The Housing Bottom, Doomed Entitlements, Retail Sales Suffer, Sell Coal and More!

Posted On May 13, 2009 By

by Addison Wiggin & Ian Mathias

  • More bad news for housing… one chart shows the bottom could still be far away
  • Credit crunch slams entitlements… demise of Social Security, Medicare now years closer
  • Stocks suffer… Bill Jenkins on the “surprise” data behind today’s sell-off
  • Jim Nelson shares one of “the world’s most exciting growth industries”
  • Plus, Byron King’s taking profits… a sector worth selling, right now

 

  American home prices just suffered their worst quarter in recorded history.

That’s the word from the National Association of Realtors today… the median home price fell 14% from the first quarter of 2008 to the first three months of 2009, to just $169,000. Of the 152 metropolitan areas surveyed by the NAR, just 18 registered annual price gains. Nearly half of all sales during the first quarter were foreclosed properties or short sales. A whopping 3.7 million previously owned homes are still on the market.

Is this rock bottom for U.S. housing? Ehh… probably not.

After staying flat for most of the ’90s, the Case/Shiller home price index more than tripled during a 10-year boom. If this “credit crisis” is what people say it is — a generational calamity, Bill Bonner’s “Depression with a capital ‘D’” — then a mere 26% retrenchment from the peak seems kind of… lame. Even the Dow managed a bigger fall than that.

  If you’re a real estate opportunist (or just looking for a damn cheap house), you might want to check out Saginaw, Mich. The median existing home price there during the first quarter was a stunning $30,300, the lowest in the U.S. We won’t pretend to know what’s going on over there, but geez… they’re practically giving ’em away.

And if you’re also a newshound, like us, Saginaw might bring back the memory of this little love shack:

house

Back in October 2008, a Chicago woman famously bought this Saginaw home on eBay for $1.75. Ouch.

  Foreclosures set a new record in April, says a separate report from RealtyTrac today. 342,000 homes were in some form of foreclosure last month. That’s one for every 374 homes in the U.S. — just in April. Over 1.3 million homes have now been lost to foreclosure since the housing correction began in August 2007.

  A study out today shows that minorities are suffering the worst of the housing crisis. The homeownership rate among all Americans has fallen 1.7% from its 2004 peak. But for black households, the rate of ownership has plunged 3.8%, more than double the national average. Native-born Latinos have it even worse — down 4.6% from their high.

According to Pew Research, this rise and fall among minority homeowners was directly correlated with the popularization of subprime lending. “Blacks and Hispanics were more than twice as likely to have subprime mortgages as white homeowners, even among borrowers with comparable incomes,” reports The New York Times. (Queue the predatory lending lawsuits.)

And the only ethnicity to not see homeownership rates decline? Latino immigrants, with the lowest rate of all groups studied, have managed to maintain a homeownership rate of 44.7% since peaking in 2007. (Ugh… and queue the flood of hate mail into our humble inbox.)

  The credit crunch has hastened the predicted demise of Social Security and Medicare. The Obama administration admitted yesterday that they now expect Medicare to run out of money in 2017, two years sooner than the Bush administration predicted in 2008. Social Security’s imminent insolvency was bumped up four years, to 2037. That’s all under the assumption, naturally, that the economy will recover by the end of 2009.

Even those already sucking the government teat got a dose of bad news. Social Security trustees now predict, for the first time in over 30 years, that recipients will not receive any cost of living increase next year, or in 2011.

In just seven years (2016), the Social Security trust will enter deficit. Eight years at the current pace and Medicare will be totally wiped out. When do you think we’ll start worrying about it… 2015? What a mess.

  Last month’s budget deficit was the first April loss since 1983. We hit most of the details of the latest deficit yesterday, but felt obligated to raise this one point today: How can Uncle Sam possibly lose money during tax month? Only the U.S. government can “earn” $266 billion in one month (mostly our confiscated income) and still end up $20 billion in the hole.

  All the above is weighing heavily on the market today, but the latest retail sales numbers are pushing traders over the edge. Retail sales fell 0.4% in April and were revised down to a 1.3% decline in March, the Commerce Dept. said today. The Street was expecting flat sales this month and no March revision.

Declines for both months proved to be the last straw for an already nervous market. After registering small gains yesterday, the Dow and S&P 500 raced down almost 2% at the opening bell this morning.

  “Who’s surprised?” asks our currency man Bill Jenkins in response today’s retail “shock.” “Economists predicted a rise in sales from last month, but based on what? Here’s the bottom line: 3 million more people have been added to the lines of the unemployed since the beginning of 2009. I’m not sure where a person learns the following lesson, but apparently not in Keynesian Economics 101. So our readers can learn it here: Unemployed people spend no money. (Or at least they spend a lot less, if they have any sense.) Less spending equals fewer sales.

“As of the first quarter, we have already had record budget deficits, and Moody’s has announced that with the planned and continued spending, America puts at risk her AAA bond rating. What will happen to the dollar then? Dollar weakness is going to shock the world even more than today’s shocking sales numbers. Get ready to short the dollar aggressively.”

Need a hand trading currencies? Then definitely check out Bill’s Master FX Options Trader. His strategy is one of the only ways to profitably trade worldly monies without taking on loads of leverage. Details here.

  But don’t short the ol’ greenback just yet. Today’s equity decline is doing wonders for the dollar. After cratering at a four-month low of 81.9 yesterday, the dollar index is back up to 82.5 this morning.

  “One of the most exciting growth industries,” writes Jim Nelson, finding opportunity amid today’s sell-off, “is Far East Internet service providers. According to internetworldstats.com, 73.8% of Japanese and 76.1% of South Koreans are on the Internet. Even about one in every four Chinese citizens has Internet access. But too many forget that these superpowers aren’t the only places where you can make big money.

“Indonesia has the world’s fourth largest population, over 200 million people, but it ranks No. 16 in GDP purchasing power. Internet access is trailing in the region, with just 10.5% of its population online.

“But it’s the growth that impresses us. In 2000, only 2 million Indonesians had the Internet. That number is going to reach 25 million this year. That’s a massive growth rate… and serious investing opportunity.”

Jim just gave his readers a solid dividend-yielding play in this sector. If you’d like to get the details, be sure to check out his Lifetime Income Report.

  Oil is holding up today, even though stocks are in the dumps. As we write, the front-month contract is actually up about a quarter from yesterday’s close, to $59 a barrel.

  “Take your coal profits and run,” Bryon King told his Outstanding Investments readers late yesterday. “Coal is besieged. The coal industry wrestles daily with weak demand due to the U.S. economic slowdown. At the same time, the build rate for coal-fired power plants is at a historic low. Sure, in ‘ordinary’ times, coal might stage a comeback. But these are not ordinary times.

“The ‘rock that burns’ is under attack from many quarters of the environmental movement. Primarily, coal is guilty of the environmental sin of emitting carbon dioxide when burned — much more, pound for pound, than natural gas or oil. But it’s not just coal. Coal ash is also under attack, as are the many other byproducts of coal combustion (mercury, arsenic and much else).

“Is the anti-coal movement over the top? Yep. Is the anti-coal ‘science’ valid? Some of it is good; some is dramatically bad. Will the U.S. economy benefit from a precipitous rush away from burning coal? Nope. Will many Americans eventually look back and regret it if the current anti-coal frenzy prevails? Probably.

“But for now, I’m not going to get into the whole scientific and economic debate over the merits of the anti-coal claims. I’m just going to say that if you have a chance to make money in your coal positions, you should take it and move onto other ideas.”

  It’s a great day to own some gold. The spot price has perked up $20 from yesterday’s low, now at just over $925 an ounce.

“You asked a question yesterday,” a reader writes: “‘Would you expect more credit card losses during this recession (aka the credit crisis) or the tech bust?’

 

“For what it’s worth (not much, as it is only my gut-feeling guess), here’s an extreme answer. I expect that the chart you’ve provided will hit 20-30% by the time it is all over, many years from now. Unlike any previous recession/depression, the use of credit cards today is at an all-time high globally, particularly in the U.S. As such, The Daily Reckoning Dicta No. 2 as provided by Mr. Bonner comes into play: ‘The force of a correction is equal and opposite to the deception that preceded it.’

 

“And with the marginal utility of debt approaching zero with each passing day, one may even be enticed to provide a higher number than merely 20-30%, but I do not wish to go that far into the gloom.”

The 5: Thanks for the forecast.

Cheers,

Ian Mathias

The 5 Min. Forecast

P.S. You have less than three days left to be among the first wave of investors. As we announced on Monday, our technology adviser, Patrick Cox, is expecting some huge news this week from some very tiny companies. He’s calling their mission “the story of our era,” and if he’s right, early investors could reap transformational profits. Find details here, and do so soon… the whole scene could change in the next few days.

 


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