Here’s How “Prosperity” Ends: Global Bubbles Are Popping

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Authored by Charles Hugh SMith via OfTwoMinds blog,

So here we are: the global credit-asset bubbles are popping, and the illusory “prosperity” generated by the bubbles is about to tumble off a cliff.

There are two kinds of prosperity, one fake, one real. Bogus “prosperity” depends on credit-asset bubbles inflating, magically creating “wealth” not from labor, production or improving productivity, but from the value of assets soaring as bubbles inflate.

This bubble-generated “wealth” then fuels a vast expansion of credit and consumption as assets soaring in value increases the collateral available to borrow against, and the occasional sale of soaring assets generate capital gains, stock options, etc. which then fund sharply higher consumption.

When the value of a modest home skyrockets from $200,000 to $1,000,000 in a few years, that $800,000 in gain was not the result of any improvement in utility. The house provides the same shelter it did when it was worth 20% of its current value. The $800,000 is gain is the result of the abundance of low-cost credit and the global search for a yield above zero.

Eventually, this vast expansion of “money” chasing yields and seeking places to park all the excess cash trickles into the real economy and the result is inflationary. Consider how soaring home prices affect rents.

When an investor bought the modest home for $200,000, the costs of ownership were low due to the costs being linked to the value: the property tax, insurance and mortgage were all based on the valuation. (The costs of maintenance were unrelated to valuation, of course, being based on the age and quality of construction.) Let’s say the modest house rents for $1,500 per month.

The investor who buys the modest home for $1 million has much higher costs, even if they bought the property with cash and din’t need to borrow money (i.e. obtain a mortgage). The property taxes and insurance are much higher, and the comparable market rent of similar houses reflects the expected yield on investing $1 million: if investors expect a 3% yield after all expenses, then the rents have to rise so the investor/owner nets $30,000 annually.

Due to the valuation increasing in a bubble, the rent is now $4,500 per month, even though the house hasn’t materially gained any utility at all. The rent has to be high to justify the purchase price of $1 million.


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