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Posts Tagged ‘Sub-Prime’

[Community Reinvestment Act Reconsidered] Quantity Before Quality

December 12, 2008 | 2:16 am | |

There was an interesting Op-Ed piece in the New York Times this week written by Howard Husock of the Manhattan Institute called Housing Goals We Can’t Afford.

The article points out that with all the housing and mortgage woes across the country, it’s pretty easy to point fingers. However, it gets more difficult when you point them at groups that tried to do the right thing.

The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 when bank competition was sharply limited by law and lenders had little incentive to seek out business in lower-income neighborhoods. But in 1995 the Clinton administration added tough new regulations. The federal government required banks that wanted “outstanding” ratings under the act to demonstrate, numerically, that they were lending both in poor neighborhoods and to lower-income households.

Banks were now being judged not on how their loans performed but on how many such loans they made. This undermined the regulatory emphasis on safety and soundness. A compliance officer for a New Jersey bank wrote in a letter last month to American Banker that “loans were originated simply for the purpose of earning C.R.A. recognition and the supporting C.R.A. scoring credit.” The officer added, “In effect, a lender placed C.R.A. scoring credit, and irresponsible mortgage lending, ahead of safe and sound underwriting.”

I remember at one point, quite a while ago, before digitally delivered appraisals, lenders were calling us to get the census tract number the property was located in. We soon discovered that the standardized binder that held the appraisal and other mortgage documents, required two holes punched at the top of the form. One of the holes covered the census tract number. This number was used to credit the bank with originations in lower-income neighborhoods. It struck home (no pun intended) how important it was for them to cover all the markets.

CRA is a noble endeavor. The solution to uneven lending missed a basic economic fact: banks were pressed to lend in areas with lower home ownership and therefore had to lower their underwriting standards to get enough volume to make the regulators happy.

The result? Higher default rates are experienced in these markets. Mandating quantity creates an environment of weaker quality.

If the Community Reinvestment Act must stay in force, then regulators should take loan performance, not just the number of loans made, into account. We have seen the dangers of too much money chasing risky borrowers.

An argument can be made here for encouraging renting when ownership is not affordable or simply creates too high of an investment risk. You can look around and see what happened when lending practices were not reflective of market forces. Bedlam – good intentions or not.

UPDATE: I got an generic but informative email from the Center for Responsible Lending, likely as a result of this post that contained the header: “Bashing CRA Doesn’t Help.” It provides tangible talking points that are informative. The sensitivity is very elevated over this topic and I wasn’t bashing – I just have a concern over the transfer of risk to lenders – it’s a brave new world out there and interpretation of risk has changed overnight.

Here’s their email text:

According to John Dugan, Comptroller of the Currency, “It is not the culprit.”

Federal Reserve Governor Randall Kroszner says, “It’s hard to imagine.”

They are talking about the wrong but persistent rumors that the Community Reinvestment Act, a longstanding rule to encourage banks to lend to all parts of the communities they serve, is the reason behind for the surge in reckless subprime lending.

First, CRA was passed into law in 1977, well before the development of the subprime market. The majority of lenders who originated subprime loans were finance companies, not banks, and thus not even subject to CRA requirements.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve points out that 94% of high-cost loans made during the subprime frenzy had nothing to do with Community Reinvestment Act goals.

A lump of coal to the media who perpetuate this myth. The sooner we stop finger-pointing and focus on real solutions, the better.


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Pirate Theory Of Credit Crunch Aversion

November 19, 2008 | 1:03 am | |
It started with Tom Friedman’s McDonald’s Theory of War: >No country with a McDonald’s outlet, the theory contends, has ever gone to war with another. which was based on the premise that countries with an educated middle class that would sustain a McDonald’s are less likely to go to war…this theory held since 1996 until Georgia and Russia fought this past summer. Perhaps, they needed more happy meals?

Dan Gross brings us the Starbucks theory of international economics:

The higher the concentration of expensive, nautically themed, faux-Italian-branded Frappuccino joints in a country’s financial capital, the more likely the country is to have suffered catastrophic financial losses.

Gross contends that Starbucks fueled the housing boom as “The Seattle-based coffee chain followed new housing developments into the suburbs and exurbs, where its outlets became pit stops for real-estate brokers and their clients. It also carpet-bombed the business districts of large cities, especially the financial centers, with nearly 200 in Manhattan alone.” Incidentally, the company is named for Captain Ahab’s first mate – Starbuck in Moby-Dick.

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Well I’ve got my own (admittedly very thin, but please give it to me, I’ve never had an economic theory before) economic theory/correlation/indicator: Pirate theory of credit crunch aversion:

It’s been exactly two months since Talk Like A Pirate Day and apparently pirates are dominating the high seas (well, it pays better than fishing).

My pirate theory goes like this:

[Take a look at the ICC Commercial Crime Services Piracy Map for 2008.]

Piracy (the boarding of ships to steal their cargo) originates from countries that didn’t participate in the credit market run-up – namely participate in the proliferation of faulty mortgage securities that wreaked havoc on much of the global financial system. According to recent news, poor countries with limited financial sophistication tend to be the source of much the pirate activity.

(the map shows the locations of the activity, not the source)

What does this all mean? Well for starters, pirates are not likely eating at McDonald’s for lunch while sipping a mocha frappuccino grande with enough whipped cream to be esthetically pleasing, after boarding a container ship full of tanks and guns.

And they don’t have a 2/28 subprime ARM with a 2% teaser rate about to reset to a fully indexed rate of 11% with a significant pre-payment penalty. They merely get paid the ransom for the crew or get shot.

And of course, Somalian coffee served at Starbucks is quite good.

UPDATE: Infectious Greed: Somali Pirates and TARP

UPDATE2: Freakonomics: Spreading the Pirate Booty Around

arrgh!

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[NY Times Topics: Housing] 11-12-08

November 12, 2008 | 3:28 pm | |

The New York Times asked me to share research and reports I come across (excluding my own) that may help inform readers on the topic of housing.

Here is my recent handywork as a New York Times “online contributor”:

Subprime Finance: High Prepayments, High Defaults

Think “exit strategy.”


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[Bloggingheads] Solutions To Crunch: Derivatives Are Derivative

October 14, 2008 | 12:29 am |

I like to check in with bloggingheads.tv periodically – the topics can get pretty abstract for my limited intellectual capacity, but every so often it strikes a chord and today was one of those days – I saw two clips that appealed to me (They caught my attention initially because I know and admire 3 of the 4 the participants). The two sessions were covering the “subprime” situation but seemed at odds about interpreting the risk of existing financial instruments. Great comments on these posts as well.

A commenter from Yves and Dan’s excellent but far too short “Slums of Greenwich, CT” writes:

An intereresting thing here was that the interlocutors implied that the shadow banking system, and here one suspects that they mean the derivatives market, poses greater risk to the financial system than do the poorly underwritten residential mortgages. This is the reverse of what the majority of people think. It makes sense to think that the greater risk is posed by the securities which underly derivatives, that the risk posed by derivatives is entirely derivative.

In the next segment, The Subprime Solution, Professor Shiller, who has been making the rounds with his recent book suggests we don’t “blame” anyone for the crisis and discusses his ideas for a solution – the devil seems to be in the details. In the background hovers his life’s work, the advocacy of a housing derivatives market to enable investors to manage risk.

Here’s a representative comment on the post:

I understand his work-out proposal, and insofar as it would remove some uncertainty and provide a mechanism to adjust nominal terms or contract-time expectations to unexpected situations I can see the appeal, but wouldn’t all of this be incorporated into the expectations of the lender, secondary purchasers, and buyer at the time of the contract? It seems like the plan would have to make mortgages more expensive (relative to today’s–or really yesterday’s market price) to the borrower and less attractive to the secondary market. If the new contract terms were fully incorporated into the mortgage price up front, how will this solve the problem; it seems like it would shrink the market for mortgage lending without affecting the asset bubble dynamics overall. Homeownership is extremely politically popular–how would Prof. Shiller counteract this fact, in his (correct) push to remove the many subsidies for home purchases?

A fun way to deliver commentary, bloggingheads is available as a download, but it’d be a lot easier if it was a videocast via itunes.


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Growth By Mortgage = Death By Mortgage: Was It Worth It?

September 14, 2008 | 9:28 pm | | Milestones |

Well another Friday came and went and more weekend meltdowns were on the agenda. This time it was Lehman Brothers, the second big investment bank to experience trouble. I have friends at Lehman and they have been scared to lose their jobs for months, and yet they had nothing to do with mortgages. I know a couple with a large exposure in Lehman stock and have been paralyzed to take action to move out of the position for the past year. The time came and went, unfortunately. No bailout this time.

During the mortgage hay days, Lehman did a lot of new development deals. They occasionally brought us in for a “reality” consult after reviewing appraisals already done for new deals. We weren’t asked to do any project appraisals, only “reality check” on the price point and local absorption. I suspect they were “arbitraging” the relationship between reality and what needed to be done to make the deal. Smart people too.

When you think about the scope of the mortgage problem that continues to unfold, its pretty scary and likely has quite a way to go. It says a lot about how ridiculous the talk of “bottoms” and “temporary” conditions really are. I mean, the idea that housing is going to be fine in less than a year is completely insane given the damage that remains to be discovered.

I tried to think of the big players in the mortgage market of the past five years:

Countrywide: bought at a discount by BofA (for their technology/servicing)
WaMu: Under legal pressure, removed CEO, stock price fell to the floor, rumors of buyout
Bear Stearns: Big subprime player. Gone for nearly nothing by JPMorgan Chase
Lehman Brothers: Big mortgage player. Lots of development financing. Nearly gone
Merrill Lynch: Just bought by BofA
Barclay’s: Took their licks in write downs and were too undercapitalized to take over Lehman.
Fannie, Freddie: The housing bill placed nearly all it’s faith in Frannie and now the former CEO’s are eligible for $24M in parachutes. A potential for $200B in losses.

Up until now, the billions in mortgage losses were just numbers to me. But now, the numbers are more in context because they have brought down some of the biggest, most profitable financial firms out there.

All because of idiotic lending practices.

Old school leadership at these entities were no match for fast changing mortgage products without meaningful regulatory oversight.

Well, of course it wasn’t worth it.


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[Treasury Resource] Government Sponsored Lawyers

September 11, 2008 | 12:53 am |

Last week I discussed the surge in litigation concerning the abuses in subprime lending and the corresponding need for more lawyers, especially for pro bono work.

Next up, the legal state of Frannie.

Just because the US Treasury took over the GSE’s and moved them into a conservatorship under FHFA doesn’t mean they have a plan on what do with them. The first order of business was to prevent them from collapsing. Next, structure and direction, Lastly, prosecution.

There is a brief but excellent article in the New York Law Journal that summarizes the army of lawyers needed: “Scores of Lawyers Tapped in Takeover

In the weeks leading up to the federal government’s takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, dozens of top lawyers worked to figure out the best way to save the two Washington-area mortgage giants.

The in-house teams at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which is now the conservator for the two companies, were dealing with lawyers from at least nine private firms

Many were involved and are still involved. Here are total counts, but not all were working on the takeover:

  • 2,000 US Treasury attorneys plus outside counsel
  • 90 Freddie Mac attorneys plus outside counsel
  • 130 in-house Fannie Mae lawyers plus outside counsel
  • 40 in-house FHFA lawyers plus their outside counsel

The total is…a lot.

The attorneys are there to interpret and structure the unprecedented legal arrangement of the new entity as well as going after those responsible:

Even the battalions of lawyers may not be able to ward off lawsuits in the wake of the takeover.

AFSCME’s Mr. Ferlauto said that “there is activity going into holding those people responsible for not appropriately providing guidance.” He said he expects some pension funds to look for ways to sue the outgoing boards and management, and said lack of transparency, inaccurate guidance, fraud, and market manipulation could all be grounds.

A lot has to go into the mix before we can begin to talk about things getting fixed.

So in the meantime, please, please, don’t kill all the lawyers.


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[Shakespeare On Subprime] “First Let’s Kill All The Lawyers”

August 27, 2008 | 11:58 pm | |

Perhaps one of the most misused phrases in the history of literature is the reference to a quote in Shakespeare’s play “Henry VI”, “First lets kill all the lawyers.”

The line is from The Second Part of Henry VI, act IV, scene ii, line 86; spoken by Dick the butcher, a follower of Jack Cade of Ashford, a common bully who tries to start a rebellion on which the Yorks can later capitalize to seize the throne from Henry.

The plan would be to take away the rights of common citizens but that would only work if they “killed all the lawyers.”

In the wake of the subprime crisis, there will be plenty of opportunities in litigation, foreclosure and bankruptcy actions over the next several years. We are all (or at least I am) screaming for action on going after those that overstepped rule of law.

But what about those who were hurt who can’t afford legal advice? With so many law firms working with financial institutions in the wake of the crisis, there is a potential conflict of interest.

That hurdle is “issue conflict”—the potential conflict of interest for any law firm that has lawyers representing banks, savings and loans, and other financial institutions.

But the need—arising from the subprime mortgage debacle and exacerbated by skyrocketing food and fuel costs as well as rising layoffs—is great. Mark Schickman, a partner at Freeland Cooper & Foreman in San Francisco who chairs the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, says one in every 160 homes is subject to foreclosure.

“It’s almost a losing battle trying to provide legal services to the poor,” he says. “Every time we think we’re making headway, something like the foreclosure crisis comes in and pushes us from the goal. Pro bono attorneys are coming out in droves for this. It’s really heartening.”

In the ABA Journal article Prime Aid, Subprime Crisis there is already a surge in such activity.

In April, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s standing Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics issued an informal opinion (PDF) regarding homeowner representation by firms that represent financial institutions.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the City Bar Justice Center are sponsoring a pro bono legal services effort called the Lawyers’ Foreclosure Intervention Network that pairs homeowners at risk of foreclosure with attorneys and certified law students.

It’s an encouraging development as well as good public relations effort for the legal profession.

I’ll have to crack open that dusty copy of Hamlet.


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[Drawing The Foreclosure Line] A Picture Tells A Story

August 6, 2008 | 12:25 pm |

Here’s an interesting chart given to me by someone (not a Realtor) who attended a presentation by the Leslie Appleton-Young, Chief Economist of the California Association of Realtors in July.

It is using data provided by ForeclosureRadar.com, the firm featured in that CBS 60 Minutes piece a while back and shows broad disparity within Sacramento, California by area divided by a highway. On the left features new developments, peppered with the damage of speculators and subprime.

I have long said that there is “no national housing market” and that macro real estate data can be misused or misinterpreted.

Let’s take foreclosures.

Are they are growing problem? Yes.
Can they represent as much as half the sales in a market (ie Sacramento)? Yes.
Is it a serious issue that will get worse before it gets better? Yes.
Will millions of homes be foreclosed in the next few years? Probably.

Is every town (are most towns) in America experiencing massive foreclosure activity right now? No.


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[This Just In] There IS Meaningful Housing News On Comedy Central

July 22, 2008 | 9:04 pm |

You gotta love Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. He is making news more accessible to young people (my kids and, of course, me) by delivering it as entertainment. He’s had some interesting guests on the show to cover the housing market. The housing market situation is so ridiculous, it is a natural fit on this kind of show.

John Stewart: People would come in and say “I don”t have good credit, or a job, and my car has been repossessed and I’d like a house, what do you think?

Lender: Ok

Last night I saw the interview with Richard Bitner who is humping his book, Confessions of a Subprime Lender. I was in a BN a few weeks ago and almost picked it up. I had read the interesting review in Daniel McGuinn’s Newsweek Resident Expert column in the spring but was already OD’ed from subprime talk.

But after hearing the interview last night, and the fact that he speaks with such clarity, I would imagine it’s a fun read. He was a wholesale lender, providing mortgage money to mortgage brokers…and guess what?…underwriting standards eroded.

Looks like another reason to delay reading War & Peace.

See the clip [it starts at 15:00]


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New Scalable FDIC Web Site Built For Easy Expansion Of Bank Failures

July 21, 2008 | 2:23 pm | |

In an effort to be proactive, the FDIC has created a web site that simply allows a depositor to “select a bank” from a popup list. It seems to be built for maximum scalability.

Expect increased usage over the next few years. Hopefully FDIC won’t actually issue subprime loans in any of lenders:

It turns out that the U.S. government itself was one of the lenders giving out high-interest, subprime mortgages, some of them predatory, according to government documents filed in federal court.

The unusual situation, which is still bedeviling bank regulators, stems from the 2001 seizure by federal officials of Superior Bank FSB, then a national subprime lender based in Hinsdale, Ill. Rather than immediately shuttering or selling Superior, as it normally does with failed banks, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. continued to run the bank’s subprime-mortgage business for months as it looked for a buyer. With FDIC people supervising day-to-day operations, Superior funded more than 6,700 new subprime loans worth more than $550 million, according to federal mortgage data.


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“Near Zero Default” A Recent IndyMac Conversation About Speed

July 18, 2008 | 10:44 am | |

In my continuing obsession with appraisal/lending issues given the bank shakeouts that will occur over the next 12-18 months, here’s an email conversation with IndyMac on an appraisal assignment occurred in late May with my appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

The report was ordered with a specific inspection date needed. Up until then, our turn time was consistently 7-10 days, usually inspecting the property within a day or 2 after the order depending on the contact info accuracy and customer cooperation. Granted, 7-10 days is not stellar, but we are very busy, ours clients know this in advance and our competitors (that I would consider competent) have the same turn times as well.

You can see one of our employees frustrations toward the end because we had gone through great effort to accommodate the bank to inspect the property on the day they needed it done and they did not indicate early on that there was any “rush” plus they basically told us we were not needed, after a warm and fuzzy relationship that preceded this conversation. Very odd.

I guess what annoyed me in seeing this email later on, was the comment about their 0 default rate and yet the lender collapsed 2 1/2 months later. I am sure this person was responding to their own branch’s experience but its weird they brought up such a reference in the dialog, inferring (to me, anyway) that it was a big problem looming at the bank).

Incidentally, 300 banks are projected to fail in the next 3 years.


May 28, 2008 email dialog

IndyMac Please provide status on this report – thanks

Miller Samuel [address omitted] will be inspected tomorrow, May 28th.

IndyMac And how soon thereafter can we expect the completed report? Thanks

Miller Samuel All appraisal turnaround time is currently 7-10 business days starting from the time of inspection.

IndyMac We are going to have to cancel this order- sorry but your turn around time is just too long.

Miller Samuel [name omitted] we have worked an entire schedule around this appt. When do u need the hard copy and we will deliver it.

IndyMac We have appraisers that give us reports back within 2 days of the inspection. This is still not going to work. If you can get us the reports back in that time frame we will have a lot of business for you. I am sorry

Miller Samuel Yikes! That’s called bang it out, hit the number appraising. No that’s not something we participate in. That’s how subprime occurred and why the housing market continues to fall. Conditions for mortgage fraud remain in tact with many lenders because of a lack of concern for quality. 48 hr Speed = Bad appraisals and ultimately bad loans. We can do 5-7 business days. I really hope you guys don’t end up like countrywide and all the rest. But with 2 day turn time its inevitable.

IndyMac I understand your position and would never ask you to do something you are not comfortable doing. This branch does AAA business with typically low ltv’s, high credit, etc. Our default ratio is nearly 0 pct and we pride ourselves on efficiency and effectiveness. I think going forward we should help you gain access earlier in the transaction so you can adequately do your job. If there is something we can do on our end please let us know.

July 11, 2008

IndyMac collapses

July 17, 2008

FBI fraud inquiry after IndyMac collapse

IndyMac Collapse Fuels Fears About WaMu


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[Subprime Truth In Lending] From A To Regulation Z

July 16, 2008 | 12:01 am | |

The Federal Reserve finished crafting their subprime mortgage rules regarding Truth in Lending called Regulation Z. I am doubtful that this rule would have been updated if we weren’t experiencing the current mortgage market turmoil.

Because this is such an important issue, it will take effect on October 1, 2009 (more than a year from now.)

“The proposed final rules are intended to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive acts and practices in mortgage lending, while keeping credit available to qualified borrowers and supporting sustainable homeownership,” said Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. “Importantly, the new rules will apply to all mortgage lenders, not just those supervised and examined by the Federal Reserve. Besides offering broader protection for consumers, a uniform set of rules will level the playing field for lenders and increase competition in the mortgage market, to the ultimate benefit of borrowers,” the Chairman said.

Ask anyone whether they thought these types of rules would already be on the books (for high priced mortgages – 1.5% above the “average prime offer rate”) – here are some excerpts:

  • Prohibit a lender from making a loan without regard to borrowers’ ability to repay the loan from income and assets other than the home’s value.
  • Require creditors to verify the income and assets they rely upon to determine repayment ability.
  • Ban any prepayment penalty if the payment can change in the initial four years.
  • Require creditors to establish escrow accounts for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance for all first-lien mortgage loans.

And here are rules for all loans, not just high priced:

  • Creditors and mortgage brokers are prohibited from coercing a real estate appraiser to misstate a home’s value.
  • Companies that service mortgage loans are prohibited from engaging in certain practices, such as pyramiding late fees.
  • Creditors must provide a good faith estimate of the loan costs, including a schedule of payments, within three days after a consumer applies for any mortgage loan secured by a consumer’s principal dwelling, such as a home improvement loan or a loan to refinance an existing loan.

Is it just me or do these rules seem crazy obvious? Why aren’t they on the books already? Why on earth do these rules only apply to subprime mortgages? Not Alt-A or Prime?

Speaking of scapegoating subprime, and something about the squeaky wheel getting the grease, lets talk oil and the evils of the dreaded speculation.

And the tale of two economies…

Highlights of Regulation Z [Federal Reserve]


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