2009-07-11barrons.com

Here's an excerpt from Mark's part of the article (not visible behind firewall; transcribed from paper copy)

Moreover, housing is still in deep doo-doo, as evidenced by the graphic on this page. The telling tables are the handiwork of Amherst and come to us via Mark Hanson of Hanson Advisors, whose pithy analyses we've quoted on momre than one recent occasion. The table on the left shows the re-default rates of homeowners who were current on their loans when they defaulted for the first time and have again defaulted 10 months after their loans were modified; the table to the right shows the re-default rates of homeowners who had defaulted when they were seriously delinquent and defaulted again 10 months after their loans were modified.

They illustrate the fundamental flaw in the notion, widely embraced, not least by the by the Obama administration, that loan modifications is salvation for troubled homeowners, beleaguered builders and lenders. Bull, says Mark.

"Loan Mods," he contends, "are designed to keep the unpaid principal balances of the lender's loans in tact while re-levering the borrower"...

Mortgage modifications, he thunders, turn "homeowners into underwater, over-levered renters for life, unable to sell, re-buy, refi, shop or save. They turn homeowners into economic zombies."

Unfortunately, Mark is right with regards to the vast majority of modifications that have been done to date. They are little more than forbearances, with a hope that the home valuation and hence loan principal are appropriate, and that the economic position of the typical homeowner will soon improve, rather than deteriorate.

In other words, they're totally inappropriate for the bubble valuations, and for the economic downturn we are now solidly enmeshed in (and will be facing for quite a while, all of which we predicted here well before-the-fact).

Around here, the house view is that loan modifications indeed are what is sorely needed -- but those must involve hefty principal write-downs by the note holders, or they simply will not be sustainable. And unfortunately, the vast majority of mods to date avoid this kind of reckoning like the plague. The reasoning is obvious: keeping the values pegged high and just extending forebearance allows the assets to continue to be booked unrealistically high, and banks (and other financial firms) can avoid taking the full brunt of the write-downs they need to. This would harm bank valuations, you see, and they feel they've already had "enough hurt".

The government has made things vastly worse by not only propping these firms up, but giving them a green light to continue with the fictional valuations. At the same time, it is now whining that they won't do more meaningful write-down.

Here's a simple message for the Obama administration: pick one, meaningful and sustainable writedowns for distressed homeowners, or elevated bank valuations.

The answer to this dilemma (given through actions), should be interesting -- showing whether the administration believes its bread is better buttered by popular support, or the banking lobby. I won't be holding my breath for meaningful populism.

Some excerpts of the default data: on initially-current loans, Countrywide modified $87M of loans but 59% had re-defaulted within 10 months (this is the worst performance of initially-current loans). Wells Fargo came in second, with 49% re-defaults on $334M of modifications.

On initially-delinquent loans, Wells Fargo came in 11th (tied with Ameriquest), with 70% re-default on $605M of loans. Countrywide came in first again, with 80% re-defaults, which ties it with WaMu (the two thrifts modified $388M and $566M of loans respectively).

The best record on initially-current loans was a "mere" 34% re-default rate after 10 months. By contrast, the best record for initially-delinquent loans was 62% -- held by (the non-WaMu part of) JP Morgan Chase.

(The study interval and sampling methodology were note reported).


Lijit Search

Comments:

milkyway5 at 18:26 2009-07-11 said:
Beautiful. Such a waste of time. If you are going to eventually leave your home anyways find a nice rental and move on.(Oh--I guess live there for free as long as you can though and trash it before you leave!!!) Let the banks have all these houses and deal with it so we can clean this mess up. (Obviously the banks will ride it out as long as possible--they don't care). The borrower will take the free ride as long as possible--then re-default because it's a losing battle, then finally move on. Nice cycle. Win(banks),Win(some homeowners and attorneys), Lose ( taxpayers and the majority of the country who did nothing wrong) Permalink
mandelman at 21:41 2009-07-11 said:
I'm too tired at the moment to address the larger questions, but let me just say the following:

1. The term loan modification should be a synonym for (at least) reducing someone's payments. So, saying that loan modifications "don't work" is like saying that reducing someone's payments won't help keep them in their home. That is a stupid sentence.

2. A forbearance is not a loan modification... not in ANY homeowner's or rational individual's mind. The term has no place in a discussion about loan modifications.

That's it, I'm going to bed. Permalink

add a comment | go to forum thread