Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Party's Over

I just want to ask a question
Who really cares?
To save a world in despair
Who really cares?
There'll come a time,
when the world won't be singin'
Flowers won't grow,
bells won't be ringin'
Who really cares?
Who is willing to try
to save a world
that is destined
to die?
When I look at the world
it fills me with sorrow
Little children today
really gonna suffer tomorrow
Oh what a shame
such a bad way to live

-Marvin Gaye, Save the Children

William Goldman said it about Hollywood: No one knows anything.

I think that holds true for the American public when it comes to EM08; it's so far-fetched, convoluted and rooted in history, the history of conglomerated corporate America, or ccA. ccA however, has the edge, and have gamed the casino in ways that make Steve Wynn look like a baby.

There's one prime reason, though, that ccA doesn't want you to know anything of the real truth as to its inner workings; as the late Tanta at Calculated Risk was fond of saying, and I paraphrase:

There's truth in the saying, "Knowledge is power."
That's why they never give you any.

This explains why a young person can emerge from 12 years of public or private schooling - and I'd bet in most cases even college/post-grad - and be economically illiterate, along with illiterate in terms of language, politics, art, history, other cultures....

My writing on the subject of EM08 had one angle on what I called the refs. At various times in our system of so-called "checks and balances," there are supposed to be standards enforced - checks - regardless of power and authority, much less image and reputation. So, the SEC are one team of refs; there's another for commodities, one for M & A, and so on. (Get this, sometimes there are multiple refs!)

When it comes to investing, one team of refs - the ratings agencies - played a crucial role in the so-called sub-prime mortgage disaster that led to EM08's first domino otherwise known as Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac being toppled. On a side note, isn't it interesting how we never hear anything about "Fannie Mac" anymore in the conglomerated mass-media?

That great young lion of a writer, Matt Taibbi, cited the rating agencies in a lengthy Rolling Stone piece deconstructing the history of economic bubbles, which I commented upon in July. In it, he said:

Take one $494 million issue that year, GSAMP Trust 2006S3. Many of the mortgages belonged to second mortgage borrowers, and the average equity they had in their homes was 0.71 percent. Moreover, 58 percent of the loans included little or no documentation — no names of the borrowers, no addresses of the homes, just zip codes. Yet both of the major ratings agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, rated 93 percent of the issue as investment grade. Moody's projected that less than 10 percent of the loans would default. In reality, 18 percent of the mortgages were in default within 18 months. [emphasis, mine]

So, that Diana Golobay's article below talks about the option ARM loans about to reset is correct but nothing new, as I pointed out last December, despite the conglomerated mass-media's willful ignorance of the subject. The salient point is how Golobay never cites the irony of her source: Fitch.

The punchline? Fitch's was one of the refs - a ratings agency - in on the fix., at:

$134bn of Option ARMs to Recast by 2011: Fitch
September 8, 2009 11:46 AM CST

Option adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are due to affect performance of US residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) in the next two years, according to Fitch Ratings.

Fitch Ratings determined $134bn of loans within US option ARM RMBS will recast in 2011.

Option ARMs historically present concerns over negative amortization, a process through which the loan balance essentially grows each month as borrowers elect to repay the minimum amount due.

An option ARM recasts when it reaches a balance cap typically ranging from 110%-125% of the original mortgage or 60 months of age, according to Fitch. The monthly payment obligation then increases from the minimum amount to a fully amortizing principle and interest payment.

This “payment shock,” a hike often 63% higher than the minimum payment, indicates a greater risk of default, Fitch said.

“Having not demonstrated their ability to make payments at the full rate, option ARM borrowers are at the greatest risk of default resulting from payment shock,” said Huxley Somerville, group managing director and US RMBS group head.

The majority of option ARMs Of $189bn of securitized option ARM loans outstanding, 88% have yet to recast. Of those, 94% negatively amortized through the use of minimum monthly payments.

Performance is already troubled among option ARMs. Serious delinquencies — loans more than 90 days past due, in foreclosure or real estate-owned proceedings — rose to 37% from 16% in the past year.

The risks associated with payment shock drove Fitch to rate a small number of option ARM transactions, approximately 5% of all option ARM transactions.