"4,594,000 Mortgages Going Unpaid in the United States."
By Mike Whitney
October 28, 2013 "Information Clearing House - Buying a house is a lot like buying a car. If you don’t look under the hood, you could wind up with a lemon. Only with housing, it’s not as simple as checking the dipstick or looking for oil under the rear axle. No, smart home buyers check the data to see what’s really going on. That’s the best way to cut through the hype and separate the fact from the fiction.
Lately, interest rates have been inching higher while prices have been rising. The combination of the two has put the kibosh on sales leading to a more generalized slowdown. But sluggish sales and higher rates don’t tell the whole story. For that, we need to take a peak under the hood and see what the cheerleaders in the media have been hiding from view. And what they’ve been hiding is nearly 5 million homeowners who’ve stopped paying their mortgages altogether. That’s no small matter. Here’s the story from DS News:
Yikes. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad time to buy a house, but one should at least be aware of the fact that there’s a gargantuan stockpile of backlogged homes just waiting to flood the market once the banks get their act together. Of course, maybe that day will never come, right? After all, we’re already 5 years into this thing and the banks are actually dragging the process out longer today than ever before. Maybe you don’t believe that. Maybe you think that there’s actually a shortage of supply which is why prices have been going up for the last year or so. Okay, but why not withhold judgment until you check this out. This is from an article at Housingwire titled “Prolonged liquidation timelines shake up home prices”:
Read that last line over a couple times and let it sink in: “The percentage of distressed mortgages that are five or more years delinquent has tripled just in the last year.”
That doesn’t sound like the “Happy days are here again” refrain we’ve been hearing in the media, does it? It sounds like the banks still haven’t even dumped the subprimes they’ve had on their books for 5-long years. In fact, the article alludes to that very fact. Here’s the money-quote: “Subprime loss severities have remained flat with timelines in excess of 34 months and home price gains lower than the national average.”
The banks are still writing down the losses on subprime mortgages? What a farce.
Now, I know the article was written in opaque business-journal-type gibberish that makes it hard to understand, but just consider what the author is saying: “Liquidations increased 32.2 months for the third quarter… up from 28.3 months a year ago.” So the banks are actually taking LONGER to process the gunk on their books than even last year. Why would they do that? Why would they drag out the process longer than they had to?
So, you see, the whole system has been rejiggered to accommodate a handful of underwater, zombie institutions who wouldn’t know how to make an honest buck in a normal business transaction if it was staring them in the face.
Back to housing: So there’s a humongous shadow inventory of distressed homes that have yet to reach the market. And the banks are dragging their feet to keep prices artificially high. Everyone knows this now, in fact, even CNN ran a story on the topic last week. Here’s a clip:
What’s funny about this article is that the banks have been fighting tooth-n-nail for the last year for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to ease lending standards on their Qualified Mortgage (QM) rule so they can blow up the system again and leave us all with another 5 or 6 million foreclosures. What’s that saying about “old dogs and new tricks”?
There’s no point in going over the same material over and over again. People who follow the market already know that mortgage applications are down, rates are up, sales are down, prices are up, etc, etc, etc. But potential homebuyers should at least know that this is the weirdest housing market of all time. The extent of the manipulation is simply mindboggling. It’s a stretch to call it a market at all since the fundamentals have been tossed out and replaced with fake rates, fake inventory, fake mortgage modification programs, and fake demand. For example, get a load of this from RealtyTrac:
Does that sound like a normal market to you?
Whatever happened to firsttime homebuyers who used to make up the bulk of housing sales?
You know what happened to them, don’t you? They’re either buried under a mountain of student debt from which they will never emerge or stuck in crappy part-time jobs that don’t pay enough to even meet the monthly rent, right? These people will probably never own a home; it’s just not in the cards, which is why firsttime homebuyers are following the Dodo into extinction.
And the same rule applies to “move up” buyers, too. Move up buyers are the folks who use the equity in their first home to buy a nicer home in a better neighborhood. Move up buyers used to be the second biggest buyer of homes in the US, but not any more. They’re struggling too, mainly because housing prices are still below their 2006 peak (which means many of these people are either still underwater on their mortgages) or because they have zero equity in the homes.
So, who’s buying all the houses?
Speculators. People who have no intention of moving into the homes they buy. That’s what keeps the recovery going. And that’s what low interest rates and QE-pump priming achieves; it transforms markets that are a critical part of a thriving economy into an annex of the Wall Street Casino where houses are flipped in a frenzy of speculation like credit default swaps or some equally dodgy debt instrument. This is the world Bernanke has created, a topsy-turvy world of lightening-fast trades that blows up every 5 or 6 years.
I mean, think of it: 49 percent of all residential sales in September were all-cash purchases.
And where are all these deep-pocket buyers coming from?
Wall Street, of course. The big boys have switched from junk bonds and farmland to housing, which should be expected given the ocean of liquidity the Fed has pumped into the financial markets. Naturally, there’s been some spillover into housing which is creating a new regime of credit bubbles. Booyah, Bernanke, you’ve done it again!
Are you surprised? Are you surprised that institutional investors are snapping up these foreclosures like hotcakes even though there are 4.5 million more in the pipeline? That must mean that the banks made some kind of deal with the PE guys that they wouldn’t dump their houses on the market without giving them a heads up first, right? (wink, wink)
Of course, it’s right. It’s all rigged. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. The whole bloody country is owned by a credit monopoly that never gets tired of fleecing us.
That’s just what they do.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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