Saturday, April 14, 2012

Raise the cost of building for everybody

A recovery in the economy can only occur via recovery in the private sector. Much of what has been hailed as “green shoots” results from government stimulus. It is not clear what is being stimulated other than reported GDP, because there are few signs of private sector recovery. One area that has received enormous stimulus is the housing market, even though its reported numbers are still dismal.
In the mortgage issuance area, the private sector has disappeared (see previous post by Chris Martenson). Is this because banks are unwilling to lend? Is it because there are no creditworthy borrowers? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding No! Then why is this happening? The government has driven down interest rates so low in a (foolish) attempt to support housing prices that they have made it unattractive for banks to risk money at these rates. In that sense, the government is subsidizing low interest rates with taxpayer money/risk. Private firms make mortgage loans at interest rates commensurate with risk. When interest rates are held artificially low, there are few loans that meet this requirement. Another way to state this is that the government is taking on risks with your money that prudent investors would not take on with their own money. It is precisely that strategy that gave us the Fannie and Freddie debacle. This is not rocket science. The results are predictable and inevitable as evidenced by the following quote:

Government-guaranteed home mortgages, especially when a negligible down payment or no down payment whatever is required, inevitably mean more bad loans than otherwise. They force the general taxpayer to subsidize the bad risks and to defray the losses. They encourage people to “buy” houses that they cannot really afford. They tend eventually to bring about an oversupply of houses as compared with other things. They temporarily overstimulate building, raise the cost of building for everybody (including the buyers of the homes with the guaranteed mortgages), and may mislead the building industry into an eventually costly overexpansion. In brief in the long run they do not increase overall national production but encourage malinvestment.

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