It’s PRIME TIME: Stage 2 of the U.S. Collapse
Dave “Dave From Denver” Kranzler
To listen to our political leaders, the mainstream media and financial bubblevision t.v. programs, you would think that the financial crisis has stabilized and the housing market is bottoming. But if you un-spin the data fed to us by the Government and the media, the facts show that the financial system is on the precipice of another very large crisis. As the housing market collapse spreads into the prime-rated mortgage sector, a veritable avalanche of foreclosed middle to high-end homes will flood the market, triggering a much larger credit and economic crisis than what was experienced during the past 18 months.
The onset of the financial crisis in this country last year was largely precipitated by the inevitable bursting of the housing and mortgage bubble. In what was an unregulated multi-trillion dollar Ponzi scheme, the price of houses rose to unsustainably insane valuation levels, fueled by the reckless and tragic use of no-holds-barred mortgage financing. This “Stage 1″ of the financial collapse was triggered by an escalation in defaults and foreclosures primarily in the subprime and Alt-A mortgage sectors. The associated collateral damage from this reverberated into the implosion $100′s of billions of off-balance-sheet assets and derivatives, many of which were fraudulently rated by the rating agencies and recklessly pumped into investors by Wall Street. This took the Dow from 14,000 to 6,440 and was addressed by the Government/Fed with as much as $24 trillion in direct monetary injections and financial guarantees. During this Stage 1 we saw the Government takeover of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the de facto Government takeover of AIG, the collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide, Washington Mutual, Wachovia; the U.S. auto industry, among many any other corporate failures and smaller regional bank collapses (64 smaller bank failures this year as of 7/24/09).
Stage 2 of the financial collapse of the U.S. is being triggered by the accelerating rates of default/foreclosure in the prime-rated mortgage market, as well as the collapse of commercial real estate. I am going to focus on the residential mortgage component, as it is three times as large as the commercial real estate mortgage market. Whereas the subprime and Alt-A mortgage markets are roughly $1.5 trillion combined, the prime-rate mortgage market is in excess of $10 trillion, depending on your source of data. For purposes of my analysis, I am using data presented by Mark Hanson of Field Check Group in his “7-19 Mortgage Default Crisis – Brutal Past Two-Months” article posted here (any housing/foreclosure data I use comes from this article):
I have been asserting that the housing collapse would not end until prices fall enough to balance out the supply/demand equation. This includes the inventory of new and existing homes for sale, the inventory of foreclosed homes either on the market or being held by banks but not listed for sale AND the inventory of rental units. Data released this past week show that the rental unit vacancy rate surged to an all-time high. This will put downward pressure on rental rates, of which I am already seeing evidence in Denver. As rental rates decline, it becomes relatively more attractive to rent rather than to own, putting more downward pressure on the price buyers will be willing to pay to buy a home vs. rent.
The biggest problem, however, facing the housing market, is the impending surge in bank foreclosure inventory, fueled by the rapid increase in defaults and foreclosures in the $10 trillion prime mortgage sector of the market. Delinquencies surged in May and foreclosure inventories hit new highs. The May foreclosure rate hit 2.79% of all mortgages. This foreclosure rate increased from April to May by 6.2% and surged from May 2008 by 88.3%. Further troubling is the 5% spike in the rate of delinquencies from April to May. This compares to the April to May average increase in delinquencies over the past four years of 1.1%. The increase in delinquencies from May 2008 to May 2009 spiked up by 50%.
What’s most troubling about this data is that the main source of these horrific foreclosure/default numbers is the rapid increase in defaults in Prime-rated mortgages over the last six months. Once a mortgage defaults, it typically takes 12 to 18 months for the property to be foreclosed and either listed for sale for held in suspense by banks hoping for a miracle in the condition of the housing market.
The default/foreclosure statistics for Prime mortgages are starting to follow the same statistical path experienced in the subprime and Alt-A markets. Currently, over 12% of all subprime mortgages and 8% of all Alt-A mortgages have been foreclosed. Let’s assume that the total foreclosure rate for the prime mortgage market eventually hits 5%. I believe this is a conservative estimate given what has already occurred in subprime and Alt-A, the surging rate of delinquencies in the prime sector and the rapidly escalating rate of unemployment, which directly correlates to mortgage defaults. Assuming 5% means that $500 billion in prime mortgages will be foreclosed. This equates to the entire size of the subprime mortgage market. Imagine the damage this is going to cause to the entire financial system in this country. And my guesstimate may well be way too low (it is not too high, I can assure you of that).
To put this in perspective, Stage 1 of the financial collapse primarily affected the middle to lower income demographics who purchased a home using subprime and Alt-A financing. A lot of these properties are being purchased and turned into rentals, fueling the rental inventories. In what will be a much larger and more severe Stage 2, accelerating defaults in the prime mortgage sector will cause foreclosures to balloon in the upper-middle (think of overbuilt suburban McMansion developments or overvalued renovation homes in trendy urban areas) and high income neighborhoods. Anecdotally, as I drive through all the trendy renovated urban enclaves around Denver, I see “for sale” and “for rent” signs popping up like uncontrolled weeds as homeowners attempt to avoid foreclosure by selling or renting. It’s one thing for an investor to scoop up several low-priced homes and rent them out, hoping for future price recovery. But how will the housing market ever absorb a massive increase in larger, overvalued homes which would never have been built in the first place if a housing bubble never occurred?
As this prime mortgage-financed foreclosure inventory balloons, it is going to drive prices down to levels thought unimaginable. As the value of the collateral for the mortgages declines, banks and investors who own the associated mortgage and mortgage-related paper will suffer massive hits to the value of their assets. Even worse, we will see another round of derivative-related bank and insurance company implosions, some of which will vaporize into thin air the way Bear Stearns and Lehman did, and Countrywide, Wash Mutual, Wachovia and Merrill should have, were it not for the taxpayer financed bailouts of these firms. This Stage of the financial collapse will likely bring down several large State and corporate pension plans as well.
And finally, how will the Federal Reserve and Treasury deal with this impending financial explosion? If it took $24 trillion of direct and indirect financial support and monetary printing in order to “stabilize” the shock of Stage 1, how much money-printing will it take in order to hold the system together as Stage 2 materializes and engulfs our system with multiple financial disasters? It can be argued that the collapse of CIT is the first sign of Stage 2 hitting. It will be interesting to see which other financial firms hit the wall. We know that Bank of America – which sits on Countrywide and Merrill Lynch’s subprime mess, Wells Fargo – which sits perched on Wachovia’s $122 billion of explosive Pay-Option ARM paper, and GE Capital – a giant-sized CIT – are prime candidates to be vaporized by their nuclear balance sheets.
To conclude, based on the spin-free data presented above, a bottom to the housing market is nowhere in sight. In fact, I would argue that housing prices have at least another 30-40% to fall from where they are now. This is a guesstimate based on all of the above evidence. I don’t know what general level of valuation will mark the end of the housing market freefall. I do know that all the so-called experts (like Ben Bernanke et. al.) who said less than 18 months ago that the financial crisis would be contained to the subprime mortgage market and would top out at $200 billion were tragically wrong in their assessment. I also know that I am on record saying prices will revert to 1981 levels and that this crisis would end up costing $5-10 trillion. Looks like the jury is out on home prices and I was way too low on the dollar cost. I also know that, not only are we nowhere near a bottom, but that the worst is yet to occur.
Clearly, the above analysis means that investors should be taking advantage of this bear market stock rally to sell their stocks, sell all of their bonds except for maybe Treasury TIPS and start moving as much money as possible into physical gold, silver and mining stocks.
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