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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A comment on Option ARMs

by Calculated Risk on 9/22/2009 04:11:00 PM

The impact of Option ARM recasts is a huge question mark.

Diana Olick at CNBC writes: ARM Payment Shock a Myth?

We've been talking a lot recently about the "next wave" of foreclosures that would be driven by adjustable rate mortgage resets. In a research note today, FBR's Paul miller is taking an interesting tack: "While we remain very concerned about the impact of continued job losses on default rates, our analysis suggests that payment shock from ARM resets should not be a problem, as long as the Federal Reserve can keep short-term rates at record lows."
Stop right there. Resets are not a problem with low interest rates. The potential problems are from loan recasts.

From Tanta on resets and recasts:
"Reset" refers to a rate change. "Recast" refers to a payment change. ... "Recast" is really just a shorter word for "reamortize": you take the new interest rate, the current balance, and the remaining term of the loan, and recalculate a new payment that will fully amortize the loan over the remaining term.
Since a large percentage of ARM borrowers chose the negatively amortizing option, their payments will jump when the loan is reamortized or recast. Of course the interest rate will still be low, and the recast will be at the low rate.

So it is really hard to tell what will happen.

We see cautionary articles all the time:
  • San Francisco: $30 billion home loan time bomb set for 2010
  • Bloomberg: Option ARMs Threaten U.S. Housing Rebound as 2011 Resets Peak
  • Reuters: "Option" mortgages to explode, officials warn
  • LA Times: Another wave of foreclosures is poised to strike
  • NY Times: Adjustable Mortgages Loom as Threat to Housing Recovery

    But I think the exact impact is uncertain. Many Option ARM borrowers are defaulting before the loan recasts, see: $134B of U.S. Option ARM RMBS To Recast by 2011 (note: Fitch is just looking at securitized Option ARMs, not loans in bank portfolios):
    Of the $189 billion securitized Option ARM loans outstanding, 88% have yet to experience a recast event ... Of these loans that have not yet recast, 94% have utilized the minimum monthly payment to allow their loans to negatively amortize.
    Further evidence of option ARM underperformance in the last year lies in the number of outstanding securitized Option ARMs either 90 days or more delinquent, in foreclosure or real estate-owned proceedings, which has increased from 16% to 37%. Total 30+ day delinquencies are now 46%, despite the fact that only 12% have recast and experienced an associated payment shock. Instead, negative and declining equity has presented a larger problem: due to high concentrations in California, Florida, and other states with rapidly declining home prices, average loan-to-value ratios have increased from 79% at origination to 126% today. 'Negative equity and payment shocks will continue as Option ARM loans recast in large numbers in the coming years,' said Somerville.
    emphasis added
    For more on defaulting before recast, see: Option ARM Defaults Shrink Recast Wave, Barclays Says .

    And it is important to remember that most of the Option ARM loans in the Wells Fargo portfolio (via Wachovia) recast in ten years, as noted by the Healdsburg Housing Bubble: Reset Chart from Credit Suisse has a Major Error From the Wells Fargo Q2 Conference Call:
    [W]hile many other option ARM loans have recast periods as short as five years, our Pick-a-Pay loans generally have ten-year contractual recasts. As a result, we have virtually no loans where the terms recast over the next three years, allowing us more time to work with borrowers as they weather the current economic downturn.
    It is a little confusing. You can't just look at a chart of coming recasts and know when borrowers will default. The real problem for Option ARMs is negative equity, and the surge in defaults is happening before the loans recast.

    But the recasts will matter too, since many of these borrowers used these mortgages as "affordability products", and bought the most expensive homes they could "afford" (based on monthly payments only). When the recasts arrive, these borrowers will have few options.