The Beginning Of The End
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Prepare For Tough Times If Your Job Has Anything To Do With Real Estate Or Mortgages

Housing Crash 2013If you have a job that involves building homes, buying homes, selling homes or that is in any way related to the mortgage industry, you might want to start searching for alternate employment.  Seriously.  Interest rates are starting to rise dramatically, and mortgage lenders such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are all cutting thousands of mortgage-related jobs.  Last week, mortgage refinance activity plunged to the lowest level that we have seen since June 2009 and total mortgage activity dropped to the lowest level since October 2008.  Unfortunately, this is only the beginning.  Mortgage rates closely mirror the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries, the the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has nearly doubled since early May.  But it is still only sitting at about 3 percent right now.  As I have written about previously, it has a ton of room to go up before it hits “normal” historical levels, and so do mortgage rates.  As I noted the other day, some analysts believe that the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is going to hit 7 percent eventually.  If that happens, mortgage rates will be more than double what they are today.  And we have already seen the average rate on a 30 year fixed rate mortgage go from 3.35 percent in May to 4.57 percent last week.  If interest rates continue to rise we could be heading for a “housing Armageddon” that will make the last housing crash look like a Sunday picnic.

The mini-housing bubble that we have been enjoying for the last couple of years is coming to an abrupt end.  It doesn’t matter what the mainstream media is telling you about a “sustainable” housing recovery.  Just look at how the big mortgage lenders are behaving.  They know the gig is up.  According to Bloomberg, Bank of America has just announced that they will be eliminating 2,100 mortgage-related jobs…

Bank of America Corp., the second-largest U.S. lender, will eliminate about 2,100 jobs and shutter 16 mortgage offices as rising interest rates weaken loan demand, said two people with direct knowledge of the plans.

Would they be doing that if we were really heading into a “sustainable housing recovery”?

And Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are also both eliminating thousands of mortgage-related jobs

Mortgage lenders are paring staff as higher interest rates discourage refinancing and cast doubt on how long the housing market rebound will last. Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. home lender, plans more than 2,300 job cuts, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. may dismiss 15,000.

Would they be doing this if they thought that brighter days were ahead?

Of course not.

In fact, Well Fargo just announced that it expects to make 30 percent fewer home loans this quarter because of rapidly rising interest rates.

It’s over folks.

The mini-housing bubble that the mainstream media has been hyping so much is over.

If your job has anything to do with real estate or mortgages, it is time to start thinking about a career change.

This is especially true if your job is related to refinancing mortgages.  All of the smart people have already refinanced.  As rates continue to rise rapidly, the only ones that will be refinancing are really stupid people.  According to Zero Hedge, mortgage refinance activity has already dropped by a whopping 70 percent since early May…

For the 16th of the last 18 weeks, mortgage refinance activity plunged (dropping 20% this week alone). Since early May, when the dreaded word “Taper” was first uttered, refis have collapsed over 70%. With mortgage servicers and providers large and small laying people off, it seems hard for even the most egregiously biased bull to still suggest that the housing recovery is sustainable.

And this rise in interest rates is just getting started.  The Federal Reserve has not even begun to “taper” yet.  Once that starts happening, the consequences could be quite dramatic

“In early 1994, when the U.S. recovery gained strength, the Fed started a tightening cycle and bond markets crashed not only in the U.S. but also around the world,” European Central Bank Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen said on Tuesday.

“If spillovers were large in 1994, we can expect them to be even larger today in an even more deeply interconnected world,” he added in the text of a speech for delivery in Brussels.

Of course when the Federal Reserve “tapers” their quantitative easing it won’t really be “tightening” as much as it will be slowing down the pace at which they are recklessly creating tens of billions of dollars out of thin air.  But the effect will be similar to what we saw back in 1994.

As interest rates rise, it will become much more expensive to buy a home and much more difficult to sell a home.  To give you an idea of how dramatically interest rates can affect housing affordability, I wanted to share some numbers from one of my previous articles

A year ago, the 30 year rate was sitting at 3.66 percent.  The monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1374.07.

If the 30 year rate rises to 8 percent, the monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $2201.29.

Does 8 percent sound crazy to you?

It shouldn’t.  8 percent was considered to be normal back in the year 2000.

Are you starting to get the picture?

As interest rates go up, home prices will have to fall.  Otherwise, nobody will be able to afford them.

In the end, we could end up with tens of millions more homeowners that are substantially “underwater” on their mortgages.

So who is to blame?

The Federal Reserve of course.

They created this bubble by forcing interest rates down to record low levels.

At some point it was inevitable that interest rates would start reverting back to more “normal” levels, and that “adjustment” is going to be immensely painful for the U.S. economy.

As we saw back in 2008 and 2009, when the housing industry suffers the entire economy suffers.

And the higher that interest rates go, the more suffering there will be.

So let us hope and pray that interest rates do not go any higher, but let us also start preparing for the very worst.

18 Reasons Why You Can Stick A Fork In The New Home Construction Industry

If you make your living by building or selling new homes in the United States, you might want to consider taking up a different career for a while.  New homes sales in the United States hit yet another new all-time record low in the month of February, and there are a whole lot of reasons why new home sales are going to stay extremely low for an extended period of time.  The massive wave of foreclosures that we have seen has produced a giant glut of unsold homes in the marketplace, mortgage lenders are making it really hard to get approved for home loans, unemployment is still rampant and the global economy looks like it may soon plunge into another major recession.  None of those things is good news for the new home construction industry.  The truth is that we were supposed to have seen new home sales already bounce back by now.  If you look at the historical numbers, new home sales in the U.S. always increased significantly after the end of every recession since World War 2.  But that did not happen this time.  Instead, new home sales have just continued to decline.  This is absolutely unprecedented, and economists are puzzled.  So what is going to happen if the U.S. economy suffers another major downturn?

New home construction has always been one of the foundational pillars of the U.S. economy.  When times were good new home construction would boom, and when times were bad new home construction would falter.

Well, unfortunately the industry is stuck in the midst of a multi-year decline right now.  The reality is that you can stick a fork in the new home construction industry in the United States.  It is toast.  There is going to be no recovery for the foreseeable future.

Not that previously owned homes are doing that much better.  According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of previously existing homes in the United States dropped 9.6 percent in February.  But at least sales of previously owned homes are not at all-time record lows like new home sales are.

As you can see from the facts posted below, new home sales are absolutely abysmal right now, and there are a lot of indications that things may get even worse.  The following are 18 reasons why you can stick a fork in the new home construction industry….

#1 New home sales in the United States set a brand new all-time record low in the month of February.

#2 Only 19,000 new homes were sold in the United States during the month of February. The previous record low for new home sales during the month of February was 27,000, which was set last year.

#3 The “months of supply” of new homes in the U.S. rose from 7.4 months in January to 8.9 months in February.

#4 The median price of a new home in the United States declined almost 14 percent to $202,100 in the month of February.

#5 The median price of a new home in the U.S. is now the lowest it has been since December 2003.

#6 As of the end of 2010, new home sales in the United States had declined for five straight years, and they are expected to be lower once again in 2011.

#7 Now home sales in the United States are now down 80% from the peak in July 2005.

#8 New home construction starts in the United States fell 22.5 percent during the month of February.  This was the largest decline in 27 years.

#9 In February, the number of new building permits (a measure of future home building activity) declined to the lowest level in more than 50 years.  In fact, new building permits were 20 percent lower during February 2011 than they were in February 2010.

#10 There is a major glut of foreclosed homes that still need to be sold off.  David Crowe, the chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, recently told CNN that the constant flow of new foreclosures being put on the market is a huge hindrance to a recovery for new home sales….

“One of the biggest detriments to building new homes is the flow of existing foreclosed homes.”

#11 The number of foreclosures just continues to increase.  This means that those trying to sell new homes are going to continue to be competing against a giant mountain of foreclosed homes for the foreseeable future.  An all-time record of 2.87 million U.S. households received a foreclosure filing in 2010, and that number is expected to be even higher in 2011.

#12 In fact, there are a whole lot of signs that there will be very high levels of foreclosures for years to come.  For example, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are at least one month behind on their mortgage payments at this point.

#13 A stunningly high number of Americans are “underwater” on their mortgages right now.  This could lead to an increase in the number of “strategic defaults”.  31 percent of the homeowners that responded to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey indicated that they are “underwater” on their mortgages, and Deutsche Bank is projecting that 48 percent of all U.S. mortgages could have negative equity by the end of 2011.

#14 The truth is that the U.S. doesn’t need a whole lot of new housing at the moment.  Right now, 11 percent of all homes in the United States are currently standing empty.

#15 Mortgage lending standards have become extremely tight.  Back during the housing bubble, almost anyone that was breathing could get a zero-down mortgage.  Today, mortgage lenders have made it extremely difficult to acquire a home loan, and it is quite typical these days for lenders to demand down payments of 20 percent or more.  This is dramatically reducing the number of home buyers in the marketplace.

#16 American families cannot buy homes if they do not have good jobs.  Unfortunately, it has become extremely difficult to find a job in the United States today.  This is especially true if you are looking for a good job.  It now takes the average unemployed worker in America about 33 weeks to find a job.

#17 There is not going to be a jobs recovery until the overall economy improves.  Unfortunately, the price of oil continues to rise dramatically and economic disasters all over the planet threaten to plunge the global economy into another major recession.

#18 On top of everything else, perceptions regarding home ownership are shifting in the United States.  In 1996, 89 percent of Americans believed that it was better to own a home than to rent one.  Today that number has fallen to 63 percent.

Foreclosure-Gate

If you work in the mortgage industry or for a title insurer, you might not want to make any plans for the next six months.  Foreclosure-Gate is about to explode.  It is being alleged that many prominent mortgage lenders have been using materially flawed paperwork to evict homeowners.  Apparently officials at quite a few of these firms have been signing thousands upon thousands of foreclosure documents without even looking at them.  In addition, it is being alleged that much of the documentation for these mortgages that are being foreclosed upon is either “improper” or is actually “missing”.  As lawyers start to smell blood in the water, lawsuits challenging these foreclosures have already started springing up from coast to coast.  In fact, some are already calling Foreclosure-Gate the biggest fraud in the history of the capital markets.  JPMorgan Chase, Ally Bank’s GMAC Mortgage and PNC Financial have all suspended foreclosures in the 23 U.S. states where foreclosures must be approved by a judge.  Bank of America has actually suspended foreclosures in all 50 states.  Now, law enforcement authorities from coast to coast are calling for investigations into this controversy and it could be years before this thing gets unraveled.

This thing just seems to escalate with each passing day.  It is being reported that the attorneys general of up to 40 U.S. states will be working together on a joint investigation into this foreclosure crisis.  Lawmakers in both houses of the U.S. Congress, including Nancy Pelosi and Christopher Dodd, have called for an investigation to begin on the national level.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that he is looking into the issue.  Things are certainly getting very serious out there.  Never before has there ever been such a national focus on foreclosure paperwork.

But apparently there are good reasons for such scrutiny….

*One GMAC Mortgage official admitted during a December 2009 deposition that his team of 13 people signed approximately 10,000 foreclosure documents a month without reading them.

*One Bank of America employee confessed during a Massachusetts bankruptcy case that she signed up to 8,000 foreclosure documents a month and typically did not look them over “because of the volume”.

But the “robo-signing” aspect of Foreclosure-Gate is just the tip of the iceberg.  Apparently there is a whole lot more going on than just a bunch of bad signatures. 

Peter J. Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, was recently quoted by MSNBC as saying the following about Foreclosure-Gate….

“You’ve got so many potential avenues of liability. You don’t even know the parameters of this yet.”

The sad truth is that potentially millions of foreclosures across the United States could potentially be invalid because the securitization process has muddied the chain of ownership.  In fact, an increasing number of judges from coast to coast have been ruling that the “owners” of the mortgage have no right to foreclose on a property because they lack clear title.

At the core of this title controversy is MERS – Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems.  MERS is based in Reston, Virginia and it was created by the mortgage industry to enable that big financial firms to securitize and swap mortgages at high speed.  MERS allowed these big financial firms to largely avoid the hassle of filling out more forms and submitting new filing fees every time that a mortgage was traded.

But now MERS is facing some very serious legal challenges.  A recent article in Businessweek described the situation this way….

A lawsuit filed on September 28th in federal court in Louisville on behalf of all Kentucky homeowners claims that MERS was part of a conspiracy to create false promissory notes, affidavits, and mortgage assignments to be used in mortgage foreclosures. Similar class actions have been filed on behalf of homeowners in Florida and New York. Karmela Lejarde, a MERS spokeswoman, declined to comment on any pending litigation.

The reality is that as millions of U.S. mortgages have been bunched together and traded around the globe at lightning speed, it has become increasingly unclear who actually has title to them and who actually has the right to foreclose on these properties.

Title insurers have backed the titles of millions of these foreclosed properties and now potentially find themselves in a heap of trouble.  Some of the biggest title insurers have already begun circling the wagons in an attempt at damage control.  For example, one of the biggest title insurance companies in the United States, Old Republic National Title Insurance, has already declared that it will no longer write new policies for homes that have been foreclosed on by JPMorgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage.

So what happens if nearly all title insurers start avoiding foreclosed properties? 

Won’t that make it much more difficult for the banks to sell the massive backlog of foreclosed properties that they have accumulated?

In addition, Americans that have purchased foreclosed homes may now be facing some serious problems themselves.  Millions of Americans may now “own” homes that they do not have clear title for.  When it comes times to sell those homes, many Americans may find themselves unable to do so. 

Needless to say, this is a complete and total mess.

Already, U.S. banks have a record number of foreclosed properties that they need to clear out, and now all of this scrutiny on foreclosure paperwork and all of these lawsuits are going to grind the process of getting these homes sold off to a standstill.

In fact, the true legacy of Foreclosure-Gate may be the massive amount of bank failures that it causes.

It would be difficult to understate how much of a nightmare Foreclosure-Gate is going to be for U.S. mortgage lenders.  Having to go back through the paperwork of millions of old mortgages is going to be a complete and total disaster.  If banks end up being unable to foreclose on a large number of bad mortgages, it could potentially be enough to put many banks out of commission for good.  Not only that, but the legal fees that many of these banks will accumulate defending lawsuits related to Foreclosure-Gate will be astronomical.

The U.S. mortgage industry was already on the verge of death, and Foreclosure-Gate may just be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The reality is that U.S. banks are drowning in foreclosures and this current crisis is just going to make things a lot worse.  Back in 2005, there were approximately 100,000 home repossessions in the United States.  In 2009, there were approximately 1 million home repossessions in the U.S. and RealtyTrac is now projecting that there will be an all-time record of 1.2 million home repossessions in the United States this year.

For the U.S. mortgage industry, Foreclosure-Gate must feel like someone has dropped a bomb on them after they have already been beaten up and doused with gasoline.

Attorney Richard Kessler, who recently conducted a study that found serious errors in approximately three-fourths of court filings related to home repossessions, says that Foreclosure-Gate could haunt the U.S. mortgage industry for the next ten years….

“Defective documentation has created millions of blighted titles that will plague the nation for the next decade.”

While it may be easy to beat up U.S. mortgage lenders and say that they deserve all this, let us not forget that this is going to impact a whole lot of other people too.

It is going to become much harder to get a mortgage.  It is going to become much harder to buy a home.  It is going to become much harder to sell a home.  The U.S. housing industry is likely to suffer a significant downturn due to all of this.  There is even a good chance that the entire U.S. economy could be dragged down for an extended period of time.

So no, Foreclosure-Gate is not good news for anyone. 

Well, except maybe for lawyers. 

But for virtually everyone else this is really bad news.  Any hope that the U.S. housing industry would experience a quick recovery is completely and totally gone.

More Bad News: 10 Things You Should Know About The Latest Economic Numbers

On Friday, headlines across the United States declared that “unemployment remains unchanged at 9.6%”.  Many analysts rejoiced and heralded this announcement as a sign that we have hit bottom and that things will be turning around soon.  But is that the truth?  A closer look at the unemployment numbers reveals some disturbing facts.  For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a broader measure of unemployment that includes workers that have stopped looking for work rose sharply to 17.1%.  But that is not the only troubling sign from this past week.  Agricultural commodities continue to skyrocket, which means that food price increases are on the way.  The foreclosure “robo-signing” crisis continues to escalate, and that threatens to throw the entire mortgage industry into a state of absolute turmoil.  Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt continues to grow and wealth continues to leave the United States at a dizzying rate

So is there reason for optimism?

No, not really.

Even if the unemployment numbers had improved slightly, the longer-term trends for unemployment are extremely troubling as you will see from the statistics and the chart below.

At the same time when so many Americans are out of work or can barely get by on what they are currently making, there is every indication that prices are about to go up.  Wheat, corn and soybeans all jumped in price on Friday, and it is inevitable that at some point these price increases will be passed on to consumers.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, now some Federal Reserve officials are actually talking about purposely generating more inflation in order to “stimulate” the U.S. economy.  

Meanwhile, this “robo-signing” foreclosure crisis threatens to escalate totally out of control.  Will we soon see thousands of court cases popping up from coast to coast challenging the legitimacy of foreclosure paperwork?  Will title insurers start totally backing off from foreclosed properties?  Banks were already completely overwhelmed trying to process the massive backlog of foreclosures.  Is this going to make the situation a whole lot worse?

The truth is that more bad news for the U.S. economy comes out almost daily now.  The following are 10 things that you need to know about the latest econ0mic numbers…. 

1 – Gallup’s measure of unemployment, which is not adjusted for “seasonal factors”, showed a sharp increase in September.  According to Gallup, unemployment has increased from 8.9% in July to 9.3% in August and to 10.1% in September.

2 – The seasonally-adjusted Alternate Unemployment Rate compiled by Shadow Government Statistics shows that the real unemployment rate in the United States is worse than it has been ever since the economic downturn began.  The Alternate Unemployment Rate calculated by SGS reflects estimated “long-term discouraged workers”, which the U.S. government stopped keeping track of back in 1994….

3 – The number of Americans working part-time jobs “for economic reasons” is now the highest it has been in at least five decades.

4 – 15.8% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 were unemployed during the month of September.

5 – Agricultural commodities continued to move higher on Friday.  Wheat, corn and soybeans all saw their prices soar.  Unfortunately for American consumers, this is part of a broader trend of rising agricultural commodity prices.  As this continues, it is inevitable that we will all be seeing much higher food prices at our local grocery stores. 

6 – It is being reported that PNC Financial Services Group has suspended the sale of foreclosed homes for the next thirty days.  This is the fourth major lender to take dramatic action recently.  Will nearly all U.S. mortgage lenders eventually be caught up in this crisis before it is over?

7 – Bank of America announced on Friday that it is now going to suspend sales of foreclosed homes in all 50 U.S. states as it continues to evaluate internal foreclosure procedures.  This “foreclosure crisis” threatens to decimate the entire U.S. real estate industry.  What has happened is that millions of U.S. mortgages were sold and resold around the globe at lightning speed and the chain of ownership for many of these mortgages become muddied.  In addition, it is starting to emerge that many of these lenders used fraudulent loan documents during foreclosure proceedings and company officials often used “robo-signers” to sign important foreclosure documents.  So now mortgage lenders, title insurers and those buying or selling foreclosed homes will be facing years of gridlock and chaos as foreclosure-related lawsuits multiply exponentially.  All of this is going to have a dramatic effect on the U.S. real estate market.  In fact, it is being reported that U.S. home sales are already starting to be affected by this crisis. 

8 – The U.S. National debt just keep growing.  If you took the national debt and divided it up among all Americans, each American (including children) would owe approximately $42,000.  So, for an average family of four, their share of the national debt would be $168,000.

9 – Interest payments on the U.S. national debt increased 13% in the fiscal year that ended September 30th.  If interest payments continue to increase that rapidly each year they will bankrupt the U.S. government very quickly. 

10 – It appears that some weird games are being played with the national debt numbers.  Back on September 29th, the U.S. national debt was 13.466 trillion dollars.  On September 30th, the U.S. national debt soared to 13.561 trillion dollars.  Then on October 1st, the beginning of the new fiscal year for the federal government, the U.S. national debt jumped up to 13.610 trillion dollars.  So how in the world does the U.S. national debt jump by a whopping 144 billion dollars in just two days?  Somebody has some explaining to do for this kind of accounting.

The United States was once the wealthiest nation by far on the entire planet.

But now we are in such a rapid decline that it is hard for most Americans to even comprehend it.

We are like that one couple that almost every neighborhood seems to have that has two shiny new cars in their driveway, that dresses in designer clothes and that seems to have plenty of money to take vacations and yet is in debt up to their eyeballs.

The truth is that the United States keeps getting poorer every single month.  The term “trade deficit” is not very sexy, but it is critically important to understand if you want to comprehend what is happening to the U.S. economy.  Every month tens of billions of dollars more wealth goes out of the United States than comes into it.  We are continually getting poorer.

To cover up our declining national wealth, we have gone into staggering amounts of debt.  We have maintained our lavish standard of living by piling up staggering amounts of debt on the national, corporate and consumer levels. 

The sad reality is that the U.S. government is not the wealthiest government in the world any longer.  Rather, it is the government that is the most in debt.  The U.S. national debt is the biggest debt that the world has ever seen, and it grows larger every single day.

We can’t keep up this charade forever.  At some point it is going to stop.

When this house of cards does come tumbling down, do you think that the American people are going to be pleased to learn that our leaders have squandered our once great wealth and have destroyed the greatest economic machine that the world has ever known?

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