Friday, January 15, 2010

Bank Failure Friday

As faithful readers know, bank failures in the US escalated dramatically in 2009. In 2008 there were 25.

In 2009... 140.

The 2009 total was an average of almost three per week and the most failures the United States has experienced in one year since 1992.

Because the announcement of these failures (and the actual take-over by the FDIC) are always delayed until late on Friday afternoons, Friday has come to be known as 'Bank Failure Friday' on many economic blogs.

But 2009 was just a prelude to 2010.

How do we know?

Because the FDIC has already publicly announced that they are preparing for a greater number of bank failures than in 2008 & 2009 combined.

The FDIC has set aside $2.5 billion for the handling of receiverships, almost double that allowed in 2009's budget of $1.3 billion.

The overall operation budget for 2010 has been set at $4 billion, significantly higher than that for 2009, a revised $2.6 billion.

And why is the FDIC preparing for such a huge wave of bank failures?

It's all in the chart at the top of this post (click on the image to enlarge it).

In 2006, 2007 & 2008, the defaults on a large number of resetting subprime mortgages took place (they are shown in mid green).

As the short term teaser interest rate on these mortgages can due for reset to a higher rate, homeowners couldn't negotiate a new mortgage with a new, ultra-low teaser interest rate (as they had done in years past).

That's how subprime mortgages caused the real estate collapse in the United States. Housing values fell in a few cities and when the first mortgages that came due with their ultra low interest rates (set at a two year duration before a higher rate would kick in), homeowners couldn't secure a new mortgage. In the past, because the value of the property had grown, they had always been able to negotiate a new mortgage (with a new two year, ultra low teaser interest rate).

Forced to assume the mortgage at a substantially higher interest rate - they defaulted.

As the market was swamped with a bunch of foreclosures, it drove housing values down across the USA. That triggered the same scenario with other cities subprime mortgages.

As the foreclosures picked up steam, those households with more normal mortgages were trapped because declining real estate values (from all the subprime foreclosures) meant that when it came time to renew their mortgages... they couldn't because the value of the mortgage was substantially higher than the value of the property (called being 'underwater').

No bank is going to give you a $500,000 loan on a property worth $300,000.

Now, looming on the horizon, are Prime, Alt-A, Agency and Option Adjustable Rate mortgages.

These 'normal' mortgages dramatically outnumber subprime mortgages.

Many of them are like sub-prime in that they reset at a higher interest rate, the only difference being they reset after 5-7 years instead of two.

Thus they are just coming due now.

And those who didn't have teaser interest rates that reset are facing the brutal proposition of being 'underwater'.

The end result will be the same as subprime.

The mortgages will reset to dramatically higher interest rates and/or the value of the property has dramatically fallen so renewing cannot be done without the mortgage holders bringing down the principle to the value of the property (which means paying off about $200,000 plus on renewal).

End result: another wave of defaults and foreclosures... which is what is putting all these American banks at risk.

They key element for Canadians here is that subprime was a minor player in all of this. Subprime mortgages were simply the first type of mortgage caught in the interest rate squeeze.

Look at the graph. Subprime mortgages are almost non existent in 2009 and beyond. While about 21% of all mortgage originations from 2004 through 2006 were subprime, when you add up all the mortgages due to reset from 2007 to 2015, the subprime portion of total mortgages is miniscule.

In fact, in June 2008, the total number of subprime mortgages in foreclosure or REO represent (as a percent of total housing units) less than 1/2 of 1 percent of all housing units in the United States (0.44%).

Yesterday we noted how the Bank of Canada has come out and stated that within 2 years 10% of Canadian households will be in danger of collapsing from rapidly rising interest rates.

That represents a higher percentage of all total Canadian mortgages than subprime did vs. the rest of the American mortgage family.

They are the first domino that will be affected by a dramatic change in interest rates.

And just like in the United States, when that first domino falls it can bring down the entire pack.

In Canada we don't have 'subprime' mortgages. But we do have scores of people who have taken on massive debt with ultra low interest rates that will reset. All those five year mortgages will come due for renewal. And if 10% can't handle the shock of a return of interest rates to their historic norm (over the last 20 years, that's a five year rate of 8.25%), then it means we are in a far more precarious position than the United States.

The collapse of that 10% will dramatically lower real estate values when those properties are eventually foreclosed upon and resold. When that happens, a great many of other Canadians will be in a sever 'underwater' position and will not be able to renew... further collapsing the real estate market.

In 2005 and 2006 the majority of the American financial sector ignored the looming threat these numbers represented. The only ones sounding the alarm for what was coming (and the threat it represented to the greater economy) were the likes of Peter Schiff.

In 2010, in Canada, we are just as ignorant.


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