24 de julio de 2008

Otra (y muy buena) explicación del relajo en el sector hipotecario norteamericano

En dos columnas que publicó esta semana, Thomas Sowell (de quien ya hemos hablado) explica claramente el origen de la crisis en el sector hipotecario en los Estados Unidos y la manera en que el gobierno contribuyó a generar la difícil situación que se ha extendido a varios sectores.

Aquí y aquí las columnas.

Aquí los párrafos más relevantes de ambos textos:


In one of those front-page editorials disguised as "news" stories, the New York Times blames "the lucrative lending practices" of banks and other financial institutions for helping create the current financial crisis of millions of borrowers and of the financial system in general...

It must take either a willful determination to believe whatever they want to believe or a cynical desire to propagandize their readers for the New York Times to call "lucrative" the lending practices that have caused many lenders to lose millions of dollars, some to lose billions and some to go bankrupt themselves...

Before going further down that road, it may be useful to look back at what got us into this mess in the first place...

It was not that many years ago when there was moral outrage ringing throughout the media because lenders were reluctant to lend in certain neighborhoods and because banks did not approve mortgage loan applications from blacks as often as they approved mortgage loan applications from whites...

All this was an opening salvo in a campaign to get Congress to pass laws forcing lenders to lend to people they would not otherwise lend to and in places where they would not otherwise put their money...

The practice of not lending in some neighborhoods was demonized as "redlining" and the fact that minority applicants were approved for mortgages only 72 percent of the time, while whites were approved 89 percent, was called "overwhelming" evidence of discrimination by the Washington Post...

As for racial differences in mortgage loan application approval rates, that does not tell you much if you are comparing apples and oranges. Income, credit history and net worth are just some of the things that are very different from one group to another...

It was government intervention in the financial markets, which is now supposed to save the situation, that created the problem in the first place...

Laws and regulations pressured lending institutions to lend to people that they were not lending to, given the economic realities. The Community Reinvestment Act forced them to lend in places where they did not want to send their money, and where neither they nor the politicians wanted to walk...

Now that this whole situation has blown up in everybody's face, the government intervention that brought on this disaster in is supposed to save the day...

How did the government help create the current financial mess? Let me count the ways...

In addition to federal laws that pressure lenders to lend to people they would not otherwise lend to, and in places where they would otherwise not invest, state and local governments have in various parts of the country so severely restricted building as to lead to skyrocketing housing prices, which in turn have led many people to resort to "creative financing" in order to buy these artificially more expensive homes...

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve System brought interest rates down to such low levels that "creative financing" with interest-only mortgage loans enabled people to buy houses that they could not otherwise afford...

Since everyone knew that the Federal Reserve System's extremely low interest rates were not going to last forever, much "creative financing" also involved adjustable-rate mortgages, where the interest charged by the lender would rise when interest rates in the economy as a whole rose...

In the housing market, a difference of a couple of percentage points in the interest rate can make a big difference in the monthly mortgage payment...

For someone who buys a house costing half a million dollars— which can be a very small house in many parts of coastal California— the difference between paying 4 percent and 6 percent interest would amount to more than $7,000 a year...

For people who have had to stretch to the limit to buy a house, an increase of $7,000 a year in their mortgage payments can be enough to push them over the edge financially...

In other words, government laws and policies at federal, state and local levels have had the net effect of putting both borrowers and lenders way out on a limb...


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