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Broad Side The Barn, Waiting For The Shovel

As a kid, I remember the popular dress-down phrase: “You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.” Fast forward to today and the phrase becomes: “You don’t even know what your mortgage amount and terms are.” (note: this is a clue to how boring I was as a kid, especially on the baseball field.)

One of the things that occurred in the housing boom of the past decade was the detachment of risk from the borrowing equation. It didn’t matter how you got there, you simply wanted the property or the loan.

The LA Times reports [1] (via Seeking Alpha [2]) that a Federal Trade Commission study [3] shows that despite (or because of) a myriad of closing documents, borrowers only had a 50/50 chance of finding the loan amount on their loan documents.

View the study. [3]

Peter Coy of Businessweek concurs and lays blame on lenders [4], not borrowers in his Hot Properties post:

It’s easy to blame the borrowers…But when so many people can’t understand the loan documents, I put most of the blame on the lenders.

Ok, so now we have loan applicants not understanding what they are actually borrowing.

Now the Federal Reserve, who is responsible for overseeing the banking industry, has less influence on the economy, and perhaps by extension, less influence on credit quality.

But a new study by the Federal Reserve shows it has much less control over economic growth than assumed by many. The study, completed by Fed economists, found little evidence that tighter monetary policy has much impact on bank lending via deposits.

Greg Ip, the WSJ reporter who covers the Fed, writes about this in the WSJ Real Time Economics Blog:

banks with more deposits than loans, and banks with far less deposits than loans (because they relied more on wholesale markets), didn’t change lending much when deposits shrank. Only banks whose deposits were about equal to loans significantly reduced lending. These banks only represent 6% of of U.S. bank assets. Thus, the “bank lending channel seems limited in scope and importance” in the U.S., the authors conclude.

6% is pretty low.

But lending standards are getting tighter [5]. Where is this coming from?

The Federal Reserve seemed to back away from the potential subprime problem [6] back when Greenspan was there. This laissez-fare policy would likely have applied to all types of bank lending.

So bank underwriting is getting tougher on its own initiative, probably only after seeing the damage occurring to the housing market as of late.

Lets summarize:

Everyone seems to be counting on someone else to take care of things – thats a disfunctional financial community.

As former presidential candidate Ross Perot once uttered: “Its time to pick up the shovel and clean out the barn.”