The Cash Advantage (Even When Rates Are Low)

NY Times

Published: March 16, 2008

ALTHOUGH short-term interest rates have been dropping, many advisers still recommend that investors hold plenty of cash — and that they keep it in safe and simple accounts. “The biggest mistake people make is reaching for yield and putting their capital at risk,” said David Darst, the chief investment strategist of the global wealth management group of Morgan Stanley. “They should think of cash as their safe harbor.”

Over the last year, Mr. Darst has raised his recommended allocation to cash several times. Morgan Stanley now advises individual investors to hold 16 percent of their portfolios in cash, up from 5 percent a year ago.

And Mr. Darst said that cash really means cash — with nothing fancy about it. He suggests putting this money into some combination of money market mutual funds, short-term certificates of deposit or Treasury bills. Continue reading

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CNNMoney.com – Interest Rates Tumble

CNN Money

CNNMoney.com
The bond yield tumble, and the economy
Monday March 24, 7:15 am ET
By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large

Bond yields have plunged in the past few weeks. And even if you are not an active investor, you should care about what’s been going on in the bond markets lately. Here’s why.

The yield on the benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury currently stands at about 3.33%, down from nearly 4% about a month ago. The rate on this long-term government note is a key factor behind what happens to fixed-rate mortgages.

If rates continue to fall, they could hit not only a new low for the year – the 10-year briefly touched 3.28% in January – but could come close to falling below the 3.07% level they hit in June 2003, which was a 45-year low at the time. Continue reading

Economic Update – March 9,2008

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  • Housing Foreclosures hit an all time high of 0.83% of all mortgages nationwide.

  • Over 5.8% of homeowners were behind in their mortgage payments, the largest number in more than two decades.

  • House prices lost a staggering 8.9% in 2007 – and they’re still dropping.

  • The supply of unsold houses rose to 4 million, or to over a 10 month’s supply.Homeowners’ equity fell below 50% for the first timesince 1945, hitting a new low of 47.9%. As Barry Ritholtz expressed, never before have banks and other various and sundry lenders owned more of the average American’s house than they do.

  • For February 2008 – the economy lost 63,000 jobs. That means 63,000 people lost their job in one month. Actually, the number was 101,000 people who lost their jobs in February, but the government hired 38,000 just to make the numbers look better.

  • In January 2008 – the consumer price index, the widely reported statistic used to measure inflation, rose 4.3% from January 2006.

  • According to John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics, he comes up with a reading of 11.8% inflation for the January CPI calculation. With oil at $106-a- barrel and every kind of commodity up 30% or more (aluminum, oats, silver-hit a 27 year high recently), and double-digit gains in other commodities such as, coffee, corn, wheat, zinc, etc. This just makes more sense than the economic statistics given to us by the government.

By STEPHEN S. ROACH – from Hong Kong

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March 5, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor

Double Bubble Trouble

Hong Kong

AMID increasingly turbulent credit markets and ever-weaker reports on the economy, the Federal Reserve has been unusually swift and determined in its lowering of the overnight lending rate. The White House and Congress have moved quickly as well, approving rebates for families and tax breaks for businesses. And more monetary easing from the Fed could well be on the way.

The central question for the economy is this: Will this medicine work? The same question was asked repeatedly in Japan during its “lost decade” of the 1990s. Unfortunately, as was the case in Japan, the answer may be no.

If the American economy were entering a standard cyclical downturn, there would be good reason to believe that a timely countercyclical stimulus like that devised by Washington would be effective. But this is not a standard cyclical downturn. It is a post-bubble recession.

The United States is now going through its second post-bubble downturn in seven years. Continue reading

Housing In Deepest Decline Since The Great Depression

Rapid Deterioration

Housing in deepest decline since the Great Depression, economist says

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — Housing is in its “deepest, most rapid downswing since the Great Depression,” the chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday, and the downward momentum on housing prices appears to be accelerating.
The NAHB’s latest forecast calls for new-home sales to drop 22% this year, bringing sales 55% under the peak reached in late 2005. Housing starts are predicted to tumble 31% in 2008, putting starts 60% off their high of three years ago.
“More and more of the country is now involved in the contraction, where six months ago it was not as widespread,” said David Seiders, the NAHB’s chief economist, on a conference call with reporters. “Housing is in a major contraction mode and will be another major, heavy weight on the economy in the first quarter.”
A home-sales measure tracked by the association that includes data on cancellations from 30 large U.S. builders that account for one-quarter of all sales shows sales down 65% from their peak in 2005, Seiders said. Government measures of home sales do not include numbers from contracts that were signed but buyers later backed out.
Vacant homes for sale in the U.S. now number about 2 million, Seiders said, an increase of 800,000 from 2005. That inventory overhang is bedeviling builders, who have been forced to cut prices and write down the value of their holdings.
Read more on the builders’ plight. “Weak demand and oversupply naturally put downward pressure on prices,” Seiders said.
Citing the Case-Shiller index, Seiders noted that home prices nationally have fallen nearly 10% from their peak in early 2006 and that prices were declining at a 19% annual rate in the fourth quarter. “The downward momentum was building at the end of the year,” he said. Read the latest Case-Shiller numbers.
Home sales may bottom out later this year, Seiders predicted, but housing starts are not likely to rebound until 2009. Housing, which took 1.25 percentage points off GDP in the fourth quarter, looks like it will continue to be a major drag on gross domestic product at least through the end of 2008, he said. End of Story

Foreclosures Hit All-Time High

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Foreclosures hit all-time high

Over 900,000 borrowers are losing their homes, up 71% from a year ago, and a record number of home owners are behind on payments.

CNN Money
By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — More home owners than ever are losing the battle to make their monthly mortgage payments.

Over 900,000 households are in the foreclosure process, up 71% from a year ago, according to a survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association. That figure represents 2.04% of all mortgages, the highest rate in the report’s quarterly, 36-year history.

Another 381,000 households, or 0.83% of borrowers, saw the foreclosure process started during the quarter, which was also a record.

Additionally, the number of mortgage borrowers who were over 30 days late on a payment in the last three months of 2007 is at its highest rate since 1985.

“Boy, that was ugly,” said Jared Bernstein, an Economic Policy Institute economist of the data.

“It’s another reminder that anyone who thought we had hit bottom was wrong. This was a huge bubble, and when a bubble of this magnitude breaks, it creates a huge mess,” he said.” It could take a lot longer for the correction to work through the system.”

One reason it may take so long is that there seems to be no end in sight for falling home prices.

“Declining prices are clearly the driving factor behind foreclosures, but the reasons and magnitude of the declines differ from state to state,” said Doug Duncan, MBA’s Chief Economist said in a prepared statement.

The foreclosure rates for prime and subprime adjustable rate mortgages both more than doubled compared with a year ago, from 0.41% for prime ARMs to 1.06% and from 2.70% for subprime ARMs to 5.29%.

But it was subprime ARMs that contributed most heavily to the nation’s soaring foreclosure rates. Many of these loans come with low introductory rates that reset higher, often to unaffordable levels, in two or three years. Although they represent only 7% of all outstanding mortgage loans, they accounted for 42% of foreclosure starts during the quarter.

Delinquencies stood at 5.82% of outstanding mortgages, up from 5.59% during the three months ended September 30, 2007, according to the MBA. In the last quarter of 2006, the rate was 4.95%.

“In states like Ohio and Michigan, declines in the demand for homes due to job losses and out-migration have left those looking to sell their homes with fewer potential buyers, particularly with the much tighter credit restrictions borrowers now face,” said Duncan.

“In states like California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, overbuilding of new homes created a surplus that will take some time to work through.”

California and Florida are the states hardest hit by foreclosures. They accounted for 30% of all foreclosure starts in the United States last quarter, despite representing only 21% of the mortgage market.

Florida’s foreclosure start rate more than tripled during the last three months of the year compared with a year ago, and they more than doubled in California.

Both states still have a sizable over-supply of inventory, according to Duncan, due to over-building during the speculative boom that lasted through mid-2006. That will continue to depress home prices and add to mortgage delinquencies in those states.

“We expect to see home price declines to last there through the end of 2008,” he said, “after the rest of the country is in recovery.”

As prices plummet — already some California and Florida areas have seen price drops of 25% or more, according to Duncan — defaults will soar.

And falling prices and growing foreclosures create a vicious cycle; the more prices fall the less likely it is that borrowers can use home equity to refinance into more affordable loans, which leads to more defaults. And as foreclosures rise housing inventory increases, further depressing prices.

At the same time, these trends have lead to a contraction the construction industry, hurting overall U.S. economic activity and increasing the chances that the economy will fall into recession.

CNN Money