The book and movie “The Big Short” revolved around the 2005-2007 housing bubble driven by lending to borrowers with subprime credit (and little or no underwriting). As we know, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and other investment banks too large positions in subprime asset-backed securities (SABS) that became highly toxic once the demand for high-yield subprime ABS dried up. The decline in US home prices coupled with soaring 90-day mortgage delinquencies led to the failure of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers along with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being put into conservatorship by their regulator.
Fast forward to today. Mortgage originations by credit scores of 620 or less have shriveled while home price growth YoY is even higher than the subprime mortgage crisis of 2005-2007. So, is the US facing another “Big Short” scenario? Yes and no.
The answer is no in that lenders have tightened their credit box sufficiently so that investment banks are no longer buying large quantities of subprime credit paper. The answer is yes if we consider that the current housing bubble is fueled by extraordinary monetary stimulus due to Covid (as well as rampant Federal government stimulus spending).
Following the Federal Reserve of Dallas’ lead, here is a chart of REAL home price growth YoY against REAL average hourly earnings YoY. I added REAL Zillow house rents YoY as well.
Look at the affordability gap during the Subprime Bubble of 2004-2006 and then the Fed Bubble of 2020 to today. Both bubbles show a disconnect between REAL home prices and REAL wages. REAL Zillow home rents are not as high as REAL home price growth, but still how a huge gap in rent affordability.
So, what can upset the apple cart? How about Jay and The Gang jacking up mortgage rates making home affordability even worse (unless it slows home price growth).
Thanks to The Fed’s propose quantitative tightening, mortgage rates are soaring and mortgage costs along with them. Mortgage costs, thanks to The Fed driving up housing prices AND mortgage rates, are substantially higher than during the subprime mortgage housing bubble.
The Fed’s whipsaw approach helped crash home prices during the subprime mortgage crisis by dropping rates too fast at first (helping to ignite a housing bubble) then raising rates too fast (helping to crash housing prices).
Now, Michael Burry of The Big Short fame (portrayed by Christian Bale) thinks that The Fed has no intention of fighting inflation meaning that he doesn’t think The Fed will raise rates all that much. “The Fed’s all about reloading the monetary bazooka. So it can ride to the rescue & finance the fiscal put,” Burry added.
Yikes! Time for investing in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum?
This scene from the film “The Big Short” won’t be happening again. But I agree that no one is paying attention … again.