Editor's Note: There's a new idea sweeping through the country. It's called dignity mortgages.
Backers say this new financing idea will help millions of homeowners and get the middle class back to the heart of the American recovery.
Opponents think it's a recipe for disaster that will make the first financial crisis look like a cakewalk.
Today the Fight Club is taking on this growing issue -- let's get ready to rumble...
Buy, Sell or Hold: Is Lennar's Big Move Just a Sign of Another Housing Bubble?
All you have to do is look at a price chart of Lennar Corp (NYSE: LEN) to see the proof that the U.S. housing market is on the mend.
Since January 2012, shares of the Miami, Fl.-based new homebuilder have more than doubled.
In fact, since the industry nearly collapsed six years ago, new-home construction for builders like Lennar is now clearly on an upswing.
According to the March 2013 report from the U.S. Commerce Department, new home construction was on pace for more than one million units for the first time since the gaudy days of June 2008.
Much of this home-buying fervor can be attributed to a few important points:
1. A pent-up demand that has built up over the last six years,
2. Low inventories,
3. And an outrageously low interest rate environment thanks to the Federal Reserve.
The question now is whether or not the "Housing Bubble 2.0" still has legs, making Lennar Corp. a smart new buy with plenty of room to run.
Is Lennar Still a Buy?
Of course, evaluating Lennar on its own merits is a fine exercise in due-diligence.
The 10 Best U.S. Housing Markets 2013
The percentage of Americans optimistic about the U.S. housing market has reached levels not seen since rumblings of the financial crisis began.
A new Rasmussen Reports national survey found 37% of homeowners believe the value of their home will increase in the next year - thehighest since September 2008.
And 58% of Americans believe their homes are worth more now than when they bought them. That's the highest percentage believing this since fall 2011.
Here's Another Troubling Sign America is Circling the Drain
Don't blame yourself if you missed this tidbit last week...
On Thursday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hit the nation's four largest mortgage insurers with a total of $15.4 million in fines for "allegedly" paying kickbacks to lenders to steer business their way.
Of course, they didn't have to admit they did it, and therefore, they didn't do what they were fined for.
Back in the summer of 2009, the Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development handed the Justice Department evidence that laid bare a scheme by lenders (the usual suspects: Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Countrywide, and so on) to get kickbacks from mortgage insurers for making borrowers - who had to buy mortgage insurance - purchase coverage from those companies kicking back profits to lenders. In the industry, it's called "forced placement"
Who did what here?
The Secret Behind the Housing Market "Recovery"
U.S. home prices climbed 10.2% in February, the biggest year-over-year gain since March 2006.
The data seemed to support that a housing market recovery is alive and well - or, is it?
Even though buying is up, banks aren't handing out mortgages at a high enough rate to support this climb.
We asked Money Morning Capital Wave Strategist Shah Gilani to explain what was behind this major housing market change. You might be surprised to learn who's driving the home buying - and what it means for the housing market recovery.
Watch his interview below for the answer.
Are "Wall Street Buyers" Like Blackstone Group Creating Another Housing Bubble?
Where there's smoke there's fire.
When it comes to rising home prices, the question is whether the on-fire price increases are a healthy sign of a housing recovery or a smoke screen masking another investor-led real estate bubble.
The answer is it's both.
So, the real question is: are the two compatible and is the trend sustainable.
The answer to that compound question is "yes" and "no," in that order.
On the surface, everything is coming up roses.
These 5 Charts Prove the Housing Recovery is for Real – and Just Beginning
The housing market has rebounded in a big way, with home prices increasing the most since the housing bubble burst in 2006.
Prices aren't the only indicator pointed toward recovery.
Housing barometers including sales, permits and housing starts have surged well beyond their recession troughs and back into healthy territory - and bullish analysts say there's plenty more room for growth after years of decreased activity.
The housing market activity has been driven by pent-up demand, improved consumer confidence, low interest rates and still affordable prices. And the industry's comeback comes at a time when supply is tight. The inventory of homes available is at near-historic lows, and foreclosures have declined.
Is This a Recovery or a New Housing Bubble?
Investors have taken comfort from the recent improvement in housing prices seen across the country.
But now the shares are rolling over. Could the relative underperformance of the homebuilders be telling us something?
David Stockman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, thinks so.
In an interview with The Daily Ticker, Stockman said, "I would say we have a housing bubble again. I don't think we have a real, organic, sustainable recovery."
Stockman argues that "fast money" is moving into the local real estate markets that suffered the biggest declines in order to "speculate in buy-to-rent for a quick trade."
Stockman thinks that these speculators will be looking to sell out as soon as prices rise sufficiently to give them a specific rate of return and that "they will be gone as quickly as they came."
Here's Another Genius Mortgage Idea From Washington That Is Going to Cost You
Now here's another good idea from the geniuses that ruin, I mean run, our country.
The Obamarama administration really wants to help homeowners whose homes aren't worth what they borrowed to buy them. In other words, they are "underwater."
A lot of the loans to homeowners that are underwater are owned outright or, at a minimum, insured (more often both) by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored (which means taxpayer saddled) enterprises that the government had to take over when in 2008 they lost on their trillion-dollar bets that home prices would go up forever. Geniuses!
In fact, these geniuses own or insure close to half of all home loans in the United States. Obviously, they like to bet big. But they didn't bet alone. They had betting partners.
The casino was the whole country and the whole system.
The mortgage originators, prime and subprime lenders, banks - everyone was handing out loans because, get this, they wouldn't be responsible for the loans they were making. Fannie and Freddie were buying them all up while the guilty parties would make money as Fannie and Freddie pipelined more products to - guess what - make more loans!
In case you forgot, that's where all the money came from in the whirling dervish derby that fed the mortgage bubble and aided and abetted Alan Greenspan's how-low-can-you-go interest rate policies. I guess we can call him the Big Pit Boss. But I digress...
So, if Fannie and Freddie own your loan and you're underwater, they have been cattle-prodded by the geniuses above them (yep, government geniuses) to let you refinance at a lower rate (lower than the crushing, sucker's rate that ballooned on you).
Because, as an investor (that's what home buying really is - an investment, not a right) you made a go-for-broke bet at the table and forgot your basic math. Math that says, "One, plus the none that I have, equals three, so this is a good bet I can double down on and retire."
What will these geniuses think of next?
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Why You Can't Trust Bob Toll's Prediction of 20% Home Price Increases in 2013
Bob Toll, Executive Chairman of Toll Brothers, recently told Reuters that home prices are going to jump 20% in 2013 and another 25-30% in 2014.
But before you decide to pile into real estate, you might want to think about it for a moment.
It's not that there's anything wrong with Mr. Toll, nor even his prediction. He is a seasoned executive in one of the most respected homebuilders in the country; it's why he made this prognostication and what he stands to gain from it that bothers me:
- Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL) is one of the most prominent and capable homebuilders in the country. If people believe that real estate will appreciate, they are more likely to buy more of Bob Toll's product.
- Toll Brothers needs more of the same - big bailouts, big stimulus and low interest rates because that greases the skids in the banking system for big real estate companies like his. Without the extra money floating around, Toll Brothers' financing options are limited and he can't build or at least build as much. Worse, if interest rates rise, his cost of capital will increase significantly and negatively impact his margins. Rising property values give companies like Toll Brothers greater collateral and borrowing power, so of course he wants properties to appreciate...a lot.
- Toll is also an outside advisor to President Obama. That means he's plugged into the White House like other big business leaders and has a vested interest in preserving the status quo rather than shaking up the establishment and really fixing things.
Why Bob Toll is Wrong About Home PricesWhen viewed against the longer term lens of history, housing values are still as much as 6-12% overvalued.
You can see that quite clearly in the Case-Shiller Index created by Yale's Robert Shiller. Take a look:
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