Financial Crisis

Surprise! For Fiscally Responsible, Housing Remains Good as Gold

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Back in 2002, I compared housing to gold. The surge in home buying in the 2000s looked like the 1970s rush to buy gold. Like the current times, the 1970s were a time of great economic uncertainty, followed by the rapid inflation of prices in the 1980s. Regardless of the actual return on investment, many people bought gold as a hedge against financial and economic turmoil. When Americans bought houses in the 2000s, they believed homes would provide some of that same protection, in addition to being a place to live.  read more »

Will we be over-stimulated?

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Stimulus fever is in the air, and with the election of Sen. Barack Obama to become the 44th US president, it’s now reaching a fever pitch. US automakers have already made the rounds on Washington DC, meeting with Congressional leadership to generate political support for another $25 billion in government subsidy to avoid bankruptcy. Now, congressional leaders and some economists are clamoring for $150 billion to $300 billion in additional stimulus to goose the national economy – all this on top of the $700 billion financial services “rescue package” passed in October.  read more »

Two-Timing Telecommute Taxes

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Telecommuting — or telework — is a critical tool that can help employees, businesses and communities weather the current financial crisis, and thrive afterward. However, right now, the nation is burdened with a powerful threat to the growth of telework: the telecommuter tax. This tax is a state penalty imposed on Americans who work for employers outside their home states and sometimes telecommute.  read more »

The Triumph Of The Creative Class

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Barack Obama rode to his resounding victory on the enthusiasm of two constituencies, the young and African Americans, whose support has driven his candidacy since the spring. Yet arguably the biggest winners of the Nov. 4 vote are located at the highest levels of the nation's ascendant post-industrial business community.

Obama's triumph reflects a decisive shift in the economic center of gravity away from military contractors, manufacturers, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, suburban real estate developers, energy companies, old-line remnants on Wall Street and other traditional backers of the GOP. In their place, we can see the rise of a different set of players, predominately drawn from the so-called "creative class"  read more »

San Francisco and the Meltdown

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Initially San Francisco and the Bay Area market seemed to be immune to the financial meltdown resulting from the mortgage crisis. After all, the City and its accompanying affluent suburbs had not suffered drastic drops in home prices as seen in many other regions of the country. Yet as the mortgage crisis has snowballed into a complete meltdown of the worldwide financial system, the poster child of the ‘new economy’ now appears less and less immune from the turmoil dominating our news headlines.

The region that consists of the City by the Bay and the adjacent Silicon Valley is no stranger to drastic market corrections.  read more »

No More Urban Hype

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Just months ago, urban revivalists could see the rosy dawn of a new era for America's cities. With rising gas prices and soaring foreclosures hitting the long-despised hinterland, urban boosters and their media claque were proclaiming suburbia home to, as the Atlantic put it, "the next slums." Time magazine, the Financial Times, CNN and, of course, The New York Times all embraced the notion of a new urban epoch.

Yet in one of those ironies that markets play on hypesters, the mortgage crisis is now puncturing the urbanists' bubble. The mortgage meltdown that first singed the suburbs and exurbs, after all, was largely financed by Wall Street, the hedge funds, the investment banks, insurers and the rest of the highly city-centric top of the paper food chain.  read more »

Root Causes of the Financial Crisis: A Primer

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It is not yet clear whether we stand at the start of a long fiscal crisis or one that will pass relatively quickly, like most other post-World War II recessions. The full extent will only become obvious in the years to come. But if we want to avoid future deep financial meltdowns of this or even greater magnitude, we must address the root causes.

In my estimation two critical and related factors created the current crisis. First, profligate lending which allowed many people to buy overpriced properties that they could not, in reality, afford. Second, the existence of excessive land use regulation which helped drive prices up in many of the most impacted markets.  read more »

Turns Out There's Good News on Main St.

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As the financial crisis takes down Wall Street, the regular folks on Main Street are biting their nails, watching the toxic tsunami head their way. But for all our nightmares of drowning in a sea of bad mortgages, foreclosed homes and shrunken retirement plans, the truth is that the effects of this meltdown won't be all bad in the long run. In one regard, it could offer our society a net positive: Forced into belt-tightening, Americans are likely to strengthen our family and community ties and to center our lives more closely on the places where we live.  read more »

Beyond The Bailout: What’s Next in the Housing Market?

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The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (we’ll call it the “Bail Out”) was signed into law on October 3rd. This, combined with the new reality in capital markets and current economic conditions, will result in some major shifts in the outlook for housing over the next few years. It is always possible that the federal government will try to do even more to fix what will be an agonizing housing problem over the next few years, but seems unlikely even Bernake, Paulson or their appointed successors will be able to change the basic story line.  read more »

The American Dream: Alive and Well (Some Places)

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Even after the burst of the housing bubble, the American Dream of home ownership has remained alive in some places. As it turns out the “bubble” was far from pervasive, and as Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman indicated in The New York Times, the housing price increases were largely limited to the areas of the nation with stronger land use regulation.

In all, at the peak of the housing bubble, 46 of 129 US markets had house prices at or below the historic ceiling of three times household incomes (see 4th International Demographia Housing Affordability Survey. Before the bubble, nearly all markets were at or below that norm, but many have risen to double, triple or even more than three times the standard.  read more »