The bank stress tests conducted by regulators are not so much about capital adequacy through the current economic cycle as identifying enough capital to get the large zombie banks through the end of the year. While Larry Summers and the other economic seers who populate the Obama Administration actually believe that we'll see an economic bounce in Q3 2009 - a key assumption that also underlies the regulators' approach to designing the bank stress tests - we see nothing in the credit channel that suggests improvement in the real economy. Both residential real estate or "RES" and commercial real estate or "CRE" markets in the NY area, for example, are starting to see an acceleration in price declines, this as the swelling population of frustrated sellers is starting to capitulate in the face of few or no buyers.
But the chief reason for this sad tale above is that there is no financing for jumbo loans in the RES market. Indeed, as one of the bankers who participated in the "Market & Liquidity Risk Management for Financial Institutions" conference sponsored by PRMIA at the FDIC University on Monday noted, banks are not originating any RES paper that cannot be sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, soon to be merged into "Frannie Mae," as we noted earlier.
During a luncheon keynote address at that event, Josh Rosner of Graham Fisher & Co. noted much of the "growth" in non-conforming real estate markets during the final years of the boom was fueled by speculative buying and that the lack of financing in the jumbo, non-conforming RES markets is forcing price compression in markets like the urban RES and CRE markets of NY, CA, MA, etc.
"The lack of attention paid to the creation of industry wide standards and a more solid legal basis for securitzation has only hindered the recovery of a financial intermediation in a market that once funded about 50 percent of all consumer revolving and non-revolving credit," Rosner told The IRA.
While regulators think that stabilizing the banks was the real battle, is it in fact the dysfunction of the non-bank securitization markets and the effect of this dysfunction on valuations in the RES and CRE real estate markets that is now driving the US economic meltdown? While the Fed as a good bit to the toxic securitizations in cold storage on its balance sheet, the central bank's best efforts at adding liquidity facilities cannot replace this multi-trillion dollar market if banks won't originate paper.
If you want to learn more about the problems in the non-bank sector and how products like ARMs are about to push the US economy into a meltdown, take a look at the presentation from the PRMIA event on Monday by Alan Boyce, the former CFC executive and now chief executive officer of Absalon, a joint venture between George Soros and the Danish financial system that is assisting in the organization of a standardized mortgage-backed securities market for Mexico.
Go to the last slide. This is an illustration of the Option Adjusted Duration ("OAD") of the US mortgage markets. Notice that the OAD calculated by Boyce has grown from a low of $23 trillion in Sep 05, which just happens to be the nadir of loan defaults for the US mortgage market, to $45 trillion in Mar 09. The OAD is set to grow significantly as US interest rates rise or as the slope of the interest rate curve steepens.
OAD is essentially a way to measure the economic weight of debt, basically time x money or the price response for a given move in interest rates. Using existing data and some clever suppositions, Boyce constructed an alternate explanation of "the conundrum" of 2003 to 2006. This was driven by the Fed's very predictable interest rate policy, which flattened the interest rate curve and compressed interest rate volatility.
Homeowners were encouraged to refinance into ARMs and there was significant cash out refinancing into premium fixed rate mortgages. Interest rate risk was transferred to US consumers and created a ticking time bomb for US markets in terms of the future duration of the total corpus of outstanding mortgage debt.
During the PRMIA conference, Boyce echoed the view of other participants that the failure to act on securitization ensures further RES and CRE price compression. In a rising rate environment the OAD of this RES exposure in particular will grow exponentially and dwarf the "weight" or OAD of the UST debt issuance. The US homeowner will be trapped in their homes, unable to sell as nominal mortgage debt exceeds house values.
Of note, in the Danish system, rising interest rates do not create negative equity for home owners, performing borrowers may redeem their mortgage by purchasing the associated bond at the prevailing market rate. Credit risk is kept out of the bond market, making the mortgage bonds a pure reflection of the associated interest rate risks. By efficiently splitting credit and interest rate risk, there are no surprises as each risk resides where it is best analyzed and hedged.
Bottom line is that securitization machine operated by Wall Street doubled the outstanding stock of mortgages during the last five years of the boom, but the falling OAD driven by Fed rate policy hid the growth.
Unfortunately, in their wisdom, federal regulators actually encouraged US mortgage originators to use ARMs and other products to push interest rate risk onto the backs of homeowners and bond market investors ill-equipped to understand let along manage such risks. Boyce and many others believe that without a complete refinancing for all performing mortgage borrowers, the US real estate markets - and thus the financial industry - will in trapped in a deflationary environment for years to come.
The only way to fix this mess, Boyce suggested at the conference, is to refinance the entire performing mortgage market into standardized, transparent, callable, fixed rate loans, which allow the homeowner to value his liability at the market price. The interest of the mortgage originator needs to closely aligned to that of the borrower via a minimum 10% first loss risk sharing.
Rosner told The IRA he doubts that America's political and business sectors are ready or willing to embrace the transparency and consumer-friendliness of Denmark's mortgage sector, but the fact that Boyce and George Soros are advancing this example as a solution may be significant - especially as the year-end deadline for resolving the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac approaches. Rosner and Boyce believe that the restructuring of the housing GSEs presents an opportunity to set a new, consistent standard for securitization in the US.