Though the housing bubble deflated about two years ago, its true effects are only now beginning to emerge. In late 2006, when the economy first began to show signs of weakness in the housing market, most economists predicted that a recession was very unlikely, and that any downturn in real estate prices would be localized and mild. In reality, a global downturn is now a real threat, with the final price of the credit crunch projected to exceed $1 trillion dollars.
Not only have falling house prices in the US spread to other markets abroad, they have contributed to massive losses in other areas of lending such as credit cards, and the financial industry, which is now reeling from the US government bailout of Bear Stearns. What does this mean for emerging economies like China and India? In the short term, volatility seems to be the order of the day, with India’s fledgling exchanges rocked by jittery investors. Until financial centers and investors can regain confidence, market conditions will be exaggerated. Early trading also plays a psychological role for investors, as news developments impact Asia before Wall Street opens.
The US and the UK both face difficult home pricing corrections which will continue to hamper growth. Most homeowners expect, if not to make a profit, not to sell their houses at a loss, which is a difficult pill to swallow. And if they can’t sell their homes for what they think they’re worth, then waiting it out contributes to prices falling, thus exacerbating the problem.
While government intervention has been exceptionally forthcoming in efforts to preserve confidence in financial markets, less attention has been given to homeowners who are being foreclosed on over the next year, which is only so low because of robust growth in Asia.
Another prospect which looms over every government is the specter of inflation, which threatens to overtake the slumping economy as the number one priority for the Federal Reserve and other central banks, who have had to take extreme action to prevent further liquidity losses.
The Fed has sold off over $100 billion in auctions and lowered interest rates five times in an attempt to lower mortgage interest rates, but confidence will remain shaky until the full extent of investment bank’s sub-prime exposure is realized. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, central banks are taking decisive action in hopes that the economy will level out without pushing inflation to dangerous levels.