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Death Of The American Dream And Home Ownership?

Death Of The American Dream And Home Ownership?

Authored by Michael Wilkerson via The Epoch Times,

Homes historically have served as the…

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Death Of The American Dream And Home Ownership?

Authored by Michael Wilkerson via The Epoch Times,

Homes historically have served as the primary store of value and wealth creation for most Americans. Housing represented one asset class that was available to both working and middle-class Americans, facilitated in part through government-sponsored entities (GSEs) such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, formed following the Great Depression, that aggregated lender risk, created market liquidity, and facilitated access to mortgages to millions of ordinary Americans.

This process created a both a level playing field and a point of entry for the working and middle classes into the world of capital accumulation. Home prices would typically grow in value over time, even during inflation, which would help sustain retirees and others who had invested in their homes and built equity value over decades.

But something has changed in recent years. Global financial institutions are now crowding out traditional homebuyers, and they are being financed by these same GSEs in an apparent dilution of their legislated mandates.

One of the most oft-criticized statements arising out of the World Economic Forum (WEF), and its corporate sponsors, is that for most people, property ownership is redundant and unnecessary—an idea made notorious by the quote, that by 2030, “you’ll own nothing, and you’ll (still) be happy.” In fact, according to the WEF, private ownership should be discouraged in favor of renting, sharing, or gigging out everything … not just homes but cars, appliances, clothes, and even personal relationships.

As far as homes are concerned, the rental economy runs counter to a core aspiration of most Americans. Private property and home ownership is an American aspiration Yet home affordability is becoming more and more challenging for middle-class Americas. The monetary policies of the Federal Reserve over the past two decades have penalized the middle class by fueling financial asset-price increases. These policies primarily benefit institutions and the already propertied class by pushing excess liquidity into the financial markets. Corporates and financial institutions are benefiting, Americans, especially the younger and poorer, are losing.

Bubble, Bubble, Toils and Trouble

Most readers are familiar with the basic outline of the global financial crisis of 2008–09. In the first few years of the century, housing markets grew into a massive bubble fueled by a corrupted mortgage underwriting and securitization process and by near-zero mortgage interest rates, courtesy of the Federal Reserve. In less than seven years between the turn of the century and the housing market’s peak in 2007, U.S. housing prices increased by more than 65 percent. From that pre-crisis peak to the trough in 2012, housing prices fell nearly 20 percent before stabilizing.

From there began the “everything bubble,” wherein the value of financial assets (stocks, bonds, and housing) once again began to rise at a pace well beyond the rate of increase in real national income or labor productivity. As an example, the price of the S&P 500 Index increased threefold, or an average of 11.5 percent per year, from its lows in 2009 through the eve of the pandemic and lockdowns in early 2020, during a period in which gross domestic product (GDP) growth struggled to maintain 3 percent per year. For housing, the rise wasn’t as dramatic, growing at an average rate of 4.8 percent per year from 2012 through the end of the decade.

In the wake of the market’s chaos, Wall Street saw opportunity. Private equity firms became aggressive acquirers of residential properties following the global financial crisis. Initially, this served a public good, in that the presence of nontraditional institutional buyers helped revive broken housing markets. However, once housing markets stabilized, institutional investors began to compete with American families seeking to own their own homes. According to The Atlantic , private equity spent more than $36 billion between 2011 and 2017 on 200,000 homes, and investment firms represented about 20 percent of home purchases, competing especially among moderate and lower-priced homes.

The implications for this trend are negative, in that institutional investors with cheaper financing can distort prices and thus reduce housing affordability for the middle class. The competitive presence of these firms is disrupting the housing market in at least two ways. First, and the most destructive, institutional capital is making housing more expensive for low- and moderate-income homebuyers, especially when purchases are made at the large scale we’re seeing today. Second, it is squeezing out smaller, local investors who tend to be budding real estate entrepreneurs and mom-and-pop landlords.

This buying spree has been financed both by the Federal Reserve’s easy money policies and by the federal government’s own housing agencies, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, originally chartered to help homeowners with access to credit, which have instead provided billions of dollars in financing to these real estate acquisition firms. On the eve of the pandemic, these institutions raised hundreds of billions in new capital for residential real estate investment. The timing was auspicious.

Housing’s second boom of this century occurred during lockdowns and the shutdown of the national economy. Indeed, since the imposition of lockdowns, shuttering of businesses, travel and other restrictions in early 2020, U.S. housing prices rose a remarkable 37 percent in just two years. This was a period in which real wages were increasing by only about 3 percent annually—now 6 percent in 2022, but still not enough to keep up.

During this time, many knowledge industry employees learned that they could work as effectively from home as from the office, and people of all political stripes fled poorly managed and crime-ridden big cities for the suburbs and exurbs. As a result, housing suddenly came into greater demand. At the same time, the pace and scale of institutional acquisitions accelerated.

Much of their accumulated firepower was deployed in 2020–21, a time when ordinary Americans were income insecure and access to mortgage markets was tightening. Even historically low mortgage rates weren’t enough to help homeowners when they were competing against institutional investors that could pay all cash. Since the beginning of 2022, this situation has become worse. For individual home buyers, interest rates have doubled, e.g., increasing by 4 percent to just under 7 percent on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, further reducing home affordability.

The massive presence of private equity and institutional investors is contributing to housing inflation and pushing homeownership out of reach for more and more Americans. As a result, many Americans are being pushed into a rental market that also is now increasingly controlled by large investment firms who manage their properties centrally to save costs.

The entry into the single-family housing market by large institutional investors not only undermines the process of middle- and working-class capital accumulation but also risks creating a new form of feudalism. Left unchecked, such impoverishment of an entire generation may lay a foundation for social instability and unrest unlike anything we’ve witnessed in this country.

A strong and healthy America requires a prosperous and vibrant middle class. Now being challenged on multiple fronts, the American middle class must maintain its culture of home ownership to thrive in the future, not only as a store of value but also as an investment in the success of nation itself. In an inflationary environment, access to hard assets (including one’s home) becomes more critical as a hedge against the ravages of inflation and loss of purchasing power. While home ownership alone will not be enough to save the middle class (stable and well-paying jobs are obviously more critical), it’s an important element worth fighting for. This means ensuring that policies governing the GSEs (and their actual lending practices) serve the American first-time buyer and other individual homeowners they were created to support.

Tyler Durden Fri, 11/11/2022 - 12:46

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EU Markets Not Immune From New World Disorder Of ‘No Article V’ Trump Office

EU Markets Not Immune From New World Disorder Of ‘No Article V’ Trump Office

By Teeuwe Mevissen, Senior Macro Strategist at Rabobank

This…

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EU Markets Not Immune From New World Disorder Of 'No Article V' Trump Office

By Teeuwe Mevissen, Senior Macro Strategist at Rabobank

This week shocked European leaders from Helsinki to Brussels and back via Berlin to Warsaw without skipping any of the other European NATO member capitals in Europe. What happened? During one of Trump’s campaign rallies Trump said that he would sort of encourage Russia to do whatever it wanted with NATO members that have not been meeting their defense spending fair share of 2% of GDP.

While this remark directly undermines NATO’s most crucial article V - which calls for military involvement of all NATO member countries if one of its members were to be attacked - it could hardly be real news for most of those ‘shocked’ European ‘leaders’.

Indeed it was nobody else but Trump who already told von der Leyen in 2020 that: "You need to understand that if Europe is under attack we will never come to help you and to support you," .

While it is no secret that Von der Leyen already failed miserably during her term as a minister of defence for Germany, she apparently failed again in taking Trump's words seriously back in 2020. While Trump’s recent NATO comments are everything but helping to advance America’s position on the global stage, Von der Leyen and many of her colleagues in Brussels and other mainly Western European leaders, failed to do what is necessary to prepare for a potential return of Trump or the return of his ideas embodied by someone else. They may now be coming around of that view, seeing Von der Leyen’s interview in the FT today, but precious time has been wasted.

Now imagine that Trump would win and would return to pro-fossil fuel policies that would make the US largely if not totally independent from any fossil fuels from abroad. He might pursue an isolationist approach here too, leaving the EU to scramble for much needed cheap energy from the Middle East.

Could the EU protect crucial sea lanes on its own?

That is doubtful, to say the least.

So what European leader could step up and take the lead in the much needed process to get Europe ready to engage effectively in a mass military build-up campaign fast should that turn out to be necessary?

That certainly does not seem to be Rutte as he has been responsible for the most dramatic cuts of the Dutch defence budget during his record long rein in the Netherlands.. Still he is the top favourite in securing the role of head of NATO. However, it must also be said that he has been on the forefront in supporting Ukraine and was one of the first Western leaders to provide Ukraine with fighter jets. Still it sometimes seems that for people who govern, failing to do your job properly is no barrier to continue to govern. And to be very clear, the very same goes for Trump. All of this seems to be indicating that international anarchy and global chaos resulting from it might be here to stay for the foreseeable future and markets will not be immune to this new world disorder.

One example of how for instance increasing rivalry between the West and China continues to plague companies that do business in China, was yesterday’s news regarding Germany’s automobile giant Volkswagen. Yesterday saw German luxury cars being impounded by the US after it became known that subcomponents in those cars were coming from the Xinjiang autonomous region and made by forced labour.

Or what to think of the fact that the large asset manager JP Morgan hires former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to advise the bank’s board of directors, senior leaders and clients on dangers around the world.

Does anybody need more proof that markets will not be immune to a new world in disorder? 

Turning back to Europe, it remains to be seen what the impact will be of Europe seriously stepping up its efforts to rebuilt a defence industry but it is likely to be an increase of taxes and a decrease of the welfare system. On a 'positive' note: The European Council and Parliament reached a provisional agreement on new budget rules last Saturday that would give member states more budgetary leeway if they carry out reforms and invest in the green and digital transition, strengthening social resilience and, where necessary, defence.

One thing is sure, peace dividend will be something of the past and again certainly European financial markets will not be immune for a new world disorder.

Looking at what is happening today we saw UK retail sales coming in much higher than expected. Overall retail sales gained 0.7% y/y where a decline of -1.6% was expected. On a monthly base the rise was 3.4% vs an expected rise of 1.5%. However looking at those volumes the data shows the picture that measured in volumes, retail sales are still below pre pandemic levels. EUR/GBP therefore moves slightly up today mainly indicating a weaker pound with the current EUR/GBP exchange rate approaching the level of 0.86.

Next to that were the final inflation figures from France, which confirmed earlier estimates that prices declined  0.2% m/m but on a yearly base (3.4%) still exceed the ECB’s target level of approximately 2%. It must however be said that the data includes January discounts which are reflected by a sharp decline of prices for shoes and clothing (-9.2% m/m) although prices for transport also dropped with 4.8% m/m.

Tyler Durden Fri, 02/16/2024 - 11:40

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Fed Chair Powell Just Said The Quiet Part Out Loud

Fed Chair Powell Just Said The Quiet Part Out Loud

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

Regarding the surprisingly strong…

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Fed Chair Powell Just Said The Quiet Part Out Loud

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

Regarding the surprisingly strong employment data, Fed Chair Powell said the quiet part out loud. The media hopes you didn’t hear it as we head into a contentious election in November.

Over the last several months, we have seen repeated employment reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that crushed economists’ estimates and seemed to defy logic. Such is particularly the case when you read commentary about the state of the average American as follows.

“New Yorker Lohanny Santos publicly vented her frustration after her attempts to go door-to-door with her CV in hand in the hope of finally landing a job were unsuccessful.

It would appear that other young jobseekers could relate to Lohanny’s struggles. The USA and Canada rank fifth out of seven when it comes to youth unemployment and third when it comes to total unemployment, according to World Bank data based on an International Labor Organization model for 2020, as per Statista.” – Business Insider

Even M.B.A.s are finding it difficult.

“Jenna Starr stuck a blue Post-it Note to her monitor a few months after getting her M.B.A. from Yale University last May. “Get yourself the job,” it read. It wasn’t until last week—when she received a long-awaited offer—that she could finally take it down.

For months, Starr has been one of a large number of 2023 M.B.A. graduates whose job searches have collided with a slowdown in hiring for well-paid, white-collar positions. Her search for a job in sustainability began before graduation, and she applied for more than 100 openings since, including in the field she used to work in—nonprofit fundraising.” – WSJ

These stories are not unique. If you Google “Can’t find a job,” you will get many article links. The question, of course, is why individuals with college degrees, no less, are having such a tough time finding employment. After all, aside from record-smashing employment reports, we also continue to see near-record low jobless claims and high numbers of job openings, as shown below.

The Washington Post touched on part of the problem and why the unemployment rate for college graduates is higher than for all workers.

“Part of the problem is that the industries with the biggest worker shortages — including restaurants, hotels, daycares, and nursing homes — aren’t necessarily where recent graduates want to work. Meanwhile, the industries where they do want to work — tech, consulting, finance, media — are announcing layoffs and rethinking hiring plans.”

As the Washington Post summed up:

“The result is yet another disruption for a generation of college graduates who have already had crucial years of schooling upended by the pandemic. In interviews, many said they’d struggled to adjust to remote-learning in early 2020 and felt like they had missed out on opportunities to forge connections with professors, employers and other students that could have been crucial in lining up for postgraduate work. Now, as they enter the workforce, they say they’re feeling increasingly disillusioned about the economy, which is fueling political discontent and causing them to rethink the financial independence they thought they’d achieve after college.”

Of course, it isn’t just the shuttering of the economy and the shift to working from home causing the problem. It is also the shift in demand from consumers to more service-oriented conveniences, combined with the need by employers to maintain profitability.

Fed Chair Powell Says The Quiet Part

Since the turn of the century, the U.S. economy has shifted from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-oriented one. There are two primary reasons for this.

The first is that the “cost of labor” in the U.S. to manufacture goods is too high. Domestic workers want high wages, benefits, paid vacations, personal time off, etc. On top of that are the numerous regulations on businesses from OSHA to Sarbanes-Oxley, FDA, EPA, and many others. All those additional costs are a factor in producing goods or services. Therefore, corporations needed to offshore production to countries with lower labor costs and higher production rates to manufacture goods competitively.

During an interview with Greg Hays of Carrier Industries, the reasoning for moving a plant from Mexico to Indiana during the Trump Administration was most interesting.

So what’s good about Mexico? We have a very talented workforce in Mexico. Wages are obviously significantly lower. About 80% lower on average. But absenteeism runs about 1%. Turnover runs about 2%. Very, very dedicated workforce.

Which is much higher versus America. And I think that’s just part of these — the jobs, again, are not jobs on an assembly line that [Amerians] really find all that attractive over the long term.

Fed Chair Powell emphasized this point in a recent 60-Minutes Interview. To wit:

“SCOTT PELLEY: Why was immigration important?

FED CHAIR POWELL: Because, you know, immigrants come in, and they tend to work at a rate that is at or above that for non-immigrantsImmigrants who come to the country tend to be in the workforce at a slightly higher level than native Americans. But that’s primarily because of the age difference. They tend to skew younger.

The suppression of wages, increased productivity to reduce the amount of required labor, and offshoring has been a multi-decade process to increase corporate profitability.

A Native Problem

Following the pandemic-related shutdown, corporations faced multiple threats to profitability from supply constraints, a shift to increased services, and a lack of labor. At the same time, mass immigration (both legal and illegal) provided a workforce willing to fill lower-wage paying jobs and work regardless of the shutdown. Since 2019, the cumulative employment change has favored foreign-born workers, who have gained almost 2.5 million jobs, while native-born workers have lost 1.3 million. Unsurprisingly, foreign-born workers also lost far fewer jobs during the pandemic shutdown.

Given that the bulk of employment continues to be in lower-wage paying service jobs (i.e., restaurants, retail, leisure, and hospitality) such is why part-time jobs have dominated full-time in recent reports. Relative to the working-age population, full-time employment has dropped sharply after failing to recover pre-pandemic levels.

However, as noted, full-time employment has declined since 2000 as services dominate labor-intensive processes such as manufacturing. This is because we “export” our “inflation” and import “deflation.” We do this to buy flat-screen televisions for $299 versus $3,999. Such is also why the economy continues to grow slower, requiring ever-increasing debt levels.

For recent college graduates, this all leads to a more dire outlook.

Immigration Is Needed, But It Has Consequences

To keep an economy growing, you must have population growth. In other words, “demographics are destiny.” As such, there are two ways to obtain more robust population growth rates – natural births and immigration. As shown below, the fertility rate in the United States is problematic in that we aren’t producing enough children to replace an aging workforce.

Such is particularly problematic given the rapid aging of older adults versus a declining working-age population. Such means the underfunding of entitlements will continue to grow, requiring more debt issuance to fill the gap.

However, there is a vast difference between immigration policies that import highly skilled workers, capital, and education versus those that don’t. Merit-based immigration policies bring workers who earn higher salaries, create businesses, employ labor, and create tax revenues and other economic contributions. However, current policies are creating a rush of lower-skilled, uneducated labor that will work for cheaper wages, produce less revenue, and are subsidized by tax-payers through welfare programs. As noted above, these workers tend to fill the jobs in the service areas of the economy, thereby displacing native-born workers. Such was a point made by the WSJ:

“Before the pandemic, foreign-born adults were almost as likely as the overall population to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. This was mainly because of higher educational attainment among immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Europe, which offset lower levels of schooling among people from Mexico and Central America.”

Post-pandemic, this has not been the case, which is impacting native-born employment. This is not a new issue, but one addressed by Bill Clinton in the 1995 State of the Union Address:

“The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants; the public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers.”

Such is the natural consequence of a change in the economy’s demands and the need for corporations to maintain profitability in an ultimately deflationary environment.

Conclusion

While there is much debate over immigration, most of the arguments do not differentiate between legal and illegal immigration. There are certainly arguments that can be made on both sides. However, what is less debatable is the impact that immigration is having on employment. Of course, as native-born workers continue to demand higher wages, benefits, and other tax-funded support, those costs must be passed on by the companies creating those products and services. At the same time, consumers are demanding lower prices.

That imbalance between input costs and selling price drives companies to aggressively seek options to reduce the highest cost to any business – labor. Such was discussed in our article on the cost and consequences of the demand for increased minimum wages.

  • Reductions in employment would initially be concentrated at firms where higher prices quickly reduce sales. 

  • Over a longer period, however, more firms would replace low-wage workers with higher-wage workers, machines, and other substitutes.

  • As employers pass some of those costs on to consumers, consumers purchase fewer goods and services.

  • Consequently, the employers produce fewer goods and services.

  • When the cost of employing low-wage workers rises, the cost of investing in machines and technology goes down.” – Congressional Budget Office.

Such is why full-time employment has declined since 2000 despite the surge in the Internet economy, robotics, and artificial intelligence. It is also why wage growth fails to grow fast enough to sustain the cost of living for the average American. These technological developments increased employee productivity, reducing the need for additional labor.

Unfortunately, these tales of college graduates expecting high-paying jobs will likely continue to find it increasingly complicated. Particularly as “Artificial Intelligence” becomes cheap enough to displace higher-paid employees.

Tyler Durden Fri, 02/16/2024 - 11:00

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Industrial Production Decreased 0.1% in January

From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization
Industrial production edged down 0.1 percent in January after recording no change in December. In January, manufacturing output declined 0.5 percent and mining output fell 2.3 percent; winter…

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From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization
Industrial production edged down 0.1 percent in January after recording no change in December. In January, manufacturing output declined 0.5 percent and mining output fell 2.3 percent; winter weather contributed to the declines in both sectors. The index for utilities jumped 6.0 percent, as demand for heating surged following a move from unusually mild temperatures in December to unusually cold temperatures in January. At 102.6 percent of its 2017 average, total industrial production in January was identical to its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector moved down 0.2 percentage point in January to 78.5 percent, a rate that is 1.1 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2023) average.
emphasis added
Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up from the record low set in April 2020, and above the level in February 2020 (pre-pandemic).

Capacity utilization at 78.5% is 1.1% below the average from 1972 to 2022.  This was below consensus expectations.

Note: y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change.


Industrial Production The second graph shows industrial production since 1967.

Industrial production decreased to 102.6. This is above the pre-pandemic level.

Industrial production was below consensus expectations.

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