steven.bray

Nov 122019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

I’ve been writing for months about my concern about the Chinese trade dispute and its potential to move interest rates. Last week presented a poster child case for my concern. Rumors circulated that the US would rescind some tariffs and forego the planned Dec tariffs to induce the Chinese to sign phase one of a trade deal. Bond traders reacted swiftly to push rates to their highest levels in 3 months. Remember that resolving the trade dispute is considered good for the economy, and a healthy economy supports higher interest rates.

As we start this week, it looks like markets may be taking a breather. President Trump wouldn’t confirm the tariff rumors, and most of the other issues that had been weighing on rates – slowing world economies, Brexit, the impeachment battle – are far from settled. So, hitting pause makes sense while markets wait for a new source of inspiration.

I doubt we’ll get it this week, but we will have a couple candidates:

  • We’ll get two heavy-weight economic reports this week: the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measuring inflation and the Retail Sales Report. Inflation has remained muted this year, and few, including the Fed, expect that to change. Retail sales, an indicator of the consumer side of the economy, have remained solid despite the trade dispute, and most expect that to continue. If either report deviates significantly from expectations, expect interest rates to move accordingly.
  • Second, Fed head Powell has two days of Congressional testimony this week. Given that Powell had a press conference following the Fed’s meeting two weeks ago, I don’t expect he’ll reveal anything during his testimony that will move rates. However, markets will be vigilant just in case.

More info on FHA condo rules

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on More info on FHA condo rules
Oct 212019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

I reported last week on the new FHA rules for approving a single condo unit in an otherwise ineligible complex, FHA’s replacement for the old spot approvals. At the time, I didn’t have many specifics. Now I do, so let’s look at what it takes to get a single-unit approval.

FHA considers the following characteristics for single-unit approvals:

  • At least 50% of the units in the complex must be owner-occupied, which includes second-homes that aren’t rented the majority of the year;
  • The HOA must have a 10% reserve account;
  • No more than 10% of the units may be owned by one person or entity;
  • The complex may be comprised of no more than 35% commercial space; and
  • No more than 15% of the units may be 60 days or more past due on their HOA dues.

And the really great thing is documentation of these characteristics generally is part of the standard buyer’s package the HOA provides to prospective buyers. With a single-unit approval, it’s the lender’s responsibility to make sure the complex complies with the rules, so the HOA doesn’t have to slog through FHA’s bureaucratic approval process.

Condos that receive single-unit approval are eligible for the same low down-payment options as other FHA loans, meaning a minimum down payment of 3.5%. The only exception to this is if the buyer’s financial situation is such that the lender cannot get an automated approval, in which case the buyer must make a 10% down payment.

Single-unit approvals really shouldn’t significantly affect the amount of time needed to close an FHA loan. FHA has a special process for registering spot-approval loans that may take up to 3 days. (Registration for other FHA loans typically is instantaneous.) However, this registration process is during the time when the buyer typically is gathering financial documents. Once FHA issues the “case number,” it’s the lender’s responsibility to make sure the condo qualifies.

FHA makes it easier to buy a condo

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on FHA makes it easier to buy a condo
Oct 122019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Currently, in order for a homebuyer to use an FHA loan to purchase a condo, the condominium project is subject to an approval process. The process is rather bureaucratic and takes time, AND it must be repeated every two years. Condo developers may muddle through the process to get units sold initially, but it seems few renew their approvals once the condo project is complete. If the project doesn’t have a current approval, a homebuyer may not use an FHA loan to purchase a unit in that project.

Many years ago, FHA would approve a single-unit in an otherwise illegible condo project – so called “spot approvals” – but FHA eliminated that option after the financial crisis.

I guess it’s a case of deja vu all over again because spot approvals are back. Apparently, the feds have realized that preventing FHA homebuyers from considering condos was exacerbating the housing inventory problem.

The new single-unit approval guidelines have a few limitations:

  • the condo project can’t have ineligible characteristics, like a rental desk;
  • the project must consist of at least 5 units;
  • it must be occupied or have been issued a certificate of occupancy for at least one year; and
  • no more than 10% of the units can have single-unit approvals.

The new guidelines go into effect on the 15th, so start shopping.

Rate update: My biggest fear

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: My biggest fear
Oct 092019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Mortgage rates seem to be range-bound once more. After the decidedly weak manufacturing and services sector reports last week, that may be a bit of a surprise. The talking heads predictably spouted doom and gloom scenarios of a pending recession, but it seems like investors weren’t listening very closely. Rates initially retreated on the headlines, but since then have held steady.

So, what is likely to be the next source of inspiration for rates?

I think the most important economic data to watch at this point are the confidence measures. Business confidence has been lagging most of the year due to the ongoing trade dispute with China. However, consumer confidence has been sky high. That may be changing – possibly due to uncertainty created by the impeachment drama or the constant downbeat news from the press or maybe something else. My biggest fear is that we talk ourselves into a recession.

If consumers pull back, the economy could erode quickly, which would lead to much lower rates as we close the year. Given the political considerations – election next year – I suspect political operatives will do what they can to encourage that erosion. Thus, I put higher odds on lower rates before the end of the year.

I think the most important economic issue still is the trade dispute with China. Earlier in the year, I was betting on at least a partial resolution, which I said would lead to higher rates. However, given our current political dysfunction, I doubt China will want to deal. We may see a temporary reprieve from some of the sanctions, which could tickle rates higher for a short time, but I expect the dispute will continue to dampen both domestic and global growth, which would keep a lid on interest rates.

Get rid of the 30-year mortgage

 Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Get rid of the 30-year mortgage
Sep 252019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Get rid of the 30-year mortgage? So says Ed Pinto, a resident fellow and the co-director of the Center on Housing Markets and Finance at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). In a recently posted article, Mr. Pinto argues that a 30-year term greatly increases the risk of foreclosure and has led to higher home prices for entry-level homes.

He cites statistics showing that foreclosure rates were almost zero during the 1950’s (prior to the advent of the 30-year mortgage) and that a 30-year loan is about twice as risky as a 20-year loan. He also notes that in the 50’s the median price of a home was roughly two-times median income. Today, the ratio is over 3.5.

Mr. Pinto’s arguments are thought-provoking, but I’m not sure the proposal, elimination of the 30-year mortgage, is reasonable. A 30-year term results in a lower monthly payment, making it possible for someone to purchase a higher-priced home than if she used a 20-year mortgage.

The issue of risk in my mind comes down to a question of public policy.

  • If 30-year loan rates reflect the higher associated risk of foreclosure, should that be acceptable?
  • If as a society we’re not willing to accept any risk of foreclosure, then are we willing to accept a higher interest rate (or government subsidy) to internalize the costs associated with supporting those who lose their homes?

Finally, Mr. Pinto argues that the 30-year mortgage has made entry-level homes less affordable. I’m not buying his correlation. While it makes economic sense that a lower monthly payment would lead to more demand for homes pushing prices up, the market would correct for that by creating supply to meet the demand. Moreover, there are too many other factors that could explain the fact that entry-level home prices have increased more quickly than move-up home prices, such as mortgage programs that target and subsidize first-time homebuyers.

Rate update: The big reason mortgage rates aren’t lower

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: The big reason mortgage rates aren’t lower
Aug 142019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Trade uncertainty last week set off a feeding frenzy in the bond market. Investors gobbled up Treasury bonds in a flight-to-safety buying spree that saw the 10-year rate drop by 40 basis points (0.4%) in just over a week. The 10-year rate is now the lowest it’s been since 2016.

Given that we always talk about mortgage rates tracking the 10-year Treasury, shouldn’t mortgage rates be looking superb right about now? Well, not exactly. While mortgage rates tend to move in the same direction as the 10-year T-bill, there’s one big reason that mortgage rates lag behind when it comes to rapid rate changes.

When an investor buys a 10-year Treasury bond with a 2% rate, the investor knows that bond will pay 2% interest for exactly 10 years. Period.

When an investor buys a 30-year mortgage security with a 3% rate, the investor knows it will pay 3% for 30 years if and only if the borrower doesn’t sell, refinance, die. Of these, refinancing is the greatest risk when rates are moving lower.

Let’s say an investor buys a mortgage security with a loan balance of $1 million paying 3%. The investor expects to receive payments equal to the loan balance PLUS the interest paid on the loan, so the investor pays $1.04 million for the security – a premium to account for interest.

Now, let’s say rates keep dropping, and the borrower refinances after 12 months. The borrower has paid roughly $30k in interest, but the investor paid a $40k premium. Not a winning investment strategy.

Investors still want to purchase mortgage securities, so what do they do? They reduce the premium they’ll pay. The way this shows up for borrowers is in the interest rate.

In the example above, it takes $40k of premium to make everyone whole in the mortgage transaction. If the investor only offers $30k, the lender needs to make up the extra $10k, and it does that by offering the investor (and, thus, the borrower) a slightly higher interest rate – thus inducing the investor to pay the required premium.

Now, the borrower will see a lower rate than before rates fell because the cost of money is lower, but the borrower’s rate won’t fall as quickly as that of more predictable bonds, such as Treasuries.

If Treasury rates settle into the current range for a while, the refinancing risk will abate, and mortgage rates eventually will catch up.

Or maybe home prices are falling

 Real Estate Market  Comments Off on Or maybe home prices are falling
Aug 122019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Is the housing market heating up or cooling down? Well, it depends on whom you ask. It also probably depends on where you look.

Last week, we reviewed at a Corelogic report that said home price appreciation is rising again. Today, we’ll look at a Redfin report that says the market is slowing.

According to Redfin, the national housing market has cooled dramatically. The brokerage company says home sellers are four-times less likely to receive multiple offers than a year ago. Only 12% of the offers written by its agents faced competition in Jun.

Redfin says home sales started slipping late last year when mortgage rates rose dramatically. Since then, rates have fallen back, but sales have been slow to recover. The report says properties are staying on the market longer, and more of its seller are having to drop prices than in the last two years.

Redfin reported the most dramatic slowdowns in West Coast markets.

The Case-Shiller price index seems to agree as the national index showed home price appreciation fell again in May. The reading of 3.4% was down a tick from Apr and down about 3 points from a recent peak last year.

While the index shows the pace of appreciation slowing, it’s important to remember that prices still are moving higher. In Case-Shiller’s 20-city composite index, only Seattle home prices were lower than a year ago, and prices there have been rising since Jan. For Dallas, the only TX city in the index, home prices have been rising consistently since the trough of the Great Recession.

Housing index says prices rising again

 Real Estate Market, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Housing index says prices rising again
Aug 062019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Home price increases are accelerating again, so says Corelogic, a leading real estate data provider. It reported that its Home Price Index is increasing again on a month-over-month basis. In fact, the index rose 0.9% from May to Jun alone. Corelogic reported the annual increase was 3.6%.

Analyzing the reasons for the increase, Corelogic suggests lower mortgage rates may be the culprit. Rates for fixed-rate mortgages have fallen by nearly one percent since last fall.

Another reason may be homeowners’ reluctance to sell. As home prices rise, homeowners are questioning their ability to afford a replacement home, especially one in the same area. In a survey in higher-priced markets, Corelogic found three times as many people planning to buy as sell. Simple economics says that situation will put pressure on home prices.

While the current home price index remains near its recent low, Corelogic forecasts that it will rise above 5% again in the next few months. Even with continued low interest rates, that is likely to exacerbate the housing affordability problem, especially for moderate income homebuyers.

Rate update: Thank cheap Chinese imports for lower rates

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Thank cheap Chinese imports for lower rates
Aug 052019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

If you needed a recipe for a rate rally, just take a look at recent financial headlines. Friday, the President announced a tariff on an additional $300B worth of Chinese imports, and the investor herd started making flight-to-safety trades, buying up US bonds. When the demand for bonds is high, rates are low (because the bond issuers don’t have to offer as much interest to entice bond purchases).

Almost lost in the stampede was last Wed’s Fed rate cut and the good jobs report on Fri. Without the stampede, I’d hazard that we’d be stuck in the summer doldrums again, wondering when rates would move higher or lower. Fed head Powell hemmed and hawed when asked if the Fed would cut rates again this year, and the jobs report was strong enough to suggest a continuation of moderate economic growth. Neither provided a clear signal to investors.

But investors got their signal Fri and believe it was reinforced by weak global economic data today. On top of that, China devalued it currency overnight to levels not seen since the depths of the Great Recession.

That matters because it suggests a number of rate friendly effects. It suggests the trade war isn’t going to end soon. By devaluing its currency, China hopes to keep its good competitive despite the tariffs. Lower import prices lead to lower inflation, the mortal enemy of interest rates. And it increases the chances of a recession, and that increases the chances the Fed will have to lower short term rates even further.

As usually happens when Treasury rates fall so quickly, only a fraction of the gain has filtered through to mortgage rates. However, if Treasury rates remain in this new, lower range, mortgage rates eventually will catch up.

Rate update: What Fed’s Powell says is important

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: What Fed’s Powell says is important
Jul 302019
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

This is a big week for interest rates. Not only do we have a lot of important economic reports, but the Federal Reserve is expected to announce it’s reducing short term interest rates by a quarter point. The Fed has been telegraphing the rate cut for weeks, so that really shouldn’t garner much attention. Instead, markets are going to be watching what Fed head Powell says in the post-meeting press conference.

Markets WANT the Fed to continue cutting rates at subsequent meetings this year, and the Fed’s forward guidance has indicated a willingness to do so – if economic conditions warrant it. So, I’m sure Powell will get peppered with questions trying to pin him down on that question. If he pulls back on future rate cuts, mortgage rates are likely to jump. Personally, I think he’ll thread the needle, showing a willingness to cut further, but saying the timing depends on economic data.

If that happens, markets will turn their attention to Friday’s jobs report. Last month’s report rebounded strongly from relatively weak May numbers. July’s economic data has been somewhat mixed, but generally positive. Consumer spending has buoyed the economy, making up for a slowdown in the manufacturing sector.

The problem is that the latter is more likely to be affected by slowing economies overseas. Thus, another strong jobs report still might not sway markets (or the Fed) from anticipating lower rates in the months to come, which probably would leave rates in their current range. On the other hand, if job growth shows a weakening trend, I suspect interest rates will follow that trend lower.