Posts Tagged ‘homebuilders’

Contract Cancellations Sour Home Sales

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

A new phenomenon has emerged that is depressing the sales of existing homes. Contract cancellations are surging, dashing hopes that the distressed housing market is showing signs of improvement.  According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), sales fell 0.8 percent in June compared with May to an annual rate of just 4.77 million units, the lowest since November, and falling for the third consecutive month.  Economists had expected sales to climb to a 4.90 million-unit yearly pace.  “Buyers and sellers are increasingly running up against conservative appraisals, which often cause deals to fall through or be delayed,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities.  In fact, the market is unlikely to improve in the near term, said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

“A variety of issues are weighing on the market including an unusual spike in contract cancellations in the past month,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said.  Fully 16 percent of NAR members reported a sales contract was cancelled in June, up from four percent in May.  “The underlying reason for elevated cancellations is unclear,” Yun said, suggesting possible problems like tight credit for buyers and low home appraisals.

Writing for the Wall Street Pit, Dirk van Dijk says that “Regionally sales were down on the month in two of the four Census regions.  All four regions were down year over year.  The Northeast fared the worst, with sales down 5.2 percent for the month and down 17.0 percent from a year ago.  The West had a month to month decrease, with sales falling 1.7 percent, down 2.6 percent from a year ago.  In the Midwest, sales rose one percent for the month but are down 14.0 percent year over year.  The South, the largest of the four regions, saw a 0.5percent rise on the month, but a 5.6 percent year-over-year decline.  After all, it is better to simply sell the house and get something for it, rather than let the bank take it and get nothing for it.  The more people under water, and the deeper they are, the higher foreclosures and strategic defaults are going to be.  A strategic default is when someone has the cash flow available to continue to make his mortgage payment, but simply decides not to, since paying is a just plain stupid thing to do from a financial perspective.  If you have a house that could only sell for $150,000 in the current environment, and you owe $200,000 on the mortgage, in effect you have the option of ‘selling’ the house to the bank for $200,000 simply by not writing the checks.  Of course that will be a hit to your credit rating, but $50,000 is probably worth a bit of a tarnish on your Fico score.  If the difference is only $5000, then the hit to your credit score makes less sense, and there are lots of non economic factors (a house is after all a home, not just an investment) that come into play.”

Despite the disappointing existing house data, homebuilders appear to have more confidence than buyers, because May housing starts climbed to a five-month high, according to the Department of Commerce.  The month was the first time in five years that more homes were started than completed.  A majority of the buyers were investors, with 29 percent of the transactions being all cash.

Writing for The Hill, Vicki Needham says that “Distressed homes — foreclosures and short sales generally sold at deep discounts — accounted for 30 percent of sales in June, compared with 31 percent in May and 32 percent in June 2010.  Foreclosures have flooded the market, providing good deals for some potential homebuyers but hindering new construction.  Mortgage rates for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage were 4.51 percent in June, down from 4.64 percent in May.  The rate was 4.74 percent in June 2010, according to Freddie Mac.”

“With record high housing affordability conditions thus far in 2011, we’d normally expect to see stronger home sales,” said NAR President Ron Phipps.  “Even with job creation below expectations, excessively tight loan standards are keeping many buyers from completing deals.  Although proposals being considered in Washington could effectively put more restrictions on lending, some banking executives have hinted that credit may return to more normal, safe standards in the not-too-distant future, but the tardiness of this process is holding back the recovery.

Phipps noted that lower mortgage loan limits, which are scheduled to go into effect October 1, already are having an effect.  “Some lenders are placing lower loan limits on current contracts in anticipation they may not close before the end of September,” he said.  “As a result, some contracts may be getting canceled because certain buyers are unwilling or unable to obtain a more costly jumbo mortgage.”

Government Looking to Require CMBS Insurance

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

President Barack Obama is proposing an option to create an insurance fund for mortgage-backed securities, similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that protects Americans savings accounts. The proposal consists of three legislative options for making long-term changes to the housing finance system, while taking short-term moves to gradually reduce the government’s role in the mortgage market now dominated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The Obama administration is asking the private sector to play the leading role in the residential mortgage market and is expected to unveil several scenarios detailing how that might come about.

More than 85 percent of residential mortgages are now backed by the federal government.  Republicans want to slash that to zero, though they acknowledge that a transition so extreme cannot be achieved overnight.  At its core, the debate over what to do about Fannie and Freddie is an ideological one: How much should the government pay to sustain the housing market?  House Republicans, who want to abolish the government backing altogether, contend that the private market can more accurately price the risk of home mortgages.  By contrast, Democrats believe that government backing is necessary to assure that mortgages are accessible to middle-class Americans.  Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the impact would be approximately one percent.  “Regardless of what policymakers say, global investors will almost surely continue to believe the U.S. government would backstop a badly foundering mortgage finance system,” said Zandi, who has proposed a hybrid system that charges for the guarantee.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned against acting too quickly or making rash changes.  “Given Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s current role in the mortgage market, we must proceed carefully with reform to ensure government support is withdrawn at a pace that does not undermine economic recovery,” he said.  “We believe there is sufficient funding to ensure the orderly and deliberate wind down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as described in our plan.

Geithner has proposed three options, all of which favor seeing the government eventually wind down Fannie and Freddie, whose survival has required more than $150 billion from the Treasury Department since the government seized them in September of 2008.  The first option would privatize mortgage finance and limit the government’s role to narrowly targeted subsidies, like Federal Housing Authority (FHA), USDA and Department of Veterans’ Affairs financing.  The second option adds a layer of government support that could be implemented to ensure access to credit during a housing crisis.  The third option, the one that bears the closest resemblance to the current system, would allow the government to guarantee mortgages but under stringent capital and oversight requirements, termed “catastrophic reinsurance behind significant private capital.”

The probable winners from replacing Fannie and Freddie are mortgage lenders and insurers, analysts at Goldman Sachs said. “While higher rates could decrease origination volumes, growth should still outpace balance-sheet availability,” the Goldman analysts said.  In addition to lenders, mortgage insurers are also potential beneficiaries.  “The stated goal of returning the (Federal Housing Authority) to its traditional role as a targeted lender of affordable mortgages supports the view for better-than-expected private market top-line growth.”

Despite the uncertainty about what entity will ultimately replace Fannie and Freddie, the Obama administration remains upbeat about the cost of winding down the embattled agencies. The administration expects its losses from Fannie and Freddie to ultimately be cut nearly in half.  However, the Treasury Department estimates that after receiving dividends from the GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises) for that assistance, the total losses could shrink to $73 billion by 2021 — 45 percent less than current levels.

An outspoken critic of the Obama plan is Mike Colpitts, who writes for The Housing Predictor.  According to Colpitts, “Like a solider standing alone in the battlefield, the Obama administration’s housing finance reform proposal offers the U.S. a way of ridding itself of the most troubled mortgage giants, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in the real estate collapse.  But it stops short of offering any concrete long term solutions with a housing plan for the nation like a lone soldier Missing In Action.  Realtors, mortgage professionals, new homebuilders and the lending industry compose many of the most fractured industries in the current U.S. economy as a result of the real estate collapse.  They deserve a plan on which they can rest their futures with the rest of America to benefit the entire nation, and for once provide concrete change towards a real economic recovery.”

Back to the Futures? Not Just Yet. Investors Still Spooked by Derivatives

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

It’s no surprise that investors are still wary of investing in derivatives, given the financial devastation that these vehicles’ collapse caused last year.  Proof of the fact is that the IPO of a financial instrument designed to be on American home prices failed because its auction did not generate adequate investor interest.51916680SC005_NYSE

According to its Securities and Exchange Commission filing, MacroMarkets turned down all auction bids because there was an “insufficient demand for an equal number of Down and Up shares”.  In other words, MacroMarkets was forced to abandon the auction process because the offering would work only if there was an equal number of shares in both the “up” and the “down” trusts – and if each pair of shares totaled $50.  The firm had initially set a minimum closing investment pool of $125 million, though CEO Sam Masucci did not disclose the value of the bids received before pulling the plug.

MacroMarkets sought out investment from homebuilders and banks who want to hedge their housing exposure, as well as foreign investors seeking a stake in U.S. real estate.  The problem is that investors had difficulty valuing the shares because it meant predicting the movement of the 10-city index on which the offering was based.  That’s not easy in a housing market where prices may not have bottomed out yet.

When housing trusts eventually restart, their shares will trade under the symbols UMM for “up” and DMM for “down” on the NYSE Arca, the New York Stock Exchange’s all-electronic U.S. trading platform.