Minutes recently released from the 2006 meetings of Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) offer some disturbing insights into the failure of Fed officials to understand how deeply intertwined the housing sector and financial markets are. This New York Times piece goes into much detail regarding this and other less-than-flattering aspects of these meetings. While residential investment represents a tiny four percent (4%) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it has far reaching backward- and forward-linkages into many other components of GDP, such as construction, construction materials, durable goods, home furnishings, brokerage and financial services. For this reason, it is often said that when it comes to the strong effect residential investment has on the economy, that housing is the “tail that wags the dog.”
When evaluating where we are in the housing cycle, it is often useful to evaluate fundamental valuation metrics and compare current trends versus historical averages. Below is a graph (click to enlarge) depicting the national price-to-rent ratio, which depicts how homes are trading relative to their rental values. This metric is similar to the P/E (price/earnings) ratio typically used in analyzing the stock market.
This graph uses the Case-Shiller Composite 20 and CoreLogic House Price Index, and sets the baseline period at January 1998, which is assigned a value of 1.0. The current ratio (as of October 2011) on both indices is at 2000 levels, indicating that we are very close to long-run historic average metrics. While foreclosures/short sales (lagging economic indicators) still account for a significant share of existing home sales, the good news is that delinquency rates (leading economic indicators) are gradually diminishing. As such, we can expect home prices to bounce around gently for several months, then gradually start to recover based on improving fundamentals.
This New York Times piece, written by Andrew Martin and David Streitfeld, highlights the latest “foreclosure-gate” debacle — that is, the shoddy preparation of mortgage documents which has stalled foreclosures in 23 judicial foreclosure states — and the effect it has on home sales. While the article focuses on sales declines, it altogether ignores the issue of price stability. With fewer homes released into the market, supply is constrained, creating a bit of temporary price stability that otherwise may not have existed. Either way, like most efforts under the current administration, this series of events will simply slow the decline to where the housing market will end up anyway. Here’s a link to the article:
I am quoted in today’s Los Angeles Times, on a piece by E. Scott Reckard related to a slight decrease in California homeowner delinquencies. In a separate report, the Mortgage Bankers Association announced in its Q1 report that delinquencies nationwide were slightly lower while foreclosures were slightly higher, indicating that we are gradually working through the logjam of excess shadown housing inventory. All good news. Link below:
I had stumbled upon this great little video a while back, and have been sharing it with many of my students, particularly those new to real estate and the secondary markets. It provides a very entertaining, yet fairly factual account of the events that led to the collapse of the financial markets toward the end of 2008. It was created by Jonathan Jarvis, a design student out of Pasadena, as part of his graduate thesis. Perhaps a tad simplistic, but still conveys many key points. I particularly get a kick out of the “subprime family” caricatures. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.
Today the Treasury released the February 2010 Making Home Affordable (aka HAMP) Servicer Performance Report, which depicts very informative statistics on the success of the program to date. I decided to do a little digging, since the academic quarter at UCLA ended today and I had a bit of free time…
If you look at page 4 of the report, you will see that we have reached a cumulative total of 1,094,064 trial modifications through the end of February 2010. The success of this program, however, is dependent largely on the percentage of trial modifications which are converted to permanent modifications, a step which requires 90 days of solid borrower performance under the new modified terms. Thus, we need to evaluate those trial modifications which are at least 90 days old, taking us back to November 2009. At that time, there were 822,075 trial modifications. Of those, 32% have achieved permanent status. I did a little math to get the breakdown: 168,708 (20.5%) are “permanent modifications” and 91,843 (11.2%) are “pending permanent modifications.”
That’s great, so what about the remaining 68%? I bet it’s safe to say that this is the redefault rate. A bit of fishing may help out. Hmmm…on page 6, they tell us that a WHOPPING 54% of modifications were made due to loss of borrower income! So what difference does it make whether the interest rate is 7% or 2%? Out of work borrowers still can’t make the payments, and this is the fundamental drag on today’s housing market. No window dressing can ever hide the fact that incomes are the only real cure for an ailing housing market. Link below:
David Haldane’s piece in this week’s Los Angeles Business Journal discusses the continuing decline in local median home prices. Haldane quotes me fairly liberally, and then in the end, pits my views against my good friend and colleague Chris Thornberg. And all along I thought I was the pessimist. Link below:
Alana Semuels of the Los Angeles Times wrote yesterday about an emerging trend in distressed residential communities: banks allowing defaulting borrowers to stay put in their homes while making no payments.
The logic is that allowing borrowers to stay put reduces the likelihood of vandalism and protects the value of the bank’s investment, essentially allowing borrowers to act as caretakers of the property. At the same time, banks can explore various avenues in an effort to comply with government pressure to modify loans and keep people in their homes. Finally, with a glut of distressed inventory, banks are loath to dump too many homes into the market for fear of further depressing prices. According to the article, in the Inland Empire, over 100,000 delinquent borrowers are living rent-free. Link below:
James Hagerty of the WSJ writes that more waves of foreclosures will keep downward pressure on house prices for years to come. Hagerty cites a recent study that estimates, nationwide, approximately 5 million out of an estimated 7.7 million delinquent borrowers will eventually lose their homes through foreclosures or related procedures. And 5 million homes would represent roughly 10 months of inventory at the current pace of home sales. Unless we see some highly unlikely turnaround in the labor markets, the government’s efforts to reduce foreclosures will be largely futile. Then again, I was one of those kids who preferred to yank out a loose tooth using a string and doorknob, rather than alter my life for days on end until the inevitable came to pass.
RealtyTrac reports a 10% decline in foreclosures for January, compared to the previous month, yet the number is 15% higher than January 2009. “January foreclosure numbers are exhibiting a pattern very similar to a year ago: a double-digit percentage jump in December foreclosure activity followed by a 10 percent drop in January,” said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac “If history repeats itself we will see a surge in the numbers over the next few months as lenders foreclose on delinquent loans where neither the existing loan modification programs or the new short sale and deed-in-lieu of foreclosure alternatives works.”
And while the well-intentioned Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) has targeted over 3 million borrowers, only 900,000 trial modifications have been extended, with only 66,000 of those having been made permanent. At a success rate of 7%, it’s tough to predict anything but a foreclosure log jam ahead…