Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A miracle homeownership boom!

According to the Census Bureau, homeownership shot up by 2.6% just this quarter!  Normally, that amount of change would take a decade or more.

Vacancies also declined sharply.

According to the estimate of total housing inventory, there were 4.8 million more homeowners in the second quarter than there were in the first quarter.  To put that in perspective, the National Association of Realtors estimates that there were a bit over a million homes sold in the second quarter.

The Census report on homeownership and vacancy includes a warning about changes in their methods of data collection due to the coronavirus.  It seems likely that a lot of renters did not respond to phone interview requests, and somewhere along the lines, the statistical methods for estimating total population went haywire, and we basically don't know anything about how homeownership and vacancies changed during the quarter.

There is a lot about the country we really don't know.  It is hard to know exactly how many people are in a real financial bind and what they are doing about it.  We are flying blind, which is why we need to err on the side of generosity in public safety net provisions right now, and do everything we can to reduce the contagion risks ASAP.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

June 2020 Yield Curve Update

The yield curve remains at about the same place it was a month ago.

Since the mid-March peak of optimism after the initial reactions to COVID-19, yields have declined, which would suggest that the Fed could do more in terms of basic nominal stimulus.  But, the decline in long-term yields has been real.  Inflation expectations have inched upward, though tepidly.

I don't have an opinion about the various lending programs in place, but it seems like there is plenty of room for the Fed to simply buy Treasuries until inflation expectations move above 2%.  A steeper yield curve would be a good sign.

In the meantime, the low point of the inversion looks like it's moving ahead in time, which is not a good sign.  Along with a steeper yield curve, it would be nice to see market expectations of sooner increases in short term rates.  The Fed can't cure COVID-19, but it can minimize the costs and dislocations caused by nominal decreases in incomes.  There is no reason for the Fed to let the market expect the yield curve to be inverted until 2022, but we might be headed there.

That being said, the Fed has been more active than what I would have expected.  I appreciate the new direction.  They aren't creating nominal economic crises like they did back in 2008.  But, there are parallels, still.  In 2008, during the month after Lehman Brothers failed, when markets were being tossed to and fro, and intensive debates raged about bailouts, TARP, and all the rest, the Fed sat on a 2% Fed Funds target rate - a target rate that was so disastrously high they never really managed to hit it.  In the midst of all the debates about unconventional policy efforts, it seems that it didn't occur to anyone to do conventional monetary policy and lower the rate.

We have sort of a similar issue now, with all the special lending programs, all the kvetching online about who got it and who didn't, etc., and in the meantime, the Fed could be purchasing many more Treasuries than they currently are.