October 3, 2022

How Much Is A Trillion Dollars? – U.S. Debt Levels Exceed Comprehension

With little press coverage and no debate by Congress, the U.S. debt level is set to automatically increase by another $1.2 trillion in January.

The most remarkable aspect to the latest huge increase in U.S. debt is the manner in which the debt limit was implemented.   As part of last year’s budget agreement, even if Congress decided to vote against the debt increase, the President has the power to issue a veto.  In other words, the debt increase is a done deal – no debate, no discussion.

Massive deficit spending by the U.S. government was supposed to stimulate growth and bring us out of recession as it has in previous economic downturns.  This time, it’s simply not working and the debt levels have reached a tipping point at which economic growth slows as debt increases.

An impressive body of research covering eight centuries of government debt defaults (“This Time Is Different” by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff) resulted in ominously accurate predictions since its publication in 2009.  The collapse of the real estate bubble lead to a collapse of the banking industry which lead to massive government borrowings to bail failed banks and other institutions.

According to Reinhart and Rogoff, a slowdown in the economy leads to further government deficit spending which ultimately puts the solvency of sovereign governments into doubt, which is exactly what’s currently happening across Europe.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. approaches its own tipping point towards insolvency, Americans remain remarkably obliviously to the dangers of mortgaging our future.

How much is a trillion dollars of debt?  The number is so large that it is inconceivable for the average American to understand.  Deep down, the country has a foreboding of impending disaster from our crushing debt burden, but remains oblivious as to the real extent of the problem.

Here’s a visual to put things into perspective.

One Hundred Dollars $100 – Most counterfeited money denomination in the world.
Keeps the world moving.

One Billion Dollars $1,000,000,000 – You will need some help when robbing the bank.
Now we are getting serious!

One Trillion Dollars $1,000,000,000,000
When the U.S government speaks about a 1.7 trillion deficit – this is the volumes of cash the U.S. Government borrowed in 2010 to run itself.
Keep in mind it is double stacked pallets of $100 million dollars each, full of $100 dollar bills. You are going to need a lot of trucks to freight this around.

If you spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, you would have not spent $1 trillion by now…but ~$700 billion- same amount the banks got during bailout.

15 Trillion Dollars – US GDP 2011 & Debt $15,064,816,000,000- The U.S. GDP in 2011. The debt as of Jan 1st, 2012 is 15,170,600,000,000. United States now owes more money than its yearly production (GDP).

Statue of Liberty seems rather worried as United States national debt soon to pass 20% of the entire world’s combined GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

114.5 Trillion Dollars $114,500,000,000,000. – US unfunded liabilities
To the right you can see the pillar of cold hard $100 bills that dwarfs the
WTC & Empire State Building – both at one point world’s tallest buildings.
If you look carefully you can see the Statue of Liberty.

The 114.5 Trillion dollar super-skyscraper is the amount of money the U.S. Government
knows it does not have to fully fund the Medicare, Medicare Prescription Drug Program,
Social Security, Military and civil servant pensions. It is the money USA knows it will not
have to pay all its bills.
If you live in USA this is also your personal credit card bill; you are responsible along with
everyone else to pay this back. The citizens of USA created the U.S. Government to serve
them, this is what the U.S. Government has done while serving The People.

The unfunded liability is calculated on current tax and funding inputs, and future demographic
shifts in US Population.

Note: On the above 114.5T image the size of the base of the money pile is half a trillion, not 1T as on 15T image.
The height is double. This was done to reflect the base of Empire State and WTC more closely.

Steve Jobs Dead At 56 – The World Mourns

Tribute to Steve Jobs

We deeply mourn the tragic passing of Steve Jobs and join with the world community in expressing our sorry and deep sense of loss. Here are some of the tributes to Steve this evening.

“Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being.  We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.” – Tim Cook, Apple CEO

“The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.” – Bill Gates

“Steve defined a generation of style and technology that’s unlikely to be matched again. Steve was so charismatically brilliant that he inspired people to do the impossible, and he will be remembered as the greatest computer innovator in history.” – Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman

Steve was a unique genius and we were fortunate to contemporaneously share his visionary insights.  No one will ever replace Steve Jobs.

Can The Unemployed Afford A Mortgage Payment?

Government Determined To Keep Unwilling Homeowners In Homes

The FDIC announced a new initiative to reduce foreclosures on home mortgage loans held by failed banks that were acquired by another institution.   This new FDIC program goes far beyond previous government mortgage assistance programs such as the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).

Whereas the HARP and HAMP programs require income verification and attempt to lower a monthly mortgage payment to a level that is reasonable in relationship to a homeowner’s income, the new FDIC forbearance plan will attempt to help homeowners who are currently unemployed.

FDIC Encourages Forbearance To Unemployed

As part of its loss-share agreement with acquirers of failed FDIC-insured institutions, the FDIC is encouraging its loss-share partner institutions to consider temporarily reducing mortgage payments for borrowers who are unemployed or underemployed. This program will provide additional foreclosure prevention alternatives to these borrowers through forbearance agreements that will give them an opportunity to regain full employment and avoid an unnecessary foreclosure.

“With more Americans suffering through unemployment or cuts in their paychecks, we believe it is crucial to offer a helping hand to avoid unnecessary and costly foreclosures. This is simply good business since foreclosure rarely benefits lenders and would cost the FDIC more money, not less,” said FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair. “This is a win-win for the borrower, who can remain in his or her home while looking for a new job, and the acquiring institution, which continues to receive payments on the loan. Ultimately, by reducing losses under our loss-share agreements, this approach helps reduce losses to the FDIC as well.”

The recommendation to loss-share partners applies where unemployment, or underemployment, is the primary cause for default on a home mortgage. In such cases, the FDIC is urging its loss-share partners to consider the borrower for a temporary forbearance plan, reducing the loan payment to an affordable level for at least six months. The monthly payment during this period should be established based on an affordable payment – given the borrower’s circumstances – and it should allow for reasonable living expenses after payment of mortgage-related expenses.

FDIC Plan Likely To Help Few Homeowners

The objectives of the FDIC’s forbearance plan are well intentioned.  Allowing an out of work homeowner time to find a new job may prevent an unnecessary foreclosure and eliminate the need for a costly foreclosure by the bank.  From a practical standpoint, the FDIC plan may ultimately benefit very few homeowners for the following reasons:

  • The program is only available to those homeowners who have mortgages with failed banks that were acquired by another institution under a loss-share agreement with the FDIC.
  • Under the forbearance agreement, the bank will accept only a portion of the regular mortgage payment.  The FDIC is asking for only a 6 month forbearance.  Given the prospects of a “jobless economic recovery” and the difficulty in finding new employment, the FDIC appears wildly optimistic about a quick change in fortune for an unemployed homeowner.   Banks do not want to foreclose, but very few banks now offer a forbearance plan to the unemployed since they do not expect them to quickly find a new job.
  • The mortgage foreclosure prevention plans currently in effect have had dismal success rates and these programs are limited to candidates who have income.  The HARP program, expected to help millions of homeowners had at the end of July approved only 60,000 refinances.   The government loan modification program (for those not qualified under HARP) has been plagued by very high re default rates ranging from 17% to 45%.
  • The FDIC recommends that the lender establish an “affordable payment” for six months, allowing for reasonable living expenses.  Many homeowners with jobs are struggling to make their mortgage payments.  Many states pay only a fraction of previous earnings in unemployment benefits.   Unless the homeowner has put aside some savings, unemployment compensation will usually cover only basic needs, leaving nothing for a mortgage payment.  It is likely that any payment (other than zero) will be too high for unemployed homeowners.
  • Recent statistics on the “cure rate” for delinquent mortgages show a stunning decline.  The cure rate is the percentage of borrowers who are able to catch up and bring a delinquent mortgage current again.  As of July, the cure rate for prime mortgage loans plummeted to 6.6% from an average of 45% during  2000 to 2006.  Some of the delinquent borrowers had lost their jobs but many were still employed.  This is a sea change in attitudes towards home ownership.   Many of those financially able to catch up apparently saw no benefit in doing so; either the burden of home ownership outweighed the benefits or there was no perceived benefit in continuing to make payments on a home with large negative equity.   Many homeowners may view foreclosure as the best “program” for getting back on their feet since they could potentially enjoy years of “rent free” housing before the bank ultimately forecloses.

Trapped Homeowners Want Out

Heavy Load

Heavy Load

Courtesy: laprogressive

Many Americans are apparently rethinking the “dream” of home ownership and acting accordingly by relieving themselves of the costly burden of mortgage payments, taxes and maintenance on what has become a depreciating asset.

While the government says “yes we can”, impoverished homeowners are saying “no we can’t”.  Perhaps this is why the massive government initiatives to prevent foreclosures are failing.   Trapped homeowners are doing what’s best for them and walking away, while the government vainly attempts to impose home ownership on those who now reject it.

Time Shares – Another Shattered Dream

Vacation Turns Into Financial Nightmare

Anyone who has vacationed to a tropical resort cannot be blamed for thinking how great it would be to own a piece of paradise.  Those who succumbed to the charms of the omnipresent time share salesmen may now be having deep second thoughts.  Consider the plight of the time share industry:

Major time-share developers, led by Wyndham Worldwide Inc., Marriott International Inc., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Inc. and others, are scaling back their time-share business as investors in time-share loans demand higher interest rates, buyers become more scarce and resales of time shares put downward pressure on prices and demand for new units.

The pullback will reshape some large time-share players. Wyndham, which owns 150 resorts globally and counts 830,000 time-share owners, intends to whittle its time-share business by 40% this year to an annual sales rate of $1.2 billion. That is a big reduction for Wyndham as a whole; its time-share division provided 53% of Wyndham’s revenue last year and 42% of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Meanwhile, sales of new time shares have been depressed by a rise in the pool of time shares listed for resale as the foundering economy forces some owners to try to unload their time-share debts and maintenance fees. Carrie Stinchcomb, a sales associate at A Time-share Broker in Orlando, said her office’s listings have increased 30% from last year. However, sales have fallen roughly by half because there are fewer buyers, she said.

Delinquencies on securities backed by time-share loans topped 5% in the first quarter, up from 3% a year earlier, according to Fitch. Starwood, which operates 26 time-share resorts, reported an estimated average default rate of 7.9% at the end of last year on time-share loans it originated.

The hurt that time share developers are feeling may be nothing compared to the plight of those who actually “invested” in time shares.   As an “investment class”, the only apparent rationale for purchasing a time share seemed to be easy financing and the belief that resale prices would increase relentlessly.   Now that values are plunging investors are reflecting on the negative side of time share ownership –  huge upfront sales commissions,  increased yearly maintenance fees, cost of traveling to the timeshare and the cost and complexity of unloading a timeshare in the secondary market.

The default rates on time shares may rise much higher as owners come to grips with the massive price declines that have occurred in time share values.   Many owners may not yet realize the extent to which the value of their investment has declined.  Time shares can often be found on EBay for literally a couple of dollars – eager sellers simply want to dump a unit that carries high yearly maintenance fees.

Here’s a Maui bargain at the Westin in Kaanapali:

STAROPTIONS Westin Kaanapali MAUI Hawaii TIME…

Current Bid: US $17,097.00
Units similar to the one above were being marketed in the 2005 era for $50,000.   Annual maintenance fees are $2,000.

If  you prefer Mexico, here’s another bargain at 92% off the original price.


Playa Del Sol, Los Cabos, Mexico – Buy It Now Price $997, Yearly Maintenance $424
Here is your chance to own a Membership Property (Does Not Expire) at a fraction of the developer price! Studio, One Bathroom (sleeps two),complimentary week! Maintenance fees are billed on odd years only. This club membership allows you to travel to any one of Playa Del Sol’s Resorts. Purchase this exact ownership NOW at a fraction of the original price ($13,500)!! This item is a NO Reserve auction and will be sold to the highest bidder!!

Buying At The Bottom?

Any one trying to sell their time share today is looking at big losses. Those who believe that the Federal Reserve can re-inflate the burst real estate bubble should be buying with both hands.
Disclosures: No positions

Profile Of A “Making Home Affordable” Homeowner – Everyone Should Do It

Overburdened  Homeowner Subsidized

Home Sweet Home?

Home Sweet Home?

Loan modification programs have been seen as the answer to preventing foreclosures and allowing the housing market to stabilize.  The programs have become progressively more aggressive as foreclosures continue to mount and housing prices continue to slide.  The current government program, Making Home Affordable, has a dual approach whereby a homeowner not eligible for refinancing (at loan to values up to 125%) can then attempt to have the mortgage modified to lower payments.  Eligibility requirements are quite simple – if the borrower has suffered a hardship (such as reduced income), is having trouble making the payment or simply bought more house than he could afford during the exuberance of the housing mania, relief in the form of lower payments may be available.

Here’s an actual example of a borrower granted mortgage concessions under the US Government’s Making Home Affordable program.

Home owner purchase the home in 2005 for $153,000 with a stated income mortgage, 100% financing.

Home owner refinanced a year later and received $30,000 cash with a stated income $190,000 mortgage at 7.125%.   The home is now worth about $165,000.

Home owner works at a grocery chain and earns $43,000 with limited prospects for increased income.  Credit card debt amounts to $22,000 with monthly payments of $315.

Home owner’s current housing expense and other debt payments result in front end and back end debt ratios of 46/55.   A back end debt ratio is calculated by dividing borrower’s total mortgage payment, taxes, insurance and all other minimum monthly debt payments divided by gross income.  After debt payments and payroll taxes, home owner is left with about $950 per month to cover all other expenses.  Home owner is 45 years old, has minimal savings and a negative net worth of around $50,000.

Home owner is not eligible for the Making Home Affordable refinance program since the debt ratios would still be too high even with a rate reduction to the current prevailing mid 5% mortgage rate.

Homeowner therefore applies for a mortgage modification.  The basic requirements are that you are having trouble paying your mortgage and your front end debt ratio exceeds 31%.   The front end debt ratio is the monthly mortgage payment, taxes and insurance divided by gross monthly income.  Homeowner is approved for a mortgage modification that lowers the rate to 2% fixed for two years, with an increase to 3% in year three, 4% in year four and then fixed in year five at the prevailing conforming rate.   No principal reduction of the loan was granted.   The initial rate reduction lower the home owners debt ratios to 31/40, a ratio that should allow debt payments to be handled without undue stress.

Comments – Who Won and Who Lost?

If the homeowner decides to sell the home, $30,000 cash would be required at closing due to negative equity, commissions due, etc.  Since the homeowner has no cash, a sale of the home would have to be a short sale, with the mortgage holder (or taxpayer) taking the loss.

The homeowner in this case received a mortgage rate that is unavailable to the best A+ borrower.  In addition, there were no closing costs to receive the 2% rate.  The average homeowner pays thousands in closing costs on a refinance.

The taxpayer winds up paying, one way or the other,  for the cost of the mortgage subsidy.

The subsidized 31% debt ratio puts the loan modification  homeowner in a vastly better off position than millions of other homeowners with much higher housing debt ratios who are unable to get a loan modification or a refinance.

The homeowner cited would never have been a homeowner if not for the 100% financing, no income verification programs that prevailed during the housing/mortgage bubble years.

Not everyone was victimized by the liar loans and sub prime lenders.  The homeowner in this example has nothing to complain about.   Besides the $30,000 cash received on the refinance and a zero investment in the property, the homeowner also has a super low 2% government subsidized mortgage rate .

As property values continue to decline, expect ever more costly, aggressive and futile  government efforts to reflate the burst Humpty/Dumpty housing bubble.

Obama – 40 more years!

For all of those worried about tax increases, slow economic growth and rapidly expanding deficits, I have one word – relax.  Consider the following comments made by the President today.

Obama Says Robust Growth Will Prevent Tax Increases

June 16 (Bloomberg) — “One of the biggest variables in this whole thing is economic growth,” the president said in an interview with Bloomberg News at the White House. “If we are growing at a robust rate, then we can pay for the government that we need without having to raise taxes.”

Obama has repeatedly said he would keep his campaign pledge to cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans while rolling back tax breaks for households making more than $250,000 a year.

The U.S. economy shrank at a 5.7 percent annual pace in the first quarter… The median forecast for growth next year is 1.8 percent, according to the survey.

Obama warned that if economic growth remains “anemic” and Congress fails to adopt his plans to hold down the cost of health care, work on alternative energy sources and improve the U.S. education system, “then we’re going to continue to have problems.”

He also repeated his promise to cut the budget deficit, forecast to hit $1.8 trillion this year, in half by the end of his first term.

“If my proposals are adopted, then not only are we cutting the deficit in half compared to where it would be if we didn’t do anything, but we’re also going to be able to raise revenue on people making over $250,000 a year in a modest way,” he said. “That helps close the deficit.”

Fiscal discipline that leads to lower budget deficits is important, Obama said, to ensure investors around the world keep buying U.S. government debt.

From warning of a “financial catastrophe” some short months ago, we are now being told that:

  1. Robust economic growth will cover government spending increases
  2. 5% of working Americans will cover the tab for the other 95%
  3. New spending on health care, education and the environment will spur economic growth
  4. Deficits will be cut in half to only $1 trillion a year
  5. Fiscal discipline will cause investors to lust after U.S. debt securities

News like this is almost enough to make one believe that the recent 40% gain in stock prices is just the beginning of  new wealth creation for investors.

Before rushing into a 100% long position with your portfolio,  consider some of the potential headwinds that the President’s magic scenario will face.

Past decades in the U.S. have been distinguished by slow economic growth (despite huge credit stimulus), stagnate or declining real incomes and a massive increase in the debt burden on every sector of the economy.   In addition, American’s have seen their major asset categories – stocks and real estate – vaporized by multi trillion dollar losses.

Median Household Incomes Fell in 94% of the States – 1999-2005.

1999-2006 Income Declines

1999-2006 Income Declines

Courtesy: mwhodges.home

Household Debt Ratio

Household Debt Ratio

Debt to National Income

Debt to National Income

Debt to National Income Ratio

Debt to National Income Ratio

Workers in Manufacturing

Workers in Manufacturing

Personal savings rate

Personal savings rate

Decline In Purchasing Power US $

Decline In Purchasing Power US $

Conclusion:

The national economic trends of past decades are:

  • Lower incomes
  • Staggering increases in debt
  • Dramatic decreases in savings
  • The destruction of our manufacturing base
  • A 90% decline in the purchasing value of our currency

If the President can reverse these trends, I say change the Constitution and give him 40 more years in office!

FHA – Ready To Join Fannie And Freddie

Multiple Reasons For High FHA Default Rates

Massive default rates in the FHA loan program are starting to raise a few eyebrows.  Without major reform of fundamentally poor lending policies, the FHA could soon join the failed ranks of her sister agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Delinquencies Rise

A spokesman for the FHA said 7.5% of FHA loans were “seriously delinquent” at the end of February, up from 6.2% a year earlier. Seriously delinquent includes loans that are 90 days or more overdue, in the foreclosure process or in bankruptcy.

The FHA’s share of the U.S. mortgage market soared to nearly a third of loans originated in last year’s fourth quarter from about 2% in 2006 as a whole, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication. That is increasing the risk to taxpayers if the FHA’s reserves prove inadequate to cover default losses.

FHA Cash Cushion Has Fallen by 39% – The latest annual audit of the Federal Housing Administration shows a steep drop in the capital cushion the U.S. agency holds against losses from mortgage defaults.

As lenders shy away from risk, the number of loans insured by the agency has soared in recent months, fueling concerns it may be taking on too much risk.

If the FHA runs short of money to pay claims, Congress would have to provide taxpayer funds to make up the difference.

MBA Delinquency Survey

The Mortgage Bankers Association report on delinquency rates (loans that are at least one payment past due) shows the real potential for how many defaults the FHA could be facing.

Change from last quarter (second quarter of 2008)

The seasonally adjusted delinquency rate increased 41 basis points to 4.34 percent for prime loans, increased 136 basis points to 20.03 percent for subprime loans, increased 29 basis points to 12.92 percent for FHA loans.

FHA loans saw an eight basis point increase in the foreclosure inventory rate to 2.32 percent.

The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans somewhere in the process of foreclosure.

Add the percentage of FHA loans in the foreclosure process to the total loans that are delinquent at least one month and we have a total default/delinquency rate of 15.24%.  Something is clearly wrong with the FHA loan program and another major bailout of a federal lending agency seems inevitable.  Let’s examine some data from an excellent article by Whistleblower to understand why the FHA default rate is so high.

FHA Delinquency Crisis: 1 in 6 Borrowers in Default

At a time when borrowers, lenders, regulators, and lawmakers are scurrying for cover from the subprime lending crisis, a new crisis appears to be emerging with FHA.
Just take a look at FHA delinquency rates:

Could FHA’s rising delinquency rate be due to FHA incorporating risky practices that have become standard in the mortgage industry? Since industry experts often cite 100% financing as being a major factor in the mortgage meltdown, let’s take a look at borrower down payment sources:

In 2008, borrower funded down payments declined 38% to total only 47% of endorsements while non-profit provided down payment assistance increased a whopping 1750% to 37% of purchase endorsements. These are staggering statistics, but could they possibly correlate with FHA’s delinquency rate? Let’s take a look.

The delinquency rate clearly rises in tandem with the increase in non-profit funded down payments. But why would down payment assistance from non-profit agencies possibly impact the delinquency rate so materially?
While legitimate non-profit agencies provide much needed assistance to deserving buyers in a manner that promotes successful homeownership, certain so-called “non-profit” agencies merely advance the borrower the down payment from the seller for a fee. Companies such as Nehemiah Corporation of America, H.A.R.T. and Ameridream are prime examples of companies that provide down payments that are dependent upon seller reimbursement. Since the down payment is seller funded, whether directly or indirectly, a Quid Pro Quo clearly exists. Furthermore, because sales prices are increased to absorb the down payment grant, down payment assistance is said to skew prices for everyone.
In 2005, HUD commissioned a study entitled “An Examination of Downpayment Gift Programs Administered By Non-Profit Organizations”. Later that year, another report titled “Mortgage Financing: Additional Action Needed to Manage Risks of FHA-Insured Loans with Down Payment Assistance” was completed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Both studies concluded that seller funded down payment assistance increased the cost of homeownership and real estate prices in addition to maintaining a substantially higher delinquency and default rate.

Note: The down payment assistance program was ended last year but special interest groups are lobbying for its reinstatement – see Campaign to Stop FHA Subprime.

FHA Approval Process Outsourced To FHA “Direct Endorsed Lenders”

Besides the factors mentioned above that contribute to the large amount of FHA defaults there is also the issue of the unique manner in which the FHA “outsources” the loan approval process.   The FHA does not directly approve loans but instead allows this to be done by HUD “direct endorsed FHA lenders”.  The direct FHA lenders are in turn supposed to follow lending standards set by the FHA.  Problems arise with this arrangement since loans can be underwritten and approved by the direct FHA lender’s own staff, an obvious conflict of interest.  The lender only makes money on loans that are approved.  This process is equivalent to leaving the bank vault unlocked and unguarded.

Theoretically, the FHA has the responsibility for policing the lenders who can approve FHA loans.   In practice, FHA oversight is almost nonexistent.    In the past two years, as the number of FHA lenders has doubled to almost 2,500 lenders, the FHA supervisory office has had no staffing increase.  If the FHA was fulfilling their supervisory responsibilities properly, the default rate would not be at a staggering 16% and outrageous examples of fraud and abuse in the FHA lending system would not be occurring.  Consider the curious case of the large number of FHA loans experiencing first payment defaults (the borrower never makes a single payment).

The Next Hit – Quick Defaults

In the past year alone, the number of borrowers who failed to make more than a single payment before defaulting on FHA-backed mortgages has nearly tripled, far outpacing the agency’s overall growth in new loans, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal data.

Many industry experts attribute the jump in these instant defaults to factors that include the weak economy, lax scrutiny of prospective borrowers and most notably, foul play among unscrupulous lenders looking to make a quick buck.

If a loan “is going into default immediately, it clearly suggests impropriety and fraudulent activity,” said Kenneth Donohue, the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which includes the FHA.

Once again, thousands of borrowers are getting loans they do not stand a chance of repaying. Only now, unlike in the subprime meltdown, Congress would have to bail out the lenders if the FHA cannot make good on guarantees from its existing reserves.

More than 9,200 of the loans insured by the FHA in the past two years have gone into default after no or only one payment, according to the Post analysis. The pace of these instant defaults has tripled in one year.

The overall default rate on FHA loans is accelerating rapidly as well but not as dramatically as that of instant defaults.

Under the FHA’s own rules, there’s a presumption of fraud or material misrepresentation if loans default after borrowers make no more than one payment. In those cases, the lenders are required by the FHA to investigate what went awry and notify the agency of any suspected fraud. But the agency’s efforts at pursuing abusive lenders have been hamstrung. Once, about 130 HUD investigators teamed with FBI agents in an FHA fraud unit, but this office was dismantled in 2003 after the FHA’s business dwindled in the housing boom.

William Apgar, senior adviser to new HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, agreed that early defaults are a worrisome sign that a lender is abusing FHA-backed loans.

The Palm Hill Condominiums project near West Palm Beach, Fla., exemplifies the problem. The two-story stucco apartments built 28 years ago on former Everglades swampland were converted to condominiums three years ago. The complex had the same owner as an FHA-approved mortgage company Great Country Mortgage of Coral Gables, whose brokers pushed no-money-down, no-closing-cost loans to prospective buyers of the condos, according to Michael Tanner, who is identified on a company Web site as a senior loan officer.

Eighty percent of the Great Country loans at the project have defaulted, a dozen after no payment or one. With 64 percent of all its loans gone bad, Great Country has the highest default rate of any FHA lender, according to the agency’s database. It also has the highest instant default rate.

Some of the country’s largest and most established lenders are so concerned about this new threat to the credit market that they are not waiting for the FHA to tighten its requirements. Instead, they are imposing new rules on the brokers they work with. Wells Fargo and Bank of America, for instance, now require higher credit scores on certain FHA loan transactions and better on-time payment history.

Some experts who track FHA lending say the agency should not wait for lenders to take the lead on toughening the rules, especially given the mortgage industry’s poor track record for policing subprime and other risky home loans.

“Even if the market eventually gets these guys, they shouldn’t have to wait for the market to do it,” said Brian Chappelle, a former FHA official who is now a banking industry consultant. “The most frequent question I get asked by the groups I talk to is: ‘Is FHA going to implode?’ . . . They haven’t seen HUD do anything significant in the past two years to tighten up its lending.”

FHA Losses Mount As Regulators Snooze

The FHA escaped the financial collapse that occurred at Fannie and Freddie by an accident of circumstance.  During the lending boom, the FHA attracted few borrowers since putting a borrower into a sub prime loan was faster and more profitable.  Since the collapse of the sub prime lenders, the FHA’s share of the mortgage market has increased to around 33% today from 2% three years ago.  The reason for the big increase in loan volume is due to one factor – the FHA now has the lowest lending standards and its loan delinquencies prove it.

Will The FHA Be The Next Government Bailout?

Without immediate reform of the FHA loan program, the FHA will be the next lending disaster and government bailout.  The flawed lending policies that will eventually cause the collapse of the FHA include:

1. Minimal or no down payment purchases.  Study after study has shown the correlation between low down payments and increased mortgage defaults.

2. Lax lending standards.  FHA loans are routinely approved with low credit scores and insufficient income, resulting in high default rates.

3. Allowing the use of “direct endorsed lenders” who approve FHA loans without adequate oversight by the FHA is an invitation to fraud and abuse.  The direct FHA lenders have a vested financial interest in approving unqualified loan applicants – the results can be seen in the number of first payment defaults and loan delinquencies.

Putting borrowers into homes that they cannot afford is an injustice to the homeowner and perpetuates the foreclosure cycle.  The cost of the FHA losses to the taxpayer is a an expense we cannot afford.  It is time to rein in the FHA’s irresponsible lending practices.

Loan Modification Searches Go Parabolic – Making Home Affordable Guidelines

Loan Modification Enters Mainstream Vocabulary

If you had used the term “loan modification” six months ago, most people would have given you a blank stare.  With the passage of the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, the term loan modification has now entered the mainstream vocabulary.  News coverage of the government plan to help homeowners with their mortgage problems via loan modification has generated  huge interest in this topic as can be seen by the increased Google searches on “loan modification”.

Loan Modification Assistance Programs

HUD’s website provides details on the modification program and also warns homeowners to beware of foreclosure rescue scams.

  • There is never a fee to get assistance or information about Making Home Affordable from your lender or a HUD-approved housing counselor.
  • Beware of any person or organization that asks you to pay a fee in exchange for housing counseling services or modification of a delinquent loan. Do not pay – walk away!
  • Beware of anyone who says they can “save” your home if you sign or transfer over the deed to your house. Do not sign over the deed to your property to any organization or individual unless you are working directly with your mortgage company to forgive your debt.
  • Never make your mortgage payments to anyone other than your mortgage company without their approval.
  • Need urgent help? Contact the Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline: (888) 995-HOPE

Making Home Affordable RefinanceGeneral Features & Eligibility

Some of the features of the new loan modification program include reducing the interest rate to as low as 2%, increasing the mortgage term to 40 years and possibly reducing the principal balance of the mortgage loan.  Note that after 5 years, the interest rate could start to increase each year.

Some of the basic guideline qualifications are:

1.  applies only to a first mortgage on a principal residence,  2. income verification is required, 3. there must be a financial hardship, 4. the mortgage must be owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and 5.  the current mortgage payment must exceed a specified percentage of monthly income.

HUD has an easy to use program on their website that allows a homeowner to determine program eligibility –  see Do I qualify for a Making Home Affordable refinance? Answer these questions:

Home Mods Get Complicated

In theory, a loan modification is a simple concept.  The reality of loan modification is that it has become ever more complicated, involving multiple parties and numerous financial, tax and legal issues.  The government has become deeply involved with loan mods and government programs tend to become complicated, confusing and bureaucratic.

At a minimum the following questions should be asked and the answers understood by every homeowner before deciding on a particular course of action.

1. Exactly what would be the terms of my proposed loan modification?

2. Are there tax issues involved?

3. Is the benefit of owning my home outweighed by the costs?  In other words, would I be better off renting after considering my income and all the numerous costs of home ownership?

4. What is the impact on my credit score?  It will be difficult to obtain any type of future loan with a low credit score.

5. If I decide home ownership is not the best option – do I let the home be foreclosed or attempt to negotiate a short sale with the bank?  What are the pros and cons of each option?

6. If I accept a loan modification but receive no principal forgiveness, does it make sense to stay in the home if the loan balance still exceeds the value of the home?  Any sale of the home under this condition would mean bringing money to closing that may not be available.

7. Is it cheaper to rent than to remain in the home after the loan is “modified”?

8. Will housing prices increase going forward?  Keep in mind that real estate prices in Japan are still far below the peak prices reached in 1990.  There is no divine rule which mandates an increase in housing values.

9. Are there legal issues involved with the loan modification that should be reviewed by my attorney?

Not much in life is simple.  Do your homework before you finalize any decision involving your home.


Chinese Likely To Halt Purchases Of US Treasury Debt

Nervous Times In China

The Chinese are learning the hard way about an old American banking story. The man who owes the bank $50,000 dollars on a secured loan may lay awake at night worrying about how he can repay the loan. If the same man owes the bank $5,000,000 of unsecured debt, it is probably the banker who is awake all night wondering if he is going to get paid.

Chinese Premier Wen sounds like he is having some sleepless nights worrying about whether or not the US will be able to repay the $700 billion that China invested in US treasury securities. In a remarkable statement, Premier Wen publicly stated that he is “worried” about the ability of the US to pay back its huge debts to China. As reported in Bloomberg, Wen is asking for assurances from the US that the debt is safe.

“We have lent a huge amount of money to the United States,” Wen said at a press briefing in Beijing today after the annual meeting of the legislature. “Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am a little bit worried. I request the U.S. to maintain its good credit, to honor its promises and to guarantee the safety of China’s assets.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China, while visiting officials in Beijing on Feb. 22, to continue buying U.S. debt, which she called a “safe investment.”

“China is worried that the U.S. may solve its problems with the fiscal deficit and banks by printing money, which will stoke inflation,” said Zhao Qingming, a Beijing-based analyst at China Construction Bank Corp., the country’s second-biggest lender. “If the U.S. can make sure this won’t happen, then China will continue to invest.”

Delegates of China’s legislative advisory body suggested that the biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt diversify away from Treasuries into more risky assets at the annual meeting that started on March 3.

Jesse Wang, executive vice president of China Investment Corp., said on March 4 that his $200 billion sovereign wealth fund may invest in “undervalued” commodity assets. Zhang Guobao, head of the National Energy Administration, said China should invest more in commodities instead of hoarding the U.S. dollar, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on March 7.
China should seek to “fend off risks” as it diversifies its $1.95 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves and will safeguard its own interests, Wen said. Chinese investors held $696 billion of U.S. Treasuries as of Dec. 31, an increase of 46 percent from the prior year.

Chinese Concerns Justified

China is justified in worrying about its large US treasury investment, despite the worthless assurances from our Secretary of State. Congress is blithely spending money by the trillions, as Chairman Bernanke continues to speak of buying mortgage backed securities and long term treasuries. One of the major constraints on Chairman Bernanke’s desire to print money (via the purchase of US government debt) has, no doubt, been the worry about a potential backlash from China, the biggest buyer of US debt.

The heretofore mutually beneficial arrangement of China purchasing US debt with trade surpluses generated by American purchases of Chinese goods is drawing to a close. China’s trade surplus has all but evaporated, eliminating the need or ability of China to purchase additional US debt. In addition, the Chinese have made it clear that their national interests are best served by diversifying into commodities and other real assets, the value of which is not contingent upon an overleveraged debtor nation.
End Game Clear

As long as China continues to purchase US debt, Bernanke is constrained from blatantly printing money. As China throttles way back on its purchase of US debt, America will have three choices – 1. Borrow and spend less 2. Raise taxes tremendously or 3. Print money. Based on what we have seen so far, it will be some of number 2 and a lot of number 3.

The odds are that China will ultimately get its money back, but the value of what they receive will be far less than what they gave.