Posted by: primecredit | March 12, 2010

Mortage Rates Are Unchanged For Week Ending March 12

 Quiet Week for Mortgage Markets

During a very light week for economic news, the economic data and Treasury auctions contained few surprises and produced little reaction in mortgage markets. Mortgage rates ended the week nearly unchanged.

 In early 2009, the Fed embarked on a $1.25 trillion mortgage-backed securities (MBS) purchase program to help keep mortgage rates low and stimulate the economy. The amount purchased varied from week to week, reaching a peak of $33.2 billion in the week of March 25, 2009. The Fed has been gradually reducing the size of its purchases at a pace consistent with a March 31 conclusion of the program, and the most recent weekly purchases have been down to around $10 billion.

 As the date nears, the big question is what will happen when the MBS purchase program ends. This program is unprecedented, making the outcome difficult to predict, and forecasts vary widely. Estimates for the impact on mortgage rates from the conclusion of the program vary from an increase of one percent to no change. Those who predict higher mortgage rates point to a basic change in the fundamental supply and demand. The added demand from the Fed was widely credited with moving rates lower, and a decrease in demand would typically push rates higher. However, other economists argue that investors respond only to unexpected news. In this view, since the Fed has telegraphed the end of the program for months, there should be little reaction around March 31. The Fed itself has indicated that they expect a modest increase in mortgage rates due to the end of the program.

Posted by: primecredit | March 5, 2010

Mortgage Rates Mostly Unchanged For Week Ended March 5

Mixed Data Affects Rates
Economic data was the primary force driving mortgage rates this week. Generally weaker than expected data resulted in modest improvement in rates for most of the week. This was completely offset by an increase in rates on Friday due to stronger than expected Employment data, however, leaving mortgage rates nearly unchanged from last week.

Against a consensus forecast for a decline of -50K jobs, the economy lost -36K jobs in February, and the revisions from prior months showed more jobs than previously reported. The Unemployment Rate remained unchanged from January at 9.7%, which was lower than expected. The payrolls figures and the unemployment rate are calculated from two separate sets of data. The payrolls report focuses on larger companies, while the unemployment survey covers all companies. The more volatile unemployment survey surprisingly showed an increase of 308K jobs in February, indicating that smaller companies were a source of job gains.

This week’s housing data was weaker than expected. January Pending Home Sales fell 7.6%, far below the consensus forecast for a small increase. They were still 12% higher than one year ago, however. The expected surge in sales from the extended homebuyer tax credit has failed to materialize so far. The chief economist of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggested that unusually harsh weather “hampered shopping activity” in many regions, so a pickup in sales still may be seen as buyers take advantage of the tax credit before the April 30 deadline.

Posted by: primecredit | February 26, 2010

Mortgage Rates Move Lower During Week Ended February 26

Weak Data Moves Mortgage Rates Lower
After several weeks of focus on Fed actions and events in foreign markets, domestic economic data was the primary influence on mortgage markets this week. Weaker than expected results from the data helped mortgage rates, which ended the week lower.

While it is rarely a big market mover, this week’s Consumer Confidence report shocked investors. The index declined to 46.0, far below the consensus forecast of 55.0, and the lowest level in nine months. Consumers are clearly worried about the labor market, and an increase in Jobless Claims in recent weeks has amplified the issue. The decline in confidence has potentially negative consequences for the economy. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of economic activity, and this data raises concerns about the level of future spending. Also, home sales suffer during periods of low consumer confidence, and the housing data released this week reflected consumer insecurity. Of course, slower economic growth is favorable for mortgage rates, which fell after the report came out.

In contrast to the weakness seen in many of the consumer-driven economic reports, the manufacturing sector has been demonstrating strong performance in recent months. Fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the broadest measure of economic activity, rose at a brisk 5.9% annual rate, largely due to a pickup in manufacturing. The added boost from manufacturing may be temporary, however. During the financial crisis, companies drew down inventories as much as possible to conserve capital. As the economy has shown improvement, companies have been increasing inventories closer to pre-crisis levels. When the inventory rebuilding is complete, manufacturing is expected to return to more normal levels.

While investors began the week watching for fresh information about Greece and China, the Fed stole the spotlight on Wednesday with news that was unfavorable for mortgage markets, and mortgage rates ended the week moderately higher.

 The Fed currently has significant influence on mortgage rates. Over the last year, the Fed pushed mortgage rates lower by purchasing over $1 trillion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Wednesday, the Fed’s Plosser suggested that the Fed should begin selling those MBS “sooner rather than later.” Later that day, the Fed released the detailed minutes from the January 27 Fed meeting. The minutes revealed that “several” Fed officials favored starting the sale of the Fed’s MBS portfolio “in the near future.” Investors were not expecting that Fed MBS sales would begin any time soon. Quite simply, adding to the supply of MBS being sold means that yields would need to move higher to attract buyers. Since mortgage rates are largely determined by MBS yields, mortgage rates rose after the news.

 Thursday, the Fed announced an increase in the discount rate, the emergency rate at which banks borrow money from the Fed. The Fed made clear that this in no way reflected a change in broader monetary policy or its economic outlook. This was simply a return to more normal levels for one Fed tool now that the financial crisis has eased. As a result, there was very little impact on mortgage rates. According to Fed officials, a move to begin to tighten overall monetary policy, which almost certainly would cause a significant reaction, is still expected to be at least several months away. The inflation data released this week continued to show low levels of current inflation, providing little pressure for the Fed to rush to take action.

Hitler rants on Appraisal Management Companies

Posted by: primecredit | February 12, 2010

Mortgage Rates Are Slightly Higher For The Week Ending February 12


Global events in China and Greece had a significant impact on US mortgage markets this week, but in opposite directions. In addition, demand was much weaker than average for the 10-year and 30-year Treasury auctions, which pushed up yields. The net result was a slight increase in mortgage rates from last week.

A surprise announcement Thursday night that China raised bank reserve requirements helped mortgage markets and hurt the stock market. The increase is a form of monetary tightening which is intended to slow economic growth in China. This likely means that China will buy fewer exports from other countries, slowing economic growth globally. Slower expected economic growth reduces inflationary pressures, which is positive for mortgage yields.

In recent weeks, large fiscal deficits in Greece have caused speculation that the country will default on its government debt, which resulted in an investor flight to the relative safety of US bonds. This week, the news that Greece will receive economic aid from other European Union nations prompted investors to reverse this flight to safety by selling US bonds, moving yields higher.

While it caused little immediate reaction, on Wednesday Fed Chief Bernanke revealed monetary policy strategies which may have important long-term implications for mortgage markets. Bernanke released the text of a speech which provided more details about the Fed’s planned methods to tighten monetary policy when the economy has gained enough strength. One of the things the Fed intends to do is sell its portfolio of mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Due to concerns about disrupting mortgage markets, however, Bernanke suggested that this will be one of the last measures taken to tighten policy, and it will be done very gradually.

The biggest influence on mortgage rates this week came from outside the US. Concerns about the possible default of sovereign debt in smaller nations caused investors to seek the relative safety of US fixed income securities. This week’s economic data was roughly balanced in terms of positive and negative surprises. The added demand for safer investments helped mortgage rates move lower during the week.

 The recession has impacted countries in different ways. Some of the hardest hit have been smaller European nations, such as Greece and Spain. As members of the European Union, they must adhere to certain restrictions which limit their flexibility to adjust domestic economic policy. As a result, some countries may be at risk of defaulting on government debt. Investors responded by buying relatively safer assets such as US bonds, including agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Investors also withdrew money from global stock markets during the week. In the US, the Dow fell about 200 points.

 Friday’s important Employment report contained mixed news. Against a consensus forecast for a gain of 15K jobs, the economy lost -20K jobs in January. The big story, though, was an unexpected drop in the Unemployment Rate to 9.7% from 10.0% in December. Two separate sources of data are used to compute the change in jobs and the change in the unemployment rate, and during volatile periods the two methods can show widely divergent results. The decline in the unemployment rate in January was viewed as very good news by many economists, pointing to an improving labor market. On a more negative note, revisions to older data showed that the economy has lost 8.4 million jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007, from the previous reported level of 7.2 million.

At a 50 to 1 leverage ratio, the FHA will soon have a smaller capital cushion than did investment bank Bear Stearns on the eve of its crash. (See nearby table.) Its loan delinquency rate (more than 30 days late in payments) is now above 14%, or from two to three times higher than on conventional mortgages. Its cash reserve ratio has fallen by more than two-thirds in three years.

The reason for this financial deterioration is that FHA is underwriting record numbers of high-risk mortgages. Between 2006 and the end of next year, FHA’s insurance portfolio will have expanded to $1 trillion from $410 billion. Today nearly one in four new mortgages carries an FHA guarantee, up from one in 50 in 2006. Through FHA, the Veterans Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taxpayers now guarantee repayment on more than 80% of all U.S. mortgages. Sources familiar with a new draft HUD report on FHA’s worsening balance sheet tell us that the default rates have risen most rapidly on the most recent loans, i.e., those initiated or refinanced in 2008 and 2009.

All of this means the FHA is making a trillion-dollar housing gamble with taxpayer money as the table stakes. If housing values recover (fingers crossed), default rates will fall and the agency could even make money on its aggressive underwriting. But if housing prices continue their slide in states like Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada—where many FHA borrowers already have negative equity in their homes—taxpayers could face losses of $100 billion or more.

So far Congress has pretended that these liabilities don’t exist because they are technically “off budget.” They stay invisible until they move on-budget when a Fannie Mae-type cash bailout is needed. The Obama Administration is at least finally catching on to these perils and last week proposed some modest reforms. These include appointing a “chief risk officer” at FHA, tightening home appraisals, requiring that FHA lenders have audited financial statements, and increasing the capital requirement of FHA lenders to $1 million up from $250,000. The scandal is that these basic standards weren’t in place years ago.

Unfortunately, Washington won’t touch more significant reforms for fear of angering the powerful nexus of Realtors, mortgage bankers and home builders. As we’ve written for years, the FHA’s main lending problem is that it requires neither lenders nor borrowers to have a sufficient financial stake in mortgage repayment. The FHA’s absurdly low 3.5% down payment policy, in combination with other policies to reduce up-front costs for new homebuyers, means that homebuyers can move into their government-insured home with an equity stake as low as 2.5%. The government’s own housing data prove that low down payments are the single largest predictor of defaults.

Private banks know this. Burned on subprime mortgages, they are back to requiring 10% or even 20% down payments. Congress should at least require a 5% down payment on loans that carry a taxpayer guarantee. If borrowers can’t put at least 5% down, they can’t afford the house.

As for rooting out fraud that contributes to high loss rates, the obvious solution is to drop the 100% guarantee on FHA mortgages. Why not hold banks liable for the first 10% of losses on the housing loans they originate, a reform that has been recommended since as far back as the early Reagan years? No other mortgage insurer insures 100% loan repayment. Alas, while offering its minireforms, the Obama Administration reassured its real-estate pals that FHA insurance will continue to carry “no risk to homeowners or bondholders.”

Legal snarls, bureaucracy and well-meaning efforts to keep families in their homes are slowing the flow of properties headed toward foreclosure sales, even when borrowers are in deep distress. While that buys time for families to work out their problems, some analysts believe the delays are prolonging the mortgage crisis and creating a growing “shadow” inventory of pent-up supply that will eventually hit the market.

The size of this shadow inventory is a source of concern and debate among real-estate agents and analysts who worry that when the supply is unleashed, it could interrupt the budding housing recovery and ignite a new wave of stress in the housing market.

“There’s going to be a flood [of bank-owned homes] listed for sale at some point,” says John Burns, a real-estate consultant based in Irvine, Calif. When that happens, Mr. Burns believes, home prices will fall further, particularly in markets with large numbers of foreclosures. Overall, he expects home prices to decline 6% next year.

Ivy Zelman, chief executive of Zelman & Associates, a research firm based in Cleveland, believes three million to four million foreclosed homes will be put up for sale in the next few years. The question is whether the flow of these homes onto the market will resemble “a fire hose or a garden hose or a drip,” she says.

Analysts who track the shadow market have focused primarily on the gap between the number of seriously delinquent loans and the number of foreclosed homes for sale by mortgage companies. A loan is considered seriously delinquent, which typically means it is headed to foreclosure, if it is 90 days or more past due.

As of July, mortgage companies hadn’t begun the foreclosure process on 1.2 million loans that were at least 90 days past due, according to estimates prepared for The Wall Street Journal by LPS Applied Analytics, which collects and analyzes mortgage data. An additional 1.5 million seriously delinquent loans were somewhere in the foreclosure process, though the lender hadn’t yet acquired the property. The figures don’t include home-equity loans and other second mortgages

Moreover, there were 217,000 loans in July where the borrower hadn’t made a payment in at least a year but the lender hadn’t begun the foreclosure process. In other words, 17% of home mortgages that are at least 12 months overdue aren’t in foreclosure, up from 8% a year earlier.

Some borrowers may be able to catch up on their payments or receive a loan modification that helps them keep their home. There has also been an increase in short-sales, transactions in which at-risk borrowers sell their homes for less than the loan amount, with the lender’s approval. In some cases, lenders have decided not to foreclose because the home’s value is so low. These factors could mean fewer foreclosures.

Foreclosed homes are partly responsible for the recent increase in home sales. But foreclosures also push down home values. According to Collateral Analytics, a housing research firm, homes that have been foreclosed on typically sell at a 10% to 50% discount.

For now, the delays have led to what is probably a temporary drop in the supply of bank-owned homes in California and other places where investors and first-time home buyers have been competing for bargains. In Orange County, Calif., the number of bank-owned homes listed for sale dropped to 322 in early September from 1,404 in November 2008, according to Altera Real Estate.

But the number of foreclosures is expected to increase in the fourth quarter as mortgage-servicing companies determine who is eligible for a loan modification and who isn’t. “We are going to see a spike from now to the end of the year in foreclosures as we take people out of the running” for a loan modification or other alternatives, says a Bank of America Corp. spokeswoman. Foreclosure sales had dropped to “abnormally low” levels in response to government efforts to stem foreclosures, she adds.

The Federal Housing Administration said Friday that its financial cushion will sink below mandatory levels for the first time in its 75-year history, but officials insisted the agency won’t need to be rescued.

“Under no circumstance will any taxpayer bailout be needed,” said David Stevens, the FHA’s commissioner. He also said the agency doesn’t expect to raise fees for borrowers, or curtail the number of loans it insures.

Amid the collapse of the subprime lending market, the government has taken up the slack. The FHA has insured nearly a quarter of all new loans made this year, and about 80 percent of that business is from first-time homebuyers.

But the agency has faced mounting concerns on Capitol Hill that it will soon need a taxpayer bailout. As of this summer, about 17 percent of FHA borrowers were at least one payment behind or in foreclosure, compared with 13 percent for all loans, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Plummeting home prices, Stevens said, are the main reason its financial reserves are dwindling. While an earlier analysis had assumed prices would hit bottom this year, the agency now is assuming prices will fall through next spring.

“While FHA didn’t take part in the housing boom, it’s not immune from the ripple effect of declining house prices,” said Brian Montgomery, the agency’s former commissioner. “That’s quite frankly what this is about.”

The agency itself does not make loans, but rather offers insurance against default. Many borrowers are willing to pay for the insurance because FHA loans only require down payments of 3.5 percent of the purchase price.

The FHA now insures about 5.3 million mortgages, up from about 4 million three years ago.

In an effort to weed out shady operators, it wants to require that participating lenders have a net worth of $1 million, up from the current requirement of $250,000, and undergo annual audits.

Last month, FHA banned mortgage company Taylor, Bean & Whitaker from making any more federally insured loans after it failed to submit a required financial report, raising fraud concerns.

FHA officials have long pushed in Congress for more money to upgrade the agency’s outdated computer systems and say they are stepping up the agency’s efforts to catch shady operators who funnel bad loans.

But Bert Ely, a banking industry analyst in Alexandria, Va., said he wouldn’t be surprised if the FHA asks for a taxpayer bailout in the coming years. Though, he said, it’s likely to be far smaller than the $96 billion that mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have tapped since they were seized by federal regulators a year ago.

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