Monthly Archives: December 2012

Spot The Speculators #94 – They’ve lowered their price to $950K already, but they’re “not going to lower it any more because they want to retire, and they really believe that’s what it’s worth because they built it themselves, and it’s one of a kind, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

“Talking to a colleague at the office this morning over coffee. Her relative is trying to sell their $950K house and acreage on the Sunshine Coast in BC, just a 45 minute ferry ride north of Vancouver. It was built it in 2000…..but they inherited the land for 10 years before that. So, a 50/50 “freebee” from a monetary perspective, but that’s only “IF” they didn’t take all of their equity out, that is……and we don’t know that they didn’t do this already.
I casually asked how long it had been listed, and I got the reply “since late 2008″. ROFL !!
Then I get told they’ve lowered their price already, but they’re “not going to do it any more because they want to retire, and they really believe that is what it is worth because they built it themselves, and it’s one of a kind, yadda, yadda, yadda”. So I go and search the town on realtor.ca and it looks like a really bad case of the measles have hit the Sunshine Coast. Not only is there literally a hundred red dots, but most of them have numbers like 12, 25, 43, 33, 17, 5, etc, overlaid on them, indicating multiple listings contained within that dot.”

- Carioca Canuck at VREAA 28 Dec 2012 8:18am who added “Here’s another anecdote from the “willing to sit until I get my price crowd”.

We’re making the point here that any owners who have decided to sell, but then don’t steadily drop their ask price until they hit a bid, are delaying selling on the premise of future market strength.
This is also an example of long-term owners who have, it appears, become dependent on the presumed value of their RE for their future retirement security. We fear that there are many in their position who will have their plans hobbled in the downturn.
- vreaa

Behavioural Finance Textbook Describes Crashes – “As a bubble starts to unwind, there can be under-reaction when investors do not update their beliefs sufficiently, with cognitive dissonance, attempting to rationalize flawed decisions, and initially ignoring or unwilling to accept losses. In crashes, investors hold on to losers and postpone regret. This response initially causes an under-reaction to bad news, but a later capitulation and acceleration of price decline.”

The following from ‘a reader’, via e-mail to vreaa 29 Dec 2012, who writes: “The following is from a CFA level 3 Behavioral Finance textbook that a friend of mine found at a garage sale. Not too many people have access to the book so it might be of some interest. Nothing really too new, but it’s the only time I’ve seen bubbles and crashes written about in a textbook, they are not discussed in university level textbooks as far as I have seen. Provides a lot of insight into the biases that come into play with bubbles and the summary discusses how the crash unfolds. I sounds to me like we are at the early stages of such a crash.”

Bubbles and Crashes
Stock market bubbles and crashes present a challenge to the concept of market efficiency. Periods of significant overvaluation or undervaluation can persist for more than one year, rather than rapidly correcting to fair value. The efficient market hypothesis implies the absence of such bubbles. The frequent emergence of bubbles in history was documented in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Mackay 1841). The book captures the concept of extremes of sentiment and apparent mass irrationality. Bubbles and crashes appear to be panics of buying and selling. A continuous rise in an asset price is fuelled by investors’ expectations of further increase; asset prices become decoupled from economic fundamentals.
A more objective modern definition specifies periods when a price index for an asset class trades more than two standard deviations outside its historic trend. Statistically, if returns are normally distributed, such periods should not represent more than 5 percent of total observations. However, for some stock markets and asset classes, these extremes of valuation account for more than 10 percent.

cfa exhibit 11

Bubbles and crashes are, respectively, periods of unusual positive or negative asset returns because of prices varying considerably from or reverting to their intrinsic value. Typically, during these periods, price changes are the main component of returns. Bubbles typically develop more slowly relative to crashes, which can be rapid. This asymmetry points to a difference in the behavioral factors involved. A crash would typically be a fall of 30 percent or more in asset prices in a period of several months. Some bubbles and crashes will reflect rapid changes in economic prospects that investors failed to anticipate. The global oil price shock of the 1970s and the Japanese asset price bubbles of the late 1980s, in which real estate and stock prices rose dramatically, would be examples. Initially in a bubble, some participants may view the trading and prices as a rational response – for example, to easy monetary conditions or a liquidity squeeze – but this view is typically followed by doubts about whether prices reflect fundamental values.
These bubbles have been observed in most decades and in a wide range of asset classes. Recent examples are the technology bubble of 1999-2000 and the residential property boom of 2005-2007, evident in a range of economies globally including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. They appear to be periods of collective irrationality, but can be analyzed in more detail as representing some specific behavioral characteristics of individuals. Behavioral finance does not yet provide a full explanation for such market behavior, but a number of specific cognitive biases and emotional biases prevalent during such periods can be identified.
First, it should be noted that there can also be rational explanations for some bubbles. Rational investors may expect a future crash but not know its exact timing. For periods of time, there may not be effective arbitrage because of the cost of selling short, unwillingness of investors to bear extended losses, or simply unavailability of suitable instruments. These were considerations in the technology and real estate bubbles. Investment managers incentivized on, or accountable for, short-term performance may even rationalize their participation in the bubble in terms of commercial or career risk.
The extent to which investors may rationalize their behavior during bubbles is evident in Exhibit 12 [Investor Behavior in Bubbles]. Both managers appear to have misunderstood risks and exhibited the illusion of control bias. The manager of Fund A believed he could exit a bubble profitably by selling near the top. The manager of Fund B may not have recognized the potential scale of a bubble, or client perspectives on a period of relative underperformance while not participating in the bubble.
Consider the differing behavior of two managers of major hedge funds during the technology stock bubble of 1998-2000:
The manager of Hedge Fund A was asked why he did not get out of internet stocks earlier even though he knew by December 1999 that technology stocks were overvalued. “We thought it was the eighth inning, and it was the ninth. I did not think the NASDAQ composite would go down 33 percent in 15 days.” Faced with losses, and despite a previous strong 12-year record, he resigned as Hedge Fund A’s manager in April 2000.
The manager of Hedge Fund B refused to invest in technology stocks in 1998 and 1999 because he thought they were overvalued. After strong performance over 17 years, Hedge Fund B was dissolved in 2000 because its returns could not keep up with the returns generated by technology stocks.
In bubbles, investors often exhibit symptoms of overconfidence, overtrading, underestimation of risks, failure to diversify, and rejection of contradictory information. With overconfidence, investors are more active and trading volume increases, thus lowering their expected profits. For overconfident investors (active traders), studies have shown that returns are less than returns to either less active traders or the market while risk is higher (Barber and Odean 2000). At the market level, volatility also often increases in a market with overconfident traders.
The overconfidence and excessive trading that contribute to a bubble are linked to confirmation bias and self-attribution bias. In a rising market, sales of stocks from a portfolio will typically be profitable, even if winners are being sold too soon. Investors can have faulty learning models that bias their understanding of this profit to take personal credit for success. This behavior is also related to hindsight bias, in which individuals can reconstruct prior beliefs and deceive themselves that they are correct more often that they truly are. This bias creates the feeling of “I knew it all along.” Selling for a gain appears to validate a good decision in an original purchase and may confer a sense of pride in locking in the profit. This generates overconfidence that can lead to poor decisions. Regret aversion can also encourage investors to participate in a bubble, believing they are “missing out” on profit opportunities as stocks continue to appreciate.
Overconfidence involves an illusion of knowledge. Investors would be better off not trading on all the available information, which includes noise or non-relevant information. Asset prices provide a mix of information, both facts and the mood of the crowd. But in a stock market bubble, noise trading increases and overall trading volumes are high. Noise trading is buying and selling activity conduceted in the absence of meaningful new information, and is often based on the flow of irrelevant information. A manager increasing trading activity in a rising stock market can misinterpret the profitability of activity, believing it is trading skill rather than market direction delivering profits.
The disposition effect recognizes that investors are more willing to sell winners, which can encourage excess trading. There can also be a confirmation bias to select news that supports an existing decision or investment. Indeed, search processes may focus almost exclusively on finding additional confirmatory information. Investors may be uncomfortable with contradictory information and reject it. Investors can also have a bias to buy stocks that attract their attention, and pay more attention to the market when it is rising. For short-term traders who may derive entertainment from the market, monitoring rising stock prices is more entertaining and instills more pride. Entertainment and pride are emotional effects.
As a bubble unwinds, there can be under-reaction that can be caused by anchoring when investors do not update their beliefs sufficiently. The early stages of unwinding a bubble can involve investors in cognitive dissonance, ignoring losses, and attempting to rationalize flawed decisions. As a bubble unwinds, investors may initially be unwilling to accept losses. In crashes, the disposition effect encourages investors to hold on to losers and postpone regret. This response can initially cause an under-reaction to bad news, but a later capitulation and acceleration of share price decline. This situation will only apply to stocks already held by investors, with hedge funds that can sell stock short being more inclined to react first to bad news in a downturn. In crashes, there may be belief that short sellers know more and have superior information or analysis.

Less Expensive Is Better – “So they’ll buy a less expensive home. Good. I consider that desirable.”

flaherty

“It will mean that some people will not buy into the market. It will also mean that some people will buy less into the market… so they’ll buy a less expensive home, or less expensive condominium. … Good! I consider that desirable.”
- Jim Flaherty, Canadian Minister of Finance, April 2012 news conference regarding mortgage condition tightening, as recapped on Global TV News, 18 Dec 2012 [hat-tip Greenhorn for the archived video clip]

Not less of a home, note, but a less expensive home.
This is, indeed, desirable.
- vreaa

Canadian Cities Inflation Adjusted House Prices, 1980-2011, Annotated Chart

Canadian cities house price index with quotes 1980

- chart from Kevin at saskatoonhousingbubble, referred to at VREAA 28 Dec 2012, headlined by popular request. Thanks Kevin and UBCghettodweller. Kevin adds: “The housing bubble that popped in the early 80′s was in Western Canada while Central and Eastern Canada were not affected. The housing bubble that popped in the early 90′s was centered in Toronto and area while the west was still recovering from the 80′s. Today, in 2012, it looks like the housing bubble is spread throughout Canada but to differing degrees.”

“I am probably one of the few on this and other blogs who sat thru a RE collapse first hand in Canada back in the early 80′s when I was a banker here in Calgary…”

“I am probably one of the few on this and other blogs who sat thru a RE collapse first hand here in Canada back in the early 80′s when I was a banker here in Calgary. I watched the second mortgage portfolio I managed for National Trust Company go down from 100MM, to about 65MM, in a little over 12 months due to foreclosures and property devaluation. This was at a time when CMHC financing needed 15% down, and we actually took such obscure concepts as credit worthiness, debt to income ratios and past payment history into account “before” we dished the money out. Also, most second mortgages were in the amount of $15-25K on average, as most houses were not much above $125-150K at the peak. If any you thought it was bad last time………..this time around will make history look like picnic.” …
“I was averaging 75 – 100 foreclosures / quit claims a month over 1983/84. And, I just ran the second mortgage and personal loans department. We also had a humongous first mortgage department with its own problems. Thing is, I distinctly remember foreclosing on a ton of realtors’ spec properties, and also their primary residences, as well as that about 75% of the places we eventually got back had been listed in vain (priced too high) for 12-18 months beforehand.”
- Carioca Canuck at VREAA 27 Dec 2012 5:58pm and 28 Dec 2012 8:28am

“I was there, too. Was working for a Trust Company that was scrambling to save its own sorry arse after having dished out too much credit. People were desperate to get loans but easy lending had dried up and rejections were the game of the day if you could not bring collateral. Hardly a day went by when I did not see someone sobbing at the loans officers desk. They brought in art work and antiques and junk they thought was valuable to persuade the manager. Nobody cared though. You know how much that stuff is really worth when only cold hard cash, bonds or securites will suffice? Not a spit. I was an assistant then and a mere observer but the image stuck. Never get in debt over your head because when the day of reckoning comes even your friendly banker will pull the plug on you and never give it a second thought. Most people do not realize that internal policy changes at financial institutions where lending is concerned are bureaucratic and very inflexible when the mood changes. It is just a machine that will not be swayed by sentiments and emotion. And all that crap that you thought was valuable is not worth ten cents on the dollar anymore. So I agree with Carioca. This next go-round is going to be quite an experience for the novices in the crowd.”
- Farmer at VREAA 27 Dec 2012 10:53pm

“I was a loans officer at a medium sized Credit Union in the 80s.
Heartbreaking. Homeowners were dropping off the keys, walking away.
We did not have the heart to foreclose, ended up as landlords of properties valued way below the mortgage.
After 3 years, the auditors forced us to write down the properties to market value, which almost bankrupted us.”

- Real Estate Tsunami at VREAA 28 Dec 2012 7:11pm

Thanks to Carioca Canuck, Farmer, and Real Estate Tsunami for the above anecdotes.
Interesting to see that three regular readers saw battle during the 80′s RE collapse. There is little substitute for first-hand experience when it comes to markets.
- vreaa

Mortgage Policy Decisions – “The pressures on the Minister of Finance are to do the wrong thing.”

Whatever happens in the housing market, former central bank governor David Dodge thinks there’s a bigger issue at stake. The rules that shape the housing market should not be subject to the whims of politicians, he says. Finance ministers should not be allowed to make them up on the fly, in the manner that Ottawa has over the past several years.
Mr. Dodge believes a system should be devised to measure house prices against other benchmarks, to determine when mortgage insurance rules need to be tightened or loosened, regardless of political considerations.
“There are different ways one can go at that, but you don’t want it all in the hands of the Minister of Finance. Because generally, the pressures on the Minister of Finance are to do the wrong thing,” he said.
Mr. Dodge also believes that the mortgage insurance system places too much emphasis on keeping banks healthy by protecting them from mortgage losses, rather than keeping the economy healthy by ensuring that housing supply is in line with demand.
Looking back on that angry meeting with CMHC executives in 2006, and with the benefit of seeing what has happened to the housing market, he stands by his criticism. “I have no reason to revise what I said at the time at all. I think [loosening the rules] was a mistake,” Mr. Dodge said.

Even some former CMHC insiders are now calling for a radical rethinking of what the institution does.
Gary Mooney, a former director on CMHC’s board, says “it is now time for root and branch reform,” including “an honest evaluation of CMHC’s relationship with our major financial institutions.” Private competitors – of which there are currently only two – could play a bigger role in providing mortgage insurance, he suggests.

Mr. Flaherty has gone even further, asking whether the federal government should be in the business of guaranteeing loans for the benefit of banks. In a recent interview with The Globe, he said he wants Ottawa to look at privatizing CMHC in the next five to 10 years. Proponents of that idea say one of the main benefits would be to reduce the taxpayer’s exposure to mortgages – and to a housing slump.

But Mr. Dodge argues that’s not really the case. Ottawa is already in too deep.
“The system as a whole is too big to fail,” he says.
“And when something is too big to fail, the government will come in.”

Ms. Kinsley, CMHC’s CEO, declined several interview requests from The Globe and would not comment for this article.

- from ‘Ottawa’s $800-billion housing problem’, Tara Perkins and Grant Robertson, The Globe and Mail, 26 Dec 2012

CMHC allowed the mis-pricing of the risk of lending capital, and this contributed to the massive speculative mania in Vancouver RE. Note how this opinion is now becoming mainstream.
By the time prices have crashed (in a year or three?) we’ll have certain individuals saying both “We all knew it was a bubble” and “Who could have possibly foreseen this?”, sometimes in the very same paragraph. Just watch.
Further point: As usual when markets go through one of these massive manias, policy rethink always happens after the fact, when the horse has long since bolted and the market is already looking after the problem.
- vreaa

“I wasn’t under the impression that I would be paying this house off. This wasn’t the house that we would be staying in forever, it was just about getting into the market, getting a place.”

housing-obrienxxrb1
Sarah O’Brien and her husband Darryl Silva were able to buy a home a few years ago because their 35-year mortgage kept payments low.

“In 2006, the new Conservative government in Ottawa allowed CMHC to tinker with its tried-and-true formula. One of the key changes was in mortgage length: CMHC would insure mortgages 35 and 40 years in length.
The measures helped people like Sarah O’Brien, who bought her first home at the age of 26. She and her husband, Darryl Silva, purchased a condo three years ago in Etobicoke, on the western side of Toronto, with a down payment of just 5 per cent. Mortgage rates were low, which helped. But so did the bank’s willingness to give them a CMHC-insured 35-year mortgage. The longer amortization held their biweekly payments to about $700.
“We’re young to be getting into the real estate market, so if the monthly amounts were significantly higher, we probably wouldn’t have,” Ms. O’Brien said. “We probably would have waited.”
The arrival of buyers like Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Silva has changed the market, however. Home buyers have responded to low rates and easy mortgage rules “by bidding up the price of houses,” said bank analyst Peter Routledge at National Bank Financial. Since 2000, the price of houses across Canada has risen 127 per cent; they’ve gone up nearly 50 per cent since 2006.
“You can never really provide cheap housing,” argues Moin Yahya, associate professor of law at the University of Alberta. “All you can really do is provide cheap cash, which of course then drives up the price of housing. You’re only distorting the market.”


“What is beyond dispute is that CMHC’s rules have enabled a change in behaviour among home buyers like Ashleigh Egerton. When she and her boyfriend bought a townhouse in Brampton, Ont., in May, 2008, they could have made a 5 per cent down payment – but opted to put nothing down instead.
“Instead of putting that money into the house, we felt like we’d be off to a better start if we had some money to furnish the house,” Ms. Egerton says. “I wasn’t under the impression that I would be paying this house off. This wasn’t the house that we would be staying in forever, it was just about getting into the market, getting a place.”
But the zero-down mortgages created a new problem in the housing market: Buyers who weren’t building any equity in their properties, since the payments were primarily covering the interest in the early stages of the loan. When Ms. Egerton moved out about two years later after splitting up with her boyfriend, the pair still didn’t have any equity in the home.”


- above two anecdotes excerpted from ‘Ottawa’s $800-billion housing problem’, Tara Perkins and Grant Robertson, The Globe and Mail, 26 Dec 2012

Examples of two couples who bought houses, but shouldn’t have; and who, under normal circumstances (and, ironically, at lower prices), wouldn’t have.
- vreaa