this is almost all economists—are just about to be embarrassed again. Several reports released this week provide the strongest evidence yet that the housing bubble may finally be deflating.
Sales of new and existing homes are both down more than 10 percent from their peaks last year. Mortgage applications are down 20 percent. Sale prices have barely risen from the level of last year, and are actually down after adjusting for inflation. Inventories of new and existing homes both stand at record levels, and the vacancy rate for ownership units has also hit a new high.
This is a very different picture from a year ago, when housing was considered the best investment around. At that time, homes in the hottest markets would routinely sell the day they came on the market for more than the asking price. The result of this frenzy was an unprecedented run-up in house prices.
But, it was inevitable that the bubble would eventually collapse. The record run-up in housing prices led to record rates of housing construction. With population growth slowing, the country was building homes far more rapidly than the market could absorb them. At some point, excess supply will put downward pressure on prices.
The decline in housing prices will sharply limit the extent to which people can borrow against their home to support their consumption. This will cause savings to rebound from their current negative rates to more normal levels—at 6 to 8 percent of disposable income—but will be associated with a sharp falloff in consumption.
Together these effects virtually guarantee a recession, and probably a rather severe recession. Even worse, there is no easy route to recovery from a recession that results from a collapse of a housing bubble, just as there was no easy route to recover from the stock crash induced recession of 2001. Greenspan used the housing bubble to recover from that crash, because he saw no other mechanism. Unless Bernanke can find some other bubble to inflate, the recovery may be a long slow process. It took Japan almost 15 years to recover from the crash of its stock and housing bubbles.
The crash and post-crash world will not be pretty. Millions of people will lose their jobs and their homes. Unfortunately, the economists who led us down this path are not likely to be among the ones who suffer severe consequences.