The latest bad meme to develop legs is the idea that strategic mortgage defaults are goosing retail sales. We looked at this last week in Are Defaults Really Driving Retail Spending? as an idea driven mostly by anecdote (some quite ugly), but unsupported by any hard data.

To those pushing this idea, I ask this: Are these mortgage mod requests from egregiously irresponsible spendthrifts the exception, or the rule? And, if they are more than an exception, would you please produce actual data supporting this thesis?

After my post on this, I got dozens of emails with anecdotal stories of defaulting homeowners going on spending sprees. Many were so similar that I presumed they were email forwards from the same source. Also, Bill Gates wants to send me to Disneyland.

I started hunting for more info on this. I came across three items that are worth discussing. (if you know of any other data sources in this, feel free to mention in comments)

The first item was a quote from Mark Zandi in Monday’s WSJ:

How much can the world count on the U.S. consumer?

U.S. consumers remain the single largest source of global demand, even if their clout isn’t what it once was. J.P. Morgan estimates U.S. consumer spending will account for one-fourth of the global total in 2010, down from about 35% in 2003. Still, the global recession spread to Latin America and Asia when U.S. buyers put away their credit cards.

In recent months, U.S. consumer spending has turned upward and may continue that way for some time, says Economy.com economist Mark Zandi, who figures pent up demand will boost car and home sales. But the long-term outlook is hardly solid. Part of the reason for Mr. Zandi’s short-term bullishness is that he figures about five million households aren’t making payments on their mortgages, giving them as much as $60 billion to spend—for now. -WSJ

Zandi appears to have come up with his $60 billion figure (as far as I can tell) by taking 5 million delinquent home owners X a ballpark $1000 per month mortgage X 12 months = $60B.

Let’s take a closer look at Zandi’s analysis to see if it holds water.

- The March 2010 NFP report data had 15.0 million unemployed persons; the number of “long-term unemployed” rose to 6.5 million — 44.1% of total unemployed. An additional 9.1 million people working part time because full time work was unavailable.

Its reasonable to surmise that there is a huge overlap between the 24 million people either unemployed or under employed, and the 5 million foreclosures, and 6 million+ late mortgage payers. We can reasonably make a connection between a fall in income and foreclosures and defaults.

-Confusing cause and effect. Most people don’t default to get more money; they default because they have run out of money.

When your income plummets — in 15 million case above, by 100% — you stop spending except for necessities. The majority of hard working Americans who are unemployed (or under employed) and who are delinquent on their mortgages because they have run out of money. Merely failing to pay that liability, does not men you therefore have lots of extra cash burning a hole in your pocket.

- Therefore, Liabilities — what is owed by defaulting homeowners — are not the same as Disposable Income. Not paying that liability is not a windfall — its a sign of economic distress. That $60 billion is a collective measure of how much homeowners owe, not how much they have.

And this is coming from me, the guy who advocated that the economy needs more foreclosures . . .

The second item was from Minyanville’s James Kostohryz. He blamed the idea on Perma-Bears, stating they are “running out of excuses for why retail sales rose so strongly in March of 2010” (Are Mortgage Deadbeats Juicing Up the Economic Numbers?).

But James takes it a step further, crunching the numbers to determine, if true, how much this could be impacting spending. His conclusion? The most that strategic defaults are helping retail sales is about $228 million per month — “~0.026% of monthly Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) which are averaging about $863 billion per month.” Hardly enough to explain the significant uptick in retail sales.

The last item to discuss is a somewhat odd Goldman Sachs economic piece from Ed McKelvey. Their argument seems to be that since “The Standard Net Worth Model has Over-Predicted Savings” — meaning, its forecast was wrong — then something therefore is wrong with the retail data. Never mind that the standard savings model has been wrong for over 20 years (really). If you have access to the GS piece, it might be worth perusing — but just barely.

~~~

Note that my original post on this was a response to this Housing Wire discussion by Paul Jackson For Consumers, Time to Shop (Until the Mortgage Drops). Jackson has answered my post here: Retail Sales and Mortgage Defaults, Oh My! For the record, I’ve always liked Housing Wire and found the original piece lacking in both data and sharp analysis. Like the meme under discussion, it was the exception, not the rule . . .

>

Previously:
Stopping Counter-Productive Mortgage Mods and Foreclosure Abatements (January 5th, 2010) http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/01/stop-counter-productive-mods-abatements/

Sources:
IMF to Ponder China, Jobs and the U.S.’s Wallet
BOB DAVIS
WSJ, APRIL 19, 2010
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052702304180804575188162863998840.html

Are Mortgage Deadbeats Juicing Up the Economic Numbers?
James Kostohryz
Minayanville, April 15, 2010
http://www.minyanville.com/businessmarkets/articles/mortgages-deadbeat-mortgage-holders-economic-growth/4/15/2010/id/27791

Housing Holds the Key to the Consumer Conundrum Ed McKelvey, US Economics Analyst
Goldman Sachs Global ECS Research, April 9, 2010
Issue No: 10/14
https://360.gs.com

See also:
Extra Tax Refunds Giving Consumers A Short-Term Boost
Jed Graham
Mon., April 19, 2010
http://blogs.investors.com/capitalhill/index.php/home/35-politicsinvesting/1682-extra-tax-refunds-giving-consumers-a-short-term-boost

Category: Analysts, Consumer Spending, Credit, Retail

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

87 Responses to “More on Mortgage Delinquencies & Retail Spending”

  1. My point is that I don’t care what your conclusion is — just back it up with some hard data and facts — not anecdotal narratives tinged with political talking points.

  2. wally says:

    “The majority of hard working Americans who are unemployed (or under employed) and who are delinquent on their mortgages because they have run out of money.”

    Not necessarily “out”, just that their income does not cover all the payments. Take out the biggest payment and they may be OK.

    ~~~

    BR: I don’t know what country you live in, but the America I am familiar with — according to the data — does not have a lot of savings, spends far in excess of their income, and is highly leveraged.

    Now, about this excess cash they have lying around when they become unemployed . . .

  3. curbyourrisk says:

    OK Barry, I live in Nassau County Long Island. By far not in a rich area, but is a very nice area. I grew up here and have lived on the same block (my mom still lives in my original home 1 block away) for 38 years. I can give you the names and addresses of 4 individuals have are and have been doing this very thing for over a year. These are people I know from my kids socers games. I see them on the ball fields and talk to everyone I can. I consider these people to be average normal Americans, with average normal problems. We rented for year and finally bought my first home in 2006, what a mistake that has turned out to be. I know many people in the same situation, but I have not lost my job and am current on every bill. BUT, there are plenty of these people out there that you seem to discredit. I know more people who are no longer or are now considering stopping their payment for their mortgages, but these 4 couples have gone over a year without such payments. They have all taken atleast 1 major vacation in the last year and all drive new cars and have new TV’s in their living rooms. Why they chose to spend at a time like this boggles my mind. I know if I chose not to pay the mortgage, I would be socking the money away in some secret account or burying it in a family members back yard.

  4. Nassau County is one of the wealthiest in the country (unevenly distributed though it is).

    I don’t want the names of 4 individuals who have done this for over a year. I want to know how many people out of the pool of delinquencies are doing this. Of the 5 million foreclosures, what percentage are living large? Of the 6 million delinquent, what percentage are going on pricey vacations?

    Data is what matters, not self selected anecdotes.

    Indeed, you notice the bums living high, but the millions of people huddling in their homes spending little or no cash you don’t see.

  5. call me ahab says:

    “Most people don’t default to get more money; they default because they have run out of money.

    or - they live mortgage/rent free-

    an example- first hand- person applies for a mortgage loan. They are to buy the house they have been living in as renters. They however have not paid rent for over 1 year. The reason- the owner of the home stopped paying his mortgage- which the renters became aware of. The bank let the renters stay until they it worked through the “system” and the bank foreclosed. The renter’s now wishing to buy the same house- living rent free for one year- have ZERO money in the bank and can barely scrape together the 3.5% for FHA financing-

    where did all the money go that was saved by paying no rent? Maybe BR knows.

    ~~~

    BR: Its not that complicated — 15 million people become unemployed — 44% long term — they lost 100% of their income.

    If they dont pay their mortgage, they still have no money!

  6. V says:

    It was touched on in the Q&A of a recent AEI discussion (@ approx 1h:38m:30s). The question is asked in an extremely laboured way however.

    http://app2.capitalreach.com/esp1204/servlet/tc?cn=aei&c=10162&s=20271&e=12444&&espmt=2

    Chris Whalen and Nouriel also worth a listen to, as always!

  7. rjohnson says:

    The summation that the increase in unemployment necessarily largely overlaps non-payers of mortgages has some holes in it. Unemployment has risen dramatically for those without college degrees and those in the 18-24 set, particularly minorities. Young workers without extended education are not the typical homeowner, nor even a large part of those who were brought into the market a we moved from 68% to 71% home ownership.

    While it makes sense that there is some overlap, the question remains how much? The FT ran an article today (p. 4) about the backlog in foreclosures providing relief to homeowners as they make no payments. Citing Lender Processing Services, the FT reports that an estimated 1.4 mm borrowers in the US made no payments in the past year, and as many as 6 mm are seriously delinquent or worse according to Economy.com.

    The move from paying a mortgage to not paying seems to be an all or nothing proposition. The advent of websites such as “www.justwalkaway.com,” which guides borrowers through the process of reneging on their mortgage, is testament to the rising popularity of the approach.

    None of this answers the question, but I do not think the notion of non-payment of mortgages adding to retail sales can be so easily dismissed.

  8. philipat says:

    @Ahab

    Is this a great country or what? When are we going to get that beer together in Singapore? If you default on your mortgage you can do it First Class Singapore Airlines?!

    @Barry. Unsolicited Medical opinion. You need a vacation. Take it or leave it.

  9. Marcus Aurelius says:

    I wonder if a comparison of recourse vs. non-recourse states would shed any light on the relationship between foreclosures and retail spending.

    That said, sentiment seems to be taking a major swing into positive territory despite the worse-than-ever underlying fundamentals (assuming that word is still part of the lexicon). Time to move to high ground.

  10. Sunny129 says:

    When our Govt is bending backwards to ‘HELP’ those imprudent homeowners who bought the homes or the mansions, beyond their means, the prudent ones on border line financial stress are getting frustrated and throwing the towel! This is the true moral ‘moral hazard’ the Govt is engaging in with Taxpayers’ money borrowed from future!

    Would you keep on paying on a house with a significant negative equity, reducing your standard of living and savings and investment portfolio(if any?) when you certainly know that the tax rates have to go up for paying for misguided policies? Spend. spend and be merry!

    These kind of behavior is not surprising considering the absence of ethics and morality, profiting from fraud is being tolerated by captive regulators and our law makers.

  11. seanpj says:

    Barry,
    I noticed you’ve spent a lot of time lately disputing the link between mortgage delinquencies and retail sales. Wouldn’t it be easier (and more convincing) to find out where the money for retail spending is actually coming from?

    ~~~

    BR: My best guess is 1) tax refunds; 2) Pent up demand (psychology) 3) Govt transfer payments; 4) New hires.

  12. bonghiteric says:

    The question to me is whether the increase in consumer spending can be maintained.

    My company (insurance industrty) laid of 15% of their global workforce in 2009. 115 people in our 600 person office. Barring any repeat of a meltdown a’la 2008, I believe my job is safe and the company’s business is growing again. My family really tightened the pursestrings in the last year and a half. That is beginning to change as we return to purchasing from higher price-point retailers. I am also reallocating some investment income to purchase some art (very small pieces). I believe this is the attitude of many other folks and could be driver of increased spending.

    You are f#$^*ing kidding yourselves if you think that mortgage-delinquent homeowners are leading the US consumers. I agree with Barry, the data isn’t there to support this conclusion.

  13. Mike in Nola says:

    ahab: I thought you were more prudent than that :)

    But seriously, I think we have a combo of factors:

    While not as big as advertized, strategic defaults plays some part in it.

    Tax refunds are coming in.

    All the happy talk: Every week the paper here tells us how the housing market is turning despite the growing number or for sale signs. You’ve got CNBC and even Bloomberg pumping a recovery. The American people are easily convinced to spend money they don’t have. A whole generation was raised that way and it will take a long time and some to break the habit. I see it in my son and his girlfriend. She’s a student and her hours were cut at Krogers, but it hasn’t seeemed to slow down the trips to Target or the fast food every night.

    Easy credit: car companies and others trying to reblow th credit bubble. Read yesterday that more cars were sold on very easy credit than since the bubble days. Trouble is, the total vehicle sales are down by millions, so that means a bigger percentage on credit. Almost every time I walk into a major store in Houston I have someone trying to give me a credit card in exchange for 10% off my purchases that day.

  14. mcdermott says:

    From David Rosenberg (https://ems.gluskinsheff.net/Articles/Breakfast_with_Dave_041910.pdf):

    “This is obviously an incremental positive to “cash flow” for a select group of homeowners and I estimate that absent this so-called stimulus and strategic defaults (which has added as much as $200 billion to household cash flow at an annual rate), consumer spending would be contracting.”

    ~~~

    BR: $200 million out of $863 Billion! Who cares about that!

  15. call me ahab says:

    Philipat-

    I’d love to make it back to Singapore- been a long time since I had a “Tiger” in my tank(-:!!

    M in Nola-

    well . . .it was first hand- but let’s say I was on the banking side of that transaction(-:!!!

  16. Mannwich says:

    Tax refunds are likely one of the reasons. Agree with that but I have heard more and more about people who aren’t paying their mortgage but still spending like drunken sailors on discretionary items. This IS happening but I’m not sure just how widespread it is……

  17. The Curmudgeon says:

    The government’s rescue of underwater mortgagors is operating like the Greenspan Put. There is no downside. During the boom, people were told they could stretch and buy that McMansion, and that’s okay that you don’t have a down payment, we’ll do an 80/20 and put the down payment on the “20″ equity line. But they ultimately knew where all the free money was coming from. I know. I did literally thousands of real estate transactions during the boom, and every last borrower I ran into knew full well, no matter who their mortgage company was, that “the government” set the rates.

    It was only natural when it all crashed that they’d go back to the source of the money and seek a solution. It wasn’t their fault they borrowed more than they could service–the government encouraged them to. So the government needs to provide them relief. They see no incongruities with continuing in the lifestyle to which they’d become accustomed after they quit paying their mortgage. It was the government’s fault they defaulted. They were entitled to government help to fix things.

    I won’t say that such a way of thinking–the entitlement mentality writ large– is fueling increased consumer spending, but it may be forestalling a collapse. Just like the markets expected Greenspan to rescue them from their over-exuberance, the American homeowner expects the government will rescue them from theirs.

  18. Kitty says:

    Good article and a really important point as the possibility of financial reform looms. It is the same sort of bogus argument that was used against welfare – the Cadillac welfare mom turned out to be a complete fiction – but most people believed it (predicated a lot, I think, by racism.)

    In this case, it sounds like the people who would resist financial reform would like to keep the perception afloat that it was totally the greedy borrowers – instead of Wall Street – that made this whole mess happen.

    So, thank you!!

    K

  19. ashpelham2 says:

    I’ve thought all along that the whole mortgage delinquency-surge in retail spending link was bogus. Besides the data not really backing it up, it just sounds like rhetoric. If something looks and smells like rhetoric, it probably is.

    Man, the politcal factions in this country really have it out for each other. The whole discussion is centered around the thought that some people are deadbeats and therefore, un-American. If this President can’t do a good job of tying America back together with the rest of his 1st term, perhaps he should be shown the door. I’ll always believe that it’s the job of the POTUS to make the country think better of itself, not divide itself.

    We won’t get into the fundamental beliefs at work for those in opposition to him, as well as those in favor of him. I don’t want to go down that road this morning.

  20. Richard R says:

    It hardly matters if the “deadbeats” are strategic defaulters or just broke and waiting for the eviction notice and/or the sheriff to show up. Whatever amount would go to housing is instead being spent in the retail economy. The two interesting questions are how much, and how is the accounting for the other side of the transactions affecting balance sheets and macro statistics?

  21. Niskyboy says:

    BR: My best guess is . . . 2) Pent up demand (psychology) . . .

    I think it’s pent-up demand too, from ingrained spending habits learned and psychologically reinforced over the decades when it really wasn’t very hard to earn money. For my parents, who lived through the Depression and had a really tough time of it, frugality was the highest value when it came to spending, and that was true regardless of how well or poorly the economy was doing or how much money they earned in any given year. For me, I was born in the 1950s, didn’t suffer what my parents did, and have a less restrained view of discretionary spending (but also no debt). For my kids, they grew up from the 190s to now. Money was easy to come by and although we taught them to fear debt, the fact is they don’t value frugality very much because the need for it is contrary to their personal experiences, even though they intellectually know its value. So if we have lots of Baby Boomers like me plus our children all with fairly freewheeling spending habits firmly ingrained as our default state context, it’s no surprise that spending is higher than expected in the current iffy economy. Habts are hard to break, let’s face it. (Pass me the chocolate. . .)

    None of this tells us where the money is coming from (savings, I presume), but perhaps it sheds light on the behavior.

  22. call me ahab says:

    well BR- speaking of anecdotal evidence-

    if I keep going to the gas station and see the price of gas going up- I don’t need the government or an economist to tell me so- do I?

    So when I see folks who are playing the system and still not putting money aside- I can only assume they are doing the American thing- and spending it.

  23. iknownothing says:

    Kitty is on to something. I think this is a fantasy all homeowners have – NO PAYMENT! WEEEEEE! So its kinda like an urban myth. It sounds so logical and sweet that it has to be true. Man if I didn’t have to make that damn mortgage payment I’d be LOADED. Reality is the credit cards are probably getting charged up in anticipation of the coming tax returns. One last thing: I’m the anti-anecdote – I live in a middle class suburb in the middle of the country and none of my neighbors is intentionally defaulting, or defaulting period.

  24. peter north says:

    A few thoughts:

    1. I thought the cash-for-clunkers program pulled forward demand for autos from several future quarters… Was I wrong, or did the demand just naturally replenish this quickly?

    2. BR’s right on about rhetoric based on anecdotes taking a life of it’s own. I’ve personally been guilty of extrapolating out conclusions that really needed more supporting data to be taken seriously. However, I’d respectfully say that the lack of confirmed scientific evidence does not necessarily mean a given hypothesis is absolutely false. Just that it is a theory. As it relates to any actual dynamic between strategic defaults and retail sales, I wonder how likely it is to get reliable data. I sure wouldn’t want to admit it, even if I was spending the mortgage. (Maybe I’m just shy.)

    3. Even if the “spending the mortgage” theory is false, the fact is, the bogus “relaxed” fair-value accounting rule and some other terrible policy moves gave the insolvent banks an INCENTIVE for to postpone foreclosures (BR, I think you coined the “strategic non-foreclosure” term – very nice) because it makes their balance sheets look better. That phenomenon has to have created additional temptation for folks to strategically default. (Clearly, the outrage over the bailouts and the feeling that “other people are doing it too” also are contributing factors.) My point is, we have this massive bowel obstruction, and the apes in Washington are treating it with Kaopectate, when what we really need is a big old enema. I wish they would just follow George Costanza’s wisdom, and “do the opposite” whenever they get an idea.

    SIDENOTE: I see that someone was posting as “Peter North” around here a while back. That guy is NOT me – probably just a fan – but I just wanted to clear up any confusion, and say that I’m no fan of Alan Greenspan. (Fake Peter North evidently thought he was swell.) In fact, if “the Maestro” was drowning, I’d jam a hose down his neck and turn it on full blast. Apologies to Ray Kroc, but that’s one of my favorite sayings – for obvious reasons.

    the REAL peter north

  25. Mannwich says:

    @iknownothing: OK, but how do you account for the data out there that tells us credit has continually DECREASED, not increased in recent months? Is that inaccurate?

  26. RW says:

    Wally’s point (above) is not unreasonable and rejecting it out of hand requires a false dichotomy: The proposition that either Americans have the money or they do not have the money is not exhaustive.

    The missing middle hypothesis is they have money but it is insufficient to meet all debt service and living requirements (whatever those may be) so they have elected to not pay (for whatever reasons they have) what is probably their largest and most troubling debt service component: An upside down mortgage.

    Yves Smith discusses this hypothesis at length at http://tinyurl.com/y6afvrl and links to a number of relevant discussions including those that address the moral component (which is where a lot of the heat comes from on this frankly – thanks to BR for focusing on the evidence).

    Shorter version IMO: There is insufficient evidence to accept the alternative hypothesis but sufficient (anecdotal) evidence to delay rejecting it.

  27. dave says:

    Wasn’t there a CalcRisk post a long time ago (sorry, don’t have time to dig it up) that had data that “strategic defaults” were correlated to % underwater, whether employed or not?

  28. Casual Onlooker says:

    There are strong elements in play out that that are rooting for failure. The “politicly correct” thing these days is to blame the government, to blame immigrants, to blame deadbeats, hell just to blame. If you can’t assign blame with facts, use anecdotes. If you can’t verify an antidote, then use a hypothetical one. Can’t find a good enough hypothetical one, use a slippery slope argument or build a straw man. Question their character, question their patriotism, always raise doubt and keep the anger level ramped up.

    Make no mistake about it, there is a ‘civil’ war going on right now. Assigning any success to deadbeat spending is just another salvo in the ongoing battle.

  29. OkieLawyer says:

    @curbyourrisk:

    I know more people who are no longer or are now considering stopping their payment for their mortgages, but these 4 couples have gone over a year without such payments. They have all taken atleast 1 major vacation in the last year and all drive new cars and have new TV’s in their living rooms. Why they chose to spend at a time like this boggles my mind. I know if I chose not to pay the mortgage, I would be socking the money away in some secret account or burying it in a family members back yard.

    Think of it this way: (as someone is fond of saying on here, I think) Take your profits; if you don’t, someone else will.

    By the way, does New York recognize deficiency judgments? If yes, then stopping payment of your mortgage probably isn’t such a great idea without a bankruptcy.

  30. call me ahab says:

    “Make no mistake about it, there is a ‘civil’ war going on right now. Assigning any success to deadbeat spending is just another salvo in the ongoing battle.’

    wow- awesome-

    WTF are you talking about?

    goddam immigrants and USG . . .and deadbeats . . .and teabaggers . . .and Pat Buchanan . . .

    is it a big political left vs right WWE smackdown? What channel- and hopefully it’s not pay per view- I’m short on money

  31. Greg0658 says:

    PBS NewsHour last night:
    “Strategic Defaulters Skip Mortgage Payments as Home Values Tumble
    As part of his continuing series of reports making sense of economic news, Paul Solman tells the story of some homeowners who have stopped paying their mortgages even though they can still afford them.”
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/video/module.html?s=news01s3e69qe80

    BR your last thread on this topic I was throwing “Rebates for ENERGY STAR Appliances” .. fyi – here in IL the money ran out in 11 hours

    “BR: My best guess is 1) tax refunds; 2) Pent up demand (psychology) 3) Govt transfer payments; 4) New hires.” .. this pre walk away and living rent free aspect – I think is in there at least #5

  32. Kort says:

    1) Retail Sales are up.
    2) Access to credit has decreased.
    3) Americans generally don’t have much savings.
    4) Unemployment benefits go on forever, and ever, and ever.
    5) “My car could get Repo-ed if I stop making payments, but my house…hmm…..”

    A good source of cash (given no savings, no credit) is a picking up $500-1500 per month by skipping a house payment (the payment might be $2-3K per month)

    There’s a lack of data mostly because…there’s a lack of data and this is all new. Americans never defaulted like this before (just ask AIG, Bear, etc)

    The mortgage/rent is the biggest nut, by far, most families have to pay—reduce that, and you have extra cash.

  33. doctorleff says:

    Seventeen percent to thirty percent of defaults are strategic defaults, where people could pay the
    income. As to what extent, the found money is used for retail spending or excessive retail spending,
    I don’t know.

    http://trueslant.com/rickungar/2010/03/19/%E2%80%98strategic-default%E2%80%99-the-new-name-for-deadbeats-and-defaulters/

  34. b_thunder says:

    It’s “catch 22″ situation: on one hand BR wants the actual numbers, on the other hand how would you make them confess in order to count them? If they default in that way, then by definition they know what they are doing. And why would they admit to it – to make the lenders come after their assets?

  35. gordo365 says:

    Here is question that might add context to this discussion.

    Which happens more frequently to people who are underwater on mortgage and lose their job:

    a) burn through savings and then tap 401k to pay bills while looking for a job?
    b) stop paying mortgage and increase monthly spending while looking for a job?

    There are certainly anecdotes that b is happening. But my gut tells me that a is much more common.

    Another way to look at it:

    If you are planning a tv show to interview underwater unemployed homeowers – would it be easier to find 20 a’s or 20 b’s to interview on tape?

    Again – my gut is that it would be much easier to find 20 a’s.

    Gordo

  36. bsneath says:

    To paraphrase Edward Yardeni from nearly 30 years ago.. “Never underestimate the American consumer. They are like pigs at the trough.” Some things just don’t change.

  37. curbyourrisk says:

    Barry said: “Nassau County is one of the wealthiest in the country (unevenly distributed though it is).

    I don’t want the names of 4 individuals who have done this for over a year. I want to know how many people out of the pool of delinquencies are doing this. Of the 5 million foreclosures, what percentage are living large? Of the 6 million delinquent, what percentage are going on pricey vacations?

    Data is what matters, not self selected anecdotes.

    Indeed, you notice the bums living high, but the millions of people huddling in their homes spending little or no cash you don’t see.”

    Thank you for helping me with my POINT. I LIVE IN NASSAU COUNTY and this is going on. As you go on to say it is one of the welathiest counties in the nation…and this is taking place. How can you sit there and ASSUME that it is not going on every where else. I have family in New Hampshire, a not so well to do state and they see it there too. I have family in Florida and again, they see it there too. In fact my cousin who owns a home down there just asked about a strategic default and I recommended he man up and pay his bills. He, however, sees it different. My in-laws in in Scottsdale, AZ and this is rampant there, according to them. Do I have hard data, no i guess no one wants to go on record as cheating, lying, thieving leaches……..BUT, then again, none of them work at 85 Broad Street either. I will continue to view what is going on my own way, and that is because I actually talk to NORMAL people on a daily basis concerning their jobs and their bills. However, I am sure you see none of this on the North Shore of Long Island.

    ~~~

    BR: I am not saying its NOT going on — my question is this: Is it statistically significant?

    If 10-20,000 people are doing it, that sounds like a lot. But a 20k out of 6 million is a meaningless blip . . .

  38. curbyourrisk says:

    OkieLawyer said: “By the way, does New York recognize deficiency judgments? If yes, then stopping payment of your mortgage probably isn’t such a great idea without a bankruptcy.”

    I am not defending these people, I am just pointing them out. And to be honest I know their financial condition and in the position they are in…..they probably don;t care about the legal aspects, when they wouldn’t be able to afford any where else at the moment. 1 of them still has a job, but just not making enough money. I warned them and explained the consequences. They waited way too long and are now suffering with their decisisons. They are not proud of them……

  39. karen says:

    Prior to filing for personal bankruptcy, individuals max out every credit card they possibly can.

    Jan ’10 PBs were 102,254 (up 15% from Jan 09)*
    Feb ’10 PBs were 111,693 (up 14% from Feb 09)*
    Mar ’10 PBs were 149,268 (up 23% from Mar 09)*

    However, the Federal Courts reported 158,141 March 2010 PBs, a 35% rise from Feb 2010, and 19% over March 2009.

    Between this and strategic defaults/renters living rent free in defaulted investment properties.. i rest my case on increased consumer or retail spending.

    *data from American Bankruptcy Institute

  40. kstills says:

    Geez…..

    This isn’t a political discussion, nor one about race.

    The author is asking if Strategic defaults are goosing retail sales, and thinks they are not.

    As noted, credit is still contracting.
    Tax reciepts are still falling.
    Many people are behind on their mortgage payments.
    Unemployment is still rising.

    Yet, retail sales are going up.

    If it were me, I would be looking harder at the retail sales numbers. Seems they are the anomaly, not the norm.

  41. Casual Onlooker says:

    @curbyourrisk stated

    “…Do I have hard data, no i guess no one wants to go on record as cheating, lying, thieving leaches…”

    This is what is frustrating about this whole argument. I don’t think there is any question that there are morally corrupt people out there who gain the system, but are there MASSIVE numbers of morally corrupt people doing this? Enough to significantly affect the numbers? If so what does that say about US as a nation? If there aren’t as many as is suggested, then what does that say about our level of trust in our neighbours?

    For the record, personally I know of no one doing this. The closest I can come is one person that walked away from their mortgage after a divorce 2 years ago. I saw the amount of stress this person went through during the process, what rings hollow is that massive amounts of people would willingly engage in a practice so deeply stress ridden. Do I think some of this is going on, of course, people will always try to gain the system. The real question is how many? The second question is should the gaming of the system be massive, what are the consequences when the game is finally played out?

  42. karen says:

    In followup to my above post, I want to reference this NY Times article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/02/business/economy/02bankruptcy.html

    The last line is priceless, “People use their tax refunds to pay their attorney fees,” she said.

  43. sslee says:

    According to the BEA, the savings rate is going down, so it does not look like it is going into banks:

    http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/pi/pinewsrelease.htm

  44. wally says:

    “If it were me, I would be looking harder at the retail sales numbers. Seems they are the anomaly, not the norm.’

    Sales tax collections SHOULD support this number, just as payroll tax collections should support the claim that aggregate personal income is rising… if true. The trouble with fudging numbers is that you have to get everybody on board or some discrepancies start to show up.

    ~~~

    BR: According to ISI, state tax reciepts have gone up for the past 7 months . . .

  45. Donald says:

    “When our Govt is bending backwards to ‘HELP’ those imprudent homeowners who bought the homes or the mansions, beyond their means, the prudent ones on border line financial stress are getting frustrated and throwing the towel! This is the true moral ‘moral hazard’ the Govt is engaging in with Taxpayers’ money borrowed from future!”
    One of my biggest complaints. The government is rewarding reckless behavior. I just find it ironic that the same “well to do” classes are benefitting the most.

  46. Kitty,

    I hadn’t thought of it that way – I only knew that the data was not there, and that narrative smelled funny. But I think you put your finger on something — more than just the permabears, the narrative about Financial Reform is intriguing.

  47. diy_investor says:

    To Barry’s list of reason why retail spending is increasing, there may be reason to consider counterfeiting.

    Fed boss: Tough task to outsmart counterfeiters
    Bernanke: Outsmarting counterfeiters is tricky given technology, dollars flowing outside US

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Fed-boss-Tough-task-to-apf-3406066608.html?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=5&asset=&ccode=

    The PBS story previously linked is interesting. Even though he is employed (restaurant manager) and previously made all payments on time, this 28 year old individual decided to stop paying in December 2007 and has been not paying mortgage payments since but lives in a condo valued at about $45k. He bought it for $210k in 2004 and took a $190k mortgage. Surely that unpaid mortgage payment is circulating through the economy.

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/video/module.html?s=news01s3e69qe80

  48. Bullish Bear says:

    I work in an Asset Management firm. We get lots of research — ISI, Rosenberg, Bianco, Ned Davis.

    The ISI economic data has been dead on. This morning, they point out that

    -Trucking company sales surveys up 9 consec weeks
    -Tech company sales surveys strongest on a decade
    -Philly Coincident Index increased significantly
    -82% of SPX cos beat results — best % since 1993
    -State tax receipts up since mid 2009.

    The MV guys are right — the permabears are fighting this tooth and claw.

  49. curbyourrisk says:

    Kitty said:
    “Good article and a really important point as the possibility of financial reform looms. It is the same sort of bogus argument that was used against welfare – the Cadillac welfare mom turned out to be a complete fiction – but most people believed it (predicated a lot, I think, by racism.)

    In this case, it sounds like the people who would resist financial reform would like to keep the perception afloat that it was totally the greedy borrowers – instead of Wall Street – that made this whole mess happen.”

    First off…..to say complete fiction about Cadillac moms is incorrect. They are out there, just not on the level that it was portrayed. I am BY NO MEANS prtoecting Wall Street as I think they all need to be taken down. What I am against is this administration blowing figures out of the water to suit their wants and needs. Unemployment is going down??? NOT EVEN HERE IN NASSAU COUNTY is that true. People are falling off the back end, somethign even Mr. Ritholtz has agreed to. The fiction the government touts as truth and the Wall Street asshats who use that as reasons to buy this market….even with margin as someone recently recommended…..is what I am against. I am not saying Mr. Ritholtz fals into that category, I think he shoots pretty straight. I am just disagreeing that this is not happening. OK, it might not be happening at the level that the original guy was saying, but I do believe it is higher than Mr. Ritholtz sees it at. I said from the beginning….the does not end until Goldman Sachs disappears, so trust me….I want nothing more than for Wall Street to pay for their sins.

  50. Investradamus says:

    dave Says “Wasn’t there a CalcRisk post a long time ago (sorry, don’t have time to dig it up) that had data that “strategic defaults” were correlated to % underwater, whether employed or not?”

    most recent:
    “Q4 Report: 11.3 Million U.S. Properties with Negative Equity”
    http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2010/02/q4-report-113-million-us-properties.html

    the post on the Q3 report gave some more data though:
    “Negative Equity Report for Q3″
    http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2009/11/negative-equity-report-for-q3.html

    What say you, BR? It would appear obvious that the large number of unemployed are affecting default/foreclosure rates. If you have no income, and burn through savings, it’s kinda hard to keep making payments. But what the First American CoreLogic reports and others that I have read all suggest that negative equity is the leading cause of defaults.

  51. ec says:

    Please someone corerect me. If 6 million homes that are in foreclosure today are out of their houses tomorrow and have to pay $1000 / month for rent doesn’t that take 60 billion dollars out of the PCE.

  52. roxy says:

    I would like to interject some real world info on the current surge in defaults and BKs. Karen posted an article about bankruptcy filings surging in March. What that article fails to recognize is that there are a lot of people waiting to get a mortgage mod before they file bk. Attorneys are advising people in the modification process to wait until their modification becomes permanent and then file for bk if they need to. If you want to keep your home filing bk before doing a mod on your mortgage destroys the bank’s incentive to do a mod. Filing BK during the mod process will mess up your mod and you may have to start over. The Home Affordable Modifications have just recently started to become permanent mods for the earliest applicants. Once more people start getting permanent mods you will start seeing more bks. They will most likely be CH 7 because few people have equity in their homes to protect with a CH 13 or they would not have got the mod in the first place. Doing the 13 would strip the HELOC if your house is underwater far enough.

    Let me remind people that you have to prove a financial hardship in order to get a mod under HAMP. Also, it has proven virtually impossible to get a HAMP mod if you are current on your mortgage even though the program was designed to allow people to get mods while current. The vast majority of these people are not out at the mall. They have had a reduction in income so not paying the mortgage does not give you extra money to spend.

    People walking away from their mortgage who can afford to pay had better have a good attorney if they live in a recourse state. You cannot get a ch 7 unless you can pass the means test and prove that you do not have the disposable income to pay your creditors at least some percentage of the debt over the next 5 years.

  53. Lamont says:

    From October 2008 until March 2010, the Goldman/ICSC chain store sales index ranged between 471 and 496. We were at the high of the range in April 2009 and Aug-Sept 2009, then hit the bottom of the range again in January and FEbruary 2010 during the snowstorms. We were all the way down to 479, near recession lows in some weeks in January and February; probably the NE snowstorms had something to do with that. In late February we came back up to 490, the in late March we jumped to new highs of 500 and in April to 513. The jump in late March and early April coincides perfectly with INCOME TAX REFUNDS. I, for example, am receiving back every penny and then some that I paid in taxes in 2009. This is because of write-downs for our small DC business.

    The fact that chain store sales actually flatlined from October 2008 to March 2010 is actually quite disturbing considering that tens of thousands of businesses have been closed in this period, the US consumer is being massively subsidized by the US federal govt (transfer payments make up over 20% of personal income vs 12% before the crisis), so many people aren’t paying their mortgages anymore, the stimulus reached peak spend out over the last months, money market funds are being massively drained for spending money, and the savings rate has nosedived.

  54. maspablo says:

    I worked in the Debt Settlement Industry/loan modification (sleazy yes) , very similar to my experience as a cold caller/broker in NYC in mid 90′s( though instead of taking advantage of earners above 100k , we took advantage of the middle working class under 100k) . Debt Settlement firms are signing up thousands of Americans a day who want to settle their debt or negotiate a lower interest on the balance , so they can pay their debts quicker . I talked to a few thousand clients over a year ( 08/09) the common denominator , was they were basically middle class ,( income of 30-100 k) BUT THEY WANTED TO SATISFY THEIR OBLIGATIONS , THEY JUST DIDNT UNDERSTAND IT WOULD BE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE . These were the sheep who bought into they could afford new cars , boats , motorcycles etc. every few years

    Sadly, most were ignorant no matter education level , and will never be able to satisfy their debt. 50 k annual income will never take care 50 k of credit card debt .. interest alone is probably 30 % of take home pay

    Majority have been turned into sheep by whatever powerful marketing tools will sway them , whether it be 3 % teaser mortgage rates on 5 year arms, no interest credit cards for 6 months or low fat/non fat healthy cereals or Diet Sodas .

    What happens to most Debt settlement clients is they pay minimum for months , then realize they’ll never pay off , join a Debt settlement program for a few months , realize thats impossible then drop out totally . wasting $$ The credit card/banks end up writing off the debt or taking legal action to get judgements on % of income which will take forever to satisfy . The same thing is happening to people delinquent on mortgage payments (non investors , investor defaults are more strategic) , they paid for a few years , then realize their current income , house value , or adjustable rate will no longer allow it to happen . Then they live rent free after realizing futility of situation .

    I’m a NYer , with friends/business associates in NV/FL/AZ/CA and i know of a dozen or so cases of people no longer paying mortgage but spending freely (vacation/new cars / etc) majority were in 500k+ houses , a few were in starter type housing 100-250k and never should of owned one in the first place .
    I think #s are higher than Barry thinks , specifically because the strategic defaulters are likely to come from higher income bracket and are used to more discretionary income .

    so if 1 in 10 of delinquent payers , are spending the extra $ , it would be a factor , especially if majority come from the higher payment brackets $ , like I am sure they do .

    Though, with my involvement in Debt settlement industry I agree that for every free spender there are probably ten others who income has been cut drastically and cant spend .

  55. DeDude says:

    There has to be a survey somewhere of how large of a % of the people behind on their mortgage are or have been unemployed in the past year??

    Ultimately the best argument against mortgage non-payment being a huge boost to consumer spending is that even if you make the absurd presumption that all the money not paid on mortgages (5B/month) were added to consumer spending (863B/month) it would amount to a very small increase in total consumption (0.58%). A graph of past years monthly non-payments vs. monthly consumer spending (obviously on different scales could be interesting.

    Those who argue that spending from delinquent mortgages is a substantial part of the current economic (and consumption) increase, do so out of ideology, rather than facts. For ideological reasons they do not want Obama and the democrats to have succeeded in saving our economy, so they desperately hold on to an alternative universe where “it is all fake” and will go very bad very soon. Sorry losers, Keynesianism rules and Trickle down is a load of cr@p.

    My guess is that most of the increased spending is coming from prudent savers – they are the ones with the money ya know ;-) These people immediately stopped spending and prepared for Armageddon, when it looked like things could go very bad. Now with unemployment stabilizing and corporate layoff subsiding, they have decided that its OK to make those postponed purchases.

  56. Mannwich says:

    @DeDude: Wow, I don’t even know where to start. So much nonsense to parse. First of all, I campaigned for, gave $700 of our hard-earned money towards, and voted for Obama, so I certainly don’t want to see him fail and see the alternative, which are the even dumber asses on the other side of aisle taking over again. So, now that we’ve debunked that claim that anyone who criticizes Obama is somehow rooting for him to fail – - I also believe that this “recovery” is as “fake” as the last one during the Bush administration, but probably even more so. Put down the pom-poms for a minute and see reality for what it is. Bush and co put off the Depression after the dot.com blow up by blowing a housing bubble. Now the O man is trying to do the same by blowing a bubble in all assets, while keeping housing from falling apart. It might work for a few years, but this is no more “real” than the last “recovery”. Papered over. Can kicked until the next blow up. This is how the country operates and will continue to operate until some exogenous force forces us to stop. And it WILL stop someday. I just don’t know when. In the meantime, we can all party on. Spring is here and it’s beautiful outside AGAIN today. ;-)

  57. karen says:

    great rebuttal, Jeff. I’m in your camp.. voted for O but disgusted to see Bush Admin and Fed response to crisis not only maintained but amplified.

  58. Thor says:

    silly debate – I would imagine the increase in spending by those who are no longer paying their mortgage would be dwarfed by the number of people who have lost their jobs over the last two years. Let’s also not forget that there are tens of thousands of city and state workers who are being furloughed up to four days a month. Or are we going to argue that they’re spending their massive unemployment checks on discretionary consumer goods?

  59. Thor says:

    As a follow up – there are over 200,000 state workers being furloughed three days a month in California alone . . .that’s a very large number

  60. call me ahab says:

    “Those who argue that spending from delinquent mortgages is a substantial part of the current economic (and consumption) increase, do so out of ideology, rather than facts. For ideological reasons they do not want Obama and the democrats to have succeeded in saving our economy, so they desperately hold on to an alternative universe where “it is all fake” and will go very bad very soon. Sorry losers, Keynesianism rules and Trickle down is a load of cr@p. ”

    hahahahahhaha- vast right wing conspiracy? HC got nothing on you

  61. karen says:

    Thor, between disposable “income” (including but not limited to diverted mtg monies, extended unemployment benefits, and the off the charts food stamp entitlements) and unprecedented tax refunds, I think the spending spree won’t last. With real unemployment in excess of 10%, and documented savings depletion, is money being grown on trees?

  62. Thor says:

    Karen – it may or may not last, but I think we would need to see some hard numbers on both the number of strategic defaults, as well as the spending habits of those who do, because we make a conclusion as to whether or not strategic defaults are having an affect on consumer spending.

    Otherwise, we’re all just guessing in the dark aren’t we? . . .

    Also, isn’t it much more difficult to charge up your credit cards and still have them included in a bankruptcy? Or did the changes to bankruptcy laws not address this?

  63. karen says:

    IMO, either the retail numbers or wrong, or there is a logical confluence of factors responsible for the anomaly (strategic bankruptcies, mtg delinquencies, tax refunds..), NOT HOWEVER, a sustainable recovery..

  64. Thor says:

    Ahab – good call – The uber political posts should be taken with a grain of salt. However, so should most of the comments from the perma-bulls and bears…. We’ve seen enough of both over the last couple years :-/

  65. call me ahab says:

    please Karen-

    who said anything about a “sustainable recovery”- but an “unsustainable recovery”-

    definitely do-able- lol

  66. Thor says:

    Karen – sustainable how? Are we sure that we’re not at the early stages of the next bubble? We can see the bubble in equities as clear as day, why can’t the increase in consumer spending be the result of the next bubble forming? The feds have pumped trillions into the economy. I don’t believe for a second that that money isn’t going to end up sloshing around in places people don’t expect.

  67. Niskyboy says:

    @ maspablo: Yeah.

  68. karen says:

    Did I misspeak somehow? I was attempting to say that the current retail spending (blowout) if it can be believed, is not a sign of or indicative of a sustainable recovery. I’m going away now.. I’m not a permabear.. and I’m not trying to drag politics into the reason I am discounting the spending number..

  69. call me ahab says:

    c’mon Karen-

    just funnin” ya(-:!!

  70. Thor says:

    Karen – Seriously? My comment was in response to Ahab and Dedude and had nothing to do with you. if I meant to call you a perma-bear I would have said it to your face. And who said you were trying to drag politics into the discussion? Jesus, take a chill pill lady.

  71. karen says:

    thor, no one said i was a perma-bear or that i personally had dragged politics into the debate.. i was just trying to clarify my position as i thot i might have muddled it.. Where i do need a chill pill is in regard to the government’s meddling with the housing market. i think we agree on the bubbles.

  72. Thor says:

    Karen – Understood – and agreed! :-)

  73. hotdrop says:

    Barry – You keep hounding on how we don’t have data but I’d like to propose that we look for areas where a trend may show up that will prove or disprove this hypothesis. I would figure once this years tax data gets published people who are no longer paying mortgages will end up having to pay larger percentage of their income as taxes (since they no longer get the morgage cost reduction) and therefore I would expect that all things being equal we should see an increase in taxes paid as a percentage of income in certain tax brackets (or an decrease in deductions if you may). Perhaps some states may be collecting better that that we could either show correlates with the hypothesis or deviates from it. That would defiantly make for an interesting analysis and discussion if we could come up with some data trends that we think should be happening if people are indeed no paying and using that money for discretionary spending and see if they are indeed occurring.

    The alternative would ofcourse be to hire someone to poll people who are past due on their payments and find out what percentage had a loss of employment in the family and what percent just stopped paying. The problem there would be the Job loss- stop payment – find new job – do not resume payment scenario.

    Ideas guys and gals? How do we give more credence to this theory or try to disprove it?

  74. Lamont says:

    “The majority of hard working Americans who are unemployed (or under employed) and who are delinquent on their mortgages because they have run out of money. Merely failing to pay that liability, does not men you therefore have lots of extra cash burning a hole in your pocket.”

    The majority of those delinquent on their mortgage payments still have someone in the household working. There were a large number of delinquencies before unemployment skyrocketed in early 2009. Plus, many of those unemployed are between 16 and 24 and don’t own a home and large numbers are just one of two household wage earners, so there is still an income stream. The above quote is a bit odd. It assumes that the no one in the household has any cash at all. The reality is that large numbers of households don’t have cash because they have mortgage payments that take up the lion’s share of their incomes. So once they stop paying their mortgages, they have plenty of additional cash to spend on other things. Note that a large percentage of folks not paying their mortgages are keeping up to date on auto and credit card payments.

    “James takes it a step further, crunching the numbers to determine, if true, how much this could be impacting spending. His conclusion? The most that strategic defaults are helping retail sales is about $228 million per month — “~0.026% of monthly Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) which are averaging about $863 billion per month.” Hardly enough to explain the significant uptick in retail sales.”

    James from Minyanville equates retail sales with PCE, which is a mistake. The biggest component of PCE, for example, is currently health, a category which is not included in retail sales and where spending is increasing mostly because of ever-increasing govt transfer payments into Medicare, Medicaid, Cobra, and other health programs. Increased health care spending is in no way a sign of an economic recovery. Thus far money printing has funded this increase.

    Second, I’ll say for the third time that retail sales were right near recession lows in January and February, before they bounced back to the top end of the mid-2008 to early 2010 range in March than broke out from the range in April. The reason for the sudden break out can only be from huge income tax refunds. Virtually all households who had at least one member become unemployed during the year got all the taxes they paid in last year refunded back; and it all happened in the past weeks.

  75. bsneath says:

    Since facts are far and few between, I took it upon myself to model “potential impacts” on homeowners going into default given various scenarios such as two income families where one of the two jobs in lost, higher unemployment levels, fewer hours of available work, UC benefits to partially make up the difference, acceptable loan to pay ratios, homeowners who walk away because they are underwater etc. It is just a wag, but my calculations are that only about one in 10 dollars of unpaid mortgages is ending up as additional discretionary income. About $1 billion a month. (+ or – a few billion for potentially faulty assumptions or logic errors of course)

  76. Thor says:

    hotdrop -

    I would imagine getting numbers (or at least estimates) of the numbers of strategic defaults would be a start.

    BK numbers are helpful but we already know that a large percentage of those are caused by medical costs. Is there information available on what’s being charged off in BK? Homes? Health care costs? Credit cards?

  77. DeDude says:

    Mannwich; I have no problem with legit critic of Obama and have doled plenty of that out myself. But those who would claim that a substantial part of the current recovery in spending and economic growth is due to people who stop paying mortgages and instead spending the money on consumer goods, have left the reality based world. This is classic “coming out of a recession” growth with savers “losing their fear and loosening their wallets”. How sustainable it is, will depend on the speed of decrease in unemployment. There is certainly still a risk that the stimulus package effects will decline to fast for the slow “natural” growth to compensate – and then we may get a shallow second dip. In either case the haul out will be long and slow unless we get some serious boost to the income of the consumer class. Unfortunately in this country we have neither unions nor government to ensure that the consumer class gets it fair share of our 14T economic output (100K per full time worker). So although I disagree with you that we will soon “blow up” again, I think we will face a very slow recovery.

    Ahab; “hahahahahhaha- vast right wing conspiracy?” I never said a word about conspiracies. But I guess that in classic right-wing-nut style you can always build a straw man if you can’t build your case ;-)

  78. mark says:

    The whole premise of this is absurd. There is no big increase in retail sales that has to be justified or rationalized. Retail sales have essentially stabilized at a much lower level. To reiterate a point made by others – if retail sales fall from 100 to 50 then increase y-o-y 10%, then overall retail sales are still at 55, a 45% reduction from the peak.

    Get back to us when retail sales get back to (or even trend strongly towards) prior peak levels.

  79. again, it’s too obvious, by the Comments, that peep love to hate themselves some Bastiat..

    “Property and Plunder
    Frederic Bastiat (from pp. 6-7 of the FEE edition of The Law):

    “Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.

    “But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.

    “Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain—and since labor is pain in itself—it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.

    “When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor. It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder.

    “But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws.

    “This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice. It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder. This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds.”
    http://www.independent.org/blog/?p=5844

    and, they might do well by remembering, one of, Hayek’s points in “The Constitution of Liberty”: Employees are threat to Liberty..

  80. mike says:

    Barry,

    Perhaps parsing the Retail numbers by segment may help you find the forensics you seek.

    My guess is the bump in Retail spending is due in part to relocations and consolidations of families
    (mass exodus from the sand states has left many families in need of new furnishings).

    Also, I surmise a Behavorial Scientific review/study of the phenomena in question may prove even more telling (particularly of those who’ve to date have not exercised fiscal prudence: why would you expect them to now start behaving rationally?). I bet the completely hopeless ones have turned to extreme denial/retail therapy/hoarding.

    Also, the spendthrifts and overextenders (0% -3.5% down folks) have walked away from this mess virtually unscathed. I know a couple who recently short sold their home for $125,000 less than they owed. They stopped paying well in advance of running out of cash and lived in the home for free for 12 months. In the end all was forgiven. They now firmly believe their credit card debts will be forgiven next.

    These homewreckers with no skin in the game have had more than a couple of bites of the apple and are starting to get piggish.

  81. call me ahab says:

    dedude-

    dude- anyone who disagrees w/ Obama’s policies and your own political proclivities is classified- in your own words- as trying to bring down Obama and the Democrats-

    so . . .how is that not a conspiracy theory?

    but it’s alright- I know that you think you are right-

    and the dumbest people on the planet think the same way- because they have to cling to something

  82. Leo S says:

    Barry,

    Thanks for the efforts spent on this question. It’s an interesting one where good data is not directly available. While I think the anecdotes point to something real, you’ve convinced that the magnitude is not significant. It is rare that it’s worth reading the comments on a blog, but some responses put it over the edge into useful. Thanks.

  83. DeDude says:

    ahab; in contrast to you I can argue every one of my opinions so I don’t have to put up and cling to strawmen.

  84. Jim67545 says:

    I think Lamont has it when he observes that take away the largest payment (mortgage) and people suddenly have money to spend. Front end ratios are what? 35% of income? That’s a defacto increase in disposable income of 35% by not paying. Even assuming that not 100% of that is really available disposable, do we think people will then save that few $100s extra, or that they will spend it? What have they done in the past?
    Add to that non-payment of real estate taxes (why bother?) and for some, homeowner’s insurance. What is the back end ratio? 41%? The puzzling reversal in delinquency rates among homes (traditionally low) and car and credit card loans (traditionally higher) indicates a fundamental change in attitude toward one’s home and the inclination to pick off the many small bills (including necessities like cable, satellite radio and cell phone) versus the biggie – especially if they are on direct debit. Fierce overdraft fees also biases folks toward paying the many smaller versus the single big bill.
    Anecdotes aside, I think the proposition of this as a SHORT TERM contributor to retail sales has legs.

  85. [...] Baum takes apart the mortgage default driving the economy meme, calling it “nonsense”: “There’s an even bigger problem with the idea that [...]

  86. DiggidyDan says:

    Thanks MEH; that Bastiat Lesson was awesome and so true. The balances and checks on raping the common man are no longer inherent in the american “democratic” republic of corporatocracy. This will come to an end . . . eventually, but probably long after our time. I wish I was living in america in the age before European conquest.