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Entering the Greatest Depression in History: More Bubbles Waiting to Burst

by : Solve et Coagula
Saturday August 8, 2009 - 23:56

by Andrew Gavin Marshall, Global Research, August 7, 2009

Introduction

While there is much talk of a recovery on the horizon, commentators are forgetting some crucial aspects of the financial crisis. The crisis is not simply composed of one bubble, the housing real estate bubble, which has already burst. The crisis has many bubbles, all of which dwarf the housing bubble burst of 2008. Indicators show that the next possible burst is the commercial real estate bubble. However, the main event on the horizon is the “bailout bubble” and the general world debt bubble, which will plunge the world into a Great Depression the likes of which have never before been seen.

Housing Crash Still Not Over

The housing real estate market, despite numbers indicating an upward trend, is still in trouble, as, “Houses are taking months to sell. Many buyers are having trouble getting financing as lenders and appraisers struggle to figure out what houses are really worth in the wake of the collapse.” Further, “the overall market remains very soft [...] aside from speculators and first-time buyers.” Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington said, “It would be wrong to imagine that we have hit a turning point in the market,” as “There is still an enormous oversupply of housing, which means that the direction of house prices will almost certainly continue to be downward.” Foreclosures are still rising in many states “such as Nevada, Georgia and Utah, and economists say rising unemployment may push foreclosures higher into next year.” Clearly, the housing crisis is still not at an end.[1]

The Commercial Real Estate Bubble

In May, Bloomberg quoted Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann as saying, “It’s either the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.” Bloomberg further pointed out that, “A piece of the puzzle that must be calculated into any determination of the depth of our economic doldrums is the condition of commercial real estate — the shopping malls, hotels, and office buildings that tend to go along with real- estate expansions.” Residential investment went down 28.9 % from 2006 to 2007, and at the same time, nonresidential investment grew 24.9%, thus, commercial real estate was “serving as a buffer against the declining housing market.”

Commercial real estate lags behind housing trends, and so too, will the crisis, as “commercial construction projects are losing their appeal.” Further, “there are lots of reasons to suspect that commercial real estate was subject to some of the loose lending practices that afflicted the residential market. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s Survey of Credit Underwriting Practices found that whereas in 2003 just 2 percent of banks were easing their underwriting standards on commercial construction loans, by 2006 almost a third of them were relaxing.” In May it was reported that, “Almost 80 percent of domestic banks are tightening their lending standards for commercial real-estate loans,” and that, “we may face double-bubble trouble for real estate and the economy.”[2]

In late July of 2009, it was reported that, “Commercial real estate’s decline is a significant issue facing the economy because it may result in more losses for the financial industry than residential real estate. This category includes apartment buildings, hotels, office towers, and shopping malls.” Worth noting is that, “As the economy has struggled, developers and landlords have had to rely on a helping hand from the US Federal Reserve in order to try to get credit flowing so that they can refinance existing buildings or even to complete partially constructed projects.” So again, the Fed is delaying the inevitable by providing more liquidity to an already inflated bubble. As the Financial Post pointed out, “From Vancouver to Manhattan, we are seeing rising office vacancies and declines in office rents.”[3]

In April of 2009, it was reported that, “Office vacancies in U.S. downtowns increased to 12.5 percent in the first quarter, the highest in three years, as companies cut jobs and new buildings came onto the market,” and, “Downtown office vacancies nationwide could come close to 15 percent by the end of this year, approaching the 10-year high of 15.5 percent in 2003.”[4]

In the same month it was reported that, “Strip malls, neighborhood centers and regional malls are losing stores at the fastest pace in at least a decade, as a spending slump forces retailers to trim down to stay afloat.” In the first quarter of 2009, retail tenants “have vacated 8.7 million square feet of commercial space,” which “exceeds the 8.6 million square feet of retail space that was vacated in all of 2008.” Further, as CNN reported, “vacancy rates at malls rose 9.5% in the first quarter, outpacing the 8.9% vacancy rate registered in all of 2008.” Of significance for those that think and claim the crisis will be over by 2010, “mall vacancies [are expected] to exceed historical levels through 2011,” as for retailers, “it’s only going to get worse.”[5] Two days after the previous report, “General Growth Properties Inc, the second-largest U.S. mall owner, declared bankruptcy on [April 16] in the biggest real estate failure in U.S. history.”[6]

In April, the Financial Times reported that, “Property prices in China are likely to halve over the next two years, a top government researcher has predicted in a powerful signal that the country’s economic downturn faces further challenges despite recent positive data.” This is of enormous significance, as “The property market, along with exports, were leading drivers of the booming Chinese economy over the past decade.” Further, “an apparent rebound in the property market was unsustainable over the medium term and being driven by a flood of liquidity and fraudulent activity rather than real demand.” A researcher at a leading Chinese government think tank reported that, “he expected average urban residential property prices to fall by 40 to 50 per cent over the next two years from their levels at the end of 2008.”[7]

In April, it was reported that, “The Federal Reserve is considering offering longer loans to investors in commercial mortgage-backed securities as part of a plan to help jump-start the market for commercial real estate debt.” Since February the Fed “has been analyzing appropriate terms and conditions for accepting commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) and other mortgage assets as collateral for its Term Asset-Backed Securities Lending Facility (TALF).”[8]

In late July, the Financial Times reported that, “Two of America’s biggest banks, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo ... threw into sharp relief the mounting woes of the US commercial property market when they reported large losses and surging bad loan,” as “The disappointing second-quarter results for two of the largest lenders and investors in office, retail and industrial property across the US confirmed investors’ fears that commercial real estate would be the next front in the financial crisis after the collapse of the housing market.” The commercial property market, worth $6.7 trillion, “which accounts for more than 10 per cent of US gross domestic product, could be a significant hurdle on the road to recovery.”[9]

The Bailout Bubble

While the bailout, or the “stimulus package” as it is often referred to, is getting good coverage in terms of being portrayed as having revived the economy and is leading the way to the light at the end of the tunnel, key factors are again misrepresented in this situation.

At the end of March of 2009, Bloomberg reported that, “The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year.” This amount “works out to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. and 14 times the $899.8 billion of currency in circulation. The nation’s gross domestic product was $14.2 trillion in 2008.”[10]

Gerald Celente, the head of the Trends Research Institute, the major trend-forecasting agency in the world, wrote in May of 2009 of the “bailout bubble.” Celente’s forecasts are not to be taken lightly, as he accurately predicted the 1987 stock market crash, the fall of the Soviet Union, the 1998 Russian economic collapse, the 1997 East Asian economic crisis, the 2000 Dot-Com bubble burst, the 2001 recession, the start of a recession in 2007 and the housing market collapse of 2008, among other things.

On May 13, 2009, Celente released a Trend Alert, reporting that, “The biggest financial bubble in history is being inflated in plain sight,” and that, “This is the Mother of All Bubbles, and when it explodes [...] it will signal the end to the boom/bust cycle that has characterized economic activity throughout the developed world.” Further, “This is much bigger than the Dot-com and Real Estate bubbles which hit speculators, investors and financiers the hardest. However destructive the effects of these busts on employment, savings and productivity, the Free Market Capitalist framework was left intact. But when the ’Bailout Bubble’ explodes, the system goes with it.”

Celente further explained that, “Phantom dollars, printed out of thin air, backed by nothing ... and producing next to nothing ... defines the ‘Bailout Bubble.’ Just as with the other bubbles, so too will this one burst. But unlike Dot-com and Real Estate, when the "Bailout Bubble" pops, neither the President nor the Federal Reserve will have the fiscal fixes or monetary policies available to inflate another.” Celente elaborated, “Given the pattern of governments to parlay egregious failures into mega-failures, the classic trend they follow, when all else fails, is to take their nation to war,” and that, “While we cannot pinpoint precisely when the ’Bailout Bubble’ will burst, we are certain it will. When it does, it should be understood that a major war could follow.”[11]

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