Fund Manager: Subprime Mortgages Have Come Roaring Back

By Dave Kranzler of Investment Research Dynamics

…Only this time around they are sponsored by the U.S. Government and guaranteed explicitly  by the Taxpayers.  I say “explicitly” because Government agency-issued mortgages are directly guaranteed.  In 2008, the Government bailed out the banks who had issued subprime mortgages and related derivatives, but the Taxpayer never signed up for the multi-trillion dollar bailout, which largely transferred wealth from the middle class taxpayer to the Too Big To Fail bank executives.

In an attempt to off-set the falling velocity in the housing market, taxpayer-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have reduced their credit standards on guaranteed conventional mortgages several times over the last 3 years. In 2015 they reduced the down payment requirement to 3% from 5%. In addition, they reduced the amount mortgage insurance required on mortgages with less than 10% down. Then they allowed “soft dollar” contributions to count as part of the 3% down payment, like seller concessions or realtor commission concessions. They also allowed homebuyers to use loans from other sources to fund the down payment. In this manner, a homebuyer could prospectively buy a home with a taxpayer-guaranteed mortgage using no cash out pocket.

Then last June (2017) Fannie and Freddie raised the Debt To Income (DTI) ratio from 45% to 50%. DTI is the ratio of  monthly debt payments (all forms of household debt payments) to the borrower’s monthly gross income. A borrower with a DTI of 50%, including the new mortgage, is using 50% of monthly net income to make debt payments (mortgage, credit cart, auto, student loans, personal loans).

The chart below shows the spike-up in the number of conventional mortgages issued by Fannie and Freddie once the DTI was raised (source: Corelogic w/my edits).

As you can see, before the DTI was raised the number of mortgages issued with a DTI over 45% was one in twenty. After the change, the one in five new mortgages backed by the taxpayer were issued to homebuyers with a DTI over 45%. This is, by far, the highest level of high-DTI mortgages since the financial crisis.

But the story gets worse. The Urban Institute conducted a study of high DTI mortgages and discovered that 25% of all Fannie Mae mortgages issued to borrowers with a credit score below 700 had a DTI over 45% in just the first two months of 2018. This is up from 19% a year earlier. This is after Fannie Mae reported a $6.5 billion loss in Q4 2017 that the taxpayers will cover. The Government raised the DTI in order to stimulate home sales by inducing households, who could otherwise not afford the monthly cost of home ownership, into taking on even more debt to purchase a home. The majority of these home “buyers” will ultimately default and the taxpayer will get the privilege of eating the loss.

Zillow Group Is Now Flipping Homes? – Zillow Group stock plunged as much as 11% on Friday after it announced that it would be adding home flipping to its home-listing services. Clearly the market was spooked by this announcement – and for good reason. The plan will significantly raise ZG’s risk profile and will require the assumption of $10’s of millions in debt, depending on the number of homes ZG holds on its balance sheet any given time. It’s plan now forecasts holding up to 1,000 homes by year-end.

ZG stock is extraordinarily overvalued.   The Company released its Q4 and full-year 2017 earnings on February 8th and the numbers had little affect on ZG’s stock. ZG continues to generate operating and net losses. It incurred a $174 million intangibles write-down in Q4 2017 that was related to its 2015 acquisition of Trulia. While the Company and Wall St. analysts will remove this write-down as “non-recurring, non-cash,” it is indeed a write-down that occurred to an asset for which Zillow overpaid by at least $174 million. As the housing market fades, ZG will likely incur bigger write-downs of its “intangibles and goodwill,” which represents 85% of ZG’s book value.

The move into home-flipping signals, at least in my view, that ZG has determined that its current business model will never be profitable. The decision to test  home flipping in Phoenix and Vegas can be seen as desperate attempt to generate income. Ironically, in the last housing bubble, flippers in those two markets were decimated. I don’t see how this will end well for ZG, especially now that Congress is exploring rules changes to Fannie and Freddie that will raise the cost of conventional mortgages. The conventional mortgage user is the prime market for home flippers and now the average conventional mortgage applicant has de facto sub-prime credit.

By the way, just for the record, on average and in general, home prices are coming down quickly in most markets.  Case Shiller is severely lagged data and it emphasizes price gains from flips.  Robert Shiller used to admit to these facts publicly. Now he’s a bubble cheerleader like everyone else who sold out.

Taxpayer:  Get ready to eat more losses on the housing and mortgage market.

The commenetary above is from my latest Short Seller’s Journal. For the past several issues I have been focusing on both short-term and long-term homebuilder short ideas. Several of my subscribers have told me they are making double-digit percentage gains on the ideas presented. You can learn more about this unique newsletter here:  Short Seller’s Journal information.

“LEN! Bagged another 30% on April $60 puts.  Of course took some profits and added more to other ideas” – subscriber email last week

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