Now that health care reform, such as it is, has been signed, sealed, and set to be delivered in varying stages between now and 2014, can we please move on to other things. Believe it or not there are some significant storm clouds on the horizon which have the potential to come on shore sooner than 4 years from now, and which might merit some attention from policymakers in Washington, D.C. Such as:
“This month, the Fed confirmed that it will no longer make open market purchases of mortgage backed securities after March 31st…As the Fed begins to unwind its historic intervention, it faces a second wave of toxic mortgage maturities that could be even more damaging than the last wave of subprime mortgages. These are the 3 and 5 year Option ARM mortgages, and they were the credit bubble’s absolute creme de la creme…these loans will reset at rates that are far higher than the initial “teaser” rate. Sadly, this may spell doom for borrowers who used these loans to fund overpriced home purchases in 2006-2007, especially in high-priced markets along the coasts.”
Add to that the lack of success of the foreclosure prevention program which has fallen far short of its original goals of helping 4 million homeowners. The number so far is less than 170,000.
“The program risks helping few, and for the rest, merely spreading out the foreclosure crisis over the course of several years” at significant expense for taxpayers and borrowers, the inspector general’s office wrote. If too many participants re- default, the modification plan “will have done little to achieve the goal of assisting homeowners who would still find themselves losing their homes.”
Then there’s the commercial real estate “ticking time bomb”:
“Estimates published last November by the Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers suggest that commercial real estate vacancies will continue to increase in 2010, while prices could tumble further during the year. Prices could fall as low as half their peak levels from 2007.
If that happens, that would only darken borrowers’ hopes that banks will refinance their outstanding loans. And some $1.4 trillion is commercial real estate debt is expected to come due over the next three years.”
Existing home sales have fallen for the third straight month, to their lowest level since last July:
“Resales of U.S. homes and condominiums fell 0.6% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.02 million, the lowest level in eight months, raising doubts about the durability of the housing recovery, the National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday.
…”We need to have a second surge,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the real estate lobbying group. However, the jury’s still out, he said…A double-dip recession is a “possibility” if a second surge of buying doesn’t occur, he said.”
And last but not least, the economic “recovery” which is being felt in few places outside of big business and Wall Street:
“The earnings of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index tripled in the fourth quarter, but this does not mean the rest of the US economy is doing well. Much of their sales were into fast-growing markets in places like India, China and Brazil. Meanwhile, they continued to slash jobs and cut costs at home.”
Large corporations are flush with cash, but:
“…Much is being used to buy other companies, which usually leads to more job losses. Much of the rest is being used to buy back their own stock in order to boost their share prices…The major beneficiaries are shareholders, including top executives, whose pay is linked to share prices. But the buy-backs do nothing for most Americans.
…The economy shows signs of improvement largely because the government is spending huge sums and the Fed is essentially printing even more money. But where will demand come from when the stimulus is over and the Fed tightens? That question hangs over the economy like a dense cloud. Until there is an answer, a sustainable recovery for any other than America’s largest corporations, Wall Street and the wealthy is a mirage.”
Just a few things for our elected representatives to consider. You’ve done your touchdown dance, now it’s time to get ready for the kickoff—the game is far from over.