Category Archives: Mortgage

Will “Inflated” FICO Scores Be The Catalyst For The Next Meltdown

Consumer credit scores have been artificially inflated during the past decade and are covering up a very real danger lurking behind hundreds of billions of dollars in debt. And when Goldman Sachs is the one ringing the alarm bell, you know the issue may actually be serious.

Joined by Moody’s Analytics and supported by “research” from the Federal Reserve, the steady rise of credit scores during our last decade of “economic expansion” has led to a dangerous concept called “grade inflation”, according to Bloomberg

Grade inflation is the idea that debtors are actually riskier than their scores indicate, due to metrics not accounting for the “robust” economy, which may negatively affect the perception of borrowers’ ability to pay back bills on time. This means that when a recession finally happens, there could be a larger than expected fallout for both lenders and investors. 

There are around 15 million more consumers with credit scores above 740 today than there were in 2006, and about 15 million fewer consumers with scores below 660, according to Moody’s.

On the surface, this disappearance of subprime borrowers is good news. But is there more than meets the eye to the American consumer’s FICO score renaissance?

Cris deRitis, deputy chief economist at Moody’s Analytics said: “Borrowers with low credit scores in 2019 pose a much higher relative risk. Because loss rates today are low and competition for high-score borrowers is fierce, lenders may be tempted to lower their credit standards without appreciating that the 660 credit-score borrower today may be relatively worse than a 660-score borrower in 2009.”

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The problem is most acute for smaller firms that tend to lend more to people with poor credit histories. Many of these firms rely on FICO scores and are unable to account for other metrics, like debt-to-income levels and macroeconomic data. Among the most exposed outstanding debts are car loans, consumer retail credit and personal loans that are doled out online. These types of debt total about $400 billion – and about $100 billion of that sum has been bundled into securities that have been sold to ravenous yield chasers “investors”. 

Meanwhile, cracks are already starting to show on the surface: there has been a rising number of missed payments by borrowers with the highest risk, despite the past decade of “growth”. And now that the economy is starting to show weakness, these delinquencies could accelerate and lead to larger than expected losses. 

Goldman Sachs analyst Marty Young said in an interview: “Every credit model that just relies on credit score now – and there’s a lot of them – is possibly understating the risk. There are a whole bunch of other variables, including the business cycle, that need to be taken into account.”

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FICO credit scores are used by more than 90% of U.S. lenders to determine whether a borrower is an acceptable risk. Most scores range from 300 to 850, with a higher score purporting to show that someone is more likely to pay back their debts. Some big banks and lenders have recognized the problem and have included other factors in their underwriting decisions. 

“Borrowers’ scores may have migrated up, but inherently their individual risk, and their attitude towards credit and ability to pay their bills, has stayed the same. You might have thought 700 was a good score, but now it’s just average,” deRitis continued.

Ethan Dornhelm, vice president of scores and predictive analytics at FICO magically doesn’t seem to notice score inflation and blames the issue on underwriters: “The relationship between FICO score and delinquency levels can and does shift over time. We recognize there’s a lot more context you can obtain beyond a consumer’s credit file. We do not think that score inflation is the issue, but the risk layering on underwriting factors outside of credit scores, such as DTI, loan terms, and even trends in macroeconomic cycles, for example.”

Goldman’s Young attributes the rise in missed auto loan payments to the change in scores. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said the number of auto loans at least 90 days late topped 7 million at the end of last year.

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Michelle Russell-Dowe, who invests in consumer asset-backed securities at Schroder Investment Management, said: “Some deep-subprime auto lenders may be deeply reliant on credit scores, although there’s a pretty wide range within the auto industry of how lenders use scores and other metrics. For marketplace lending, regardless of the statistics you collect on borrowers, there is something adversely selective about somebody looking for loans online.”

Marketplace and peer to peer lending has also been showing signs of stress. Missed payments and writedowns increased last year, according to NY data and analytic firm PeerIQ. “We don’t see the purported improvement in underwriting just yet,” PeerIQ wrote in a recent report.

And the pressure isn’t just showing up in auto loans and marketplace lending. Private label credit cards, those issued by stores, instead of big banks, saw the highest number of missed payments in seven years last year.

“As an investor it’s incumbent on you to do that deep credit work, which means you have to know as much as possible about how things should pay off or default. If you don’t think you’re being paid for the risk, you have no business investing in it,” Russell-Dowe concluded, stating what should be – but isn’t – the obvious.

Source: ZeroHedge

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“Recap & Release” – Trump Unveils Plan To End Govt Control Of Fannie, Freddie

After months (or years) of on-again, off-again headlines, President Trump is expected to sign a memo on an overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this afternoon, kick-starting a lengthy process that could lead to the mortgage giants being freed from federal control.

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The White House has been promising to release a plan for weeks, and its proposal would be the culmination of months of meetings between administration officials on what to do about Fannie and Freddie.

Bloomberg reports that while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said it’s a priority to return the companies to the private market, such a dramatic shift probably won’t happen anytime soon.

In its memo, the White House sets out a broad set of recommendations for Treasury and HUD, such as increasing competition for Fannie and Freddie and protecting taxpayers from losses.

The memo itself has a worryingly familiar title (anyone else thinking 2007 housing bubble?):

President Donald J. Trump Is Reforming the Housing Finance System to Help Americans Who Want to Buy a Home

“We’re lifting up forgotten communities, creating exciting new opportunities, and helping every American find their path to the American Dream – the dream of a great job, a safe home, and a better life for their children.”

President Donald J. Trump

REFORMING THE HOUSING FINANCE SYSTEM: The United States housing finance system is in need of reform to help Americans who want to buy a home.

  • Today, the President Donald J. Trump is signing a Presidential memorandum initiating overdue reform of the housing finance system.
  • During the financial crisis, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suffered significant losses and were bailed out by the Federal Government with billions of taxpayer dollars.
    • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in conservatorship since September 2008.
  • In the decade since the financial crisis, there has been no comprehensive reform of the housing finance system despite the need for it, leaving taxpayers exposed to future bailouts.
    • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have grown in size and scope and face no competition from the private sector.
    • The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) housing programs are exposed to high levels of risk and rely on outdated business processes and systems.

PROMOTING COMPETITION AND PROTECTING TAXPAYERS: The Trump Administration will work to promote competition in the housing finance market and protect taxpayer dollars.

  • The President is directing relevant agencies to develop a reform plan for the housing finance system. These reforms will aim to:
    • End the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and improve regulatory oversight over them.
    • Promote competition in the housing finance market and create a system that encourages sustainable homeownership and protects taxpayers against bailouts.
  • The President is directing the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to craft administrative and legislative options for housing finance reform.
    • Treasury will prepare a reform plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
    • HUD will prepare a reform plan for the housing finance agencies it oversees.
  • The Presidential memorandum calls for reform plans to be submitted to the President for approval as soon as practicable.
  • Critically, the Administration wants to work with Congress to achieve comprehensive reform that improves our housing finance system.

HELPING PEOPLE ACHIEVE THE AMERICAN DREAM: These reforms will help more Americans fulfill their goal of buying a home.

  • President Trump is working to improve Americans’ access to sustainable home mortgages.
  • The Presidential memorandum aims to preserve the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.
  • The Administration is committed to enabling Americans to access Federal housing programs that help finance the purchase of their first home.
  • Sustainable homeownership is the benchmark of success for comprehensive reforms to Government housing programs.

*  *  *

Because what Americans need is more debt and more leverage at a time when home prices are at record highs and rolling over.

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Hedge funds that own Fannie and Freddie shares have long called on policy makers to let the companies build up their capital buffers and then be released from government control.

It’s unclear whether the White House would be willing to take such a significant step without first letting lawmakers take another stab at overhauling the companies.

But not everyone is excited about the recapitalizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Edward DeMarco, president of the Housing Policy Council, warned that releasing them from conservatorship would do nothing to fix the mortgage giants’ charters or alter their implied government guarantee:

“I’m not sure what is good about recap and release,” DeMarco, a former acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said in a phone interview.

DeMarco also noted that the government stepped in to save the companies in 2008, and they continue to operate with virtually no capital. On Tuesday, DeMarco told the Senate, during the first of two hearings on the housing finance system that “recap and release should not even be on the table.”

But shareholders in the firms were excitedly buying… once again.

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Deciding the fate of Fannie and Freddie, which stand behind about $5 trillion of home loans, remains the biggest outstanding issue from the 2008 financial crisis.

Source: ZeroHedge

Yield Curve Inverts For The First Time Since 2007: Recession Countdown Begins

The most prescient recession indicator in the market just inverted for the first time since 2007.

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Don’t believe us? Here is Larry Kudlow last summer explaining that everyone freaking out about the 2s10s spread is silly, they focus on the 3-month to 10-year spread that has preceded every recession in the last 50 years (with few if any false positives)… (fwd to 4:20)

As we noted below, on six occasions over the past 50 years when the three-month yield exceeded that of the 10-year, economic recession invariably followed, commencing an average of 311 days after the initial signal. 

And here is Bloomberg showing how the yield curve inverted in 1989, in 2000 and in 2006, with recessions prompting starting in 1990, 2001 and 2008. This time won’t be different.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/prior%20inversions.jpg?itok=BgnEMjCQ

On the heels of a dismal German PMI print, world bond yields have tumbled, extending US Treasuries’ rate collapse since The Fed flip-flopped full dovetard.

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The yield curve is now inverted through 7Y…

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With the 7Y-Fed-Funds spread negative…

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Bonds and stocks bid after Powell threw in the towell last week…

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But the message from the collapse in bond yields is too loud to ignore. 10Y yields have crashed below 2.50% for the first time since Jan 2018…

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Crushing the spread between 3-month and 10-year Treasury rates to just 2.4bps – a smidge away from flashing a big red recession warning…

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Critically, as Jim Grant noted recently, the spread between the 10-year and three-month yields is an important indicator, James Bianco, president and eponym of Bianco Research LLC notes today. On six occasions over the past 50 years when the three-month yield exceeded that of the 10-year, economic recession invariably followed, commencing an average of 311 days after the initial signal. 

Bianco concludes that the market, like Trump, believes that the current Funds rate isn’t low enough:

While Powell stressed over and over that the Fed is at “neutral,” . . . the market is saying the rate hike cycle ended last December and the economy will weaken enough for the Fed to see a reason to cut in less than a year.

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Equity markets remain ignorant of this risk, seemingly banking it all on The Powell Put. We give the last word to DoubleLine’s Jeff Gundlach as a word of caution on the massive decoupling between bonds and stocks…

“Just because things seem invincible doesn’t mean they are invincible. There is kryptonite everywhere. Yesterday’s move created more uncertainty.”

Source: ZeroHedge

Basement-Dwelling Millennials Beware: Reverse Mortgages May Evaporate Your Inheritance

With nearly 90% of millennials reporting that they have less than $10,000 in savings and more than 100 million Americans of working age with nothing in retirement accounts, we have bad news for basement-dwelling millennials invested in the “waiting for Mom and Dad to die” model;

Reverse mortgages are set to make a comeback if a consortium of lenders have their way, according to Bloomberg.

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Columbia Business School real estate professor Chris Mayer – who’s also the CEO of reverse mortgage lender Longbridge Financial, says the widely-panned financial arrangements deserve a second look. Mayer is a former economist at the Federal Reserve of Boston with a Ph.D. from MIT. 

In 2012, Mayer co-founded Longbridge, based in Mahwah, New Jersey, and in 2013 became CEO. He’s on the board of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. He said his company, which services 10,000 loans, hasn’t had a single completed foreclosure because of failure to pay property taxes or insurance. –Bloomberg

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners to pull equity from their home in monthly installments, lines of credit or lump sums. Over time, their loan balance grows – coming due upon the borrower’s death. At this point, the house is sold to pay off the loan – typically leaving heirs with little to nothing

Elderly borrowers, meanwhile, must continue to pay taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities – which can lead to foreclosure.

While even some critics agree that reverse mortgages make sense for some homeowners – they have been criticized for excessive fees and tempting older Americans into spending their home equity early instead of using it for things such as healthcare expenses. Fees on a $100,000 loan on a house worth $200,000, for example, can total as much as $10,000 – and are typically wrapped into the mortgage. 

The profits are significant, the oversight is minimal, and greed could work to the disadvantage of seniors who should be protected by government programs and not targeted as prey,” said critic Dave Stevens – former Obama administration Federal Housing Administration commissioner and former CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. 

To support his claims that reverse mortgages are far less risky than they used to be, Mayer cites a 2014 study by Alicia Munnell of Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. Munnell, a professor and former assistant secretary of the Treasury Department in the Clinton Administration (who once invested $150,000 in Mayer’s company and has since sold her stake). Munnell concluded that industry changes requiring lenders to assess a prospective borrower’s ability to pay property taxes and homeowner’s insurance significantly reduces the risk of a reverse mortgage

The number of reverse mortgages, or Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM) in the United States between 2005 and 2018 has not shown a recent upward trend – however that may change if Mayer and his cohorts are able to convince homeowners that reverse mortgages aren’t what they used to be.

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Cleaning up their image

For years, the reverse mortgage industry has relied on celebrity pitchmen to convince Americans to part with the equity in their homes in order to maintain their lifestyle. 

The late Fred Thompson, a U.S. senator and Law & Order actor, represented American Advisors Group, the industry’s biggest player. These days, the same company leans on actor Tom Selleck.

Just like you, I thought reverse mortgages had to have some catch,” Selleck says in an online video. Then I did some homework and found out it’s not any of that. It’s not another way for a bank to get your house.

Michael Douglas, in his Golden Globe-winning performance on the Netflix series The Kominsky Method, satirizes such pitches. His financially desperate character, an acting teacher, quits filming a reverse mortgage commercial because he can’t stomach the script. –Bloomberg

In 2016, American Advisers and two other companies were accused by the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of running deceptive ads. Without admitting guilt, American Advisers agreed to add more caveats to its promotions and paid a $400,000 fine. 

As a result, the company has made “significant investments” in compliance, according to company spokesman Ryan Whittington, adding that reverse mortgages are now “highly regulated, viable financial tools,” which require homeowners to undergo third-party counseling before participating in one. 

The FHA has backed more than 1 million such reverse mortgages. Homeowners pay into an insurance fund an upfront fee equal to 2 percent of a home’s value, as well as an additional half a percentage point every year.

After the last housing crash, taxpayers had to make up a $1.7 billion shortfall because of reverse mortgage losses. Over the past five years, the government has been tightening rules, such as requiring homeowners to show they can afford tax and insurance payments. –Bloomberg

As a result of tightened regulations, the number of reverse mortgage loans has dropped significantly since 2008. 

Making the case for reverse mortgages is Shelly Giordino – a former executive at reverse mortgage company Security 1 Lending, who co-founded the Funding Longevity Task Force in 2012. 

Giordino now works for Mutual of Obama’s reverse mortgage division as their “head cheerleader” for positive reverse mortgages research. One Reverse Mortgage CEO Gregg Smith said that the group is promoting “true academic research” to convince the public that reverse mortgages are a good idea. 

Mayer under fire

University of Massachusetts economics professor Gerald Epstein says that Columbia may need to scrutinize Mayer’s business relationships for conflicts of interest. 

They really should be careful when people have this kind of dual loyalty,” said Epstein. 

Columbia said it monitors Mayer’s employment as CEO of the mortgage company to ensure compliance with its policies. “Professor Mayer has demonstrated a commitment to openness and transparency by disclosing outside affiliations,” said Chris Cashman, a spokesman for the business school. Mayer has a “special appointment,” which reduces his salary and teaching load and also caps his hours at Longbridge, Cashman said.

Likewise, Boston College said it reviewed Professor Munnell’s investment in Mayer’s company, on whose board she served from 2012 through 2014. Munnell said another round of investors in 2016 bought out her $150,000 stake in Longbridge for an additional $4,000 in interest.

“Anytime I had a conversation like this, I had to say at the beginning that I have $150,000 in Longbridge,” said Munnell. “I had to do it all the time. I’m just as happy to be out, for my academic life.” 

Source: ZeroHedge

Bond Illiquidity, LIBOR and You

Summary
  • A letter to the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC) from the Secured Finance Industry Group (SFIG) put an end to the fiction that major financial institutions support SOFR.
  • Financial institutions are justly concerned that SOFR could fatally squeeze bank margins in a crisis.
  • Nevertheless, other proposed alternatives, such as the changes to LIBOR proposed by Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), do not fit the regulators’ requirement that the replacement be determined by liquid market transactions prices.
  • Regulators cannot introduce a new financial instrument. LIBOR’s replacement must be the result of private sector innovation.

(Kurt Dew) A recent Secured Finance Industry Group (SFIG) comment letter is SFIG’s response to a request for comment by the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC) – a Fed-appointed committee of bankers tasked to solve the LIBOR problem. The Fed’s ARRC creation was an embarrassingly transparent attempt by the regulators to co-opt industry objections to their LIBOR replacement. ARRC proposes to replace LIBOR by the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) – a Fed-created version of the overnight repurchase agreement rate. The SFIG comment details the objections of financial institutions to SOFR. Importantly, SFIG serves as chair of ARRC. The critical comment letter is thus the final blow to the regulators’ failed effort to gain the appearance of financial institution support for SOFR.

However, more importantly, neither financial institutions nor their regulators have a clear plan to resolve the need to replace LIBOR. If replacing LIBOR were not such a critical matter, the Byzantine machinations of the bank regulators and financial institutions around SOFR would be amusing. However, the pricing of tens of trillions in debt instruments and hundreds of trillions in derivative instruments depends on a smooth transition to some reference rate other than LIBOR. I contend that this enormous magnitude is a low estimate of the financial market assets at risk due to poorly governed debt markets.

Financial markets’ failure to solve the LIBOR replacement problem is the result of a misunderstanding of the reasons for the LIBOR problem. Understanding of LIBOR suffers from journalistic misdirection, on one hand, and a misunderstanding of the root problem that the LIBOR brouhaha exemplifies, on the other.

The failure of LIBOR is a market structure failure. However, the financial press bills LIBOR’s failure mistakenly as a failure of ethics among bankers. Recorded transcripts of telephone, email, and chat room conversations of small groups of traders provided the evidence of ethical weaknesses leading to attempted market manipulation that drove the post-Financial Crisis LIBOR embarrassment.

However, markets themselves typically are the best antidote to attempted market manipulation. The market solution to trader cabals formed to alter prices has always been a simple one. In a liquid market, larger market forces inevitably swamp organized efforts to manipulate prices. Cabals don’t work in a liquid market because the manipulators lose money.

The split over a LIBOR is an enormous opportunity.

Financial institutions have quite reasonably insisted on two key properties that SOFR lacks.

  • The LIBOR replacement should be forward-looking. That is, the rate should reflect the market’s opinion of overnight interest costs on average in the coming three months.
  • The LIBOR replacement should reflect the interest cost of private unsecured borrowers, instead of the lower interest costs of the Treasury.

Thus, coupled with the TBTF banks’ endorsement of the Intercontinental Exchange Inc. (ICE) candidate for a LIBOR replacement, the SFIG letter shows that ARRC’s SOFR proposal does not represent the banks and other financial institutions that are ARRC members. Worse, it raises a serious threat. If regulators seize on an index that might potentially bankrupt one or more major financial institutions during a financial crisis, those institutions do not plan to allow the Fed to pass the blame for this disastrous decision to them.

However, the banks (or a third party) will, I believe, have to do more than provide another bank-calculated index. The self-acknowledged problem with the ICE (TBTF endorsed) LIBOR replacement is that any index the procedure produces is the result of a transaction selection process by banks themselves. Thus, the ICE fix remains vulnerable to the same ethical vulnerabilities that LIBOR itself faced.

In short, any satisfactory LIBOR replacement must be a form of debt that doesn’t exist now. We could throw up our hands and use the hazardous SOFR, but this seems to be a negative way of looking at the situation.

This is an obvious opportunity to seize an enormous chunk of the financial markets in one fell swoop by addressing bond market illiquidity more generally. Moreover, it is an opportunity that anybody with the courage and the capital could pursue. The problem is one of creating a new debt market with a different structure. Such a new market would have no incumbent oligopolies and no reactionary regulators. Capital, a few hotshot IT professionals, and some people with skills of persuasion would be enough ammunition to get the job done. Island overwhelmed the incumbent stock exchanges with less.

Interestingly, in all likelihood, TBTF banks, incumbent exchanges, and regulators are at a disadvantage in the pursuit of a debt market innovation since they are married to old ways of generating revenues. An incumbent TBTF bank pursuing a new market structure, for example, would not find management friendly to ideas such as putting an end to collateral hypothecation in the repo market.

Why are we getting LIBOR wrong?

SFIG and the TBTF banks also concede that there is no existing instrument that meets the minimal standards required of a LIBOR replacement – the replacement should be a term (probably three-month, or six-month) unsecured debt instrument, traded in a liquid marketplace where recorded transaction prices are the result of the combined forces of supply and demand. SFIG’s comment letter to ARRC’s request to comment on SOFR points to a central quandary that neither SOFR nor its detractors have addressed. No financial instrument meets these criteria today.

Don’t blame the Fed. The Fed did everything imaginable to get industry support for repurchase agreements, the only existing liquid instrument where an honest broker (the Fed) records market transactions. Blame the markets themselves. Organized market participants are adopting the time-honored “See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.” approach. Once ARRC had endorsed SOFR, CME Group (CME) helpfully created a futures contract based on SOFR.

All that remained was for the markets to begin trading the SOFR-based instruments. However, that didn’t happen. CME volume in SOFR futures remains a small fraction of Eurodollar (LIBOR) futures volume. In itself, this is not a failing of the marketplace. It’s simply the market’s recognition that SOFR futures don’t provide adequate protection for their existing risks.

How big is the LIBOR problem?

No matter how dire you believe the LIBOR problem to be, the underlying problem of debt market illiquidity that the LIBOR problem reveals is many times bigger. A LIBOR fix only resolves the issue of illiquidity in the short-term end of the market for unsecured debt.

LIBOR became important to society when it began to appear as a factor in the cost of mortgages, municipal debt, and credit card debt. In other words, LIBOR is different from the interest cost of a corporate bond because of LIBOR’s visibility. However, of course, all bank debt, no matter how obscure, is a factor in the cost of consumer borrowing.

An exchange trading liquid tailor-made debt issues that capture the primary price risks associated with debt issuance at all maturities would have a massive beneficial effect on the cost of financing. This market would generate transactions comparable to the combined volume of the stock exchanges, assuming turnover in the two markets to be comparable.

What flaw in market structure creates the LIBOR/debt market liquidity problem? In the markets for corporate liabilities, the issuer is concerned about the market appeal of the terms upon which debt is sold only once – the issue date. After that, any action the corporation might take that benefits its stockholders at the expense of its debtholders faces a single low hurdle – is it legal? Investors are wise to devote more time and attention to debt acquisition than to share acquisition.

If bondholders could devise an instrument that liberates its holder from the negative effects on debt valuation of the decision-making power of a single issuer, it would be interesting to see what effect that would have on the position within corporate politics of debtholders relative to stockholders. One could imagine the popularity of this buyer-friendly instrument growing relative to the popularity of the current issuer-centric debt issues. As this form of debt grows as a share of the market for debt, the management of this debt would become gatekeepers for bond market liquidity. They might gradually induce issuers to write more buyer-friendly forms of debt.

The legal obligation of corporate management to consider the interest of stockholders when these interests conflict with the interests of debtholders is writ in stone. Nevertheless, there is no legal barrier to investors – the final constituency for all corporate obligations – using their influence to discriminate among debt issues. If debtholders confront stockholders with a positive payoff to pleasing debtholders, there might be multiple systemic improvements. The value of buyer-friendly debt would rise relative to issuer-friendly issues, driving down its interest cost and resulting in capital gains to both debt and shareholders. The result would be an altogether safer financial system as a whole.

Source: by Kurt Dew, Think Twice Finance | Seeking Alpha

Mortgage Applications Drop Despite Lower Mortgage Rates

Ah, the problems of trying to model residential mortgage purchase and refinancing applications. When mortgage rates fall, models predict a rise in both purchase and refinancing applications. This has left mortgage modelers dazed and confused.

But the recent Mortgage Bankers Association report, revealed that mortgage applications DROPPED 4.78% WoW despite mortgage rates dropping as well.

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Mortgage rates have been dropping since November, yet mortgage purchase applications dropped in for the latest week. Very likely this was the displacement of purchase applications was simply the “start of the year” effect after a sleepy holiday season.

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Ditto for mortgage refinancing applications. Despite mortgage rates declining. there was “start of the year” surge. But continued rate decreases have resulted in generally declining purchase applications after the surge.

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On a long term view, purchase applications have remained sedate following the financial crisis and new regulations.

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Mortgage refinancing applications remain in Death Valley.

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Perhaps there is a communications breakdown?

Source: Confounded Interest

More Alarm Bells As Banks Report Tightening Lending Standards While Loan Demand Slides

The latest alarm signal that the US economy is on collision course with a recession came after today’s release of the latest Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey (SLOOS) by the Federal Reserve, which was conducted for bank lending activity during the fourth quarter of last year, and which reported a double whammy of tightening lending standards and terms for commercial and industrial loans on one hand, and weaker demand for those loans on the other. Even more concerning is that banks also reported weaker demand for both commercial and residential real estate loans, echoing the softer housing data in recent months.

This tightening in C&I lending standards coupled with sharp declines loan demand, especially for mortgage and auto loans, is shown below.

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Here are the details via Goldman:

  • 20% of banks surveyed reportedly widened spreads of loan rates over the cost of funds for large- and medium-sized firms, while 16% narrowed spreads. 14% of banks surveyed reported higher premiums charged on riskier loans, while 4% reported lower premiums. Other terms, such as loan covenants and collateralization requirements, remained largely unchanged. Demand for loans reportedly weakened on balance.
  • Relative to the last survey, standards on commercial real estate (CRE) loans tightened on net over the fourth quarter of the year. On net, 17% of banks reported tightening credit standards on loans secured by multifamily residential properties, while 13% of banks on net reported tightening standards for construction and land development loans. As above, banks reported that demand for CRE loans across a broad range of categories moderately weakened on net.
  • Banks reported that lending standards for residential mortgage loans remained largely unchanged on net in 2018Q4 relative to the prior quarter. However, this benign environment was largely as a result of slumping demand for credit, as banks reported weaker demand across all surveyed residential loan categories, including home equity lines of credit.
  • While banks reported that lending standards on consumer installment loans and autos remained largely unchanged, banks reported that lending standards for credit cards had tightened slightly. Here too demand – for all categories of consumer loans – was moderately weaker, while respondent willingness to make consumer installment loans tumbled to the lowest value since the financial crisis.

https://www.zerohedge.com/s3/files/inline-images/installment%20loans.jpg?itok=xsclC3ru

Finally, and most concerning of all, is that in their response to special questions on their 2019 outlook, assuming that economic activity continues to be in line with consensus forecasts, banks reported they plan to tighten lending standards somewhat for C&I loans, commercial real estate loans, and residential mortgage loans, in other words the most important credit would become even more difficult to attain. As a result, or perhaps due to the slowdown in the economy, banks also expect demand for C&I, CRE, and residential mortgage loans to weaken somewhat in 2019.

Banks also reported expecting delinquencies and charge-offs to increase somewhat on C&I, CRE, and residential mortgage loans; as Bloomberg’s Andrew Cinko muses “if America was heading toward an economic contraction that would be a typical expectation. But this doesn’t seem to be the case for the foreseeable future. So what gives?”

Perhaps “what gives” is that the economy is not nearly as strong as consensus would make it appear, and behind closed door, loan officers are already batting down the hatches and preparing for a recession. 

* * *

Here would be a good time to remind readers that according to a Reuters investigation conducted in mid-December, when looking behind headline numbers showing healthy loan books, “problems appear to be cropping up in areas such as home-equity lines of credit, commercial real estate and credit cards” according to federal data reviewed by the wire service and interviews with bank execs.

Worse, banks are also starting to aggressively cut relationships with customers who seem too risky, which is to be expected: after all financial conditions in the real economy, if not the markets which just enjoyed the best January since 1987, are getting ever tighter as short-term rates remain sticky high and the result will be a waterfall of defaults sooner or later. Here are the all too clear signs which Reuters found that banks are starting to prepare for the next recession by slashing and/or limiting risky loan exposure:

  • First, nearly half of the applications from customers with low credit scores were rejected in the four months ending in October, compared with 43 percent in the year-ago period, according to a survey released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • Second, banks shuttered 7 percent of existing accounts, particularly among subprime borrowers, the highest rate since the Fed started conducting surveys in 2013.
  • Third, home-equity lines of credit declined 8 percent across the industry, with growth slowing in areas such as credit cards and commercial-and-industrial loans, the survey showed.

Then there are the bank-specific signs, starting with Capital One – one of the biggest U.S. card lenders – which is restricting how much it lends to each customer even as it aggressively recruits new ones, CEO Richard Fairbank said last December.

We have been more cautious in the extension of credit, initial credit lines, the broad-based credit line increase programs,” he said. “At this point in the cycle, we’re going to hold back on that option a bit.”

Regional banks have become more cautious lately as well, as they avoid financing riskier projects like early-stage construction loans and properties without pre-lease agreements (here traders vividly recall the OZK commercial real estate repricing fiasco that sent the stock crashing). New Jersey’s OceanFirst Bank also pulled back on refinancing transactions that let customers cash out on their debt, and has started reducing exposure to industrial loans, CEO Chris Maher told Reuters.

“In a downturn, industrial property is extremely illiquid,” he said. “If you don’t want it and it’s not needed it could be almost valueless.”

What happens next?

While a recession is looking increasingly likely, especially as it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with banks slashing loans resulting in even slower velocity of money, while demand for credit shrinks in response to tighter loan standards and hitting economic growth, the only question whether a recession is a 2019 or 2020 event, bankers and analysts remain optimistic that the next recession will look much more like the 2001 tech bubble bursting than the 2007-09 global financial crisis.

We wonder why they are so confident, and statements such as this one from Flagship Bank CFO Schornack will hardly instill confidence:

“I lived through the pain of the last recession. We are much more prudent today in how we underwrite deals.”

We disagree, and as evidence we present Exhibit A: the shock write down that Bank OZK took on its commercial real estate, which nobody in the market had expected. As for banks being more “solid”, let’s remove the $1.5 trillion buffer in excess reserves that provides an ocean of artificial liquidity, and see just how stable banks are then. After all, it is this $1.5 trillion in excess reserves that prompt Powell to capitulate and tell the markets he is willing to slowdown or even pause the Fed’s balance sheet shrinkage.

Source: ZeroHedge