Friday, May 18, 2007

Paulson Gives Bottoms Up On Subprime Crisis

Since Secretary Paulson's remarks on the housing bubble in the Newshour segment for Thursday May 17, Treasury Secretary Discusses Wolfowitz, Chinese Economy , may have been drowned out by more salacious developments in the world of high level banking I give them here:

JIM LEHRER: One final question, and a third subject. How worried are you about the slump, so-called slump in the housing market in the United States right now? And what kind of damage, if any, is it doing to the economy?

HENRY PAULSON: Well, let me say this. As you've pointed out, we've had a major housing correction in the U.S. The U.S. economy had been growing at a rate that was unsustainable and, in housing, it had clearly been growing at a rate for a number of years.

That correction was inevitable; that correction has now been significant. We think it is near the bottom. It will take a while to work its way through the system. Fortunately for us, we have a very diverse, healthy economy. There are other things that are positive that are offsetting that.

We've had business investments start to pick up. They've got a very strong labor market, unemployment at quite a low level. We have good growth outside of the country. We've been talking about exports to China, but exports everywhere are picking up. The consumer remains healthy.

So my very strong view is that we are near the bottom and that this will be contained as -- the housing will be contained, and we're fortunate that we have a diverse, healthy economy.

The correction to which Sec. Paulson is referring is that beginning in 2006 when homebuyers courting default suddenly found themselves with no additional home equity to see them through. They also faced the additional obstacle to selling presented by a glut of inventory on the market. Refinancing options quickly evaporated as borrowers were unable to get appraisals matching the original purchase price of the home. But where is the evidence that would lead him to conclude that this is the extent of the correction that in his own words "was inevitable?"

The language Sec. Paulson uses is in itself instructive. All in the same breath he is able to say "we've had a major housing correction", "We think it is near the bottom. It will take a while to work its way through the system." and "we are near the bottom." The mixture of past present and future tenses doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Another opinion can be found in the Credit Suisse Mar 12 2007 Mortgage and Housing Report which points out that "escalated delinquency rates on 2006 vintage loans are not being driven by the payment shock issue which is at the forefront of legislative and regulator debate, as rate reset has not yet occurred on these loans. As shown in Exhibit 42, [below but for a clearer image see the report] roughly $300 billion of securitized subprime mortgages (36% of outstanding subprime MBS) are set to reset in 2007 alone, with even more occurring in the non-securitized space. This, in our opinion, is the next shoe to fall and will likely contribute to additional delinquencies, foreclosures, inventory and additional pricing pressure." Perhaps this explains the hesitancy implicit in the Secretary's language.

As for the factors that are claimed to be "positive" and "offsetting," i.e., the "diverse, healthy economy", with "business investments start[ing] to pick up", "a very strong labor market", "unemployment at quite a low level", "good growth outside of the country", "exports everywhere are picking up", and the "consumer remain[ing] healthy", each in turn is in strongly disputed territory. At least with regard to the China trade Sec. Paulson admits that the administration have only "been talking about exports." So much less than a positive is this factor that talk of a developing trade war is more on the lips of commentators.

And for a glimpse of the kind of 'creative accounting' that is once again claiming impending losses as income visit the contribution by Aaron Krowne at iTulip Forums, Say Hello To Lendron . After noting that the breaking housing bubble has "already spread from subprime to other sorts of marginal lending, and mortgage lending in general, including 'Alt-A', prime second liens–which back home equity extractions–and any sort of high-LTV loan," this article draws attention to Pay Option ARMs, (adjustable-rate mortgages). These are the ones with the option of paying less than the normal monthly payment, the difference being added to the principal. Thus the label negative-amortization applied to these. And these offer the prospect of an even more explosive situation than the subprime meltdown.

What is startling is the way lenders or portfolio-holders of these treat negative amortization in their accounting, taking the negative amortization amount and adding it to earnings. There is a growing trend in which mortgage lenders and bankers with extensive involvement in this class of mortgage treat this as "capitalization of income from negative amortization" and show it as part of net income, as much as 72% in one particular case. We should all hope fervently that these are not the business investments that Sec. Paulson assures us are starting to pick up.