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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Jamie Dimon's "Brain Freeze" and Comments on Housing

by Calculated Risk on 4/04/2012 08:27:00 PM

The WSJ has JPM CEO Jamie Dimon's letter to shareholders (ht Brian) A couple of excerpts:

I suspect that the mortgage crisis will be the worst financial catastrophe of our lifetime. What the world experienced was almost a collective brain freeze ... It was a disaster hidden by rising home prices and false expectations, and once that price bubble burst, we all were in trouble.

We need to write a letter to the next generation that says, “Never forget: 80% loan to value and verify appropriate income.”
But [JP Morgan] did participate in this disaster by originating mortgages that wouldn’t have been given a decade earlier (and won’t be given a decade later).
Some people didn't experience a "brain freeze", but unfortunately most lenders did. I think lender's will forget again, but hopefully not for some time.

And on housing:
There has been a tremendous focus on the fact that housing prices remain depressed and, in fact, are still going down some. The large “shadow inventory” of homes in delinquency or foreclosure that has not yet hit the sale market adds to the fears that this will continue for a long time. New home construction still is very depressed – so, to most, the future looks bleak. However, if one looks at the leading indicators, all signs are flashing green – the turn is coming if it is not here already. We don’t want to be blindly optimistic, but the facts are the facts:

• America has never stopped growing. The United States has added 3 million people a year since the crisis began four years ago. We will add 30 million people in the next 10 years.

• This population growth normally would create a need for 1.2 million additional housing units each year. Household formation has been half of that for the past four years. Our economists believe that there is huge pent-up demand and that household formation will return to 1.2 million a year as job conditions improve.

• Job conditions have been improving, albeit slowly. In the last 24 months, 3.45 million jobs have been created.

• On average, only 845,000 new U.S. housing units were built annually over the last four years – and the destruction of homes from demolition, disaster and dilapidation has averaged 250,000 a year. The growth of new households, even at a reduced rate, has been able to absorb all of this new supply, and more. [CR note: I wonder about the source for the number of homes demolished?]

• The total inventory of single-family homes and condos for sale currently is 2.7 million units, down from a peak of 4.4 million units in May 2007. It now would take only six months to sell all of the houses for sale at existing sales rates, down from 12 months two years ago. (This low of an inventory number normally would be considered a positive sign for future housing prices.)

• While the shadow inventory mentioned above still is significant, it has shown a visible declining trend since peaking at the end of 2009, when the number of loans delinquent 90+ days or in foreclosure was 5.1 million homes. It now totals 3.9 million, and we estimate it could be 3 million in 12 months. The shadow inventory also may move more quickly as mortgage servicers get better at packaged sales and short sales and as real money investors start to buy foreclosed homes and rent them out for a good profit. Home prices still are going down a little bit, and they will stay depressed for a while. Distressed sales (short sales, foreclosure sales, real estate-owned sales) still are 25% of all sales, and these sales typically are priced 30% lower than non-distressed sales. As the percentage of distressed sales comes down over the next 12-24 months, their negative effect on housing prices will start to diminish.
• It now is cheaper to buy than to rent in half of the markets in America – this has not been true for more than 15 years. Relatively high rental prices can be a precursor to increasing home prices.

• At the same time, American consumers are finding more solid financial footing relative to their debt. The household debt service ratio, which is the ratio of mortgage plus consumer debt payments to disposable personal income, stands at its lowest level since 1994. This is a result of rapid consumer deleveraging – household mortgage debt now is down $1 trillion from its 2008 peak. (Reported U.S. mortgage data do not remove mortgage debt from an individual’s debt obligations until there is an actual foreclosure. It is estimated that $600 billion of the $9 trillion in currently outstanding mortgage debt is not paying interest today and effectively could be removed now from these numbers.)

• Recent senior loan officer surveys by the Federal Reserve show that, while there are not yet clear signs of credit loosening for new mortgages, at least the rush to tighten mortgage lending standards has abated.
More jobs, more households, more Americans, good value – it’s just a matter of time.