Economy Watch: The Yo-Yoing of Wall Street

"Roller coaster" might not be a fitting metaphor for Wall Street during this nervous summer of 2011. Yo-yo might be better.

“Roller coaster” might not be a fitting metaphor for Wall Street during this nervous summer of 2011. Yo-yo might be better. On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was on the rise again, to the tune of 423.37 points, or 3.95 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 4.63 percent and the Nasdaq vaulted ahead by 4.69 percent. It was a curious first for the Dow, which has never before had four 400-point swings in a row.

The Dow is down about 12 percent since its most recent peak earlier this year, a considerable amount but maybe not in bear territory just yet (20 percent would be more like it). Also, the index is still up about 70 percent from its March 2009 trough in the immediate aftermath of the financial panic.

The rebound might have been driven partly by decent weekly unemployment numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor, which said on Thursday that first-time unemployment claims for the week ending Aug. 5 dropped below 400,000 for the first time since April. Whatever else businesses are doing, they don’t seem to be firing workers in a panic as they did in late 2008. Or it might have been institutional investors looking for deals, or the turn of European stocks upward before Wall Street opened. A lot of things can turn a yo-yo market.

U.S. foreclosures way down year-over-year

Foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac reported on Thursday that foreclosure filings (default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions) were reported on 212,764 U.S. properties in July, which is a 4 percent decline from June and a whopping 35 percent drop from July 2010. The report also mentioned that foreclosure filing vexed one in every 611 U.S. housing units during July.

According to RealtyTrac, a number of factors have conspired to slow things down. “It appears that the foreclosure processing delays, combined with the smorgasbord of national and state-level foreclosure prevention efforts—including loan modifications, lender-borrower mediations and mortgage payment assistance for the unemployed—may be allowing more distressed homeowners to stave off foreclosure,” James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, posited in a statement. So maybe it isn’t just the aftermath of robo-signing anymore.

Nevada posted the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate once again. In fact, for foreclosure consistency, Nevada can’t be beat, because July 2011 was the 55th straight month in a row for the state as foreclosure champ, with one in every 115 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing during the month. But even Nevada’s foreclosures are slowing down. A total of 9,930 Nevada properties had foreclosure filings in July, a 1 percent decrease from the previous month and a 28 percent decrease from July 2010.

A way to deal with foreclosures?

The government has proposed to sell thousands of foreclosed properties that Fannie, Freddie and the FHA now own, for conversion into rental properties. The Obama administration published a “request for information” to that effect on Wednesday that asserted that the government is looking for input on converting about 92,000 empty, foreclosed houses nationwide into rentals by selling them to investors.

All together, the entities currently own about 250,000 houses, and maybe as many as another 800,000 are in some stage of foreclosure that will eventually put them in the hands of the GSEs or the FHA. So the pool of potential conversions could be quite large, and possibly even help meet some of the growing demand for rental housing. Another goal of the initiative would be to help stabilize neighborhoods, under the theory that houses occupied by renters are better than houses occupied by no one and slowly falling apart.

“Exploring new options for selling these foreclosed properties will help expand access to affordable rental housing, promote private investment in local housing markets and support neighborhood and home-price stability,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a statement.

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