October 2, 2022

Mortgage Investors Pay Big Price for a Small Yield

Investors trying to eke out a small return on their savings are finding out that buying mortgage-backed securities (MBS) can yield big losses when rates increase.  It is doubtful that most investors in MBS appreciated the risk involved in buying long duration assets, regardless of the collateral behind it.

The zero-rate policy of the Federal Reserve has resulted in yield hunt by conservative investors looking for a yield higher than the near zero rates offered by banks and money market funds.

Investors buying MBS were probably seduced by the fact that they are guaranteed by various U.S. government agencies such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae.  The government agencies guarantee payment of interest and principal but unfortunately, the value of MBS can and will fluctuate in value depending on changes in interest rates.  For example, a popular Vanguard MBS ETF has an average duration of almost 6 years.  Duration measures interest rate risk and in this case, a 1% increase in interest rates with result in a 6% decline in the value of the ETF.

A MBS ETF as part of a laddered bond portfolio makes sense but could turn out to be a disaster if increase rates continue to increase, especially if the investor has to liquidate a position.  Since the high reached in August 2021, the Vanguard MBS ETF has decline in value by over 10%, a really big loss for someone who thought they were investing in a relatively safe security. With the ETF currently paying a yield of 1.83% if would take almost six years to recoup losses if interest rates remain stable.

The biggest loser of all in the MBS market may turn out to be the U.S. taxpayer since the Federal Reserve currently holds almost $2 trillion of mortgage-backed assets.  The Fed has been furiously purchasing MBS in an effort to keep interest rates low in the mortgage market.

With inflation continuing to accelerate, MBS along with other long dated debt securities will continue to drop in value.

 

Why Won’t My Loan Officer Answer the Phone?

Anyone trying to refinance or get a mortgage to buy a house may wonder why it is so hard to reach their loan officer.  Numerous emails and voicemails ignored and cell phone numbers not in service are annoying to any customer but at least the missing loan officer probably has a really good excuse – he just got fired!

The mortgage industry has always been a boom and bust business but the current environment is more brutal than anything ever seen.  According to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), both purchase and refinance mortgage activity have seen a stunning decline from a year ago.

The Refinance Index decreased 8 percent from the previous week and was 68 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent compared with the previous week and was 14 percent lower than the same week one year ago.

For the average loan officer working strictly on a commission basis and doing mostly refinances, driving to the office costs more in gas than what he gets paid.  The response from the nonbank mortgage companies has been swift and brutal.

Why you shouldn't close your business to carry out a stocktake | Stocktaking.ie

Better.com, a major mortgage banker, which clumsily fired 900 people in December via a Zoom meeting and a further 3,000 employees in March, announced that another round of cuts will eliminate an undisclosed further number of employees.

Will things get better soon?  Not soon enough for those loan officers who were abruptly fired and even the MBA which usually spins optimism, seems to have a bleak outlook going forward.

The 30-year rate has increased 70 basis points over the past month and is 2 full percentage points higher than a year ago. The recent surge in mortgage rates has shut most borrowers out of rate/term refinances, causing the refinance index to fall for the sixth consecutive week. In a housing market facing affordability challenges and low inventory, higher rates are causing a pullback or delay in home purchase demand as well. Home purchase activity has been volatile in recent weeks and has yet to see the typical pick up for this time of the year.

Many mortgage companies facing a drastic drop in revenue from their only source of revenue face a serious risk of having to close their doors.  It may be time to approach your local FDIC insured bank for a mortgage going forward instead of a nonbank mortgage lender.  Banks are strictly regulated in terms of capital requirements whereas the regulations on “nonbank mortgage” companies are much more lenient.

The Pros and Cons of an Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (ARM)

A mortgage payment is usually the biggest monthly expense for most people.  Since an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) will always start off with a lower rate than a fixed rate mortgage, it is useful to understand the pros and cons of an ARM.  Depending on the trends of future interest rates, an ARM can be a money saver or a money pit.

The interest rate on an ARM can change over the life of the loan at various time intervals depending on the type of mortgage product you select.  An ARM product is more challenging to understand than a fixed rate mortgage so dealing with a knowledgeable mortgage loan officer is essential.  The rate on an ARM is the sum of an index rate plus a fixed margin.  The index rate will vary but the fixed margin will not.  Most banks use a short-term index rate such as the yield on a one year Treasury bill.  The index rate plus the margin is called the fully indexed rate.  The ARM will never have a rate less than the fixed margin.  For example, if the fixed margin is 3% and the yield on the one year treasury is 0%, the ARM will have a rate of 3%.

The typical ARM rate will change yearly. The date of the first-rate change on an ARM depends on the type of ARM that the borrower initially selected. The four most common ARMs are the 3/1 ARM, the 5/1 ARM, the 7/1 ARM, and the 10/1 ARM.  These ARM products are called hybrid ARMS since they have a fixed rate for the time specified and afterwards convert to an adjustable rate which can change once a year.  For example, the 3/1 ARM will have a fixed rate for three years and the rate might change starting in year four.  The starting rate on loans with a longer initial fixed interest rate will start off higher.  For example, the rate on a 5/1 ARM might start off one percentage point lower than the start rate on a 10/1 ARM.

ARM products have lifetime and yearly rate caps.  Although the rate change on an ARM can be substantial over the life of the loan, lenders have a cap on the yearly rate increase to avoid payment shock to borrowers, but the lifetime rate increase can result in much higher payments.  Most ARMs cannot increase by more than 2 percent after the initial fixed rate period and the lifetime rate is usually capped at 5 percent above the start rate.  For example, in a worst case basis a borrower with a 5/1 ARM at a 2.75% start rate might see an increase to 4.75% in year six, 6.75% in year seven, and reach the lifetime cap of 7.75% in year eight.

The risk involved with an ARM should be carefully considered.  An initial interest rate that is lower than a 30-year fixed rate is a bet that future interest rates will not dramatically increase.  This has been the case for the past 14 years and the ARM borrower automatically shifted to a lower rate without the large expenses involved in a refinance.  However, even if rates do increase in the future, savings from a low start rate could more than offset higher rates in later years.

No one can predict future interest rates but in a declining or stable interest rate environment, ARM borrowers will save money over time compared to a fixed rate mortgage which almost always has a higher rate than the start rate of an ARM.

An ARM will make sense for a borrower who expects to sell his home within 10 years which is the average number of years a person lives in his home before selling it.

Mortgage Rates At 10% a Real Possibility If Inflation Can’t Be Reduced

Mortgage Rates Explode to 12 Year High

This year has seen one of the most explosive mortgage rates increases in history.  In a matter of a few short months the 30-year fixed rate mortgage has almost doubled from the high 2’s to over 5%. There have been previous periods of time during which rates rose substantially but 2022 has been a vertical move up that is rarely seen.

30-year fixed mortgage

Why rates have risen so quickly is no mystery.  After months of Federal Reserve talk of “transitory inflation” it has become clear that inflation is here to stay and likely to get worse before it gets better. The Fed must increase rates significantly to have any chance of reducing the inflation rate since current rates are far below the rate of inflation.

This from the WSJ:

During the 1980s, when Paul Volcker’s Fed was desperate to avoid a repeat of the inflation of the 1970s, interest rates were on average more than 4 percentage points higher than inflation. Leave aside the fact that at the moment the Fed Funds target rate is an extraordinary 7 percentage points below inflation; markets aren’t bracing for the Fed to be truly hawkish in the long run. Investors still think there’s no need, since in the long run inflation pressures will abate.

This is probably a mistake. The inflationary pressures from Covid and war will surely go away eventually. But self-fulfilling consumer and business expectations of inflation are rising, and a bunch of longer-term inflationary pressures are on the way. These include the retreat of globalization, massive spending to shift away from fossil fuels, more military spending, governments willing to run loose fiscal policy, and a starting point of an overheated economy and supercheap money.

If interest rates continue to rise, we may be looking at another housing bust similar to what we saw in 2018.

Mortgage Rates at 5% Could be the Low for 2022

A few short months ago at the end of 2021, 30-year mortgage rates hit their lowest level in history in the low 3.25% range.  Since that time rates have skyrocketed by 50% to a shade below 5%.  Increased rates have occurred as the Federal Reserve was forced to raise rates due to a rapidly increasing rate of inflation resulting in double digit price increases for many products and services.

Any one expecting rates to decline from here is likely to be disappointed.  Both wage and price inflation have become embedded in the economy as shortages of workers and products relentlessly drive prices higher.  Trying to tame inflation while at the same time keeping the economy running at full speed is the biggest challenge the Fed has faced in the past thirty years when short term rates approached 20%. 

None of this has been on the boom/bust mortgage industry as thousands of workers have been laid off as mortgage refinances plunge and purchases slow down. 

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, refinance volume has plunged 60% below levels one year ago.

… The Refinance Index decreased 15 percent from the previous week and was 60 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 10 percent lower than the same week one year ago.

“Mortgage rates jumped to their highest level in more than three years last week, as investors continue to price in the impact of a more restrictive monetary policy from the Federal Reserve. Not surprisingly, refinance application volume declined further, as fewer borrowers have an incentive to apply at rates that are significantly higher than a year ago. Refinance application volume is now 60 percent below last year’s levels, in line with MBA’s forecast for 2022,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist…

The average interest rate for a conforming 30-year fixed rate conforming loan with a 20% down payment in now at about 4.8%. Although the mania in the purchase market continues, it’s only a matter of time until activity declines due to higher rates and dramatically increased home prices.  Potential purchasers are being squeezed as wages lag far behind the increases in the cost of living and housing.   

If the Fed engages in multiple half point rate hikes as they are suggesting, expect mortgage rates to steadily increase.

The Zero Sum Game Of Lower Interest Rates And Why Mortgage Rates Will Rise

The Federal Reserve has forced long term interest rates to historic lows in a desperate attempt to “stimulate” both the housing market and the economy in general.  The results have been mixed but the benefits of lower rates to borrowers are undeniable.  Lower rates reduce the cost of large debt burdens carried by many Americans and increases the spending power of those able to refinance.

Exactly how much lower the Fed intends to repress mortgage rates is anyone’s guess but as interest continue to decline, the overall benefits diminish.  Here’s three reasons why the Fed may wind up discovering that the economic benefits of further rate cuts will be muted at best, self defeating at worst.

1.  Lower rates are becoming a zero sum game for the economy as lower rates for borrowers translates into lower income for savers.  Every loan is also an asset of someone else and lower interest rates have merely been a mechanism for transferring wealth from savers to debtors.  Every retiree who prudently saved with the expectation of receiving interest income on their savings have been brutalized by the Fed’s financial repression. Even more infuriating to some savers is the fact that many debtors who took on irresponsible amounts of debt are now actually profiting from various government programs (see Foreclosure Settlement Q&A – A Victory For The Irresponsible).

A significant number of retirees that I know have been forced to drastically curtail their spending in order to make ends meet while others have been forced to draw down their savings.  The increased spending power of borrowers has been negated by the reduced spending power of savers.  This fact seems to elude Professor Bernanke who hasn’t been able to figure out why lower rates have not ignited the economy.

2.  Many consumer who would like to incur more debt are often turned down by the banks since their debt levels are already too high.  Those who can borrow often times chose to deleverage instead, considering the fragile state of the economy.  Anyone saving for a future financial goal (college tuition, home down payment, retirement, etc) is forced to reduce consumption and increase savings due to  near zero interest rates.  The Federal Reserve has destroyed Americans most powerful wealth building technique – the power of compound interest.  A 5% yield on savings will double your money in about 14.4 years while a 1% yield will double your money in 72 years – and that’s before taxes and inflation.

3.  As mortgage rates decline into uncharted territory, the mathematical benefit of lower rates diminishes.  As can be seen in the chart below the absolute dollar amount of monthly savings as well as the percentage decrease in the monthly payment diminish as rates race to zero.

Benefits of a refinance on a $200,000 mortgage diminish as rates decline

% Rate Mo Payment Mo Savings % Reduction Yearly Savings
6.00% $1,199.00
3.00%    $843.00 $356.00 29.70% $4,272.00
1.50%    $690.00 $153.00 18.10% $1,836.00
0.75%    $621.00  $69.00 10.00%    $828.00

Closing costs at lower rates also become problematic, making it impossible to recapture fees within a reasonable period of time.  With closing costs of $8,000 on a $200,000 mortgage refinance, it would take a decade to recoup closing costs.

Many astute analysts have made elaborate and compelling arguments that interest rates can only go lower.  From a contrary point of view, I believe that a future rise in interest rates is a high probability event.  This is the opposite of my prediction in March 2009 when I surmised that mortgage rates would decline to 3.5% – see 30 Year Fixed Rate of 3.5% Likely.

The Chart of the Day has a long term chart of the 10 year treasury and notes that the recent sharp decline in interest rates “has brought the 10-year Treasury bond yield right up against resistance of its 26-year downtrend channel.”

 

Americans Stubbornly Deny All Time High In Personal Income

American workers should be celebrating the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Commerce that show personal income at all time highs.  Since taking a rather sharp dip during the recession of 2008-2009, personal income has soared to almost $13 trillion, up from $12 trillion in early 2009.

Getting Americans to believe that their incomes have actually increased is another story.  While the Department of Commerce is reporting all time highs in income,  another survey released by Fannie Mae shows the opposite.

Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) conducts a National Housing Survey every quarter that polls homeowners and renters in depth about their confidence in homeownership, overall confidence in the economy and the current state of their household finances.

The latest National Housing Survey for the fourth quarter of 2010 polled 3,407 Americans and the results do not reflect the rosy income numbers reported by the Department of Commerce.

The survey revealed that 62% of all respondents believe the U.S. economy is on the wrong track, 60% reported that monthly household income was the same as a year ago and 34% said that their monthly expenses were “significantly higher” than a year ago.  Only 19% of those polled said their incomes were significantly higher.

Keep in mind that Americans do not normally “inflation adjust” their perception of personal income – when respondents say that their income has not changed, it means they are receiving the same absolute amount of dollars, unadjusted for inflation.

Total personal income may have increased but income gains seem to have been limited to a small minority of Americans.

In any event, if most Americans have not seen an increase in their monthly incomes, there is little reason for comfort going forward.  As higher oil and commodity prices work their way through the system, the basic cost of living will increase for everyone.  If that’s not enough, once Fed Chairman Bernanke’s obsession with creating higher inflation succeeds, we are all apt to feel poorer.

FHA Zero Down Payment Financing Returns

Home buyers can once again purchase a home using FHA financing with a zero down payment.

Previous zero down payment FHA loan programs were funded by seller contributions funneled through a nonprofit group which then donated the down payment to the purchaser.  These seller financed down payment programs were terminated in 2008 after the FHA experienced default rates three times higher than when buyers made a cash down payment.

The innovative zero down payment FHA home purchase program was recently introduced by The Lending Company of  Phoenix, Arizona.  In order to meet the FHA required 3.5% down payment the borrower receives a 2.5% gift from a non-profit organization and the remaining 1% can be gifted from a family member. 

The Lending Company notes that the program is not a seller-paid down-payment assistance program.  To further reduce the amount of cash required by the purchaser, the seller is encouraged to provide seller concessions to cover closing costs.  A borrower receiving both gift funds and seller concessions can potentially purchase a home without putting any cash into the transaction.

The Lending Company – The One Percent Down Solution Gift Program is designed to provide eligible homebuyers a gift of up to 2.5% of the sales price to be applied towards the FHA down payment and/or allowable closing costs for the purchase of a home.

Targeted towards quality affordable housing, approved homebuyers can purchase a home for as little as 1% down payment. The program also allows for the remaining 1% down payment to be gifted from any FHA allowable source.

Program Benefits:

  • The program provides up to a 2.5% gift to FHA qualified home buyers (subject to market conditions, greater gift amounts up to 5.5% may be allowed)
  • Seller can and is encouraged to contribute towards the closing costs to further assist the homebuyer
  • Minimum credit score of 620
  • Successful credit restoration allowed

It will be interesting to see how future default rates on this zero down payment program compare to earlier “seller funded” down payment assistance programs (DAP).  The Federal Housing Finance Agency is well aware that zero down payment mortgages default at a much higher rate, as detailed in a 2007 study by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

This paper extends the analysis of mortgage default to include mortgages that require no down payment from the purchaser. The results indicate that borrowers who provide down payments from their own resources have significantly lower default propensities than do borrowers whose down payments come from relatives, government agencies, or non-profits. Borrowers with down payments from seller-funded non-profits, who make no down payment at all, have the highest default rates.

Source of down payment has not previously been considered in default modeling, but the relationship between default and the source of the borrower’s down payment may be related to trigger events. Borrowers who are capable of increasing their saving, or increasing their labor earnings, in response to unforeseen events may be less susceptible to trigger events. The need to save for a down payment may serve to separate those who can more readily increase saving and earnings from those who find it more difficult.

Loans with involvement from Down payment Assistance Program’s (DAPs), which effectively had no down payment, consistently showed the highest delinquency and claim percentages. Loans with a down payment from a source other than the borrower, such as a relative or government program, had lower claim and delinquency propensities, while loans with down payments from the borrower’s resources consistently showed the lowest rates of claim and delinquency.

This paper examines the case of literally “no money from the buyer” mortgages, and finds delinquencies and claim rates much higher than those for comparable loans with cash from the borrower.

fha-format

In January of this year, a bill was introduced in Congress that would have reinstated seller funded FHA down payments to purchasers through non profit groups.   The bill was never approved but  FHA Commissioner David Stevens stated his opposition, as reported by Bloomberg:

“We’ll always listen to proposals, but Secretary Donovan has been absolutely crystal clear that he’s against the idea, as am I,” said David Stevens, commissioner of the FHA, which is under the purview of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

Stevens said that homeowners are more willing to default if they haven’t put any cash into their purchases.

“If a buyer puts down even a few thousand dollars, it’s a lot of money for them,” he said. “There’s a financial and an emotional commitment to the home that you don’t have otherwise.”

About 13 percent of down-payment-assisted mortgages originated in 2004 have defaulted compared with about 4 percent of other FHA mortgages, according to agency data.

None of the lenders, including San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. and Countrywide Bank, acquired by Bank of America Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina, incurred any losses, since mortgages they issued were insured by the FHA, the agency said.

Programs that provide down payments to purchasers may help home sales, but past experience suggests higher default rates and increased losses for the FHA.

Borrowers Chose Strategic Default On Reverse Mortgages

When reverse mortgages were last reviewed, it was predicted that many unqualified borrowers would wind up defaulting, despite the fact that a reverse mortgage has no payment due. 

As originally conceived, reverse mortgages were designed to fulfill a legitimate borrowing need.  Reverse mortgages were developed for elderly Americans who had a mortgage free home with substantial equity and wanted to cash out their home equity to supplement their retirement income without having to sell the house or face large mortgage payments.

In theory, the HECM made sense by allowing homeowners to remain in their homes and monetize their equity.  The lifetime HECM payment, along with other retirement income and savings would allow for a more comfortable lifestyle.  The only theoretical loser on the HECM program would be the FHA if property values dropped.

The HECM is available to all those 62 or older who have sufficient equity in their homes.  HECM program lends without regard to credit or income and is strictly  asset based lending.  Do these lending criteria remind anyone of  past  disastrous mortgage programs, such as  sub prime, ALT A or Pay Option ARMs??

A HECM does not require that the homeowner escrow for taxes  or homeowners insurance.  A known risk factor for default is a non escrowed loan.  The homeowner can face foreclosure  for not properly maintaining the property or for non payment of taxes or insurance.

Many homeowners taking out reverse mortgages were taking the maximum loan allowed upfront (instead of taking a monthly draw) and using the proceeds to payoff existing debt.  This choice left the elderly homeowner with little equity and no monthly cash payment to supplement retirement, a recipe for financial disaster.

The reason why borrowers are taking most of their available cash out upfront is because they are using the proceeds to pay off mortgages, consumer debt, medical bills, credit cards, etc.   Borrowers run up large amounts of debt when spending exceeds income, a situation likely to continue  after the borrower taps the last dime of equity from his home.  Since the HECM was the last option available, what happens in a couple of years when the borrower is again overwhelmed by debt?

Based on the credit profile and debt levels incurred prior to his approval of a HECM, what are the odds that the borrower’s finances turn around after his refinance?  My guess is that within a few short years, the borrower is in heavy debt again, unable to pay the property taxes or maintenance on the property and thus facing a potential foreclosure.  Since HUD will not be throwing senior citizens out of their homes, expect a mortgage modification program for reverse mortgages and further losses to the taxpayer on another mortgage program gone bad.

It now appears that, as predicted, many elderly reverse mortgage borrowers cannot afford to pay the property taxes due on their homes or are strategically chosing default since the decline in property values wiped out whatever equity they had left.  The end result is the predicted and ridiculous situation of borrowers defaulting on mortgages that do not have payments. 

This situation was confirmed in an audit report by the Office of the Inspector General.

HUD Was Not Tracking Almost 13,000 Defaulted HECM Loans With Maximum Claim Amounts of Potentially More Than $2.5 Billion

We performed an internal audit of the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program because we found that an increasing number of borrowers had not paid taxes or homeowners insurance premiums as required, thus placing the loan in default. Also, we noted that HUD had granted foreclosure deferrals routinely on defaulted loans, but it had no formal procedures.

We found that HUD’s informal foreclosure deferral policy and its reversal had a negative effect on the universe of HECM loans and loan servicers (servicers).  As a result, four servicers contacted were holding almost 13,000 defaulted loans with a maximum claim amount of more than $2.5 billion, and two of the four servicers said they were awaiting HUD guidance on how to handle them. Further, the servicers had paid taxes and insurance premiums totaling more than $35 million for these 12,958 borrowers…

Since unreported defaulted loans were only obtained from 4 of a total of 16 HECM servicers nationwide, more defaulted loans may exist. Further, as HUD could not track these loans, it did not know the potential claim amount. In the event of foreclosure of the 7,673 loans for which HUD was aware and 12,958 loans of which it was not aware, HUD could lose an estimated $1.4 billion upon sale of the properties.