Saturday, December 01, 2007

Blog Commentators Make More Sense than Our Politicians

Every now and then, I'm reminded that your average citizen is not as dumb as some would take him/her for.

A government committee is now proposing to have holders of subprime mortgages compromise with their mortgagors, in order to get our housing boom/bust situation solved and avoid painful foreclosures.

parrots
[This illustration is called "Select committee" for some reason. Buy this poster and other beautiful ones from allposters. com.]

All this political posturing is nothing more than grandstanding. First of all, a mortgage is a contract, just in case no one is noticing. You cannot simply wave a wand and renegotiate the terms of a contract because you find it convenient.

Second of all, the mortgagees who are sitting around a table with Treasury Secretary Paulson, going "Yes of course, good idea," have got their fingers crossed behind their back. They are going along with the show but probably have no intention of making any great effort to see that the government's wishes are carried out. In other words, they know that this is grandstanding.

I've read a lot of commentary about this latest federal plan to solve the crisis, among them today's post at the LAland blog at the LA Times website. The suggestion is, in a nutshell, to freeze the introductory rate of the ARMs so that they don't reset higher for several more years.

I had to go no further than the seventh out of 57 comments to find Tim K., Nov. 30, 8:02 a.m., making great sense and explaining in clear English why you can't just change the terms of these contracts--a problem that very few experts (other than gadfly me) have mentioned to date, to my great chagrin. Here is Tim K's simple explanation:

"This will not have any appreciable effect, because the number of loans that will be allowed to [freeze] at introductory rates will be astonishingly small.

"The reason is this - most of the volume of the loans which were made are no longer held by the banks themselves. They have been bundled into SIVs that are held in retirement accounts and pension funds. An example:

"Suppose you bought into Tim's Super Fund, which yields 7% interest over 10 years. This fund was made up of loans which were purchased from hundreds of banks. You, as an investor, bought $5000 of this, expecting to get your $5000 back plus interest after a few years. Now, imagine, that someone from the government orders that these homeowners don't have to pay the expected rate. What happens to your 7% rate? Right, it goes WAY DOWN. Maybe even NEGATIVE. Who would buy into that fund in the future? What value does it have now?

"That's precisely why this will not happen. The naive folks putting together this bill will come to this realization, and like Arnold S, will find out that in fact, this affects less than a few percentage of the total distressed homeowners. But [these few have] already made waves, so for political reasons, [the politicians] will announce it anyway showing 'we care, we're doing something' when in fact, this will have almost no effect at all."

Must I say more?

It's so gratifying to see that the "common mortal" is still out in that misleadingly silent void we sometimes mistake for a black hole of common sense. Thanks, Tim K. You make me realize I'm not spouting off in a vacuum.

And another thing: Why is no one trying to round up those mortgage brokers who filled out all those fraudulent applications? And don't tell me we have to pass a law saying it is illegal to fill out fraudulent mortgage applications. It may not be illegal to sell too much house to someone who can't afford it, and maybe we can't prove that these people lied outright; but it's surely gross negligence not to verify someone's credit and income. (Is anyone out there a legal expert who can comment on this?)

Come on, all you ambulance chasers. Stop chasing ambulances and start hunting for mortgage hucksters and those who hired them. Let's clean up the mortgage business from the ground up, instead of asking the government to do everything for us.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good comments. About the brokers, no-doc deals are understood as just that by the investors that purchase no documentation loans. Investors were taking a small margin more in the rate for the "additional risk" in those cases. I believe the borrower attests to the accuracy of the information in the application. The broker fraud cases that I've heard of were where the broker had the applicant sign a blank application. That is fraud but I don't know how often that occurred. In any case, the applicant is signing off under a statement that says all of the above information is correct. To prosecute against the brokers in those cases, the applicants will need to testify that they signed something that they did not bother to read (same as the argument being made in all of the non-fraud cases). If we are to keep our right to contract, these borrowers must be held to their contracts.

11:49 AM  

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