Sunday, December 17, 2006

Thoughts on fearless predictions. It's too soon to tell.

On September 26th 2006, I posted a set of predictions about the housing market, US Macroeconomy, and Investment themes. Lets run through them how see how they panned out so far.

US Housing Market

It's clear that the general direction of US housing is down, and it is taking the US economy with it. The main questions at this point relate to "how much" and not "if".

First prediction: "Mild national housing recession with regional hard landings in overbuilt areas." This greatly depends on your definition of mild, I put this in the "too soon to tell" category. So far it seems the bubble is unwinding slowly.

Second prediction: The issue of the Reserve army of unsold housing depressing prices hasn't been fully experienced or understood.

Most people who buy houses are already homeowners. If they can't sell the old house then they can't move into a new house. Back end sales drive front end sales. Any slowdown in housing inventory turnover has gruesome effects on total home sales. David Lereah and NAR are in complete denial of this unimpeachable fact.

Third prediction: "waves of opportunistic refinancing as people switch out of ARMs and lock in fixed rates" We are indeed seeing this. IMHO this will end within a year or two as everyone who wants to refinance will have done so.

Fourth prediction: "Widening of spreads between credit and non-credit ARM portfolios" has happened. A combination of reckless underwriting and mortgage fraud will probably cause the 2005/2006 vintage to be the worst since the beginning of modern residential mortgage lending.

This meltdown has caused deserved major damage in the sub-prime Mortgage sector. They face a triple witching of hopelessly fraudulent loans, natural deterioration of overleveraged borrowers, and a decline the value of foreclosed real estate owned. To paraphrase Seth Klarman; ""It is completely obvious that this will end badly - for the firms, borrowers, investors, everyone."

Spill over effects from the slowdown in housing and inverted yield curve have also done serious damage to the Active originator/Prime Investor AOPI REIT sector. Nice, ethical companies like Homebanc (HMB) and New York Mortgage Trust (NTR) have imploded. This is sad because these companies have unrecognized franchise value from origination platforms and large books of prime residential mortgages.

Eventually this will be a very profitable sector for distressed value investors to pick through. SSgA's KBW Mortgage Finance ETF, which has been in process for a long time, will be a very timely investment once the deflation of the housing bubble settles down.


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