Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fed Inflates Auto and Housing Double Bubble

You've got to be kidding me, Bloomberg, if you think the Fed's ZIRP is a job stimulus.  The Federal Reserve's record low interest rates encourage reckless borrowing but you wouldn't know it from reading conventional media.  I look past cursory forecasts of job creation in the automobile and housing sectors.

Read the Federal Reserve's G.19 series data on consumer credit.  Pay particular attention to note #6 on new car loan data:

6.The statistical foundation for these series has deteriorated. Therefore, publication of these series is temporarily being suspended. The statistical foundation is in the process of being improved, and publication will resume as soon as possible.

Even if you ignore the Fed's own admission that its data on automobile loans is worthless for analysis, you can see from previous years' data that new car loans peaked in 2009 and have declined since then.  Any surge in loans since then is statistically questionable.  Auto sector executives who base their hiring forecasts on hope for loan growth are asking for trouble.

Purported growth in home mortgage lending is also questionable.  Read the Federal Reserve's Mortgage Debt Outstanding data; I selected December 2012, the most recent month available as of this writing.  Outstanding mortgages have been declining for "all holders" and "one- to four-family residences," the main categories that matter for homebuilders who want to forecast demand for new developments.

I ignore happy talk touting job growth from new bubbles.  I strongly suspect that whatever growth in demand automakers report is the result of subprime lending that pulls forward their future quarters' sales at unsustainably low financing costs.  I do web searches of phrases like "all cash buyers" for housing demand and get a similar feeling.  Home loan demand is collapsing across sectors for many reasons.  Banks have tightened credit standards and cash buyers are looking to flip properties rather than build equity.  These are not real sources of future job growth in two of the economy's biggest sectors.

The Fed's desperate ZIRP has not spurred overall lending but what little activity it does encourage is unhealthy.  Things look like 2007 all over again.