Shelter Fallout

Though sometimes I do posts that are a melange of different items that have caught my attention, I do try when possible to gang them up under a common theme.I try not to do “linkfests” because I want my readers to get a little bit of interpretation from me, which they can then consider whether I know what I’m talking about or not. Anyway, tonight’s topic is housing. I didn’t get to my monetary policy 101 post this week — maybe next week. I do have three posts coming on Fed policy, credit markets, and international politics/economics. (As time permits, and ugh, I have to get my taxes done…. 🙁 )

1) The big question is how much further will housing prices fall, and when will the turn come. My guess is 2010 for the bottom, and a further compression of prices of 15% on average. Now there are views more pessimistic than that, but I can’t imagine that a 50% decline from the peak would not result in a depression-type scenario. (In that article, the UCLA projections are largely consistent with my views.) It is possible that we could overshoot to the downside. Markets do overshoot. At some level though, foreigners will find US housing attractive as vacation/flight homes. After all, with the declining dollar, it is even cheaper to them. Businesses will buy up homes as rentals, only to sell them late, during the next boom.
2) But, the reconciliation process goes on, and with it, losses have to go somewhere. In some cases, the banks in foreclosure refuse to take the title. Wow, I guess the municipality auctions it off in that case, but I could be wrong. Or, they let the non-paying borrowers stay. I guess the banks do triage, and decide what offers the most value to act on first, given constraints in the courts, and constraints in their own resources. Then again, developers can reconcile the prices of the land that they speculated on to acquire. In this case, cash is king, and the servant is the one that needs cash. I just wonder what it implies for the major homebuilders, with their incredible shrinking book values. Forget the minor homebuilders… Can one be worse off? Supposedly my father-in-law’s father lost it all in the great depression because he was doing home equity lending. There are wipeouts happening there today as well. Add in the articles about unused HELOC capacity getting terminated (happened to two friends of mine recently), and you can see how second-lien lending is shrinking at just the point that many would want it.

3) The reconciliation process goes on in other ways also. Consider PennyMac, as they look to acquire mortgage loans cheaply, restructure, and service them. Or, consider Fannie and Freddie, who are likely to raise more capital, and expand their market share (assuming guarantees don’t get the better of them). Or, consider the Fed, which has tilted the playing field against savers, and in favor of borrowers, particularly those with adjustable rate loans. No guarantee that the Fed can control LIBOR, though…

4) The reconciliation process steamrollers on. We’ve seen Bear Stearns get flattened trying to pick up one more nickel, and maybe Countrywide will get bought by Bank of America, but you also have banks with relatively large mortgage-lending platforms up for sale as well, like National City. Keycorp might bite, but I’ve seen Fifth Third rumors as well. Then there is UBS writing down their Alt-A book, along with a lot of other things.

5) A moment of silence for Triad Guaranty. A friend of mine said that they were the worst underwriter of the mortgage insurers. Seems that way now. Another friend of mine suggested that MGIC would survive off of their current capital raise. They stand a better chance than the others, but who can really tell, particularly if housing prices drop another 15%.

6) Beyond that, the financial guarantors have their problems. FGIC goes to junk at S&P. MBIA goes to AA at the operating companies, and single-A at the holding company at Fitch. I personally think that both MBIA and Ambac will get downgraded to AA by S&P and Moody’s. I also think that the market will live with it and not panic over it. That said, BHAC (Berky), Assured Guaranty, and FSA (Dexia) will get to write the new business, while the others are in semi-runoff.

7) Now for the cheap stuff. Amazing to see vacancy rates on office space in San Diego rising. I think it is a harbinger for the rest of the US.

8 ) Buy the home, take the copper, abandon the home, make a profit. Or, just steal the copper.

9) Bill Gross. A great bond manager, but overrated as a policy wonk. Many would like to see home prices rise, but others would like to buy a home at the right price. How do we justify discriminating against those who would like to buy a cheap house?

10) “The prudent will have to pay for the profligate.”  Well, yeah, that is much of life, in the short run.  In the long run, the prudent do better, absent aggressive socialism.  The habits of each lead to their rewards, and the ants eventually triumph over the grasshoppers.