Prime Mortgages Are Also Going Sour

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Includes: BAC, PNC, WFC
by: Zacks Investment Research

At the end of the second quarter, 4.3% of all residential mortgages were in some part of the foreclosure process, up from 3.85% at the end of the first quarter and 2.75% a year ago. In addition, on a seasonally adjusted basis, 9.24% of all mortgages were delinquent (behind by at least one payment), up from 9.12% at the end of March, and just 6.41% at the end of June 2008.

Both were records since the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) started keeping track back in 1972. On a non-seasonally-adjusted basis, the delinquency rate was not quite as bad at 8.86%, but still a record.

That means that 13.16% of all residential mortgages (NSA basis) are in trouble. With about 51 million houses with mortgages in the country, that means 6.71 million bad mortgages out there. With the number of people out of work still rising, the problem is likely to continue to get worse for quite a while.

The chief economist for the MBA expects that foreclosures will not peak until the end of 2010. I suspect he might be a little bit on the optimistic side, but that projection is reasonable. If someone is also in a house where the value of the house is less than the amount of the mortgage, the probability that they will continue to pay the mortgage falls rapidly.

If they are also out of work while they are underwater, then continuing to pay their mortgage is simply not an economically rational thing to do. Far better to simply live rent- and mortgage-free until the sheriff shows up at the door. Given the overwhelming case-load, that can often be well over a year (though it varies greatly by location).

Once upon a time, people liked to think that the mortgage problems were contained to the subprime market. It was just a problem of irresponsible people on the wrong side of the tracks. That is clearly no longer the case.

While as a percentage, subprime mortgages are still much more likely to be delinquent or in foreclosure than are prime mortgages, there are far fewer subprime mortgages than prime mortgages. In absolute numbers, there are far more bad prime mortgages than bad subprime mortgages.

The graph below (from http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/) shows just how bad the loans are going sour on the people who had good credit when they took out the mortgages.

The percentage of prime loans in foreclosure jumped to 3.00% at the end of the second quarter vs. 2.49% at the end of March. The percentage delinquent rose to 6.41% from 6.06% at the end of March.

On a percentage basis, subprime loans continue to be an absolute horror show. At the end of the quarter more than one in four (25.35%) subprime loans were delinquent (up from 24.95% at the end of the first quarter) and 15.05% were somewhere in the foreclosure process, up from 14.34% the quarter before.

Thus, the combined troubled mortgage rate is now over 40% on subprime loans. This is of course bad news for the banks with big mortgage operations like Bank of America (BAC - Analyst Report), Wells Fargo (WFC - Analyst Report) and PNC Financial (PNC - Snapshot Report).



Regionally, California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada are still being hit the hardest, but other states are starting to catch up. Those four states had 44 percent of all of the nation’s new foreclosures during the second quarter of this year, down from 46 percent in the first quarter.

Foreclosures are less of a problem in the relatively unpopulated states. Very few people (relatively) are falling behind in North Dakota, Wyoming or Alaska as shown in the second graph (also from http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/).

Florida still has the worst mortgage performance, closely followed only by Nevada. In Florida, 12 percent of mortgages were somewhere in the process of foreclosure -- the highest in the nation -- and another 5 percent were at least 90 days past due as of the end of June. A total of 22.8 percent were delinquent at least one payment or in the process of foreclosure, which is almost twice the national percentage (excluding Florida).

In contrast, the next highest states are Nevada at 21.3 percent, Arizona at 16.3 percent and Michigan at 15.3 percent. California is still a problem by virtue of its sheer size, but on a percentage basis, and combining both levels of the problem, Mississippi and Indiana are now in marginally worse shape than is California.



Some of the delinquencies will get cured, but far from all of them. The farther the house is underwater, the less likely it is to get cured. Many more houses are going to end up in the hands of the banks, which will then dump them onto the market and further depress prices.

Housing is normally the locomotive that pulls the U.S. economy out of recessions. It is hard to see how that locomotive will work up a good head of steam with so many foreclosures blocking the tracks.

The first-time home buyer credit has helped to clear out some of the existing bank owned properties, but that program will end just after Thanksgiving. Unless the program is renewed, that source of buying is likely to dry up significantly. This could lead to another sharp down-leg for the housing market.

Shifting my metaphor, the economy’s vital signs have stabilized, but that is due to the powerful drugs that the "doctors" (Bernanke and Obama) have been giving it. Those drugs (printing money, super-low short-term interest rates and massive budget deficits) are known to have very serious long-term side effects -- ones that have been known to be fatal (Weimar style hyperinflation) if given in to big doses and for too long.

The doctors had no choice but to give them to the patient, since doing nothing would have also been fatal (we narrowly avoided a second Great Depression), but it is a huge question if the patient will be able to get up and about after he is taken off the meds.

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