Housing Boom, Subprime Lending, ARMs, Housing Bubble, CDOs, Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Housing Inventories & Sales and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 24th, 2012

History 101

Artificially Low Interest Rates and Federal Pressure to Qualify the Unqualified created a Housing Bubble

The federal government loves home sales.  Because they generate a lot of economic activity.  From the washing machines and refrigerators new homeowners buy to furnish them.  To the raw materials extracted from nature to make the concrete, bricks, wood, pipes, wires, shingles, glass, plastic, paints, carpeting, insulation, etc., to build them.  Enormous amounts of economic activity at every level throughout the stages of production.  It reduces down to a simple formula.  Make it easy for people to buy houses.  Enjoy a booming economy.  And how best to do that?  Make mortgages cheap.  By keeping interest rates cheap.  Artificially low.  To stimulate a housing boom.

This is Keynesian economics.  Government intervention into the private market.  By having the Federal Reserve keep interest rates lower than the market would have them.  To encourage more people to buy houses.  Then the Clinton administration took it up a notch with their Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Investor’s Business Daily reported (see Smoking-Gun Document Ties Policy To Housing Crisis by PAUL SPERRY posted 10/31/2011 on Investors.com) that this policy statement forced lenders basically to qualify the unqualified.

At President Clinton’s direction, no fewer than 10 federal agencies issued a chilling ultimatum to banks and mortgage lenders to ease credit for lower-income minorities or face investigations for lending discrimination and suffer the related adverse publicity. They also were threatened with denial of access to the all-important secondary mortgage market and stiff fines, along with other penalties…

“The agencies will not tolerate lending discrimination in any form,” the document warned financial institutions.

The unusual full-court press was predicated on a Boston Fed study showing mortgage lenders rejecting blacks and Hispanics in greater proportion than whites. The author of the 1992 study, hired by the Clinton White House, claimed it was racial “discrimination.” But it was simply good underwriting.

There was no racial discrimination.  Just people who couldn’t qualify for a mortgage.  But that didn’t stop the Clinton administration.  So there were artificially low interest rates.  And federal pressure to qualify the unqualified.  To let those who can’t afford to buy a house buy a house.  Enter subprime lending.  A way lenders could approve the unqualified for a mortgage.  With adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).  Interest only mortgages.  Zero down mortgages.  No documentation loans (say you earn whatever you want and we’ll enter it into the application without documenting it).  Anyone who wanted to have a house could have a house.  And a lot of people bought houses.  Even those with insufficient incomes to pay their mortgage payment if interest rates ever rose.

When the Housing Bubble Burst it Destroyed a lot of Economic Activity and a lot of Jobs

The economy was heating up.  There was a housing boom.  The boom turned into a housing bubble.  Housing prices soared demand was so high.  Builders couldn’t build them fast enough.  And people couldn’t buy a house big enough.  McMansions entered the lexicon.  Houses in excess of 3,000 square feet.  For a family of four.  Or smaller.  But then these artificially low interest rates began to heat up inflation.  And it was the Federal Reserve’s responsibility to keep that from happening.  So they raised interest rates.  Causing the interest rates on those ARMs to reset at a higher rate.  Making a lot of those monthly payments beyond the homeowners’ ability to pay.  Homeowners defaulted in droves.  Causing the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

Facilitating this economic carnage was the secondary mortgage market.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Who bought those very risky mortgages from the lenders.  Repackaged them into collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).  And sold them to unsuspecting investors.  Who thought they were buying high-yield safe investments.  Because they were backed by historically the safest investment.  A mortgage.  But that was before subprime lending.  For these subprime mortgages weren’t your father’s mortgage.  These mortgages were toxic.

So when the housing bubble burst it not only destroyed a lot of economic activity, and a lot of jobs, it wreaked financial destruction in people’s investment portfolios.  All because of a formula.  Make it easy for people to buy houses.  But when you play with the economy too much you don’t create economic growth.  You created bubbles.  And the bigger the bubble the longer and the more painful the recession will be when that bubble bursts.  As those artificially high house prices fall out of the stratosphere back to real market levels.

The Current Gulf between Housing Inventories and Sales is what made this Recession the Great Recession

If you look at the housing inventories and housing sales for the decade from 2001 to 2011 you can see how bad the recession was.  And will continue to be.  We took housing data from the United States Census Bureau.   Housing inventories from Table 7A.  And housing sales from Houses Sold.  The data shows housing units in inventory and sold.  We used 2001 as a base year, dividing each number by the 2001 base numbers.  Graphing the results shows how inventories and sales trended for this decade.

From 2001 to 2005 housing sales were rising at a greater rate than inventories.  Indicating demand for houses was greater than the supply of houses.  Causing house prices to rise.  Encouraging builders to build more houses.  Heating up the housing market.  Sending prices higher.  Creating the great housing bubble.  Then around 2005 the Federal Reserve began to raise interest rates to tamp out inflation.  And those ARMs began to reset at higher rates.  Causing housing sales to fall.  From about 2005 to 2008 inventories continued to rise while sales collapsed.  Leaving the available housing supply far outstripping demand.  Causing house prices to collapse.  Leaving people underwater in their mortgage (owing more than their house is worth).  Or living in paid-off houses that lost up to half their value.  Or more.

The gulf between inventories and sales is what made this recession the Great Recession.  And is why the Great Recession lingers on.  There are just so many more houses than people want to buy.  Killing new housing starts.  And all that economic activity that building a house generates.

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The Anatomy of a Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 17th, 2010

Old Time Politics – Buying Votes

There’s a lot of lying going on about the subprime mortgage crisis.  How it happened.  Who was responsible for it.  Was it the banks and their predatory lending?  That’s who Barney Frank blames.  Well, them and Republicans.  Or was it some more of that irrational exuberance that led to a real estate bubble?  It created a dot-com bubble in the 1990s.  Which in turn caused a recession.  Was it just a little history repeating itself?  Perhaps they both played a part.  But if they did, they were minor supporting roles.  They weren’t the star of the crisis.  For neither could have done anything had it not been for their enabler.

The Boston Globe’s Donovan Slack writes about one of the enablers backpedaling on his previous rosy statements about the two companies at ground zero of the crisis (see Stance on Fannie and Freddie dogs Frank on boston.com).  Fannie Mae.  And Freddie Mac.  Frank is running for reelection.  And his words are coming back to haunt him.

America is a center-right nation.  To counter that, the Left courts a coalition of special interests and single-issue voters.  Federal workers, teachers, unions, gays & lesbians, pro-choice feminists, environmentalists, socialists, minorities, etc.  Each taken by themselves is a very small percentage of the voting population.  But taken together it’s a sizeable percentage.  Then add in one more very important Democrat constituency.  The poor.  Now with all of these firmly in the Democrat’s camp, it’s just a matter of getting enough of the moderate and independent vote to win an election.  Of course, this is a moot point if they DON’T lock in the Democrat base.  And they do this by giving away as much free stuff and favorable legislation as possible. 

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning for a House They Can’t Afford

The key to locking in the base is, of course, the poor.  There are a lot of them.  So the Left courts them.  Engages in class warfare.  They paint the Republicans as rich fat-cats who want to take their welfare, social security, food stamps, etc., away from them.  That they want to keep them in slums or throw them onto the street.  In contrast, they, the Democrats, want to provide for them.  To help them.  And they give them a lot of things.  To earn their gratitude.  And their votes at the election booth.  And the grandest of all the things given to them?  Affordable housing.

Poor people don’t have a lot of money.  That’s pretty straight forward but it needs to be said.  Because people who don’t have a lot of money can’t afford to buy a house.  Again, that’s pretty straight forward.  But it needs to be said.  Now, when these people apply for a mortgage and get denied, why do you think they got denied?  Here’s a hint.  Re-read this paragraph.  They get denied because they don’t have a lot of money.  You see, if you don’t have a lot of money, you can’t buy expensive things.  Again, straight forward.  But it needs to be said.  Again.  And often.

Now, what do you think a politician thinks the reason was for these poor people getting their mortgage applications denied?  Red-lining.  Racism.  Classism.  Unfairism.  (Yeah, that isn’t a word.  But it works.)  A large percentage of those denied mortgages are from the inner city poor.  And because of previous white-flight, that inner-city poor also happens to be primarily minority.  Hence the charges of racism.  And that’s just gold to a political party who needs poor minorities to vote for them.

The Siren Song of Affordable Housing

Now Barney Frank is running for reelection.  His Republican challenger is using Frank’s own words in his campaign.   And they’re causing some damage.  For Frank sat on the House’s Financial Services Committee (the oversight committee for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) throughout the time the crisis built.  And now he’s answering some very uncomfortable questions (this and all quotes are from Stance on Fannie and Freddie dogs Frank).

Frank, in his most detailed explanation to date about his actions, said in an interview he missed the warning signs because he was wearing ideological blinders. He said he had worried that Republican lawmakers and the Bush administration were going after Fannie and Freddie for their own ideological reasons and would curtail the lenders’ mission of providing affordable housing.

Ideology trumped responsibility.  The Left cries foul when the Right doesn’t reach across the aisle, but the Left never reaches out when they have power.  It’s us against them.  Pure partisanship.  Even when there’s great danger brewing.  It’s their interests first.  Then the country’s.  So he protected Freddie and Fannie.  And enabled them to cause greater harm.

Freddie and Fannie are in the secondary mortgage market.  They don’t write mortgages.  They guarantee them (so banks are more willing to take risks with less credit-worthy people).  And they buy these risky mortgages from the banks.  This further reduces a bank’s risk in approving very risky loans to people who are not credit-worthy.  Which is what the Democrats want.  More affordable housing for people who can’t afford to buy houses.  Frank’s committee sets the rules Freddie and Fannie must follow to keep them from approving mortgages that are crazy-stupid.  But that’s exactly what they encouraged.  Subprime loans.  Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs).  Interest only mortgages.  No documentation approvals.  Any bank that didn’t have enough of these mortgages on their books (i.e., risky loans to poor people who couldn’t afford to buy houses) was in trouble.  The federal government would investigate them for red-lining, racism, classism, etc.

The more mortgages Freddie and Fannie bought, the more cash banks had to make more risky loans.  They then dumped these risky loans onto Wall Street.  You see, before the day of subprime loans, ARMs, interest only mortgages and no documentation approvals, mortgages were very safe loans.  But these subprime loans weren’t.  But they looked safe when Wall Street sold them.  I mean, buyers didn’t see the mortgage applications.  They had no idea what a credit risk these people were.  They just knew mortgages were traditionally safe investments.  So they just bought them.  And Freddie and Fannie made it all possible.

Known as government-sponsored enterprises, they didn’t provide mortgages themselves, but rather bought loans from banks and mortgage brokers, freeing up cash so the lenders could make more loans. Fannie and Freddie held or bundled the loans and sold them to investors as mortgage-backed securities.

Investors bought these very ‘profitable’ securities.  This demand just fueled the crisis in waiting.  Because Freddie and Fannie could dump these on Wall Street, they wrote more and more risky loans.  This made everyone happy.  Everyone was making money.  And more people who couldn’t afford to buy houses were buying houses.  And this was, after all, Freddie and Fannie’s mission.  Affordable housing.

In an effort to increase homeownership, the Clinton administration in the late 1990s and the Bush administration in the 2000s pushed Fannie and Freddie to meet growing quotas for buying affordable home loans. Those pushes, combined with a drive for more profits at the enterprises, drove Fannie and Freddie to take on more risk and more debt. They backed subprime and other risky loans, including mortgages for borrowers without proof of steady income.

Even the Republicans got on the band wagon.  New homes sales drive the economy (because of the stuff people have to buy to put into those houses that they can’t afford).  And you make points with the poor and the minorities.  There was just no down side in affordable housing.  Or was there?

But the director of the federal office responsible for overseeing Fannie and Freddie, Armando Falcon, began noticing their expanding portfolios and increasing reliance on risky investments. In early 2003, Falcon warned Congress in a 118-page report of the companies’ potential for a catastrophic failure that could jeopardize the economy.

Okay.  Five years before the crash someone was taking notice.  And he warned Congress.  Thank god someone was looking out for America’s best interests.

But Frank and other Democrats still opposed tighter regulation, Frank most notably in his public statements saying there was nothing wrong with Fannie and Freddie. He and other House Democrats also sent a letter to President George W. Bush in June 2004, saying the proposed crackdown could “weaken affordable housing performance . . . by emphasizing only safety and soundness.’’

Frank and the Democrats were saying that it was more important to put people who couldn’t afford houses into houses than it was to provide oversight.

So he initially supported a Republican measure in 2005 that would have imposed stricter standards on the lenders. But he voted against it in the full chamber because it did not include funding for affordable housing, he said. The bill passed the House.

Frank came around.  He supported a Republican measure to provide stricter oversight.  But he changed his mind.  Once again, affordable housing was more important than the oversight he was supposed to provide.  Then, in the summer of 2008, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned Frank again.  Now Frank chaired the House’s Financial Services Committee.  Now, more than ever, it was his responsibility to reign in Freddie and Fannie.  To provide the oversight that was his committee’s responsibility.  But he still didn’t.  Like Nero, he fiddled as the crisis burned out of control.

In July 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called Frank and told him the government would need to spend “billions of taxpayer dollars to backstop the institutions from catastrophic failure,’’ according to Paulson’s recent book. Frank, despite that conversation, appeared on national television two days later and said the companies were “fundamentally sound, not in danger of going under.’’

A few months later, Freddie and Fannie would cause the worst recession since the Great Depression.  On Frank’s watch.  And he kept denying that there was any problem until the very end.

Lots of Blame to Go Around – On the Left Side of the Aisle

Barney Frank is not the sole cause of the subprime mortgage crisis.  He was just one of the leading players.  Ultimately, it was an ideology.  Affordable housing.  Putting people into houses who couldn’t afford to buy houses.  This is what caused the worst recession since the Great Depression.  And, yes, the Bush administration did partake in the affordable housing mania.  But if you want to assign real responsibility, ask yourself this question.  Which party do you think of when it comes to affordable housing for the poor and minorities?

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LESSONS LEARNED #35: “Not only is ignorance bliss, but it’s a godsend to Big Government.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 14th, 2010

If Jefferson Could Talk from the Grave He’d Be Hoarse from Shouting by Now

Politicians.  They’re all the same.  Well, most of them.  They enter politics for one thing.  For a career.  And what do people want from a career?  Great success.  Great prestige.  Great wealth.  Great power.  And a little revenge.  The pencil-neck, computer-nerd geek takes great pleasure in seeing a jock from his high school days emptying his trash while boarding his private jet. “Those wedgies and swirlies were a bitch but look at us now.”  It’s true.  The best revenge is living well.

But some people lack any talent or ability.  Some of them will never amount to anything.  They’ll never know the joy of looking down on people better than them with sweet condescension.  So these people go into politics.  Where people with no talent or ability can live well.  It’s a simple formula.  Sell your soul.  Whore yourself out.  Shake down businesses with taxation and regulation (and get even with all those people who have far more talent and ability than you ever had).  Collect tribute.  Consolidate power.  Hold those you serve in contempt.

Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  A century earlier, Thomas Jefferson fought tirelessly to prevent great money and federal power from conjoining.  The Old World capitals consolidated money and power.  And this concentrated the money and power into fewer and fewer hands.  Kings ruled by whim.  And oppressed their hapless subjects.  It’s a story as old as time.  And is still true today.  To the great chagrin of Jefferson.

Go West, Young Man

The transcontinental railroad was making poor progress during the Civil War.  Because it was starved for capital.  No one would invest.  Few doubted that they could build it.  Even if they could, few doubted it would ever make money.  The West was mostly raw, unsettled land.  There was nothing to transport.  Nothing to earn revenue.  It was a huge investment with a huge risk.  Investors are smart when it comes to money.  And they saw the transcontinental railroad as a one-way road that their money would go down and never return.  They needed something.  Big Government.

When it comes to throwing money away on a losing investment there is but one place to go.  Uncle Sam.  With the power to tax, the federal government has huge piles of money to play with.  So here’s what happened to build that railroad.  Union Pacific (UP) created a shell company called Crédit Mobilier (CM) to finance and build the railroad.  These companies were one and the same.  Without getting too complicated, UP sold their ‘worthless’ stock to CM at par.  Now, CM being a finance and construction company, a train never had to run over the road they were building to make a profit.  Union Pacific, on the other hand, needed trains running on that new track.  They were a transportation company.  They earned a profit from transporting goods on their trains.  This meant it could take years before UP could even hope to earn a profit on the new transcontinental railroad.  CM, on the other hand, could start earning a profit with the first invoice they submitted for construction.  And they did.

CM had strong revenues.  They submitted grossly inflated construction invoices to UP.  UP added a small construction management fee and submitted them to the government.  The government paid UP.  UP paid CM.  With revenues far exceeding their costs, CM made obscene profits.  CM stock took off into the stratosphere.  Some of which was sold to Congressmen at a deep discount who in turn realized obscene capital gains if they sold their stock.  Or collected obscene dividends if they held onto their stock.  In return for this sweetheart deal, they approved all cost overruns.  Killed any legislation unfavorable to UP/CM.  Provided lucrative incentives to build track on the worst ground in the most indirect path (to maximize the railroad’s mineral rights).  Provided little to no oversight on the construction of the road (some track was built on ice, with cheap steel and flimsy wooden trestles wherever possible).  When east met west the different railroads kept on building, parallel to each other to keep billing Uncle Sam.  All paid by the public treasury.  By the taxpayer.  The little guy.  Being raped and pillaged by their own representatives.

Affordable Housing for Those Who Vote Democrat

Politicians buy votes.  Pad the federal payroll.  Steal from the treasury.  Break the law.  Violate our trust.  You know, politician stuff.  Because of the inconvenience of elections, they can’t be too blatant about their rape and pillage.  So they do things that are in the best interest of the public.  Or so they say.  Like affordable housing.  You see, the Left buys the votes of the poor and minorities by throwing bones to them.  And there are a lot of minorities in the inner cities of the bluest of blue cities.  So they threw big bones to them.  Houses.

Despite their War on Poverty, the Left just can’t help these people.  The truth is, of course, that they don’t want to help them.  If they’re poor and dependent on the government, the Left can count on their vote.  If they escape poverty and don’t need Big Government to provide for them, these people are of no use to the Left.  Ergo, they never escape poverty.

Of course, the problem of remaining in abject poverty is that you can’t qualify for a mortgage.  Banks are funny that way.  They only loan money to people who can pay them back.  So they declined a lot of mortgages to these poor inner city minorities.  Well, this was just too good for Big Government to pass up.  A large group of minorities (i.e., a large Democrat voting bloc) being denied mortgages?  Why, that’s racism.  So they drafted a lot of legislation and unleashed their justice department with extreme prejudice.  The message?  Approve these loans.  Or face the consequences (revoking a bank’s charter, a federal lawsuit, a public demonstration headed by Jesse Jackson, Charlie Rangel, et al, etc.).  So they found creative ways to approve loans.  And they got a little help from Uncle Sam.

The Subprime Mortgage Crisis is a Lot Like the Crédit Mobilier Scandal

By a little I mean a lot.  Uncle Sam screwed the mortgage bankers by making them approve extremely risky loans.  So, to help the mortgage bankers, Uncle Sam screwed the American people.  They guaranteed those highly risky mortgages, thus transferring the risk from them to us, the taxpayer.  And to further mitigate the bankers’ risks, they purchased a lot of those highly risky mortgages to remove them from the banks’ balance sheets.  It’s called the secondary mortgage market.  And the primary players are none other than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ground zero of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Once upon a time, a mortgage was one of the safest investments.  People saved up to pay a 20% down payment.  With their life savings invested, people paid their mortgage payment and they paid them on time.  And if you could afford a 20% down payment, mortgage bankers had a lot of confidence that you would be able to service your mortgage.  But in the day of 5%, 3% and 0% down, a person doesn’t have a whole lot to lose.  This makes the first few years of these mortgages especially risky.  The introduction of ‘no documentation’ mortgages meant people could lie about their income (or include overtime earnings).  Add to that the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) and the interest-only mortgage and you just made these especially risky mortgages even more risky.  Sure, these will get almost anyone into a home, but they get in by the skin of their teeth.  But if they lose their overtime due to a weakened economy, if their interest rate on their ARM resets at a higher rate or a balloon payment is due on their interest-only loan, guess what?  That stream of mortgage payments could very well stop.

Now that would be a BIG problem.  Because of what Freddie and Fannie did with those mortgages they bought.  They sliced them up and built creative investment vehicles.  Derivatives.  Mortgage backed securities called collateralized debt obligations.  Wall Street repackaged all these risky mortgages into highly profitable investments.  Everybody bought them.  Pension funds.  Trust funds.  In America.  And throughout the world.  Big gains with a low risk.  Or so it would seem.  You see, they never eliminated the risk.  They only transferred it to someone else.  And once people couldn’t pay their mortgage payments anymore, the house of cards came crashing down.  We call it the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008.  It caused a worldwide recession.  And cost the American taxpayer dearly.  Even those not born yet.

Yes We Can…Screw the American Taxpayer

The subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 is a government creation.  Their quest of affordable housing to buy votes put more and more people into houses they couldn’t afford.  They created legislation akin to extortion of the banking industry.  They used the Justice Department to apply the muscle for that extortion.  They had their friends in the media and the activists for racial equality to further pressure the banking industry.  Their lack of oversight of Fannie and Freddie (thank you Barney Frank and Chris Dodd) let them make extremely risky loans.  And their policies of buying extremely risky mortgages ultimately transferred all risk to the taxpayer.  Why?  Because like all good government scandals, the seekers of favors rewarded our representatives well for their complicity with sweetheart mortgage deals, vacation junkets, fat contributions to their campaign war chests, etc.  In other words, politics as usual.  But on a grand scale.

Why do they do it?  Because they can.  They count on you being ignorant of history.  And accepting every lie they tell you.  Because they hold you in contempt.  They look down on you with sweet condescension.  These pencil-neck geeks who could never amount to anything on their own merit or ability.  But some sold souls later and they have finally gotten even with those who were better than them.  And here they are.  Still living well.  Even during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

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