Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Leg Down for Home Prices?

It's been awhile since I did a housing post so I thought tonight was a good time for an update.

Let's start by taking a look at a chart from Zillow that shows the percentage of single family homes that have negative equity(underwater) in various parts of the country where housing is struggling:

My Take:

It's always good to look at the worst markets when you are looking for a recovery because recoveries always begin in the areas that are hardest hit.

The bottom line here folks is the numbers above are flat out ugly across the board. Vegas is still getting crushed with 80% of their houses sitting underwater. 8 out of 10! Unbelievable!

Florida is actually showing signs of rapid detioration this past quarter which is amazing when you think about it because home prices fell 50% or more in most markets in 2008 after the bubble burst.

These steep "discounts"created a mini house flipping foreclosure boom for awhile after the crash. Remember all of those ads that you saw inviting you down to come down to Florida and take a "foreclosure bus tour"?

Many of these knife catchers in the sunshine state obviously took a beatdown because the negative equity percentages are up significantly which signals that prices need to drop further before bottoming.

House flipping isn't very profitable if you buy a house at a 50% reduction if it takes an 80% reduction in order to sell it.

You can be rest assured that the only flippers you will see after the housing crisis is over will be on a dolphin!

The one area that is showing some signs of life is California but the improvement is far from impressive. Housing markets aren't exactly "stable" when 60% of them are underwater. But Hey....I guess its better than 70%!

The Bottom Line

Turn off CNBC when they start talking about a housing recovery because there isn't one! Things are still deteriorating in some of the worst hit areas which tells you that we haven't yet reached a bottom.

Talk to me about housing recoveries when the percentage of houses with underwater mortgages gets to zero. Anyone claiming to see a turn around in housing at this point is insane!

It should also be noted that we still continue to do bad loans via FHA. Letting people buy homes with 3% down and a 650 credit score is idiocy at its finest because these are not good loans! Many of these buyers will end up defaulting just like the suprimers did which will only exacerbate the housing problem.

A banker friend of mine predicts that FHA will be another Fannie/Freddie within the next few years because the lending standards are so bad.

Also adding to the housing problem is the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit. Imagine what home prices are going to look like now that this program is gone.

This is going to kill the only part of the housing market that has somewhat recovered which is the 100-300k low end of the market.

The tax credit was very effective in getting first time buyers "in the game". I prefer to call it "committing financial suicide" but that's beside the point.

However, the tax credit didn't help the higher end of the market because an $8,000 stimulus is "chump change" when you are paying $800,000 for a house. It's only 1% of the value which makes it irrelevant from an incentive standpoint.

I expect to see another leg down in the housing market as the tax credit disappears. The problem with all of these government programs is you are pulling forward demand that you would have had down the road.

The tax credit program really did nothing but create short term demand and guarantee that we will see pain down the line because we pulled forward demand today via stimulus that we would have had down the road.

It also helped further delay the correction in home prices that must take place. Selling homes at prices where buyers cannot afford them is a business model that GUARANTEES failure.

The charade is now over folks and now its payback time!

Housing prices will continue to spiral downward now that the "money spigot" has been turned off.

When will the government realize that kicking the can down the road is not the answer to our problems?

It would be much more productive to "take the pain" NOW and let housing prices crash to where people can afford them. This is the recipe from which REAL recoveries are made.

Hopefully we will see this cleansing take place now that the government stimulus is out of the picture. If you are a buyer I would stay on the sidelines. Prices are only heading one way from here and that is downward.

Disclosure: No new positions at the time of publication.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gold and Silver Soar as Confidence in the World's Currencies Crumbles

Alrighty, It's time for some metals talk.

Gold and silver soared today despite another huge move in the dollar as investors continue to worry about the real value of the world's currencies.

Let's take a look at the tape:

Gold futures:

Silver futures:

My Take:

As you can see above, gold has now hit an all time high soaring to over $1235 an ounce in the futures market as we speak. We also saw a huge spike in silver as seen above in graph #2.

This is not an inflation adjusted high for gold, but this point is irrelevant because the reason that gold is rising is not about fears of inflation like we have usually seen in the past when gold has soaring.

The reason gold is flying higher is because it's clearly the only currency left that's not being destroyed by a major central bank. Trust me: The bankers would love to debase it if they could, but they can't because gold and silver have an inherent value that's been established for thousands of years.

The destruction of the Euro after Europe's trillion dollar sovereign bailout announcement has forced the market makers to re-evaluate the value of all currencies IMO.

They are beginning asking themselves: Could the dollar and Euro be worth nothing if they are backed by nothing more than governments that are currently being strangled by trillion dollar deficits?

About a year ago gold would always sell off hard anytime we saw a jump in the dollar. This has no longer been the case especially since Europe has fiscally blown up thanks to the PIIGS. Gold has actually hit new highs despite the huge rise in the dollar. This is something to seriously take notice of!

The reason gold is ignoring the huge rise in the dollar appears pretty clear: One currency that rises versus another currency isn't all that impressive if BOTH are essentially worthless as a result of the massive debts that back both of them.

This has created what I call "The Value Crisis" where investors are beginning to realize that there is nowhere to hide in this market.

I mean look at the current options for investors:

- Munies: Ummm no thanks I'll pass when many states are on the brink of bankruptcy.

- Treasuries: Heh...Works for now but for how long as we continue to run trillion dollar deficits?

- Stocks: Do I really need to explain this one? P/E's are worse that they were during the tech bubble. Enough said.

- CD's: 0% interest and they are guaranteed by a government that is fiscally bankrupt. Wow how tempting!

- Money markets: 0% interest and the same issue as CD's.

- High yield bond funds: Good luck with this idea. This was a nice ride in 2009 if you caught it but it's over now. Most of these funds hold mainly BBB rated debt. This is not where you want to be heading into a fiscal funding crisis. Getting an 8% dividend when your principle investment could drop by 50% as our debt spreads widen as a result of our debts is hardly the place you want to be.

So whats an investor to do? Tough call but one thing is for sure: Hard assets are a place you need to be with at least some of your portfolio because they hold real value.

The Bottom Line:

Let me start by saying that I am by no means a gold bug. However, I own gold and silver based on the thesis that there is a very good chance that many currencies will be worth practically nothing when this is all said and done.

I say this because the dollar and the Euro are being backed by nothing other than "guarantees" by the US government and the ECB. Meanwhile both central banks continue to spend well beyond their means and have created seemingly insurmountable debts as they desperately attempt prevent the credit bubble from bursting.

This being said, are there some currencies that will do well? Sure. However, the biggies like the Yen, US dollar, and the Euro are all in deep trouble.

To give you an idea of how insane the FX markets have become: The Yen has been rising versus almost all currencies and their debt to GDP ratios are the worse than Greece!

I will continue to hold my metals based on the thesis that these currencies will continue to decline versus gold as the world's central banks continue to throw their money out of helicopters.

Keep in mind there is also another reason to hold metals: If the economy does get some legs then there will be an inflationary boost for Gold that should take prices even higher.

When you think about metals keep one thing in mind: All of these banks have no choice but to print money because their will be a global deflationary depression that will lead to wars if they try and stop.

The political will to take the pain simply isn't there. Greece is a perfect example. There are more protests later this week. God only knows what will happen as these mobs grow increasingly angry. Trend author Gerald Celente said it best: "When people lose everything they lose it!"

These are tough times for an investor. Hold some hard assets in your portfolio and stay diversified.

The central bankers around the globe are printing like mad, and they can't afford to stop because the reprocussions are going to be devestating when they do. And there will be a time where they stop because this is unsustainable just like any other bubble is.

The moves in gold and silver today will keep the bankers up tonight. This is the one currency that they can't debase or manipulate(other than trading) ,and it scares the heck out of them because it makes all of the paper dollars that they hold in their banks less valuable.

Disclosure: Own GLD and SLV in retirment accounts. Short treasuries via TBT.