Primed for Disaster
“In another sign the mortgage crunch is spreading, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. announced it is cutting the ratings of Countrywide Financial Corp., the largest mortgage lender, and other prime lenders as defaults surge.”
anyone remember the local Countrywide broker who bragged that 80% of his local customers use the Neg-Am Bendover loans and plan on refinancing or selling just before they reset? Smells like trouble a brewing to me...
“‘Prime loans will see rising default rates as subprime has, due to increasingly weak underwriting in recent vintages,’ analyst Bruce Harting said. ‘The rapidity, breadth and depth of the subprime sector meltdown has been extraordinary, even in the context of an environment in which most industry observers felt that major problems in the subprime space were inevitable and overdue.’”
"The mortgage market has been roiled by a sharp increase in bad loans made to borrowers with weak credit. Now there are signs that the pain is spreading upward."
"At issue are mortgages made to people who fall in the gray area between "prime" (borrowers considered the best credit risks) and "subprime" (borrowers considered the greatest credit risks). A record $400 billion of these midlevel loans -- which are known in the industry as "Alt-A" mortgages -- were originated last year, up from $85 billion in 2003, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication. Alt-A loans accounted for roughly 16% of mortgage originations last year and subprime loans an additional 24%."
"Data from UBS AG show that the default rate for Alt-A mortgages has doubled in the past 14 months. "The credit deterioration has been almost parallel to what's been happening in the subprime market," says UBS mortgage analyst David Liu. The UBS report contrasts with testimony Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke gave to Congress yesterday."
"Borrowers who take out Alt-A mortgages are considered less risky than subprime borrowers because of their higher credit scores. But as the housing market cooled and loan volume declined, some lenders lowered their standards for Alt-As. Now a rising number of borrowers who took out these loans are running into trouble."
"Housing counselors and bankruptcy attorneys say they are seeing an increase in troubled borrowers who previously had good credit. "We have clients with 720-plus credit scores, and they are in awful products," says Jennifer Harris, executive director of the Home Loan Counseling Center in Sacramento, Calif. Some of these borrowers took out option ARMs with low introductory rates and are likely to fall behind when their monthly payment resets at a higher level, she says."
"The catch-all Alt-A category includes many of the innovative products that helped fuel the housing boom, such as mortgages that carry little, if any, documentation of income or assets, and so-called option adjustable-rate mortgages, which give borrowers multiple payment choices but can lead to a rising loan balance. Loans taken by investors buying homes they don't plan to occupy themselves can also fall into the Alt-A category."
"Thomas Gorman, a bankruptcy attorney in Alexandria, Va., says he is seeing more financially strapped borrowers who "probably bought more house than they could afford and then took on more credit-card debt" to furnish the house and pay for the move. When the housing market cooled, they were "caught in the middle," unable to sell their home or refinance and make their debt load more manageable."
"The UBS study found that the problems are greatest for Alt-A borrowers who took out interest-only adjustable-rate mortgages, which allow borrowers to pay interest and no principal in the loan's early years, with 3.71% of interest-only ARMs originated in 2006 at least 60 days past due. As in the subprime sector, the riskiest loans are those made to home buyers who put little, if any, money down and don't document their income or assets."
"Some borrowers who took out Alt-A loans in recent years are starting to feel the strain. Johnny and Shirley Johnson, retirees in Cleveland, took out an option ARM when they refinanced their $92,700 mortgage in July 2005. The loan carried a 3.5% introductory rate that began moving upward a few months later. The couple, who live on a fixed income, are currently making the minimum payment on their loan. But they are afraid they won't be able to keep up with their loan and other debts once their monthly mortgage payment adjusts upward later this year."
"Glenn Costello, a managing director at Fitch Ratings Inc. in New York, expects the foreclosure rate for Alt-A loans to ultimately be only 10% to 20% of the rate for subprime borrowers."
"Yet investor concerns about Alt-A loans are rising, according to Walter N. Schmidt, a mortgage investment strategist at FTN Financial Capital Markets in Chicago. A report from mortgage analysts at Barclays Capital in New York this week pointed to fraud as one reason for early defaults on Alt-A loans. The mortgage industry is battling a rash of cases in which borrowers, loan officers and appraisers collude in providing false information to induce lenders to advance more money than homes are worth."
p.s. (thanks Marinite)