LABOR DAY ABYSS

EDITOR’s comment: Everyone seems to agree that nobody really knows the identity of the creditor in the millions of mortgage transactions that were created from 2001 to 2008. Yet the general consensus from the administration and the media is that these transactions should be enforced anyway. The idea of enforcing a transaction in which only one of the parties is known is enough to  make the authors of any of the major legal treatises turn over in their graves. It is so obviously ridiculous that one need not consult the United States Constitution on due process, nor any statute or case in common law. Nevertheless this elephant continues to sit in our living rooms claiming ownership of our home. Thus a fictional character is prevailing over the rights of real people owning real homes who were tricked into fraudulent loan products based inflated appraisals that created the reasonable assumption on the part of the borrower that the “experts” had verified the fair market value and validated the viability of the loan product.


Most people understand that these homeowners were victims of fraud more than they were borrowers of money for a legitimate transaction. These title twisting transactions continue to become increasingly convoluted as the “ownership” of the “loans” becomes increasingly blurred by a continuing process of transfers,  “sales,” auctions without creditors or bona fide bidders, and the continuation of the strategy of moving the goal post every time anyone wants to examine it.


In the article below the Obama administration is described as having exhausted all possible remedies and is now faced with the untenable choice of future homeowners versus current homeowners. This is delusional thinking based on business dogma. The “experts” are now all raising their voices in a growing chorus of “let the market collapse.” It is only natural for these so-called experts to suggest such a dark scenario.

Under the business dogma currently driving the limp choices being made by the administration and by Congress, a crash in home housing prices from current levels would produce the foundation for a bull market in housing prices that would be reduced to oversold levels. This so-called bull market could only be fueled by speculators who are sitting on piles of money. It certainly won’t be fueled by the average consumer whose median income is dropping, whose wealth has been drained through Wall Street speculation, whose savings do not exist, and whose credit has been exhausted. In short, this brilliant strategy of giving up on the housing market can only result in a further widening between those who have money and wealth and those who do not and now have no prospects.


I know that most people do not have the time to be students of history. But a little time spent on Google or Wikipedia will show you that no society in human history has ever been sustained on a status quo that excluded  an expanding and vibrant middle class, with abundant opportunities for improvement in the financial condition of anyone in any class of that society. There is an answer to this problem but it is being ignored for political reasons. We cannot instantly raise median income for tens of millions of people. We can and we should lay the foundation for abundant opportunities for improvement in their economic and social condition, but this will not solve the current situation.


The current situation is that we are sitting on the abyss. And it seems that the general consensus is to see no evil, hear no evil and therefore ignore the only realities that must be addressed. We cannot escape the fact that in our current situation our economy is driven by consumer spending. We cannot escape the fact that consumer spending cannot rise in the short term by an increase in median income. We cannot escape the fact that consumer spending can only rise by presenting the consumer with a proposition that is acceptable––one in which both real and apparent consumer wealth is increased. Unless the deal is real, the current lack of confidence in the economy, our society and our government will prevent any increase in consumer spending and therefore prevent any improvement in our current economic decline.


Consumers have made it clear that they do not trust the housing market, they will not accept a continuation of credit driven spending, and that they are alone in fending for themselves and future generations. Therefore the savings rates on what little money consumers are receiving as income are increasing at unprecedented rates. This money is not going to come out of savings and into the marketplace and a general rush towards spending that will revive the old consumer driven economy unless the basic and real concerns of consumers are directly addressed with reality and conviction. The perception (delusion) is that consumers are a bottomless well from which  infinite sums of money can be withdrawn by way of taxes, insurance, subsidies to big business, and a government that is primarily concerned with the appearance of stability on Wall Street rather than the reality of amends that need to be offered.


I am not a pundit. I am only seeking to apply common sense to a situation that seems to be wallowing in dogma, and political maneuvering. In my view they are arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. In my view the worst is yet to come. In my view under the worst-case scenarios our way of life, our society, our economy and our government will be destabilized unless we open our eyes. It’s true that we don’t have a lot of tools left in the box. But then again we never did have a lot of tools in the box.

A great fraud has been committed on American and foreign taxpayers and investors as well as American and foreign buyers of real estate, commercial and residential. The perpetrators of this great fraud were intermediaries between the people who had money and the people who didn’t. If an honest attempt was made to do the right thing, we would do more to improve the confidence of our own consumers as well as foreign investors than any of these of exotic and creative plans to shore up an economy based on illusion and delusion.


If we already know that the identity of the creditor is in doubt, then we already have a perfectly legitimate legal reason to stop foreclosures. If we already know that the prices that were used in many fraudulent loan transactions were not equal to any sustainable measure of fair market value and that neither the borrower nor the actual lender (investor) was aware of this misrepresentation, then we already have a perfectly legitimate and legal reason to restructure all the affected loans, especially since most of them are controlled through guarantees of federal agencies if not outright ownership by those federal agencies. If we already know that somebody probably exists who has actually lost money on these transactions, or some of them, then it shouldn’t be hard for them to come forward, provide the necessary accounting and proof of ownership, and be included in the restructuring of these mortgage loans.


What is stopping the use of common sense is that we are relying on the very intermediaries who caused the problem in the first place and who have everything to gain by a continuation of the foreclosures, by a continuation of the free fall in housing prices, by a continuation of the charade of modifications, and by the speculative bull market that is currently being constructed right under the nose of this administration. That bull market may have a temporary effect on the economy (or at least the indexes that  measure economic results) and of course the stock market, but in reality it is easy to see that such a bull market will only be another bubble which will cause more devastation and further undermine confidence in the American economy and the American government.

HERE IS WHAT A FAIR RESOLUTION WOULD LOOK LIKE:

  1. ALL HOMES ELIGIBLE (INCLUDING REO). Forget the blame game
  2. ALL MORTGAGE BONDS ELIGIBLE. Forget the blame game
  3. REGULATE SERVICING COMPANIES LIKE UTILITIES OR REPLACE THEM WITH COMPANIES THAT WILL DO THE JOB
  4. SUSPEND ALL FORECLOSURES, SALES, JUDICIAL AND NON-JUDICIAL. SUSPEND MORTGAGE PAYMENTS, ALL MORTGAGES 90 DAYS.
  5. OFFER INTEREST RATE ONLY RE-STRUCTURE TO HOMEOWNERS THAT REDUCES FIXED INTEREST RATE TO 2%
  6. OFFER PRINCIPAL REDUCTION TO 110% OF FAIR MARKET VALUE WITH 5% FIXED INTEREST RATE, TOGETHER WITH AN EQUITY APPRECIATION CLAUSE OF 20% FROM REDUCED PRINCIPAL.
  7. OFFER CERTIFICATION OF OWNERSHIP FROM FEDERAL AGENCY TO THE HOMEOWNER.
  8. CREATE FAST TRACK QUIET TITLE ACTIONS TO RESOLVE ALL TWISTED TITLE ISSUES RESULTING FROM SECURITIZED LOANS
  9. OFFER TO SERVICE THE NEW LOANS FOR INVESTORS WHO PROVE OWNERSHIP.
  10. CREATE CUT-OFF DATE: HOMEOWNERS WHO DON’T TAKE THE DEAL  EITHER STAY WITH EXISTING TITLE AND MORTGAGE SITUATION OR GO THROUGH FORECLOSURE. INVESTORS WHO DON’T TAKE THE DEAL EITHER STAY WITH EXISTING TITLE AND RECEIVABLE SITUATION OR SUE THEIR INVESTMENT BANKERS.

I KNOW. WHO HAS THE POWER TO DO THIS? OBAMA, THAT’S WHO. NO NEW REGULATIONS ARE REQUIRED. STATE AND FEDERAL LEGISLATION TO PUT A “CAP”ON THIS IS UNNECESSARY, BUT IF THEY WANT TO DO IT THEY COULD DO IT AFTERWARD. The immediate result is that the downward pressure on housing would vanish. The upward mobility of consumers would instantly appear. The confidence by consumers that the government cares more about them than the oligopoly of banks who appear to be running the country would soar, as would their spending. World-wide confidence in the American financial system would soar because they would see the end of illusion and delusion.

And let’s not forget that the American moral high-ground would be restored, which is the only real basis for the consent of the governed here and around the world.
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Housing Woes Bring New Cry: Let Market Fall

By DAVID STREITFELD

The unexpectedly deep plunge in home sales this summer is likely to force the Obama administration to choose between future homeowners and current ones, a predicament officials had been eager to avoid.

Over the last 18 months, the administration has rolled out just about every program it could think of to prop up the ailing housing market, using tax credits, mortgage modification programs, low interest rates, government-backed loans and other assistance intended to keep values up and delinquent borrowers out of foreclosure. The goal was to stabilize the market until a resurgent economy created new households that demanded places to live.

As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash.

When prices are lower, these experts argue, buyers will pour in, creating the elusive stability the government has spent billions upon billions trying to achieve.

“Housing needs to go back to reasonable levels,” said Anthony B. Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at George Mason University. “If we keep trying to stimulate the market, that’s the definition of insanity.”

The further the market descends, however, the more miserable one group — important both politically and economically — will be: the tens of millions of homeowners who have already seen their home values drop an average of 30 percent.

The poorer these owners feel, the less likely they will indulge in the sort of consumer spending the economy needs to recover. If they see an identical house down the street going for half what they owe, the temptation to default might be irresistible. That could make the market’s current malaise seem minor.

Caught in the middle is an administration that gambled on a recovery that is not happening.

“The administration made a bet that a rising economy would solve the housing problem and now they are out of chips,” said Howard Glaser, a former Clinton administration housing official with close ties to policy makers in the administration. “They are deeply worried and don’t really know what to do.”

That was clear last week, when the secretary of housing and urban development, Shaun Donovan, appeared to side with current homeowners, telling CNN the administration would “go everywhere we can” to make sure the slumping market recovers.

Mr. Donovan even opened the door to another housing tax credit like the one that expired last spring, which paid first-time buyers as much as $8,000 and buyers who were moving up $6,500. The cost to taxpayers was in the neighborhood of $30 billion, much of which went to people who would have bought anyway.

Administration press officers quickly backpedaled from Mr. Donovan’s comment, saying a revived credit was either highly unlikely or flat-out impossible. Mr. Donovan declined to be interviewed for this article. In a statement, a White House spokeswoman responded to questions about possible new stimulus measures by pointing to those already in the works.

“In the weeks ahead, we will focus on successfully getting off the ground programs we have recently announced,” the spokeswoman, Amy Brundage, said.

Among those initiatives are $3 billion to keep the unemployed from losing their homes and a refinancing program that will try to cut the mortgage balances of owners who owe more than their property is worth. A previous program with similar goals had limited success.

If last year’s tax credit was supposed to be a bridge over a rough patch, it ended with a glimpse of the abyss. The average home now takes more than a year to sell. Add in the homes that are foreclosed but not yet for sale and the total is greater still.

Builders are in even worse shape. Sales of new homes are lower than in the depths of the recession of the early 1980s, when mortgage rates were double what they are now, unemployment was pervasive and the gloom was at least as thick.

The deteriorating circumstances have given a new voice to the “do nothing” chorus, whose members think the era of trying to buy stability while hoping the market will catch fire — called “extend and pretend” or “delay and pray” — has run its course.

“We have had enough artificial support and need to let the free market do its thing,” said the housing analyst Ivy Zelman.

Michael L. Moskowitz, president of Equity Now, a direct mortgage lender that operates in New York and seven other states, also advocates letting the market fall. “Prices are still artificially high,” he said. “The government is discriminating against the renters who are able to buy at $200,000 but can’t at $250,000.”

A small decline in home prices might not make too much of a difference to a slack economy. But an unchecked drop of 10 percent or more might prove entirely discouraging to the millions of owners just hanging on, especially those who bought in the last few years under the impression that a turnaround had already begun.

The government is on the hook for many of these mortgages, another reason policy makers have been aggressively seeking stability. What helped support the market last year could now cause it to crumble.

Since 2006, the Federal Housing Administration has insured millions of low down payment loans. During the first two years, officials concede, the credit quality of the borrowers was too low.

With little at stake and a queasy economy, buyers bailed: nearly 12 percent were delinquent after a year. Last fall, F.H.A. cash reserves fell below the Congressionally mandated minimum, and the agency had to shore up its finances.

Government-backed loans in 2009 went to buyers with higher credit scores. Yet the percentage of first-year defaults was still 5 percent, according to data from the research firm CoreLogic.

“These are at-risk buyers,” said Sam Khater, a CoreLogic economist. “They have very little equity, and that’s the largest predictor of default.”

This is the risk policy makers face. “If home prices begin to fall again with any serious velocity, borrowers may stay away in such numbers that the market never recovers,” said Mr. Glaser, a consultant whose clients include the National Association of Realtors.

Those sorts of worries have a few people from the world of finance suggesting that the administration should do much more, not less.

William H. Gross, managing director at Pimco, a giant manager of bond funds, has proposed the government refinance at lower rates millions of mortgages it owns or insures. Such a bold action, Mr. Gross said in a recent speech, would “provide a crucial stimulus of $50 to $60 billion in consumption,” as well as increase housing prices.

The idea has gained little traction. Instead, there is a sense that, even with much more modest notions, government intervention is not the answer. The National Association of Realtors, the driving force behind the credit last year, is not calling for a new round of stimulus.

Some members of the National Association of Home Builders say a new credit of $25,000 would raise demand but their chances of getting this through Congress are nonexistent.

“Our members are saying that if we can’t get a very large tax credit — one that really brings people off the bench — why use our political capital at all?” said David Crowe, the chief economist for the home builders.

That might give the Obama administration permission to take the risk of doing nothing.

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