Year Of The Housing Hangover

While your editor was enjoying a beer at a local bar recently, the gentleman sitting beside us was heard saying, “It’s just so hard right now, with this market. The party ended a year ago – but I’m still there.”

Our ears perked up. And as we eavesdropped and eventually involved ourselves in the conversation, we learned that our new friend owned a public record research firm – one that had fallen on hard times of late.

The company was started in 1996 and bloomed along with the tech boom – and the subsequent real estate boom. While his business offers a wide array of services, from corporate abstracts to copyright searches, for the last five years or so, the majority of business was a direct offshoot of the seemingly never-ending growth in the real estate market.

The past year, though, has been hard on the company, our companion disclosed, as he finished the last dregs of his Natty Boh. Fewer and fewer calls are coming in for the mortgage filings and chain of title searches that had made his business flourish.

Things are so tough that he admitted he was approaching a juncture where he may be forced to face the unpleasant reality that the demand just doesn’t exist for his type of business right now.

“It’s like a playground game of HORSE,” he said. “I have the ‘H-O-R-S’…do I get out now – or wait for the inevitable loss?”

It’s a problem that everyone faces…do you sit back and wait for the crisis to occur – or do you take steps to prevent a major meltdown?

Unfortunately for much of America, the damage of the real estate bubble aftermath has been done. The housing slowdown has not only curbed voracious spending on real estate, building materials, furniture and other items, reports the NY Times, but now state tax revenues around the country are growing far more slowly this year – and in some cases, falling below projections.

“For example,” continues the article, “New Jersey could face a USD$2.5 billion shortfall by mid-2008, Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said, and may lease its turnpike or its lottery to a private company to raise money.”

“It’s the year of the housing hangover,” said Sean M. Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida.

As the slump is making it harder to extract equity from your home, we are seeing how much people were relying on their home equity lines of credit to make purchases. The Times article points out that “16 percent of new car purchases in Florida were being made with home equity loans in 2006” – and in California, that number was closer to 30 percent.

And then there’s the subprime sector, which has even slowed down the badass bikers at Harley Davidson.

MarketWatch reports: “Lehman Brothers analyst Felicia Hendrix said that in the wake of the subprime mess, she’s growing more concerned about a rise in credit losses and delinquencies at Harley, which could be compounded by tighter lending practices, which in turn could slow the bike maker’s unit growth projections.

“She adds that many of Harley Davidson Finance’s securitised loans ‘have underperformed, posting higher than expected credit losses and delinquencies.'”

The subprime story is nowhere near the end…in fact, we think that things will get worse before they can get better.

Markets and Money


Markets and Money offers an independent and critical perspective on the Australian and global investment markets. Slightly offbeat and far from institutional, Markets and Money delivers you straight-forward, humorous, and useful investment insights from a world wide network of analysts, contrarians, and successful investors. Founded in 1999, Markets and Money is published in 7 countries with a worldwide readership of almost 1 million people.

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