Monday, May 26, 2008

Next Stop - Construction Loans

Very interesting interview in Barrons with Hedge Fund Manager Sy Jacobs. The article is titled Where the Financial Crisis is Headed Next. The full article can also be viewed here. Here are some key quotes:

Subprime is such a small piece of the banking industry, but construction lending is a core product. If the housing market stays weak for much longer -- and it seems to be getting weaker -- construction-loan losses are going to be a big problem.
Jacobs is expecting the fall out from the construction industry to easily eclipse the sub-prime issues.

Bear was not the sacrificial lamb to the market gods. It got knocked down by the same winds that are affecting everybody else. Credit destruction is a process -- not an incident. And avoiding that particular meltdown doesn't mean that things are getting better -- and yet that is how financial stocks in particular and the market in general have acted ever since.
Just because the problems have been avoided does not mean anything has been resolved. All the structural problems still exist and are still iln place.

Home-equity line of credit (HELOC] is 16% of [Wells Fargos] portfolio. More than a third of their HELOC exposure is in California, which is now developing very badly on the home-price and employment fronts. And delinquencies and losses are already rising pretty sharply. But they also have a big unfunded exposure to the undrawn lines of credit. Also, despite their reputation for being conservative, their loan-loss reserve at the end of March was lower than their annualized charge-off rate for the first quarter. Given the prospects for rising losses that we see, that's not conservative. We think they will disappoint this year and next and, as a result, their premium multiple will go down.

Wells Fargo, however, is known as a well-run bank. One example of that is the company's reputation for being very effective at cross-selling its products.

We're most concerned with their exposure to home-equity loans at the top of a real-estate bubble. Remember that home-equity lines of credit sit on top of first mortgages. So if home prices depreciate, which is what is happening now, and a home goes into foreclosure, the home-equity line often gets wiped out. The first mortgage holder can get most of their money back, but the home-equity line absorbs all of the loss.

The home equity is lost on every foreclosure. The first mortgage is the first loan to be reclaimed.

Between the HELOC losses and the construction loan losses the next few years could be substantially worse the anything that happened during the sub-prime debacle. And the interview does not even mention probelms with the option arms recasts...

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