Monday, January 14, 2008

Option ARM Update: "This is a stated income crisis"

by Tanta on 1/14/2008 10:26:00 AM

More pleasant news from the Platinum card crowd, courtesy of the LAT:

Option ARM delinquencies are at double-digit levels in many areas of California, including the Inland Empire. . . .

"This is not a sub-prime crisis. This is a stated income crisis," said Robert Simpson, chief executive of Investors Mortgage Asset Recovery Co. in Irvine, which works with lenders, insurers and investors to recover losses related to mortgage fraud. . . .

The percentage of option ARMs with payments behind by at least 60 days in California is in double digits in the Inland Empire, San Diego County, Santa Barbara County, Sacramento, Salinas and Modesto, according to data provided to The Times by mortgage researcher First American Loan Performance.

The more recent loans appear to be faring the worst, reaffirming the conclusion that lending standards had become overly lax throughout the mortgage industry in the middle of this decade, as competition for fewer good loans intensified amid skyrocketing home prices.

In Yuba City, north of Sacramento, 15% of option ARMs made in 2005 were delinquent at the end of October, the Loan Performance tally showed, and in Stockton-Lodi the delinquency rate on option ARMs from both 2005 and 2006 was over 13%.

"It is astonishing how fast the credit deterioration has occurred," said Paul Miller, an analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. who follows the savings and loans that specialize in these mortgages. "It took me and everybody else by surprise."

Miller said Downey Financial Corp. was "the canary in the coal mine." The Newport Beach S&L has specialized in making option ARMs since the 1980s and keeps them as investments. Option ARMs make up about three-quarters of Downey's loan portfolio, with most of the rest being similar loans that allow interest-only payments during the first five years but don't allow the loan balance to rise.

Miller thought Downey had shown prudence in cutting back on lending in 2006, when home prices stopped rising and competition intensified from option ARM newcomers such as Countrywide and IndyMac Bancorp of Pasadena.

But a key indicator of loan troubles -- the ratio of nonperforming assets to total assets -- shot up from 0.55% to 3.65% at Downey over the last year, with the dud loans on Downey's books growing by $80 million in November, Miller said. That number, disclosed last month, was larger than the entire amount of non-performers Downey had a year earlier.

The quality of option ARMs appears to have deteriorated quickly when Wall Street began buying them to create mortgage bonds in the middle of this decade, drawing IndyMac, Countrywide and others into the business, Miller said.