Ides of March: Housing Starts Drop -6.75% MoM in March (Midwest Starts Drop -16.22%)

It was the Ides of March (best known as the assasination date of Julius Caesar) for housing.  Housing starts dropped -6.75% month-over-month (MoM) in March. Both 1 unit starts and 5+ (multifamily) starts were down for March.

The decline was led by the Midwest at -16.22%. But the West had nearly the same decline as the Midwest.

Way out West? Down 16% from February.

Notice that neither the Midwest or West have nearly the growth that they experienced during the housing bubble.

And this is in spite of staggering monetary stimulus from The Federal Reserve.

“You mean our zero interest rate policy and massive agency MBS purchases DIDN’T stimulate housing construction like before???”

Battle Royale: JPMC’s Dimon and Minneapolis Fed’s Kashkari Battle Over Bank Capital

Bloomberg has nice piece on the battle between JPMorganChase’s Jamie Dimon and the Minneapolis Fed’s Neel Kashkari.

(Bloomberg) Jamie Dimon is America’s most famous banker, and Neel Kashkari is its most outspoken bank regulator, so it’s not a shock that they would eventually come to blows. What’s interesting is that their contretemps is over an acronym that most Americans have never heard of, but one that may be central to preventing another recession.

TLAC, which is pronounced TEE-lack, is something you need to know about if you want to judge the sparring between Dimon, the well-coiffed chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Kashkari, the very bald man who ran for governor of California on the Republican ticket and is now president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

On April 6, Kashkari went after Dimon in a way that circumspect central bankers ordinarily don’t. In an essay published on Medium and republished on the Minneapolis Fed website, he challenged Dimon’s assertion in his annual letter to shareholders that 1) there’s no longer a risk that taxpayers will be stuck with the bill if a big bank fails, and 2) banks have too much capital (meaning an unnecessarily thick safety cushion). Wrote Kashkari: “Both of these assertions are demonstrably false.”

This is where TLAC comes in, so bear down for a bit of bank accounting. TLAC stands for total loss-absorbing capacity. The more capacity that a bank has to absorb losses, the smaller the risk that it will require a taxpayer-funded government bailout. So lots of TLAC is good. But not all TLAC is created equal. Kashkari argues that a lot of what Dimon calls TLAC on paper wouldn’t be available to absorb losses in a real-world crisis.

Imagine that a whale swims up the Thames River and beaches itself in the City of London, causing billions of dollars in losses to Bank X. If the loss is really big or Bank X is weak (unlike JPMorganChase, which most emphatically is not weak), then one such hit could push it into insolvency. The first thing that happens is that the price of the stock falls to zero. Shareholders, in other words, are the first to absorb losses. That’s fair: Shareholders get all the profit that a bank makes after paying its expenses, so they should have to take the hit when the bank’s profit is wiped out unexpectedly.

The fight between Dimon and Kashkari is over who absorbs the rest of the loss. According to Dimon, it’s the unsecured bondholders. (Unsecured meaning they don’t have a legal claim to any specific asset on the bank’s balance sheet.) Unsecured bondholders are informed that, sorry, there’s been a loss. They’re not going to get their interest payments anymore, and their bonds are being converted into common shares. Now they’re at the back of the line with the rest of the bank’s shareholders; they’ll get paid only if the bank starts making a profit again.

The beauty of the system outlined by Dimon is that taxpayers aren’t exposed to risk because if a bank gets in trouble it has a great, big escape hatch: It simply wipes out its bondholders, thus conserving its money.

“It sounds like an ideal solution,” Kashkari writes. “The problem is that it almost never actually works in real life.” In a financial crisis, regulators worry about contagion. If bondholders of one bank are defaulted on, those of other banks will worry they’re next and yank their support, causing a downward spiral of confidence that crashes the economy. So the regulators make sure bondholders keep getting paid.

“Indeed,” Kashkari writes, “the most recent crisis showed that even some debt holders who had been explicitly told that they would take losses during a crisis got bailed out.”

Kashkari argues that regulators and bankers should stop acting as if bonds are part of TLAC (which, remember, stand for total loss-absorbing capacity), because when push comes to shove, bondholders will absorb few if any losses. Taxpayers will be forced to step up and make sure they keep getting paid.

Kashkari also disses Dimon’s argument that banks’ safety cushions are needlessly thick. Dimon wrote to shareholders that if the Federal Reserve standards weren’t so tough, “banks probably would have been more aggressive in making some small business loans, lower-rated middle market loans, and near-prime mortgages.” Kashkari’s response? “Mr. Dimon argues that the current capital standards are restraining lending and impairing economic growth, yet he also points out that JPMorgan bought back $26 billion in stock over the past five years. If JPMorgan really had demand for additional loans from creditworthy borrowers, why did it turn those customers away and instead choose to buy back its stock?”

Mr. Kashkari has a valid point. Check out the bank capital to total assets during the housing bubble of the last decade. From 2004-2007, bank capital to total assets exceeded 10%, but fell under 10% for 2008. And we all remember TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program signed into law on October 3, 2008). Starting in 2o08, bank capital was strengthed to 12.74% of total bank assets by 2010, but has slipped to under 12% by 2013.

Of course, not all capital (and capital ratios) are equal. Take a look at Chase Bank’s Basel III standardized regulatory capital and advanced transitional regulatory capital. Chase Bank’s Tier 1 capital under Basel III Advanced Transition is now under 10% at 9%. JPMorgan_Chase_Co_4Q16_Basel_Pillar_3_Report

JPMorganChase has credit risk exposure to residential and commercial real estate, C&I loans, consumer auto loans and student loans.

Can any large bank survive if home prices and/or commercial real estate prices burst and fall 20%?

So while it seems that Dimon is correct (stiff the unsecured bondholders), Kashkari is also correct in that regulators may panic (again) and try to preserve the unsecured bondholders. That is, bail out the unsecured bond holders.

Maybe Dimon and  Kashkari can settle their “battle royale” by doing it “the Swanson Way.” 

Wells Fargo Mortgage Applications Fall To Lowest Since 2005* (The Wells Fargo Mortgage Wagon ISN’T Coming!)

It is reporting season for American banks and Wells Fargo’s came out today. first-quarter-earnings-supplement

Of particular interest is the decline in residential mortgage applications for Wells Fargo, the lowest since 2005. Because that is the last year for which there is data on Bloomberg for Wells Fargo.*

Mortgage originations? About the same as Q1 2016, but substantially below levels seen in 2012. Q1 2017 is the second lowest level of originations sine 2005.

It just isn’t Wells Fargo. Take Bank of America. But Wells claimed their niche was the residential mortgage market while other banks retreated from the market.

Low wage growth coupled with regulatory overreach by Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has diminished residential mortgage lending by the banks.

So, the Wells Fargo (mortgage lending) wagon isn’t coming. And it isn’t for other big banks either. But PROFITS increased for mortgage bankers  in 2016.

While Wells Fargo was still the leading mortgage originator in Q3 2016, shadow bank Quicken is challenging Chase for 2nd place with PennyMac challenging US Bank for 4th place in the mortgage origination derby.

Maybe Dan Gilbert, the CEO of Quicken Loans and the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, should adopt the Wells Fargo wagon song for Quicken! Because it seems that Wells Fargo’s wagon isn’t bring the home loans as expected.

MBA Residential Mortgage Application Index Hits Highest Level Since May 2010 .. And It Is Only April!!

As mortgage interest rates hit a new 2017 low, we now see mortgage purchase applications rising to its highest level since May 2010.

This new level is in spite of mortgage originations for borrowers with credit scores under 620 playing a lesser than during the financial crisis. Although mortgage originations for borrowers with credit scores under 620 are at their highest level since March 2010. So both mortgage purchase applications (SA) and under 620 credit score mortgage borrowers are at their highest levels since 2010.

With the worst wage recovery after a recession in modern history, expanding the “credit envelope” is about the only way to expand mortgage lending.

In other words, mortgage credit for borrowers under 620 FICO score is expanding at the fastest pace since Dodd-Frank and The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were created in 2010.

Elizabeth Warren, architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

 

Commercial Mortgage Originations Suffer First YoY Decline Since 2007 (C&I Lending Growth Dropping)

Yes, commercial mortgage originations suffered the first YoY decline since 2007.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association 4Q 2016 commercial real estate loan originations survey, mortgage originations related to discretionary segments of the economy are in complete free fall with retail and hotel volumes down 19% and 39%, respectively4Q16CMFOriginationsSurvey

A decrease in originations for hotel, health care, and retail properties led the overall decline in commercial/multifamily lending volumes when compared to the fourth quarter of 2015. The fourth quarter saw a 39 percent year-over-year decrease in the dollar volume of loans for hotel properties, a 24 percent decrease for health care properties, a 19 percent decrease for retail properties, a 4 percent decrease for industrial properties, a one percent decrease in multifamily property loans, and a 6 percent increase in office property loans.

At least commercial and industrial lending at commercial banks has positive YoY growth rate (although plunging like a paralyzed falcon).

Of course, the retail store closings are problematic.

Say, I wonder if Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen bought her scarf on line or at a brick and mortar retail store?

Ratings Shopping Haunts Commercial Mortgage Bonds as Risks Rise

The retail slaughter caused by on-line shopping (Amazon effect) and sluggish wage growth since The Great Recession are taking a toll on large shopping mall stores and, as a consequence, commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS).

(Bloomberg) – Matt Scully and Adam Tempkin – Only a decade ago, global investors got a hard lesson about the dangers of relying on rosy bond ratings. Now they’re getting a reminder — this time in frothy corners of the $528 billion U.S. commercial-mortgage bondmarket.

As delinquencies on loans rise, some ratings firms are walking back their grades on bonds tied to properties like shopping malls and office towers, just a few years after assigning them. DBRS Inc. last month lowered the AAA ratings it had given 294 interest-only bonds after realizing it had been too lenient. Also in March, Kroll Bond Rating Agency Inc. cut some of its grades on a $1 billion bond issued in 2014, citing weakness in Texas loans exposed to energy prices.

The reversals underscore how forces that brought trouble to financial markets before are still percolating through Wall Street today. No one sees the dangers as being nearly as grave as they were during the home mortgage bust. But the same ratings business model used during that period still prevails — meaning that the banks that put together debt securities still pay for the credit grades, and they can shop around for the firm that will give them the highest ratings under the loosest criteria.

According to Trepp, retail delinquencies have risen to 6.12% as of March 17, 2016 (following only industrial loans).

And a foreclosure appeared in the WBCMT 2007-C32 CMBS deal (Rockvale Square in Lancaster, PA). Not to mention a non-performing property in teh BSCMS 2007-PW15 deal.

The WBCMT 2007-C32, a Wachovia deal, is now rated at CCC+ or lower for tranches B through D. Tranches E and F are rated as D by S&P. The H tranche, rated as C by Moody’s, has eaten $15.5 million in losses thus far. Tranches J and K are gone after sustaining losses of $56.6 million and $33,46 million, respectively. At least tranches A1, A2 and APB paid off with no losses.

And with delinquencies rising over the last year, the retail forecast is gloomy.

Parks and Recreation’s Tom Haverford may have to change his tune on “things are forever.” Particularly if shopping at Macy’s , Sears, JC Penney’s, The Limited, Abercrombie and Fitch, etc. 

Yes, Tom, you can buy things on-line. Unless your wages are slow to grow and you have accumulated significant debt. Particularly during the worst wage recovery after recession in modern history.

 

Zillow:10.5% National Negative Equity Share Declining (But Chicago And Las Vegas Have 2X National Rate)

According to Zillow (and their methodogy for calculating “underwater mortgage loans”), US negative equity hit 10.5% in Q4 2016. That is a considerable improvement of the peak of 31.4% in Q1 2012.

But more than 55 percent of all homeowners in negative equity nationwide were underwater by more than 20 percent as of the end of Q4.

Where are the negative equity “zones”? Not on the West Coast. The West Coast is home to all five major metros with the lowest rates of negative equity. As of the end of 2016, Las Vegas and Chicago had the highest rates of negative equity among the largest U.S. metros, with 16.6 and 16.5 percent of homeowners underwater, respectively.

How about EFFECTIVE negative equity rates? Even though a borrower may barely be in positive territory, brokerage fees (say 6%) on sales can push the homeowner into negative territory. The national average for EFFECTIVE negative equity still exceeds 25%.

Let’s compare Washington DC with Prince Georges County in Maryland. The share of homes with a mortgage in negative equity is almost double in PG County compared with DC. The same holds true for the shares in EFFECT negative equity (that is exactly double the rate of Washington DC).

To show how much Phoenix AZ has improved in terms of negative equity, Phoenix now has the same negative equity share as Washington DC: 10.5% and the US. But Maricopa County has a larger EFFECTIVE negative equity share of 27.3%.

But how about Chicago, home of the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs? Negative equity in Chicago is even worse than it is in Prince Georges County in Maryland!

How about Lackawanna County, PA, the home of Scranton and the Dunder-Miflin regional sales office? Even worse negative equity problems than Chicago!!

The WORST negative equity county in the US? Pulaski County in Missouri, home of the US Army’s Fort Leonard Wood with a 47.4% share of negative equity mortgages and  76.1% share of EFFECTIVE negative equity mortgages.

Despite the improvement of negative equity in the US, a number of counties (many rural) are still struggling which is an impediment to both mortgage refinancing and mortgage purchase lending despite near-record low mortgage rates.