Barry Ritholtz has written a must read book (assuming you’re interested in how we got in the pickle we’re in) called Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy. Basically I underlined the entire book when I read it.
Reading back over my notes I was re-struck (is that a word?) by Barry’s point of view on what drove the vaunted American Consumer-led economy (we buy all the world’s doo dads): Real Estate.
According to a 2005 study by Asha Bangalore of Northern Trust Company, 43 percent of all new job creation between November 2001 and April 2005 was real estate related.
So what did that mean . . .
The housing boom was creating jobs for builders, contractors, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and even employees at Home Depot and Lowe’s. But the most significant impact to the economy came from home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and cash-out mortgage refinancings. With wages stagnant, Americans turned to home equity withdrawals in order to maintain their standard of living.
This was one of the single biggest and most unexpected elements of the debt-driven economic expansion. Outside of real estate, employment gains were modest and real wage gains flat. It was debt that drove the increase in consumer spending. Mortgage equity withdrawals normally a small portion of consumer debt‚exploded.
Without this home equity-based consumption, the nation would have been in recession territory, with GDP flat to 1 percent. At least, according to an unofficial Fed study by none other than Alan Greenspan
And this . . .
The wealth effect of home price appreciation is much more widely distributed than stocks. This made the generational-low interest rates the single largest factor that resuscitated the economy. Sure, tax cuts, deficit spending, increased money supply, war spending, and the like all played a role‚but it was the ultralow rates and the mortgage equity withdrawal they allowed that dominated U.S. economic activity.
As a result, the economy will continue to look crappy to wage earners for some time to come (assets are still mispriced).
The book is just brilliant. Read it.