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Posts Tagged ‘WSJ’

With Plunge in Loan Volume, Lenders Push ARMs to Jumbo Borrowers

March 17, 2014 | 12:00 pm | wsjlogo |

wsjthearmsrace3-16-14
[Source: WSJ, click to expand]

There’s a good article in yesterday’s WSJ “Adjustable-Rate Mortgages Make a Comeback” focusing on the rise in their use. In fact the title on the window bar is the web page is “ARM Loans-A Vestige of the Housing Bubble-Are Making a Comeback.

With mortgage volume down sharply since mortgage rates creeped higher last year, lenders are focusing on jumbo mortgages, especially ARMs that can expand affordability. There’s also a good audio clip embedded in the piece.

Lenders are pricing ARMs roughly 1.5% below a fixed rate, the largest spread in a decade.

ARMs comprised 31% of mortgages in the $417,001-to-$1 million range that were originated during the fourth quarter of 2013, according to data prepared for The Wall Street Journal by Black Knight Financial Services, formerly Lender Processing Services, a mortgage-data and services company. That is up from 22% a year earlier and the largest proportion since the third quarter of 2008.

I find it interesting that many suggest that ARM products – including within this article – were one of the causes of the housing bubble. I disagree. I saw them merely as a tool to be misused, just like a hammer or a chainsaw.

At least for now, with credit remaining very tight, it is unlikely that they would be abused in the same way they were during the prior housing boom. However with the 70% plunge in lucrative refi volume, one has to wonder when business decisions will start to overwhelm risk paranoia.

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The Bi-Partisan Fannie and Freddie Solution That Isn’t A Fix

March 16, 2014 | 11:35 am | wsjlogo |

fanniefreddieredone
[Source: WSJ, click to expand]

Roughly 90% of the residential market has passed through Fannie and Freddie since the onset of the financial crisis. Reliance on these institutions was only around 50% before the crisis – and are they making a lot of money for the federal government right now. I’ll leave out the part where FHA stepped in to pick up the high risk slack. The private secondary mortgage market was obliterated by the credit crunch/housing crash and in the half decade that has passed, investors are just now dipping their toes in the water.

There is a great summary piece by Nick Timiraos at WSJ: “What Can Take the Place of Fannie and Freddie” on the proposed Fannie and Freddie “overhaul.”

Big Dumb Banks
As my friend Barry Ritholtz over at Big Picture once told me that the former GSEs are merely “Big Dumb Banks.” In other words, they do as they were told.

Swapping them with another alphabet soup named agency doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, I contend that replacing Fannie and Freddie completely would likely create more problems since little if anything has been done to reduce the systemic risks that nearly brought down the financial system – and whose impact are still being felt by most Americans today.

If we can agree that Fannie and Freddie created a stable mortgage market environment for decades (Fannie since the Depression and Freddie since the 1960s) and then blew up in the recent decade or more (problems began back in late 1990s), there are clearly other issues in play. I’ve always seen Fannie and Freddie as the symptom not the cause of our current economic problems.

Fixing the symptom may make some feel better, but it does nothing to reduce the probability of a systemic credit collapse. The bailout of the GSEs was a result of policy from Washington – the congress, the executive branch and both political parties who in various ways encouraged proactive neutering of regulatory powers, allowed the revolving doors of regulators with Wall Street, allowing Wall Street to compete directly with commercial banks with mind boggling leverage, limited separation of competing interests (ie rating agencies and investment banks) and incentivizing a shifting culture to serve the shareholders over the taxpayers.

I suspect that last point is the impetus for this bi-partisan proposal – reduce the risk exposure to the taxpayer by getting the private market to take over. Congress clearly has an image problem that it is trying to fix as of late (until mid-terms).

Setting Standards to Follow
One of the under appreciated functions of Fannie Mae and to a lesser degree Freddie Mac, was to serve as the leader to the private mortgage market. When Fannie Mae adopted a standard or policy, the private market (ie jumbo mortgage investors), followed their lead. With Fannie and Freddie floating in limbo with a potential looming overhaul, it’s hard to imagine a robust private market developing anytime soon. This would be a completely new institution that would replace and reinvent the former GSEs, you simply invite anywhere from chaos to uncertainty into the financial system and instability to the housing market, a key economic engine for the economy.

The whole plumbing of the mortgage market runs through these companies. You can’t just take these things away without having a very clear and specific view about what’s going to replace them,” said Daniel Mudd, Fannie’s former chief executive, in an interview last year.

No real alternative to the system has been proposed that I’m aware of and this is really window dressing to show bi-partisanship in Washington. There is no time frame proposed and very little details to reinvent the secondary mortgage market have been brought forward.

Here’s a great podcast from WNYC called “Money Talking” featuring Heidi Moore and Joe Nocera covering the proposal.

Key Issues to Fix
The WSJ piece summarizes the key issues that need to be address quite succinctly:

  • Make the “implied” guarantee explicit and require any successors to Fannie and Freddie to pay a fee for that guarantee.
  • Get rid of those investment portfolios, or shrink them to the point where they don’t create systemic risks.
  • Require more capital and tighter regulation, since too little of both is what got Fannie and Freddie into trouble.

The trouble is, the solution to over-reliance on Fannie and Freddie is too complex for Congress to solve in this era of gridlock. Record revenue being generated by the former GSEs make long term solutions unobtainable for now. I don’t see how any major changes can be inserted into the financial systems for a long time.

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Cool WSJ Infographic on Economic Recovery Since End of Recession

July 1, 2013 | 9:28 am | wsjlogo |


[Source WSJ: click to expand]

Check out this excellent interactive graphics post at the WSJ on the economy since the recession. My fave is above but there are others worth mentioning. Things are slowly improving but note that in the “consumer” section of the interactive (not above), real wages are unchanged since 2009 (housing prices up 12.1% in past year alone).

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Hampton Year End Sales And Price Spike, Fiscal Cliff Style

January 29, 2013 | 1:03 pm | wsjlogo | Charts |


[click to read article (subscr)]

I thought the chart created by the WSJ using our data nicely illustrated the end of year spike in sales and prices at the end of the 2012, influenced by the notion that taxes, whatever form they take, will be higher in the future. I think this surge in activity will take some of the edge off the market in 2013.

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Divorce Valuations: Appraiserville Meets Splitsville

December 1, 2012 | 7:00 am | wsjlogo | Public |

In this week’s WSJ Mansion section there was a nice write up by Alyssa Abkowitz about the appraisal process during a divorce: Appraisers in Splitsville. Our firm does a lot of this type of consulting and we find working with attorneys much easier than dealing with retail banks.

I also find that it’s a small world – I know nearly all the appraisers in my market personally (only a handful are active in this segment). Most are professional and knowledgable but like any profession, there are a few hacks.

The challenge in the divorce appraisal business is the challenge of proper communication between the parties – the slightest miscue can snowball into a huge complicated mess billable by the hour. The key to valuation in this process is to filter out the personal element of it and just do the appraisal. When working for one party, the appraiser never gets the whole story and magically “you’re not always on the ‘right’ side so don’t concern yourself with the details beyond the valuation.” Professionals are the ones that do their job devoid of personal bias.

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Get Down With It: Falling Mortgage Rates Are Not Creating Housing Sales

November 27, 2012 | 11:16 am | wsjlogo | Charts |

Inspired by my analysis of yesterday’s WSJ article, I thought I’d explore the effectiveness of low mortgage rates in getting the housing market going. I matched year-to-date sales volume where a mortgage was used and mortgage rates broken out by conforming and jumbo mortgage volume.

Mortgage volume has been falling (off an artificial high I might add) since 2005, while rates have continued to fall to new record lows, yet transaction volume has not recovered. I contend that low rates can now do no more to help housing than they already have.

Even the NAR has run out of reasons and is now focusing on bad appraisals as holding the market back (I agree appraisal quality post Dodd-Frank is terrible and is impacting the market to a limited extent – and I secretly wish appraiser held that much sway over the market).

I’m no bear, but the uptick Case Shiller’s report today (remembering that Case Shiller reflects the housing market 5-7 months ago) still shows slowing momentum and all 2012 year-over-year comparisons in the various national reports are skewed higher from an anemic 2011.

Five years of falling mortgage rates have only served to provide stability in volume. The monetary and fiscal conversation ought to be on ways to incentivize banks to ease credit – falling rates only makes them more risk averse.

Of course a significant drop in unemployment would likely solve the tight credit problem fairly quickly.

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[WSJ] The Crazy 8: Comparing Results of National Home Price Indices

June 9, 2012 | 1:18 pm | trulialogo |

Matthew Strozier over at WSJ with Column Five (a large producer of infographics) presented an interesting side by side of 8 national housing indices.

All but one index shows a year over year decline in housing. Trulia’s new Price Monitor by Jed Kolko would be a great addition once the year-over-year history is established. It was also interesting that NAR’s Existing Home Sales was omitted (I’m not advocating).

Beyond the obvious price decline, my takeaways were:

  1. US indices are general in sync on the year-over-year. Our confusion in the monthly barrage of housing metric releases is that most push the month-over month.
  2. With the proliferation of these indices, data subscriptions must be getting cheaper. There are a few more out there as well.
  3. Of the indices presented, their data collection and methodologies vary significantly (where disclosed) yet their results were consistent perhaps suggesting the 7 for 8 result is coincidence as opposed to an aggregated trend.
  4. Sales prices are not something we should be obsessed with as an indicator of market health (think Las Vegas, mid decade). I’d much prefer seeing more attention paid to sales trends since they are a pre-cursor to price trends if you are trying to reasonably answer the question: Has the US housing market hit bottom?

It is interesting and my rough understanding that most of these indices were created and run by economists, scientists or data wonks, many for Wall Street purposes with virtually no real estate types. That’s obviously fine until you consider what is said in barrage of monthly press releases for some, citing things that are not empirically measured in their respective reports, i.e. weather, inventory, etc. that create further confusion.

I’d love to see a side by side comparison of the lag time from the point of “meeting of the minds” between buyer and seller for each index. The significant lag time reflected in this index genre is a practical one due to the massive scale of information, but I think it would give consumers (who were generally not the intended users of any of these indices at the time they were created) a better sense of reliability for each.

National housing indices provide useful tools for setting government economic policy but the consumer’s obsession with the idea of a national housing market and it’s relevance to their local markets is, well, crazy.

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