Market Weakness Threatens All-Time Low Mortgage Rates

Mortgage Rates worsened at a reasonably brisk pace today when compared with recent relative stability.  Still, the movement remains confined to costs associated with as yet, unchanged Best-Execution Rates.  That means that 3.875% is still the average “best-case-scenario and best bang-for-the-buck” rate among most lenders rounded to the nearest eighth.  3.75% had been increasingly attractive last week, but has all but faded from view after lenders released rates weaker this morning.  Several lenders recalled those rates, raising costs as bond markets suffered.

Over the past few days, we’ve included the following in our analysis:

Rates are as low as they’ve ever been.  How long will
this continue?  There’s no way to know for sure, but we generally
advocate a conservative approach with rates at all time lows. 
“Conservative” in this sense simply means that history has shown us how
quickly record-low rates can disappear.  While we certainly wouldn’t
rule out the possibility that rates can improve, we’ve already been
experiencing the fact that further gains are hard-fought and take more
time than gains seen in the middle of the range. 

If you happened to read that, taken in conjunction with several days of weakness, you may be wondering if these are the days that mark the turning point away from all time low rates.  The great thing about such a concern is this: rates are still at all time lows!  If you’re worried that current weakness could mark the turning point, the sacrifice of slightly higher closing costs vs yesterday seems minimal compared to the loss of the opportunity altogether. 

If losing the opportunity doesn’t bother you much, just be sure to clearly define an acceptable level of loss from current rates.  Set yourself a “stop,” of sorts, by deciding on a rate slightly
higher than what you’re currently being quoted, at which you’d lock at a
loss if the market moves against you.  Locking in such a scenario can
prove exceedingly frustrating more often than not as the higher
probability eventuality has been for rates to return lower, but this
pales in comparison to the potential frustration of rates NOT returning
lower.

Today’s BEST-EXECUTION Rates

  • 30YR FIXED –  3.875%, 3.75% as close as it’s been
  • FHA/VA -3.75%
  • 15 YEAR FIXED –  3.375% / 3.25%
  • 5 YEAR ARMS –  2.625-3.25% depending on the lender

Ongoing Lock/Float Considerations

  • Rates and costs continue to operate near all time best levels
  • Current levels have experienced increasing resistance in improving much from here
  • There are technical reasons for that as well as fundamental reasons
  • Lenders tend to get busier when rates are in this “high 3’s” level
    and can throttle their inbound volume by raising rates or costs.
  • While we don’t necessarily think rates are destined to go higher,
    given the above facts, there seems to be more risk than reward regarding
    floating
  • But that will always be the case when rates
    operate near all-time levels, and as 2011 showed us, it doesn’t always
    mean they’re done improving.

…(read more)

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FDIC Invites Comments on Stress Test Rules

The Federal Deposit Insurance
Corporation (FDIC) has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) for
comment.  The NPR would require the
larger of the banks it regulates to conduct annual capital-adequacy stress
tests.  The tests are one requirement of
the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and will affect FDIC-insured banks and
savings institutions with assets of more than $10 billion.  The FDIC currently has 23 financial
institutions meeting that criterion

The proposed rule focuses on capital
adequacy and defines a stress test as a process to assess the potential impact
on the bank of economic and financial conditions (“scenarios”) on the
consolidated earnings, losses, and capital of the covered bank over a set
planning horizon.  FDIC said that these
stress tests would be one component of the broader stress testing activities
conducted by the banks which should address the impact of a broad range of
potentially negative outcomes across a broad set of risk types with impacts
beyond capital adequacy along.  These,
however, are beyond the scope of the proposed rule.

Under the NPR each covered bank
would be required to conduct the test annually using the bank’s financial data
as of September 30 of that year.  Where
the parent company structure of the covered bank includes one or more financial
companies, each with assets greater than the $10 billion threshold, the stress
test requirement applies to the parent and to each subsidiary meeting the threshold,
however the FDIC will coordinate with other regulatory agencies to minimize
complexity or duplication of effort.

As proposed, FDIC would provide each
covered bank with a minimum of three sets of scenarios representing baseline,
adverse, and severely adverse economic and financial conditions and each bank would
use these scenarios to calculate the impact on its potential losses,
pre-provision revenues, loan loss reserves and pro forma capital positions for each quarter end within the
planning horizon.

The NPR also describes the content
of the reports institutions are required to publish, and the timeline for
conducting the stress tests and producing the required reports.

FDIC Acting Chairman Martin J.
Gruenberg said, “Both the FDIC and the institutions being tested will
benefit from the forward-looking results that the stress tests will provide.
The results will assist in ensuring an institution’s financial stability by
helping determine whether it has sufficient capital levels to withstand a
period of economic stress.”

The FDIC’s proposal will be
published in the Federal Register with a 60-day public comment period.

…(read more)

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First Horizon’s Buybacks; Buyback Legal Chatter; Basel III and Construction Loans; Congress Snubs Small Business?

I have been subtly warning groups during speeches, and writing in this commentary, about the implications of Basel III. Most of the focus is on servicing & the value of it. But did you know that under the new Basel III rules, construction lending would likely go into the “high risk commercial real estate” category and require a 150% risk weighting? “Lenders would seek deals where a developer would contribute a substantial amount of cash equity; while banks would be less likely to let developers rely just on the equity from appraisals” per American Banker. And the government and the Fed are asking why banks aren’t lending? This is just another reason.

Last month we sold the house where my kids grew up, and I had a handyman remove the doorframe where we marked heights on birthdays. I am not mentioning this to turn the daily into a Hallmark card, but because it reminded me of one thing that the press seems to forget: a house is a home and not a share of stock. And when it comes to that, the popular press seems to forget that people need a place to live, that people want a good school district for their kids, a place to get to know the neighbors, a place to create an emotional attachment. I could go on and on, but there are very concrete reasons why people who are underwater on a house still make the payments, why many who supposedly saw the real estate decline didn’t sell their home, and why so many people don’t care about minute fluctuations in the price of housing based on the latest metric.

I’ll get off my soapbox, and get on with business: I think that the last time the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index went up was during the Eisenhower Administration – until now. Seriously, for the first time in eight months the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices rose over levels of the previous month.  Data through April 2012 showed that on average home prices increased 1.3% during the month for both the 10- and 20-City Composites. Prices are still down 2.2% for the 10-City and 1.9% for the 20-City over figures for one year earlier but this is an improvement over the year-over-year losses of 2.9% 2.6% recorded in March. This report followed Monday’s news that New Home Sales jumped 7.6% in May to 369k and was up 19.8% from a year ago, and last week’s Existing Home Sales, Housing Starts and NAHB HMI which all contained some positive signs.

How’s this to grab one’s attention: “Congressional Subcommittee REFUSES Small Business Brokers and Appraisers a Seat at the Table.” The notice from the NAIHP goes on, “For the second time in a week, the Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity, Chaired by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Illinois), refused small business housing professionals the right to be represented during Congressional testimony.” Here you go: http://www.naihp.org/.

Yes, there are plenty of rumors that the agencies are hotly pursuing buybacks to recoup taxpayer losses, and that the agencies are losing personnel except for QA & auditing. But that reasoning doesn’t help companies like First Horizon National Corp. It “cited new information it recently received from Fannie Mae as the basis for incurring the $272 million charge this second quarter. About $250 million will go to repurchase loans made with “inadequate or incorrect” documentation, and $22 million is being charged to address pending litigation.” I don’t make this stuff up.

Last week I received a legal question about buybacks. “I was asked by a former customer of a major investor’s correspondent lending group about how others are handling repurchase/make-whole requests on older vintage loans.  His experience has been that the investor will ask to be reimbursed for losses associated with loans that have been foreclosed and disposed of without being given an opportunity to refute the alleged rep and warrant deficiency.  He has had to hire a law firm to argue each of these requests and the major investor has backed off each time. Normally, when a correspondent is still active, there is obviously leverage against the correspondent under an implied or actual threat of being terminated as a customer if a make-whole is not made, and when an investor is no longer in the correspondent business, I’ve heard rumors of it being more inclined to back down but sometimes taking a former customer to court or ‘saber rattling’. Needless to say, it is expensive to have a lawyer prepare a rebuttal to a make-whole request, just to have the investor ultimately back-off – what to do?”

I turned this over to attorney Brian Levy, who wrote, “Your question about investor willingness to sue originators over repurchase claims is difficult to answer with specificity.  My clients have been able to settle and/or avoid litigation in every engagement that I have undertaken in this area. That does not mean, however, that the threat of investor repurchase litigation over individual loans is not real or that litigation is not occurring, but it has been my experience that these disputes can be resolved (or dismissed) through extensive and detailed settlement negotiations and information exchange.  Litigation over individual repurchase claims may be fairly unusual now, but so were repurchase claims entirely prior to 2007-2008. Due to the unique nature of each originator’s position and the facts around applicable repurchase claim(s), however, it would be reckless to assume one will not be sued on specific claims based on what is generally occurring in the industry or based on what may have been past investor appetite for litigation (although these are important elements to consider in one’s strategy).”

Brian goes on. “For example, much depends on the facts and circumstances of the loan(s) in question, whether there are any other relationships between the parties that can be leveraged (loans in the pipeline, warehouse lines etc.) the overall quality, stability and reputation of the originator and, significantly, the parties’ tolerance for risk, availability or need for reserves and the desire for finality.  Moreover, investor and originator appetite for lawsuits may change over time as strategies can change in organizations and as the few cases that have been filed begin to yield decisions that are more or less favorable to one side or another. Even the tenor of discussions or lack of attention to the matter can impact a party’s willingness to file a lawsuit. All of these issues should be explored with legal counsel as part of an originator’s comprehensive repurchase management strategy.” (If you’d like to reach Brian Levy with Katten & Temple, LLP, write to him at blevy@kattentemple.com.)

Here are some somewhat recent conference & investor updates, providing a flavor for the environment. They just don’t stop. As always, it is best to read the actual bulletin.

Down in California, it is time again for the CMBA’s Western Secondary conference. (I’ve been wandering around that San Francisco conference since 1986 – if those halls could talk…) The CMBA has presentations on “QM, QRM, the CFPB, Agency Direct Delivery – Reviving the Lost Art of Servicing Retained Execution, Compliance issues Facing State Licensed Mortgage Banks Today and How Regulatory Change will Impact Your Business and the Secondary Market, Manufacturing Quality – Steps to Produce a Quality Loan (Operation Focus),” and several other topics. Check it out.

In light of the increasing number of non-conforming transactions where the departure residence is retained by the borrower and is in a negative equity position, Wells Fargo issued a reminder that underwriters must weigh any and all risk factors evident in the loan file.  Each case should be weighed individually, as there are only so many situations underwriting guidelines can predict.  The Wells Seller Guide now states that, in a case where the departure residence won’t be sold at the time of closing and is in a negative equity position, paying down the lien or using additional reserves to cover the negative equity may be required to reduce overall risk.

Wells has issued another reminder that a signed Borrower Appraisal Acknowledgement is required for all loans.  The Acknowledgment, whether it’s the Wells-issued form or a custom document, must include the property address, complete lender name, borrower name, borrower signature, and borrower signature date.  If the form has checkboxes where the borrower can make a choice, these boxes must be ticked.

Due to changes to FHA Single Family Annual Mortgage Insurance and Up-Front Mortgage Insurance Premiums announced by HUD back in March, one of which requires lenders to determine the endorsement/insured date of the FHA loan as part of a Streamline Refinance transaction, Refinance Authorization results will need to be submitted to Wells with the closed loan package.  These results are necessary to ensure that the accurate MIP was applied.  This applies to all FHA Streamline Refinances with case numbers assigned on or after June 11, 2012, while loans purchased through Pass-Thru Express are excepted.

Wells’ government pricing adjusters are set to change on July 2nd.  For VA loans with scores between 620 and 639, the adjuster will go from -0.750 to -1.500.  The adjuster for loans with scores between 640 and 679, currently at -0.250, will change to -0.500.  This affects Best Effort registrations, Best Effort locks, Mandatory Commitments, Assignments of Trade, and Loan Specified Bulk Commitments.

How sensitive are our markets to European news? Sure, instead of buying our 10-yr yielding 1.65% you could buy a Spanish 10-yr yielding 6.74%. But there is instability, evidenced by this note from an MBS trader yesterday: “News of Merkel stating Europe would not have shared liability for debt ‘as long as she lives’ caused Treasuries to immediately surge higher, only to be met by better real money selling of 7s.  While the selling did help to stall the rally, the true relief didn’t come until Reuters posted a correction to its initial release, re-quoting Merkel as having said Europe would not have ‘total shared’ liability for debt as long as she lives.  The amendment took Treasuries off the highs ahead of the 2yr auction…”

Say all you want about the market, bond prices and yields are not doing a whole heckuva lot. Tuesday the 10-yr closed at 1.63%, very close to where it’s been all week, although there was some intra-day volatility blamed on Europe. (European problems will be with us for years, and paying attention to intra-day swings can become wearisome after years…) For agency mortgage-backed securities, volume has been around “average” all week, with the usual buyers (the Fed, hedge funds, money managers, overseas parties) absorbing it. Up one day, down another – yesterday was down/worse by about .250, which was about the same as the 10-yr T-note. We could have been helped by the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence index which dropped for a fourth straight month, to 62 from a revised 64.4 in the prior month, but nope.

No one is getting any younger… (Part 1 of 2)
I very quietly confided to my best friend that I was having an affair. She turned to me and asked, “Are you having it catered?” And that, my friend, is the definition of ‘OLD’!

Just before the funeral services, the undertaker came up to the very elderly widow and asked, “How old was your husband?”
“98,” she replied. “Two years older than me.”
“So you’re 96,” the undertaker commented.
She responded, “Hardly worth going home, is it?”

Reporters interviewing a 104-year-old woman:
“And what do you think is the best thing about being 104?” the reporter asked.
She simply replied, “No peer pressure.”

I feel like my body has gotten totally out of shape, so I got my doctor’s permission to join a fitness club and start exercising.  I decided to take an aerobics class for seniors. I bent, twisted, gyrated, jumped up and down, and perspired for an hour. But, by the time I got my leotards on, the class was over.

…(read more)

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Census: Drop in Net Worth Echoes Home Equity Loss

New comparative tables from the 2010 Census underline both
the importance of homeownership to building wealth
and the havoc wrecked by the
recession on that wealth
.       The Census
Bureau released detailed data on the type and value of assets owned by U.S. households
in 2005, 2009, and 2010.  We are
presenting a summary of the 2005 and 2010 figures based on actual numbers not
adjusted to 2010 dollars.  All numbers
represent U.S. medians.

The net worth of U.S. households was $93,200 in 2005, but had
dropped to $66,740 by 2010, a decrease of $26,460 or 28 percent.  Of this decline, $20,000 or 75.6 percent
could be attributed to loss of equity, from a median of $100,000 to $80,000
over the five year period.  Thus
household net worth, outside of home equity, declined from $18,150 to $15,000.

The median value of stocks and mutual funds declined from
$24,600 to $18,400, however the value of IRA/KEOGH accounts from increased from
$23,000 to 30,000 and 401K & Thrift Savings from $25,000 to $30,000.  Rental property equity declined, but not as
severely as the primary residence of households, from $10,000 to $170,000.  Other real estate equity was up marginally
from $74,000 to $75,000. 

It is important in analyzing the figures to recognize that
not all respondents owned a home or any of the other assets included in the
survey.  The differences in numbers reflect
changes in the population of those who do have such assets.

There were marked differences in how households fared over
the five years by race and age.  White
non-Hispanic households saw their net worth drop from $130,350 to $110,729 and
the equity in their home from $100,000 to $84,000.  Black and Hispanic households lost more than
half of their net worth with Black wealth dropping from $11,013 to $4,955 and equity
falling $70,000 to $50,000.  Hispanic
households went from a net worth of $17,078 to $7,424 and equity from $90,000
to $40,000.

The most interesting household wealth v home equity figures,
however are in the age cohorts.  Older
households lost dramatically less equity than did younger households.  The largest loss was among households in the
35 to 44 age range where the median home equity fell 45.45 percent.  Those less than 35 years of age saw equity
drop 31.5 percent.  The other two pre-retirement
cohorts – 45-54 years and 55-64 years were down 27.7 percent and 20.0 percent
respectively.  Then there was a
precipitous drop to a median loss of equity in the over 65 age group with the
three age groups within this category losing a median of 3.6 percent.   

This of course makes sense as older households had much more
equity to begin with so the rapid home price depreciation did not affect them
as severely on a percentage basis.  It is
harder to understand why they also were not as hard hit in the actual dollars
lost.  Those over 65 years of age had a
median loss $5,000 while those in the younger age groups saw their equity erode
by double digits.  

Whatever the reason, the stability of their home’s value was
reflected in the household wealth of older Americans.  The net worth of younger groups was down from
17 percent to 55 percent while the older households had a median decrease of
4.16 percent.  One of the older age
groups – 65 to 69 – had an actual increase of 2.36 percent although that was
offset by a near 10 percent decrease in the net worth of those 70 to 74 years
an age group that seemed to have suffered disproportionately from decreases in
IRA and 401(k) assets.

Change in Equity and
Net Worth – 2005-2010

Age Group

NW Change $

NW Change %

Equity Change $

Equity Change %

Under 35


2,326

30.10

$ 23,000

31.5

35 – 44

39,770

54.50

35,000

45.45

45 – 54

41,254

31.33

30,500

27.72

55 – 64

31,052

17.21

25,000

20.0

65 +

7,392

4.16

5,000

3.6

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After Eerily Stable Journey, MBS Level-Off Near All-Time Highs

Posted To: MBS Commentary

In both long and short term contexts, MBS’s march to the top has been uncanny in terms of its stability and determination. Lately we’ve noted with increasing frequency, the fact that MBS have been less prone to price volatility than their Treasury counterparts–losing less on the down days in exchange for tamer rallies on the “up” days. This phenomenon isn’t exactly new science, but examples have been increasingly clear. The video snapshot below from MBS Live shows this dynamic in the short term. Treasuries move was more pronounced relative to their recent trading range while MBS never rose beyond their 930am Highs. Looking now at MBS over a longer time frame, we see that the gains have an almost premeditated regularity. MBS look like they know where they must go, but have asserted that they…(read more)

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