Federal Reserve | timiacono.com - Part 55

The Fed’s Ulterior Motive in REO Rentals

The Federal Reserve’s new white paper about the U.S. housing market released just yesterday – The U.S. Housing Market: Current Conditions and Policy Considerations (.pdf) – contains the following paragraph and a good deal of supporting rationale for their  recommendation to sell GSE-owned foreclosed properties in bulk to investors so that they can be converted in bulk into rentals.

The price signals in the owner-occupied and rental housing markets–that is, the decline in house prices and the rise in rents–suggest that it might be appropriate in some cases to redeploy foreclosed homes as rental properties. In addition, the forces behind the decline in the homeownership rate, such as tight credit conditions, are unlikely to unwind significantly in the immediate future, indicating a longer-term need for an expanded stock of rental housing.

While, on the surface, this makes a good deal of sense after the nation painfully learned a few years ago that home ownership wasn’t what it was cracked up to be and, ever since, home prices have been falling while demand for rental properties has grown, a massive conversion of REO properties into rental properties would also have the convenient side effect of helping the Fed keep inflation low, giving it more leeway to print up another trillion dollars or so for the greater good, should the need arise.

How so?

Recall that, part of the reason that the housing bubble grew so big was that the inflation statistics include rental prices as a proxy for the cost of home ownership, a change that was made all the way back in 1983 and that forever changed how inflation is reported and how high home prices could rise (see this Seeking Alpha article on the subject from a few years back that still ranks quite high on a search of “owners’ equivalent rent”).

After years of being subdued because everyone wanted to own a home (and nearly did), lately, rents have been rising – up about 2 percent over the last year – and, since rents account for 40 percent of the Fed’s “core” inflation rate, you can see why lower rental prices might be in the central bank’s interest.

Is the Fed Secretly Bailing Out Europe?

It still pales in comparison to what was done a few years ago, but, at its current pace, the Federal Reserve’s generous central bank liquidity swaps now aiding European banks will soon rival that of the 2008-2009 financial crisis as shown below, another $37 billion being added last week to bring the total up to just shy of $100 billion.

For those of you new to this story, see this WSJ commentary by Gerald P. O’Driscoll the other day and his appearance on CNBC on the same subject.

On that Premature Tightening in 1937

I’ve never really gotten that argument about how the Federal Reserve and U.S. government tightened too soon in the late-1930s and, as a result, induced another recession. In his column today, Paul Krugman notes:

“The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.” So declared John Maynard Keynes in 1937, even as F.D.R. was about to prove him right by trying to balance the budget too soon, sending the United States economy — which had been steadily recovering up to that point — into a severe recession. Slashing government spending in a depressed economy depresses the economy further; austerity should wait until a strong recovery is well under way.

Yet, anyone able to look at the data back in 1937 would hardly see the U.S. economy as “depressed”, not after three straight years of real GDP growth averaging 11 percent. While perhaps not a “boom”, a “strong recovery” was certainly underway by then.

To be sure, the 1930-1933 downturn was severe, but, according to the data from the BEA above, the U.S. economy had returned to its 1929 bubble output by 1937 when all the policy mistakes were supposedly made.

Occupy the Federal Reserve?

According to this item at Occupy Wall Street News, the African-American faith community will join forces with Occupy Wall Street to protest economic injustice on Martin Luther King Day next month and they intend to “Occupy the Federal Reserve” in up to twelve cities across the country where regional central bank offices are located.

There’s more than a little bit of irony in the event also being referred to as “Occupy the Dream”, that is, just two years in advance of the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Fed, what, to the biggest of the banks back then was a “dream” of a monopoly over the industry at a time when smaller regional banks were rapidly gaining market share.

So far, it’s worked out pretty well for them, if not for the rest of us.

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