Tuesday, September 18, 2007



Starting from the top (during the housing boom): Lower interest rates led to an increase in housing prices. And those higher housing prices led to ever increasing mortgage equity withdrawal (MEW) by homeowners.

A large percentage of this equity withdrawal flowed to consumption, increasing both GDP and imports during the boom years. There is a strong correlation between the trade deficit and mortgage equity withdrawal, and although correlation doesn't imply causation, it appears mortgage equity withdrawal was a meaningful contributor to the widening trade and current account deficits during the housing boom.

To finance the current account deficit, foreign Central Banks (CBs) invested heavily in dollar denominated securities. Some analysts have suggested that these investments lowered interest rates by between 40 bps and 200 bps (Roubini and Setser: "Will the Bretton Woods 2 Regime Unravel Soon? The Risk of a Hard Landing in 2005-2006")

If these analysts are correct, and foreign CB intervention lowered treasury yields, then this also lowered mortgage interest rates ... and the cycle repeated. The result: a Virtuous Cycle with higher housing prices, more consumption and lower interest rates.


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