Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mortgage Market Guide Vol. 10 Issue 6

Last Week in Review: The Jobs Report for January is in - and the news was good!

It's been said that no news is good news. But last week, the Jobs Report brought some good news for the labor market. Read on for the details...and what they mean for home loan rates.

The headline Jobs Report showed 243,000 jobs created, which was much better than expected. Meanwhile, a whopping 257,000 private jobs were created, also much higher than expected. Upward revisions to November and December added another 60,000 jobs to what was previously reported for those months. And adding to the euphoria was a 0.2% decline in the Unemployment Rate, bringing it to 8.3%...the lowest since February 2009.

Despite all this good news, the report did show a pretty sharp decline in the labor participation rate from 64% to 63.7%. We really need to have more people "participating," or working to help pay down our debt. Understandably, the demographics of baby boomers retiring does account for some of the decline. But is it the entire 0.3%? And the U-6 Unemployment Rate (which counts all persons marginally attached to the labor force, including those who are employed part-time but would prefer full-time) remains at a lofty 15.1%, with that figure dropping just 0.1% for the month.

And there was other good news to note last week as well: The Commerce Department reported that Personal Incomes rose in December by 0.5%, above expectations and well above the 0.1% reported in November. This marked the largest increase in nine months!

So what does all of this mean for the housing market and home loan rates?

While Bonds and home loan rates did worsen on the good Jobs Report news (remember good economic news often causes money to flow out of Bonds and into Stocks, as investor try to take advantage of gains), home loan rates remain near historic best levels. In addition, the problems in Europe remain…and as uncertainty reemerges, US Bonds (including Mortgage Bonds, to which home loan rates are tied) will benefit.

The takeaway from all of last week's news is that the pace of improvement in the labor market is choppy and muddled at best. But the trend is improving over time, and this is welcome news for the struggling housing market because as people feel more secure in their jobs, they are more willing to consider making major purchases like a home.

The bottom line is that now is a great time to purchase or refinance. Let me know if I can answer any questions at all for you or your clients.

Forecast for the Week: Stocks and Bonds will be battling over investing dollars as only two economic reports are scheduled.

As you can see in the chart below, Bonds and home loan rates worsened after the Jobs Report was delivered on Friday. I'll be watching closely to see what happens this week.

Chart: Fannie Mae 3.5% Mortgage Bond (Friday Feb 03, 2012)

There are just two economic reports due for release this week and with earnings season winding down, the Stock and Bond markets will be battling over investing dollars.
  • Thursday brings the weekly Initial Jobless Claims Report. Last week people filing for first-time claims fell by 12,000 to 367,000, an encouraging sign now that claims have fallen below that dangerously high level of 400,000.
  • On Friday, we'll see the first reading on Consumer Sentiment for February.
In addition, the Treasury will sell a total of $72 Billion in Notes and Bonds this week.

Remember: Weak economic news normally causes money to flow out of Stocks and into Bonds, helping Bonds and home loan rates improve, while strong economic news normally has the opposite result. The chart below shows Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), which are the type of Bond that home loan rates are based on.

When you see these Bond prices moving higher, it means home loan rates are improving - and when they are moving lower, home loan rates are getting worse.

To go one step further - a red "candle" means that MBS worsened during the day, while a green "candle" means MBS improved during the day. Depending on how dramatic the changes were on any given day, this can cause rate changes throughout the day, as well as on the rate sheets we start with each morning. 

View: President Obama has proposed a new plan to help homeowners refinance. Check out the details below.

New Proposal to Help Homeowners Refinance...
But Will It Ever Get Off the Ground?

The Obama administration has proposed a national refinance plan in an effort to stimulate the housing market by helping those homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages, or owe more on their loan than what the home is currently worth. Based on the proposal, the program would be available to responsible mortgage borrowers...and could save them up to $3,000 a year if they were to partake in the program.

However - and this is very important - the plan is currently just a proposal and would have to be passed through both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

President Obama first introduced the plan at his State of the Union Address on January 24th and stated just recently that this is a "make-or-break" moment for the middle class. The President said the program will cut through the red tape with no hidden fees.

There are, however, certain stipulations within the President's proposal. The candidates would have to be current on their mortgages for the past six months and could only have one missed payment in the six months prior to that. The candidate would have to have a credit score of at least 580. The loans would be backed into Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loans and would come from loans that are privately held, and would expand on the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) that is currently open to loans that are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In addition, the loans would have to be 30-year conforming loans or loans that fall between $271,050 to $729,250, and the residence must be owner occupied.

The White House would also want lenders to take a "haircut" for those homeowners who are deep underwater. Homeowners that are deep underwater could be more susceptible to foreclosure or to just "walk away" from their commitment to repay the debt.

Here's an example of what the plan might mean to a homeowner, if the proposed plan were to be approved. On a $200,000 loan that is currently at 6%, the borrower would receive an interest rate of about 4.25%, which could amount to a savings of $216 a month on a 30-year mortgage. There would also be an option to move into a 20-year mortgage and - although the payments would not be lowered - it would provide an incentive to build equity and to pay off the loan in a shorter amount of time.

But before you get too excited or start making any plans, we have to remember that this is just a proposed idea at this time.

As with every new bill introduced to Congress, there could be pushback for the plan, which is expected to cost as much as $5 Billion to $10 Billion. The President said that the new plan would not add to the deficit; instead, the funds would come from a fee placed on large financial institutions. This has already gotten negative comments from Republicans in Congress. The White House said that other options to pay for the program would be considered.

This isn't the first time that Capitol Hill has tried to combat the problems of underwater mortgages in the past few years and they have not been too successful. One big question is will the banks and servicers go along with the plan if it were to get through Congress.

In addition, the loans will be backed into FHA loans. But, FHA is on very shaky ground right now and is in no better shape financially than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Some experts even think that FHA may need a bailout in the near future.

The last thing this Congress wants to do right now is to pass yet another stimulus bill, so many pundits see the proposal as "Dead on Arrival."

In conclusion, an assortment of programs have been introduced to help struggling homeowners, and they have only had limited success. In order for this plan to get off the ground, it will need to be a joint effort by the White House, the lender, the servicer and the consumer... a feat that is always difficult to achieve when there are many moving targets and several different agencies involved. 

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