~Welcome to the Econo-Almanac~

I started this website in mid-2004 to chronicle San Diego’s spectacular housing bubble.  The purpose of the site remains, as ever, to provide objective and evidence-based analysis of the San Diego housing market. A quick guide to the site follows:

  • New visitors are advised to begin with the Bubble Primer or (if wondering about the site name) the FAQ list.
  • Housing articles I’ve written are found in the main section below.
  • Discussion topics posted by site users are found in the “Active Forum Topics” box to the lower right.
  • This website is an avocation; by day I help people with their investments as a financial advisor*.  Market commentary and more can be found on my firm's website.

Thanks for stopping by…

Shadow Inventory Looms

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 21, 2009 - 4:58pm

It seems that enough people expressed interest in attending Thursday's economic forum that they had to move to a bigger venue over at the USD campus. So if you were planning on attending, please be sure to check out the updated location info.

Moving on, I wanted to highlight some really interesting analysis recently performed by realtor and fellow panelist Jim Klinge.

I have been writing for some time about the strange mixed signals being sent by housing inventory and foreclosure activity. Housing inventory is at a level that, superficially, would indicate a fairly healthy market. Yet homes are going into foreclosure at a very rapid pace, a fact that leads one to believe that a lot of must-sell inventory could eventually hit the market.

In a recent pair of blog posts (here and here), Jim and a colleague have attempted to quantify these opposing forces.

continue reading at voiceofsandiego.org

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A New High for Unemployment

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 17, 2009 - 11:31am

San Diego unemployment hit 9.3 percent in March. This is the highest level in the three-decade history of the unemployment data series.

The below chart shows unemployment trends now and during the prior two recessions. In addition to the magnitude of unemployment, the abruptness of the rise surpasses anything seen in the last two downturns.

continue reading at voiceofsandiego.org

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The Foreclosure Onslaught Continues

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 14, 2009 - 5:01pm

(Note: The KPBS These Days appearance is archived here for anyone interested).

The number of San Diego properties entering foreclosure hit an all-time high last month, as illustrated by the blue line in the following graph:

In the month of March, 4,260 homes received default notices, which are nastygrams informing delinquent borrowers that they are in foreclosure.

continue reading at voiceofsandiego.org

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Post-Boom Mortgage Fraud

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 11, 2009 - 11:47am

Kelly and Will over at voiceofsandiego.org broke the story yesterday on a huge condo scam involving overpaying for condos with loans made to straw buyers.

What's interesting is that this all happened in the midst of the bust in mid-2008, after lending had tightened up. The scammers even paid 20% down -- but the prices were inflated by so much (sometimes more than 100%) that the 20% down was easily recouped.

What's also interesting is that the straw buyers willingly lent their identities to this guy:

This is just an investigation by some journalists -- no law enforcement agencies were involved (yet, anyway). I wonder how much of this kind of stuff has been going on out there?

You can read the whole piece here.

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March 2009 Resale Data Rodeo

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 8, 2009 - 7:17pm

Before we begin, let me get a couple instances of pimping out of the way.

First, I will be on "These Days" on NPR this coming Monday, April 13, at 9:00AM.

Second, I will be on a VoiceOfSanDiego.org panel called "The Economy: Where Are We Really?" on April 23. Details can be found here. Rock star realtor and media sensation Jim Klinge will also be there, along with the Voice's Kelly Bennett and USD economist Ryan Ratcliff.

Incidentally, I always turn down "panel" invitations for a variety reasons, not the least of which is that they are fairly nerve-wracking. But since the Voice was putting this one on I figured I should be a team player and participate. So feel free to attend if you want to see me all uncomfortable and whatnot.

OK, onto the rodeo.

The size-adjusted median fell for the month, as we've all come to expect:

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March Resale Home Prices

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 7, 2009 - 10:54am

I will have the complete March rodeo up this week; in the meantime, I have written up (and graphed) the March size-adjusted median price figures at voiceofsandiego.org.

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Bubble Logic Through the Ages

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 6, 2009 - 2:16pm

My friend Randy Dotinga, a freelance writer who sometimes writes for voiceofsandiego.org, dug up the following ad while researching a story:


(click the image for a large version)

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The Case of the Plummeting Price Tiers

Submitted by Rich Toscano on April 4, 2009 - 10:25am

In reaction to the latest Case-Shiller home price graphs, a few readers have asked how a property worth not much more than $400,000 can be considered a member of the "high-priced tier."

The answer is that there is no considering about it. Each month, the Case-Shiller price tiers are calculated by separating all sold homes into thirds by price. The high-priced tier represents not someone's subjective idea of what comprises a high-priced San Diego home, but rather the most expensive one-third of homes sold during the measurement period.

For January's Case-Shiller index, the cutoff between the top one-third and the middle one-third was $419,143. The cutoff between the middle one-third and lowest-priced one-third of homes sold was about $284,375.

The tier cutoffs, and especially the one between the high- and mid-priced tiers, used to be a lot higher.

continue reading at voiceofsandiego.org

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Case-Shiller Chart Roundup

Submitted by Rich Toscano on March 31, 2009 - 5:15pm

Kelly Bennett has written several words about today's release of the Case-Shiller index for January, so I'll largely just supplement with a few charts.

Here is a look at the decline from the peak for all three price tiers:

Note that the high-priced tier once again fell hardest last month. Relative weakness in this tier is a fairly new development, as the graph makes clear.

continue reading at voiceofsandiego.org

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Shambling Towards Affordability (December 2008 Edition)

Submitted by Rich Toscano on March 24, 2009 - 4:43pm

Based on their historical relationships with rents and incomes, San Diego home prices are now reasonable.

There. I said it.

The long-term price-to-income and price-to-rent graphs tell the tale:

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Still Bleeding Jobs

Submitted by Rich Toscano on March 20, 2009 - 3:05pm

February proved to be another brutal month for San Diego's job market, according to the EDD's latest estimates. The region is estimated to have lost 37,900 jobs between February 2008 and February 2009. This is a contraction of 2.9 percent.

Early in the downturn, the losses first showed up in the sectors with the most exposure to the housing bubble: construction, finance, and retail. By now, however, job losses are quite a bit more widespread. This is evident in the following graph, which shows the year-over-year change in employment for the three most bubble-exposed sectors, the remainder of the economy, and all sectors in total:

continue reading at voiceofsandiego.org

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Mortgage Defaults Hit All-Time Highs

Submitted by Rich Toscano on March 18, 2009 - 3:46am

A record number of San Diego mortgages went into default last month. 3,705 homes entered this initial stage of foreclosure, surpassing the previous high of 3,601 default notices delivered in April 2008.

Trustee sale notices, which occur later in the foreclosure process, remained well below their records, but since they lag default notices it is reasonable to expect that they will rise soon as well.

The following graph shows that the default respite enabled by a late-2008 change to state law was short-lived:

continue reading at voiceofsandiego.org

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Weekend Fun, or Possibly Quasi-Fun

Submitted by Rich Toscano on March 13, 2009 - 6:00pm

Below, please find a few tidbits to aid in any weekend procrastination you might be planning.

First, I'll be on KOGO (that would be the radio, AM 600) on Sunday at noon chatting with my buddy Scott Lewis, editor of voiceofsandiego.org, about housing and ye olde inflation/deflation debate. I know what we'll be talking about because we already recorded the segment, which was about 20 minutes long.

So tune in to hear the part where I know I have another a point to make, but I totally forget what it was, resulting some nice dead air. Smooooth.

The show should be archived here at some point.

Second, Jon Lansner of the OC Register is celebrating the 3-year anniversary of his housing blog by interviewing other housing bubble chroniclers. I'm up today.

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February 2009 Resale Data Rodeo

Submitted by Rich Toscano on March 10, 2009 - 7:40pm

Condos were whacked hardest again last month, at least as measured by the size-adjusted median price. That price indicator was down 6.4% for condos between January and February alone. The detached home size-adjusted median was down 3.0%, with a volume-weighted aggregate of the two down 3.8%.

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1990s Level Unemployment, Only Much Faster

Submitted by Rich Toscano on March 5, 2009 - 9:43pm

Today the California Employment Development Department revealed, unsurpringly, that San Diego's job losses have been severe. The latest update included a revision to last year's data, which painted a bleaker picture of recent months than had previous releases. (This is also unsurprising, given some of the statistical jiggering that takes place with the job numbers).

The graph below shows the year-over-year rate of change for the three hard-hit sectors related to housing, as well as the rest of the economy and all sectors combined. Remember, this is a rate of change graph. So if a line turns up but is still below zero, as in the case of finance, that means that the sector in question is still shrinking, but just not as quickly as before. And if a line is below zero but flat, as in construction, that means that the sector is still losing jobs, but is doing so at a steady rate.

continue reading at voiceofsandiego.org

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