“Turmoil,” “Fear,” & “Uncertainty” Bursting Seattle’s Bubble

The P-I ran an interesting little article by Aubrey Cohen today: Turmoil rattles local real estate market

The recent nationwide economic turmoil appears to have intensified already prevalent skittishness among buyers and lenders — and helped persuade sellers to get real.

The turmoil has increased the fear of buying now, only to see prices fall even more later, said Ryan Thompson, an agent in John L. Scott Real Estate’s Seattle Center office. “The other end of the fear is a lot of people are uncertain about their own jobs, their own income.”

Buyers also are asking more questions and are less willing to make snap buying decisions, said Melinda Eley, marketing manager for builder Polygon Northwest.

It’s disturbing to me that buyers asking questions and avoiding snap decisions is seen as a negative, and a sign of a lousy market.

Matthew Gardner, a local land-use economist who works with developers, said the economy in general, including the housing market, has come to a grinding halt.

“Banks aren’t lending banks money right now, so they sure as heck aren’t lending to anyone else,” he said. “The effect is paralyzing.”

Sounds like a bit of a different tune than Mr. Gardner was singing in July last year:

“It’s not happening in Seattle to any degree whatsoever,” local land-use economist Matthew Gardner said Wednesday. “We’re not really seeing any fallouts.”

Also amusing to me in today’s article is that Mr. Cohen calls out Moody’s for their consistently overly optimistic predictions:

Moody’s latest forecast is for Seattle-area prices to fall 17 percent from last summer’s peak, with the bottom coming around the end of next year.

The company probably will revise that to a bigger drop, based on the national situation, in coming weeks, Gledhill said.

He acknowledged that most economists, including those at Moody’s, consistently have underestimated the length and depth of the housing market’s swoon.

“For most economists’ lifespan this is unprecedented. We really haven’t seen this before and it’s been driven by different events than what we’re used to,” he said. “It’s probably also somewhat just optimism.”

No kidding. Note that even as recently as last October, Moody’s was predicting that Seattle home prices would increase 3% in 2008.

If the ever-rosy Moody’s is saying we’re in for a total 17% drop with a bottom in late 2009, a pretty good guess would be that the bottom will probably not come until 2010 or 2011 at the earliest, with a minimum 25% drop.

Also of interest is the general sentiment being expressed by commenters in the P-I’s “Sound Off” to the article. Even just a few months ago, any real estate article in the P-I was littered with pink pony supporters piping in to say that the bottom is in and Seattle real estate is bound to head back up any day now. Now it seems that such comments have become virtually extinct.

Perhaps reality is finally sinking in.

(Aubrey Cohen, Seattle P-I, 09.29.2008)

  

About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

45 comments:

  1. 1
    50%off says:

    We don need no steenkin ‘smart buyers’. We need sheeple. Where are the sheeple?

    Does 50% off seem conservative yet?

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  2. 2
    Clint says:

    It’s about time that these people recognized what is actually happening with the economy.

    Anything that wakes people up and makes them more accountable for their own economic actions is a positive step in the right direction.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  3. 3
    obelus says:

    No, 50% off does not seem conservative now. A few months ago perhaps. I was figuring $175 – $200 per sq. foot. Then thought $150 as reasonable. Now I am thinking that $125 per sq. foot will be a reality, or maybe less in some markets. I cannot believe that sellers are still trying to get $250 plus a sq. foot now! Wait it out. Many nice properties (GEMS!) have been pulled off the market in the past few months. They thought the economy/market would turn back to the high end. They were wrong and will have to sell at some point. Welcome to capitalism. Love it or leave it.

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  4. 4
    jonness says:

    If you were to wake up one day in world full of dogs and realize you were in a dog’s body and that no humans existed, but you still had your human mind despite the dogs having dog’s brains, how would that make you feel?

    Would you feel frustrated or trapped or somehow as if you didn’t quite fit in? Imagine having to obey a master (a dog leader) you didn’t agree with just to get food put in a bowl for you. And when you begin to eat, bully dogs come and hassle you and growl and nip at your back legs in an effort to steal your food. As you walk away, a dog of your same violent love jumps on your leg in an attempt to get a little action.

    So you try to reason with the dogs and tell them about a better way to live. But they don’t seem to understand what you’re saying, because they have dog brains, and you have a human brain.

    Since you have a human brain, you are smarter than the other dogs, so that gives you some choices. What do you do?

    1) When in Dogville, do as the dogs do.
    2) Leave Dogville and head for the woods and try to live off the land away from the dogs.
    3) Stay in Dogville and use your smarts to mate with the best looking dogs and beat the dogs of opposite violent love at their own food hoarding games.
    4) ???

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  5. 5
    jonness says:

    Oops, sorry, 3 should be:

    3) Stay in Dogville and use your smarts to mate with the best looking dogs of opposite violent love and beat the dogs of same violent love at their own food hoarding games.

    (Unless you have a different persuasion of course. In that case, word it how you wish.)

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  6. 6
    david losh says:

    This seems like a perfect time to talk about Real Estate news.

    In the world of Real Estate blogs this electrical engineer put up, in my opinion, a very broad source of information. It’s more than the rantings of a Roubini type of it’s all going to burn.
    In a couple of days it was the bail out, Case Schiller, with all the graphs, and what the press says about the mess. It’s a rounded picture of today and where the Real Estate market stands.

    Here’ s an idea that I’ve had for a couple of days. As gratitude I’m going to donate $10 to the bubble. Any one who knows me will tell you that is an extreme sacrifice.
    My point would be to show the influence of the internet.
    When talking about the Great Depression, or even the mystery of the Financial Market Place, my theory is that it’s easier than you might think to make money.
    Let’s make the Tim a millionaire.
    Don’t moderate the comment Tim.
    Let’s all donate to this cause for a great source of entertainmnet. It’s just $10. This is better than the movies, so why not?
    I think the internet has provided more wealth than any ten sources of revenue combined, ever, in the history of commerce. I think the internet is completely renewable, never sleeps, works tirelessly to keep us entetained so why not pay for great content?
    Let’s make the Tim a million dollars and see how fast it can be done.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  7. 7
    wakeup says:

    >No, 50% off does not seem conservative now.
    I predict the consensus will be 80% off in one week, or by this weekend If the bailout bill fails.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  8. 8
    Interloper says:

    Well, it’s nice to see a story like this finally make the front page, about a year late.

    I suspect the media won’t be pro-real estate again in Seattle until long after the upturn has already started. Conventional wisdom moves slow here, and I bet the buying opportunities will last awhile at the bottom. Whenever that comes.

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  9. 9
    Jillayne says:

    Hi Interloper,

    Sometimes I think that the media seems to do what it’s told to do by their supervisors.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  10. 10
    Jillayne says:

    In other news, CR is reporting that the Senate will vote on the bailout bill tomorrow night after sundown.

    I have already emailed Maria Cantwell twice.

    http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=WA

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  11. 11
    wakeup says:

    >I have already emailed Maria Cantwell twice.
    No hope.

    Bailout plan (now changed its name to rescue plan) will and must pass by this weekend. This forum should keep using WM failure, depression, job loss, mortgage freeze and JPM’s prediction to unite seattlebubble fans and scare home sellers.

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  12. 12
    waitingforseattletocool says:

    As a homeowner, it would pain me greatly to see future prices at 50% of today’s market value.

    As an investor, it would give me great pleasure to see future prices at 50% of today’s market value.

    If we see that 50% day, I can name 40 good, clean neighborhoods that would be big time cash flow positive as rentals (even in year 2000 rental rates, even with 10% interest rates).

    So if that 50% day ever comes, I doubt it will stay at that 50% for long. Anyway I would buy a couple.

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  13. 13
    Matthew says:

    Hi Wakeup,

    Sounds like home buyers/sellers are already scared. Probably more scared about their jobs than they are about buying or selling a house. I don’t think Seattlebubble needs to scare anyone.

    We are also amazingly clairvoyant.

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  14. 14
    rent for now says:

    Anyone know of where to get info on the number of RE agents in Seattle? That would be good to see in a graph over the last several years. And what’s this about a bubble in Seattle?

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  15. 15
    Scotsman says:

    Thanks, Tim. For some reason your headline has me bouncing these two phrases around in my head:

    “Lions, and tigers, and bears- Oh My!” or….

    “We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz!”

    A little bit of fantasy, a little bit of fear. Pink ponies, gems, and sheeple. Oh my.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  16. 16
    mark says:

    I think we’re about to get our mojo back.

    Sorry, couldn’t help it.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  17. 17
    Sniglet says:

    I predict the consensus will be 80% off in one week, or by this weekend If the bailout bill fails.

    Whoa! I thought Eleua and I were the only ones in the 80% off club. You can’t join unless you are invited. Now, I know I didn’t nominate any new members, so unless Eleua has been handing out club memberships then I think you will have to stick with 50% off.

    By the way, the bail-out bill WILL fail. If anything the bailout only accelerates the downturn.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  18. 18
    shawn says:

    As for the bail out, I believe it will come one of two ways, 1) with congress involved, or 2) without congress involved. But come it will.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  19. 19
    Jillayne says:

    @ rent for now: “Anyone know of where to get info on the number of RE agents in Seattle?”

    That info would be available through the state department of licensing, professional licensing division, dept of RE. Here’s the link;

    http://dol.wa.gov/business/realestate/

    I bet if you called tomorrow and asked, they’d tell you.

    I’m sorry I don’t have that number off hand and I’ll be in the classroom all day. Hey, I could ask the Assoc of Realtors tomorrow. They might know. I just track mortgage LO license numbers, which are way down by the way.

    In class today, the Realtors were really trying very hard to make sure I knew how bad it was out there for Realtors right now.

    Many might still have their license but have already procured other full time sales work elsewhere in order to make ends meet.

    Only 500 something residential resales last month in Snohomish County. That’s obviously not enough to sustain high levels of licensees.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  20. 20
    Jillayne says:

    We should also expect a slow decrease in the number of real estate offices out there. Too much overhead, not enough revenue.

    Expect branch offices to fold into the main office, much like title insurance companies have been slowly closing their branch offices, laying off staff, and issuing mandatory salary cuts (at some companies.)

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  21. 21
    buyStocks says:

    But it’s not a Wall street “bail out” anymore. It’s been renamed to the “rescue babies from a burning house” bill. Now how can you not vote for that…

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  22. 22
    Jillayne says:

    or “rescue UNBORN babies from a burning house” bill…for the conservative republicans.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  23. 23
    TJ_98370 says:

    Something else is happening also. My significant other and I went browsing for a small hatchback at the local car dealers over the weekend. NOBODY was at the dealerships except for sales people. I have never seen dealerships so deserted, especially at the end of the model year. A few months ago, you had to be put on a waiting list if you wanted a Toyota Prius. Last weekend the Toyota dealership had close to 20 of them. I suspect people are not buying because they are concerned about taking on more debt right now and I am being told that it is more difficult to get financing.
    .

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  24. 24
    Scotsman says:

    Since we haven’t seen the new bill it’s hard to be sure, but there seems to be some indication that the rescue bill would allow foreign banks to clear their balance sheets by dumping CDOs back onto the U.S. government if they have a banking relationship with a U.S. branch. Read more about it here:

    http://www.tickerforum.org/cgi-ticker/akcs-www?post=64444

    If true, this would be very bad news.

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  25. 25
    Markor says:

    Today I got a JPMorganChaseWaMu CD. 5% is the best deal around. (See Congress, the free market works!) The odds of wanting to buy a house in the next year look slim. Most sellers in Bellevue are not yet realistic on price, judging by how long their houses are sitting. I don’t envy the real estate agent trying to teach them the difference between gambling and selling. Apparently most sellers are unable to see a problem with pricing their house at 10-20% more than comps that have been on the market for months.

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  26. 26
    Scotsman says:

    Regarding foreign banks being able to tap into the rescue bill:

    “The legislative outline that went to Capitol Hill at 1:30 a.m. Saturday had said that an eligible financial institution had to have “its headquarters in the United States.” That would exclude foreign-based institutions with big U.S. operations, such as Barclays, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS.

    But a Treasury “Fact Sheet” released at 7:15 Saturday night sought to give the administration more flexibility, with an expanded definition that could include all of those banks: “Participating financial institutions must have significant operations in the U.S., unless the Secretary makes a determination, in consultation with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, that broader eligibility is necessary to effectively stabilize financial markets.”

    The major change in the suggested eligibility requirements is the biggest change that Treasury publicly made after a day of briefings and conversations with Capitol Hill, and is likely the first of many”

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  27. 27
    what goes up must come down says:

    calling Mag44 and Harley — we need the positive spin on this

    — the bottom is here — whoops nope
    —- there is more selection so it is great time to buy — whoops that doesn’t get the buyers out either, dam
    —– a new moped with every purchase — dam that didn’t work

    —— oh, how about this REDUCE YOUR PRICES

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  28. 28
    Markor says:

    TJ_98370: I suspect people are not buying because they are concerned about taking on more debt right now and I am being told that it is more difficult to get financing.

    People are reining in spending in general too. The Great Depression was just a ~10% reduction in spending. There have been some big store closures lately.

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  29. 29
    magnolia44 says:

    lol nice to see i was remembered. I never called a bottom and did predict 12 – 15% decline, which according to case shiller is not here yet even after being through the worst financial crisis in history, I do not buy into the lag indicator theory because I dont see how we trend down for 6-12 months longer when a bottom is called in markets like CA…. when the bottom is reached I see stabilization in all ares.
    I took a little walk today and price a home right and it will still sell for 500k, there were a few here in the month of Sept, price it wrong and they sit and pile up. Suprised to still see complete teardown remodels being built as planned and a few just completed. Saw 4 today on a few block radius so people still have $ to spend.
    .
    BTW the gloomers truly make me laugh, if we go from worse (which is the markets and sentiment now) to really worse we are all going to be hurting in terms of the economy and jobs. It really wont matter for any of us so be careful on what exactly you wish for.

    In the meantime its great to know that everyone here has been investing and saving in short finacials and gold. We know no one here would be affected by the average 17 – 20%+ decline of any of the mutual funds out there. No one here would make a dumb move like that.

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  30. 30
    Markor says:

    magnolia44, if you google for “Great Depression” you’ll see parallels between now and the brink of that depression. Doesn’t have to be wished for; could just be something to prepare for just in case. I think this bailout will have the desired short-term effect, but will ultimately make things worse, just like many economists predict. It won’t be the end of the world though.

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  31. 31
    mukoh says:

    Its pretty easy to sit here and babble about the big 80% drop, or the next great depression, or how everyone is unrealistic because you can’t afford it, or how the banks who have been at this for 100+ years have it all wrong and so on.

    If anybody and I mean anybody had any skill who posts here regularly, would be at the least heading a corporation of significant size and in regular aspect the head of SEC, however that is not the case. I wonder why, not one person here is at least notable in any business circle.

    The bailout will pass, sooner or later, if it doesn’t then all that will happen is people with money will trim jobs to accommodate their lifestyle.
    Wonder who that will hurt, highly doubt majority here are sitting and looking at the Seattle skyline. :)
    I let two people go two weeks ago to replace with only one person and cut my costs by 70%. Gotta run to Maui in a month, visit my little condo on them savings.

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  32. 32
    jonness says:

    “By the way, the bail-out bill WILL fail. If anything the bailout only accelerates the downturn.”

    If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the political dog masters uniting in fear and passing the bailout after a degree of grandstanding and chest pumping while proclaiming what great leaders they are. This will lead to temporary investor confidence that causes a market bounce. However, it won’t solve the fundamental problem with the market–house prices are out of line with historic fundamentals. Add in the massive amount of fear people have experienced these last weeks, and it means the overall market trend will continue to be down. Adding to this, the banks will hoard the bailout money, and the mark to market Kool-aid prices of worthless paper will not hold. Thus, I’m in agreement with you that the bailout will ultimately fail.

    I don’t think anybody, including the politicians, believe the 700 billion dollars can actually cover all of the losses in this mess. I believe the goal here is to boost investor confidence in order to get people to pull their money out from under the mattress and go out and buy some Kool-aid. We hear evidence of this in claims that “this is not a financial problem; it’s a confidence problem.” But that is just more pink pony spin. When we stop to look at the facts, house prices are still out of line with historic fundamentals, subprimes and alt-a’s are not available in the foreseeable future, and people having grown leery of the great pyramid scheme. The bailout is nothing more than an expensive house of cards.

    As for an 80% house price drop in Seattle, I see that as only a 10% probability.

    Just my 3 cents.

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  33. 33
    jonness says:

    “We know no one here would be affected by the average 17 – 20%+ decline of any of the mutual funds out there. No one here would make a dumb move like that.”

    False! You did :)

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  34. 34
    mark says:

    “If anybody and I mean anybody had any skill who posts here regularly, would be at the least heading a corporation of significant size and in regular aspect the head of SEC, however that is not the case. I wonder why, not one person here is at least notable in any business circle.”

    Skill? You mean like the CEO’s and senior executives and BOD’s at companies like Bear Stearns, Countrywide, Wamu, Indymac, Wachovia, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Merril Lynch? How much skill does it take to lose 100’s of billions of dollars in shareholder value?

    Have you been hitting the bottle again?

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  35. 35
    what goes up must come down says:

    mag44 I read an article in the times about the residents in Magnolia being upset that some less the affluent new neighbors will be moving in, hmmm I wonder what that will do to prices in the hood.

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  36. 36
    Buceri says:

    September job losses…Yahoo Finances.

    The computer industry ranked highest in September with 25,715 job cuts announced, followed by the automotive sector at 14,595 and apparel at 8,350.

    The data suggested the effects of the credit crisis were spreading far and wide through the world economy, and washing back up on U.S. shores.

    “Global demand is keeping tech firms busy, but there are increasing signs that the global economy is starting to feel the impact of our banking crisis,” the report said.

    “As a result, we could see more tech-sector job cuts by the end of the year.”

    The Challenger data comes ahead of the government’s comprehensive labor market report on Friday, which is expected to show the U.S. economy as a whole shed jobs for a ninth consecutive month in September.

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  37. 37
    davidb says:

    magnolia44, any good investor knows that you don’t invest money that you need in the short term in the stock market so I’m sure most of us here that are holding money to eventually buy a house are keeping our investments in CD’s that are earning 3 – 5%. Not a great return but it’s a better return than we could get in real estate or in the stock market.

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  38. 38
    david losh says:

    Giving your money, our money, to the all powerful Wall Street experts of financial genius is foolish. How can you be here talking about house prices falling and not address stock prices? It’s done, over, the Dow, and S&P needs to correct.
    As far as the next Great Depression let’s test the power of the internet.

    1 Donation – Your donation supports the continuing efforts of Seattle Bubble $10.00

    In the upper right hand corner is a button to contribute to this fantastic source of information. Let’s make the Tim a millionaire.
    You have never been able to trust a bank, employer, or land lord. You know that. You are responsible for yourself and whoever is a part of your family.
    This Tim guy put himself out there, took a risk, and I would like to see if we can make it pay off for him.

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  39. 39
    david losh says:

    Oh, I saw the davidb comment # 37. Not true.
    Real Estate if done correctly always, and I mean always out performs stocks and for sure CDs.
    I’ll share the secret of Real Estate once more, all the mystery of the books and infomercials, shhhh, it’s tricky, but here goes, ready, wait for it: buy low, sell high. Sshhhh.
    Real Estate is between, in most cases, two individuals. You can sell your house for what ever price you want, if you own the property free and clear. The goal is to own the property free and clear. Mortgages and the people who represent them are the villains the bank use to be back when they were making loans.
    Get the loan, pay the criminals the usury, but pay it down, and pay it off.
    It’s just money. The less the investment in interest the more return on investment indefinitely, for life, estate, and beyond.
    You can only count the return on the invested dollars, appreciation is a gift. Money changes value over time, future dollars pay present dollar investments. Now it get’s complicated, but, an individual can make any kind of deal they chose with another individual.

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  40. 40
    david losh says:

    • Abandoned home in Saginaw Michigan sells for $1.75 on eBay.
    The buyer nees to pay $850 in back taxes, and lawn clean up. If she is lucky enough to sell for $2500 she might double her money.

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  41. 41
    mukoh says:

    Quote
    Skill? You mean like the CEO’s and senior executives and BOD’s at companies like Bear Stearns, Countrywide, Wamu, Indymac, Wachovia, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Merril Lynch? How much skill does it take to lose 100’s of billions of dollars in shareholder value?

    Have you been hitting the bottle again?
    End Quote

    How much skill does it take to run a company with billions of dollars for years? Regretfully you don’t have it. :)

    And never talk about my bottle in vein like that. Its big.

    Rate this comment: Thumb up 0

  42. 42
    Lukasz says:

    Foreign banks dumping toxic waste into US Treasury seems to be true. See http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2008/10/rep-brad-sherman-on-bailing-out-foreign.html for details (including Rep. Brad Sherman saying “you have to read the bill. It’s very clear. The Bank of Shanghai can transfer all of its toxic assets to the Bank of Shanghai of Los Angeles which can then sell them the next day to the Treasury.” and including relevant snippets from the bill)

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  43. 43
    TJ_98370 says:

    One of the issues that keeps on being brought up is the mark-to-model versus mark-to-market valuation methods. The banks dislike mark-to-market right now because they would probably have to devalue “assets” to below fictionalized model generated values, which would then force them raise more capital to meet regulatory requirements. From my unprofessional perspective, this appears to be a major cause of the current credit freeze “crisis”.

    The banks want to play accounting games to hide their losses. Accounting standard auditors are calling for “fair market” valuation, or at least make the modeling methods used for valuation more transparent / standard. To allow banks to continue with their proprietary / secret fantasy valuation methods will just prolong the “crisis”.
    .
    A Two-Pronged Push To Aid Ailing Banks
    .

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  44. 44
    DavidB says:

    David Losh@39 says “Oh, I saw the davidb comment # 37. Not true.
    Real Estate if done correctly always, and I mean always out performs stocks and for sure CDs.”

    Real estate or the stock market will likely have returns higher than CD’s in the long run but you wouldn’t have earned more this year with either of these investments! Real estate prices in Seattle are down over 8% since last July and the stock market has lost about 20% since January!

    My comment about investing in CD’s was in response to magnolia44 saying that all of us waiting to buy homes have lost money in the stock market this year.

    Anyone who thinks they’re going to buy a house in the next year or so shouldn’t have any money that they need to buy a home invested in the stock market.

    You can set up an on-line savings account with ING Direct or HSBC Direct that will earn over 3% and there’s no time obligation like a CD.

    I’m ready to buy a house when prices are reasonable and stable. Until then, I’ll conservatively invest my money!

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  45. 45

    […] An article in today’s Seattle Times goes nicely with Mr. Cohen’s article in the P-I a couple days ago. […]

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