Tag Archives: America

BRICS Bombshell Exposed: A “Fair Multipolar World” Where Oil Trade Bypasses The Dollar

Putin reveals ‘fair multipolar world’ concept in which oil contracts could bypass the US dollar and be traded with oil, yuan and gold…

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The annual BRICS summit in Xiamen – where President Xi Jinping was once mayor – could not intervene in a more incandescent geopolitical context.

Once again, it’s essential to keep in mind that the current core of BRICS is “RC”; the Russia-China strategic partnership. So in the Korean peninsula chessboard, RC context – with both nations sharing borders with the DPRK – is primordial.

Beijing has imposed a definitive veto on war – of which the Pentagon is very much aware.

Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, although planned way in advance, happened only three days after two nuclear-capable US B-1B strategic bombers conducted their own “test” alongside four F-35Bs and a few Japanese F-15s.

Everyone familiar with the Korean peninsula chessboard knew there would be a DPRK response to these barely disguised “decapitation” tests.

So it’s back to the only sound proposition on the table: the RC “double freeze”. Freeze on US/Japan/South Korea military drills; freeze on North Korea’s nuclear program; diplomacy takes over.

The White House, instead, has evoked ominous “nuclear capabilities” as a conflict resolution mechanism.

Gold mining in the Amazon, anyone?

On the Doklam plateau front, at least New Delhi and Beijing decided, after two tense months, on “expeditious disengagement” of their border troops. This decision was directly linked to the approaching BRICS summit – where both India and China were set to lose face big time.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already tried a similar disruption gambit prior to the BRICS Goa summit last year. Then, he was adamant that Pakistan should be declared a “terrorist state”. The RC duly vetoed it.

Modi also ostensively boycotted the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Hangzhou last May, essentially because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

India and Japan are dreaming of countering BRI with a semblance of connectivity project; the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). To believe that the AAGC – with a fraction of the reach, breath, scope and funds available to BRI – may steal its thunder, is to enter prime wishful-thinking territory.

Still, Modi emitted some positive signs in Xiamen; “We are in mission-mode to eradicate poverty; to ensure health, sanitation, skills, food security, gender equality, energy, education.” Without this mammoth effort, India’s lofty geopolitical dreams are D.O.A.

Brazil, for its part, is immersed in a larger-than-life socio-political tragedy, “led” by a Dracula-esque, corrupt non-entity; Temer The Usurper. Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, hit Xiamen eager to peddle “his” 57 major, ongoing privatizations to Chinese investors – complete with corporate gold mining in an Amazon nature reserve the size of Denmark. Add to it massive social spending austerity and hardcore anti-labor legislation, and one’s got the picture of Brazil currently being run by Wall Street. The name of the game is to profit from the loot, fast.

The BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB) – a counterpart to the World Bank – is predictably derided all across the Beltway. Xiamen showed how the NDB is only starting to finance BRICS projects. It’s misguided to compare it with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). They will be investing in different types of projects – with the AIIB more focused on BRI. Their aim is complementary.

‘BRICS Plus’ or bust

On the global stage, the BRICS are already a major nuisance to the unipolar order. Xi politely put it in Xiamen as “we five countries [should] play a more active part in global governance”.

And right on cue Xiamen introduced “dialogues” with Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, Guinea and Tajikistan; that’s part of the road map for  “BRICS Plus” – Beijing’s conceptualization, proposed last March by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for expanding partnership/cooperation.

A further instance of “BRICS Plus” can be detected in the possible launch, before the end of 2017, of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – in the wake of the death of TPP.

Contrary to a torrent of Western spin, RCEP is not “led” by China.

Japan is part of it – and so is India and Australia alongside the 10 ASEAN members. The burning question is what kind of games New Delhi may be playing to stall RCEP in parallel to boycotting BRI.

Patrick Bond in Johannesburg has developed an important critique, arguing that “centrifugal economic forces” are breaking up the BRICS, thanks to over-production, excessive debt and de-globalization. He interprets the process as “the failure of Xi’s desired centripetal capitalism.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Never underestimate the power of Chinese centripetal capitalism – especially when BRI hits a higher gear.

Meet the oil/yuan/gold triad

It’s when President Putin starts talking that the BRICS reveal their true bombshell. Geopolitically and geo-economically, Putin’s emphasis is on a “fair multipolar world”, and “against protectionism and new barriers in global trade.” The message is straight to the point.

The Syria game-changer – where Beijing silently but firmly supported Moscow – had to be evoked; “It was largely thanks to the efforts of Russia and other concerned countries that conditions have been created to improve the situation in Syria.”

On the Korean peninsula, it’s clear how RC think in unison; “The situation is balancing on the brink of a large-scale conflict.”

Putin’s judgment is as scathing as the – RC-proposed – possible solution is sound; “Putting pressure on Pyongyang to stop its nuclear missile program is misguided and futile. The region’s problems should only be settled through a direct dialogue of all the parties concerned without any preconditions.”

Putin’s – and Xi’s – concept of multilateral order is clearly visible in the wide-ranging Xiamen Declaration, which proposes an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace and national reconciliation process, “including the Moscow Format of consultations” and the “Heart of Asia-Istanbul process”.

That’s code for an all-Asian (and not Western) Afghan solution brokered by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), led by RC, and of which Afghanistan is an observer and future full member.

And then, Putin delivers the clincher;

“Russia shares the BRICS countries’ concerns over the unfairness of the global financial and economic architecture, which does not give due regard to the growing weight of the emerging economies. We are ready to work together with our partners to promote international financial regulation reforms and to overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies.”

“To overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies” is the politest way of stating what the BRICS have been discussing for years now; how to bypass the US dollar, as well as the petrodollar.

Beijing is ready to step up the game. Soon China will launch a crude oil futures contract priced in yuan and convertible into gold.

This means that Russia – as well as Iran, the other key node of Eurasia integration – may bypass US sanctions by trading energy in their own currencies, or in yuan.

Inbuilt in the move is a true Chinese win-win; the yuan will be fully convertible into gold on both the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges.

The new triad of oil, yuan and gold is actually a win-win-win. No problem at all if energy providers prefer to be paid in physical gold instead of yuan. The key message is the US dollar being bypassed.

RC – via the Russian Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China – have been developing ruble-yuan swaps for quite a while now.

Once that moves beyond the BRICS to aspiring “BRICS Plus” members and then all across the Global South, Washington’s reaction is bound to be nuclear (hopefully, not literally).

Washington’s strategic doctrine rules RC should not be allowed by any means to be preponderant along the Eurasian landmass. Yet what the BRICS have in store geo-economically does not concern only Eurasia – but the whole Global South.

Sections of the War Party in Washington bent on instrumentalizing  India against China – or against RC – may be in for a rude awakening. As much as the BRICS may be currently facing varied waves of economic turmoil, the daring long-term road map, way beyond the Xiamen Declaration, is very much in place.

Punch Line: The U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) Chart

By Pepe Escobar | ZeroHedge

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‘Housing Bubble 2’ Has Bloomed Into Full Magnificence

The current housing boom has Dallas solidly in its grip. As in many cities around the US, prices are soaring, buyers are going nuts, sellers run the show, realtors are laughing all the way to the bank, and the media are having a field day. Nationwide, the median price of existing homes, at $236,400, as the National Association of Realtors sees it, is now 2.7% higher than it was even in July 2006, the insane peak of the crazy housing bubble that blew up with such spectacular results.

Housing Bubble 2 has bloomed into full magnificence: In many cities, the median price today is far higher, not just a little higher, than it was during the prior housing bubble, and excitement is once again palpable. Buy now, or miss out forever! A buying panic has set in.

And so the July edition of D Magazine – “Making Dallas Even Better,” is its motto – had this enticing cover, sent to me by David in Texas, titled, “The Great Dallas Land Rush”:

Dallas Land Rush

“Dallas Real Estate 2015: The Hottest Market Ever,” the subtitle says.

That’s true for many cities, including San Francisco. The “Boom Town,” as it’s now called, is where the housing market has gone completely out of whack, with a median condo price at $1.13 million and the median house price at $1.35 million. This entails some consequences [read… The San Francisco “Housing Crisis” Gets Ugly].

The fact that Housing Bubble 2 is now even more magnificent than the prior housing bubble, even while real incomes have stagnated or declined for all but the top earners, is another sign that the Fed, in its infinite wisdom, has succeeded elegantly in pumping up nearly all asset prices to achieve its “wealth effect.” And it continues to do so, come heck or high water. It has in this ingenious manner “healed” the housing market.

But despite the current “buying panic,” the soaring prices, and all the hoopla round them, there is a fly in the ointment: overall home ownership is plunging.

The home ownership rate dropped to 63.4% in the second quarter, not seasonally adjusted, according to a new report by the Census Bureau, down 1.3 percentage points from a year ago. The lowest since 1967!

home ownershipWolf Street

The process has been accelerating, instead of slowing down. The 1.2 percentage point plunge in 2014 was the largest annual drop in the history of the data series going back to 1965. And this year is on track to match this record: the drop over the first two quarters so far amounts to 0.6 percentage points. This accelerated drop in home ownership rates coincides with a sharp increase in home prices. Go figure.

The plunge in home ownership rates has spread across all age groups, but to differing degrees. Younger households have been hit the hardest. In the age group under 35, the home ownership rate in Q2 saw a slight uptick to 34.8%, from the dismal record low of 34.6% in the prior quarter. Either a feeble ray of hope or just one of the brief upticks, as in the past, to be succeeded by more down ticks on the way to lower lows.

This chart by the Economics and Strategy folks at National Bank Financial shows the different rates of home ownership by age group. The 35-year and under group is where the first-time buyers are concentrated; and they’re being sidelined, whether they have no interest in buying, or simply don’t make enough money to buy (represented by the sharply descending solid black line, left scale). Note how the oldest age group (dotted blue line, right scale) has recently started to cave as well:

homeownership ratesWolf Street

The bitter irony? In the same breath, the Census Bureau also reported that the rental vacancy rate dropped to 6.8%, from 7.5% a year ago, the lowest since 1985. America is turning into a country of renters.

This chart shows the dynamics between home ownership rates (black line, left scale) and rental vacancy rates (red line, right scale) over time: they essentially rise and dive together. It makes sense on an intuitive basis: as people abandon the idea of owning a home, they turn into renters, and the rental market tightens up, and vacancy rates decline.

homeownership rate v rental vacancy rateWolf Street

This too has been by design, it seems. Since 2012, private equity firms bought several hundred thousand vacant single-family homes in key markets, drove up prices in the process, and started to rent them out. Thousands of smaller investors have jumped into the fray, buying homes, driving up prices, and trying to rent them out. This explains the record median home price across the country, and the totally crazy price increases in some key markets, even as regular Americans are trying to figure out how to pay for a basic roof over their heads.

This has worked out well. By every measure, rents have jumped. According to the Census Bureau’s report, the median asking rent in the US rose 6.2% from a year ago, and 17.6% since 2011. So inflation bites. But the Fed is still desperately looking for signs of inflation and simply cannot find any.

And how much have incomes risen over these years to allow renters to meet these rising rents? OK, that was a rhetorical question. We already know what has been happening to incomes.

That’s what it always boils down to in the Fed’s salvation of the economy: people who can’t afford to pay the rising rents with their stagnant or declining incomes should borrow the money to make up the difference and then spend even more on consumer goods. After us, the deluge.

How to Zombie-Proof Your Home (Just in Case)

by Michael Park

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It’s only natural to make hypothetical plans for fortifying your home—just in case the human dead rise from their graves and wander the earth, feasting on the flesh of the living. Totally normal.

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OK, it’s not all that normal, but it’s fun. But of course your spouse is freaking out when he or she sees you drawing up blueprints for a moat surrounding your house. And he or she has a good point: How much would zombie fortifications cost? And what would they do for the value of your home?

Well, let’s take a look. We’ll consider the most critical zombie-proofing improvements you can make for your home, keeping in mind that CONOP 8888, the Pentagon’s zombie-invasion plan (seriously, it made a zombie-invasion plan—don’t worry, more as a thought exercise than for fear of an actual undead uprising … we hope), estimates that any zombie outbreak wouldn’t last more than 40 days. We’re also assuming that we’re dealing with slow, dumb “classic” George Romero-type zombies, rather than fast Danny Boyle-style zombies.

Doors

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The first thing you’re going to want to do to shore up your zombie defenses is to strengthen the most obvious points of entry: outside doors. At the lowest end of the scale, you can follow the lead of 99% of your zombie-movie victims and board up your doors with a series of two-by-fours, four-by-eight sheets of plywood, and long nails, essentially barricading yourself inside your home till the cavalry comes. That’ll set you back little more than the cost of a nail gun, wood, and nails ($200–$300), and it’s not a permanent addition to the house, so you won’t affect the price of the home—unless you’re really horrible at using a nail gun. The downside is that your defenses will be as strong as your carpentry, and as soon as that first zombie gets its fingers into a weak point, your entire home is compromised.

An intermediate step is a security bar or security gate on the doors, which is a permanent addition to the home that frees you up to spend your first zombie-outbreak hours on quickie weapons training and other pressing needs instead of noisily hammering a bunch of wood planks to the walls. Security bars and security gates can run anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars before installation costs (you’ll want to get them professionally installed, so that they’re anchored securely), and they probably won’t affect the value of your home for good or ill. But, as the inimitable zombie expert Max Brooks points out in “The Zombie Survival Guide,” “Experience has shown that as few as three walking dead can tear them down in less than twenty-four hours.”

Your best bet, and not necessarily your most expensive, is installing high-end steel doors at entry points, with steel frames and heavy-duty locks (remember to get secure bolt-style locks for the bottom of the door, too). A big plus is that steel doors generally run cheaper than wooden doors. But they tend to show more wear and need to be replaced more often, because they don’t weather the elements well (the salt air of homes near the oceans, for example, can quickly corrode steel doors). Expect the cost of an exterior steel door, with installation fees, to start at about $500 at the lowest end. But this may be the easiest zombie-proofing improvement to sell to a more practical-minded spouse: According to remodeling.hw.net, which tracks the cost of home improvements vs. their resale value, replacing an existing front door with a midrange 20-gauge steel door is worth 117% more than the money you put into it (an average cost of $1,230 vs. an average value of $1,446).

Windows

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For some reason, Hollywood zombies seem to prefer trying to get to living people through the windows rather than the front door. Hollywood heroes tend to respond by dragging flimsy furniture in front of the bay windows and then hoping for the best. But you can do better!

If you want to keep things as cheap as possible, go the two-by-four route again. Assuming you already bought a nail gun for the door and still have a bucket of nails to dig into, you’ll have only to shell out for a few more two-by-fours for first-floor and basement windows—a couple of bucks per plank, or $15 or so for a four-by-eight sheet of 5/8-inch plywood. Reinforcing all the windows of, say a six-window first floor might run as little as $100.

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A better, but vastly more expensive, bet would be to install hurricane shutters on all your first-floor windows—essentially the same kind of roll-down steel gates that city shopkeepers pull down to secure their stores at the end of the night. They’re easy to operate, offer the best protection for existing windows against both zombies and storms, and, depending on where you live, could greatly increase the value of your home.

“In a place like Florida, which sees a lot of storms, hurricane shutters would be very positive,” says Bill Lublin, CEO of Century 21 Advantage Gold. “And they roll up and go out of the way, so even in the Northeast, you’d probably see some slight improvement, or they’d be revenue-neutral.”

The downside? Price. Hurricane shutters cost a pretty penny—around $55 per square foot.

Rooftop and basement defenses

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If you’ve watched any zombie movie, you know you’ll be spending a lot of your time waiting out the undead apocalypse on rooftops and in basements. So it makes sense that you prepare by getting those two locations shipshape now.

Rooftops are an ideal location to serve as a lookout for incoming zombie hordes, as a sniper’s nest for reanimated attackers, and to enjoy sunshine in relative safety—classic zombies aren’t big climbers, after all. The roof could easily end up being your command-and-control headquarters. All you really need to make your roof a usable perch is some cushions from the couch, a thermos of coffee, and an extra ladder that you can use to escape in case the house itself is compromised (a two-story escape ladder runs about $60).

But, if you don’t already have one, a roof deck could be a much more comfortable and functional space. First, check with your local zoning laws about whether you’re allowed to put up a roof deck. Then make sure your house can actually support a deck up there—a deck isn’t going to do much good if all it does is add a gaping hole to your roof. From that point, you should count on a roof deck running you at least $3,000 (depending on the materials you use, size, and circumstances of your home) and likely more in the $10,000 range or higher (keep in mind that you might have to put in stairs and pay for an additional safety assessment). The great thing about roof decks, though, is that they can be great for property value.

“If you’re down the Jersey shore and you’ve got a rooftop view of the ocean, or a skyline view of Center City, Philadelphia, a rooftop deck provides good value,” Lublin says. “If there’s good interior egress to it, it’s a great place to drop that deck.”

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Though Brooks advises strongly against relying on basements (his primary advice for people besieged in houses is to get to the second floor and destroy the staircase), 40 days is a long time to spend hanging out in your sister’s bedroom. If you’re confident the windows and doors are secure, it might be worthwhile turning the basement into a place to keep not just necessary supplies but also recreational material—as long as the undead outside can’t see or hear you, of course. With a home generator and a decent library of DVDs, a finished basement can help survivors fend off cabin fever or worse till help comes—and as we all know from watching “The Walking Dead,” living human beings are their own worst enemies. Plus: excellent excuse to finally get that man cave you wanted!

“A finished basement, maybe with a nice kitchen or alternative food-preparation area and home theater with recliners and good video or audio media, would be beneficial for the zombie apocalypse and add to value,” Lublin says.

Border security

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What about keeping the zombies away from your home in the first place? If you want to go full medieval, you could rent a backhoe and dig a moat that’s at least six feet deep and 10 feet wide around your home, then fill it with water. (You’d want to make sure it’s deep and steep enough that zombies can’t simply walk over one another to get to you.) Renting a full-size backhoe can cost between $200 and $350 a day, but you might consider just buying a used backhoe starting at around $7,000. That all, of course, is assuming that your town allows you to build a moat (it’s a good bet no), and not factoring in any additional costs for water bills, maintenance, the inevitable cleanup for when everyone in your area starts using it as a trash dump, and the permanent ill will of your neighbors. As for how much value a moat adds to your home, well…

“I don’t know—I’ve never sold a house with a moat,” Lublin says.

Common sense, of course, says that a gaping ring of stagnant water around your home is going to turn more home buyers off than on. Lublin says the best analogy might be with swimming pools in the North.

“Swimming pools sometimes have a negative impact on the value of a property, especially if the next person isn’t looking for one, and the geography means it’s only used so much for the year,” he says.

And remember, a moat is basically a giant, dirty swimming pool that no one wants and that no one gets to swim in, ever.

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A better choice might be a much more conventional chain-link fence, as Brooks suggests: “A good ten-foot, chain-link fence can hold dozens of zombies for weeks, even months, provided their numbers remain at Class 1.” A commercial-grade chain-link fence can run around $40 a foot, which can quickly add up if you’re trying to enclose your entire home. (That’s $100,000 off the bat to cover a lot that’s 100 feet by 25 feet, for example.) And 10-foot-high chain-link fences around a house make home buyers immediately assume that there are serious security concerns in the area, making the house that much harder to sell.

Brooks recommends a steel-rod-reinforced, concrete-filled cinder-block wall if you’re concerned about more serious “Class 2″ zombie outbreaks, but it’s much pricier, and walls topping eight feet require specialized machinery—don’t be surprised if your contractor quotes you a price of at least $200 per linear foot for a wall of 10 feet or higher. Your town officials and neighbors are almost certainly going to have a problem with this, and if you think a chain-link fence is going to put off potential home buyers, imagine what a 10-foot concrete wall will make them think.

Additional improvements

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A backup home generator could keep food and medical supplies from perishing, keep the lights, heat, and radios on, and help maintain sanity by letting everyone watch back seasons of “Mad Men.” And because it actually serves a genuine purpose in the real world, Lublin says it’s “a real plus” in any part of the country that’s ever experienced a blackout—which is probably all of them. Expect to pay between $3,000 and $7,000 for a natural-gas-powered backup generator for whole-home use, not including fuel and installation costs.

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Inexpensive security-camera systems are now also available that can help you keep tabs on zombie lurkers at blind points around the house—or errant kids and pets when there isn’t an undead uprising going on—Nest’s Dropcams run $150 a pop and stream wirelessly to your generator-powered computer.

Ultimately, though, Lublin recommends making the improvements you want for your home regardless of the zombie situation.

“I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about zombies, though it never does hurt to be prepared,” he says. “Consulting a Realtor® is always a good idea to ensure that an improvement is actually going to add to the value of your home.

Junk-Rated Oil & Gas Companies in a “Liquidity Death Spiral”

by Wolf Richter

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On the face of it, the oil price appears to be stabilizing. What a precarious balance it is, however.

Behind the facade of stability, the re-balancing triggered by the price collapse has yet to run its course, and it might be overly optimistic to expect it to proceed smoothly. Steep drops in the US rig count have been a key driver of the price rebound. Yet US supply so far shows precious little sign of slowing down. Quite to the contrary, it continues to defy expectations.

So said the International Energy Agency in its Oil Market Report on Friday. West Texas Intermediate plunged over 4% to $45 a barrel.

The boom in US oil production will continue “to defy expectations” and wreak havoc on the price of oil until the power behind the boom dries up: money borrowed from yield-chasing investors driven to near insanity by the Fed’s interest rate repression. But that money isn’t drying up yet – except at the margins.

Companies have raked in 14% more money from high-grade bond sales so far this year than over the same period in 2014, according to LCD. And in 2014 at this time, they were 27% ahead of the same period in 2013. You get the idea.

Even energy companies got to top off their money reservoirs. Among high-grade issuers over just the last few days were BP Capital, Valero Energy, Sempra Energy, Noble, and Helmerich & Payne. They’re all furiously bringing in liquidity before it gets more expensive.

In the junk-bond market, bond-fund managers are chasing yield with gusto. Last week alone, pro-forma junk bond issuance “ballooned to $16.48 billion, the largest weekly tally in two years,” the LCD HY Weekly reported. Year-to-date, $79.2 billion in junk bonds have been sold, 36% more than in the same period last year.

But despite this drunken investor enthusiasm, the bottom of the energy sector – junk-rated smaller companies – is falling out.

Standard & Poor’s rates 170 bond issuers that are engaged in oil and gas exploration & production, oil field services, and contract drilling. Of them, 81% are junk rated – many of them deep junk. The oil bust is now picking off the smaller junk-rated companies, one after the other, three of them so far in March.

On March 3, offshore oil-and-gas contractor CalDive that in 2013 still had 1,550 employees filed for bankruptcy. It’s focused on maintaining offshore production platforms. But some projects were suspended last year, and lenders shut off the spigot.

On March 8, Dune Energy filed for bankruptcy in Austin, TX, after its merger with Eos Petro collapsed. It listed $144 million in debt. Dune said that it received $10 million Debtor in Possession financing, on the condition that the company puts itself up for auction.

On March 9, BPZ Resources traipsed to the courthouse in Houston to file for bankruptcy, four days after I’d written about its travails; it had skipped a $60 million payment to its bondholders [read… “Default Monday”: Oil & Gas Companies Face Their Creditors].

And more companies are “in the pipeline to be restructured,” LCD reported. They all face the same issues: low oil and gas prices, newly skittish bond investors, and banks that have their eyes riveted on the revolving lines of credit with which these companies fund their capital expenditures. Being forever cash-flow negative, these companies periodically issue bonds and use the proceeds to pay down their revolver when it approaches the limit. In many cases, the bank uses the value of the company’s oil and gas reserves to determine that limit.

If the prices of oil and gas are high, those reserves have a high value. It those prices plunge, the borrowing base for their revolving lines of credit plunges. S&P Capital IQ explained it this way in its report, “Waiting for the Spring… Will it Recoil”:

Typically, banks do their credit facility redeterminations in April and November with one random redetermination if needed. With oil prices plummeting, we expect banks to lower their price decks, which will then lead to lower reserves and thus, reduced borrowing-base availability.

April is coming up soon. These companies would then have to issue bonds to pay down their credit lines. But with bond fund managers losing their appetite for junk-rated oil & gas bonds, and with shares nearly worthless, these companies are blocked from the capital markets and can neither pay back the banks nor fund their cash-flow negative operations. For many companies, according to S&P Capital IQ, these redeterminations of their credit facilities could lead to a “liquidity death spiral.”

Alan Holtz, Managing Director in AlixPartners’ Turnaround and Restructuring group told LCD in an interview:

We are already starting to see companies that on the one hand are trying to work out their operational problems and are looking for financing or a way out through the capital markets, while on the other hand are preparing for the events of contingency planning or bankruptcy.

Look at BPZ Resources. It wasn’t able to raise more money and ended up filing for bankruptcy. “I think that is going to be a pattern for many other companies out there as well,” Holtz said.

When it trickled out on Tuesday that Hercules Offshore, which I last wrote about on March 3, had retained Lazard to explore options for its capital structure, its bonds plunged as low as 28 cents on the dollar. By Friday, its stock closed at $0.41 a share.

When Midstates Petroleum announced that it had hired an interim CEO and put a restructuring specialist on its board of directors, its bonds got knocked down, and its shares plummeted 33% during the week, closing at $0.77 a share on Friday.

When news emerged that Walter Energy hired legal counsel Paul Weiss to explore restructuring options, its first-lien notes – whose investors thought they’d see a reasonable recovery in case of bankruptcy – dropped to 64.5 cents on the dollar by Thursday. Its stock plunged 63% during the week to close at $0.33 a share on Friday.

Numerous other oil and gas companies are heading down that path as the oil bust is working its way from smaller more vulnerable companies to larger ones. In the process, stockholders get wiped out. Bondholders get to fight with other creditors over the scraps. But restructuring firms are licking their chops, after a Fed-induced dry spell that had lasted for years.

Investors Crushed as US Natural Gas Drillers Blow Up

by Wolf Richter

The Fed speaks, the dollar crashes. The dollar was ripe. The entire world had been bullish on it. Down nearly 3% against the euro, before recovering some. The biggest drop since March 2009. Everything else jumped. Stocks, Treasuries, gold, even oil.

West Texas Intermediate had been experiencing its biggest weekly plunge since January, trading at just above $42 a barrel, a new low in the current oil bust. When the Fed released its magic words, WTI soared to $45.34 a barrel before re-sagging some. Even natural gas rose 1.8%. Energy related bonds had been drowning in red ink; they too rose when oil roared higher. It was one heck of a party.

But it was too late for some players mired in the oil and gas bust where the series of Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings continues. Next in line was Quicksilver Resources.

It had focused on producing natural gas. Natural gas was where the fracking boom got started. Fracking has a special characteristic. After a well is fracked, it produces a terrific surge of hydrocarbons during first few months, and particularly on the first day. Many drillers used the first-day production numbers, which some of them enhanced in various ways, in their investor materials. Investors drooled and threw more money at these companies that then drilled this money into the ground.

But the impressive initial production soon declines sharply. Two years later, only a fraction is coming out of the ground. So these companies had to drill more just to cover up the decline rates, and in order to drill more, they needed to borrow more money, and it triggered a junk-rated energy boom on Wall Street.

At the time, the price of natural gas was soaring. It hit $13 per million Btu at the Henry Hub in June 2008. About 1,600 rigs were drilling for gas. It was the game in town. And Wall Street firms were greasing it with other people’s money. Production soared. And the US became the largest gas producer in the world.

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But then the price began to plunge. It recovered a little after the Financial Crisis but re-plunged during the gas “glut.” By April 2012, natural gas had crashed 85% from June 2008, to $1.92/mmBtu. With the exception of a few short periods, it has remained below $4/mmBtu – trading at $2.91/mmBtu today.

Throughout, gas drillers had to go back to Wall Street to borrow more money to feed the fracking orgy. They were cash-flow negative. They lost money on wells that produced mostly dry gas. Yet they kept up the charade. They aced investor presentations with fancy charts. They raved about new technologies that were performing miracles and bringing down costs. The theme was that they would make their investors rich at these gas prices.

The saving grace was that oil and natural-gas liquids, which were selling for much higher prices, also occur in many shale plays along with dry gas. So drillers began to emphasize that they were drilling for liquids, not dry gas, and they tried to switch production to liquids-rich plays. In that vein, Quicksilver ventured into the oil-rich Permian Basin in Texas. But it was too little, too late for the amount of borrowed money it had already burned through over the years by fracking for gas below cost.

During the terrible years of 2011 and 2012, drillers began reclassifying gas rigs as rigs drilling for oil. It was a judgement call, since most wells produce both. The gas rig count plummeted further, and the oil rig count skyrocketed by about the same amount. But gas production has continued to rise since, even as the gas rig count has continued to drop. On Friday, the rig count was down to 257 gas rigs, the lowest since March 1993, down 84% from its peak in 2008.

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Quicksilver’s bankruptcy is a consequence of this fracking environment. It listed $2.35 billion in debts. That’s what is left from its borrowing binge that covered its negative cash flows. It listed only $1.21 billion in assets. The rest has gone up in smoke.

Its shares are worthless. Stockholders got wiped out. Creditors get to fight over the scraps.

Its leveraged loan was holding up better: the $625 million covenant-lite second-lien term loan traded at 56 cents on the dollar this morning, according to S&P Capital IQ LCD. But its junk bonds have gotten eviscerated over time. Its 9.125% senior notes due 2019 traded at 17.6 cents on the dollar; its 7.125% subordinated notes due 2016 traded at around 2 cents on the dollar.

Among its creditors, according to the Star Telegram: the Wilmington Trust National Association ($361.6 million), Delaware Trust Co. ($332.6 million), US Bank National Association ($312.7 million), and several pipeline companies, including Oasis Pipeline and Energy Transfer Fuel.

Last year, it hired restructuring advisers. On February 17, it announced that it would not make a $13.6 million interest payment on its senior notes and invoked the possibility of filing for Chapter 11. It said it would use its 30-day grace period to haggle with its creditors over the “company’s options.”

Now, those 30 days are up. But there were no other “viable options,” the company said in the statement. Its Canadian subsidiary was not included in the bankruptcy filing; it reached a forbearance agreement with its first lien secured lenders and has some breathing room until June 16.

Quicksilver isn’t alone in its travails. Samson Resources and other natural gas drillers are stuck neck-deep in the same frack mud.

A group of private equity firms, led by KKR, had acquired Samson in 2011 for $7.2 billion. Since then, Samson has lost $3 billion. It too hired restructuring advisers to deal with its $3.75 billion in debt. On March 2, Moody’s downgraded Samson to Caa3, pointing at “chronically low natural gas prices,” “suddenly weaker crude oil prices,” the “stressed liquidity position,” and delays in asset sales. It invoked the possibility of “a debt restructuring” and “a high risk of default.”

But maybe not just yet. The New York Post reported today that, according to sources, a JPMorgan-led group, which holds a $1 billion revolving line of credit, is granting Samson a waiver for an expected covenant breach. This would avert default for the moment. Under the deal, the group will reduce the size of the revolver. Last year, the same JPMorgan-led group already reduced the credit line from $1.8 billion to $1 billion and waived a covenant breach.

By curtailing access to funding, they’re driving Samson deeper into what S&P Capital IQ called the “liquidity death spiral.” According to the New York Post’s sources, in August the company has to make an interest payment to its more junior creditors, “and may run out of money later this year.”

Industry soothsayers claimed vociferously over the years that natural gas drillers can make money at these prices due to new technologies and efficiencies. They said this to attract more money. But Quicksilver along with Samson Resources and others are proof that these drillers had been drilling below the cost of production for years. And they’d been bleeding every step along the way. A business model that lasts only as long as new investors are willing to bail out old investors.

But it was the crash in the price of “liquids” that made investors finally squeamish, and they began to look beyond the hype. In doing so, they’re triggering the very bloodletting amongst each other that ever more new money had delayed for years. Only now, it’s a lot more expensive for them than it would have been three years ago. While the companies will get through it in restructured form, investors get crushed.


25 Percent of all U.S. Foreclosures Are Zombie Homes

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RealtyTrac’s Q1 2015 Zombie Foreclosure Report, found that as of the end of January 2015, 142,462 homes actively in the foreclosure process had been vacated by the homeowners prior to the bank repossessing the property, representing 25 percent of all active foreclosures.

The total number of zombie foreclosures was down 6 percent from a year ago, but the 25 percent share of total foreclosures represented by zombies was up from 21 percent a year ago.

“While the number of vacated zombie foreclosures is down from a year ago, they represent an increasing share of all foreclosures because they tend to be the problem cases still stuck in the pipeline,” said Daren Blomquist vice president at RealtyTrac. “Additionally, the states where overall foreclosure activity has been increasing over the past year — counter to the national trend — tend to be states with a longer foreclosure process more susceptible to the zombie problem.”

“In states with a bloated foreclosure process, the increase in zombie foreclosures is actually a good sign that banks and courts are finally moving forward with a resolution on these properties that may have been sitting in foreclosure limbo for years,” Blomquist continued. “In many markets there is plenty of demand from buyers and investors to snatch up these distressed properties as soon as they become available to purchase.”

Florida, New Jersey, New York have most zombie foreclosures

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Despite a 35 percent decrease in zombie foreclosures compared to a year ago, Florida had the highest number of any state with 35,903 — down from 54,908 in the first quarter of 2014. Zombie foreclosures accounted for 26 percent of all foreclosures in Florida.

Zombie foreclosures increased 109 percent from a year ago in New Jersey, and the state posted the second highest total of any state with 17,983 — 23 percent of all properties in foreclosure.

New York zombie foreclosures increased 54 percent from a year ago to 16,777, the third highest state total and representing 19 percent of all residential properties in foreclosure.

Illinois had 9,358 zombie foreclosures at the end of January, down 40 percent from a year ago but still the fourth highest state total, while California had 7,370 zombie foreclosures at the end of January, up 24 percent from a year ago and the fifth highest state total. 

“We are now in the final cycle of the foreclosure crisis cleanup, in which we are witnessing a large final wave of walkaways,” said Mark Hughes, Chief Operating Officer at First Team Real Estate, covering the Southern California market. “This has created an uptick in vacated or ‘zombie’ foreclosures and the intrinsic neighborhood issues most of them create.

“A much longer recovery, a largely veiled underemployment issue, and growing examples of faster bad debt forgiveness have most likely fueled this last wave of owners who have finally just walked away from their American dream,” Hughes added.

Other states among the top 10 for most zombie foreclosures were Ohio (7,360), Indiana (5,217), Pennsylvania (4,937), Maryland (3,363) and North Carolina (3,177).

“Rising home prices in Ohio are motivating lending servicers to commence foreclosure actions more quickly and with fewer workout options offered to delinquent homeowners, creating immediate vacancies earlier in the foreclosure process,” said Michael Mahon, executive vice president at HER Realtors, covering the Ohio housing markets of Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. “Delinquent homeowners need to understand how prices have increased in recent months, and how this increase in equity may provide positive options for them to avoid foreclosure.”

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Metros with most zombie foreclosures: New York, Miami, Chicago, Tampa and Philadelphia. The greater New York metro area had by far the highest number of zombie foreclosures of any metropolitan statistical area nationwide, with 19,177 — 17 percent of all properties in foreclosure and up 73 percent from a year ago.

Zombie foreclosures decreased from a year ago in Miami, Chicago and Tampa, but the three metros still posted the second, third and fourth highest number of zombie foreclosures among metro areas nationwide: Miami had 9,580 zombie foreclosures,19 percent of all foreclosures but down 34 percent from a year ago; Chicago had 8,384 zombie foreclosures, 21 percent of all foreclosures but down 35 percent from a year ago; and Tampa had 7,838 zombie foreclosures, 34 percent of all foreclosures but down 25 percent from a year ago.

Zombie foreclosures increased 53 percent from a year ago in the Philadelphia metro area, giving it the fifth highest number of any metro nationwide in the first quarter of 2015. There were 7,554 zombie foreclosures in the Philadelphia metro area as of the end of January, 27 percent of all foreclosures.

Other metro areas among the top 10 for most zombie foreclosures were Orlando (3,718), Jacksonville, Florida (2,368), Los Angeles (2,074), Las Vegas (1,832), and Baltimore, Maryland (1,722).

Metros with highest share of zombie foreclosures: St. Louis, Portland, Las Vegas

Among metro areas with a population of 200,000 or more and at least 500 zombie foreclosures as of the end of January, those with the highest share of zombie foreclosures as a percentage of all foreclosures were St. Louis (51 percent), Portland (40 percent) and Las Vegas (36 percent).

Metros with biggest increase in zombie foreclosures: Atlantic City, Trenton, New York

Among metro areas with a population of 200,000 or more and at least 500 zombie foreclosures as of the end of January, those with the biggest year-over-year increase in zombie foreclosures were Atlantic City, New Jersey (up 133 percent), Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey (up 110 percent), and New York (up 73 percent).

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This Chart Shows the True Collapse of Fracking in the US

by Wolf Richter
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Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobile CEO

“People need to kinda settle in for a while.” That’s what Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson said about the low price of oil at the company’s investor conference. “I see a lot of supply out there.”

So Exxon is going to do its darnedest to add to this supply: 16 new production projects will start pumping oil and gas through 2017. Production will rise from 4 million barrels per day to 4.3 million. But it will spend less money to get there, largely because suppliers have had to cut their prices.

That’s the global oil story. In the US, a similar scenario is playing out. Drillers are laying some people off, not massive numbers yet. Like Exxon, they’re shoving big price cuts down the throats of their suppliers. They’re cutting back on drilling by idling the least efficient rigs in the least productive plays – and they’re not kidding about that.

In the latest week, they idled a 64 rigs drilling for oil, according to Baker Hughes, which publishes the data every Friday. Only 922 rigs were still active, down 42.7% from October, when they’d peaked. Within 21 weeks, they’ve taken out 687 rigs, the most terrific, vertigo-inducing oil-rig nose dive in the data series, and possibly in history:

US-rig-count_1988_2015-03-06=oilAs Exxon and other drillers are overeager to explain: just because we’re cutting capex, and just because the rig count plunges, doesn’t mean our production is going down. And it may not for a long time. Drillers, loaded up with debt, must have the cash flow from production to survive.

But with demand languishing, US crude oil inventories are building up further. Excluding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, crude oil stocks rose by another 10.3 million barrels to 444.4 million barrels as of March 4, the highest level in the data series going back to 1982, according to the Energy Information Administration. Crude oil stocks were 22% (80.6 million barrels) higher than at the same time last year.

“When you have that much storage out there, it takes a long time to work that off,” said BP CEO Bob Dudley, possibly with one eye on this chart:

US-crude-oil-stocks-2015-03-04So now there is a lot of discussion when exactly storage facilities will be full, or nearly full, or full in some regions. In theory, once overproduction hits used-up storage capacity, the price of oil will plummet to whatever level short sellers envision in their wildest dreams. Because: what are you going to do with all this oil coming out of the ground with no place to go?

A couple of days ago, the EIA estimated that crude oil stock levels nationwide on February 20 (when they were a lot lower than today) used up 60% of the “working storage capacity,” up from 48% last year at that time. It varied by region:

Capacity is about 67% full in Cushing, Oklahoma (the delivery point for West Texas Intermediate futures contracts), compared with 50% at this point last year. Working capacity in Cushing alone is about 71 million barrels, or … about 14% of the national total.

As of September 2014, storage capacity in the US was 521 million barrels. So if weekly increases amount to an average of 6 million barrels, it would take about 13 weeks to fill the 77 million barrels of remaining capacity. Then all kinds of operational issues would arise. Along with a dizzying plunge in price.

In early 2012, when natural gas hit a decade low of $1.92 per million Btu, they predicted the same: storage would be full, and excess production would have to be flared, that is burned, because there would be no takers, and what else are you going to do with it? So its price would drop to zero.

They actually proffered that, and the media picked it up, and regular folks began shorting natural gas like crazy and got burned themselves, because it didn’t take long for the price to jump 50% and then 100%.

Oil is a different animal. The driving season will start soon. American SUVs and pickups are designed to burn fuel in prodigious quantities. People will be eager to drive them a little more, now that gas is cheaper, and they’ll get busy shortly and fix that inventory problem, at least for this year. But if production continues to rise at this rate, all bets are off for next year.

Natural gas, though it refused to go to zero, nevertheless got re-crushed, and the price remains below the cost of production at most wells. Drilling activity has dwindled. Drillers idled 12 gas rigs in the latest week. Now only 268 rigs are drilling for gas, the lowest since April 1993, and down 83.4% from its peak in 2008! This is what the natural gas fracking boom-and-bust cycle looks like:

US-rig-count_1988_2015-03-06=gasYet production has continued to rise. Over the last 12 months, it soared about 9%, which is why the price got re-crushed.

Producing gas at a loss year after year has consequences. For the longest time, drillers were able to paper over their losses on natural gas wells with a variety of means and go back to the big trough and feed on more money that investors were throwing at them, because money is what fracking drills into the ground.

But that trough is no longer being refilled for some companies. And they’re running out. “Restructuring” and “bankruptcy” are suddenly the operative terms.


“Default Monday”: Oil & Gas Face Their Creditors

by Wolf Richter

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Debt funded the fracking boom. Now oil and gas prices have collapsed, and so has the ability to service that debt. The oil bust of the 1980s took down 700 banks, including 9 of the 10 largest in Texas. But this time, it’s different. This time, bondholders are on the hook.

And these bonds – they’re called “junk bonds” for a reason – are already cracking. Busts start with small companies and proceed to larger ones. “Bankruptcy” and “restructuring” are the terms that wipe out stockholders and leave bondholders and other creditors to tussle over the scraps.

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Early January, WBH Energy, a fracking outfit in Texas, kicked off the series by filing for bankruptcy protection. It listed assets and liabilities of $10 million to $50 million. Small fry.

A week later, GASFRAC filed for bankruptcy in Alberta, where it’s based, and in Texas – under Chapter 15 for cross-border bankruptcies. Not long ago, it was a highly touted IPO, whose “waterless fracking” technology would change a parched world. Instead of water, the system pumps liquid propane gel (similar to Napalm) into the ground; much of it can be recaptured, in theory.

Ironically, it went bankrupt for other reasons: operating losses, “reduced industry activity,” the inability to find a buyer that would have paid enough to bail out its creditors, and “limited access to capital markets.” The endless source of money without which fracking doesn’t work had dried up.

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On February 17, Quicksilver Resources announced that it would not make a $13.6 million interest payment on its senior notes due in 2019. It invoked the possibility of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to “restructure its capital structure.” Stockholders don’t have much to lose; the stock is already worthless. The question is what the creditors will get.

It has hired Houlihan Lokey Capital, Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics, “and other advisors.” During its 30-day grace period before this turns into an outright default, it will haggle with its creditors over the “company’s options.”

On February 27, Hercules Offshore had its share-price target slashed to zero, from $4 a share, at Deutsche Bank, which finally downgraded the stock to “sell.” If you wait till Deutsche Bank tells you to sell, you’re ruined!

When I wrote about Hercules on October 15, HERO was trading at $1.47 a share, down 81% since July. Those who followed the hype to “buy the most hated stocks” that day lost another 44% by the time I wrote about it on January 16, when HERO was at $0.82 a share. Wednesday, shares closed at $0.60.

Deutsche Bank was right, if late. HERO is headed for zero (what a trip to have a stock symbol that rhymes with zero). It’s going to restructure its junk debt. Stockholders will end up holding the bag.

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On Monday, due to “chronically low natural gas prices exacerbated by suddenly weaker crude oil prices,” Moody’s downgraded gas-driller Samson Resources, to Caa3, invoking “a high risk of default.”

It was the second time in three months that Moody’s downgraded the company. The tempo is picking up. Moody’s:

The company’s stressed liquidity position, delays in reaching agreements on potential asset sales and its retention of restructuring advisors increases the possibility that the company may pursue a debt restructuring that Moody’s would view as a default.

Moody’s was late to the party. On February 26, it was leaked that Samson had hired restructuring advisers Kirkland & Ellis and Blackstone’s restructuring group to figure out how to deal with its $3.75 billion in debt. A group of private equity firms, led by KKR, had acquired Samson in 2011 for $7.2 billion. Since then, Samson has lost $3 billion. KKR has written down its equity investment to 5 cents on the dollar.

This is no longer small fry.

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Also on Monday, oil-and-gas exploration and production company BPZ Resources announced that it would not pay $62 million in principal and interest on convertible notes that were due on March 1. It will use its grace period of 10 days on the principal and of 30 days on the interest to figure out how to approach the rest of its existence. It invoked Chapter 11 bankruptcy as one of the options.

If it fails to make the payments within the grace period, it would also automatically be in default of its 2017 convertible bonds, which would push the default to $229 million.

BPZ tried to refinance the 2015 convertible notes in October and get some extra cash. Fracking devours prodigious amounts of cash. But there’d been no takers for the $150 million offering. Even bond fund managers, driven to sheer madness by the Fed’s policies, had lost their appetite. And its stock is worthless.

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Also on Monday – it was “default Monday” or something – American Eagle Energy announced that it would not make a $9.8 million interest payment on $175 million in bonds due that day. It will use its 30-day grace period to hash out its future with its creditors. And it hired two additional advisory firms.

One thing we know already: after years in the desert, restructuring advisers are licking their chops.

The company has $13.6 million in negative working capital, only $25.9 million in cash, and its $60 million revolving credit line has been maxed out.

But here is the thing: the company sold these bonds last August! And this was supposed to be its first interest payment.

That’s what a real credit bubble looks like. In the Fed’s environment of near-zero yield on reasonable investments, bond fund managers are roving the land chasing whatever yield they can discern. And they’re holding their nose while they pick up this stuff to jam it into bond funds that other folks have in their retirement portfolio.

Not even a single interest payment!

Borrowed money fueled the fracking boom. The old money has been drilled into the ground. The new money is starting to dry up. Fracked wells, due to their horrendous decline rates, produce most of their oil and gas over the first two years. And if prices are low during that time, producers will never recuperate their investment in those wells, even if prices shoot up afterwards. And they’ll never be able to pay off the debt from the cash flow of those wells. A chilling scenario that creditors were blind to before, but are now increasingly forced to contemplate.

Dreaming Big: Americans Still Yearning for Larger Homes

by Ralph McLaughlin | Trulia

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43% of adults would prefer homes bigger than where they currently live, but attitudes differ by age. Baby boomers would prefer to upsize rather than downsize by only a small margin, while the gap among millennials is much wider, with GenXers falling in between. Would-be downsizers outnumber upsizers only among households living in the largest homes.

Last year, we found that Baby Boomers were especially unlikely to live in multi-unit housing. At the same time, we noted that the share of seniors living in multi-unit housing rather than single-family homes has been shrinking for decades. These findings got us thinking about how the generations vary in house-size preference. So we surveyed over 2000 people at the end of last year to figure out if boomers have different house-size preferences than their younger counterparts. And that led us to ask: What size homes do Americans really want?

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Most Americans are not living in the size home they want

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As a whole, Americans are living in a world of mismatch – only 40% of our respondents said they are living in the size home that’s ideal. Furthermore, over 43% answered that the size of their ideal residence is somewhat or much larger than their current digs. Only 16% told us that their ideal residence is smaller than their existing home. However, these overall figures mask what is going on within different generations.

It’s natural to think that baby boomers are the generation most likely to downsize.  After all, their nests are emptying and they may move when they retire.  As it turns out though, more boomers would prefer to live in a larger home than a smaller one: 21% said their ideal residence is smaller than their current home, while 26% wanted a larger home – a 5-percentage-point difference. Clearly, boomers don’t feel a massive yearn to downsize. On the contrary, just over half (53%) said they’re already living in their ideally sized home. Nonetheless, members of this generation are more likely to want to downsize than millennials and GenXers.

In fact, those younger generations want some elbow room. First, the millennials. They’re looking to move on up by a big margin: just over 60% told us their ideal residence is larger than where they live now – the largest proportion among the generations in our sample. By contrast, only a little over 13% of millennials said they’d rather have a smaller home than their existing one – which is also the smallest among the generations in our sample. The results are clear: millennials are much more likely to want to upsize than downsize.

The next generation up the ladder, the GenXers, are hitting their peak earning years and many in this group may be in a position to trade up. Many aren’t living in their ideally sized home. Just 38% said where they live now is dream sized. Nearly a majority (48%) said their dream home is larger, while only 14% of GenXers would rather have a smaller home.  This is the generation that bore the brunt of the foreclosure crisis. So, some of this mismatch could be because a significant number of GenXers lost homes during the housing bust and may now be living in smaller-than-desired quarters. But a much more probable reason is that many GenXers are in their peak child-rearing years. With kids bouncing off the walls, the place may be feeling a tad crowded.

Even the groups that seem ripe for downsizing don’t want smaller homes

Of course, age doesn’t tell the whole story about why people might want to downsize. It could be that certain kinds of households, – such as those without children, and living in the suburbs or in affordable areas – might be more likely to live in larger homes than they need. But our survey shows that households in these categories are about twice as likely to want a larger than a smaller home. For those with kids especially, the desire to upsize is strong: 39% preferred a larger home versus 18% who liked a smaller home.  For those living in the suburbs, the disparity is even greater – 42% to 16%. And even among those living in the most affordable zip codes, where ideally-sized homes might be within the budgets of households, 40% of our respondents preferred larger homes versus 20% who said smaller.

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Are all households more likely to upsize than downsize?

At this point you might be asking, “Are there any types of households that want to downsize?” The answer is yes. But only one kind of household falls into this category – those living in homes larger than 3,200 square feet.  Of this group, 26% wanted to downsize versus 25% that wanted to upsize – a slight difference. But, when we looked overall at survey responses based on the size of current residence, households wanting a larger home kicked up as current home size went down. We can see this clearly when we divide households into six groups based on the size of the home they’re living in now. Among households living in 2,600-3,200 square foot homes, 37% prefer a larger home versus 16% a smaller home; in 2,000–2,600 square foot homes, its 34% to 18%; 38% to 18% in 1,400–2,000 square foot homes; 55% to 13% in 800–1,400 square foot homes; and 66% to 13% in homes less than 800 square feet. This makes intuitive sense.  Those living in the biggest homes are most likely to have gotten a home larger than their ideal size. And those in the smallest homes are probably the ones feeling most squeezed.

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The responses to our survey show significantly more demand for larger homes than for smaller ones. But the reality, of course, is that households must make tradeoffs between things like accessibility, amenities, and affordability when choosing what size homes to get. The “ideal” sized home for most Americans may be larger than where they’re living now. But that spacious dream home may not be practical.  As result, the mismatch between what Americans say they want and what best suits their circumstances may persist.