Altruistica

"Altruistica": Seeking a return to full financial disclosure and regulatory oversight. A financial market analysis blog for "entertainment purposes" only by an experienced CFA seeking new hedge fund engagements for investment writing and analysis. The author has experience investing internationally, running a hedge fund, making angel investments, and helping launch five startup companies. Investors should do their own due diligence.

23 December 2006

Foreclosures soaring and Mortgage Brokers Exiting


The Mortgage Bust Goes On
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Forbes Magazine, By Matthew Swibel

A record-high 19% of high-cost mortgages originated during the past two years will end in foreclosure, a consequence of the growth in risky mortgage products, according to new data compiled by an industry group.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsible Lending predicts 2.2 million households in this mortgage segment, known as subprime borrowers, either have lost their homes or hold mortgages doomed for foreclosure in the next few years. This estimate comes a week after a grim survey from Fitch Ratings, which studies residential mortgage securities, showing a 16-fold increase in past-due subprime loans in the third quarter of 2006, compared with 1998.

Subprime borrowers, who typically pay interest rates 2% to 3% higher than those with good credit, currently account for a quarter of all mortgage originations. "This is the largest rash of mortgage foreclosures in the modern mortgage market," says Michael Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending.

The worst-hit areas for rising foreclosures include cities in California, Nevada, New York, New Jersey and the greater Washington, D.C., area that recorded steep housing price appreciation in the past few years. As the market cools, homeowners will find it harder to tap their homes for bigger lines of credit or to take cash out in refinancing. Here comes the pinch: To manage household debt, Americans have used such moves to pull over $2 trillion out of their homes in the past five years. In the first six months of 2006, consumers extracted over $500 billion.

The sharp increase in foreclosures poses "a serious threat to neighborhood stability," said Pat Vredevoogd, president-elect of the National Association of Realtors, in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. "It can cause all homes in the neighborhood to lose value." The deterioration of homeowners' ability to keep up with mortgage payments will add oomph to calls on Capitol Hill for new regulation of mortgage lenders and brokers. "There is considerable discussion by incoming House Finance Committee Chairman Barney Frank [D-Mass.] to enact a predatory lending law for these mortgage lending problems," says Keith Ernst, senior policy counsel for the Center for Responsible Lending.


The Senate Banking Committee's agenda under Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., will scrutinize the home-buying process, too. "The amount of household and mortgage debt as a percentage of disposable income is at its worst levels in over a quarter of a century--putting countless Americans on the financial brink," Dodd told a press conference earlier this month. "In many respects, the American Dream is at risk in a way it has never been before. I do not intend to preside over its demise, but rather to do everything possible for its revival." The growing chorus of concern over mortgage costs and foreclosures could ensnare more than just the lenders like Countrywide Financial (nyse: CFC - news - people ), Wells Fargo (nyse: WFC - news - people ) and H&R Block (nyse: HRB - news - people ) who peddle adjustable-rate mortgages with low teaser rates and interest-only features. On Wall Street, risky mortgages get bundled into large pools of mortgage-backed securities, which now account for 23% of all bond market debt outstanding, making it the largest single segment of the U.S bond market.

Increased regulatory oversight could lead to a demand that mortgage servicers give greater flexibility to delinquent borrowers to avoid foreclosure. This would increase a pool's income, but it would also raise its servicing costs--something investors dearly want to avoid.

In Pictures: Ballooning Foreclosure Rates

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