The Housing Chronicles Blog: UCLA Anderson Forecast still says no recession

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

UCLA Anderson Forecast still says no recession

Claiming that he's still holding onto a "shaky view," Ed Leamer, Director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast says California and the U.S. will still avoid a technical recession (two consecutive quarters of negative growth) but that it still won't be an enjoyable time. From an L.A. Times story:

Under pressure from falling home values, high oil prices and rising unemployment, the economy in California and the nation will perform anemically in the coming months -- but there still won't be an actual recession, UCLA forecasters say.

"I am holding on to what is now a shaky view: no recession this year," said economist Edward Leamer, director of the quarterly UCLA Anderson Forecast, which is being released today.

The predictions, however, call for somewhat more pain in the months ahead than previously forecast, with little improvement this year or next.

Not good, but not a recession, which is commonly defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth in gross domestic product...

The drag on the economy from the buckling housing industry may become the most severe since the Great Depression, the report said. There will be little or no growth in gross domestic product this quarter, and GDP will probably slip into negative territory in future months before finishing next year with a tepid average improvement of 1.2%.

A key factor in favor of the economy, the forecast says, is that so far the pounding of the housing market has not badly damaged the job market.

In the 1990s, Southern California home values fell after many workers -- particularly in the aerospace and defense industries -- lost their jobs and couldn't keep up mortgage payments. Foreclosures peaked in 1997, when employment already had recovered, because many homeowners had struggled for months to hang on.

"This time, what happens in housing stays in housing," Leamer said, as many employers worried about the economy hold off on new hires but decline to cut staff.

Many homeowners are choosing to sell their houses at a loss and move -- not because they lost their jobs, he said, but because they owe their lenders more money than their houses are worth.

Bailing out makes financial sense to them. "The lenders have provided an option to walk away if things go bad -- you might as well exercise that option," Leamer said.

Distress sales will continue to wreak havoc on home valuations for the rest of the year, the forecasters said...

"The unprecedented speed of the price adjustment means that instead of several years of slow bleeding [like the 1990s] we have compressed the necessary adjustment into two years of intense housing pain," wrote UCLA economist Ryan Ratcliff. "Mom always said it's better just to rip the Band-Aid off."...

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