The Insightful Trader

Delinquent Mortgage Borrowers Find it Harder to Catch Up

by on Dec.30, 2009, under Editorials

If you think housing will bounce back in 2010, check out this graph from Michael David White at


The graph shows cure rates, the percentage rate at which delinquent borrowers repay past due amounts so as to restore good credit standing on their mortgages. As recently as June 2007, 80% of borrowers who fell behind one payment were able to catch up. The graph also seems to show that as of September 2007, homeowners who counted on eager buyers to bail them out of overpriced homes began to have a tougher time of it.

In hindsight, the difficulties of borrowers who were two or more payments behind began to intensify a year earlier, in June 2006. One suspects that the graph captures the experience of the really junky mortgages whose borrowers went into early payment default (EPD).  EPDs happen when the borrower defaults within only a few months of taking the loan out.  If their lender sells the mortgage to another investor, that investor may have the right to put the mortgage back to the lender in the event of an EPD.

Thinly capitalized firms can’t survive too many EPDs. It was the epidemic of EPDs that forced a rash of undercapitalized mortgage bankers out of business.  Their bankruptcies helped mark the beginning of the housing crisis.

What does the graph tell us now? Most striking to me is that more than 90% the borrowers who miss two payments fail to catch up. As recently as March 2007, at least half of them succeeded in catching up. Data from the recent monthly Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) survey and the quarterly FDIC banking industry profiles seem to bear this out. The MBA surveys show that about five million borrowers, or roughly 10%, are at least one payment behind on their mortgage.

The FDIC data show that the current delinquent population presages many more foreclosures to come. We know this because the aggregate amount owed by borrowers 90 days or more past due is in fact much larger than the amount owed by borrowers 30-89 days past due. That’s the reverse of what we expect during normal times.

The FDIC’s third quarter “profile” shows that 8.06% of the home mortgages held by FDIC insured institutions were “non-current,” 90 or more days past due as of September 30. FDIC institutions had $1.929 trillion in home mortgages outstanding then, so there were $155 billion in non-current loans. If we assume that the average borrower owes $200,000 on a mortgage, that would make for 777,000 non-current loans. (The FDIC data don’t count loans made by non-bank financial institutions that are also covered in the MBA survey.)

The FDIC numbers additionally show that 3.15% of the outstanding mortgages are 30-89 days past due. That would be $61 billion worth, and these borrowers correspond to the top two lines of the graph. White used data from MBA and the National Association of Realtors, so the correspondence is close but not exact.

Since the FDIC’s 90+ days late group owes more than twice as much as the 30-89 days group, it only makes sense to guess that lots of people in the 30-89 days late group, just stop paying their mortgage. By definition, everyone who is 90+ days late, was once 30-89 days late, and then fell further behind.

These FDIC data square well with White’s graph. The graph tells us that 30-59 days of delinquency indicate more borrower stress than they used to, and 60 days of delinquency is now a point of no return.

The MBA cites the job market as the culprit for this change in behavior. High levels of long-term joblessness (six months or more out of work) mean that that those who stop paying because they have lost their job, are less likely to find work again in time to catch up on their mortgage than in previous postwar recessions.

Our data have some important implications for the housing market and for housing related stocks. The data help show that there is a large “shadow” inventory of homes that will eventually come onto the market, or that owners would sell if they could. The number of homes officially listed for sale is only part of the supply that weighs on the market .  Clearly the homes that secure loans 60 or more days past due should be counted in shadow inventory, though they are only one part of it  (the Calculated Risk blog does a good job of explaining shadow inventory and all its components).  And a large shadow inventory means, new homes will have to compete with homes offered in distressed sales over the foreseeable future.

Obviously I don’t expect homebuilder earnings to rebound anytime soon. On the other hand, I wouldn’t short the major builders because the government has given them massive tax breaks and seems hell-bent on bailing them out. That’s why I am also reluctant to short banks that got TARP money. Investors who want to exploit this situation, need to short overvalued housing-related stocks that are not likely to benefit from government assistance.

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