GARY SHILLING: And Now House Prices Will Drop Another 20%

Gary Shilling

A Gary Shilling & Co.

Last October, when everyone was jubilant about the housing “recovery,” Gary Shilling of A. Gary Shilling & Co., predicted that house prices would fall another 20%. In the five months since, house prices have resumed their decline

In his most recent research note, Gary sticks by his “20%” decline prediction.  We’ve included a summary and updated charts from his argument below.

(Gary is offering a special discount on his research service for Business Insider readers. To learn more, please visit Gary’s web site or call 1-888-346-7444. Please mention Business Insider.)

Housing: Great Expectations vs. Reality

Last spring, many believed that not only was the housing collapse over but that a robust rebound was underway. Investors were crowding into foreclosed house sales and bidding up prices in California, often the bellwether state for new trends.

The tax credit of up to $8,000 for new homebuyers that expired in April spurred buyers and promised to kick-start housing activity nationwide. TheHomeAffordable Modification Program was trumpeted by the Administration to help 3 million to 4 million homeowners with underwater mortgages by paying lenders to reduce monthly payments to manageable size and then paying homeowners to continue to make those payments.

But then a funny—or not so funny—thing happened on the way to housing recovery…

With low mortgage rates and collapsed house prices, the National Association of Realtors' Housing Affordability Index has leaped to all-time highs.

It's also become clear that the NAR's Housing Affordability Index in the earlier post-World War II years is not relevant to today's conditions. Back then, unemployment rates were usually much lower than now (Chart 7, page 4) and the current threats of layoffs, wage and benefit cuts and being forced into part-time jobs were almost nonexistent. Who ventures into homeownership if he doesn't know the size of his next paycheck or even if he'll have one?

Also, with almost a quarter of all homeowners with mortgages under water with their mortgage principals exceeding the value of their houses, many can't sell their existing abodes even if they wanted to buy other houses.

Unemployment is declining, but job growth has hardly been robust

Mortgages delinquent 30 days, many of which will probably end in foreclosure, have risen lately. They peaked in the first quarter of 2009 at 3.77%, then fell to 3.31% at the end of 2009, but have since risen to 3.51%, according to Tom Lawler.

He goes on to observe that 30-day delinquencies are linked to initial claims for unemployment insurance, which fell last year but subsequently leveled off and are now rising (Chart 15). Also, the delinquencies are rising as weak borrowers with modified loans again miss payments. Fitch Rating believes that 65% to 75% of mortgages modified under HAMP will redefault within 12 months.

And the number of people unemployed per job opening is coming down, but it's still very high

And those who are unemployed have been unemployed for a very long time

True, there are some hopeful signs. The per cent of mortgages past due has begun to fall...

And, last spring, thanks to the tax credit, sales of existing homes skyrocketed. Alas, the effect was temporary.

And since last year's happy uptick, prices have begun to fall again...

Most importantly, the number of houses for sale is still abnormally high... and house prices, like everything else, are a function of supply and demand

The Administration's HAMP initiative, introduced in April 2009, has been a huge disappointment...

But while mortgage modifications were attempted, lenders and servicers were basically forced by the government to suspend foreclosures. Now, as that program unwinds, foreclosures will again jump (Chart 12). Ironically, foreclosure rates have moderated recently because lenders tightened their standards in mid-2008 when housing and mortgages were in free fall. In 2009, two-thirds of all FHA- guaranteed new loans were to borrowers with credit scores over 660, up from 45% in 2008.

Nevertheless, lenders have been loosening in recent months. In January, Fannie initiated a program that allows first-time homebuyers to put down $1,000 or 1% of the purchase price, whichever is greater. In the first half of this year, credit card companies sent out 84.8 million offers to American subprime borrowers, up from 43.7 million a year earlier. In the second quarter of this year, 8% of new car oans were to borrowers with the lowest rank of credit scores, up from 6.2% in the fourth quarter of 2009.

And bank-owned houses (more future inventory)

Already, Real Estate Owned by lenders due to foreclosures--perhaps the most hated term among bankers--is climbing (Chart 14). Estimatesare that a major share of the 7 million houses that have delinquent mortgages or are in some stage of foreclosure, as well as those yet to come, will be dumped on the market, adding to the already huge excessive inventory glut. Some 4.5 million loans are now in foreclosure or at least 90 days delinquent.

And the folks who aren't selling because prices are still weak

So, the question is, how long will it take us to absorb all that excess inventory? Some analysts think 1-2 years. Gary Shilling thinks 4-5 years. Why? First because household formation is still lower than it was during the boom

Many believe that household formation and, therefore, demand for either owned or rented housing units is closely linked to population growth. A Beazer Homes official said recently that demographics would normally produce household growth of around 1.5 million a year.

But note that those trendless series are extremely volatile, ranging from a peak of almost 2.3 million at annual rates in the current cycle to less than 500,000 recently. Household formation is similarly volatile, not surprising since a household is defined as one or more people living in a separate dwelling unit and not in jail, college, an institution or an army barracks. So household formation is affected by the lust for house appreciation, income growth, employment prospects, family size, mortgage availability and all the other factors that determine the desirability of owning or renting.

The homeownership rate (per cent of households that are homeowners) continues to decline, probably headling back to its long-term average

Back in the salad days of 10% annual price appreciation, a homeowner and/or investor who put down 5% enjoyed a wonderful 200%returnonhisinvestmentper year, neglecting taxes, interest and maintenance. But that hapless homeowner who bought at the peak lost all of his downpayment six times over as prices fell 30%.

No wonder that the homeowner rate, which spurted from its 64% norm to 69%, is now back to 66.9% in the second quarter and probably on its way back to 64% (Chart 18).

More people are choosing to live with their parents

And now everyone knows that house prices CAN actually fall, so they're no longer rushing to get in on the the most amazing investment ever

On a positive note, housing starts are still at a startlingly low level, which means less new inventory to absorb

THE BOTTOM LINE: Gary Shilling thinks house prices probably have another 20% to fall

This huge and growing surplus inventory of houses will probably depress prices considerably from here, perhaps another 20% over the next several years. That would bring the total decline from the first quarter 2006 peak to 42%.

This may sound like a lot, but it would return single-family house prices, corrected for general inflation and also for the tendency of houses to increase in size over time, back to the flat trend that has held since 1890 ( Chart 26).

We are strong believers in reversions to the mean, especially when it has held for over a century and through so many huge changes in the economy in those years--two world wars and the 1930s Depression, the leap in government regulation and involvement in the economy, the economic transformation from an agricultural base to manufacturing and then to services, the post- World War II population shift from cities to suburbs, the western and southern transfer of population and economic strength, the movement from renting to homeownership and the accompanying spreading of mortgage financing, etc.

Furthermore, our forecast of another 20% fall in house prices may be conservative. Prices may well end up back on their long- term trendline (Chart 26), but fall below in the meanwhile. Just as they way overshot the trend on the way up, they may do so on the way down, as is often the case in cycles. Furthermore, another big house price decline will spike delinquencies and foreclosures leading to more REO sales by lenders,whichwillfurtherdepress prices. Our analysis indicates that a further 20% drop in prices will push the number of homeowners who are under water from 23% to 40%, resulting in more strategic defaults, more REO, etc.

Even prices in New York City have resumed their fall!

If house prices DO fall another 20%, a lot more homeowner equity will be wiped out. And that's not good news for banks. Or the economy. Or, for that matter, future house prices.

At that point, the remaining home equity of those with mortgages would be wiped out on average (Chart 27. That, in turn, would impair already-depressed consumer confidence and their willingness and ability to spend, to say nothing of residential construction.

In California, epicentre ofthe housing boom-bust, construction jobs dropped 43% from June 2006 to June of this year, compared to a 28% decline nationwide, and the unemployment rate in the Golden State jumped to 12.3% in June, far above the 9.5% rate nationally.

Depressed yet? We are, too. But at least, as a Business Insider reader, you'll get a discount on Gary Shilling's research...

The previous essay was excerpted from the latest monthly research of Gary Shilling of A. Gary Shilling & Co. Gary is offering a special discount on his research service for Business Insider readers. To learn more, please check out Gary's web site or call 1-888-346-7444. Please mention Business Insider.

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