Thursday, October 11, 2007

Subprime Mortgages are More Widespread Geographically and Economically Then Previously Thought

The WSJ completed the first large-0scale public analysis of the sub-prime market. The results in a nutshell shell are sub-prime mortgages are more pervasive across the country then previously thought. They cut across geographic and income boundaries more evenly then previously thought. The real estate slump will be with us for some time to come. This article is worth a read with some good maps and charts.

As America's mortgage markets began unraveling this year, economists seeking explanations pointed to "subprime" mortgages issued to low-income, minority and urban borrowers. But an analysis of more than 130 million home loans made over the past decade reveals that risky mortgages were made in nearly every corner of the nation, from small towns in the middle of nowhere to inner cities to affluent suburbs.

The analysis of loan data by The Wall Street Journal indicates that from 2004 to 2006, when home prices peaked in many parts of the country, more than 2,500 banks, thrifts, credit unions and mortgage companies made a combined $1.5 trillion in high-interest-rate loans. Most subprime loans, which are extended to borrowers with sketchy credit or stretched finances, fall into this basket.

High-rate mortgages accounted for 29% of the total number of home loans originated last year, up from 16% in 2004. About 10.3 million high-rate loans were made in the past three years, out of a total of 43.6 million mortgages. High-rate lending jumped by an even larger percentage in 68 metropolitan areas. . . .

To examine the surge in subprime lending, the Journal analyzed more than 250 million records on mortgage applications and originations filed by lenders under the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Subprime mortgages were initially aimed at lower-income consumers with spotty credit. But the data contradict the conventional wisdom that subprime borrowers are overwhelmingly low-income residents of inner cities. Although the concentration of high-rate loans is higher in poorer communities, the numbers show that high-rate lending also rose sharply in middle-class and wealthier communities. . . . .

. . . . High-rate loans are those that carry interest rates of three percentage points or more over U.S. Treasurys of comparable durations.

The Journal's findings reveal that the subprime aftermath is hurting a far broader array of Americans than many realize, cutting across differences in income, race and geography. From investors hoping to strike it rich by speculating on condominiums to the working poor chasing the homeownership dream, subprime loans burrowed into the heart of the American financial system -- and now are bringing deepening woe.

The data also show that some of the worst excesses of the subprime binge continued well into 2006, suggesting that the pain could last through next year and beyond, especially if housing prices remain sluggish. . . . . (my emphasis)

. . . . The data suggest that financial suffering is likely to persist in many parts of the U.S. where subprime lending had surged. Many loans at risk of going bad have not yet done so. As much as $600 billion of adjustable-rate subprime loans, for example, are due to adjust to higher rates by the end of 2008, which means that more and more borrowers are likely to fall behind. . . . .

. . . . Seven of the 10 large metro areas now struggling with the highest foreclosure rates -- including Miami, Detroit and Las Vegas -- saw borrowers barrel into high-rate loans much faster than the country as a whole. In a forthcoming study in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Daniel Immergluck, an associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, found a similar pattern between foreclosures occurring in early 2006 and cities with high subprime lending in 2003.

. . . . Higher-income home buyers began using such loans for larger purchases. Among borrowers characterized in the data as white with annual income of at least $300,000, the number of high-rate loans jumped 74% last year, the numbers show. The average high-rate loan grew 10% to $158,000 last year, compared with a 1% rise in the average size of all home loans. The 2006 data include records from 8,886 lenders nationwide, which generate an estimated 80% of U.S. home mortgages.

Who will be left holding the bag for mortgages that go sour? Wall Street bought lots of subprime loans and packaged them into securities for sale to investors. The data show that lenders shifted even more of their riskiest loans to investors as the boom began to fizzle.

About 63% of high-rate mortgages originated in 2004 were sold that same year, compared with 68% of all home loans, the data indicate. Last year, about 73% of new high-rate loans were sold, compared with 67% of all home loans. Last year, the average high-rate loan carried an interest rate that was 5.6 percentage points higher than a Treasury security of comparable maturity -- up from 5.3 points in 2005 and 4.8 points in 2004.

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