One of the many dire predictions done these past few months by many ‘bubbleologists’ out there – that is all those who indulge in the contemplation of real estate bubbles of all sizes and colors, whether real or imaginary, coming our way – was that by now real estate markets everywhere would be inundated and swept away by a tsunami of foreclosures of apocalyptic proportions.
The general rationale among those specializing in the fine art of staring at crystal balls (or perhaps at several empty bottles of rum) was that the steady increase in interest rates, the consequence of a tightening monetary policy implemented by the Fed since mid-2004, would have led by now to a collapse of the adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) market, since consumers could not possibly cope with the increased monthly payments. This, in turn, would dramatically increase mortgage defaults and foreclosures, with the end result that real estate markets everywhere would be flooded with excess inventory at deflated prices, thus causing markets to crash – the tsunami I was talking about.
The Mortgage Bankers Association of America (http://www.mbaa.org) does not seem to share this particular vision of the end of the world. In its Economic Outlook update released in May 2006, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBAA) pegs the ARMs share at 27 percent, down from the 36 percent peak of early 2005, an indication that many prudent consumers have locked in already. Likewise, the inventory of mortgages held by banks is virtually unchanged at 1,500 billions (aggregate nominal face value of mortgages, by dollars), the same level of 2005, suggesting that, rather than defaulting, consumers are ‘holding on’. And, finally, the rate of delinquency is at 4.38 percent, down from 4.70 percent in the final quarter of 2005, clearly another measure of consumers financial stamina, and an indication that banks were actually faring worse when real estate markets were doing better.
But that’s not all!
In the Mortgage Finance Forecast released also in May 2006, MBAA highlights that the rate of housing starts nationwide has increased nationwide, up to 2,131,000 units (annualized) for the first quarter of 2006 from 2,059,000 units in the last quarter of 2005 – an increase of 72,000 units representing a robust +3.496 percent overall, although this rate is forecasted to slow down as the softening trend in real estate markets continues throughout the year. Home sales overall are forecasted to decrease by 501,000 units nationwide to 6,574,000 units by December, 2006 from the 7,075,000 of December, 2005. Although this represents an annualized drop in sales of 7.08 percent compared to last year, it can hardly be called a bubble burst!
And here is the most surprising figures of them all – surprising for the bubbleologists, that is. Notwithstanding the increase in interest rates and the toll that many think ARMs will take on defenceless consumers, MBAA forecasts that the average market share of ARMs will remain constant at 27 percent of institutional mortgages for 2006, down only 3% from the 2005 average. The significance of this forecast is twofold: 1) MBAA does not anticipate that interest rates will increase significantly higher for the remainder of the year and 2) MBAA mirrors a Gallup survey conducted in May 2006, which found that only 11 percent of Americans worry about ARMs, down from 20 percent in 2005.
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