From a new study by Andrew Haughwout and others,

At the peak of the boom in 2006, over a third of all U.S. home purchase lending was made to people who already owned at least one house. In the four states with the most pronounced housing cycles, the investor share was nearly half–45 percent. Investor shares roughly doubled between 2000 and 2006. While some of these loans went to borrowers with “just” two homes, the increase in percentage terms is largest among those owning three or more properties. In 2006, Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada investors owning three or more properties were responsible for nearly 20 percent of originations, almost triple their share in 2000.

Pointer from Mark Thoma, who sees it as an exoneration of government housing policy. Hunh? Loans to speculators were made by Freddie and Fannie. Loans to speculators were eligible to be laundered into AAA securities that were favored by government capital requirements. The sad fact is that the real estate lobby was so good at playing the violins for “home ownership” that they were able to put a smokescreen over a wave of speculative borrowing.

But to me, the most point to be made about the role of speculators is that “foreclosure prevention” is misguided policy. Here is what I wrote in October of 2008:

Anyone who wants to stop mortgage foreclosures needs to have his head examined. How many of the bad loans are investor loans, where the borrower never occupied the house? 20 percent of them? 50 percent? 70 percent? We know that in the last years of the bubble more than 15 percent of mortgages were for non-owner-occupied (the true figure might actually be higher than reported, because it is common to fraudulently claim that you will be using the home as a residence when you will not). Investor loans default at a much higher rate than regular loans, somewhere between 3 and 10 times as much. If it’s 4 times as much, then already we can be surmise that a majority of bad loans are investor loans. The best thing to do with those is to foreclose ASAP.