Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Payment Option Mortgages the Next Big Debacle

Ruth Simon at WSJ explains:

Like many mortgage lenders, FirstFed Financial Corp. is struggling with rising losses. The bank posted a loss of nearly $70 million in the first quarter -- reversing years of profit. Forty percent of its borrowers became at least 30 days delinquent after the payments on their adjustable-rate mortgages were recast. The number of foreclosed homes held by the bank doubled in the second quarter from the first quarter.

But FirstFed isn't another bank grappling with the fallout from subprime mortgages that went to less-creditworthy borrowers. In fact, FirstFed was ranked last year as one of the top five banks in the nation by a trade publication, partly because it appeared to have pared back on risky mortgage loans. Yet this year, the Los Angeles bank is on the front lines of what could be the next big mortgage debacle: payment option mortgages. These loans went mainly to people with good credit, but they are likely to experience defaults that are nearly as high as -- in some cases higher than -- those for subprime.

Barclays Capital estimates that as many as 45% of option ARMs, as they are often called, originated in 2006 and 2007 could wind up in default. Another analysis, by UBS AG, suggests that defaults on option ARMs originated in 2006 could be as high as 48%, slightly higher than its estimate for defaults on subprime loans. Both studies looked at loans that were packaged into securities.

Option ARMs typically carry a low introductory rate and give borrowers multiple payment choices, including a minimum payment that may not even cover the interest due. Borrowers who make the minimum payment on a regular basis -- as many do -- can see their loan balance rise, known as negative amortization. Monthly payments can increase by 60% or more once borrowers begin making payments of principal and full interest. That typically happens after five years or earlier if the amount owed reaches a preset amount, typically 110% to 125% of the original loan balance...

FirstFed joined the crowd and business boomed. But as the Federal Reserve boosted short-term rates, the gap between the introductory rate, used to set the minimum payment, and actual rates swelled to as many as 7.5 percentage points. That meant that borrowers making the minimum payment weren't covering even the interest due...

Many borrowers took out home-equity loans with other lenders after getting an option ARM from FirstFed. These borrowers account for 25% of FirstFed's mortgage loans but represented nearly 50% of its delinquencies in the third quarter of 2007, the company says. It is harder to modify the terms of these loans because FirstFed often needs the approval of the holder of the home-equity loan...

In addition, many borrowers submitted loan applications that overstated their financial condition, making it more likely that they won't be able to afford even a modified loan. FirstFed figured that some borrowers had fudged their incomes and tried to protect itself with tighter credit standards. "But we were shocked by the magnitude of the lies," Ms. Heimbuch says. "You expect a 20% fudge. You don't expect 500%."<

No comments:

Post a Comment