THE FED KNEW ABOUT THE IMPENDING HOUSING BUST

New documents from 2005 show that the Federal Reserve openly discussed the situation in the housing market in 2005 and several members characterized the situation as “unsustainable” or as a “bubble”.  Some of the presentations made in the data are very intricate and show that the Fed was deeply concerned about an impending credit crisis and a potential collapse in residential housing prices.  The following from Calculated Risk nicely sums up the thinking at the time:

Atlanta Fed President Jack Guynn:

“There is the housing situation, which we talked about for a long time yesterday afternoon. As I’ve been reporting for several meetings, some of our markets, especially those in coastal areas of South Florida and the Florida panhandle, are experiencing a level of building activity and price increases that are clearly, in my view, unsustainable. Nearly every major Florida city now has experienced increases in the double-digit range, and some, like Miami, Palm Beach, Sarasota, and West Palm, have been reporting increases in housing prices on a year-over-year basis of between 25 and 30 percent. While our discussion yesterday did not seem to indicate a consensus on a national housing bubble, based on past experience I’m reasonably comfortable characterizing the housing feeding frenzy in some of our markets as being a bubble or a near bubble.

For example, the number of major projects planned or under construction in Miami now totals 114, most of which are high-rise developments. That includes 61,000 condo units—eight times the number that were built in the last decade—and a total of 100,000 new parking spaces. I know we don’t have any process for introducing exhibits into the record, but I’d like to pass Dave Stockton this pictorial of the new projects in Miami, so that he can continue to worry a little bit along with me. [Laughter]

My supervision and regulation staff thinks this is an accident waiting to happen in our area. And while the local market excesses probably do not represent systemic national risk, the shakeouts could have serious regional consequences. My bank supervision staff points out that housing-related credit risks to our bank lenders are not so much from defaults on permanent mortgage financing that we talked about yesterday, but rather from lending for land acquisition, development, and construction. The ugly picture we have seen before—and that they think we may very likely see again before long—goes something like this: the drying up of sales of new units; the painful decision of developers to go ahead and complete the construction of additional units to make them saleable, further depressing the market; and speculators who had hoped to see big capital gains walking away or defaulting on their contracts, giving their properties back to the lender. Perhaps it’s because of where I sit, but I am less comforted than some of my colleagues about the housing situation. …

CHAIRMAN GREENSPAN. Let’s take a break for coffee.”

You can review the entire document here.  It’s full of various presentations and evidence showing that the Fed knew there was a bubble and still did not take the proper risk management measures to try to alleviate the problems.  What’s even more worrisome is that the Fed openly acknowledges that these sorts of events can lead to catastrophic economic outcomes, yet here we are implementing another policy of “keeping asset prices higher than they otherwise would be”.  Do these people never learn?

Cullen Roche

Mr. Roche is the Founder of Orcam Financial Group, LLC. Orcam is a financial services firm offering research, private advisory, institutional consulting and educational services.

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