Explaining Southern California's economy

A tale of two California housing recoveries: Coastal and inland

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A construction worker cuts a piece of wood on the top of a home under construction at a new housing development on in Petaluma, California. A recovery in housing is developing in the state, according to UCLA economists. But it's geographically uneven.

For a while now, the economists at the UCLA Anderson Forecast have been arguing that California is experiencing a two-track economic recovery from the Great Recession. The coastal side of the state is doing relatively well, while the inland regions are struggling. Other economists dispute this analysi; they maintain that the recovery is more robust in Northern California than it is in the Southern California.

A key lens to look through when trying to figure out which analysis is right (and really, both have some merits) is real estate. The UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and the Anderson Forecast have just released an brief report on the housing situation, written by economist Jerry Nickelsburg. He notes that prices appear to be moving up in California:

The aggregate California home price statistics are encouraging....The S&P Case-Shiller
Index for San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles is the highest it has been since June 2011 and the median sales price is now the highest since 2008.

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Was Crowell Weedon's misadventure with credit default swaps really that big a deal?

To go with India-society-books-politics,

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Ayn Rand is a heroine to some libertarians — and at least one former bond investor in L.A.

The L.A. Times has an interesting story today about Crowell, Weedon & Co., which reporter E. Scott Reckard characterizes as a "regional brokerage based in Los Angeles" that "has preached old-fashioned stock and bond picking to its clients since the depths of the Great Depression." The impression at the paper that Crowell Weedon is seriously old-school goes back a ways: Tom Petruno wrote about the firm in 2007, under the headline "They make money the old-fashioned way," a reference that anyone who paid attention to investment marketing in the late 1970s will get.

Here's what happened: In 2008, the firm's head of bond trading, Robert Gore, set up a sideline operation to play the housing downturn. Gore was a housing bear as early as 2006, and the LAT points to his website as proof. The trades he was running were proprietary, meaning the firm basically set him up with funds drawn from Crowell Weedon's own accounts to establish his positions — positions that used the now infamous derivatives known as credit default swaps to short mortgage-backed securities. 

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Zillow is calling a housing bottom. What is Zillow talking about?

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A construction worker on the top of a home under construction at a new housing development on in Petaluma, California. If we have hit bottom, we may start seeing more of this kind of activity.

Zillow, the online real estate service, has called a bottom for the U.S. housing market. Literally. This is from today's release:

Home values in the United States have reached a bottom. The Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) rose on an annual basis for the first time since 2007, increasing 0.2 percent year-over-year to $149,300, according to Zillow's second quarter Real Estate Market Reports. Values have risen for four consecutive months.

A rise of 0.2 percent may not be terribly significant, so take this all with a healthy grain of salt — and an awareness that Zillow, as Chicago Now's Gary Lucido points out, indexes home values based on its own metrics, rather than on actual sales, as does the important Case-Shiller index.

Case-Shiller for May comes out next week, so you can look at Zillow's pronouncement and say, "Hmmm...interesting timing!" And you'd be on to something, because Case-Shiller has been signalling at least the formation of a bottom in U.S. housing prices for a few months now.

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Welcome to the era of slow U.S. economic growth

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Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner (L) and William C. Dudley (R), President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, listen to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke (C) speak during a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill March 24, 2009 in Washington, D.C.

The fourth quarter of 2011 was much better for the U.S. economy than the year as a whole. But if you can believe it, it actually disappointed many economists. The economy grew at a rate of 2.8 percent, a vast improvement over the sub-2-percent growth that typified the year. But we were looking for 3 percent GDP growth

I know, I know — 0.2 percent doesn't sound like such a big deal. Unless your yearly GDP is $14.5 trillion and you need to add something like 350,000-400,000 jobs each and every month to bring unemployment down to pre-crisis levels (nationally, it's at 8.5 percent now).

This is from Reuters:

The Fed on Wednesday said it expected to keep interest rates at rock bottom levels at least through late 2014, and Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank was mulling further asset purchases to speed the recovery.

The central bank warned the economy still faced big risks, a suggestion the euro zone debt crisis could still hit hard.

"We're still repairing the damage done by the financial crisis. On top of that we face a more challenging world. We have a lot of challenges ahead in the United States," U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Prospects of sluggish growth could hurt President Barack Obama's chances of re-election in November.

The economy grew 1.7 percent in 2011 after expanding 3 percent the prior year, and the unemployment stood at a still-high 8.5 percent in December.

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The Housing Crisis: Can prices fall even farther?

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A foreclosure sign sits in front of a home for sale.

Another month, another Case-Shiller index on housing prices — and more bad news for the housing economy. This is from the Wall Street Journal:

The Case-Shiller data come on the heels of the White House's revamp of a mortgage-refinance program for "underwater" borrowers—those who owe more than their homes are worth. But economists say there are few quick fixes for the housing crisis, and easier refinancing rules will do little to address weak demand for homes.

"It was a very bad spring-to-summer-market season," said Nancy Wallace, a finance professor at the University of California at Berkeley. She said a turnaround in the housing market remains largely dependent on loosening credit and a surge in hiring. "People are almost afraid to apply for mortgages and lots of people have little scratches and dents on their credit right now."

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