A brief bit of common sense.
Warning. We are not about to offer any earth shattering insights in this short post. However, when the world of finance reaches levels of complexity and duplicity capable of causing the most significant financial crisis since the Depression, simplicity and common sense are often relegated to the far back burner. So, we decided to pour ourselves a bowl of simple facts about housing.
The housing market is hyper-sensitive to interest rate changes.
For a substantial majority of homeowners, houses are their most leveraged assets. In other words, most people actually own very little of their houses. For the most part, the bank or investor that owns our mortgage also owns most of our home.
Interest rate changes so significantly impact housing because interest rate level often determines what type of home a family can afford. Falling rates lead to refinancings and even downward resets of adjustable rate mortgages. Most significantly, there is higher demand for homes and, eventually, higher prices. When credit is cheap and easy to get, homes are more affordable (at least in the short run). Thus, low interest rates generally equals more homeowners and, by the way, low rates of default and foreclosure.
When rates go up, however, refinancings plummet, home sales (and, eventually, prices) decline because the higher cost of borrowing lowers buyer demand. Adjustable rate mortgages reset upward. The segment of the home-owning public that chose adjustable rate mortgages to stretch for houses that may have been unaffordable with traditional fixed rate mortgages can find themselves unable to make their new, higher monthly mortgage payments. Thus, when interest rates increase, defaults and foreclosures follow suit.
As we said, nothing new here. All common sense. Which begs the question - who in their right minds would base an entire industry (subprime lending and, by extension, mortgage backed securities) on the premise that there would not be high default rates on ultra-low interest adjustable rate mortgages to people with poor credit histories succeed after the cycle turned and interest rates climbed back toward historical averages (i.e., when rates started to trend toward the mean)? Who would make this bet? Was anyone be surprised that bad credit borrowers would default in droves once their low initial monthly payments increased by hundreds of dollars a month?
These are not hard questions now, and they weren't hard questions in 2002 or 2003 or 2004, 05, 06, or 07 either. Wall Streetdrove the subprime lending explosion. Wall Street understood interest rate cycles. Wall Street knew rates would rise. Wall Street knew defaults and foreclosures would spike. Wall Street didn't care - the money was rolling in. The fact that Wall Street itself got so badly burned was the product of greed and knowingly reckless risk-taking.
By Brett Sherman, The Sherman Law Firm.