Housing Bubble, The Sequel

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Includes: GS, IYR
by: Economic Disconnect

Goldman Sachs Earnings
Tuesday morning confirmed what everyone knew Monday, Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) had a monster quarter and beat expectations by a mile. I will not recount all the details, but a few notes on the GS news:
-I had never really looked at a GS earnings report. These guys do not disclose anything. There is no way to really know how and where the money is being made.
-To make the killing GS did, they had to be positioned heavy on the long side of the ledger to capture the market rally. One could ask how they were so sure the market would take off, but that question answers itself, yes? What would be VERY interesting is if say, 100 points gets knocked off the S&P 500 by next quarter. If GS is still making a killing I would call bullsh#t. Nobody is that right all the time. Nobody.
-GS commercial real estate holdings are taking a beating. And that is while they are still gamed as mark to fantasy.

Overall, about what you would expect. Still sits very poorly that the bank is making huge cake while all the risk is shouldered by the US government, but what do you want.

Housing Bubble - The Sequel
The big story of Tuesday to me was the floating of an idea that would permanently destroy economic freedom as we know it. While the assault has been harsh over the past year, this new plan would accomplish what the bankers have wanted since time began - total control over private property.

So what is the plan? Here is the Reuters story from Tuesday morning:

U.S. mulling mortgage aid for unemployed
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is mulling new ways to delay foreclosure for jobless homeowners who are unable to keep up with monthly payments, an administration official said on Monday.

The official told Reuters it was reasonable for policymakers to consider options for loan forbearance -- allowing borrowers to delay, defer or skip payments -- that are more effective than those currently available in the private sector.

The number of failing home loans has been climbing for three years as risky borrowers have defaulted on their easy-to-get loans, property values have sunk and the unemployment rate has climbed.

But the official said the idea, which is still evolving, was difficult from a policy perspective and carries potential hazards. It could help more people struggling with economic difficulty, but it also could create perverse incentives that distort the housing market, said the official, who did not want to speak on the record about internal administration debates.

So right from the start we can argue about the morality of this plan. Help for jobless homeowners? Why not help for all homeowners? How about jobless renters? Why the double standard? Writing checks to pay the banks that hold the mortgages does nothing to help the jobless owner, but it does help the banks. The same theme continues unabated.

While the moral hazard of the proposal is heavy indeed, it was in a later article that I saw the true purpose of this scheme. I have to say, I was appalled and amazed at the sheer boldness and morbidity involved here. From Clusterstock:

Obama Considers New Mortgage Solution: Own-To-Rent
Is The Atlantic now the most influential magazine in America?

The most recent issue is pretentiously self-styled as “The Ideas Issue: How To Fix The World.” It contains a brief piece by Felix Salmon making the clever argument that the mortgage defaulters should be turned into renters. The idea does have an attractive symmetry: if one of our problems is that too many people who should be renters wound up taking out mortgages they couldn’t afford to become ersatz homeowners, why not just make them renters?

It's a brilliant reversal of the old idea of rent-to-own homes. But just because it's brilliant doesn't mean it would work.

Now Reuters reports that U.S. government officials are weighing a plan to do just that. The plan would let borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments avoid eviction by renting their homes. They’d give up all their equity—if they have any—and future claims on the equity, in exchange for getting to keep their homes.
There are lots of problems with this idea, including havoc it would create in securitized mortgages, that it would make the housing market even more illiquid than it is, and that it would create a huge incentive on the part of even more borrowers to default. Think about it: now you don’t even have to walk away.

Reuters also reports that officials are creating a “housing stipend” that would attach to unemployment, hoping to reduce the role in job losses in driving mortgage defaults. This would be either hugely costly or ineffective. (And it would really anger unemployed renters.)

Did you catch the real target of this idea?

Once more:

The plan would let borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments avoid eviction by renting their homes. They’d give up all their equity—if they have any—and future claims on the equity, in exchange for getting to keep their homes

So what is the single biggest issue banks are facing right now? Falling home prices are causing many "owners" to give up as the up side of ownership has vanished. This has created enormous pressure on mortgage products across the spectrum. Unable to turn the economy around through monetary policy and stimulus, the government is at a loss for options.

Instead of taking a step back and seeing the big picture, this new proposal gives the banks total control over the real estate market. If you think Level III accounting is fantasy, wait for "Real Estate Equity Upside Targeting" by the banks.

Let me explain.

Home owner Joe bought his home for $250,000 in 2005. He has now become "troubled" (by job loss or whatever) and cannot afford the old $1500 a month mortgage (at 6% rate). Added to this, the home is now appraised at $150,000 so Joe is pretty much out of luck. And time.

Enter the "Equity Surrender Plan". Bank X offers Joe a new rental option at about $720 a month (equates to a $120,000 note at 6%) as long as Joe surrenders his ownership and any claim on future upside in the home price. Joe can afford the new rent, and he is less likely to burn the place down after being foreclosed on. Everyone is happy, right?

Well certainly the banks will be.

Think of the magnitude of foreclosures right now. Add in all the shadow inventory that the banks have been sitting on (seemingly to hide loss marks, but now maybe in hopes of this plan). This equates to a not tiny percentage of the housing market today (I have no idea what that number is by the way).

Now the banks, of which there are far fewer in number, have control of any upside for a huge number of properties. The banks are also awash in all the cash created by the Fed that right now is not entering the money supply because banks do not want to lend.

Ask yourself what happens to assets held and controlled by banks should the banks need those assets to go up in value?

They go up in value.

This would be a real world modelling of Level III accounting.

Return to our example. Now the bank has an income of $720 on the home they own the upside on. They can mark the value of the holding as they see fit. Later, buyer John wants to move in to Joe's home and Joe would like to move on. Bank X sends out their appraiser for the home and by magic, the home is now valued at $225,000. Amazing! Bank X is only more than happy to loan John the $225,000 irregardless of credit quality because they know all the other banks are doing the same thing. The market in real estate would be fixed by the banks.

There are many angles to this that I want to flesh out, but I am a bit pressed for time. Use the comments section to offer your own thoughts.

What this appears to be to me is a backdoor way to re inflate the housing market. What adds to the hilarity is the CPI would be depressed (for all you deflation lovers) as the new rents would be used as the housing component. The process of inflating home prices could go on with easy money for a long time this way.

A cunning plan indeed and I would expect nothing less than this kind of craven theft from our banking system and promoted by the government under the silly guise of "helping troubled homeowners".

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