Housing and Recession

By Victor Normand
Published: June 2014

Everyone knows the economy runs in cycles. No one knows exactly when those cycles begin or end until they do, but one thing is for sure, these cycles will continue. Despite having a basic knowledge of economics, most of us continue to buy high and sell low. And that is probably what turns normal economic adjustments in the economy into panics…….. and panics into recessions.

Although reliable economic data does not exist for periods before the mid 1800’s, it is likely that since 1790 there may have been as many as 40 periods of economic contraction.  Lower and middle class individuals and families tend to suffer the greatest economic hardship when the economy turns bad, with the value of housing declining as a direct or indirect consequence of the economic downturn.

The first major American depression is recognized as the panic of 1819. During the rest of the nineteenth century it was follow by the Panics of 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1883. They were all triggered by combinations of crop failures, or big drops in commodity prices, reckless railroad and land speculation, bank failures, and major declines in stock prices. The “Panics” were followed by periods of tight credit, the decline of property values and the rise in unemployment. Despite the similarities in these economic calamities, they kept happening. The economic crises of the next century occurred with similar regularity and a bit more variety.

Here’s a summary of what the twentieth century gave us for bad times in the economy:

The Knickerbocker Trust Panic of 1907

The president of the Knickerbocker Trust decided to try to corner the market in copper. His plan came undone when millions of dollars of copper was dumped on the market in a bid to prevent a hostile takeover of an unrelated business. As the extent of the copper market manipulation became known, other banks refused to accept checks from Knickerbocker which led to a run on the Knickerbocker bank and fueled big losses in the stock market.

The Great Depression of 1929

This one is familiar. The bull market that lasted for more than six years began to come undone when talk of a tariff war with Europe began a rout in stocks that eventually brought stock prices down 90% from their pre-crash highs. Other economic excesses and the onset of the “Dustbowl” added to the misery. The hard times lasted off and on for most of the next ten years until the war time economy got everybody back to work.

The OPEC Oil Crisis 1973

The quadrupling of oil prices and an embargo on oil shipments to the US by Arab oil producers sent the economy into a recession. Consumer prices rose sharply but wages did not, creating “stagflation”. Rising interest rates along with the high price of gasoline badly shook the economy which took a decade to recover lost value.

The Savings and Loan Crisis 1986

Lax regulation in the Savings and Loan (S&L) banking sector led to many S&Ls into making long-term loans at fixed interest using short-term money. When the interest rates increased, the S&Ls could not attract sufficient capital and became insolvent. Nearly one third of the 3,200 S&L’s failed.

The Dotcom Bubble 2000

The failure of many internet technology based companies precipitated the end of the longest period of economic growth in US history during the 1990’s and might not have turned into recession except for the September 11th 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

The Great Recession 2007-2009

The Sub-Prime mortgage crisis led to the collapse in the US housing bubble causing the decline in housing backed assets, helping to set off a global economic crisis. Many of the largest financial institutions in the country including Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Citi Bank and AIG, failed.

Conclusion

Housing is more than a commodity. During the years when we remain in residence, the market value of a home may vary, but it always remains where we anchor our lives. This intrinsic value of a home has never been in decline despite the condition of the economy. We always try to make the best economic decisions when we are in the market for housing, but even if we do happen to buy high and sell low, our homes are our castles.