Archive for Mortgage Trends


Mortgage Market Trends for June 2012

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Central Banks Prepared to Act

Following a large improvement in mortgage rates and a large decline in stocks last week, investors partially reversed direction this week. The European Central Bank (ECB) and the Fed were the main focus, providing a degree of comfort, and investors were a little more willing to take on risky assets. This was negative for bonds, however, and mortgage rates ended the week modestly above last week’s record low levels.

The high degree of uncertainty about the troubles in Europe and the pace of US and global economic growth remains a major influence on US mortgage rates. In general, the uncertainty causes investors to reduce risk, which supports low rates. In addition, it tends to produce a higher level of volatility, which was evident this week. Reports about potential actions by the ECB, the IMF, China, Greece, and Spanish banks all produced significant reactions, even though little of the news could be supported as more than speculation. There will be series of major events later in the month, including Greek elections, an EU summit, and a Fed meeting, so it is reasonable to expect that volatility will continue.

Highly anticipated statements from the President of the European Central Bank (ECB) and from Fed Chief Bernanke this week helped ease investor concerns a little. Neither the ECB nor the Fed is ready to provide additional stimulus right now, but they are open to further action if necessary. The ECB and the Fed have already taken extraordinary measures to ease the financial crisis. The leaders of both central banks pointed out that monetary policy alone will not be enough to solve all the problems. They suggested that decisive action by political leaders would be more effective than further central bank action at this point.

 Also Notable:

  • China cut rates for the first time since 2008
  • Fitch downgraded the debt of Spain
  • The Fed’s Fisher stated that weak job creation is a bigger concern than inflation
  • The Treasury will auction $66 billion in 3-yr, 10-yr, and 30-yr securities next week

Week Ahead

The most significant economic data next week will be the monthly inflation reports. The Producer Price Index (PPI) focuses on the increase in prices of “intermediate” goods used by companies to produce finished products and will come out on Wednesday. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), the most closely watched monthly inflation report, will come out on Thursday. CPI looks at the price change for those finished goods which are sold to consumers. Retail Sales also will be released on Wednesday. Retail Sales account for about 70% of economic activity. Industrial Production, Consumer Sentiment, and Empire State will come out on Friday. In addition, there will be Treasury auctions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.


Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Vickie Elmer June 7, 2012.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, fromCitibank N.A.

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Mortgage Market Trends for Month ending March 31, 2012

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One week’s worth of data does not a trend make. We say that because of renewed concern the housing rally is set to peter out because of a burst of sub-par news.

The news on lower existing and new home sales was disappointing, to be sure, but hardly a foreboding omen. The news on pending home sales, which tracks contract signings for existing homes, wasn’t all that bad either. The index was down 0.5% in February, but the index has been up for the most part over the past six months. Sometimes a little perspective is needed.

Pessimism was further heightened by the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, which showed another price decline. Month-over-month, the average price declined 0.5 percent in January. Year-over-year, the average price is down 3.8 percent.

The fear properties in various stages of foreclosure and delinquency will continue to roil the market is on the rise. We are not terribly concerned though; the attenuating factor being foreclosed and delinquent properties are a well-vetted, well-understood variable. More important, it’s an improving variable. Data from CoreLogic show that faster REO-clearing rates and improving employment and low mortgage lending rates point to a sustained housing-market recovery.

In our opinion, frustratingly low appraisals and too-stringent lending standards are more pressing issues for many buyers and sellers. Loosening the tethers on both, and particularly the latter, would go a long way toward keeping the recovery on course.

A strong economy would also go a long way toward sustaining the recovery. The good news is the economy continues to grow. The final number on gross domestic product shows that the economy grew 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. This latest reported quarter was much stronger than the 1.8 percent growth reported in the third quarter of 2011.

The employment data support the notion the economy is growing. Yes, we are aware that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently warned that improvements in the labor market may not be sustained, but we think otherwise nonetheless: Job creation has accelerated in recent months. Concurrently, jobless claims have decelerated. In fact, the latest report on weekly jobless claims shows the four-week moving average falling to its lowest level in four years.

Of course, the state of the economy always impacts credit markets. Interest rates dropped this past week when Bernanke stated he thought the economy has yet to reach full-recovery mode. Investors equivocated and money moved from stocks and commodities into U.S. Treasury securities. The mortgage market responded in kind, and we saw lending rates drop five to 10 basis points across most offerings.

We can’t say for sure how long rates will stay down. We’ve seen a marked increase in volatility in lending rates in March. We think volatility will remain high going forward, which is why we feel impelled to say that the risk of waiting for lower lending rates outweighs the benefit of substantially lower lending rates materializing.

The Most Persuasive Sign it’s Time to Lock and Load

Economist Hyman Minsky is the author of a persuasive short monograph titled “The Financial Instability Hypothesis.” Minsky basically states that the longer a market appears stable, the less stable it actually is because of excessive speculation and leveraging of that market.

We’ve been in a 31-year bull market in U.S. Treasury securities. That is, long-term real yields – yields adjusted for inflation – have been trending down since the early 1980s. A recent analysis by Credit Suisse shows that real rates on long-term Treasury securities are down to 50 basis points, or 0.5%.

Such a low rate doesn’t compensate for opportunity cost and time value. In fact, the real interest rate is so low today, even the early 1900s can’t boast of such low rates.

We’ve been in a very long bull market in bonds. Long sustained trends tend to lull participants into complacency. In turn, complacency tends to ratchet up the use of leverage. We don’t know how much leverage there is behind this lending market, but we suspect more than there was 30 years ago Carry trade – borrowing short term to buy long-term credit instruments – has been a very lucrative, easy-money trade over the past decade.

The point is, 31 years is a long time, record lows don’t last forever, and neither does easy money. If Minsky’s hypothesis holds, the odds interest rates could rise in the near future is much higher than many borrowers think.

Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Vickie Elmer April 1, 2012.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.

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Mortgage Market Trends for Month ending February 29, 2012

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Home sales have developed a positive up trend in the past six months, and it appears that trend will be sustained at least into the near future.

The pending home sales index rose 2.0 percent in January to hit 97, the highest reading in nearly two years. New contract signings were particularly strong in the South, which posted an impressive 10.5-percent gain. The good is that the rest of the country isn’t lagging far behind: national year-over-year contracts are up 8.0 percent.

Lower prices are an obvious factor in driving sales volume. While lower prices drive demand, they also reduce supply. Home supply has been dropping nationally for some time now, though concrete numbers are tough to gauge given the uncertainty over the hidden inventory of foreclosed properties. The estimates we’ve seen on these shadow homes range between two million to four million nationally.

Whatever the actual numbers are on distressed properties, it appears many markets have already reached peak saturation, which means levels should begin falling. According to analysts at Clear Capital, Atlanta and Tuscon, Ariz. are two regions likely to see a drop in REO properties during the year. We wouldn’t be surprised to see similar prognostications forthcoming for Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Central California.

The fact markets are reaching an REO saturation point is one sign that housing is reaching a tipping point. Affordability is another. In many parts of the country, affordability is at a multi-decade high.

We’ve been preaching over the past year that residential real estate is the investment for the next decade. We stand by our exhortations. Unfortunately, many potential buyers still feel otherwise. They are weary of catching a falling knife; that is, buying a property that will continue to depreciate.

Falling knives were a very real concern three years ago; that’s not the case today. Yes, home prices nationally could continue to fall, but you always have to look past national numbers to the local market – many of which are rebounding.

Mortgage rates are another reason we like real estate. Rates continue to skim along a 60-year low. But the economy is improving – GDP posted a better-than-expected annual 3.0-percent growth rate for the fourth quarter of 2011. What’s more, job growth has accelerated and unemployment has dropped. In other words, rates are unlikely to go much lower.

Costs associated with mortgages could go higher, though. The buzz on the new HARP 2.0 is growing louder and attracting many underwater borrowers keen to refinance. The buzz will grow even louder over the next month as interest intensifies.

Rising loan demand tilts the table toward lenders, so we think its prudent for potential buyers to not wait and to take advantage of what remains a very low-cost mortgage financing market.

The Foreclosures-to-Rental Solution

We tend to become more cautious when a theme grips the market. Residential rental property is the hottest theme these days. Even the great Warren Buffett is bullish on rentals, declaring that he would buy a couple hundred thousand single-family homes and rent them, if only he had a way to manage them.

Another prominent supporter of rentals, Lewis Ranieri, the co-inventor of the mortgage-backed security, lays out the case in a research paper for using federal entities to support converting foreclosed properties into rentals. According to Ranieri, his foreclosure-to-rental model can be developed in “most every market in the United States,” and thus help clear the distressed-housing overhang.

We see a few unintended consequences, though. When markets don’t develop organically, there tends to be inefficiency – you get too much or too little of something. Just look at housing for the past six years. The market was incentivized for more home ownership, and we got too much of it.

Single-family rental properties are fine, to be sure, but large swaths of single-family rentals might not be. Rents are rising, but they don’t always rise. Rents impacted capitalization rates. If rents drop, so will capitalization rates and property values. In addition, renters don’t care for properties as well as owners. Could a higher percentage of neglected properties translate into more downward price pressure for owners?

All we’re saying is that before we ask for something we need to be sure we really want it; unintended consequences can be very costly in the long run.

Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Vickie Elmer March 1, 2012.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.

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Mortgage Market Trends for week ending January 27, 2012

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 The Federal Reserve took center stage last week following through with its commitment to become more transparent.  The Fed has revealed that it intends to keep rates “extraordinarily low” for a longer period than thought, potentially through 2014.  Additionally, the Fed has now officially stated that it will use an inflation target to help control monetary policy.  Following the Fed’s announcement, Fed Chair Bernanke revealed that the Fed is considering a QE3, potentially later this year.  Mortgage rates had been on the rise until this statement which many interpreted as the fed showing signs that it has significant concerns about the overall state of the economic recovery.

This week is jam packed with economic news and data for markets to digest.  We have both ISM Indices due, Consumer confidence, and the monthly employment data.  Should any of these reports reveal signs of economic slowing, mortgage rates are likely to move back toward record lows.  However, a week of positive economic data could nudge rates just slightly higher at the week’s end.


 Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Vickie Elmer January 27, 2012.  Data and Commentary provided by Noori Rafael, from GFI Capital Resources Group, Inc.

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Mortgage Market Trends for week ending December 30, 2011

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The news is understandably slow the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The most notable release was last Friday’s news on new home sales, which rose to an annualized rate of 315,000 units in November, a 1.6-percent gain over October.

To be sure, we have a long way to go until we reach the normalized construction rate of 1.5-million units per year. Nevertheless, we expect the new-home market to gain pace in 2012. After all, there are only 158,000 units in inventory. Even at the current slow sales pace, this equates to a record low six-month supply
Over the past three years, new-home construction has fallen far below historical norms and also below the level needed to keep pace with population growth. The fact is our country gains roughly 2.7 million people and one million new households annually.

You might not see supply as a problem. We are all familiar with the glut of distressed properties. Indeed, Bank of America expects eight million distressed homes to come to market over the next four years. These homes, we’ve so often heard, will continue to depress new home construction.

We view B-of-A’s outlook with a skeptical eye. There is a likely prospect that many of these distressed properties will simply go away. Destruction is too frequently overlooked in many supply projections. A house is not a permanent structure. Many are destroyed by fire, wind and flood each year. Many more are lost through simple decay and abandonment. Based on U.S. Census data, 300,000 homes are lost annually. That number will surely rise in years to come.

In short, the math – low inventory plus more households minus more home destruction – suggests to us a rebound in new-home construction. We are not alone in this contention, either. Wells Fargo projects that housing starts will continue to rise each year for the next five years before reaching once again the normalized construction rate of 1.5-million units annually by 2017.

Of course, projections are one thing, betting on those projections is another. Here, we see an encouraging trend. Big money is starting to wager on housing. The Wall Street Journal reports that many large hedge funds are investing billions in housing-related investments. Other investors have followed suit. Shares of homebuilders are up 30 percent over the past three months, making them one of the best performing investments in the market.

Up For A New Year

As we approach the end of the old year nearly all of us stop to ask, “How will the new year unfold?” Of course, none of us know with any certainty the answer to that question, but it can be insightful (and fun) to ponder. So, how will 2012 unfold, at least as it pertains to the housing and mortgage markets?

Both markets will obviously be influenced by economic growth, which, in turn, will spur job growth. We see a pick up in economic growth and job growth in 2012.
The economy has been growing at a sluggish rate for too long now. The United States is unique in that Americans tire of pessimism quicker than most other cultures, and then we do something about it. In our opinion, rising consumer confidence points to a lot of pent-up demand that is waiting to bust loose, and will bust loose in 2012.

A pick up in demand, in turn, necessitates new hires. In fact, a recent survey by found that nearly one in four employers is keen to add new permanent full-time employees. These employers are simply waiting for a clear sign the coast is clear. We think they will get that sign in the first quarter of 2012.

Greater economic activity will obviously impact the housing market. We see accelerated sales volume in both the new and existing home markets. We also expect to see prices stabilize in the first half of the year, and then appreciate perceptibly in the second half.

As for the mortgage market? This is much more difficult to call. The Federal Reserve has stated it intends to hold rates low through 2012. However, all it takes are a few persuasive signs that the economy is back on track, and the Fed could easily backtrack from its stated goals. All we can say is that we would be much less surprised to see mortgage rates 50 basis points higher six months from today than 50 basis points lower.

Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Vickie Elmer December 29, 2011.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.


Congress Restores FHA Loan Limits to previous levels

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As we reported in May,  the Federal Government backed new mortgage lending limits program expired in September, 2011.  This week, the U.S. House and Senate voted to restore the FHA loan limits to the previous maximum $729,750.  According to the National Association of Realtors, this will help provide stability to communities as credit restrictions continue to prevent some qualified buyers from becoming home owners.

The restoration of the limits only apples to FHA mortgages, not Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which also expired at the end of September.  The conforming loan limit for these two secondary mortgage market companies will remain at a maximum of $625,500.

While this may be good news for many markets, in Manhattan, where over 70% of the apartments for sale are Co-ops, it probably won’t make much difference.  Most co-op boards require 20-50% down payments and higher income to debt rations (25-30% maximum debt to income).   Lenders for most condos are asking for at least 20% down payment to qualify for a loan.

Excerpts from Daily Real Estate News, November 18, 2011

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Qualifying for a Mortgage as a Freelancer

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At one point during the credit crunch, getting a loan as a freelancer was nearly impossible.  While it still remains difficult, the loan approval process is one of the biggest challenges.  Be prepared to submit additional paperwork to prove consistent income.

Tips for home-buying freelancers:

  • Pay off other debts, including credit cards, and build a cash reserve.
  • Identify the source of the down payment, whether a gift or loan from your 401(k), and be prepared to show statements.
  • Prepare for a closer examination.  Review at least 3 years tax returns.  If your income increased substantially from one year to the next, be prepared to explain why and whether you expect it to continue.  If your income declined last year, be prepared to explain that.
  • Check with local banks and credit unions which may be more inclined to spend the time necessary to qualify you for a mortgage.

It is always wise to address any credit problems before beginning the house hunt.  With a little preparation and answers to some tough questions, you may be able to get into the home of your dreams.

Inspired by New York Times article by Vickie Elmer, August 26, 2011.

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Mortgage Market Trends for week ending August 26, 2011

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The woes of homebuilders and anyone dependent on home building continue. The July report on new home sales shows that the annual sales rate has fallen to 298,000 units, hitting a five-month low. The good news is that supply isn’t expanding. In fact, only 165,000 homes are in inventory. This is a record low and a 6.6-month supply at the going sales pace.

Homebuilders face a cluster of problems: bargain-priced foreclosures; higher lending standards; and skittish buyers, many of whom have been further put off by the recent stock market sell-off. Mounting concerns of a double-dip recession and rising cancellation rates have only exacerbated homebuilder worries. The chief concern now is that builders could be forced to cut prices, something they’ve been fighting tooth-and-nail.

Despite the recent spate of bad news, home prices continue to hold their own, and in many instances are moving higher – at least month-over-month. The FHFA home price index for June increased 0.9 percent after posting 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent increases in May and April respectively.

However, does the slump in new and existing home sales portend falling home prices? We remain optimistic that prices will hold. People are understandably wary about big-ticket purchases, like a home, because of slow job growth and stagnating economic activity. But all have a reservation price (a price they will not sell below). Houses (that is, habitable houses) won’t be given away; they’ll be taken off market if the sales price doesn’t exceed the reservation price.

Reservation prices could fall and the monthly price trend could reverse, of course. That said, we think most of the bad news is baked into the system, so we don’t think there will be any heavy discounting. In short, we still think a home is a worthwhile investment in today’s market.

Mortgages have also been holding a price trend. Bankrate reported that its weekly survey on rates posted another all-time low. It’s worth noting, though, that after the survey was released, yields on the 10-year Treasury note spiked 10 basis points, which points to higher mortgage rates in the next survey.

A surfeit of negative news has kept mortgage rates low. This has lead many analysts to opine that ultra-low mortgage rates are the new norm. We think this is a dangerous way of thinking (which we’ll explain below) and that it is still best to take advantage of rates unseen in over 50 years.

Is This the New Norm?

We’ve gone down the higher-inflation, higher-interest rate road many times in the past, only to find ourselves doubling back. There is an interesting trend occurring with banks, though, that could persuade us to go down it once again.

One of the more vocal criticisms of banks is that they haven’t been lending as much as they should. There is some validity to the criticism; banks have been squirreling away a higher amount of reserves with the Federal Reserve, which has attenuated loan supply and, therefore, money supply, thus keeping inflation in check.

Data released by the Federal Reserve show this period of containment appears to be ending. In other words, excess bank reserves are leaking into the economy and money supply is growing. Because we operate in a fraction-reserve banking system, which means one dollar can be sufficiently leveraged to produce nine more; more reserves put to work can quickly raise inflation pressure.

This all might seem abstruse to the layperson unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Federal Reserve and fractional-reserving banking. All we are saying is that it is folly to write off price inflation and the possibility of higher mortgage rates, because there is no “normal” when it comes to financial markets.


Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Vickie Elmer August 26, 2011.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.

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ARMs Making A Comback?

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ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage) were very popular during the boom years, but fell out of favor because the rates were very close to those of fixed-rate mortgages.  Recently, because of historically low interest rates for fixed rate mortgages, the difference between fixed and adjustable-rate loans is targeted to bet widest in eight years, according to HSH Associates, which tracks mortgage rates.

 Do they make sense?

 Ask yourself:

  • Are you going to stay in the property 5 years or less?
  • Are you going to be able to refinance within 5 years?
  • If the rate adjusts upward in 5 years, are you going to be able to make increased payments?
  • Will you be able to sell for more than the loan balance when you want?

If you are a gambler, betting that interest rates won’t rise or you can sell before they do, maybe.  If you will only stay for 5 years or less, an ARM possibly makes sense.

Let’s look at some numbers.  One popular ARM loan is a 5/1 ARM.  It has a fixed rate for the first 5 years, then adjusts every year thereafter.  A recent ARM 5/1 was quoted at 3.4%.  The average 30 year fixed rate mortgage is 4.72%.  The difference between the two is called the ‘spread’.  In this example, the spread is 1.32%, big enough to save thousands of dollars during the first five years of a mortgage.

Although there are naysayers, ARMs are becoming more attractive, and may be an option for some borrowers. Weigh the pros and cons, speak to your financial advisor and make sure the ARM is right for you.

Based in part on an article from the Wall Street Journal by AnnaMaria Androitis

The Federal Government backed new mortgages as large as $729,750 for the last three years in high cost states such as New York and others.  As of September 30, this will no longer be the case. 

 According to this New York Times article and the National Association of Realtors, there is likely to be downward pressure on prices in a lot of markets.  The National Association of Realtors plans to lobby heavily to get an extension on the loan guarantees.

It is my belief, however, in the Manhattan market, where over 70% of apartments for sale are Coops, this may be a tempest in a teapot.  Most coops require anywhere from 20% to 50% down payments, and most coop boards insists on high income to debt ratios, as much as 25% to 30% maximum debt to income.  Likewise, to get financing on a Condo, lenders have been asking for 20% or more as a down payment.

 While other areas in the country may feel the pinch, Manhattan is likely to be unaffected by this change in Government guaranteed mortgages.

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Mortgage Market Trends for week ending May 20, 2011

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We suspect that there are a few businesses tougher than the home-building business these days, but we are hard pressed to think of any.  The homebuilders likely agree, given the homebuilder index remains at a depressed 16 reading for May.

Homebuilders continue to report lousy conditions.  They blame competition from distressed sales, which made up 39 percent of the homes sold in the first quarter, as well as unavailability of construction credit for their woes.  What’s more, sales of distressed homes also pressure prices of existing homes, which means new home sales have been crimped further by buyers unsure that they will be able to sell their existing home at a favorable price in order to trade up.

Homebuilders are surely frustrated by the sputtering and the false starts that they’ve had to endure over the past 18 months.  Just when it appears a positive trend in starts will take hold it reverses and falls again.  Starts rebounded 7.2 percent in March but reversed 10.2 percent in April, dropping to an annualized rate of 523,000 units. The drop was led by a 24.1 percent fall in the volatile multifamily-starts component, but the larger and more significant single-family component was off 5.1 percent. Unfortunately, we doubt that homebuilder fortunes will improve much in the coming months.

Pricing – for everyone – remains the front-burner concern.  The NAR reports that the median sales price in the first three months of the year was 4.6 percent lower compared to the first quarter of 2010. Prices have declined in 118 of the 152 metropolitan areas included in the NAR’s report. We are quick to note, though, that year-over-year comparisons are irrelevant when one quarter is advantaged by tax credits and another quarter isn’t. We will be much more interested in data from the second half of this year compared to the second half of 2010.

The good news is that lower prices have helped rejuvenate sales volume. Total home sales increased 8.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.14 million units in the first three months of 2011 compared to the last three months of 2010. Our economic textbooks haven’t failed us on this market process: lower prices produce higher demand, and, therefore, help to clear inventory.

Admittedly, our textbooks have been less prescient on mortgage rates. Despite obvious price inflation in consumer, producer, and financial markets; strong job growth; and worries over the United States ‘ fiscal conundrum; mortgage rates (as well as most U.S. Treasury rates) continue to fall. Indeed, we are now looking at 30-year fixed-rate mortgages near a five-month low, well below 5 percent.

Obviously, other factors are at work here, and it could simply be a supply and demand imbalance and surprisingly strong demand for U.S. Treasury securities that are keeping mortgage rates low. Whatever the cause, we still don’t think they will hold. There are simply too many variables favoring higher rates, and none more influential than the Federal Reserve’s eventual need to shift to a tighter monetary policy from an expansionary one.

This isn’t to say we couldn’t be wrong, but if we are, then some of our economics textbooks might need a rewrite.

Could Home-Price Insurance be a Contrarian Indicator?

SmartMoney ran an interesting article this past week on insuring against a drop in home prices. In short, the article focused on how underdeveloped the market for hedging and insuring against falling home prices is and how it is starting to develop.

Up until recently, the only way to insure a home against falling prices was to buy futures contracts on home prices in 10 metropolitan areas, including Boston, Miami, and Las Vegas. Of course, if you didn’t live in one of the 10 metropolitan areas, you won’t be perfectly insured. If you lived in Reno and bought futures contracts based on home sales falling in Las Vegas, you could still lose if Las Vegas home prices rose while Reno home prices fell.

Today, firms are beginning to sprout around the country offering direct insurance for local markets. One, Home Headquarters, a nonprofit, sells insurance at a cost of 1.5 percent of the home’s value for homes located in Syracuse , New York . More firms are set to enter the market this year.

This tells us something: new products (and articles about them) tend to proliferate toward the end of a strong trend – either down or up. Perhaps this latest data point on insuring against falling home prices, combined with all the other negative data points on housing, is a sign the end is near in a good way.

Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Maryann Haggerty May 19, 2011.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.

Categories : Market Reports
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Mortgage Market Trends for week ending May 13, 2011

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MARKET RECAP had many in the media – from the Wall Street Journal, to Bloomberg, to the New York Times – talking this past week, and they were talking mostly about home prices.

Home prices, according to Zillow, posted the largest decline in nearly three years in the first quarter of 2011, with prices falling 3 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2010. Zillow’s data also show that prices have fallen nationally for 57-consecutive months.

The economists tell us that prices are deteriorating because of the glut of foreclosed properties selling at a discount. Mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have sold more than 94,000 foreclosed homes during the first quarter, a new high that represents a 23-percent increase from the previous quarter. More properties could be on the way: Fannie and Freddie together were holding 218,000 properties at the end of March, a 33-percent increase from a year ago.

This latest dour data on prices prompted many economists to recalibrate their forecasting models, pushing back their estimates on when the housing market will actually bottom. One economist, quoted at, said, “We aren’t even halfway through a 10-year transition in the housing market.” Zillow’s in-house economist believes prices won’t hit bottom before next year and expects that “they will fall by another 7 percent to 9 percent.”

Distressed properties are an issue, to be sure. The NAR reports that d istressed property sales accounted for 39 percent of all transactions in the first quarter, up from 36 percent a year earlier. While good for sales volume, distressed properties are dragging down prices. In the first quarter, the median existing single-family home price was $158,700, down almost 5 percent from $166,400 one year ago, according to the NAR.

The rise in the number of distressed properties means more lower-priced homes, more home owners with negative equity, and, thus, even more distressed properties. It sounds like a vicious circle, except it isn’t. Most sellers have reserve prices. They won’t sell their home at just any price, regardless if they’re underwater or not. That also goes for REO properties. People are rational; they want to maximize their returns, and maximizing returns often means remaining on the sidelines instead of selling.

We still don’t back down from our contention that prices are at or near their lows. Could the price drop a little further after a purchase? Yes, but that can happen with any investment. What’s important is where the investment will be seven-to-10 years from now. We believe that residential real estate will be higher, and possibly a lot higher.

We also believe that the housing market would be in much better shape today if more people capable and willing to buy could. We are speaking of overly tight lending standards. The average credit score on loans backed by Fannie Mae stood at 762 in the first quarter, up from an average of 718 for the 2001-2004 period.

Of course, we are interested in speaking with anyone who wants a mortgage who understands the unique opportunity to get a loan at a low rate and to buy a home at a low price. There is a lot we can still do, but there would be more we could do if the tethers were only reasonably lengthened.

The Great Protector from Inflation

Inflation is on many people’s minds these days, including ours. Investors are expressing the most obvious concern, revealed in their seemingly insatiable demand for gold and silver – two historical antidotes to the ill-effects of inflation. Both metals have nearly doubled in price over the past few years.

Real estate is another great protector. Returns on residential real estate have typically averaged a return that was 1-to-2 percent above the rate of inflation over the past century. That’s easy to forget, given the off-putting news on recent price declines. But the message is worth remembering, especially at a time when investors have been piling into richly priced gold and silver. We think real estate is the better value and the better protector from inflation at current prices.

Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Maryann Haggerty May 12, 2011.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.

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Mortgage Market Trends for week ending May 6, 2011

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There wasn’t much news on housing sales this past week, so markets focused on prices instead. The chatter centered mostly on fear of the dreaded “double dip.” The fear that home prices will continue to fall and will make new lows.

There is some validity to the fear, if we consider only national numbers. Clear Capital reports that national prices fell 5 percent in April compared to the year-ago period. Over the past nine months, national prices are purported to have declined 11.5 percent.

Distressed properties were to blame. Clear Capital says that REO sales accounted for 34.5 percent of overall sales nationwide after declining to nearly 20 percent in the middle of 2010. This same pattern surfaced in 2008, when REO saturation grew from 20 percent to 32 percent by the end of the year.

It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison (2008 to 2011) in our opinion. Back in 2008 and early 2009, the entire nation was a mess: markets converged and they all dropped in tandem. Today is different; housing markets and economies are more localized. We think Michael Fratantoni, vice president of research and economics for the Mortgage Bankers Association, put it best when he described today’s market as a “tale of two cities.” Home prices are stabilizing and rising in economically viable parts of the country, while other areas remain paralyzed by high unemployment and shadow inventories.

Every region of the country has shadow inventory, but it is proportionally high in parts of California , Michigan , Nevada , Florida , and Arizona . These states still have a lot of work to do to rid themselves of distressed properties. The difference between 2008 and today is that what happens in Vegas really does stay in Vegas. In other words, don’t let national price trends keep you awake, particularly if the comparisons are year-over-year.

It remains a buyer’s market, though, and we’d like to see buyers take advantage of a stable lending environment. In fact, rates actually eased lower this past week. Some credit-market commentators pointed to the death of Osama bin Laden for the lower rates, the rationale being that investors were fearful of a market-churning retaliation, so they flocked to U.S. Treasury securities.

It’s difficult to say for sure why rates dropped; there are simply too many factors that move markets over the short term to say which one is most influential. We prefer to keep our eye on the long term, which is being driven by soaring consumer prices, rising gold prices, and falling value of the dollar. To us, they add up to rising mortgage rates. And we’re not alone in that assessment: the MBA forecasts a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rate of 6.2 percent next year.

Hot versus Cold Markets

It’s an age-old dichotomy: some people prefer to buy into the latest trend; some people prefer to go against the crowd and buy what few people appear to want.

In the past couple issues, we’ve noted that the residential rental real estate market is turning, which means more people are buying rental properties. Does that mean that the rental market is now a hot market? We don’t think so. We think it is more of a developing market. That is, it is garnering more interest among more people, but it is still not hot. A hot market to us is the commodities market, gold in particular, and the stock market. Both have nearly doubled over the past two years.

Residential real estate, if not a cold market is a cool market, and we think these types of markets offer more reward for less risk. We have to look no further then the past two hot markets – the stock market of 1999 and the real estate market of 2006 – to realize how dangerous it can be to buy into the hot market.

Of course, it is impossible to accurately predict how hot or cold markets can get, but if we were to bet on which would be the hot market two or three years from now, our money would be on the real estate market.

Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Maryann Haggerty May 6, 2011.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.

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Mortgage Market Trends for week ending April 22, 2011

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We stated previously that an upturn in sales would mark the start of the spring buying season. We are happy to report that signs are appearing to support our premonition. RE/MAX reported that home sales increased by double-digits in March from February in all but one of the 54 U.S. metropolitan areas it covers. This represents a complete reversal from January, when none of the 54 cities saw even single-digit monthly sales increases.

The National Association of Realtors corroborated Re/Max’s bullish report with one of its own. The NAR’s data show that March was a decent month for existing home sales, with sales up 3.7 percent to an annualized rate of 5.1 million units. Prices also firmed slightly, up 2.2 percent, to a median reading of $159,600. More homes were on the market, 3.55 million, but the solid rise in sales dropped the supply to 8.4 months.

The beleaguered homebuilders could also see an improved selling market as we head into the late spring/early summer months. Housing starts in March rebounded 7.2 percent following a monthly 18.5-percent drop in February. The March annualized pace of 549,000 units came in significantly higher than analysts’ estimate for 510,000 units. The improvement was led by a monthly 7.7 percent boost in single-family starts. More encouraging, housing permits gained 11.2 percent after decreasing 5.2 percent in February.

Over the past six months, the monthly housing data have shown improvements, or at least stabilization, in pricing and sales. Of course, real estate is seasonal and year-over-year comparisons are usually the focus. On that front, the data are generally lower. However, it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. This time last year, we were still operating in a more subsided market, thanks to the federal tax credits, so it’s really meaningless to compare the normalized market of today to the tax-credit-supported market of yesterday.

We could also argue that we are still not operating in a normalized mortgage market. Mortgage rates remain low, and have remained low longer than we had thought. The Federal Reserve has added unprecedented liquidity and held rates low through its open-market operations of buying Treasury and government agency securities. That said, we still believe that mortgage rates will play catch up with rising prices in the coming months.

Credit standards, which we see as the biggest impediment in the housing recovery at this point, are also not normalized. March posted a record all-cash sales rate of 35 percent. That tells us that too many people are being excluded from the market. Our biggest wish for the coming months is for more lenient standards and more private mortgage investors. Right now, the mortgage market is having a sale on size-10 shoes only, which is great if that’s your size, but not so great if it isn’t.

The Great American Downgrade

It seems unfathomable, but it happened nonetheless: Standard & Poor’s changed its outlook on U.S. Treasury bonds from “stable” to “negative” and warned it might downgrade the U.S. debt from its top AAA rating if government officials don’t get the country’s budget deficit under control.

Does that mean that we are on the road to Zimbabwe? No, but a potential downgrade does have some implications for credit markets. It could pull nervous money from the bond market and place it in the stock or commodities markets. (Gold is above $1,500/ounce for a reason.) More than anything, the downgrade threat is a wake-up call to start getting the United States’ fiscal and monetary house in order. That means ending our low-interest rate and easy-money ways.

The world is focused on us to see if our government can take this deficit seriously and address it coherently. In short, seriousness and coherence are precursors to rising interest rates, and that includes mortgage rates.

Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Maryann Haggerty April 21, 2011.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.

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Our Q4 Survey of Manhattan co-op and condo sales which was released today and summarized below was prepared by Miller Samuel for Prudential Douglas Elliman





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