From The Economist, Eli steers us to " Will the walls come falling down?" on the housing market:
House prices have been growing at a breakneck pace in many developed countries. This has encouraged householders to keep spending even during the global slowdown. But now that housing markets are looking soft, consumers may be forced to retrench.
AMERICAN homeowners, particularly those who have just bought their properties, are full of reasons why the run-up in house prices in recent years will continue indefinitely. These days, however, this is beginning to sound like so much whistling in the dark. While prices rose by 11.2% in 2004, the rate of increase slowed markedly in the fourth quarter, to only 1.7%. On Tuesday April 19th, the Commerce Department announced that housing starts fell by 17.6% in March, the sharpest monthly decline since 1991. The next day, the Mortgage Bankers of America (MBA), an industry group, reported that mortgage applications had fallen the previous week, despite a slight dip in interest rates. Investors who thought that real estate was a haven from the volatility of the equity markets might be getting a little nervous.
But worse may come. House prices have received an enormous boost in recent years from falling interest rates, which enabled homeowners to sell their properties for a higher price without a commensurate increase in the buyer’s monthly mortgage payment. But as interest rates have started to rise, buyers have turned to increasingly risky forms of financing in order to keep their monthly payment from bankrupting them. The MBA reports that over a third of new applications in recent weeks have been for adjustable-rate mortgages, up from just 12% in 2001. Anecdotal evidence suggests that “interest only” mortgages, which allow borrowers to make no payments on principal for a period of years, are also on the rise.
KeShwan e-mails to give us a heads up to Australia's ABC's "US incarceration rate climbs:"
The US penal system, the world's largest, maintained its steady growth in 2004, the US Department of Justice reported.
The latest official half-yearly figures found the nation's prison and jail population at 2,131,180 in the middle of last year, an increase of 2.3 per cent over 2003.
The United States has incarcerated 726 people per 100,000 of its population, seven to 10 times as many as most other democracies.
[. . .]
The figures issued by the department's statistical unit showed that 12.6 per cent of black males in their late 20s were behind bars.
The comparable rate for Hispanic males was 3.6 per cent and for whites 1.7 per cent.
Also from Australia's ABC, we'll note Peter Cave's "16 dead in Japan train crash:"
A major rescue operation is under way in western Japan, where a number of carriages from an express train left the track and overturned, crashing into a car and an apartment building.
Japanese media reports say that at least 16 people are dead and scores have been injured, with many trapped in the twisted wreckage of three carriages.
And since we're in Australia, let's note our friend Luke of wotisitgood4. Dallas e-mails to note Luke's entry on Juan Cole. Here's an excerpt:
* juancole: "The story put out by many in the Western press, that the guerrilla war was winding down after the successful elections, was never true. The guerrillas are unaffected by the elections, and work on their own timetable, in hopes of destabilizing Iraq and ultimately taking it over." LINK
* juancole: "Still no sign of a government in Baghdad. The Allawi faction is demanding 5 cabinet posts and a deputy premiership. I personally cannot understand why Ibrahim Jaafari is bothering with the Iraqiya list. It only got 14 percent of the vote..." LINK
* juancole: "Iraqi guerrilla groups have begun speaking of the need to hit the United States on its own soil in revenge for Fallujah and other operations." LINK its amazing this hasnt yet happened. i dont get it.
* juancole: "A tearful member of the Iraqi parliament, Fattah al-Shaikh, stood up before other MPs and told the story of how he was attacked and detained by US troops when he attempted to enter the Green Zone... Al-Hayat reported that al-Shaikh, a member of the Muqtada al-Sadr bloc, said the US troops put their boots on his neck and handcuffed him. The Iraqi parliament was thrown into an uproar by the account, and demanded a US apology from the highest levels of government... The incident will seem minor to most Americans and few will see this Reuters photograph reprinted from al-Hayat (which is not the one featured at the Reuters story on the incident on the Web). But such an incident is a serious affront to national honor, and Iraqi male politicians don't often weep." LINK
Dallas asks about our adding Juan Cole to our link list. I have no problem with that but I'm shutting down the computer after this posts so we'll add him later in the week.
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