Mortgage Employee Gets Drunk & Shoots Up Company Servers (and the rest of today’s market news)

Guns & Mortgages
This story speaks for itself, here’s the link and the epic lead paragraph below: Prosecutors: Mortgage Worker Got Drunk, Shot Computer Server

A Salt Lake City mortgage company employee allegedly got drunk, opened fired on his firm’s computer server with a .45-caliber automatic, and then told police someone had stolen his gun and caused the damage.

Effective Rate of All Mortgages is 6%
Jefferies, and other Wall Street firm’s analysts, have recently pointed out that the effective rate of interest on all US mortgage debt outstanding (about $11 trillion – more than US Treasury and corporate debt combined) has barely budged in recent years at just over 6%. Like a kid looking through the window at candy, originators know this, and that the overwhelming number of households, on average, are paying the same rate they have for quite some time, and funding conditions “for the largest and most important part of the US economy – the consumer sector – continue to be bad. And if a borrower can’t refinance, and lower their monthly payment, they tend to hunker down and put the money into savings – which often time is invested by banks into Treasuries. And of course this serves to push rates down even more.

Analysts believe that if overall rates drop by 1% for all borrowers, it may translate into potential annual savings of more than $30 billion in lower monthly payments. (No, I didn’t run the numbers myself.) This transfer would shift money away from investors and money managers and into the pockets of borrowers – the fabled consumer sector, which has been lagging. And it follows that this desperately needed money would help stimulate the economy, right? But as we all know, origination capacity remains a bottleneck either through regulation or through lack of equity/credit. Investors would probably rather have their holdings of 6% (on average) mortgages ratchet down to 5% then go to 4%. And so the conjecture about a massive government-led refi wave continues.

Government Loan Modifications Struggling
But few people, if any, who follow mortgage statistics are arguing that any of the government’s modification plans are working. In fact, few, if any, of the people with whom I have spoken who are actually in the front lines doing the modifications say that it is going well. Even the US Treasury, in its latest report on 17-month old HAMP, noted that “the percentage of homeowners dropping out of the Obama administration’s premier housing rescue program rose in July to nearly half of participants, as owners receiving aid continued to struggle with documenting their eligibility.” According to the Treasury Department, about 48% of the 1.3 million homeowners who started a mortgage modification through July have dropped out, up from the 41% noted in June. Modification trials offered in the program prior to June 1 did not require up-front documentation of income or eligibility, and many trials are now being canceled. As a result, Treasury said 100,114 participants dropped out of the program in July — more than four times the 24,577 new modification trials started. Overall, the Treasury said HAMP has lowered payments for a total of 1.3 million homeowners that received trial modifications since the program was launched.

Wells Ramping Up CMBS Team
In a story out of Bloomberg Businessweek, Wells Fargo & Co. is plunging back into the commercial mortgage-backed securities market by adding more than 20 bankers and support personnel during the past three months to increase loan originations and bundle them into CMBS. (I sure hope that they know what they’re doing, since every time I drive by a shopping center or office building I see plenty of “for rent” signs.) Wachovia, now owned by Wells, was the #1 underwriter of CMBS’s from 2005 to 2007, and then had over $2 billion in losses in 2007 and 2008. As we know, commercial property values have declined 39 percent from the 2007 peak, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The decline has made underwriting loans less risky, and banks can dictate more conservative terms and choose the most creditworthy borrowers.

Record Low Existing Home Sales
The stock and bond markets were somewhat quiet yesterday until NAR’s Existing Home Sales number “hit the tape”, plunging 27.2% to sales’ lowest levels since 1995 and setting a new record low for this series which goes back to 1999. In addition, the data was revised to show a bigger drop of 7.1% in June, which was the last month that homebuyers were able to receive the homebuyer tax credit, and pushes out the housing inventory to over a year. The national median home price rose 0.7 percent from July last year to $182,600, but why build a new house when there is a year’s inventory at current sales rates, and the huge overhang of foreclosures that are set to enter the market as re-sales over the next several years?

Market Reaction To Home Sales Data
As we saw, rates dropped and fixed-income prices improved. Two-year Treasury yields hit another record low, 10-year notes rose 29/32 to yield 2.50% from 2.60%, and mortgage securities were better by a solid .375 in price (some portion of which made its way onto rate sheets for originators). (Sometimes economists, when they are feeling their most dour, compare the US economy to Japan’s. As a point of reference, Japan’s 10-yr note first closed below 2.00% in the autumn of 1997, and since that time it’s averaged 1.48%) Reuters released a poll showing that 72% of Americans are “very concerned” about unemployment and more people now disapprove of President Barack Obama than approve of him – more evidence of a slowing economy and the consumer hunkering down.

Market Roundup
This morning we have already learned from the MBA what lock desks already knew – that mortgage applications up 4.9% to highest level since May 2009. Refi applications were up 5.7% while purchase only increased .6%. And we have already had the Durable Goods number for July. (In the debatable recovery from March 2009 through April 2010, durable goods orders rose more than 20 %.) Durable Goods were expected to be up between 2 and 3%, but were only up .3%, and ex-Transportation they were down almost 4%. Once again, stocks dropped, and bonds rallied. The 10-yr yield is now at 2.42%, and current coupon mortgage security prices are better by roughly .250 in price. Perhaps we really are headed for a 4% 30-yr fixed rate world on rate sheets. We still have a $36 billion 5-yr. Note auction ahead of us, along with New Home Sales.