Mortgage Standards Are Plunging – It’s Muppet Fleecing Time All Over Again

In February, I highlighted the fact that subprime loans were about to make a return in my piece: Subprime Mortgages are Back…This Time Marketed as “Second Chance Purchase Programs.” In that article, I posited that with the “all cash” private equity shops and hedge funds no longer able to make good returns through buying new homes to rent, these investors would need some sucker to sell to in order to realize a return (Blackstone’s purchases have plunged 70% recently). That sucker, as always, will be the retail muppets, and those muppets will be lured in through subprime. This is now starting to happen in earnest.

The following article from the Wall Street Journal is both depressing and disturbing. Rather than allowing home prices to reset at a lower level after the 2008 crash where to normal buyers could afford a sane 20% mortgage, our central planners decided to do “whatever it takes” to re-inflate the housing bubble. This was achieved through wealthy investment pools buying properties for all cash. The trouble is, with home prices now inflated by these financial buyers and no real increase in wages, homes are simply unaffordable. So what do you do? You bring back subprime and get the peasants long real estate with essentially zero money down all over again. Truly remarkable.

From the Wall Street Journal:

While standards remain tight by historical measures, lenders have started to accept lower credit scores and to reduce down-payment requirements.

One such lender is TD Bank, Toronto-Dominion Bank’s U.S. unit, which on Friday began accepting down payments as low as 3% through an initiative called “Right Step,” geared toward first-time buyers and low- and moderate-income buyers. TD initially launched the program last year with a 5% down payment. It keeps the product on its books and doesn’t charge for insurance. Borrowers also don’t need to put down any of their own cash if a family, state or nonprofit group provides a down-payment gift.

So a measly 5% downpayment wasn’t good enough. They had to drop it to 3%. Frightening.

The changes also are a recognition by lenders that the business of refinancing old mortgages, which had been a huge profit center for banks, is nearly tapped out. To generate future profits, banks will have to compete for borrowers who may not have perfect credit or large down payments.

Valley National Bank, a community bank based in Wayne, N.J., lowered down-payment requirements to 5% from 25% this month on mortgages for certain buyers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Next month, Arlington Community Federal Credit Union, based in Arlington, Va., will begin accepting 3% down payments on mortgages up to $417,000, down from 5%.

Yes, you read that right, 25% to 5%. Holy fuck.

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U.S. Banking Regulator Warns of a Credit Bubble Fueled by “Alternative Asset Managers”

This isn’t the first time in recent months we have heard serious warnings of a new and potentially quite dangerous credit bubble. Recall back in September, when Blackstone’s head of private equity proclaimed that “we are in the middle of an epic credit bubble.” Well they should know, because according to the article below from Reuters, Blackstone and many other private equity firms are the “alternative asset managers” directly responsible for its creation.

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t wait for another bankster bailout!

From Reuters:

(Reuters) – A U.S. bank regulator is warning about the dangers of banks and alternative asset managers working together to do risky deals and get around rules amid concerns about a possible bubble in junk-rated loans to companies.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has already told banks to avoid some of the riskiest junk loans to companies, but is alarmed that banks may still do such deals by sharing some of the risk with asset managers.

These clowns never learn, and why should they when society just bails them out from their stupidity.

“We do not see any benefit to banks working with alternative asset managers or shadow banks to skirt the regulation and continue to have weak deals flooding markets,” said Martin Pfinsgraff, senior deputy comptroller for large bank supervision at the OCC, in a statement in response to questions from Reuters.

Among the investors in alternative asset managers are pension funds that have funding issues of their own, he said.

“Transferring future losses from banks to pension funds does not aid long-term financial stability for the U.S. economy,” he added.

No, but it’s a great way to transfer risk to the muppets.

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Manhattan Apartment Rental Rates Drop for Third Month in a Row

Now this is interesting. Investors looking at real estate should be aware of two main things at the moment. Those two things relate to what is really driving this centrally planned, manufactured rebound in U.S. real estate. It’s really a tale of two distinct trends. In formerly hurting markets such as Arizona, Nevada and Florida, private equity investors have flooded into what is a now gigantically crowded to “buy-to-rent” trade. Meanwhile, in the prime markets such as New York City and San Francisco, we have seen the “money laundering trade,” where rich oligarchs move their often ill-gotten gains into trophy real estate assets abroad.

We have seen many signs all year that the first key pillar to the manufactured rise in housing was becoming strained, as rents continued to rise while incomes continued to fall. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this can only last so long, and many of the early investors in “buy-to-rent” have already gotten out or are trying to.

As far as the second pillar, well at some point the oligarchs will have purchased enough homes in London and Manhattan and then what? Interestingly, the seemingly unstoppable rental market in Manhattan is showing signs of cracking. What this ultimately means is unknown, but it’s an interesting data point nonetheless.

From Bloomberg:

Manhattan apartment rents fell for a third month in November and the vacancy rate reached the highest in at least seven years, signs the market is weakening amid a spike in homebuying and the lure of leasing in Brooklyn.

The median monthly rent in Manhattan dropped 3 percent from a year earlier to $3,100, according to a report today by appraiserMiller Samuel Inc. and brokerageDouglas Elliman Real Estate. The vacancy rate climbed to 2.8 percent, the highest since the firms began tracking the data in August 2006.

“With the scare about rising mortgage rates, it poached a lot of demand from the rental market,”Jonathan Miller, president of New York-based Miller Samuel, said in an interview. “On top of that, what else is poaching demand from the Manhattan rental market is Brooklyn.”

Manhattan landlords agreed to offer concessions, such as a month’s free rent, on 7.2 percent of all new leases in November, up from 4.2 percent a year earlier.

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Luxury Home Foreclosures Soar – Up 61% Versus Last Year

I’ve always wondered what would happen once private equity players decided enough was enough and foreign oligarchs finished their real estate money laundering transactions. Well, we might be about to find out.

According to RealtyTrac, foreclosures for homes worth $5 million or more are up 61% this year despite the fact that overall foreclosures are down 23%. The question is, does this merely represent holdouts from the prior housing bubble, or is it a sign of things to come? Only time will tell. From CBS:

Foreclosures in the ultra-high-end housing market — homes worth $5 million or more — have skyrocketed 61 percent over last year.

That growth bucks the trend: Overall foreclosures are down 23 percent, according to a new report from Irvine, Calif.-based real estate information site RealtyTrac.

Until lately, that is. “Recently, we’ve been hearing from agents that they’re starting to see the high-end properties go to foreclosure and there turned out to be some data to support this notion that high-end holdouts are finally moving through the foreclosure process,” he said.

It may be a sign that lenders are now financially stable enough to start moving on ultra-high-end delinquencies and take the substantial losses these multi-million dollar homes represent.

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The Carlyle Group’s Latest Investment…Trailer Parks

Earlier this month, I highlighted the fact that the Carlyle Group was the latest in a series of “smart money” private equity firms to decide it was time to exit the suddenly extremely crowded “buy-to rent” residential real estate trade. At the time I noted that:

As it sells apartments, Carlyle is focusing investments in areas such as senior housing, self-storage units and manufactured homes, where demand tends to be driven by life changes such as retirement or marriages, and isn’t so closely tied to changes in employment and gross domestic product, Stuckey said.

Well it appears Carlyle has already started to make its move. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday: Carlyle Jumps Into Niche Space - Private-Equity Firm Adds Trailer Parks to Its Diverse Portfolio. In case you can’t figure out what appears to be the key logic behind the shift in focus, try this line on for size: 

Because the cost of relocating a home is expensive, residents are less likely to move away. “Our customers have no alternative shot at homeownership, nor do they [normally] even have the credit scores and quality to seek anything better,” Mr. Rolfe said. “They never leave the park they are in, and the revenues are unbelievably stable as a result.”

In neo-feudalistic America, always, always go long serfdom.

More from the WSJ:

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The Carlyle Group is the Latest “Smart Money” Investor to Ditch the Buy-to-Rent Trade

At first, the rise in residential real estate prices across the U.S. was hard to explain. The economy remained in the dumps, while college kids were saddled with debts and poor paying jobs. A large portion of the demographic that typically enters the first home market was simply put, not in the market. Pretty soon it became obvious what was happening. Insider types and “smart money” was simply buying up every property they could find in order to turn around and rent them to the average citizen who had just been priced out of the market due their all cash bids. Add to this tens of billions of dollars in foreign laundered money and voilà, a new housing bubble was born.

However, as more and more lemmings began to chase the trade, initial investors have started to get nervous. First it was Och Ziff, then OakTree, then Carrington and finally now perhaps the most infamous of all insider private equity firms, the Carlyle Group. So now we have four well known and respected investors actively and publicly trying to exit the trade. As usual, they are selling to suckers such as life-insurance companies and real estate investment trusts.

From Bloomberg:

Carlyle Group LP (CG), the private-equity firm with more than a third of its $2.3 billion U.S. real estate fund in apartments, is reducing holdings of multifamily housing as rent growth slows from a post-recession surge.

Apartment-rent growth is slowing as the U.S. homebuying market rebounds and a wave of multifamily building adds to supply. In the third quarter, tenants on average paid 3 percent more than a year earlier after landlord concessions, down from 3.9 percent annual growth in effective rents in 2012, research firm Reis Inc. (REIS) said in a report today.

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Stage Two of the Housing Bubble Begins: Blackstone to Lend to Others for “Buy to Rent”

As we all know, any good ponzi scheme needs a continued stream of new investors in order to keep it going otherwise the whole thing falls apart.  We also know that the current rebound in the U.S. housing market is a centrally planned monster, led by private equity firms with access to cheap money and laundered foreign capital flooding into depressed markets, crowding out American families looking to purchase a home. Well now that Blackstone has spent more than $5 billion in its “buy-to-rent” scheme, it wants others to be able to “participate” in this wonderful investment opportunity (after them of course).  Oh and by the way, one of the most common ads on the local radio here in Boulder as of late explains to people how they too can “get in” on the buy-to-rent trade.  Best of luck. From Bloomberg:

Blackstone Group LP, the private-equity firm that has spent $5 billion on more than 30,000 distressed houses, is preparing to expand its bet on the housing recovery by lending to other landlords.

The firm, which already owns more rental homes than any other investor, has set up B2R Finance LP to offer loans starting at $10 million, according to four people who reviewed the terms. B2R is reaching out to landlords with portfolios of properties seeking to grow in the burgeoning industry for single-family homes to rent, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

At least five rental companies have received non-binding term sheets from B2R, according to the people. Jeffrey Tennyson, the former chief executive officer of mortgage originator EquiFirst Corp., is running the firm, which stands for buy-to-rent. He previously led EquiFirst to become the 12th-largest wholesale subprime lender in the U.S. by 2007, when Barclays Bank PLC bought it. The London-based bank closed the business two years later after the market collapsed.

Tennyson didn’t return phone messages seeking comment on his role at B2R. Peter Rose, a spokesman for Blackstone, declined to comment.

So basically we continue to recycle the same characters from the last housing bubble to come on in and do it again.

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Foreign Cash is Now Bidding for “Rat Infested” Homes in America’s Latest Housing Bubble

I’ve been following closely the recent attempts by the domestic oligarchy in charge of the corporatist-facist state we call America to create a new housing bubble for several years now.  For a little while, I was merely confused as to how prices were starting to rise when college graduates have no jobs and are six figures in debt, while at the same time real incomes are dropping for the rest of the populace.  Rather quickly, the pieces starting falling into place.  It became clear that the primary demand in the market was not from new families or recent college grads.  Nope, it was pretty much all financial oligarchs with private equity firms buying up properties in bulk as “investments.”  An entire asset class of “buy to rent” was born.  I tweeted the following a few days ago:

I can sum up the housing market like this. Rich baby boomers with PE firms outbidding each other as they enter the dementia phase of their lives.

I firmly believe that the above statement sums up what is now the primary backbone of the latest housing bubble.  Alas, there is more.  On top of these boomers that know nothing other than real estate and financial speculation, there is a flood of foreign money, in many cases criminal money, being laundered into U.S. real estate.  We discover that this foreign cash is now preventing regular citizens from buying or even renting in the San Francisco Bay Area.  From Mercury News:

Many homes that would be purchased in a normal market by average buyers are ending up in the hands of cash-paying absentee owners, typically investors, according to the real estate information company DataQuick. That’s especially true of foreclosures and lower-priced homes and condos.

David Yang, 36, who works in solar power, is moving into a home in South San Jose — the 10th one he bid on in five months of looking. “Every house in a good neighborhood probably will receive 20 to 30 offers,” he said. “It’s really crazy.”

His agent, Sharmila Banerjee, said that “cash is coming from China, India, Russia, but there can be difficulties transferring money from outside the country.” When one such deal fell through, another one of her clients had his offer accepted, she said.

In February, 1,044 houses and condos — 28 percent of the sales — in the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa were bought by absentee buyers. That is the highest percentage since DataQuick began tracking them in 2000. In Contra Costa County, absentee buyers were 35 percent of the sales.

Real estate agent Melissa Haugh said everyone in her office was stunned at the price, paid in cash, for a Santa Clara fixer-upper.

“The house had a rat infestation, there were holes in the walls, windows that leaked, mold around windows, water damage to floors. It needed $100,000 in work,” she said.

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America Meet Your New Slumlord: Wall Street

And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.

- Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, May 28, 1816

Well they aren’t really your “new” slumlord in the sense you have been debt slaves to the financials system for decades.  What I really mean is that it is now becoming overt and literal.  Literal because financiers are now the main players in the real estate market and are buying all the homes ordinary citizens were kicked out of over the past few years.  Yep, we bailed out the financial system so that financiers with access to cheap credit can buy up all of America’s real estate so that they can then rent it back to you later.

Of course, my opinion is that this will ultimately backfire on all the private equity buyers once they find out multiple generations will start living together and a weak economy will not provide the rental income they envision going forward.  Particularly once we have another severe slowdown…which always happens eventually.  Incredibly, Blackstone has spent $1.5 billion to buy homes in the last 2-3 months alone!

From Bloomberg:

Blackstone has spent more than more than $2.5 billion on 16,000 homes to manage as rentals, deploying capital from the $13.3 billion fund it raised last year, said Jonathan Gray, global head of real estate for the world’s largest private equity firm. That’s up from $1 billion of homes owned in October, when Blackstone Chairman Stephen Schwarzman said the company was spending $100 million a week on houses.

“The market is moving much faster than anybody thought possible,” Gray said during an interview in Blackstone’s New York headquarters. “Housing is much stronger than people anticipated.”

Of course the market is improving.  Not because citizens are buying, but because financiers with access to cheap credit are in a bidding war to become America’s slumlords.

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