“The Big Short” Revisited: Housing Starts Fall 2.6% In April, Multifamily Starts Fall 9.6%

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Tra-la, its May!  And it is time for the April housing construction release from the US Census!!

While total housing starts are down -2.58%, 1 unit starts are actually up slightly.  So where is the big drop off? 5+ unit (multifamily) starts fell 9.6% in April.

1 unit housing starts peaked in January 2006, crashed, and are now back to levels seen at the end of the 1991 recession.

What does this have to do with the book and movie “The Big Short?” Well, there was an enormous housing construction bubble that started building after the 1991 recession culminating in the peak in January 2006. It has taken over 10 years to get back to 1991 levels.

5+ (Multifamily) starts? While they declined nearly 10% in April, they are still generally higher since before The Great Recession.

Multifamily serious delinquency rates have been quite tame for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even during the financial crisis. This chart compares Fannie and Freddie multifamily delinquency rates withe FHA’s overall delinquency rate that includes single family. (Note: the FHA serious delinquency rate is so high that it is on the left axis).

While the book and the film “The Big Short” blamed Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) for the financial crisis, clearly the US went on single-family housing construction boom that fizzled-out in after peaking in January 2006.

Construction loans, funded at the shorter-end of the Treasury curve, dropped dramatically with The Fed’s dropping of their benchmark Fed Funds Target rate.

As the rate remained depressed, home prices started to rise rapidly as construction spending spiked. As The Fed tried to cool off the bubble, it was too late.

Blaming CDOs, CDO^2 and synthetic CDOs was too easy of a target for blame.  How about the US economy was running out of gas and we relied on housing construction to drive GDP growth?

At least The Big Short got part of the over-building fiasco correct in Florida, but then blamed it on mortgage brokers.

 

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