David Kirkpatrick

January 15, 2009

One million foreclosures in 2008

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:21 pm

A ridiculous number. Especially given that Wall Street was handed money that is doing absolutely nothing. The Fed and really all of D.C. completely fell down on the job with this. I’m betting history will not be very kind looking back in a few years.

From the link:

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–January 14, 2009–About 1 million homes were lost to foreclosure in 2008, up nearly 63.5 percent from 2007, according to the U.S. Foreclosure Index from ForeclosureS.com, a leading real estate information provider.

In this first look at complete 2008 statistics, the Index also shows nearly 2.1 million pre-foreclosure filings last year, up nearly 62 percent from 2007. Pre-foreclosure actions can include notice of default and/or foreclosure auction leading up to an actual foreclosure.

Month to month, foreclosed properties repossessed by lenders spiked in December, up 19.3 percent to 97,841 from November, when 82,033 properties were foreclosed. The December increase followed two months of steady declines, but December still was 6.1 percent below the peak foreclosure month of September. Pre-foreclosures, which had been slowing until December, also climbed to 190,467 in December, up 11.9 percent from November.

All regions of the country showed increases in lender-owned properties and pre-foreclosure filings in December, ForeclosureS.com analysis shows.

U.S. FORECLOSURE INDEX:
YEAR TO DATE PRE-FORECLOSURE FILINGS BY REGION
Pre-foreclosures   YTD 2007   YTD 2008   Change
Region   Filings   Per Household   Filings   Per Household    
Midwest   185,073   1.69%   228,849   1.98%   23.6%
Southeast   383,697   2.31%   735,417   4.29%   91.7%
Northeast   190,832   1.14%   235,745   1.34%   23.5%
Southwest   528,399   2.09%   883,006   3.60%   67.1%
Other States   3,476   0.60%   6,034   1.03%   73.6%
Nationwide   1,291,477   1.85%   2,089,051   2.95%   61.8%
*Percentage of every 1,000 households in state
U.S. FORECLOSURE INDEX:
YEAR TO DATE REO FILINGS BY REGION
REO   YTD 2007   YTD 2008   Change
Region   Filings   Per Household   Filings   Per Household    
Midwest   182,176   1.13%   195,057   1.24%   7.1%
Southeast   146,068   0.89%   253,126   1.49%   73.3%
Northeast   26,333   0.24%   41,250   0.25%   56.7%
Southwest   241,544   0.93%   501,641   1.99%   107.7%
Other States   1,056   0.21%   1,496   0.27%   41.7%
Nationwide   597,177   0.85%   992,570   1.34%   66.2%
*Percentage of every 1,000 households in state

On a quarterly basis, the Index also shows that the number of properties lost to foreclosure, 266,986, and pre-foreclosure filings, 528,241, both dropped in the fourth quarter, 9.2 and 2.4 percent respectively, compared with the third quarter.

“While the sheer number of about 1 million foreclosures is staggering, it was not unexpected,” says Alexis McGee, foreclosure expert, educator, author, and president of ForeclosureS.com. “Since July, we anticipated that we would see about 1 million foreclosures this year.”

“But there is good news – a variety of indicators show that some housing markets are bouncing back and we should see substantial improvement in 2009,” McGee says. “I think 2009 will surprise many people who have bought into the gloom-and-doom agenda.”

“In some areas like California, the housing recovery already has begun,” McGee says. “Inventories of unsold homes will drop quickly this year as people realize that today’s deals on homes are the best they’ll likely see in their lifetimes, both in terms of affordable prices and low interest rates!”

“The earlier declines in foreclosures and pre-foreclosure filings were likely the result of changes in state laws that slowed down the foreclosure process for many homeowners. But lenders played catch-up with foreclosure filings at year-end as December’s numbers indicate,” McGee adds.

“Don’t expect another tidal wave of foreclosures this year, either, just because more adjustable rate mortgages are due to reset,” she says. “Current mortgage rates are at 30 year lows and dropping. Those who qualify will be able to refinance and enjoy lower monthly payments, not higher ones. Those that can’t will end up either selling their homes pre-foreclosure or losing them to foreclosure. But I am anticipating our market can absorb this inventory.”

McGee said her optimism for 2009 is driven in part by positive housing market indicators, including:

Housing affordability. Thanks to drops in home prices and mortgage rates, housing is the most affordable it’s been since February 1994, when a mortgage on a median-price home equated to 18 percent of the median income. Credit Suisse estimates today’s mortgage payment on a median price home in October represented 16.7 percent of median household income based on a 6.23% mortgage. At current 5% interest rates and dropping houses affordability is more likely under 15% of the median income.

Growing U.S. population. The Census Bureau projects with births, deaths and immigration U.S. population will increase by one person every 14 seconds in 2009. More people mean more demand for housing.

Coming housing shortage. Housing construction has plummeted. Housing starts hit record lows in November, off 18.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 625,000 units. New building permits plunged 15.6 percent. That’s great news for housing markets because with fewer homes being built at the same time population — and housing demand — is exploding, the shortfall has to be made up somehow. In this case, it opens the door for the nation’s one million foreclosures to be easily absorbed in the market, and housing supply finally to catch up with demand.

Buyers for foreclosure properties.Tighter housing supplies mean buyers will look to foreclosure homes as viable purchase options.We are so under building right now that whatever new foreclosures do hit the market, I see them offsetting the losses of new housing we need but are not getting,” says McGee.

Unemployment is an issue, but not as large as some think. “The unemployment rate released by the government for December was consistent with economists’ consensus estimates and came in considerably better than a private forecast released in early January,” McGee says. At 7.2%, unemployment is just shy of the 7.8% experienced during the 1990-1991 recession but still well below our double-digit levels of the early 1980s.

The following charts provide additional information on trends from the latest U.S. Foreclosure Index from ForeclosureS.com:

U.S. FORECLOSURE INDEX:
TOP 10 STATES IN NUMBERS OF REO FILINGS
State   Filings   Per Household*
California   260,709   2.27%
Florida   107,833   1.71%
Texas   70,037   1.17%
Arizona   65,898   3.47%
Michigan   62,419   2.09%
Georgia   53,423   2.55%
Ohio   47,544   1.22%
Nevada   37,043   4.99%
Colorado   30,132   1.96%
Illinois   27,957   0.74%
*Percentage of every 1,000 households in state

For all of 2008, California still tops the list in terms of number of REO filings with nearly 1 ½ times as many filings as No. 2 and 3 on the list, Florida and Texas.

On a per household basis – often the best way to judge trends – California ranks a distant fifth with 22.7 of every 1,000 households lost to foreclosure in 2008. That’s behind Nevada (49.9 for every 1,000 households in the state); Arizona (34.7 of every 1,000 households); Mississippi (25.6 per 1,000); and Georgia (25.5 per 1,000). On a quarterly basis, however, California’s 4 th quarter REO filings (54,198) plunged 39.44 percent from third quarter (89,501).

December 30, 2008

The single biggest (quiet) story of 2008

Easily the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Before and after this event the government threw money around like a drunk sailor on shore leave. If you had a hand out, the Fed put a cool billion right there in your sweaty palm.

Lehman? Left rolling in their own excrement and costing creditors something around $200B.

The way this entire financial meltdown has been handled is criminal. Just one more black mark on the legacy of the failed Bush 43 regime.

From the link:

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc’s emergency bankruptcy filing wiped out as much as $75 billion of potential value for creditors, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing an analysis by the bank’s restructuring advisers.

A more planned and orderly filing would have allowed Lehman to sell some assets outside of bankruptcy court protection and would have given it time to unwind derivatives positions, according to the analysis by Alvarez & Marsal.

The Journal said it was too early to say how much money Lehman creditors would recover; it said unsecured creditors have asserted they are owed $200 billion.

Lehman filed for bankruptcy protection in September after the U.S. government declined to bail it out and a frantic weekend of negotiations to save the investment bank failed.

December 18, 2008

The Fed’s toolbox …

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:57 pm

isn’t totally empty, even though the overnight funds rate is now effectively zero. Of course, we can always just the printing presses running 24/7 at the mint. (Before I get it from other fiscal conservatives, just kidding there on the last one.)

From the link:

When the Federal Reserve reduced its target for the federal funds rate to virtually zero this week, it appeared to have run out of room to attempt any further monetary stimulus for the economy.

That’s not really the case, and it is why the Fed statement stressed the wide-ranging open market operations it will use to inject money into the economy and drive down interest rates along the entire interest-rate curve, not just at the short end. The Fed will directly buy mortgages to flood that market with much-needed liquidity, and it will buy long-term Treasury bonds to drive down yields.

But just as the absence of interbank lending has rendered the federal funds target fairly useless as a tool, so too has it robbed central bank money of much of its impact, because there is no multiplier effect. That whole credit mechanism is broken for the time being, which means central bank money is going into the economy directly, without the amplification of bank lending on the basis of fractional reserves.

A theory on the financial crisis — a science fiction parable

Filed under: Arts, Business, et.al. — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:22 pm

I’ve been blogging on the current financial crisis since January 31, 2008, just a few weeks after I started this blog. In a way I’ve been a sideline observer as this process has heated up and become more public.

The Fed has been pretty busy behind the scenes for a while now (at least around two years) attempting to avoid what has become daily lead stories across broadcast and print media. Clearly these moves have been complete failures. I’m sure the Fed and SEC would argue things would be much worse without their interventions and policy tweaks.

I don’t know about that.

What is clear is we are in uncharted territory. And the government bodies in charge of fiscal policy don’t really have a clue what is going on. Credit default swaps, investment derivatives and other exotic high finance tools? Looks like no one really understands them. Not the parties using these tools, not the regulatory agencies charged with monitoring that use and certainly not the average investor whose money has been tied (maybe by a noose around the neck) to machinations of high finance.

Now don’t get me wrong — at some point high finance truly does become almost magical alchemy. It’s no longer balance sheets and stacks of physical money, it’s more arcane incantations, esoteric handshakes and ephemeral figures written on the sands of an imaginary beach.

Given all this, my theory is maybe it really is magic. Since a lot of the highest order finance these days is totally driven by computers and algorithms no single person understands, maybe a native artificial intelligence grew unbeknownst to anyone involved in the industry and is now rising against its masters. 2009 may become the Age of the Machine.

Hey, it’s as good an excuse as anything I’ve heard from Wall Street or DC for this mess. And makes about as much sense.


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December 17, 2008

Funds rate below half a percent

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:06 pm

It was expected the Fed would drop the funds rate to a historic low of 0.5 percent from the previous record-tying 1 percent.

Instead the rate is going to be a floating point between 0.25 and zero percent. And that decision is not expected to change anytime soon.

I keep writing this, but man, we’re into seriously uncharted waters. I just get the feeling Bernanke and Paulson are adrift without a paddle or a clue. I hope I’m wrong.

From the link:

The central bank typically sets a specific target for its federal funds rate instead of a range. The rate had previously been at 1% and this marks the first time the Fed has cut rates below 1%. Most investors were expecting the Fed to cut rates to either 0.25% or 0.5%.

The federal funds rate is an overnight lending rate used as a benchmark to set rates for a variety of loans, including adjustable rate mortgages, credit cards, home equity lines of credit and business loans. This marks the tenth time it has cut rates in the last 15 months.

Several banks announced they were lowering their prime rate to 3.25% in light of the Fed’s decision. Typically, the prime rate is 3 percentage points higher than the fed funds rate. It was 4% before Tuesday’s rate cut.

Despite the dramatic nature of the Fed’s move, some economists questioned whether it will have much effect on the economy. They said the problem for consumers and businesses right now is not the cost of borrowing, but the availability of credit and the weaker economic fundamentals.

“Lowering rates to this level is purely a psychological move made to send the message that the Fed is committed to righting the sinking economic ship,” said Rich Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research. He noted the previous rate cuts did little to stop home and auto sales from plunging.

December 5, 2008

The financial meltdown is not slowing

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:19 pm

On top of this week’s bleak jobless rate report, not one bit of economic news seems very heartening. I guess the biggest upside (if you can call it that) is the fact everyone finally agrees we are in a recession.

All the head-in-the-sand, la-la-la-la-singers out there are at least facing reality. That’s a start. If they had a bit more contact with “Main Street USA,” a major presidential campaign topic, they’d realized this thing has been going on for a long, long time. The US may not be in a new Depression just yet, but our economy has a lot of Americans in depression.

From the link:

The year-long U.S. recession has taken a turn for the worse recently, two top Federal Reserve policy-makers said on Thursday, raising expectations for aggressive policy action by the central bank as soon as next week.

Separately, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke urged more aggressive steps to halt home foreclosures, one of the most visible outcomes of the severe U.S. downturn.

Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans said that the economy is “contracting markedly” as consumer spending sinks and the jobless rate rises, and that a recovery might not be on tap until 2010.

“The outlook has clearly deteriorated” in the past six weeks, Evans told reporters after a speech to the Michigan Bankers Associationin Dearborn.

Evans’ comments were echoed by Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, who spoke at an energy conference in New Orleans and termed the near-term outlook “not encouraging.”

“Employment is expected to weaken further,” Lockhart said. House prices likely will continue to fall, with a further erosion of household wealth, while consumer spending will likely decline at least for the next few months.

If this financial crisis has grabbed your interest, or if you’d like a bit deeper analysis than daily Dow Jones reports and jobless announcements, the New Yorker published “Anatomy of  a Meltdown,”  by John Cassidy in the December 1, 2008 issue. That article can be found here.

It’s a bit long, but it does explain the steps the Fed has been taking for a whole lot longer than the general public understands to try and put “a finger in the dike” as the original strategy was phrased. Obviously that strategy was a non-starter and now we are staring down flat-out corporate socialism in the United States.

I highly recommend spending the time with Cassidy’s breakdown of the current financial crisis. He presents a very thorough timeline of actions taken, failures seen only in hindsight and a national economy still careening out of control.

From the New Yorker link:

The most serious charge against Bernanke and Paulson is that their response to the crisis has been ad hoc and contradictory: they rescued Bear Stearns but allowed Lehman Brothers to fail; for months, they dismissed the danger from the subprime crisis and then suddenly announced that it was grave enough to justify a huge bailout; they said they needed seven hundred billion dollars to buy up distressed mortgage securities and then, in October, used the money to purchase stock in banks instead. Summing up the widespread frustration with Bernanke, Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal think tank in Washington, told me, “He was behind the curve at every stage of the story. He didn’t see the housing bubble until after it burst. Until as late as this summer, he downplayed all the risks involved. In terms of policy, he has not presented a clear view. On a number of occasions, he has pointed in one direction and then turned around and acted differently. I would be surprised if Obama wanted to reappoint him when his term ends”—in January, 2010.

November 17, 2008

SEC ropes a maverick

I think the SEC has much bigger fish to fry than busting Mark Cuban for adding a portion of one percent to his fortune, but I guess those little regulators need a diversion right now to compensate for the ongoing failure of epic proportions that is the Fed, the Treasury, and the rest of the alphabet soup of financial regulatory bodies.

I’m going to go out on a limb to suggest this action totally squashes Cuban’s tiny hope for owning the Chicago Cubs. MLB is that dumb.

From the link:

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Monday that it had charged Mark Cuban, the billionaire Internet entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, with insider trading for selling 600,000 shares of an Internet search engine company.

The S.E.C. said Mr. Cuban sold the stock in the company, Mamma.com, based on nonpublic information about an impending stock offering. The commission asserted that Mr. Cuban avoided losses in excess of $750,000 by selling his stock prior to the public announcement of the offering.

The commission filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Cuban in Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas, accusing him of violating federal securities laws. It said it was seeking to impose financial penalties and confiscate gains from the trades.

In its complaint, the S.E.C. asserted that Mamma.com invited Mr. Cuban to participate in the stock offering in June 2004 after he agreed to keep the information confidential. The S.E.C.’s complaint asserted that Mr. Cuban knew that the offering would be conducted at a discount to the prevailing market price and that it would be dilutive to existing shareholders.