August 26th, 2011 6:29 PM by Lehel S.
Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Sanjay Jain called his real estate broker four days ago to cancel a deal to buy a three-bedroom home in Folsom, California, unnerved by another plunge in the most volatile equities market on record.
"Seeing what's happening on the stock market made me think that it's not a good time to be buying a home," Jain said. "I'm going to wait and see."
As the U.S. economy shows signs of sputtering, instability on Wall Street is sapping the confidence of would-be property buyers, said Karl Case, co-founder of the S&P/Case-Shiller home- price index. That means housing, which aided every recovery except one before the most recent recession, may deepen its five-year drag on growth.
"There's a dramatic effect on an economy when a major sector is flat out," said Case, professor emeritus of economics at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. "If housing takes another leg down, it's an accelerator. It's going to make a recession happen faster and deeper."
Home sales in July fell to the lowest point this year, the National Association of Realtors said in a report last week. Applications for mortgages to buy homes dropped to a 13-month low in the week ended Aug. 12, even as borrowing costs tumbled, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index sank to the lowest since the recession.
The Standard & Poor's 500 Index has fallen for four straight weeks, losing 16 percent since July 22. On the day Jain canceled his deal to buy the Folsom house, global stock markets erased $1.8 trillion of wealth as Morgan Stanley said the U.S. and Europe were "dangerously close" to recession. After S&P cut the U.S. credit rating on Aug. 5, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had the biggest one-day loss since 2008, igniting memories of the housing-induced financial crisis that triggered a global recession and wiped out more than 8 million U.S. jobs.
"A lot of people have seen their down payments for a home disappear in the stock market," said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH Associates, a loan-data firm in Pompton Plains, New Jersey. "It served as a reinforcement to the hunker-down mentality that a lot of homebuyers already had."
Before the start of the economic recovery in mid-2009, the U.S. had not exited a recession without being aided by housing, its largest asset class, except for in 1981, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That year, the recovery was followed by a second, and deeper, recession in 1982.
Since the 2006 real estate bust, a measure of homebuilding and brokers' commissions known as residential investment has drained gross domestic product by almost three-quarters of a percentage point annually, on average.
For 2010, the first full year of the U.S. recovery, residential investment fell 4.3 percent. Going back to the Great Depression, it gained an average of 22 percent in the first year of expansion, excluding 1946, when it tripled as soldiers returned from World War II.
The U.S. recovery is weakening. The world's largest economy grew at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said on July 29. That was less than the increase of 1.8 percent forecast by economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Jobless claims climbed to the highest in a month in the week ended Aug. 13, according to the Labor Department.
"The typical homebuyer gets rattled when confronted with economic turmoil," said Stan Humphries, chief economist of Zillow.com, an online real estate information service in Seattle. "The type of fear we're seeing could substantially worsen the housing market."
Falling Sales, Prices