Category Archives: Lending

The Great Bailout Debate.

The great bailout debate.

Tim Geithner, claims that bank bailouts were a critical part of getting the economy running again, while Neil Barofsky, says the Obama administration should have spent more time bailing out underwater homeowners who were crushed by the housing bust. Who’s right?

Well, like it or not, the banks had to be bailed out, the same way you’d bail out electrical utilities rather than let everyone go without electricity. They’re just too important to the rest of the economy. They clearly should have been more punitive but frankly, given the speed at which the tide rose back in the closing chapter of the Bush administration, there wasn’t time to structure anything. Morally right or wrong, we needed to spend a ton of money to rescue the banks, and stop the bleeding. Did they do what anyone would do if someone handed over a bag of money? Of course they did.

On the other hand, Mr. Barofsky makes a good point: consumer debt overhang has been hobbling the recovery ever since 2008, and it’s outrageous that so little money was spent rescuing consumers right along with the bankers. Obama should have pushed a lot harder for “cram down” legislation; Fannie and Freddie should have been enlisted to rewrite mortgages; money should have been airlifted into consumer pockets, either to spend or to pay down debt; and schemes should have been set up for homeowners who were too far gone, that allowed them to rent their homes back from the banks that foreclosed on them. In fact, my earlier proposal was and still is, force the banks to re-finance all mortgages at current assessed market values without owner qualification.

So, they are both right, but neither of them can get us out of this mess. The only way we are going to start this thing up again is for the US Government to force banks to open their credit spigots, ignore strategic mortgage defaults, start loaning money to sub-700’s again, and re-write all of the existing mortgages, essentially marking them to market (lovely irony here).

And we need to do this before Europe crashes and burns next year. How? We have leverage. What do the banks want more than anything? Where is their greatest source of potential profit? Investment banking. We make a devil’s bargain. The banks come to the credit and mortgage table, and the Government lets them continue to operate as a single entity, with commercial and investment combined.

We stop talking about Glass-Steagall, and we stop threatening to regulate derivatives. The banks open their checkbooks to small business, and they re-write all of the underwater mortgages. That stops the bleeding in housing, jump-starts the small-ball economy, and boosts consumer confidence.

Short of such a drastic measure, we head into 2013, sailing a doomed ship following a doomed course on a fatal journey into the abyss. 

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Housing Bust Is Over! Not So Fast.

The housing experts, Ben Bernanke, the Obama administration, and the Wall Street Journal all want us to believe that the housing market has turned—at last.

 

The next thing out of his mouth will be Quantitative Easing, Round 3.

Headlines like this are in the news this week: “The U.S. finally has moved beyond attention-grabbing predictions from housing “experts” that housing is bottoming. The numbers are now convincing.”

And this: “Nearly seven years after the housing bubble burst, most indexes of house prices are bending up. “We finally saw some rising home prices,” S&P’s David Blitzer said a few weeks ago as he reported the first monthly increase in the slow-moving S&P/Case-Shiller house-price data after seven months of declines.”

Housing starts rose 6.9 percent to a 760,000 annual pace after a revised 711,000 rate in May that was faster than initially estimated, the Commerce Department reported today in Washington. The median forecast of 79 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a 745,000 rate. Which means they were off by 2%. I don’t think this grounds for celebration.

Nearly 10% more existing homes were sold in May than in the same month a year earlier, many purchased by investors who plan to rent them for now and sell them later, an important sign of an inflection point. In something of a surprise, the inventory of existing homes for sale has fallen close to the normal level of six months’ worth despite all the foreclosed homes that lenders own. The fraction of homes for sale that are vacant is at its lowest level since 2006. Which means nothing since the 2006 number was normal, and banks have been holding on to property that they have foreclosed in order to not flood the market and drive up inventory.

In other words, these numbers are completely manipulated by the banking industry in an attempt to normalize the markets.

“Even with the overall economy slowing,” Wells Fargo Securities economists said, cautiously, in a note to clients, “the budding recovery in the housing market appears to be gradually gaining momentum.”

Housing is still far from healthy despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to resuscitate it by helping to push mortgage rates to extraordinary lows: 3.62% for a 30-year loan, according to Freddie Mac‘s latest survey. Single-family housing starts, though up, remain 60% below the 2002 pre-bubble pace. And, by the way, try qualifying for a mortgage these days. Ha!

Americans‘ equity in homes is $2 trillion, or 25%, less than it was in 2002 and half what it was at the peak, in 2006. More than one in every four mortgage borrowers still has a loan bigger than the value of the house, though rising home prices are reducing that fraction very slightly.

Still, the upturn in housing is a milestone, a particularly welcome one amid a distressing dearth of jobs. For some time, housing has been one of the biggest causes of economic weakness. It has now—barely—moved to the plus side. “A little tail wind is a lot better than a headwind,” says economist Chip Case, the “Case” in Case-Shiller.

 

From here on, housing is unlikely to be the leading drag on the U.S. economy. It will instead reflect the strength or weakness of the overall economy: The more jobs, the more confident Americans are about keeping their jobs, the more they are willing to buy houses. “Manufacturing had led growth and construction had lagged,” JPMorgan Chase economists said last week. “Now the roles are reversed: Manufacturing growth has slowed as private construction comes to life.”

Unfortunately, as we see fewer jobs, all of the new construction will result in a huge inventory of new homes and further bloat an already bloated market.

The biggest threat is that large shadow inventory of unsold homes, homes which owners won’t put on the market because they are underwater, homes that will be foreclosed eventually and homes owned by lenders. Another threat is the holdback that the banks have been managing around homes already in foreclosure, so as to not flood the market. They have been trickling onto the market, slowed in part by government efforts to delay foreclosures; a flood could reverse the recent rise in prices. Or the still-dysfunctional mortgage market could get even worse. 

Don’t believe what you read, folks. The housing bust is far from over.

 


Let’s Do This Thing!

Everybody keeps telling me to write something positive and to stop harping on gloom and doom in our future.

I really wish I knew how to do that, because every day I search for some signs, or any sign that there is some hopeful event on the horizon that will create a positive impact on our future, but I can’t find any.

I turn on the TV News and without fail, there are varying degrees of sterilized coverage of some economic event that happened three days earlier that will have far greater impact than the newsies imply and is of far greater complexity than they can possibly understand or communicate.

So, they don’t, and America does what? Goes about their business placated by the blind faith that their leaders will figure out how to prevent the world from ending before it does?  Do they say to themselves, “Hey, how bad could it get? After all, we went through some deep shit in the 30’s and we came out alright.”

Cable news is marginally better because at least they have a longer segment in which to explore the charts, data, directions, patterns, history, etc., but it is still not enough. Then, I have to remind myself every day that people just don’t care. Here is what people care about:

TRENDING NOW (from Yahoo web searches ranked by popularity) on this fine day in July:

01 Mariah Carey

02 Sigourney Weaver

03 Harrison Ford turns 70

04 Michelle Obama threat

05 Chevy buy-back

06 F-22 hypoxia

07 Bonnie and Clyde guns

08 Bankruptcy protection

09 GOP vice-presidential candidates

10 Rheumatoid arthritis

So, it is obviously more important to the American people that Mariah Carey and Sigourney Weaver are celebrating Harrison Ford’s 70th birthday, while Michelle Obama has threatened a Chevy buy-back and some pilots are still experiencing hypoxia when they ride in the cockpit of a jet the military never wanted, and Bonnie and Clyde have hidden their guns and filed for bankruptcy protection because the GOP VP candidates have rheumatoid arthritis.

THIS is what the people care about.

How can that be? I haven’t a clue.

And, if I believe we are truly headed for hell, then why don’t I write about what we can do about it and instead of warning people all the time, point out some things that people can do once they know it.

OK. Here goes: If you have a job, no matter how shitty, keep it and shut-up about how shitty it is. You are blessed. It isn’t like they promised it would be. So, what? If you are still in school, stay there. Slow it down. Take fewer courses. Get Mono. Avoid graduation like the plague. Yes, even if you are at Harvard or Stanford. And, yes, even if you will have an MBA. Particularly if you have an MBA. Stay on your parents’ health care plan as long as you can. If you have a government job, you are even more blessed.

If you are an Airline Pilot, a Doctor or Lawyer, you are just fine. Not making very much money, but fine. Don’t buy anything you don’t need. Don’t buy real estate, yet.

If you are an investment banker, you are also fine. In fact, you are great. There will be tons of money to be made on the craziest gambles you’ve ever seen. Derivatives? Nah, child’s play. China? Gold? Corn? Salmon? Copper? You betcha.

If you are a commercial banker, you are screwed. Too bad.

If you are unemployed, find something that only you can do and offer it for sale. Try Fiverr, or the like. Make something up. “I will sing Happy Birthday in my silly hat for $5”. Really.

Stop looking for work if you haven’t already. It is bad for your soul. If you’ve been out of work for a year, you undoubtedly have erectile dysfunction. You may have already joined many who have considered suicide. Don’t do it.

Get creative. Find others and band together in some common cause. Like tearing down the government. Don’t do it like the Occupy movement did. Actually form a political party and talk to the media. Use simple words. Talk slowly. Even though it makes no sense, talk about the government making jobs. Or, find a bunch of people and start a business that capitalizes on the GREATEST DEPRESSION EVER. Put people in need together with people who have. Make something up. Now is the time. Bend rules. The law will be so busy chasing truly bad guys, it won’t have time to worry about you. And, where would they put you? Jail? Who would look after you? They are all out of work too.

If you are a teacher, you are doomed, but at least 40% of you still have jobs. Try to stay out of site and don’t ever complain.

If you’re in the military, stay in the military. Re-up. For anything.

If you are upside down on your house, walk away and start over somewhere. If you have a ton of debt, declare bankruptcy before they change the law again and make it even harder. If you are lucky enough to be on unemployment or other government welfare programs, revel in it and stay on them. They are NOT entitlements. You paid for them in taxes. They are yours. You have earned them.

If you have a ton of money, you will have fun and be able to make lots more by betting against all fiscal progress and economic recovery. Bet against Greece. Bet against European banks surviving. Bet against the dollar. Bet against every bank stock, and bet on every European sovereign bond default.

Oh, that’s not what you meant, huh?

OK. The truth is we live in the modern world. And, no matter what happens in Washington or in our State Capitols, this is still the modern world (it would be easy to say this is still America, but technology now allows our freedoms to enable behavior around the world, so I call this the modern world). We can do anything we want here. You want to know what to do? Then, page down to the end, and I’ll tell you.

In the meantime, the cracks in the ice are getting bigger.  At this point it is really hard to have much confidence in the global financial system at all.  The lying leaders told us that MF Global was an isolated incident.  Well, the horrific financial scandal over at PFGBest last week is essentially MF Global all over again.  And, either no one was watching or no one was telling. They told us that we would not see a huge wave of municipal bankruptcies in the United States.  Well, three California cities have declared bankruptcy in less than a month, and many more are on their way.  They told us that we could have faith in the integrity of the global financial system.  Well, now we are finding out that global interest rates have been fixed by insiders for years, including our own Treasury leader. 

They told us that Greece was an isolated problem and that none of the larger European nations would experience anything remotely similar.  Well, what is happening in Spain right now looks like an instant replay of exactly what happened in Greece.  So who are we supposed to believe?  Why does it seem like nearly everything that “the authorities” tell us turns out to be a lie?   What else haven’t they been telling us? I think I know.

Look, tens of millions of American families are about to go through economic hell and most of them don’t even realize it. For some weird reason, most Americans don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about things like “monetary policy” or “economic cycles”.  The vast majority of people just want to be able to get up in the morning, go to work and provide for themselves and their families.  Most Americans realize that things seem “harder” these days, but most of them also have faith that things will eventually get better.  Why? I have no idea.

Unfortunately, things are NOT going to get any better.  The number of good jobs continues to decline, the number of Americans losing their homes continues to go up, people are having a much more difficult time paying their bills and our federal government is drowning in debt.  Sadly, this is only just the beginning of how bad it is going to be.

Since the financial collapse of 2008, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government have taken unprecedented steps to stimulate the economy.  But even with all of those efforts, we are still living in an economic wasteland.

So what is going to happen when the next wave of the economic crisis hits?

If you look at the economic relapse that’s going on right now, look at last week’s abysmal job numbers, look at the housing numbers, understand that all of this is taking place with record monetary and fiscal stimulus. What happens if we remove those supports? What do you think will happen?

Last month, the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program ended (QE2 for those of you still counting).  The U.S. Congress and state legislatures from coast to coast are talking about budget cuts.  The amount of borrowing and spending that has been going on is clearly unsustainable, but will the U.S. economy start shrinking again once the current “financial sugar high” has worn off? QE3? It won’t work. Trust me.

Already, most economic news has been bad and almost all true economic indicators are turning south.  And, finally, the American people are becoming increasingly restless.  One new poll has found that 59 percent of the American people disapprove of Barack Obama’s handling of the economy (which is a new high).  According to another recent poll, 63% of Americans say that they feel “not good” or “bad” about how the U.S. economy is performing. It is not surprising that my buddy, Jimmy Carville is predicting a civil uprising.

The official unemployment rate just went up to 9.1 percent, but that figure only tells part of the picture.

There are some areas of the country where it seems nearly impossible to find a decent job.  Millions of Americans have fallen into depression as they find themselves unable to provide for their families.

According to CBS News, 45.1 percent of all unemployed Americans have been out of work for at least six months.  That is a higher percentage than at any point during the Great Depression. Just two years ago, the number of “long-term unemployed” in the United States was only 2.6 million.  Today, that number is up to 6.2 million.

Can you imagine being out of work for 6 months or more? How would you survive? Do you have enough money in the bank to last 6 months with no income? 89% of Americans don’t. Should I repeat that?

 

So is there any realistic expectation that things will get any better?  Well, there were only about 3 million job openings in the United States during the month of April.  Normally there should be about 4.5 million job openings.  The economy has slowed down once again.  Good jobs are going to become even more rare. Unless we can generate 160,000 new jobs each month, we fail to satisfy new demand. And, that is just NEW demand. It says nothing about existing unemployment. In other words, every new job we fall short of 160,000 is one more added to the unemployment number. So, yes, unemployment is growing. It is not coming down as many in the Obama administration would like to believe.

There are millions of other Americans that are “underemployed”.  All over the United States you will find hard working Americans that are flipping burgers or working in retail stores because that is all they can get right now. Most temp jobs and most part-time jobs don’t pay enough to be able to provide for a family.  And there are not nearly enough full-time jobs for everyone.

Sadly, the number of “middle class jobs” is about 10 percent lower than a decade ago.  There are simply less tickets to the “good life” than there used to be. And without good jobs, the American people cannot afford to buy homes. Without good jobs, the American people cannot even afford the homes that they are in now. And, these jobs are NEVER COMING BACK.

U.S. home prices have fallen 33 percent since the peak of the housing bubble.  That is more than they fell during the Great Depression. 28 percent of all homes with a mortgage in the United States are in negative equity at this point.  There are millions of American families that are now paying on mortgages that are for far more than their homes are worth. Millions of American families literally feel trapped in their homes.  They can’t afford to sell their homes, and they are afraid to simply walk away, because as things stand now, nobody will approve them for new home loans for many years to come.

Many Americans are sticking it out and are staying in their homes until they simply can’t pay for them anymore. As the number of good jobs continues to decline, the number of Americans that are losing their homes continues to rise. For the first time ever, more than a million U.S. families lost their homes to foreclosure in a single year during 2010. As the economy slows down once again and millions more Americans lose their jobs, this problem is going to get a lot worse. WORSE THAN TODAY.

Even if they aren’t losing their homes yet, millions of other Americans families are finding it increasingly difficult to pay the bills. Wages have been very flat over the past few years and yet the cost of most of the basics just seems to keep going up and up. According to Brent Meyer, a senior economic analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the cost of food and the cost of energy have risen at an annualized rate of 17 percent over the past six months. Have your wages gone up by 17 percent over the past six months?

As 2009 began, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States was $1.83.  Today it is $3.77. American families are finding that their paychecks are going a lot less farther than they used to, but Ben Bernanke keeps insisting that we have very little inflation in 2011.

Most Americans don’t care much about economic statistics – they just want to be able to do basic things like sit on their porch and have a beer, and take their children to the doctor. According to one recent survey, 26 percent of Americans have put off doctor visits because of the economy. Sadly, soon a lot more American families will not be able to afford to go to the doctor. But, ironically, not because Doctors are earning and charging more, but because Insurance companies are.  Doctor’s wages continue to trend down while Insurance company profits continue to trend up.

As the economic situation has unraveled, an increasing number of people are being forced to turn to the federal government for assistance. One out of every six Americans is now enrolled in at least one anti-poverty program run by the federal government. Some of the hardest hit members of our society have been our children.  Today, one out of every four American children is on food stamps. At the moment, approximately 44 million Americans are on food stamps.

But our federal government cannot afford to spend money like this forever.

According to a recent USA Today analysis, the U.S. federal government took on $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations during 2010.  USA Today says that the U.S. government now has $61.6 trillion in financial obligations that have not been paid for yet. Yes, that is trillion! $61.6 TRILLION.  Who is going to end up paying that bill? I know; you don’t care. And neither do I. What I care about is where my next meal is coming from, and how I am going to afford that next gallon of gas. I suspect you do too.

So with so much bad news and with all economic indicators pointing in the wrong direction, are our leaders alarmed?

According to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, “growth seems likely to pick up somewhat in the second half of the year.” I swear to God, the man is on drugs or has a contract clause that forces him to keep repeating the same mantra, no matter what happens. He, and his buddies in Washington and in your State capitol are part of the same disease. The disease that brings us closer every day to Armageddon.

So, what do we do? I said I would tell you what to do, right?

OK. This may seem silly to some of you, but there is absolutely no reason why we cannot all start a new business that is independent of anyone else and relies only on our own creativity and energy. This is not a plug for Crowdfunding. This is a plug for entrepreneurship.  There are many websites around now that provide the ability to post a project and solicit funds to launch it. Kickstarter, Indiegogo and RocketHub are three American sites joined by several in the UK and elsewhere that facilitate anyone with a dream to test the water in the Crowd for enthusiasm about your project. Here’s an example:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/readmatter/matter — Might not be your style? How about this one: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1220832022/bloc-socks?ref=popular … or … this one: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/8479-social-action-10-months-in-tel-aviv

The point is that you can, and should … DO SOMETHING! Stop waiting for somebody else to do it for you. Stop looking for a job. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Grab some buds, and get a dialogue going around some pet idea that you have had in the back of your mind. Maybe it comes from your frustrations as a single mother, as a cabdriver, as a fireman, a teacher, a bricklayer, whatever. There must be 99 ways to whatever you do better, faster, cooler, bigger or more. You can come up with something that maybe a few hundred other people think is a good idea also.

Then, you can post it on these sites and maybe, just maybe, you will raise enough money to start a little company doing that thing. Maybe it takes off. Maybe it flops. In the meantime, you might raise enough to sustain yourself to get to the second or third idea. You know? The one that really works.

This beats sitting around, feeling sorry for yourself and looking at want-ads, doesn’t it? And, you know that will never work anyway, and all it does is bring you closer to depression. Don’t be that guy. Don’t do the stuff that brings you closer to depression. Start something. It takes zero cash. You can do this.

And, though I realize you really don’t care, it is also the way in which we re-start this country and throw all of the old paradigms about banking and central government out the window. It is up to us now. Let’s do this thing!

 


Obama vs. Romney.

This time around, there is no great black hope, no chanting, “yes, we can.”, no Black-eyed Peas reminding us that the future can be different, if we are willing to elect a reasonable man or woman to the highest office in the land.

This time around, we have seen what 3+ years of a reasonable man can do in that office, and we are deflated, depressed and disenfranchised even further than we were under eight years of the Bush presidency. How could that be even possible?

Did we really just witness 3+ years of congress doing imitations of the ultimate fighting championships, promoted to kill any legislation that Obama was behind, just because he was behind it, regardless of its impact on the American people? Really? I thought the Clinton years were brutal, but those were kindergarten neener-neener nasty compared to this. And, they even included an impeachment.

I really can’t take any more of this. Even the thought of voting for Romney is crazy. Is that what people want? Back to No future III? The Bush years revisited, but with a Republican congress? You like this quarter’s jobs report? You’ll LOVE it under Romney. You like the state of housing? Romney will give you a boner. You like the cost of health care? Romney will make it even higher. You like social programs for those who are in trouble? Forget about it. You like rich guys being protected by the government and helped to get even richer? You will be in heaven.

Do we need to be reminded that our current predicament is the result of eight years of Bush policies? Really?

Deficit spending: higher under George Bush. Military spending: higher under George Bush. National Debt: higher under George Bush. Government employment: higher under George Bush. Pace of the increase in National debt: higher under George Bush. Authorization for  the biggest government handout in history: George Bush.

When Obama took office, the first thing he got to witness was the implementation of the most poorly thought out policy dictate in American history, an $887 billion bailout of the nation’s banks. Obama didn’t get a vote in this. It just was. And, guess what? It wasn’t enough. We needed to bail them out some more. Then, the banks hunkered down and we haven’t seen them since (except when trading derivatives and disclosing over-exposures to European trading partners). Credit? HA! You want credit? You get Yogi Berra credit. You can have all you want as long as you don’t need it. If you need it, you can’t have it.

Then the housing market crashed, but banks didn’t like the way they filled out those pesky loan documents, so they sort of delayed full disclosure on their exposures. Now, we all see their exposures and nobody likes it, especially the banks. Obama said, “Shouldn’t the banks be held to some accountability if we are going to keep them afloat?”, and congress laughed. That boy clearly doesn’t understand how the game is played, does he?

He tried to close Guantanamo like he promised, but congress said, “Hell no, boy. Don’t you understand people don’t want those ‘ragheads’ in their neighborhood prisons?” as if someone actually asked anybody what they wanted? Nope – not how it’s done.

He authorized a (relatively) small bailout for the auto industry and guess what happened? The industry is stronger now than it has ever been, and they all paid their loans back well before they were due. Detroit has jobs now. People are working in the auto industry again. Did you know that? Probably not, because Obama’s message seems to get drowned out in the air waves, or nobody seems to remember how bad it was, just 3 years ago. Or, how scary.

I think, based upon looking at the polls, people don’t remember anything that happened yesterday. This country polls hugely (above 65%) in favor of every component of what is now known as Obamacare, yet when asked whether they approve of Obamacare itself, they poll negative. How can that be? Oh, that’s right. The Kardashian’s are making $40 million a year and have renewed their insane reality show for another five years. Now, it all makes sense.

Obama tries to take credit for ridding the planet of the most dangerous terrorist that ever lived and people pretty much yawn.

What have you done for us lately, I guess? Seemed like a pretty big deal when Bush was in office. Whatever.

Jobs? Obama has clearly failed to create any new ones. But, when he actually does something to try and create new ones, he gets shot down in congress. The JOBS act struggled to get out of a Democratic controlled Senate with major revisions and is now stalled out in the SEC during implementation over petty issues surrounding accreditation of lenders. Come’ on, man! Is this what you people want?

How about at least prosecuting the ‘criminal’ banks? Are you kidding me? Not one banker does any jail time, yet they all played a major part in taking down the world’s financial system as we knew it, and it will probably get much worse. Instead, his AG gets rung up on contempt of congress on some nonsensical ATF screw-up that no one cares about, least of all the guys still looking for work in their 24th month of unemployment.

I mean really. This is what congress focuses on? This is way worse than re-arranging deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.

A couple of inherited wars? Obama ended one and has begun to end the other, meanwhile avoiding the “crazies” in Iran and their brinkmanship. Silly people; they want their own nuclear bomb just like the big guys. Where do they get off? Israel? The peace process grinds along and Obama has done as much or as little to placate all sides as anyone before him, while trying to keep the Israelis in a state of reason.  But, no way is Obama a tough war president like Bush or that Romney guy, both of whom are delighted to send our young men and women into harm’s way, particularly if there is oil or other stuff we want. National security, you know.

Health care? Never mind that he risked almost all of his political capital to usher in the most revolutionary health care reform bill in history, and the people LOVED it (see above), but he also frightened the living skittles out of the insurance companies and lobbyists at the same time. How many times has your health insurance premiums gone up in the last twelve months? There is a reason for that, and yes, we are on the path to a single payer health plan … unless, of course Romney gets elected. In that case, Obamacare will be overturned (though it will be interesting to see how he actually does this) and 33 million Americans can return to having no health care, along with all of the college students now on their parent’s plans for a few more years. Pre-existing conditions? Forgetaboutit.

And then there’s the economy. Give me a break. If this election is won or lost based on the economy, Obama is history. The economy is lousy now, hasn’t improved in the slightest in the last 4 years, and is about to get really bad. The only thing we can be sure of is that we are hopelessly overexposed to Europe, the European bankers are even bigger liars than our own bankers, and when the sizzle finally hits the fan, the US banks and the US economy will be a disaster. The recent jobs report will look the same or worse for the rest of the year. Housing hasn’t budged and won’t, except to fall even further. All of that, we can be sure of.

But, the election shouldn’t be won or lost based on the economy. Generally reasonable people should conclude that no one individual, especially the president of the US, can actually do anything to alter this course, and that many complex factors must resolve themselves before any of this can begin moving in the right direction. Factors that rely on individuals at the levers of power to do things that are in the interests of the general well-being of mankind, as opposed to their own private interests.

Fixing this mess will require that the Fed and Treasury break some rules and force bankers to do truly radical things like forgiving all of the bad mortgage debt, for openers. Stop collecting bad debts. Open their credit drawers to small businesses and returning vets and people who used to have good credit. In other words, pitch in and help.

Our current situation is in many ways, reminiscent of World War II. A small group of evil men determined to wreak havoc on the rest of global society with the fiercest and most treacherous means available at their disposal. But, instead, a few good men stood tall and acted like the statesmen they were, and inspired the rest of us to carry on and fight the good fight. And, they called for immense sacrifice.

We went without – a lot of stuff – for a long time. Rules were broken and changed. There were very few sacred cows untarnished. The future of the world was on the line. And, because of all of that, the people banded together and prevailed.

This election also needs to be about statesmanship and leadership.

We face three major disasters today — the first being fallout from the financial recession of 2008 with respect to the balance sheets of consumers and government entities. The collapse of housing prices destroyed trillions in family assets. The median net worth of families in the United States dropped by 39 percent over a three year period — from $126,000 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010 — leaving family wealth back where it was in 1992, two decades before.

Second, the housing collapse led to permanent damage to our financial and banking system. Banks are not making normal loans because they still have a lot of bad debt on the books and they are uncertain about future regulatory requirements, and global financial developments. As much as I hate them, they are doing what is right for their shareholders. But, what they are doing is wrong for the world.

And third, our enormous government debt breeds uncertainty. No one has any idea how we can pay this debt down, and especially when Congress continues to do their UFC imitations and seems completely unable to function.

And, we face one huge potential disruptor – the coming financial fallout from the impending collapse of most of Europe and many of their most prestigious banking institutions. This event will create panic, banking disasters, it will plunge the economy even deeper into chaos and cause even greater job loss.

We can avoid all of this, but it will require a summit like no other and leadership rarely witnessed in history. It will require that we throw away all convention and determine to start anew at whatever cost and whatever pain to those most heavily invested. I once asked the head of Levi Strauss’s Jeanswear division why they decided to stop shipping product to China and he said, “The Haas brothers don’t need any more money.” Well, I think that reasoning applies aptly to a lot of people in power today as well.

How can we stop all this?

Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, Conservative, Liberal or Libertarian, we need to vote for a leader and a statesman. The only man running, who is capable of delivering speeches to raise the spirit and pride of the American people, who is driven by reason and not by politics, who can conjure the presence and will of Roosevelt and Churchill, Kennedy and Lincoln, and who can summon our courage and strength when we will need it most. There is only one who can bring global leaders to a summit and get them to do the hard things that must be done to put a stop to this spiral. There’s only one statesman running, and his name isn’t Mitt Romney.


New Peer-to-peer Lender Enters Space.

RainFin: latest entry into peer-to-peer lending – but, in South Africa.

RainFin intends to disrupt South Africa’s financial services sector by allowing credit-worthy South Africans to engage in peer-to-peer lending, cutting out banks in the process and offering higher returns to lenders and better interest rates to borrowers.

Sean Emery, cofounder and CEO of RainFin, says the company’s online platform links people who need to borrow money with people who have money to lend. He says borrowers can access funds at lower interest rates and with better terms and conditions than they could through a bank.

Emery says borrowers may be able to get interest rates as low as half of those offered by traditional banks. Lenders, meanwhile, can achieve “superior returns” on money they loan to others. He calls it “social lending”, and it fits well with American models that are rolling out this year, in advance of the JOBS act and attendant CrowdFunding bill, though Emery contends social-lending is different.

Lending is making the wrong people rich and the wrong people poor,” says Emery. There’s an important distinction between “CrowdFunding” and “social lending”, he says. The latter is a subset of the former and sees a group of people engaging in transactions while sidestepping traditional intermediaries rather than pooling resources to create a product or fund an event.

In order to use RainFin, consumers must be older than 18 and resident in South Africa. The site employs a thorough credit vetting process, after which borrowers can apply for loans of between R1 000 ($123 US) and R75000 ($9,191 US) using the RainFin marketplace.

These are small, short-term loans. Borrowers can specify the loan amount, the maximum interest they are willing to pay and the loan duration they prefer. The maximum repayment period is one year.

Individual lenders, meanwhile, can invest between R100 ($12 US) and R500000 ($61.275 US) in the service and spread it across numerous loans. Investors are not obliged to lend to groups or individuals, and have access to anonymous credit risk information based on factors such as age, gender, location and credit score.

RainFin earns a percentage-based transactional fee on every loan that takes place. Emery says this makes the costs of the platform “completely transparent” to its users. There is a 2% origination fee charged to the borrower and a 1% fee to lender for managing the transaction. Thus, the service takes 3% of a transaction’s value, added to it.

“We believe that consumers have an opportunity to take back some of the power they have given to banks, benefitting each other rather than large institutions in the process.”

Emery says RainFin intends to add other products to its offering, including financing for small and medium-sized businesses and mortgages in coming months.

The service is aimed at two types of borrowers. The first are highly creditworthy borrowers who want a better return on investment than they get currently.

The second is the first-time borrower or a borrower that is shunned by the formal banking sector because of their age — whether too young or too old — or because they are freelancers, students or entrepreneurs.

At launch, the service is designed to handle up to 100,000 users. Emery says there are no plans to launch the service outside South Africa on account of the banking regulation complexities that it would entail. The service doesn’t require a banking license because it doesn’t take deposits.

“In the same way a real estate agent isn’t a bank, we aren’t either. We don’t take deposits and reinvest them for profit; we merely facilitate the moving of money between people,” says Emery.

Co-founder Hannes van der Merwe says RainFin is not a micro-lender. “We are not trying to extract as much money out of you as we can.” He says one of the challenges the service faced was designing a process that would allow users to engage in a legally binding contract online.

Lenders stipulate the interest rate they are prepared to accept and, in the case of two or more lenders offering the same rate, the first to bid on a loan request wins it. The service warns lenders if it appears a lender is taking on too much of a loan and inadequately spreading their risk on the service.

Van der Merwe says lenders can be kept up to date on new loans coming into the marketplace via Web feeds. Alternatively, the service includes an automatic “bid agent” that will bid on loans that meet specific criteria or notify the lender via e-mail.

Emery says the bulk of the service’s marketing will be done online, as that is where its audience is. “We are focused on using the mediums in which we operate so online, mobile and social networks to start with,” he says.

RainFin is funded by SA capital and went live on Tuesday.


Crowdfunding Update.

David Drake of LDJ Capital and TheSohoLoft.com continues today with his sixth article on his series regarding CrowdFunding for equity solutions, reprinted here with his permission.

Perhaps it was no surprise when Mary Schapiro, Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told a House subcommittee that the Securities and Exchange Commission will not meet the July 4, 2012 deadline imposed under the JOBS Act to implement rules for lifting the general solicitation ban under Regulation 506, Section D (advertising rules).

Ms. Schapiro explained to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on June 28, 2012 that the JOBS Act mandates that the SEC create rules that will require issuers to verify that they are accepting investments only from accredited investors who are responding to a general advertisement. Creating such rules are difficult and will require more time. “We want to create something that is workable and usable,” she said. The SEC Chair expects that general solicitation rules will be issued “this summer.”

The SEC’s commitment to provide general solicitation rules this summer is encouraging and badly needed. Representative Patrick McHenry probably summed up the urgency for the rules the best by advising Ms. Schapiro: “Entrepreneurs are waiting and we urge you to move forward with that.”

As the SEC develops rules for general solicitations, issuers must understand that they will need to move cautiously if the plan to use general advertisement to solicit offerings. The JOBS Acts require that issuers verify that they are accepting investments only from accredited investors under the SEC Act. The SEC rules ultimately will determine what verification process is needed and whether any safe harbors are available. We suggest that issuers looking forward to make general solicitations stay apprised of developments as the SEC formulates its rules, so that issuers are prepared to move forward when the rules go public.

The Securities & Exchange Act in 1933 required that only accredited investors could be solicited for investments and non-accredited investors could not be unless they had an exemption through Reg A, Reg D, a Direct Public Offering or a registered security being traded on an exchange.

Under the 1933 Act, the accredited investor was considered someone who made $200,000 per year the previous 2 years and expected to make $200,000 the following year or a couple making $300,000.  Under a later amendment adopted in 1982, another criteria that would allow you to qualify as an accredited and sophisticated investor would be that you had a net worth of $1,000,000.

While the Dodd Frank Act was under consideration, the SEC pushed for a high net worth amount for an accredited investor. This was highly opposed and removed. What was accomplished out of the Dodd Frank Act was:

a) The equity of your primary home would not count towards your net worth.

b) Debt surpassing your equity would count against your net worth.

c) The equity in your summer / vacation / secondary home would count towards your net worth.

The Dodd Frank Act also prohibited the SEC from adjusting the net-worth threshold for a natural person for four years.

If you take inflation into consideration, the $200,000 per year salary in 1982 would be the equivalent of approximately $1,000,000 today, and the net worth requirement set in 1982 would represent a net worth of approximately $10,000,000 today. Wow, that would not leave many people to invest. Another argument would be that are only rich people entitled to invest in private and exciting deals? Are the select few that made money on Facebook the only ones to ‘give it’ to the less rich?

Granted, $200,000 makes you rich today but I was alluding to the rich just like their counter parts in 1933. Remember, the SEC 1933 & 1934 Act was created to protect the non-accredited investors from fleecing but also to assure that they did not leverage their home 99% and spend all their money on stocks that would not only be worthless but put them jobless and homeless. The 1929 crash that led to the great depression was extreme.

While the status quo remains for determining the financial threshold of an accredited investor, a fundamental change is approaching on solicitation. Currently, any issuer intending to rely on Rule 506 of Regulation D cannot engage in any general solicitation or advertising to attract investors. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) directs the SEC to remove this prohibition, which the SEC expects to implement during the summer of 2012.

Here is a little history on the non-solicitation rule. Be reminded that there was no TV or internet in 1933. The ban on solicitation to non-accredited investors forced brokers and companies to only talk to ‘rich’ people for investments, that is, the accredited investors. The JOBS Act asked the SEC change the writing in 90 days – that is July 4th, 2012 – Independence day – at which point advertising online, via email to millions or on TV would allow you to advertise you wanted capital for your stock to the general public.

Note, you still could only take money from accredited investors but the monumental change is that you can freely advertise wildly. Yet again, you would lose your exemption status under Reg D 506 if you took one single non-accredited investor and they decided to sue you later for loss of capital — a rare occasion but a legal premise that may hold true. So, will this amendment be implemented by July 4th and we will see media go bananas with everyone with their mother advertising stocks of private companies you can buy?

No, the SEC will not allow such madness as they will implement a safe harbor to assure that the ‘accreditation” of an investor through this means is verifiable and not necessarily just self-monitored by the issuer.

David Drake is a founding board member of CFIRA. Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Advocates, or CFIRA, was established following the signing of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. CFIRA is an organization formed by the CrowdFunding industry’s leading platforms and experts. The group will work with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and other affected governmental and quasi-governmental entities to help establish industry standards and best practices. For more information, visit http://www.CFIRA.org. Connect with TheSohoLoft at facebook.com/TheSohoLoft and sign up for newsletters at www.thesoholoft.com, or contact Donna Smith, Communications Manager, for more information at 212.845.9652 or via email at donna@LDJCapital.com.


Congress Chooses Political Expediency Over Student Welfare. Again.

Knowing that allowing the 3.4% interest rate on student loans to double as of July 1st would be political suicide, Congress pushes the decision out one year and keeps the lower interest rate in place.

Victory for students? Nope. Victory for Congress. You betcha.

While saving the average borrower around $1,000 a year, it is likely to cost students a lot more than that over the long term. The agreement that lawmakers passed Friday will keep interest rates at 3.4 percent for another year.

Anthony DeLaRosa, a 23-year-old University of Colorado graduate, says it’s a big victory. “I think the reason that students should support this, first and foremost is the fact that the 3.4 percent interest rate is being extended,” he says, “something that students pushed for very, very hard over the last several months.”

By passing this agreement, Congress sent a message to the Republican attack dogs that said, “We’re keeping the agreement in place for a year, but we’re really going to make them pay.”

DeLaRosa works for the U.S. Student Association, a lobbying group. He says 7.4 million students who rely on subsidized Stafford loans can now breathe easier. But, this is no victory, given the rest of the deal. “In the last year, Congress has actually trimmed tens of billions of dollars in student aid,” says Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.

Packer says lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — have actually made it more costly for students to borrow, and those costs dwarf whatever savings students can expect from lower interest rates.

For example, graduate students will now have to pay the interest on their loans while they’re still in school. All students will have to start paying back the money they borrowed immediately after graduation — the six-month grace period during which the government paid the interest is gone.

“That’s disappointing because Congress shouldn’t pay for one education program by cutting another — in this case it’s actually cutting the same one,” Packer says. That’s not all, he says. Lawmakers have limited the number of semesters needy students can receive a Pell Grant and made it harder to qualify for the maximum award. “So they’ve made a whole variety of changes.

Overall, about $4.6 billion came out of students’ pockets to pay off the federal deficit,” Packer says. The total cost to students, according to some estimates, $18-20 billion extra over the next 10 years.

This all began a year ago, during the pitched political debate over the federal budget, the deficit and what federal government programs to cut. The student loan program was clearly not exempt, says Getachew Kassa, legislative director for the U.S. Student Association. “This was disheartening. When we started this campaign as a coalition of student advocates, we said that ‘No way in hell are you going take money from education,’ “he says.

But that’s what lawmakers did, says Kassa, a University of Oregon graduate. So even with interest rates remaining low, Kassa says the bigger story here is that students appear to have lost more than they gained. “In the past year, we’ve had deals where students have basically been robbed. I think the real question to ask is, where does this stop?” he says, “because sooner or later, you take a little bit here, a little bit there — you have nothing else to take away from.”

So, unfortunately the headlines will read, “Congress comes together to keep student loan interest rates low.”, and both Republicans and Democrats will take credit for keeping interest rates from doubling, while the real headline should read, “Congress stays in office by screwing students with increased education costs.”

But he says students will be back in nine months, yet again fighting to keep interest rates at 3.4 percent for another year — and fighting to keep Congress from cutting student aid even more.


How Much Trouble Could Big Banks Be In? Lots!

The future of the Euro and the Eurozone is bleak and will likely look like a series of prolonged, rolling crises that slowly evolve to reveal just how critically the financial health of each country is affected by their individual sovereign debt and their failing banks.

The inevitable result will be severe Eurozone-wide stress, emergency liquidity loans from the IMF and the European Central Bank and politicians from all the countries involved increasingly attacking each other  over allegations of blame and corruption. To no good end.

Even the optimists now say openly that Europe will only solve its problems when there are no options left and time has run out. Less optimistic analysts increasingly think that the Eurozone will break up because all the proposed solutions are essentially Pollyannaish jokes. Let’s say the realists are right, and Europe starts to dissolve. Markets, investors, regulators and governments can stop worrying about interest-rate and credit risk, and start worrying about dissolution risk.

More importantly, they need to start worrying seriously about what the repricing of risk will do to the world’s thinly capitalized and highly leveraged megabanks. European officials, strangely, appear not to have thought about this at all; the Group of 20 meeting last week seemed to communicate a weird form of complacency and calm.

So, for all of the European officials and the U.S. bankers, here’s what dissolution risk means:  If you have a contract that requires you to be paid in euros and the euro no longer exists, what you will receive is not real clear. See? That’s dissolution risk.

Let’s say you have lent 1 million euros to a German bank, payable three months from now. If the euro suddenly ceases to exist and all countries revert to their original currencies, then you would probably receive payment in deutsche marks. You might be fine with this — and congratulate yourself on not lending to an Italian bank, which is now paying off in lira.

But what would the exchange rate be between new deutsche marks and euros? How would this affect the purchasing power of the loan repayment? More worrisome, what if Germany has gone back on the deutsche mark but the euro still exists — issued by more inflation-inclined countries? Presumably you would be offered payment in the rapidly depreciating euro. If you contested such a repayment, the litigation could drag on for years.

What if you lent to that German bank not in Frankfurt but in London? Would it matter if you lent to a branch (part of the parent) or a subsidiary (more clearly a British legal entity)? How would the British courts assess your claim to be repaid in relatively appreciated deutsche marks, rather than ever-less- appealing euros? With the euro depreciating further, should you wait to see what the courts decide? Or should you settle quickly in hope of recovering half of what you originally expected?

What if you lent to the German bank in New York, but the transaction was run through an offshore subsidiary, for example in the Cayman Islands? Global banks are extremely complex in terms of the legal entities that overlap with business units. Do you really know which legal jurisdiction would cover all aspects of your transaction in the currency formerly known as the euro?

Moving from relatively simple contracts to the complex world of derivatives, what would happen to the huge euro-denominated interest-rate swap market if euro dissolution is a real possibility? Guess what? No one really knows.

But, what I am really talking about here is the balance sheets of the really big banks. For example, in recently released filings with banking regulators, JPMorgan Chase & Co. revealed that $50 billion in losses could hypothetically bring down the bank. JPMorgan’s total balance sheet is valued, under U.S. accounting standards, at about $2.3 trillion. But U.S. rules allow a more generous netting of derivatives — offsetting long with short positions between the same counterparties — than European banks are allowed. HA!

The problem is that the netting effect can be overstated because derivatives contracts often don’t offset each other precisely. Worse, when traders smell trouble at a bank that has taken on too much risk, they tend to close out their derivatives positions quickly, leaving supposedly netted contracts exposed. Remember the final days of Lehman Brothers?

When one bank defaults and its derivatives counterpart does not, the failing bank must pay many contracts at once. The counterpart, however, wouldn’t provide a matching acceleration in its payments, which would be owed under the originally agreed schedule. This discrepancy could cause a “run” on a highly leveraged bank as counterparties attempt to close out positions with suspect banks while they can. The point is that the netting shown on a bank balance sheet can paper over this dynamic. And that means that JPMorgan’s regulatory filings vastly understate the potential danger.

JPMorgan’s balance sheet, using the European method isn’t $2.3 trillion, but closer to $4 trillion. That would make it the largest bank in the world. Holy Moly!

What are the odds that JPMorgan would lose no more than $50 billion on assets of $4 trillion, much of which is complex derivatives, in a euro-area breakup, an event that would easily be the biggest financial crisis in world history? Slim. And, None.

No one on these shores seems to see the storm coming. In an effort to forestall the impending global crisis, the Federal Reserve should be insisting that big U.S. banks increase their capital levels by suspending dividends, and set up emergency liquidity facilities with an emergency and across-the-board suspension of dividend payments, but it won’t. The Fed is convinced that its recent stress tests show U.S. banks have enough capital even though these tests didn’t model serious euro dissolution risk and the effect on global derivatives markets.

The Fed is dead wrong about that, and the pending Euro-crisis is very real. Our mega-banks are in no position to weather even the known storm, let alone the real storm when all the European counter-parties pony up to the bar with their real exposures, and the true sovereign debt gets exposed. Then, what do you think that means for smaller banks? 

How do you think that might affect the U.S. economic recovery? What is gold trading at? $1,575 an ounce?  Hmmmm.


Home Prices Inching Up? What Does It Mean?

Home prices appear to report higher for the third straight month as “sand states” drift away from the crisis. Sand states are Florida, Nevada, Arizona and California. But, what’s really going on is far more interesting.

For the third straight month in April, American home prices twitched a tiny bit higher as values in the “sand states” further firmed while listings in some key northern cities continued to chill, the Case/Shiller survey reported Tuesday.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas showed a year-over-year decrease of 1.9 percent but a 0.7 percent national bump from March to April on a seasonally adjusted basis (1.3 percent non-seasonally adjusted), led by ongoing price rallies in a clump of warm-weather markets beaten up by the housing slump, including Miami, Tampa, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

“I’ve seen (listings here) jumping just like they did back in the day when the banks were approving everything,” said Michelle Tremblay, a Realtor with West USA Realty in Phoenix.

Since last October, home values in Phoenix have inched 12 percent higher, gaining ground during each of the past six months, according to the Case Shiller index.

From Tremblay’s vantage point, however, those loftier home values are akin to steroid-swelled athletes: synthetically pumped prices caused by banks stockpiling foreclosed properties and purposely keeping them off the market until area prices truly soar. Then those same financial institutions can cash in by selling those properties at fatter profits.

“We can see on the street what’s vacant and what’s not. We’re watching these (foreclosed and non-listed) houses just sit and rot,” Tremblay said. “The banks are letting these houses just deteriorate.

“They’re holding them and releasing them slowly to drive the value up.”

Some Realtors in another so-called “sand state,” California, recently have joined that chorus, offering similar, albeit unproven, theories about banks hoarding foreclosures and thus shrinking inventory in most markets.

In three California cities on the Case Shiller index -– Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco – home prices have increased during February, March and April.

Fellow “sand state” cities Miami and Tampa each have posted five straight months of home-value gains. Las Vegas, the largest metro area in Nevada – the fourth “sand state” – in April notched its third month in a row of heightened property prices, according to Case Shiller’s survey.

“Realtors across the country are all talking about the same stuff: the banks are the ones in control right now and they know it and they’re going to make the money again – and again and again,” Tremblay said. Not long ago, distressed homes “were selling, I think, too cheaply. And the banks weren’t making the money that they wanted to. So they tightened their inventory.”

Robert J. Shiller, one of the two developers of the monthly index, agreed that “it is an artificial market in that there is a lot of inventory held off.”

But Shiller, an Arthur M. Okun Professor of Economics at Yale University, sees still another hidden reservoir of prospective properties for sale – “a shadow inventory held off by homeowners who might sell if home prices come back up enough.”

Two weeks ago, market analytics service CoreLogic reported that the “residential shadow inventory” – which includes bank-owned homes – had declined to 1.5 million units in April, representing a four-month supply as well as a 14.8 percent drop from the same month one year earlier. In April 2011, the shadow inventory held a six-month supply of homes – roughly the same level as October 2008 when the housing crash began.

Still, with about 90 percent of American mortgages held by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Authority, “it’s really a government market now,” Shiller said. “So anyone contemplating speculating in housing has to think about what the government is likely to do. And we’re in limbo right now.

“We have a presidential election coming up. We haven’t resolved what were going to do with Fannie and Freddie – presumably something will be done with them afterward.”

Projecting the direction of home prices in several vital northern cities has grown more challenging the past year. In Boston, home prices have dipped during six of the past eight months, according to Case Shiller. In New York, property values have declined for seven consecutive months. Chicago, up a tick in April, has nonetheless posted seven price drops in nine months, the index shows.

Is any of that political and financial uncertainty perhaps fueling some fall-off in home prices those metro areas?

“I guess it is. People are holding off … People are hoping for prices to go back up (in those cities),” Shiller said. “And we’ll see the shadow inventory converted into real inventory if people start to see the prices go back up.”

But in Chicago, where home prices are off 7.2 percent since last August, the Case Shiller index reports, some Realtors are blaming another segment of the home-financing equation.

“The appraisers are keeping the prices low,” said Patrick Hawkins, a broker with Dream Town Realty in Chicago, so buyers can’t get enough financing, and credit is tighter than ever.

The last time Chicago property values were this depleted on the Case Shiller index: November 2000.

“Buyers are willing to spend a little more money right now. Inventory is low. But the appraisers just are reticent to come in with a strong enough number,” Hawkins said.  “What I’m assuming an appraiser would say is: It’s the market conditions, it’s people not having enough jobs, it’s the economy.

“Appraisers – they’re killing the market. The prices have been driven down, beaten to a pulp.”

It would be nice if the numbers supported a shift in the markets, and that the housing slump had hit bottom. But, based on this data, and in spite of what the Obama Administration dreams about, I am afraid we have a long way to go.