Growth of The Housing Bubble
Between 1997 and 2006, the price of the typical American house increased by 124%. During the two decades ending in 2001, the national median home price ranged from 2.9 to 3.1 times median household income. This ratio rose to 4.0 in 2004, and 4.6 in 2006. This housing bubble resulted in many homeowners refinancing their homes at lower interest rates, or financing consumer spending by taking out second mortgages secured by the price appreciation.
In a Peabody Award winning program, NPR correspondents argued that a "Giant Pool of Money" (represented by $70 trillion in worldwide fixed income investments) sought higher yields than those offered by U.S. Treasury bonds early in the decade. This pool of money had roughly doubled in size from 2000 to 2007, yet the supply of relatively safe, income generating investments had not grown as fast. Investment banks on Wall Street answered this demand with products such as the mortgage-backed security and the collateralized debt obligation that were assigned safe ratings by the credit rating agencies.
In effect, Wall Street connected this pool of money to the mortgage market in the U.S., with enormous fees accruing to those throughout the mortgage supply chain, from the mortgage broker selling the loans, to small banks that funded the brokers and the large investment banks behind them. By approximately 2003, the supply of mortgages originated at traditional lending standards had been exhausted, and continued strong demand began to drive down lending standards.
The collateralized debt obligation in particular enabled financial institutions to obtain investor funds to finance subprime and other lending, extending or increasing the housing bubble and generating large fees. This essentially places cash payments from multiple mortgages or other debt obligations into a single pool from which specific securities draw in a specific sequence of priority. Those securities first in line received investment-grade ratings from rating agencies. Securities with lower priority had lower credit ratings but theoretically a higher rate of return on the amount invested.
By September 2008, average U.S. housing prices had declined by over 20% from their mid-2006 peak. As prices declined, borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages could not refinance to avoid the higher payments associated with rising interest rates and began to default. During 2007, lenders began foreclosure proceedings on nearly 1.3 million properties, a 79% increase over 2006. This increased to 2.3 million in 2008, an 81% increase vs. 2007. By August 2008, 9.2% of all U.S. mortgages outstanding were either delinquent or in foreclosure. By September 2009, this had risen to 14.4%.
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