News You Can’t Use: When going gets tough, Realtor economist equivocates

        Whatever the opposite of Chicken Little is, that is Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.  He always has his pom poms at the ready, even in the darkest of days.  But Yun’s no dummy; in the face of unrelenting bad news here and abroad, his recovered memory must go back to the ignominious downfall of his predecessor, David Lareah, who pumped large doses of sunshine toward his half-suspecting members even as the housing market was collapsing around us all.

        Therefore, Yun put away one pom in his speech to the Realtors Conference & Expo in Palm Coast, FL, today, an address that seems,

The NAR chief economist isn’t Chicken Little. Just chicken.

in its excerpts, a masterpiece of equivocation and butt covering.  (Note: Thanks to Toby Tobin, who lives in the Palm Coast area, and for posting the comments.)  We don’t have the entire text, but there is no getting around the choice few paragraphs in the press release.

        “Tight mortgage credit conditions have been holding back home buyers all year, and consumer confidence has been shaky recently,” Yun told the group of realtors.  (Note that you must be an NAR member in order to be called by the trademarked term “Realtor.”)  Not much to argue with there, yet in the world of cheerleading, there is always a “But” (or “Nonetheless”) to follow any mention of challenging conditions.  The NAR economist believes he lets NAR members down if he doesn’t keep the sunshine machine pumping, no matter the market conditions.

        “Nonetheless,” Yun added, “there is a sizable pent-up demand based on population growth, employments levels and doubling-up phenomenon that can’t continue indefinitely.  This demand could quickly stimulate the market when conditions improve.”

        Oh the linguistic tricks of an economist trying to stoke the sputtering optimism in his flock.  It sounds so upbeat and confident until you parse the language.  How “sizable” is “sizable pent-up demand?”  And does Mr. Yun know something we and the Labor Department don’t know about “employment levels?”  (The 80,000 net new jobs created last month do

The Federal Reserve exec proposed returning GIs be given certificates to buy homes in foreclosure.

hardly a turnaround make.)  And then Yun goes all in with that classic summation line in which the dubious “demand” from phantom employment levels “could” (implication, it might not) stimulate the market “when” (no prediction when) conditions improve.  Boy, he really puts himself out there. Not Chicken Little. Just chicken.

        Unlike Yun, New York Federal Reserve Senior Vice President Richard Peach, who followed him to the podium, did not throw hush puppies* to his anxious audience.  He told them that the ratio of employment to population in the U.S. is historically low, and that the spread between corporate profits (up) and employment compensation (down) is widening.  I wasn’t at the speech so I do not know if Peach’s remarks provoked any Occupy NAR folks in the back of the room to break into the Beatles’, “You say you want a revolution.”  But we can imagine Lawrence Yun humming, “Here Comes the Sun.”

        Yun’s comments -– and perhaps we missed some of the context -– do not seem particularly useful to this real estate agent.  (I am not a Realtor, and when I hear such pabulum, I know why.)  At least Peach proposed an out-of-the-box idea to address the housing mess.  He suggested the government provide certificates to the 2.5 million members of the military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan; the certificates could be used as down payments on Fannie and Freddie homes in foreclosure as a way to absorb inventory and stabilize the housing market.  Finally, someone treated the audience members like intelligent grown ups.


*The hush puppies that are served with such southern dishes as Carolina barbecue and fried chicken came about when homemakers found an ingenious and inexpensive way to quiet (or hush) the family's yapping dogs.  They deep fried balls of cornmeal and threw them to the dogs.  Today, humans seem to like them as well.

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