Alan Greenspan started directing this movie more than two years ago when he made the first of 17 consecutive edits (so-called “adjustments”) to interest rates, raising them 25 basis points each. Like a new director who takes over mid-production, Ben Bernanke wasn’t sure he liked the way the plot of this movie was going.
So on Tuesday Bernanke entered the editing booth, and instead of making it 18 straight edits, he hit the pause button on his digital editing machine and decided to pass the popcorn around to his production crew while he contemplated whether to leave the storyline the way it is, or to rewrite the script and shoot for an alternate climax and conclusion.
In the business world, the stock market reacted to the news by ending a roller coaster of a day slightly lower. The bond market — which called for the Fed to take a breather from making further adjustments — went unchanged for the day, and the real estate industry — which believes the market is in the midst of a major period of correction and headed for a soft landing — breathed a momentary sigh of relief.
The problem is, in Tuesday’s press release the Fed noted the slowing growth rate of the national economy, directly commenting on “the gradual cooling of the housing market and the lagged effects of increases in interest rates and energy prices.”
Still, Bernanke and the Federal Open Market Committee, which did NOT make a unanimous decision this time (there was one vote against pausing rate increases) believe core inflation risks remain, although “inflation pressures are likely to moderate over time.”
The bottom line in all of this is that the movie’s ending is far from a certainty. If the national economy cools too much and inflation spins out of control, the country may experience a recession, resulting in a hard landing for the real estate market and an increased level of foreclosures. If that happens people may start losing their jobs like in the early 1990s, also resulting in increased levels of foreclosures.
Foreclosure levels are already expected to increase somewhat due to homeowners who bought more home than they could afford using creative financing vehicles. Thanks to next year’s expected reset of one trillion dollars in adjustable rate mortgages, many of these homeowners may find their mortgage payments elevated to a level they can no longer afford.
But the question remains: will Mr. Bernanke hit the play button again at least one more time later this year and continue with the rate hikes like many people expect him to do? Like any movie playing machine, it will only stay on pause for so long before it defaults back to the STOP mode. And then all bets are off as to how this movie is going to end.
Continue to check the Foreclosure Pulse blog to stay on top of the situation and feel free to chime in with your review of this ongoing drama. Our goal, after all, is to help real estate investors, home buyers and real estate agents make the most informed home purchase decision possible.