OK, Smart Guy ...

Peter Coy

Put your money where your mouth is.

Starting in April, you'll be able to hedge or speculate on housing prices in ten major U.S. cities. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange will offer futures and options based on price indexes for the markets. Standard & Poor's, a sister company of BusinessWeek, is branding the price indexes, which were developed by MacroMarkets LLC and Fiserv Inc. Check here for more information. The ten cities are Boston, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (a "commuter index"), San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. There will also be a composite of the ten cities.

If you live in a high-priced market that you're afraid will fall, but for personal reasons you don't want to sell and move, you could buy, say, a put option on the index for that city. That way, if prices fell, profits on your put would offset the lower value of your house. Or you could buy a call option on a market that you thought had room to rise.

People have been trying for years to trade housing-linked securities for obvious reasons--the total value of housing is over $20 trillion, making it bigger than the stock market. Previous efforts have failed, but this one has solid backing and appears to be well-thought-out. The price indexes were developed by economists Karl Case of Wellesley College and the gentleman pictured above, Robert Shiller of Yale University (author of "Irrational Exuberance").

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