Economist: California housing crash to torch economy

In todays WSJ ($, free on MarketWatch on Monday), Herb Greenberg writes about California economist Stephen Levy:
A bigger economic upheaval, Mr. Levy says, "isn't about foreclosures," which are making the headlines now, "it's about the spending behavior of those who aren't going to lose homes but have seen their wealth evaporate." Either they don't have as much home equity to borrow against, he says, or they are afraid to spend as they watch the value of their home decline.


Making matters worse, he says, the first baby boomers turn 62 years old next year. They will be retiring soon and may want to sell their homes to downsize. As long as home prices remain at such lofty levels, California could have a hard time recruiting replacements who like the idea of homeownership, especially first-time buyers. "That's where this hits the economy," Mr. Levy says. "It will be hard to attract new people and firms to the state," which has seen a slow net migration in recent years.


Why should non-Californians care about the California housing market, especially when the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index shows year-over-year increases in such cities as Charlotte, N.C., Portland, Ore., and Seattle? Because the Golden State accounts for 13% of the country's gross domestic product -- or the total value of all goods and services produced -- nearly double the No. 2 contributor, New York. That means that what happens in California, home to such growth industries as high-tech, biotech, venture capital and film, doesn't necessarily stay in California. The impact of slow economic growth, or even recession, in the state will ripple through the rest of the country.

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