The rubes weren’t the only ones caught by the property bubble

Author: Jamie Coleman | Category: News

From the Atlantic: Cheap money makes us stoopid.

One of the most persistent narratives of the recent crisis portrays a nation of unsophisticated home buyers led astray by greedy bankers. Supposedly those bankers were willing to write risky loans because they intended to pass them on to some unwary investor. But this explanation falters in the face of a legion of failing commercial deals. Prospective landlords had all the expertise they should have needed to put a fair price on properties—and the majority of lenders who were originating loans for their own portfolios had ample incentive to perform careful due diligence.

The best explanation for the calamity that has overtaken us may simply be that cheap money makes us all stupid. The massive inflows of international capital, which Ben Bernanke has called the “global savings glut,” poured into our loan markets, driving interest rates lower—and, since most real estate is purchased with borrowed funds, pushing up the price of property in both the commercial and residential sectors. Rising prices, in turn, disguised any potential problems with the borrowers, because if they ran into cash-flow problems, they could always refinance, or sell. Everyone was getting bad signals from the market, and outlandish purchases looked almost rational.