From past articles and projections, we already knew that September through December of 2007 would see the largest number of subprime resets. We've seen a couple of reports putting monthly rate resets in the range of $50 billion to over $100 billion. This is important because it will be a litmus test on the resiliency of the housing market. It is clear that many lenders and financial institutions are buckling even with the current environment. A few other things will place additional strain on the market including third quarter results that unfortunately, will reflect a slow and underwhelming summer housing market. This coupled with growing inventory, stalling appreciation, and the massive wave of resets will make it very difficult for housing prices not to depreciate.
Option One – Refinance
According to DataQuick, during the first half of the year over 43.4 percent of loans in
The illuminating thing of this data is that many of these NODs are turning into foreclosures. This is a phenomenon absent in the previous decade of the housing boom. Sellers facing trouble were bailed out by a rising market and rapid appreciation. There was no need to refinance aside from taking out money or lowering a higher previous rate. Those sellers that desperately wanted to stay in their home, used creative methods such as tapping into a home equity line of credit and bought extra time for paying off their current mortgage. The burden has now shifted since the mortgage markets are tightening their belts and appreciation is stagnant. In fact, this is the first year of serious market issues in
Option Two – Sell
Last month sales volume fell over 50 percent in Los Angeles on a year-over-year basis. The last option of hope for many home owners in trouble was selling. In fact, many sellers were able to unload their homes before their rate reset and profited nicely. This went on for multiple years. In a bubble, rational behavior and fundamentals seem to take a backseat. Even staunch opponents of housing started singing a different tune. It is almost a historical prerequisite that once a bubble forms and is in full stride, rhetoric regarding a “new era” creep into the mainstream lexicon. Selling is becoming a challenge in the current market because of market depreciation, increased inventory, and buyer psychology. Another characteristic of any bubble is irrational logic guiding fundamental economic decisions. There was really no reason for housing prices to run up the way they did with no income support, population growth numbers that didn’t instigate amazing jumps, and renovations that didn’t reflect hundreds of thousands of dollars in price premiums. In addition, buyers are no longer fighting for the one home on the block. Any person living in
Sellers are also competing with short-sales and foreclosures. The worst time to negotiate is when you are hostage to spiraling debt. Many of these sellers have no choice but to sell. Life goes on and things such as divorce, employment disruptions, or crushing debt payments are enough reason to move out. At a recent presentation by Countrywide, they announced that the number one reason for people facing foreclosure was “curtailment of income” at 58.3 percent of all causes. The second leading cause? Medical or illness coming in at 13.2 percent. This paints a contrasting view to the current reports that employment and income is strong and healthy. We need to start examining leading indicators such as building permits, insurance claims, and the money supply because this will tell us where we are heading. Looking at lagging indicators such as the unemployment rate only tell us where we have been. They are both important but clearly we are at a tipping point of market data not reflecting market reality.
Option Three – Foreclosure
It goes without saying that most people do not want to lose their home through foreclosure. It is a financially and emotionally stressful life event. 100 percent of people do not want to lose money. Yet looking at the exploding number of foreclosures, it is becoming more apparent that the country debt load is becoming too much to handle. Keep in mind that we have never witnessed a time in history of such extraordinary national real estate appreciation. We had previous regional housing bubbles such as the Florida housing boom during the 1920s. In addition, our unemployment rate is relatively low and inflation according to government statistics is still under control. We examined this in a previous article and highlighted that in modern day society, avoiding debt is nearly impossible for most working class Americans. The cost of education, healthcare, housing, food, and energy have all gone up dramatically in the last decade. Let us take a look at the national mortgage debt load for the entire country:
As you can see from the above chart mortgage debt has tripled from 1992. It went from approximately $4 trillion to about $12 trillion in the current market. You can also see the inflexion point at roughly 1999. It is hard to imagine that such a booming economy with relatively low unemployment is facing the debt struggles that we are facing. One of the main reasons is that employment in the housing sector has boomed in the last decade. It goes without saying that a slower housing market will equal unemployment for those in the housing industry.
Policy makers are providing their solutions to this mortgage crises. Initially what started as a subprime problem is now spilling over into multiple sectors. This has the potential of pushing the economy into recession and more and more economist are chiming in with future odds. What are some of the current solutions on the plate?
These solutions may help but they only put a bandaid on the overall broken housing market. In a politically charged environment with so much at stake next year, both sides of the political spectrum are treading water carefully. No one wants to be seen as the party that didn’t help suffering home owners. Bernanke is a student of the Great Depression and realizes that history doesn’t bode well for a Fed and government that doesn’t act swiftly. Even though they publicly echo fears of inflation, policy moves and data point toward a more permeating fear of deflation. I truly believe Americans do not want to see their fellow citizens fail and suffer. In fact, I believe most Americans have a strong work ethic and hold that people that sacrifice and work diligently should be rewarded. What frustrates most Americans is a game where the uber-wealthy are given corporate welfare when times are tough but poorer Americans by these same groups are seen as not being able to pull themselves up from their own bootstraps. The solution to this, even though people do not want to hear this, is a market correction. This means that local income levels and the new tighter credit standards will dictate future housing prices. In some areas this means 10 percent drops while in others this can reach 50 percent or higher. Will this happen? The data is already pointing toward this. Even if property drops 30 percent over 5 years, combined with inflation adjustments this is close to a 50 percent drop. Some areas in Los Angeles are already seeing 20 percent adjustments year-over-year.
By looking at the reset charts, we realize that the housing correction still has a long way to go. What will happen in the next year through policy and market sentiment will set the tone for the next decade of housing in
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