Stocks prices up, but housing still hurts

Stock prices seems to be recovering, but most Americans are still bogged down with the housing market.

By , Guest blogger

  • close
    In this Jan. 4, 2011 photo, a sign shows that a new price is available on this town home for sale in in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Guest blogger Robert Reich writes that more Americans are affected by the housing market than stock prices .
    View Caption

Put your ear to the ground and you can almost hear the bulls stampeding. The Dow closed above 12,000 Tuesday for the first time since June 2008. The Dow is up 4 percent this year after increasing 11 percent in 2010. The Standard & Poor 500 is also up 4 percent this year, and the Nasdaq index, up 3.7 percent.

“The U.S. economy is back!” says a prominent Wall Streeter. Not quite.

Corporate earnings remain strong (better-than-expected reports from UPS and Pfizer fueled Tuesday’s rally). The Fed’s continuing slush pump of money into the financial system is also lifting the animal spirits of Wall Street. Traders like nothing more than speculating with almost-free money. And tumult in the Middle East is pushing more foreign money into the relatively safe and reliable American equities market.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

It’s simply wonderful, especially if you’re among the richest 1 percent of Americans who own more than half of all the shares of stock traded on Wall Street. Hey, you might feel chipper even if you’re among the next richest 9 percent, who own 40 percent.

But most Americans own a tiny sliver of the stock market, even including stocks in their 401(k) plans.

What do most Americans own? To the extent they have any significant assets at all, it’s their homes.

And the really big story – in terms of the lives of most Americans, and the effects on the US economy — isn’t Wall Street’s bull market. It’s Main Street’s bear housing market.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s latest quarterly survey of housing-market conditions, home prices continue to drop. They’ve dropped in all of the 28 major metropolitan areas, compared to a year earlier. And remember how awful things were in the housing market a year ago! In fact, the size of the year-to-year price declines is larger than the previous quarter’s in all but three of the markets surveyed.

Home prices have dropped most in cities already hard hit by the housing bust – Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago. But declines increased in other markets that had before escaped most of the downdraft, such as Seattle and Portland.

Things could easily get worse on the housing front because millions of owners are in various stages of foreclosure or seriously delinquent on their mortgages. Millions more owe more than their homes are worth, and, given the downward direction of the housing market, are going to be sorely tempted to just walk away. This means even more foreclosure sales, pushing housing prices down even further.

So don’t be fooled. The financial economy isn’t the real economy. The American economy isn’t back. While Wall Street’s bull market is making America’s rich even richer, most Americans continue to be mired in a housing crisis that’s worsening — and in which the Wall Street banks seem blissfully disinterested, and the Administration incapable of stemming.

Add/view comments on this post.

------------------------------

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link above.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...