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5 Reasons Why US Housing Has Been The “Shining Star” Of The Covid Crisis

5 Reasons Why US Housing Has Been The "Shining Star" Of The Covid Crisis

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5 Reasons Why US Housing Has Been The "Shining Star" Of The Covid Crisis Tyler Durden Tue, 07/21/2020 - 14:27

Two weeks ago we posted a chart from Deutsche Bank, which showed that contrary to previous economic contractions, the current one has been a clear outlier in that personal income has surged instead of fallen, as it usually does during slowdowns...

... despite tens of millions of newly unemployed workers, leading to what Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid called "the strangest recession in history." This has been almost entirely due to extremely generous government stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, although as we noted previously, the $600 per week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) is set to expire at the end of July, while the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will also expire at the end of this year. It is widely expected that these will be replaced with a similar, if perhaps less generous stimulus program to take advantage of the $1.8 trillion in excess cash currently parked at the Treasury which Trump will be eager to spend before the recession.

However, which personal income has truly been a historic outlier, the current recession is also unique for one other reason: a housing market that has been on a tear - the "shining start in the economic recovery" according to BofA economists - and has stubbornly refused to succumb to the economic weakness.

As Bank of America writes, while home sales and construction fell sharply during the national lockdown in the spring, it has since bounced strongly with mortgage purchase applications rising above pre-COVID-19 levels and NAHB homebuilder sentiment flirting with record highs. Meanwhile, new home sales have recovered 49% (May) of the peak-to-trough loss and housing starts 37% (June), and in short order, we should see starts and sales fully recover to pre-COVID-19 levels or beyond.

The natural question is why the housing market was able to bounce so quickly in the face of an historic shock which left 22 million people unemployed? Here BofA offers five explanations:

  1. An uneven recession: the shock disproportionally impacted the lower income population who are less likely to be homeowners. Consider that 55% of households earning less than $35K a year lost employment income vs. only 40% of those earning $75K and above. According to the NAR, the median household income of recent homebuyers is $93k.
  2. Record low interest rates: mortgage rates reached a new historic low last week. Average monthly mortgage payments have declined by $80/month relative to this time last year due to lower mortgage rates.
  3. Running lean pre-crisis: inventory was low, home equity was high and debt levels manageable. The homeowner vacancy rate reached the lows of the mid-1990s.
  4. Supportive fiscal and monetary policy: forbearance programs reduced potential stress from delinquencies - according to the MBA, 7.8% of all mortgages were in forbearance as of July 12, which amounts to 3.9mn homeowners.
  5. Pandemic-related relocations: moving to the 'burbs is a real phenomenon. Take NYC - according to data from USPS, the number of mail forwarding requests from NYC spiked to more than 80,000 in April, 4X the pre-COVID-19 monthly pace.

Below we look at each of these in more detail:

An Uneven Recession

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has created pain unevenly with the lower income cohort feeling the brunt of the shock. For those households earning under $35k/year, more than 55% have experienced a loss of employment income.
  • For those households making between $35-75k, a little over half have lost employment income. Note that the median household income was $63k in 2018, which falls into this range.
  • The median income for new homebuyers is $93k, which means part of a population with more job security-42% of households making above $75k have seen a loss in employment income.

  • According to the NAR, the median household income of homebuyers is $93k. The majority are between $75-125k, although 11% of households make more than $200k.
  • Even for the youngest homebuyer, aged 22-29, median household income is $80k. This places them above the US median household income of $63k. The oldest homebuyer cohort of 74-94 has the lowest median income of $70k, presumably because they are retired and are not actively earning.
  • This income distribution suggests the housing market is more sensitive to the health of the middle- and upper-income population and more immune from strains on lower income cohorts.

  • We can compare the demographic characteristics of homeowners vs. renters using information from the American Housing Survey.
  • The median household income of owner-occupied households in 2017 was nearly double that of renters at $70k vs. $36k.
  • Homeowners also tended to be older and more highly educated. Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic shock impacted the lower-income population disproportionally, likely keeping the housing market more sheltered than the rental market.

Record low interest rates

  • Mortgage rates have plunged, falling roughly 50bp from the February averages, prior to the shock from COVID-19. The 30 year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) has hit a record low.
  • Low rates will continue: the Fed has been forceful at providing stimulus and is likely to keep policy accommodative with rates exceptionally low well into the recovery.
  • Surveys show that low mortgage rates can push potential homebuyers into the market - according to the University of Michigan survey, 43% of respondents say that it is a good time to buy because rates are low.

  • Assuming the median home price of $288k and average mortgage rates, the monthly mortgage payment would be about $1,007/month. This is $80 less than a year ago.
  • While wages and salaries have fallen given the strains in the labor market, stimulus checks juiced up incomes resulting in median family income popping higher in April and May, increasing housing affordability.
  • Also individuals are making the decision to buy or rent - the decline in mortgage payments is faster than that of rents given that the latter tends to be stickier as landlords have to adapt to higher vacancies. But we expect lower rents to be forthcoming.

  • The decline in mortgage rates has prompted a sharp increase in applications for purchase loans which has exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels and is at the highest since early 2009.
  • While not all applications are approved, this measure is a good leading indicator of future home sales.
  • Indeed, new home sales bounced back 16.6% mom in May, which reflects almost a 50% recovery of the losses from the January high through April. Pending home sales similarly bounced 44.3% in May. We get data for June in the next few days which should show further gains.

Running lean pre-crisis

  • The housing market was lean heading into this crisis, which is in sharp contrast to the 2008-09 recession where the excesses in the housing market drove the downturn.
  • The supply of new homes on the market was running at 5.6 months in May while existing was at 4.6 months.
  • After recovering from the 2008-09 recession, builders were much more cautious and limited the degree to which they engaged in speculative building. There were also constraints on supply given limited labor and lots.

  • The homeowner vacancy rate stands at 1.1% while the rental vacancy rate is 6.6%. This represents a tight market for homes - home are typically sold or rented quickly and do not sit vacant for long
  • The low vacancy rates represent the lack of excess in the market.
  • The main trigger for vacancies tend to be foreclosures which were a major challenge in the last recession but have yet to be a factor today.

  • Little excess can also be seen on the lending side. The median FICO score at the end of the last expansion was 770, showing a responsible lending market and therefore a housing market that is better prepared to weather the storm.
  • Even the bottom tiers of the lending spectrum have become more conservative, with the 25th percentile credit score at 716 and 10th percentile at 661 at the end of 2019. Experian typically considers those that have a credit score above 670 as prime.
  • This compares to the end of the housing bubble when the median, 25th and 10th percentile credit scores bottomed at 707, 639, and 576, respectively.

Supportive fiscal and monetary policy

  • The CARES Act passed in late April allows for those with federally-backed mortgages to go into forbearance for 12 months without a lump-sum penalty thereafter. Other lenders followed suit to provide relief and similarly expanded forbearance rules.
  • According to the MBA, 7.8% of all mortgages were in forbearance as of July 12, which amounts to 3.9mn homeowners. The forbearance share was the highest for private label securities and portfolio loans at 10.41%, while Ginnie was a close second at 10.26%.
  • The MBA noted that forbearance has broadly edged lower in recent weeks as homeowners have been able to get back to work. However, there are risks given the virus spread and expiration of unemployment benefits at the end of July.

  • The CARES Act also provided a large boost to income. Starting in mid-April, checks for up to $1,200 a person were sent out and by early June there were 159mn payments distributed worth more than $267bn.
  • Unemployment insurance was also extended and expanded, providing a further boost and helping to augment income for those who became unemployed-many were laid off temporarily and therefore able to remain homeowners.
  • Transfer payments from the government averaged $5.8tn saar over May and June, reflecting a spike from $3.4tn in March that more than offset the loss in labor income. However, looking ahead, support will begin to wane with income set to normalize lower.

  • The Fed has been aggressive at expanding its balance sheet, buying mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and US Treasuries along with creating the credit facilities.
  • When the crisis first hit and markets looked unstable, the Fed launched a considerable QE program with purchases of MBS running as high as $50bn/day.
  • The pace has since been adjusted to a slower $40bn/month. Since COVID-19 hit, the Fed has expanded its MBS holdings by more than $575bn. This has been a decisive factor in keeping mortgage rates low and housing affordable.

Pandemic-related relocations

  • New York City emerged as one of the first pandemic hotspots in the US. Given the risks, many residents left the city for safer destinations, facilitated by a major shift by businesses to have employees work from home.
  • Indeed, a New York Times analysis of USPS data found that the number of mail forwarding requests from New York City spiked in March and April, reaching above 80,000 versus around 20,000 in February.
  • As businesses have adjusted to work from home, the spike in departures during the pandemic may mark just the beginning of an exodus from urban areas, not just New York but more broadly, towards suburbs.

  • A recent PEW survey in early June found that 3% of adults moved either permanently or temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Where did those impacted relocate? The survey found that a solid majority (61%) moved to a family member's home. Digging a little deeper, 41% moved in with parents, 16% with another relative, and 4% with an adult child.
  • There were a variety of other options for those relocating: 13% of adults moved to a second home or a vacation home, 9% moved to a different permanent home, 7% moved to a temporary location, and another 7% moved in with a friend.

 

  • Another sign that the pandemic has garnered interest in relocating comes from the Redfin.com user data. The share of users searching for homes outside of their home metro area jumped to 27% as of the available 2Q data (April/May)-a record high-after falling to 26% in 1Q.
  • Redfin noted that the interest in smaller, less populated towns (1,000,000) were up a still strong 22% yoy.
  • From a regional perspective, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have the greatest number of net outbound searches. Conversely, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Las Vegas were among the most attractive based on net inbound searches.

* *  *

Putting it all together, the bank believes there is likely "still more upside for housing activity into the fall but the rate of growth will moderate thereafter." That said, for now that fundamentals of the housing market remain favorable. Most notably, housing was affected by this recession and not the cause- in stark contrast to 2008-09-so a very different outcome is likely this time.

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Are Voters Recoiling Against Disorder?

Are Voters Recoiling Against Disorder?

Authored by Michael Barone via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The headlines coming out of the Super…

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Are Voters Recoiling Against Disorder?

Authored by Michael Barone via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The headlines coming out of the Super Tuesday primaries have got it right. Barring cataclysmic changes, Donald Trump and Joe Biden will be the Republican and Democratic nominees for president in 2024.

(Left) President Joe Biden delivers remarks on canceling student debt at Culver City Julian Dixon Library in Culver City, Calif., on Feb. 21, 2024. (Right) Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump stands on stage during a campaign event at Big League Dreams Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nev., on Jan. 27, 2024. (Mario Tama/Getty Images; David Becker/Getty Images)

With Nikki Haley’s withdrawal, there will be no more significantly contested primaries or caucuses—the earliest both parties’ races have been over since something like the current primary-dominated system was put in place in 1972.

The primary results have spotlighted some of both nominees’ weaknesses.

Donald Trump lost high-income, high-educated constituencies, including the entire metro area—aka the Swamp. Many but by no means all Haley votes there were cast by Biden Democrats. Mr. Trump can’t afford to lose too many of the others in target states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Majorities and large minorities of voters in overwhelmingly Latino counties in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley and some in Houston voted against Joe Biden, and even more against Senate nominee Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas).

Returns from Hispanic precincts in New Hampshire and Massachusetts show the same thing. Mr. Biden can’t afford to lose too many Latino votes in target states like Arizona and Georgia.

When Mr. Trump rode down that escalator in 2015, commentators assumed he’d repel Latinos. Instead, Latino voters nationally, and especially the closest eyewitnesses of Biden’s open-border policy, have been trending heavily Republican.

High-income liberal Democrats may sport lawn signs proclaiming, “In this house, we believe ... no human is illegal.” The logical consequence of that belief is an open border. But modest-income folks in border counties know that flows of illegal immigrants result in disorder, disease, and crime.

There is plenty of impatience with increased disorder in election returns below the presidential level. Consider Los Angeles County, America’s largest county, with nearly 10 million people, more people than 40 of the 50 states. It voted 71 percent for Mr. Biden in 2020.

Current returns show county District Attorney George Gascon winning only 21 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan primary. He’ll apparently face Republican Nathan Hochman, a critic of his liberal policies, in November.

Gascon, elected after the May 2020 death of counterfeit-passing suspect George Floyd in Minneapolis, is one of many county prosecutors supported by billionaire George Soros. His policies include not charging juveniles as adults, not seeking higher penalties for gang membership or use of firearms, and bringing fewer misdemeanor cases.

The predictable result has been increased car thefts, burglaries, and personal robberies. Some 120 assistant district attorneys have left the office, and there’s a backlog of 10,000 unprosecuted cases.

More than a dozen other Soros-backed and similarly liberal prosecutors have faced strong opposition or have left office.

St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner resigned last May amid lawsuits seeking her removal, Milwaukee’s John Chisholm retired in January, and Baltimore’s Marilyn Mosby was defeated in July 2022 and convicted of perjury in September 2023. Last November, Loudoun County, Virginia, voters (62 percent Biden) ousted liberal Buta Biberaj, who declined to prosecute a transgender student for assault, and in June 2022 voters in San Francisco (85 percent Biden) recalled famed radical Chesa Boudin.

Similarly, this Tuesday, voters in San Francisco passed ballot measures strengthening police powers and requiring treatment of drug-addicted welfare recipients.

In retrospect, it appears the Floyd video, appearing after three months of COVID-19 confinement, sparked a frenzied, even crazed reaction, especially among the highly educated and articulate. One fatal incident was seen as proof that America’s “systemic racism” was worse than ever and that police forces should be defunded and perhaps abolished.

2020 was “the year America went crazy,” I wrote in January 2021, a year in which police funding was actually cut by Democrats in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver. A year in which young New York Times (NYT) staffers claimed they were endangered by the publication of Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) opinion article advocating calling in military forces if necessary to stop rioting, as had been done in Detroit in 1967 and Los Angeles in 1992. A craven NYT publisher even fired the editorial page editor for running the article.

Evidence of visible and tangible discontent with increasing violence and its consequences—barren and locked shelves in Manhattan chain drugstores, skyrocketing carjackings in Washington, D.C.—is as unmistakable in polls and election results as it is in daily life in large metropolitan areas. Maybe 2024 will turn out to be the year even liberal America stopped acting crazy.

Chaos and disorder work against incumbents, as they did in 1968 when Democrats saw their party’s popular vote fall from 61 percent to 43 percent.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times or ZeroHedge.

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/09/2024 - 23:20

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Veterans Affairs Kept COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate In Place Without Evidence

Veterans Affairs Kept COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate In Place Without Evidence

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The…

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Veterans Affairs Kept COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate In Place Without Evidence

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reviewed no data when deciding in 2023 to keep its COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place.

Doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in Washington in a file image. (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

VA Secretary Denis McDonough said on May 1, 2023, that the end of many other federal mandates “will not impact current policies at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

He said the mandate was remaining for VA health care personnel “to ensure the safety of veterans and our colleagues.”

Mr. McDonough did not cite any studies or other data. A VA spokesperson declined to provide any data that was reviewed when deciding not to rescind the mandate. The Epoch Times submitted a Freedom of Information Act for “all documents outlining which data was relied upon when establishing the mandate when deciding to keep the mandate in place.”

The agency searched for such data and did not find any.

The VA does not even attempt to justify its policies with science, because it can’t,” Leslie Manookian, president and founder of the Health Freedom Defense Fund, told The Epoch Times.

“The VA just trusts that the process and cost of challenging its unfounded policies is so onerous, most people are dissuaded from even trying,” she added.

The VA’s mandate remains in place to this day.

The VA’s website claims that vaccines “help protect you from getting severe illness” and “offer good protection against most COVID-19 variants,” pointing in part to observational data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that estimate the vaccines provide poor protection against symptomatic infection and transient shielding against hospitalization.

There have also been increasing concerns among outside scientists about confirmed side effects like heart inflammation—the VA hid a safety signal it detected for the inflammation—and possible side effects such as tinnitus, which shift the benefit-risk calculus.

President Joe Biden imposed a slate of COVID-19 vaccine mandates in 2021. The VA was the first federal agency to implement a mandate.

President Biden rescinded the mandates in May 2023, citing a drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. His administration maintains the choice to require vaccines was the right one and saved lives.

“Our administration’s vaccination requirements helped ensure the safety of workers in critical workforces including those in the healthcare and education sectors, protecting themselves and the populations they serve, and strengthening their ability to provide services without disruptions to operations,” the White House said.

Some experts said requiring vaccination meant many younger people were forced to get a vaccine despite the risks potentially outweighing the benefits, leaving fewer doses for older adults.

By mandating the vaccines to younger people and those with natural immunity from having had COVID, older people in the U.S. and other countries did not have access to them, and many people might have died because of that,” Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine on leave from Harvard Medical School, told The Epoch Times previously.

The VA was one of just a handful of agencies to keep its mandate in place following the removal of many federal mandates.

“At this time, the vaccine requirement will remain in effect for VA health care personnel, including VA psychologists, pharmacists, social workers, nursing assistants, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, peer specialists, medical support assistants, engineers, housekeepers, and other clinical, administrative, and infrastructure support employees,” Mr. McDonough wrote to VA employees at the time.

This also includes VA volunteers and contractors. Effectively, this means that any Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employee, volunteer, or contractor who works in VHA facilities, visits VHA facilities, or provides direct care to those we serve will still be subject to the vaccine requirement at this time,” he said. “We continue to monitor and discuss this requirement, and we will provide more information about the vaccination requirements for VA health care employees soon. As always, we will process requests for vaccination exceptions in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies.”

The version of the shots cleared in the fall of 2022, and available through the fall of 2023, did not have any clinical trial data supporting them.

A new version was approved in the fall of 2023 because there were indications that the shots not only offered temporary protection but also that the level of protection was lower than what was observed during earlier stages of the pandemic.

Ms. Manookian, whose group has challenged several of the federal mandates, said that the mandate “illustrates the dangers of the administrative state and how these federal agencies have become a law unto themselves.”

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/09/2024 - 22:10

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Low Iron Levels In Blood Could Trigger Long COVID: Study

Low Iron Levels In Blood Could Trigger Long COVID: Study

Authored by Amie Dahnke via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

People with inadequate…

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Low Iron Levels In Blood Could Trigger Long COVID: Study

Authored by Amie Dahnke via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

People with inadequate iron levels in their blood due to a COVID-19 infection could be at greater risk of long COVID.

(Shutterstock)

A new study indicates that problems with iron levels in the bloodstream likely trigger chronic inflammation and other conditions associated with the post-COVID phenomenon. The findings, published on March 1 in Nature Immunology, could offer new ways to treat or prevent the condition.

Long COVID Patients Have Low Iron Levels

Researchers at the University of Cambridge pinpointed low iron as a potential link to long-COVID symptoms thanks to a study they initiated shortly after the start of the pandemic. They recruited people who tested positive for the virus to provide blood samples for analysis over a year, which allowed the researchers to look for post-infection changes in the blood. The researchers looked at 214 samples and found that 45 percent of patients reported symptoms of long COVID that lasted between three and 10 months.

In analyzing the blood samples, the research team noticed that people experiencing long COVID had low iron levels, contributing to anemia and low red blood cell production, just two weeks after they were diagnosed with COVID-19. This was true for patients regardless of age, sex, or the initial severity of their infection.

According to one of the study co-authors, the removal of iron from the bloodstream is a natural process and defense mechanism of the body.

But it can jeopardize a person’s recovery.

When the body has an infection, it responds by removing iron from the bloodstream. This protects us from potentially lethal bacteria that capture the iron in the bloodstream and grow rapidly. It’s an evolutionary response that redistributes iron in the body, and the blood plasma becomes an iron desert,” University of Oxford professor Hal Drakesmith said in a press release. “However, if this goes on for a long time, there is less iron for red blood cells, so oxygen is transported less efficiently affecting metabolism and energy production, and for white blood cells, which need iron to work properly. The protective mechanism ends up becoming a problem.”

The research team believes that consistently low iron levels could explain why individuals with long COVID continue to experience fatigue and difficulty exercising. As such, the researchers suggested iron supplementation to help regulate and prevent the often debilitating symptoms associated with long COVID.

It isn’t necessarily the case that individuals don’t have enough iron in their body, it’s just that it’s trapped in the wrong place,” Aimee Hanson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge who worked on the study, said in the press release. “What we need is a way to remobilize the iron and pull it back into the bloodstream, where it becomes more useful to the red blood cells.”

The research team pointed out that iron supplementation isn’t always straightforward. Achieving the right level of iron varies from person to person. Too much iron can cause stomach issues, ranging from constipation, nausea, and abdominal pain to gastritis and gastric lesions.

1 in 5 Still Affected by Long COVID

COVID-19 has affected nearly 40 percent of Americans, with one in five of those still suffering from symptoms of long COVID, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Long COVID is marked by health issues that continue at least four weeks after an individual was initially diagnosed with COVID-19. Symptoms can last for days, weeks, months, or years and may include fatigue, cough or chest pain, headache, brain fog, depression or anxiety, digestive issues, and joint or muscle pain.

Tyler Durden Sat, 03/09/2024 - 12:50

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