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Mortgage Market

Question of the Week: Mortgagegate Makes Investors Wary of U.S. Banking Industry

A potentially crippling crisis is flashing through the banking industry and threatening to derail the already struggling housing market and U.S. economic recovery.

But Gilani said the headlines aren't telling the full story.

Dubbed "Mortgagegate" – a nod to the earlier scandal-ridden crisis touched off by Watergate – this latest crisis involves such big lenders as Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) and GMAC LLC (NYSE: GMA), which are alleged to have conducted negligent foreclosure practices. 

Money Morning Contributing Editor Shah Gilani warned about the allegedly fraudulent business practices employed by lenders and their hired "robo-signers" that led to thousands of questionably reviewed foreclosure documents.

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What You Don't Know about "Mortgagegate" Could Crush the U.S. Banking System

What most Americans don't know about " Mortgagegate" is that "robo-signing" of foreclosure documents is the tip of the iceberg.

The breadth and depth of this newest mortgage crisis is so dangerous that the U.S. Federal Reserve last month pre-announced another potential round of quantitative easing (pundits are calling it "QE2") to address "potential negative shocks."

In fact, the fallout potential is so numbing and the actions that birthed it so scandalous that commentators have given the crisis the Watergate-esque title of " Mortgagegate" (or, as some prefer, "Mortgage Gate").

Here's what the news-story headlines aren't telling you.

For an investment strategy that will protect your portfolio from "Mortgagegate," please read on...

A Helpless Housing Market Keeps Fannie and Freddie in Limbo

Mortgage-industry industry leaders will attend a summit with government officials today (Tuesday) to discuss how to reform Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNMA) and Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC), the two mortgage giants that so far have devoured close to $150 billion in taxpayer bailout funds.

However, that meeting is likely to be derailed by a far greater problem: After making modest progress, the housing market again appears on the verge of collapse.

"There's been a feeling in government, which seems to be more pervasive than it was six months ago, that says, 'We've solved this housing problem; let's move on to Fannie and Freddie,'" Laurie Goodman, a senior managing director at mortgage-bond trader Amherst Securities Group LP in New York told The Wall Street Journal. "But you haven't solved this housing problem. We have another round of home prices going down a little more."

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Cost to Fix Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac May Reach $1 Trillion

The cost to fix Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM) and Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE), the government-backed mortgage companies that bought or guaranteed three-quarters of all U.S. home loans last year, could run as high as $1 trillion, according to a report by Bloomberg News released yesterday (Tuesday).

The minimum amount required to keep them afloat will be $160 billion, or $15 billion more than they have already drawn from an unlimited line of government credit granted to keep the home mortgage market functioning. That exceeds the amount already spent on bailouts for American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG), General Motors Co. or Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C).

"It is the mother of all bailouts," Edward Pinto, a former chief credit officer at Fannie Mae, who is now a consultant to the mortgage-finance industry told Bloomberg.

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee 53% of the nation's $10.7 trillion in residential mortgages, according to a June 10 Federal Reserve report. Their books are loaded with millions of bad loans, and delinquencies are on the rise.

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Fed Plan to End Mortgage-Backed Securities Purchase Program Brings Market Anxiety

Anxiety surrounds Tuesday's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting as the central bank's year-long mortgage-backed securities (MBS) purchase program nears its scheduled March 31 close, opening the door for mortgage rate increases and surprising market fluctuations.

The Fed spent billions of dollars on MBS guaranteed by Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM), Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE) and Ginnie Mae weekly for the past year, topping out its portfolio at $1.25 trillion.

As the program ends, investors and analysts are speculating that mortgage rates could rise – and rise fast.

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Foreclosures Dropped in February, Helped by Rescue Programs and Poor Weather

U.S. mortgage foreclosure filings dropped for the second straight month in February and posted the smallest annual increase in four years as government housing-rescue efforts and poor weather constrained bank repossessions, a report released by RealtyTrac Inc. showed today (Thursday).

RealtyTrac, which sells mortgage default data collected from more than 2,200 counties representing 90% of the U.S. population, said filings declined 2% from January. But filings were up only 6% from a year earlier, the smallest increase in four years.

"The 6% year-over-year increase we saw in February was the smallest annual increase we've seen since January 2006, when we began calculating year-over-year increases," James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac chief executive officer said in a statement obtained by Reuters.

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Mortgage Markets Show Increased Stability, But Limited Opportunity

[Editor's Note: This analysis of the U.S. mortgage market is part of a two-story package that appears in today's issue of Money Morning. To read a related story on the outlook for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), please click here.]

It doesn't have four letters, but "mortgage" has definitely been a dirty word in the financial world the past few years. That's especially true when the word "mortgage" is paired up with such other terms as "subprime," "delinquent," and "foreclosures."

Little wonder that mortgages – along with the derivative securities backed by them and the often-unseemly practices of the people pushing them – have gotten much of the blame for precipitating the economic meltdown from which the American economy is now struggling to recover.

There's still plenty of woe in the mortgage world. But in recent months there have also been some signs that the real-estate-financing markets are at least regaining some semblance of stability, with foundations being poured for a rebuilding phase that might not be too far down the road.

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Mortgage Investments Offer Both Opportunity and Risk: Making Sense of Conflicting Reports

Recently, I finished reading an engaging book that explained in detail how John Paulson generated more than $20 billion betting on a crash in the housing markets. Many wise investors could see the writing on the wall months ahead of the panic period, but since you can't exactly short an individual house, it was difficult to figure out the best way to profit from the coming crash.

After months of studying and more than one false start, Paulson eventually determined that the best strategy was to buy protection on mortgage securities. I'll spare you the tedious details, but the concept of mortgage securities is very interesting (and potentially very lucrative). Essentially, many of the loan originators – the companies actually lending money for home purchases – didn't want to keep these loans on their books. Instead, they bundled the loans together in a pool and sold these "securitized" loans to investors.

Over time, the process got very complicated, with the pools being sliced up into different categories – some with more risk and potentially greater returns, and some with much lower risk and consequently lower profits. Leading up to 2007, there was so much investor demand for these securities that the loan originators couldn't keep up with all the buyers. Eventually, new derivative markets emerged, allowing more investors to bet on these pools of mortgages.

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It Was a Wonderful Life – And Then Came Securitization

Massachusetts Land Court judge Keith C. Long recently ruled that foreclosure sales of two properties with securitized mortgages were invalid, a decision that ties up thousands of Massachusetts real-estate transactions.

If nothing else, this landmark court case should make one thing very clear: Securitization – the product of the finest brains of Wall Street for more than two decades – doesn't work as advertised.

Historically, mortgage loans were made by small local institutions, which knew the borrowers personally and took the credit risk themselves.

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Highest Delinquency Rate Since MBA Survey Inception

By Jennifer Yousfi Managing Editor The Mortgage Bankers Association announced yesterday (Thursday) that home mortgage delinquencies reached the highest level since the survey began in 1985. For the fourth quarter of 2007, 5.82% of outstanding home loans were in delinquency on a seasonally adjusted basis. This figure represents a 23 basis-point increase from the third […]

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