The big question for the
The timing of any downturn is not easy to predict. But a recession is likely, because of the enormity of the housing bubble and the impact of its collapse. Recall that our last recession (in 2001) was caused by the bursting of a stock market bubble of about $7 trillion. The housing bubble is comparable in size (about $5 trillion at peak) and the bubble wealth is much more widely distributed: most Americans still have most of their assets in housing and little or nothing in stocks.
As this housing wealth disappears, people cut spending. We have already seen an enormous drop in the amount that people borrow on their homes, from $600 billion last year to about $350 billion for 2006. It was this borrowing, enabled by soaring house prices that allowed people to borrow more against the value of their homes, that fuelled the
Housing construction and sales are also a big sector of the economy, currently about 6 percent of GDP. If that falls 30-40 percent, as it has in previous downturns, that’s a drop of about 2 percent of GDP.
The recession caused by the stock market bubble bursting, which lasted only from March to November of 2001, would have been a lot worse if not for the enormous demand created by the housing bubble. So what will rescue the
It’s not easy to imagine what that would be. Personal savings rates are already negative, a phenomenon not seen since the Great Depression. How much can consumers borrow on their credit cards? A sustained surge of business investment is unlikely in the face of an economy that is already slowing: GDP growth was just 2.0 percent in the third quarter, down from 2.6 and 5.6 percent in the previous two quarters.
And there are downside risks from the global economy: foreign central banks are keeping our long-term interest rates extremely low — below short-term rates — by accumulating 10-year
We could possibly get through the international imbalances for another year but the housing bubble collapse is already upon us, with November’s housing starts down 25 percent over the last year, home sales plummeting, and home prices falling. This is something that our political leaders and policy-makers should have warned people about, rather than encouraging the same kind of speculative excess that dominated our economy during the late 1990s stock market bubble.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in
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