The mysterious Knzn offers his take on the housing market:
Some people will respond with something like, "OK, I don't either, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a bubble; that just means there's a Bernanke put on home prices: there was a bubble, and the Fed is now going to ratify the results of the bubble." But that's not right. The Fed is not actively causing inflation in order to bail out homeowners and their creditors. The vast majority of professional forecasts call for the inflation rate to fall over the next few years. The Fed is just doing its job -- trying to keep inflation at a low but positive rate while maximizing employment subject to that constraint. The ultimate concern of the Fed is to avoid deflation, which becomes a serious risk if the US housing market has a total meltdown. It's very much as if the Fed were passively defending a commodity standard, with the core CPI basket as the commodity.
The ultimate source of the housing boom is the global surplus of savings over investment. That surplus is what pushed global interest rates down and thereby made buying a house more attractive than renting. And that surplus is still with us. If anything, it appears to be getting worse, as US households begin to reject the role of "borrower of last resort." And it is that now aggravated surplus that threatens us with weak aggregate demand and the risk of economic depression in the immediate future -- a risk to which the Fed and other central banks will respond appropriately. Until the world finds something else in which to invest besides American houses, the fundamentals for house prices are strong -- not strong enough, probably, to keep house prices from falling further, but strong enough to keep them well above historically typical levels.
During my interview with Austan Goolsbee on Radio Free Megan, I asked him if the Fed should take asset prices into account. Maybe that was the wrong question; since the Fed clearly is taking asset prices into account, maybe we should be asking "how much should they count"?
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