Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The U.S. Recession

We are experiencing the worst US housing recession since the Great Depression and this housing recession is nowhere near bottoming out. Housing starts have fallen 50% but new home sales have fallen more than 60% thus creating a glut of new –and existing homes- that is pushing home prices sharply down, already 10% so far and another 10% in 2008. With home prices down 10% $2 trillion of home wealth is already wiped out and 6 million households have negative equity and may walk away from their homes; with home prices falling by year end 20% $4 trillion of housing wealth will be destroyed and 16 million households will be in negative wealth territory. And by 2010 the cumulative fall in home prices will be close to 30% with $6 trillion of home equity destroyed and 21 million households being underwater (40% of the 51 million having a mortgage). Potential credit losses from households walking away from their homes (“jingle mail”) could be $1 trillion or more, thus wiping out most of the capital of the US financial system.

The US is experiencing its most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression. This is not just a subprime meltdown. Losses are spreading to near prime and prime mortgages; they are spreading to commercial real estate mortgages. They will spread to unsecured consumer credit in a recession (credit cards, auto loans, student loans). The losses are now increasing in the leveraged loans that financed reckless and excessively debt-burdened LBOs; they are spreading to muni bonds as default rates among municipalities will rise in a housing-led recession; they are spreading to industrial and commercial loans. And they will soon spread to corporate bonds – and thus to the CDS market – as default rates – close to 0% in 2006-2007 will spike above 10% during a recession. I estimate that financial losses outside residential mortgages (and related RMBS and CDOs) will be at least $700 billion (an estimate close to a similar one presented by Goldman Sachs). Thus, total financial losses – including possibly a $1 trillion in mortgages and related securitized products - could be as high as $1.7 trillion.