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Banks Are Forestalling Rather Than Foreclosing

Posted by Larry Doyle on September 3, 2009 12:22 PM |

What happens when a bank forecloses on a home? It has to book a loss. How are banks dealing with the rapidly increasing rates of delinquencies and subsequent foreclosures? They are forestalling the losses by allowing homeowners to remain in the home for a protracted period. Are they doing this out of generosity? Don’t be that naive. The banks are utilizing the ‘hope’ hedge. That is, they ‘hope’ the economy and housing market will rebound so the values of these homes increase and the loss is mitigated.

Over many years of trading and investing, the ‘hope’ hedge is a recipe for further losses. Why? Please refer to my Rule #1 from yesterday’s “LD’s Rules of Trading”:  The Market Goes in the Direction Which Hurts the Most People.

Homes that would otherwise be in foreclosure create a massive overhang of supply in the shadow housing inventory. Do banks believe that buyers do not appreciate this? That would be even more naive. The excess supply will keep a lid on home prices and consumer wealth which directly impacts retail sales.

High five to MC for sharing a recent report from American Banker addressing this phenomena. Kate Berry writes Postponing the Day of Reckoning, which I am able to access from Bank Investment Consultant. Ms. Berry shares some very sobering insights:

“The goal is to hold off on foreclosures and take losses as slowly as possible to keep balance sheets up,” said Deborah Voelz, the chief financial officer of National Asset Direct Inc., a New York buyer and servicer of distressed loans. “Everyone is looking at what the ultimate loss is going to be and whether it makes sense to hold off another year or two and mitigate the results.”

The foreclosure process — and it is a process — now takes, on average, 18 months to two years, up from 15 months a year ago, according to Amherst Securities Group LP. Backlogs in county courts and at servicing companies, along with local government moratoriums, have contributed to the delays. But plenty of signs indicate that the mortgage companies themselves are in no hurry to seize their collateral.

Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, Calif., company that monitors foreclosure filings, said banks often start proceedings but then decide “they don’t want the property” and suspend the process indefinitely.

Of the 2.3 million homes that received foreclosure notices last year, one-third had been repossessed by yearend, according to RealtyTrac.

Banks also “are allowing borrowers to be delinquent for longer and longer periods of time before initiating foreclosures,” Sharga said.

These perspectives are totally consistent with those of John Lounsbury, my guest this past Sunday on NQR’s Sense on Cents with Larry Doyle. John pointedly detailed that only 10% of homes being sold currently entail ‘willing sellers.’

What are the implications for this forestalling?

>> Continued pressure on housing overall.

>> Continued pressure on bank earnings from these mortgages.

>> Continued underwhelming trends in retail sales by consumers.

>> Prospective home buyers, especially in the higher price ranges, can remain patient.

Regardless of what bank analysts or others may want to say, these forestalled homes are not going away.


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