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Another Housing Bubble?
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SHARMINI PERIES: Just prior to the economic collapse of 2007-2008 there were several economic indicators which could have given us a clue of the impending disaster. If we look at the economic situation today in the US, we find many of these very same indicators. Housing prices are getting very high. Credit card debt has begun to rise again. Student loans are in default, many of them, and the stock and bond markets reached an all-time high.

Are we actually in another housing bubble just nine years later? On to talk about this with me is Michael Hudson. Michael is Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is the author of The Bubble and Beyond and Finance Capitalism and Its Discontent, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy. His latest book is J is for Junk Economics.

Michael, about 10,000,000 families lost their homes in the 2007-2008 crash, and many of these homes were bought by hedge funds such as the ones organized by Blackstone let’s say. The hedge funds didn’t really resell the housing that they bought, but rather hung onto them and rented them instead. But let’s really start off with the indicators that you had highlighted for me in an email, saying we might already be there in terms of another crisis. Give us the essence of what those indicators are and why you predict that.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Many of the indicators may be the same, but the character of the crisis is very different now from what it was in 2008. You mentioned, for instance, that real estate prices now age exceed their early 2008 levels. All that’s true, but as you just pointed out, 10,000,000 people have already lost their homes. That’s what economists call housing moving from weak hands into strong, and they applaud that because instead of poor families, minorities, African-Americans and Hispanics buying homes that are way beyond their ability to pay the mortgage on, these houses have already been lost or foreclosed and Blackstone and other hedge funds bought them. They bought them for all cash.

The reason they did that instead of debt leveraging, which is how people had been buying their houses in World War II, is that interest rates are so low. The Fed was plunging at zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) in order to try to re-inflate a bubble. But with these low interest rates, Blackstone and other hedge funds, Wall Street, could make more money renting out these properties than they could by actually selling them or speculating, or that they could make in the bond market.

The effect is very interesting. Leading up to 2008, rents were actually going down. The more real estate prices were going up, the lower rents were falling, because 17% of the market was by flippers, by speculators who borrowed to buy a home or apartment. They thought okay, we’re going to buy a condo, buy a house, we’re going to wait for the price to be inflated. They all were desperate to find somebody to live in these apartments, to at least help cover the interest expense of buying these things.

The result was that rents fell. Right now it’s the opposite. Rents are going way up because there’s much less property available either to buy or to rent. People can’t afford to qualify for the bank loan, so they can’t afford to buy housing, and they can’t find rental apartments because these have been monopolized, maybe 20% in some areas by the hedge funds and Blackstone and other people.

My friend Gary Null, for instance, had Blackstone buy his building, smashed the furnace, wouldn’t turn on the heat, and forced him to move out so it could empty out the property and try to raise the price. That’s on commercial real estate. So these guys are really putting the class war back in business.

Housing prices are going up in Canada and Australia, but again it’s not so much a bubble like it was before. The financial structure has shifted, largely because it’s being bought by very wealthy absentee owners instead of by the population as a whole. So the rate of home ownership in America has fallen by about six percentage points. That’s about 10% of the housing population, so you’re having housing way beyond the ability of most Americans to afford and beyond what banks are going to lend to buy a house.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. How does this benefit those holding the property, like hedge fund owners?

MICHAEL HUDSON: They can make a large return renting it out. They can make five, 10, 15%. That’s much more money than they can make in the bond market and it’s much more secure money than they can make in the stock market, because stock prices may go down and corporate sales may go down as the economy shrinks, but people are desperate to have housing. It’s the one thing they absolutely need, so rents now are rising as a percent of the American budget. They’re 40% to 50% of income in places like New York City, San Francisco, the high rent areas of the country.


MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s the other thing that’s changed. What was powering and pushing up prices in 2007 and ’08 were loans to borrowers with No Income, No Jobs, and No Assets. As Bill Black has explained, these are largely fraudulent loans. The frauds were the banks. The frauds were the mortgage companies that just faked the incomes of the buyers and would lend for almost the entire mortgage.


Now we only have one kind of NINJA left, and those are students. Student loans have been the most rapidly growing loans in the country. They’re no about \$1.3 trillion, more than credit card loans, more than most other kinds of loans. Everybody knows that students are not able to earn enough to repay them, because default rates on student loans are going way up. They’re not going up on mortgages. They’re falling on mortgages – home mortgages – but they’re rising on student loans.

But the banks knew that they couldn’t pay and the government knew that they couldn’t pay, so the government made a sweetheart deal with the banks: “You can make all the loans to students you want. You can lend them as much money for any education, even for junk education, for junk colleges, or for-profit colleges like Trump’s college, and we know that the students are going to default, but we’re going to guarantee your loans and we’ll guarantee a higher rate of interest than you can make on any other loan, because we know these loans are risky. We know they won’t pay, but the government will take all the risk and we’ll pay you as if you were taking the risk and as if you were making a real loan, thinking you’d get repaid.”

The whole student loan scandal is a corrupt. It shows the degree to which the universities and the government loan system have been taken over by banks writing the loans to give themselves a free ride at public expense.

SHARMINI PERIES: Michael, the federal government already guarantees student loans, so when they default on these loans, does paying it back come out of the public purse?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes. Not only paying back the loan, but paying the loan with enormous interest, higher than the banks can get on any other kind of loan, and very heavy penalty fees, so the banks are basically cleaning up on these. The ultimate beneficiaries, if you can call them beneficiaries, are the universities, because the basic principle in real estate that we learned in 2008 was that a house is worth whatever a bank is going to lend. Well, the same thing is true for education.

An education is worth however much a bank is going to lend against it. The bank will lend everything that it costs, because there’s no risk, there’s no need for the banks to ask whether this is a junk education? Is this an educational loan that the student is really going to be able to get a job from? Or is it a Trump University loan or a for-profit university loan that is not really preparing the student for making enough money at all? And does the student have a choice?

What’s happened is the price of education has gone way, way up because banks are basically funding an enormous growth in the price that universities can charge for an education. Now the pretense was that if universities charge more, like NYU charges maybe \$40,000 for undergraduate and \$200,000 a year in student debt for dental school … The idea was the higher price of an education, you’d learn more. But that’s not what’s happening at all.

The universities have been turned into profit centers and they’re not hiring more professors, they’re hiring more part-timers, and an enormous growth in middle management and upper management. So all these bloated university expenditure costs are going to the management system, not to the teaching, not to professors, and not to turning out a good product.

So the effect of student lending has been to distort the educational system, to turn universities like NYU into a big real estate company. They’re using the money to buy more real estate, to build up all sorts of extraneous things that don’t have anything to do directly with classroom teaching at all. So hardly by surprise, the students are not getting enough of an education to prepare them to earn the money to pay these loans.

SHARMINI PERIES: Michael, lastly I want to ask you, you are predicting, or you speak of a slow crash rather than a big crash like we experienced in 2007-2008. Tell us about that.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, the problem in 2008 was that the economy was over-indebted. The way to solve the problem was to do what crashes normally do: Most crashes wipe out debt, and so the recovery begins from an economy with a much lower level in debt, but the Obama Administration, although it had promised to write down the debts, never did. It supported the banks, and it left all the debts on the books, so the economy still has all of the debt that it had in 2008. And the debt is growing.

Over the weekend, for instance, the New York Times celebrated, saying the economy’s optimism is going up because debt is rising. If you look at the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists call running into debt “optimism,” because they assume that all debt is a choice. People are choosing to be so broke that they have to run into credit card debt and borrow more from the banks.

The fact is that people are not borrowing because they’re optimistic about the economy. They’re borrowing because they can’t afford to break even and pay for their housing and pay for their education without running into debt. And, they’re having to pay so much money in debt service that they can’t afford to buy goods and services.

If you look around New York University, for instance, which used to be a thriving area, right now 8th Street and the big shopping streets are boarded up. The storefronts are closed. Nobody is in them because nobody can afford to go and eat out or buy books or even buy shoes and clothes that they used to buy on these shopping streets, because they have to pay so much for their education that’s been pushed up by the reckless student loan lending.

This is an edited transcript from an interview on The Real News Network.

Michael Hudson is the author of Killing the Host (published in e-format by CounterPunch Books and in print by Islet). His new book is J is For Junk Economics. He can be reached at [email protected]

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Economics • Tags: Banking Industry, Financial Bubbles, Housing 
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  1. This new housing bubble in the US is caused almost single handedly by (largely illicit) money coming out of China. In CA, the number of homes sold in the \$1m+ range are at an all time high, and 31% are cash buyers. In the \$2m+ range, 48% are cash buyers. All over the country from Seattle to San Francisco, San Diego to Dallas, Houston, NYC, NJ, Connecticut, Boston, Denver, OH, Chicago…real estate sales are surpassing their 2007 record, and a large percentage are cash buyers. When you hear cash buyer, you know the buyers are from China and the homes will probably be left vacant.

    Canada’s housing bubble esp. in Vancouver and Toronto were red hot until they put in a 15% foreign buyer tax and an \$8,000 per night fine for homes left vacant. Since then, all the hot Chinese money have come into the US instead. Commercial properties in Seattle are also going up in record pace because of Chinese money going into the EB-5 visa scam. The Chinese are buying up the US at a never before seen pace and our authorities are either too busy grabbing the loot like Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm or still asleep.

  2. The way I see it, lenders in capitalist economies should always be obliged to assume risk. Otherwise, the money banks collect is pure rent – a “free lunch” in the words of Dr. Hudson. Heck, despite not having any financial experience, I could be a banker if I simply had the government act as my debt collector. We badly need to focus more on creditor responsibility.

  3. Well, when this bubble bursts, it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back…

    • Replies: @Noah Way
  4. Craken says:

    What is needed is a paradigm shift in higher education away from the bloated traditional universities and colleges. How much money could Harvard or Stanford make if they set up a serious online university, one that charges 30% of current tuition? Undergrads could save \$120K or more–and they still would have Harvard (perhaps with an asterisk) on their resumes. After the concept is proven for 5 or 10 years, it would spread and massively undermine the current structure, forcing rationalization of costs as traditional universities. This is an area ripe for reform and innovation. Clear out the bureaucrats! Free ambitious youth from excessive burdens! Exit the mind control labyrinth.

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  5. Trump University was not an accredited educational institution and did not award degrees, so I’m going to venture the guess its attendees didn’t take out guaranteed student loans to pay for what amounts to a series of real estate-related pep talks. Trump University is a non-systemic risk for the dupes who bought Trump’s snake oil. It has nothing to do with the systemic risk and obscene rent-seeking generated by guaranteed student loans. Hudson is smart enough to realize this.

  6. Karl says:

    If Michael Hunt really believed that the USA is starting (or is already in) a housing bubble, he’d be shorting Dewalt-Tools (and others in that entire category of companies dependent upon the rate of construction) stock. Or at least buying their out-of-the-money Put options.

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  7. Patricia says:

    Here in New Zealand we also have a housing bubble. Especially in Auckland but it is trending throughout New Zealand. Yes, I think that a lot of it comes from overseas but as the Banks know they will be bailed out they will lend any amount. To be fair there have been controls put on them to restrict their lending but, as yet, it hasn’t had much effect. I think there will be a crash but I have been saying that for years…..

  8. MarkinLA says:

    A private university isn’t about educating the most people at the least cost. It is about growing the endowment. You do that by primarily making it exclusive to wealthy clients.

    • Replies: @Jim Christian
  9. MarkinLA says:

    How much money are you prepared to lose before your correct hunch is right? Do you have that much? I know plenty of people squeezed out of the dot com bubble who were 100% correct that it was a bubble they just didn’t know when it would top out.

    • Replies: @Miro23
  10. Dan Hayes says:

    It’s a race between the housing bubble or the car purchasing bubble bursting first!

  11. Miro23 says:

    Ditto property speculators. I spoke to one in year 2000 who had the idea to sell at the current inflated price and buy back the same property 3 years later after the price collapse.

    In fact, 8 years later the price of the property had more than doubled (again) so they got that one wrong.

  12. Medvedev says:

    They can make five, 10, 15%.

    Read up until this line, which is total BS. This so-called professor makes money by feeding public BS, just the opposite one to Wall Street. Our friends rent out condo in Seattle area (Bellevue to be specific) worth 550k for 2k per month.
    – HOA \$550
    – Taxes \$450
    – 5% of vacancy time (HOA + Taxes + utilities) \$60
    – Put away profits in case of tenants wrecking something \$50-100
    – And they rent it out on their own, so no need to spend on it.
    At the end they left with \$840-890 or 1.8-1.9% yearly returns, on which they have to pay taxes. On the bright side, they would be able deduct taxes on maintenance and remodeling.

    • Replies: @The Alarmist
  13. Medvedev says:

    I don’t argue that we’re in a bubble. Where exactly in the bubble are we and when is it going to pop up? And how much the prices are going to go up before it bursts? and how much will it go down after? These are the real questions, which are hard to answer.
    To get a perspective, if a house currently costs 600k and the price is gonna rise to 900k before it pops up and then go down to 700k. Then it makes to buy a house now, even though we’re in a buble, and save tens of thousands on a rent. But if the bubble is gonna burst in a year or two then it makes sense to wait.

    • Replies: @interesting
  14. @Medvedev

    Dr. Hudson is either seriously misinformed or is engaging in a bit of class-warfare hyperbole. Rental real estate prices to yield something comparable to a risk-adjusted return comparable to other asset classes, e.g. much closer to the 1.8% to 1.9% your friend is getting for his rental, in the current rate environment.

    Having said that, I bought into a portfolio of distressed properties in 2010 and got 17% IRR over the last 7 years, so it is possible to get that sort of return in some corners of the market; to wit, in some shit-holes like Detroit, Blackstone undoubtedly picked up houses for a couple grand (one of my Brit colleagues asked in 2009 if he should take a punt on a Detroit house for \$4k) … renting these out to Section 8’s would give you the kind of returns he cites, but that would not be the case across the entire portfolio across the entire country.

  15. @MarkinLA

    Correct. A hedge fund with a university attached..

  16. Noah Way says:

    Here’s hoping. Sooner is better than later. The longer this s#!t goes on the worse it’s going to be when it blows up.

  17. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The universities have been turned into profit centers and they’re not hiring more professors, they’re hiring more part-timers…

    Most people have no idea how bad the situation is. A lot of those part-time university teachers are making less than \$10,000 a year.

    Parents pay \$50,000 a year to send their kids to colleges where the teachers are paid less than kindergarten teachers.

    Adjuncts are routinely paid less to teach a class than their students pay to take it. In fact, the income of a part-time adjunct will often be less than half of a teaching assistant’s stipend…

  18. @Medvedev

    “save tens of thousands on a rent”

    I will continue to rent for 1/2 the price of buying and the luxury of paying twice the purchase price (if you have a mortgage) for a crap shack

  19. Agent76 says:

    I believe this will bring down Banking worldwide and housing will be a tiny part of it.

    Mar 20, 2017 Why does US national debt and total debt only and always increase?

    Showing stacks of physical cash in following sequence: \$100, \$10,000, \$1 Million, \$2 Billion, \$1 Trillion, \$20 Trillion. The faith and value of the US Dollar rests on the Government’s ability to repay its debt. “The money in the video has already been spent”

  20. Anonymous [AKA "This Space For Rent"] says:

    College costs are skyrocketing for a myriad of reasons. My grad degree is \$60 grand (thank God my licensure comes with a bunch of avenues for repaying all in a lump sum). I can only imagine what other programs cost. Of course, my alma mater also just recently decided our basketball coach is worth 4\$ million dollars a year and that the football stadium needed millions in upgrades.
    When a college coach is making millions and college admin staff is making huge amounts, something is seriously wrong. I know I’m coming out with debt, it’s why I chose a degree that had multiple applications, mobility, and a licensure that qualifies for loan repayment as a medical service.
    There needs to be serious policing of what the article referred to as “Junk Colleges”. It like the government keeps trying to set itself up to fail.

    • Replies: @interesting
    , @Anon
  21. @Anonymous

    College has become the AAA team or “farm club” or “minor league” for the NFL.

    what a racket.

  22. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Just one of the problems of “junk colleges” is that they help multipĺy the number of people who believe they should form and express opinions on matters which they will never understand.

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