December 2, 2022

Cramer VS Roubini – Nasty

deal

Round One?

Things got real nasty as two giants in the world of financial commentary engaged in a bare knuckles brawl.  Nouriel Roubini earned his reputation by being one of the few to correctly predict the ongoing economic crash and he remains stoutly bearish.  Jim Cramer has repeatedly called bottoms as the Dow cratered from 14,000 to 6,500 and has endured continual sniping from critics who have documented his inaccurate predictions.

Roubini is seen by many as a perma bear while Cramer could be called a perma bull.   Comedian Jon Stewart didn’t get much of an argument from Cramer when he accused Cramer of missing the signs of a “once in a lifetime financial tsunami”.

The true test of greatness going forward will be decided by who correctly calls the bottom to this depression/recession.   The bets have been placed – time will tell who is right.   In the meantime, it was certainly better to take Roubini’s advice for the past three years.   Those market investors who ignored the bearish calls of Roubini have taken a major hit to their net worth.

The entertaining remarks made by each gentleman about the other follow, courtesy of guardian.co.uk.

Roubini, a New York University professor who famously forecast a dire world recession as far back as 2006, has taken exception to remarks on a blog by Cramer that he is “intoxicated” with his own “prescience and vision” and is refusing to see green shoots of recovery in the financial markets.

“Cramer is a buffoon,” said Roubini. “He was one of those who called six times in a row for this bear market rally to be a bull market rally and he got it wrong.”

Roubini, who believes the situation is so gloomy that leading US banks may need to be nationalised, was dismissive of Cramer: “After all this mess and Jon Stewart, he should just shut up because he has no shame.”

Speaking to the Associated Press ahead of a speaking engagement in Toronto, the economist continued: “He’s not a credible analyst. Every time it was a bear market rally he said it was the beginning of a bull, and he got it wrong.”

Last week, Cramer told his viewers that the recent 20% rally in Wall Street markets was sufficient to judge that the downturn was past its worst: “Right now, right here, on this show – I am announcing the depression [is] over!”

Depression Over?

Let’s hope that Cramer gets one right this time with his prediction that the “depression is over”.

It’s Time To Give Every Member Of Congress A Bonus

Gone Fishing

Market Investing Made Simple

Many people probably suspect that Congress causes more harm than good and now we have the proof.   Forbes Magazine has uncovered what appears to be a foolproof method for timing stock purchases based on the  Congressional  work schedule.  The method is simple to use and relies on the elegance of intuitive reasoning.

Eric Singer, a 56-year-old fund manager with past stints at Smith Barney and PaineWebber, has something he calls the Congressional Effect Fund. The $2 million mutual fund invests in Treasury bills when Congress is in session and in the S&P 500 the rest of the time.

How does this theory work over the longer term? Singer whips out a study he did of stock performance in the 44 years ended last December. Over the course of the 7,244 days that Congress was in session the S&P was up an average annual 0.3%, dividends excluded. Over the 3,821 days that legislators were home, stocks averaged 16.1% in annual returns.

Give Congress A Bonus And A Long Vacation

The variance in stock returns for Congress in session/out of session time periods is too extreme to ascribe to random chance.   Since Congress has had their chance and things have only gotten worse, why not give every member of Congress  a large bonus if they promise to go fishing for the next six years?   At a 16% annual return, six years is about what’s needed for the market to recoup its 50% drop since early 2008.

This experiment certainly couldn’t make matters any worse than they are now.   My guess is that with Congress out of the way, the markets and the economy would recover in a lot less than 6 years.

Inflation, Deflation or World Depression?

calculatorShould We Discount The Consensus?

The debate on the outcome of bailouts and money printing continues.  A review of some of the current thoughts on Fed and Governmental action predict different possible outcomes – none of them particularly desirable.   When the consensus seems unanimous, maybe it’s time to discount the consensus?

The Marc Faber Interview by Peter Schiff

Marc Faber explains why bailouts and fiscal stimulus don’t work and are counterproductive to economic recovery.  Inflating our way out of the financial crisis is seen as the only option by the government.  Higher inflation  will be negative for both bonds and equities.

The Marginal Productivity of Debt

New money creation will only cause a further drop in price levels and cause a further contraction in the economy since the marginal productivity of debt has turned negative.  Bernanke’s flood of new money may cause something far worse than a depression.

Bailout Economics

Are we destroying capitalism by trying to save it?  The diversion of capital to failed enterprises is a recipe for disaster as money moves to the weaker hands.  What types of reform would foster an economic recovery?

Barack Obama as Herbert Hoover

How one small unanticipated event can trigger another depression.

Obama’s Auto Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

The administration’s first effort at ending the endless bailout cycle gets mixed reviews.  Sometimes you just can’t win.

US Mint Suspends Production of More Gold Coins

For those seeking the safety of gold coins, more bad news as the US Mint further restricts the production of gold coins.  Is the US Treasury seeking to limit the exchange of paper money into  hard assets?

Money Creation and The Fed

Does the explosive growth in the monetary base imply future uncontrollable inflation?

Economists Give Obama Grade Rating of F – An Ugly Ending

The First Test Results Are In

Obama, Geithner Get Low Grades From Economists

U.S. President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner received failing grades for their efforts to revive the economy from participants in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey.

The economists’ assessment stands in stark contrast with Mr. Obama’s popularity with the public, with a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll giving him a 60% approval rating. A majority of the 49 economists polled said they were dissatisfied with the administration’s economic policies.

However, economists’ main criticism of the Obama team centered on delays in enacting key parts of plans to rescue banks. “They overpromised and underdelivered,” said Stephen Stanley of RBS Greenwich Capital. “Secretary Geithner scheduled a big speech and came out with just a vague blueprint. The uncertainty is hanging over everyone’s head.”

Mr. Geithner unveiled the Obama administration’s plans Feb. 10, but he offered few details, and stocks sank on the news. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down almost 20% since the announcement, as multiple issues have weighed on investors’ confidence.

Despite spending and borrowing trillions of taxpayer dollars in the past two months, Mr Obama has failed to inspire confidence in the business community.  Investors have expressed a resounding vote of no confidence as seen by the ugly 20% slide in stock prices since the new administration took over.   At the current pace of events, the country will be insolvent and the Dow at 800 by year end 2009.

Investment Adviser In Chief Fuels Despair

The Obama Administration finally seems to have noticed that all of their policy announcements so far have only fueled economic despair, not alleviated it. So President Barack Obama took the rare opportunity yesterday of offering some investment advice to the American people: “What you’re now seeing is profit and earning ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal, if you’ve got a long-term perspective on it.” In other words, Obama wants Americans to Buy! Buy! Buy!

But before you rush out and follow President Obama’s investment advice, consider this: last week Obama’s Treasury Department announced that the government would take a 36% stake in Citigroup by converting $25 billion of its preferred shares into common stock. The Treasury paid $3.25 a share for the stock last week, which after a weekend’s worth of government nationalization rumors fell to $1.20 by Monday. So to recap, President Obama managed to lose billions of taxpayer invested dollars in just a few days. But that’s not even the worst part. So far the government has poured $50 billion into Citigroup. Meanwhile, Citi’s market capitalization is only $6.54 billion. In other words, taxpayers could have bought Citi eight times over already for all the money they have thrown at it already.

What the Citi story does highlight though, are the perils and conflicts that make massive and intrusive government intervention in the economy a disaster for all involved. Congress has no idea how to run a bank, and that is why all the political posturing in the House and Senate is completely undermining the stabilization of the banking sector. Meanwhile, the private sector has no incentive to create jobs since they are facing a $1.3 trillion tax hike in the coming decade. Then there is the $646 billion tax hike every American will see in their energy bills from President Obama’s promised carbon capping plans. It is no wonder that nobody is taking Obama’s investment advice.

The only sector of the economy that is sure to grow under Obama is the public sector. Our own Center for Data Analysis estimates that President Obama’s budget will require over 250,000 new government employees. Other expert estimates put the number at 100,000. Another big winner under Obama’s big government: lobbyists. Democratic staffers are now commanding $350,000 to $450,000 salaries at prestigious K Street lobbying firms. At least somebody is benefiting from this Obama economy.

Investors don’t invest precious cash on hope – they invest money based on viable plans that will lead to future economic growth and prosperity.   So far, all that investors have seen are plans for massive spending related to “tax rebates” and increased social spending.

Logical minds have questioned why so much of the “stimulus” plan spending would be directed to social spending and wealth transfer expenditures, when critical sectors of the American economy (banking, insurance, manufacturing, etc.) are effectively insolvent and on the edge of collapse.  An interesting theory that makes sense comes from Michael Boskin, economic professor at Stanford University. (Courtesy of financialsense.com)

“New and expanded refundable tax credits would raise the fraction of taxpayers paying no income taxes to almost 50% from 38%. This is potentially the most pernicious feature of the president’s budget, because it would cement a permanent voting majority with no stake in controlling the cost of general government.’

“Have Nots” The New Majority – courtesy financialsense.com

First off, let’s start with comments on the new Barack “Pinocchio” Ob@ma Administration and the public servants inside the beltway of WASHINGTON DC. Several words and comments come to mind: Morally and fiscally bankrupt and absolutely corrupt. Their betrayal of doing what is good for their constituents/country and creating the conditions for economic growth versus doing what is good for their political ambitions and power over the economy is on PLAIN display in their activities and proposals.

Contrary to their words, their actions can only lead to one conclusion: They are PURPOSELY driving the economy off a cliff to gather power in the UNFOLDING crisis by destroying every corner of what is still working at the public’s expense and MISERY. Please notice how they IMMEDIATELY jump on any public figure who murmurs anything contrary to the headline illusions.

The only reason they are reducing the deduction for charity for those earning over $250,000 dollars, at a time when we need charity more than in the last 70 years, is so the people relying on charity will have to rely on government.

As I mentioned in previous newsletters, the stage is set for the emergence of a new dictator, and my bet is that we shall see Ob@ma and the gang of 535 morph into it over the next two years. Two recent articles have caught my eye, both are about Narcissism; one is by Dr.Ali Sina entitled “Understanding Ob@ma: The Making of a Fuehrer at http://www.faithfreedom.org/obama.html

Is it possible that the economic well being of the country is being sabotaged so that the ruling elite in Washington can maintain their seats of power?  When the “have nots” outnumber those able to sustain them, massive social upheaval will follow.   America’s failed experiment to create wealth through debt may be laying the groundwork for a future that few of us dare to contemplate.

The Economic Collapse Continues – Logical Minds See No Signs Of A Bottom

No Signs Of A Bottom

The market continues its massive sell off in a resounding vote of no confidence on the measures being taken to reverse the economy’s downward spiral.  A contrary investor buying the dips over the past two years has seen nothing but huge losses.  Recent news on the economy continues to indicate that things are getting worse, not better. The impact of estimated losses of over $100 trillion in stocks, bonds and real estate over the past two years will not be offset by stimulus plans.

The trillions of dollars being borrowed to prop up the system are being overwhelmed by a loss of confidence and a loss of wealth that many fear may never be recovered.  The massive deficit in the national budget (12% of GDP) is causing a sell off in the long treasury market, with yields rising above 3% today on the 10 year bond.  The scary question in many people’s minds is how many more trillions of government debt and guarantees will be needed to support a collapsing banking and insurance industry?

Bernanke Confident – Reality Denied

Chairman Bernanke of the Federal Reserve recently expressed his optimistic view that the recession would be over this year – see Do Bernanke and Obama Talk To Each Other? Many others with far superior track records do not agree with Bernanke.

Paul Volcker – former Federal Reserve Chairman – “I don’t remember any time, maybe even in the great depression, when thing went down quite so fast, quite so uniformly around the world”.

George Soros – successful hedge fund investor – the financial system “was placed on life support, and it’s still on life support.  There’s no sign that we are anywhere near a bottom”.

Nouriel Roubini – economist who correctly forecast the financial collapse – “We are still in the third and fourth innings and it’s getting worse”.

Logical minds would have to strongly doubt Bernanke’s optimistic view, especially in view of his previous calls that proved to be ridiculous, such as:

“We will follow developments in the subprime market closely.  However, fundamental factors—including solid growth in incomes and relatively low mortgage rates—should ultimately support the demand for housing, and at this point, the troubles in the subprime sector seem unlikely to seriously spill over to the broader economy or the financial system.”
—June 5, 2007

Horrific Economic News Continues – Notable Links

California’s Jobless Rate Exceeds 10%

California’s unemployment rate climbed to 10.1% in January, the highest since 1983, as employers in the nation’s most-populous state cut 79,000 jobs in the month.

There were 3.3% fewer jobs in January 2009 compared to January 2008. The report said there were 1,863,000 unemployed Californians in January, up by 754,000 a year earlier.

The first half of 2009 will continue “to be pretty ugly,” said Howard Roth, the chief economist for the state’s finance department.

The state is threatening to pass the 11% jobless rate of late 1982, the highest since the Great Depression. “All we need is another month like this,” Mr. Roth said.

The Dangers Of Turning Inward

Yet if historians look back on today’s severe downturn, with its crumbling markets, rising unemployment and massive government interventions, they could well be busy analyzing how globalization — the spread of trade, finance, technology and the movement of people around the world — went into reverse. They would likely point to the growth of economic nationalism as the root cause.

The last time we saw sustained economic nationalism was in the 1930s, when capital flows and trade among countries collapsed, and every country went its own way. World growth went into a ditch, political ties among nations deteriorated, nationalism and populism combined to create fascist governments in Europe and Asia, and a world war took place.

It’s no accident that the European Union has called an emergency summit for this Sunday to consider what to do with rising protectionism of all kinds.

There are a number of reasons why economic nationalism could escalate.

As happened in the 1930s, economic nationalism is also sure to poison geopolitics. Governments under economic pressure have far fewer resources to take care of their citizens and to deal with rising anger and social tensions. Whether or not they are democracies, their tenure can be threatened by popular resentment. The temptation for governments to whip up enthusiasm for something that distracts citizens from their economic woes — a war or a jihad against unpopular minorities, for example — is great.

Economy In Worst Fall Since 1982

A broad measure of the U.S. economy plummeted in the fourth quarter — to levels far worse than previously thought — underscoring how quickly the economy has soured and casting doubt that things will get better this year.

With falloffs in consumer spending and exports, gross domestic product declined at a 6.2% annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to a Commerce Department report Friday. The agency’s first estimate for GDP, reported in January, was for a 3.8% decline. GDP is a key measure of a country’s economic performance.

Big Numbers

Does $65.5 trillion terrify anyone yet?

As the Obama administration pushes through Congress its $800 billion deficit-spending economic stimulus plan, the American public is largely unaware that the true deficit of the federal government already is measured in trillions of dollars, and in fact its $65.5 trillion in total obligations exceeds the gross domestic product of the world.

Failure To Save Eastern Europe Will Lead To Worldwide Meltdown

The unfolding debt drama in Russia, Ukraine, and the EU states of Eastern Europe has reached acute danger point.

If mishandled by the world policy establishment, this debacle is big enough to shatter the fragile banking systems of Western Europe and set off round two of our financial Götterdämmerung.

Austria’s finance minister Josef Pröll made frantic efforts last week to put together a €150bn rescue for the ex-Soviet bloc. Well he might. His banks have lent €230bn to the region, equal to 70pc of Austria’s GDP.

“A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector,” reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen.

Europe’s governments are making matters worse. Some are pressuring their banks to pull back, undercutting subsidiaries in East Europe. Athens has ordered Greek banks to pull out of the Balkans.

The sums needed are beyond the limits of the IMF, which has already bailed out Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Iceland, and Pakistan – and Turkey next – and is fast exhausting its own $200bn (€155bn) reserve. We are nearing the point where the IMF may have to print money for the world, using arcane powers to issue Special Drawing Rights.

The New Depression

We are living through a crisis which, from the collapse of Northern Rock and the first intimations of the credit crunch, nobody has been able to understand, let alone grasp its potential ramifications. Each attempt to deal with the crisis has rapidly been consumed by an irresistible and ever-worsening reality.

Yet what if such a crisis were to be no longer confined to the peripheries of global capitalism but instead struck at its heartlands? Now we know the answer. The crisis has enveloped the whole world like an uncontrollable virus, spreading from the US and within a handful of months assuming global proportions, at the same time mutating with frightening speed from a financial crisis into a fully fledged economic crisis.

As General Motors Goes, So Goes The Nation

General Motors was founded in 1908 in Flint, Michigan and grew to be the largest corporation in the world. Its market capitalization reached $50 billion in 2000. In the past week its market capitalization dropped below $1 billion to levels last seen during the 1920’s. The story of General Motors is the story of America.

“I think it is important to recognize that General Motors is a canary in this country’s economic coal mine; a forerunner for what’s to come for the broader economy. Their mistakes have resembled this nation’s mistakes; their problems will be our future problems. If the U.S. and General Motors have similar flaws and indeed symbiotic fates, they appear to be conjoined primarily by the un-competitiveness of their existing labor cost structures and the onerous burden of their future healthcare and pension liabilities. Perhaps the most significant comparison between GM and the U.S. economy lies in the recognition of enormous unfunded liabilities in healthcare and pensions.

Do Bernanke And Obama Talk To Each Other?

Bernanke Gives Upbeat Assessment On Economy

Chairman Bernanke predicted today that the recession would end in 2009.  Some of his upbeat, optimistic comments included:

“If actions taken by the administration, the Congress and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability — and only if that is the case, in my view — there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery”.

“I would anticipate some stabilization in the housing market going forward.”

“I do believe that once the economy begins to recover, we will see improvement in the financial market.”

The Big Question

The really big question is, was the President listening to him?

The Bloomberg report that follows is really tough to reconcile with Bernanke’s comments earlier in the day.  Do these guys talk to each other?  There does not appear to be a consistent message or plan for dealing with the greatest economic chaos since the 1930’s.

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama will tell the public tonight the “day of reckoning has arrived,” and that pulling the U.S. out of a recession will mean sacrificing “some worthy priorities” the nation can no longer afford.

“We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election,” Obama will say in his first address to a joint session of Congress, according to excerpts released by the White House.

“The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit,” he will say

Obama is seeking to convince lawmakers and voters that his plans to revive growth will succeed while cautioning that the recovery will take time. The president has spent his first month in office focused on three initiatives — a $787 billion stimulus bill, a bank-rescue plan and an effort to limit home foreclosures — while warning of economic “catastrophe” if the government doesn’t take aggressive action.

With all the warnings about the severity of the economic crisis, Obama now must look for ways to boost public optimism, analysts and economists say.

“It’s a real balancing act,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a Washington-based political analyst. “The president’s got to walk this fine line between reminding people of the difficult situation we’re in and emphasizing the inevitable victory.”

“It’s all about confidence,” said Bruce Foerster, a former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. managing director and now president of South Beach Capital Markets in Miami. “That’s the heart of what is going on. We have problems but they are being exacerbated because there’s no confidence in the capital markets.”

I applaud the President’s honesty on the challenges we face and I wish him the best of luck. The stock market, however, has lately been registering a resounding vote of no confidence in the actions taken by Washington.  The nation is searching for a thoughtful, workable plan to solve the economic problems we face.  A coherent and unified message from Washington would be good for starters.

Predicting an end to the recession in 2009 while concurrently describing the economic situation as “catastrophic” and a “day of reckoning” does not project a coherent message.   But it could have been worse – at least they didn’t let Tim Geithner say anything.

Bernanke Predicts 2010 Recovery In Stocks, Housing & Economy

Bernanke Predicts Recession To End In 2009

The stock market jumped over 200 points today, partly due to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s optimistic comments to the Senate Banking Committee.  Some selected comments by the Chairman follow:

“If actions taken by the administration, the Congress and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability — and only if that is the case, in my view — there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery”.

Mr. Bernanke also sounded optimistic on housing as well, although without a specific time projection for recovery.

“I would anticipate some stabilization in the housing market going forward.”

Mr. Bernanke seemed to dismiss the need for bank nationalization stating that:

“I don’t see any reason to destroy the franchise value or to create the huge legal uncertainties of trying to formally nationalize a bank when that just isn’t necessary”.

Better financial market performance was also seen by the Chairman:

“I do believe that once the economy begins to recover, we will see improvement in the financial market.”

Mr. Bernanke also stressed his commitment to provide ample amounts of credit for all purposes:

“Our objective is to improve the function of private credit markets so that people can borrow for all kinds of purposes.”

Mr. Bernanke did temper his optimistic statements by noting that his forecast

“is subject to considerable uncertainty, and I believe that, overall, the downside risks probably outweigh those on the upside.”

Conclusion?

If the downside risks outweigh those on the upside, how can Bernanke be so optimistic for a recovery in stocks, housing and the economy??  Based on the confusion and conflicting signals, let’s examine some previous comments by the Chairman for perspective on his batting average as an economic prophet.

Previous Forecasts By The Chairman

“At present, my baseline outlook involves a period of sluggish growth, followed by a somewhat stronger pace of growth starting later this year as the effects of monetary and fiscal stimulus begin to be felt.”
—February 14, 2008

The U.S. federal budget deficit has declined recently and is officially projected to improve further over the next few years. Unfortunately… the United States has already reached the leading edge of major demographic changes that will result in an older population and a more slowly growing workforce. A major effort to increase public and private saving is needed to prepare for the economic consequences of this demographic transition and to address external imbalances. As the global perspective makes clear, the reduction of the U.S. current account deficit also requires efforts on the part of the surplus countries to reduce the excess of their desired saving over desired investment.
—September 11, 2007

“Overall, the U.S. economy appears likely to expand at a moderate pace over the second half of 2007, with growth then strengthening a bit in 2008 to a rate close to the economy’s underlying trend.”
—July 18, 2007

“We will follow developments in the subprime market closely.  However, fundamental factors—including solid growth in incomes and relatively low mortgage rates—should ultimately support the demand for housing, and at this point, the troubles in the subprime sector seem unlikely to seriously spill over to the broader economy or the financial system.”
—June 5, 2007

“We at the Federal Reserve will do all that we can to prevent fraud and abusive lending and to ensure that lenders employ sound underwriting practices and make effective disclosures to consumers. At the same time, we must be careful not to inadvertently suppress responsible lending or eliminate refinancing opportunities for subprime borrowers.”
—May 17, 2007

“The information, expertise, and powers that the Fed derives from its supervisory authority enhance its ability to contribute to efforts to prevent financial crises; and, when financial stresses emerge and public action is warranted, the Fed is able to respond more quickly, more effectively, and in a more informed way than would otherwise be possible. “
—January 5, 2007

No need to assign a grade letter to the Chairman, but maybe we should hold off on celebrating the economic recovery.

Jumbo Mortgage Rates Reflect Default Risk

Economic Crisis Impacts All Borrowers

Jumbo mortgages, typically loan amounts above $417,000, are defaulting at a rapid pace as the economic crisis affects borrowers at all income levels.  Bloomberg is reporting that jumbo mortgages, typically associated with higher income home owners, are becoming the next black hole for the banking and housing industry.

(Bloomberg) — Luxury homeowners are falling behind on mortgage payments at the fastest pace in more than 15 years, a sign the U.S. financial crisis that began with the poorest Americans has reached the wealthiest.

About 2.57 percent of prime borrowers who took out jumbo loans last year were at least 60 days delinquent, according to LPS Applied Analytics, a mortgage data service in Jacksonville, Florida. They got to that level within 10 months, almost twice as quickly as 2007 borrowers and the fastest rate since at least 1992, when LPS Applied Analytics began tracking the market.

The jump in late payments on jumbo loans, while still lower than the 20 percent delinquencies in subprime mortgages, signals that the borrowers with the most money and the best credit are hurting as the U.S. recession deepens in its second year. It also means these loans will be even more difficult to obtain and more expensive to pay off.

Most of the mortgage defaults do not appear to be caused by poor loan underwriting but rather by growing job losses among high income earners.  Due to the higher level of defaults, banks are becoming very reluctant to make jumbo mortgages for either purchases or refinances.  Since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac  will not buy or insure jumbo loans, the lending bank must assume all the risk, keep the loan on their books and set aside additional reserves for possible losses.  All of these additional risk factors are reflected in the higher jumbo rates and strict loan underwriting guidelines.

The difference in interest rates between jumbo loans and prime conforming mortgages, or mortgages eligible for sale to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and available to borrowers with top credit scores, had been about 20 basis points “for several decades,” according to BanxQuote CEO Norbert Mehl.

The difference between the jumbo interest rate and the prime conforming rate was 181 basis points on Feb. 18, according to Bloomberg data.

“The only jumbo mortgages being written right now have strict qualification criteria both in the credit rating of the borrower and the down payment requirements and they are nearly impossible to qualify for,” Mehl said. “Some lenders quote a jumbo rate but they don’t make the loans.”

Conforming Loans At 7%?

An interesting point to note is that the size of a mortgage loan is not the determining factor for the interest rate.  Mortgage rates are based on many factors but the primary reason for higher rates on jumbo mortgages is the lack of a government agency guarantee.  This implies that without price support from the government, conforming mortgages would also be in the 7% range to reflect the actual risk of mortgage lending in today’s environment.

No Relief In Sight For Jumbo Mortgage Homeowners

Given the higher risk on jumbo mortgages due to the factors cited above, homeowners who have high rate jumbo mortgages are unable to refinance to lower rates.  In addition, the proposed mortgage plans meant to help distressed homeowners provides no assistance for jumbo mortgage homeowners.

Jumbo Mortgage, Jumbo Headache – Wall Street Journal

Washington is trying to ease the mortgage crisis by helping people refinance into home loans with better terms. But one group is being left on the sidelines: borrowers with loans too big to qualify for government backing.

President Barack Obama’s housing stability plan, announced last week, excludes such borrowers from nearly all of its mortgage-bailout provisions. Instead, it focuses on middle-income consumers who have lower, so-called conforming loans. Such loans top out at $417,000 in most parts of the country

Anything bigger is called a “jumbo” loan — and not only is the government ignoring this segment of the market, so are lenders, few of whom are originating or refinancing jumbo mortgages. The reason: Jumbo loans are too large to be guaranteed by a government-backed mortgage agency, such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, meaning banks assume the risk if the loan goes bad. In the current lending environment, few banks want to take on any risk.

“Every single day I’m talking to people who have a jumbo loan, and I can’t do anything for them,” says Jeff Lazerson, a mortgage broker in Laguna Nigel, Calif.

While total mortgage originations fell by 17% in the fourth quarter from the previous quarter, jumbo originations fell by 42% to $11 billion, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. That’s the lowest volume ever tracked by the trade publication, which has figures dating to 1990.

ING Direct, a unit of ING Groep NV, is one of the few lenders that is boosting jumbo originations, though it requires a minimum 30% down payment in the most expensive housing markets, up from 20% earlier last year. For condos, ING requires a minimum 45% down payment.

“If you have been able to … save for a down payment, that to us speaks volumes about your character,” says Bill Higgins, ING’s chief lending officer.

Some banks, though, are quoting much-higher jumbo rates. Mortgage brokers say that indicates that lenders are reluctant to make jumbo loans and are setting their prices high to deter new deals. For example, Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp. in Ocala, Fla., recently listed a 7% rate on a 30-year fixed-rate jumbo loan, but charges up-front origination fees equal to 5% of the loan.

Real-estate professionals say that the lack of financing for high-income consumers is putting extra pressure on affluent communities and causing prices to fall even further. “The million-dollar-and-above market is sinking like a lead weight,” Mr. Lazerson says.

Jumbo Mortgage Rates Reflect Lending Risks

Jumbo borrowers are discovering the meaning of “pricing for risk”.  Mortgage lending has become a very high risk business due to the continuing decline of real estate values, the high risk of default due to economic conditions, principal impairment and/or rate reductions from loan modifications, the risk of bankruptcy court cram downs and government supported foreclosure moratoriums.   Some may incorrectly believe they are entitled to a low rate mortgage regardless of risk factors.  This peculiar belief by both banks and borrowers helped to create the destructive credit crisis we are now experiencing.  The banks are doing what they need to do with jumbo mortgages- setting rates to properly reflect risk.

Defaults Everywhere – More Lending Is Not The Solution

Mortgage Defaults Only Part Of The Problem

Mention loan defaults and most people probably think of mortgages.  Home foreclosures due to mortgage defaults are getting the bulk of press coverage and the most attention in Washington.  The credit crisis, however, is not confined to home mortgages.  Lack of consumer demand, reduced incomes, lack of credit and an economy that seems to be getting weaker by the hour, is causing growing defaults in almost every category of lending.  Commercial real estate, credit cards, car loans, student loans, second mortgage loans, business loans and personal loans are all defaulting at shockingly high rates that the banking industry never expected.  The losses from these loan defaults are depleting bank capital, making banks less eager to lend to anyone.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that loan Defaults by Franchisees Soar As The Recession Deepens.

From ice-cream parlors to tanning salons, franchisees’ defaults on loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration are piling up in amounts unseen in years. A list of loans at 500 franchises shows the number of defaults by franchisees increased 52% in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2008, from fiscal 2007. Loan losses totaled $93.3 million, a 167% jump from $35 million just 12 months earlier.

The figures, a stark barometer of the downturn’s severity and scope, could give pause to banks that have loan money about where to lend next. Banks that make SBA-guaranteed loans say they use the annual list as guidance in assessing future commitments.

SBA-guaranteed loans are aimed at providing capital to small businesses that often can’t qualify for conventional credit. Those loans, made through commercial banks and other lenders, can total as much as $2 million for as long as 10 years. The SBA essentially insures a significant portion of the loan to encourage lending and small-business entrepreneurship. The recently passed stimulus package raises that guarantee amount to 90% from 75%.

The franchise brands where at least 11 franchisees defaulted on loans during the 2008 fiscal year were: Aamco Transmissions, Carvel Ice Cream, CiCi’s Pizza, Cold Stone Creamery, Curves for Women, Domino’s Pizza, Dream Dinners, Planet Beach tanning salons, Quiznos, Subway and Taco Del Mar.

Over time, some businesses have significantly better loan-performance rates than others. Among the worst-performing franchise brands, as measured by the percentage of SBA-guaranteed loans issued to franchisees over the past eight fiscal years that defaulted: Mr. Goodcents Subs & Pastas, 55%; Philly Connection sandwiches, 51%; Cottman Transmission, 49%; All Tune & Lube auto centers, 47%; Cornwell Quality Tools, 42%; and Carvel and Blimpie, both with 41% failure rates. Each had obtained at least 50 SBA-guaranteed loans during that period.

An interesting aspect of the default ratio is that certain franchise operations have a huge number of defaults.  With more than enough bad debts on the banking industry’s books, one would hope that lending would be severely curtailed or eliminated to franchise operators that are showing over a 40% default rate.  A default ratio of almost half of all borrowers  would seem to indicate a basic flaw in the franchise system’s business model.

The bottom line for franchise operations and probably every other business right now is that more loans may keep the doors open, but at the cost of burying the business owners in debt and making future profitability all that much more difficult.   What businesses really needs right now to survive and prosper is increased sales, something that seems very difficult to achieve under current economic conditions.