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Housing Bears' Concerns Are Overblown, Goldman Sachs Says

Separately, the analysts note that while student debt is a problem, there has been a shift of the student loan burden to higher income households. In 2007, the percent of young households owing at least $20,000 in student loans was concentrated in the $60,000-to-$100,000 income range. In 2010, it was concentrated in households with income over $100,000. "Student loan debt is higher among those who can afford it."

Also homeownership rates in this age group is higher in regions where the deterioration in the labor market is less severe, suggesting that economic conditions play a role.

"Given that these households appear to be financially capable of buying a home, the reason they are still renting presumably is that they are not sure whether house prices have bottomed and that they are still uncertain about their job security. As the housing and labor markets gradually recover, we expect to see the homeownership rate in this population normalize," the analysts conclude.
  • Median household incomes are distorted. Housing bears also point to the fact that growing income inequality and flat median household incomes will depress housing demand.

    The analysts agree that this is a valid concern to some but argue that caution must be used in using median incomes. Shifts in the composition of households might explain why median income stays flat. For example, an aging population might mean a greater fraction of retiree population, which could explain why median incomes do not change much. Similarly, a decline in the marriage rate might explain a drop in household income. In fact, the median income of married households and median income of single households have been growing, but the mixed median household income shows a muted increase.
  • Lending standards are likely to ease. Banks should start to ease lending standards as refinance volumes shrink and they begin to compete for purchase originations. Plus, the financial health of the average household is improving.

    Compared to 2005, more consumers now have a credit score over 800. Rising credit scores among consumers mean more people may qualify for a loan even if underwriting remains unchanged, the analysts said.

    -- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York.
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