Richard Suttmeier: Home Prices Could Fall Another 50%

Home Short Sales Bring Real Estate Prices Down

The housing market continues to deteriorate.

Thursday’s report on May pending home sales was down 30% from the prior month and nearly 16% vs. a year ago.

The market weakness spans the country. Sales in the Northeast, Midwest and South fell more than 30%, the bright spot, the West, only fell 21%.The news comes after last week’s record low new home sales in May, which plummeted nearly 33%. Experts say the expiration of the new homebuyer tax credit is to blame for the sudden market softness.

Unfortunately, the market could get worse and prices could fall further, says Richard Suttmeier of ValuEngine.com. High unemployment and struggling community banks are two main causes. Saddled with bad housing and construction loans, local banks will continue to restrict lending.Plus, the failure of the Obama administration’s mortgage modification program means a steady flow of short sales. “People are going to be surprised when they see there have been short sales,” which negatively impact appraisals in the local community, says Suttmeier.How low can prices go?Using the S&P/Case-Shiller index as his guide, Suttmeier suggests homes across the country could lose half their value. “If it gets back, like stocks, back to the 1999-2000 levels, that’s another 50% down in home prices,” he says.

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Howard Davidowitz says Wall Street is A Ponzi Scheme with Lies and Fraud

Day one of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s two-day hearing on AIG derivatives contracts featured testimony from Joseph Cassano, the former head of AIG’s financial products unit. Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn was also on the Hill.Meanwhile, the Democrats are still trying to salvage the regulatory reform bill, with critical support from Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) reportedly still uncertain.According to Howard Davidowitz of Davidowitz & Associates, what connects the hearings and the Reg reform debate is the lack of focus on the real underlying cause of the financial crisis: Fraud.”It was a massive fraud… a gigantic Ponzi Scheme, a lie and a fraud,” Davidowitz says of Wall Street circa 2007. “The whole thing was a fraud and it gets back to the accountants valuing the assets incorrectly.”Because accountants and auditors allowed Wall Street firms to carry assets at “completely fraudulent” valuations, he says the industry looked hugely profitable and was able to use borrowed funds to make leveraged bets on all sorts of esoteric instruments. “Their bonuses were based on profits they never made and the leverage they never could have gotten if the numbers were right – no one would’ve given them the money in their right mind,” Davidowitz says.To date, the accounting and audit firms have escaped any serious repercussions from the credit crisis, a stark difference to the corporate “death sentence” that befell Arthur Anderson for its alleged role in the Enron scandal.To Davidowitz, that’s perhaps the greatest outrage of all: “Where were the accountants?,” he asks. “They did nothing, checked nothing, agreed to everything” and collected millions in fees while “shaking hands with the CEO.”

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Value-Added Tax (VAT) – What You Need to Know

Hey – you know we have a debt crisis, right?

A VAT could reduce the deficit and its announcement would signal to foreign investors that we’re serious about deficit reduction, reducing our long-term interest rates and making it easier to borrow.

a VAT is Coming Soon

President Barack Obama’s bipartisan commission to fix our long-term deficit crisis held its first meeting on April 27. But a couple of weeks ago, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a symbolic measure rejecting an important tool to restore fiscal sanity to the budget: the value-added tax. To which you might respond: a what?

Americans like to think of our country as exceptional. Our tax system certainly is. The United States is the world’s only developed nation without a national broad-based consumption tax. As a result, our taxes hit income harder than most countries. Nearly 38 percent of our overall tax take comes from the individual income tax. The OECD average is 25 percent.

As our gaping deficit commands more attention in Washington, some lawmakers and policy gurus are talking about making America a little less exceptional by creating a national consumption tax. That sounds scary. So let’s back up and explain some things about a value-added tax, or VAT: why we might need it, how it would work, and what liberals and conservatives are saying about it.

Here’s why we need it: If you think the deficit looks bad now, wait a few years. Rising health care costs for retired baby boomers will push U.S. debt levels past their World War II-levels. But whereas WWII ended and we owed that debt to ourselves, our entitlement system is woven into American life and we owe half the resulting debt to foreign countries. Approaching this challenge will require some combination of robust growth, spending cuts, entitlement reform and more tax revenue.

Where should this tax revenue come from? There are three reasonable sources. First, some revenue should come from cleaning out the underbrush of special interest deductions and exemptions that hide hundreds of billions of dollars from taxes. But every tax code in the world molds to the interests of the public, and dramatically reducing these carve-outs is unlikely. Second, some revenue should come from higher income taxes on the rich, whose total tax rates have fallen consistently over the last 40 years — while spending grew. But higher taxes on the rich alone won’t close the deficit. That brings us to revenue-source number three: we will have to raise taxes on lower- and middle-class families, and the VAT is probably the most efficient, most equitable, and most non-distortionary way to do it.

So what is a value-added tax, anyway? What it sounds like: a consumption tax on the “value added” at each stage of production. Here’s how that works: Imagine a $1 loaf of bread you buy from the supermarket with a VAT of 10%. You’ve got a farmer, a baker, and a supermarket in the production chain. The farmer grows the wheat and sells it to the baker. The baker makes a loaf, sells it to the supermarket. The supermarket sells the loaf to me. Each link on the production chain pays the government 10% of the price of its product minus 10% of the price it paid for the goods to make that product. Ultimately, the government collects a total of 10 cents on the $1 loaf. At the supermarket, I pay the bread price plus the VAT: $1.10.

Maybe that sounds complicated. But it’s actually much easier to collect VAT than a national retail sales tax because there is a counterparty to every transaction. The baker can try to avoid paying her share of VAT. But the government will see that the supermarket reported the purchase of her bread, and it can go to the baker and say “you forgot to report your sales.” With the individual income tax, we ask the IRS to police tax evaders. With a VAT, the production chain helps to police itself.

For most Americans, this is all happening under the hood. All we would see are higher prices and less overall consumption. Who could want such a thing?

Maybe all of us. Remember that debt crisis? A VAT could reduce the deficit and its announcement would signal to foreign investors that we’re serious about deficit reduction, reducing our long-term interest rates and making it easier to borrow. What’s more, if a tax on consumption discourages some consumption, it might encourage Americans to save more, which might not be such a bad thing considering an avalanche of consumer debt added to the last recession.

Finally, the politics. Conservatives and liberals have different objections to the VAT, but many of them are misguided. Conservatives don’t like the VAT because it’s an efficient, invisible tax — a “money machine.” But one look at our deficit projections is enough to tell you that we need a money machine, as Reagan economic adviser Bruce Bartlett wrote. Conservatives also worry that “invisible” taxes like a VAT would enable the government to grow bigger. The evidence does not agree. “Tax visibility is empirically unrelated to the amount of taxation and government spending,” economist Casey Mulligan concluded.

On the other side, liberals worry that a tax on consumption will hit the poorest the hardest, because lower-income Americans spend more of what they make. But policy makers could solve this regressivity in many ways. Most simply, pairing the VAT with a tax credit for poorer families could actually make the tax progressive. They could also spare some common products from the VAT (indeed, no country’s VAT extends over the entire economy, and realistically an American VAT would probably hit only about a third of GDP). Lawmakers would also probably introduce a VAT in exchange for some combination of cuts to income, payroll, or corporate taxes.

Of course, a VAT could take years to set up and special interests would carve it up with exemptions, just as they have for the rest of the tax system. But there are reasons for both liberals and conservatives to support the VAT. Conservatives want a tax system with a broader base and lower marginal rates. Liberals want to protect programs like Medicare and education spending with new taxes that don’t overburden lower-income families. A VAT would serve both interests.

by Derek Thompson
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Niall Ferguson says, U.S. Empire in Decline and on Collision Course with China

The U.S. is an empire in decline, according to Niall Ferguson, Harvard professor and author of The Ascent of Money.”People have predicted the end of America in the past and been wrong,” Ferguson concedes. “But let’s face it: If you’re trying to borrow $9 trillion to save your financial system…and already half your public debt held by foreigners, it’s not really the conduct of rising empires, is it?”Given its massive deficits and overseas military adventures, America today is similar to the Spanish Empire in the 17th century and Britain’s in the 20th, he says. “Excessive debt is usually a predictor of subsequent trouble.”Putting a finer point on it, Ferguson says America today is comparable to Britain circa 1900: a dominant empire underestimating the rise of a new power. In Britain’s case back then it was Germany; in America’s case today, it’s China.”When China’s economy is equal in size to that of the U.S., which could come as early as 2027…it means China becomes not only a major economic competitor – it’s that already, it then becomes a diplomatic competitor and a military competitor,” the history professor declares.The most obvious sign of this is China’s major naval construction program, featuring next generation submarines and up to three aircraft carriers, Ferguson says. “There’s no other way of interpreting this than as a challenge to the hegemony of the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific region.”As to analysts like Stratfor’s George Friedman, who downplay China’s naval ambitions, Ferguson notes British experts – including Winston Churchill – were similarly complacent about Germany at the dawn of the 20th century.”I’m not predicting World War III but we have to recognize…China is becoming more assertive, a rival not a partner,” he says, adding that China’s navy doesn’t have to be as large as America’s to pose a problem. “They don’t have to have an equally large navy, just big enough to pose a strategic threat [and] cause trouble” for the U.S. Navy.

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The Days of “Buy and Hold” Are Over, says John Mauldin

The economy is still the pits yet stocks are on a tear. What’s an investor to do in these confusing times?John Mauldin, president of Millennium Wave Advisors, admits the average investor doesn’t “have as many good choices” as in the past.Contrary to what “experts” have told the public for years, now is not the time for buy and hold, Mauldin says. “You can be a trader. You can ride the wave, I’ve got no problem with that but I don’t think you want to buy something and hold it for five years.”That’s because he thinks another correction is coming in the not so distant future.Mauldin, who writes the Thoughts from the Frontline e-letter, does think there’s money to be made in real estate. With prices so depressed in many markets, he says buying property on the cheap and renting it “is a prescription for making money.”

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Robert Shiller, Market Boom “Can’t Be Trusted”

The strength of the recovery in the housing market has surprised a lot of people, including Yale Professor Robert Shiller.”This is historic,” Shiller says of the recent snapback in the Case-Shiller Index. “It’s V-shaped. We’ve never seen it before. That makes it hard to know from statistical basis what it portends.”Are we on track for a repeat of irrational exuberance?With the stock market up more than 50% since March and the Standard & Poor’s Case/Shiller Index on the rise for the last three months, it’s a worry, says Yale Professor Robert Shiller. “Somehow we got into this really speculative mentality and I don’t think we’re out of it yet.”

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Elizabeth Warren says, Housing Market Getting Worse

Home Foreclosures Will Last For Years

10 to 12 million U.S. Homes Could Ultimately Go Into Foreclosure

There’s been a lot of talk lately about a recovery in the housing market – even reports of bubbles re-inflating in certain markets. Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, isn’t buying it. “We see things getting worse in the housing market,” Warren says, citing the pernicious effects of foreclosures, which rose 5% in the third quarter to a total of 937,840, according to RealtyTrac. “The long-term impact of high foreclosure rates on our housing market and overall economy would be disastrous,” Warren warns, citing estimates that 10 to 12 million U.S. homes could ultimately go into foreclosure. “We have to get foreclosures under control. “Why the sense of urgency?

A single foreclosure property brings prices down an average of $5000 for every house in a two-block radius and costs investors an average of $120,000, she says. In its most recent report, Warren’s panel criticized the Treasury’s foreclosure modification efforts as “inadequate” and “targeted at the housing crisis as it existed six months ago, rather than as it exits right now. “Specifically, the Treasury program is targeted at subprime borrowers hit with ballooning mortgage payments vs. prime borrowers hit by job losses.  As for the “morality question” of whether the government should be bailing out homeowners, Warren says “I’m passed that,” noting “there’s plenty of unfairness to go around.”More importantly, “ultimately the American taxpayer — thanks to Fannie, Freddie and FHA — is going to stand behind many of these mortgage,” she says. “We need to be thinking more globally what is cheapest possible way to bring this crisis to an end. “One solution: Force investors holders these mortgages who may be betting on a government bailout to take a haircut, as occurred with GM and Chrysler creditors. “That’s why they call it investing,” Warren says. “You make profits in good times, take losses in bad times. That’s the fundamental part of this [modification effort] that’s missing.”

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