Does anyone really think that homeowners can afford to pay 60% of their income for housing? Apparently, the architects of the latest loan modification program called HAMP do. Government officials are touting that they are saving the housing industry by modifying more than 1 million loans to date, and converting 170,000 of those to “permanent” status, with many more to come.
Those so-called “permanent modifications” cost the Borrower 31% of their income today, but the Borrower still has 60% of their income going to total debt obligations (credit card, HELOC, car payment, etc.). These statistics, known as the Back-end Debt to Income ratio, can be found on page 4 located here. Although not disclosed, we believe most of these loans exceed 100% LTV today as well. This is nothing more than a fully documented version of the same garbage that took down the banking system two years ago, and this time the Federal government rather than Countrywide and New Century are underwriting it. Almost all of these Borrowers will eventually re-default.
It is very obvious that the architects of HAMP are short-term focused, and are tricking us into thinking they are solving the problem by calling these permanent modifications. Until these loans are renamed, let’s call them “Liar Loans 2,” except this time the liar is the Bank of the United States rather than the Borrower because this modification is anything but “permanent”. We do believe that stabilizing home prices and the banking system are critical to the recovery of the U.S. economy, but let’s at least tell the truth about what is being done.
What this means for you is that the housing recovery that is being touted by elected officials is far from assured. There will be fewer homeowners thrown out on the street this month than would have occurred otherwise, but they will be tossed out later. The modification programs have helped stabilize home prices around the country, mostly because they have created so much confusion that people can live in their home for free for one year or more, and are buying time for thousands of banks to continue improving their balance sheets with earnings from good loans, while deferring the write-off of bad loans. The biggest beneficiaries of this program are the banks with the largest Home Equity Loan portfolios, which are also the banks needed to provide capital to businesses to start hiring again.
How does this change things? We will be adding 170K additional future foreclosures to our forecast, with many more to come, and guiding our clients through these turbulent times by analyzing every indicator we can get our hands on. Despite the negative tone of this email, there are and will continue to be plenty of opportunities to make money, particularly taking advantage of the distressed selling that will go on for years, but having a long term investment horizon. Also, the national housing market is becoming more local than ever, which means those with local market knowledge, or the ability to roll up all of the local factors into a national view, will make the most money. In other words, those who do their homework will get straight A’s.