National City has been one of the hardest hit. Headquartered in Cleveland, National City’s footprint is concentrated in the struggling regions of Ohio and Michigan. It has also suffered from an ill-timed expansion into Florida real estate, and sits on a portfolio of troubled loans. It posted a loss of $333 million in the fourth quarter…
Regional banks are expected to attract great scrutiny in the next couple of weeks as they prepare to report first-quarter earnings. A number of financial institutions—including besieged Washington Mutual Inc.—are desperately trying to raise capital before these reports.
So far the U.S. hasn’t seen any big bank failures, unlike the UK, which was rocked by the collapse and subsequent nationalization of Northern Rock in the first bank run the country had seen in more than a hundred years. But as the WSJ mentions above, the billions of dollars of commercial real-estate loans (confusingly, condo-construction loans are considered commercial real estate) on their books will hurt bad and many think will cause more than a few to fold.
Congress is pushing toward a bipartisan bailout for homeowners, the NYT says on C1 and The Washington Post has it on D1. The plan, Democrats claim, could help refinance up to 1.5 million adjustable-rate mortgages into fixed thirty-year notes, though the White House says that’s baloney. Who’s right? Who knows?
The NYT says one in ten homeowners owes more on his or her house than it’s worth, something that will only increase, and 4.2 million loans are delinquent or in foreclosure.
At a minimum, the bipartisan package was expected to include up to $200 million to expand counseling programs for homeowners at risk of foreclosure, $10 billion in tax-exempt bonds for local housing authorities to refinance subprime loans, $4 billion in grants for local governments to buy foreclosed properties and a $15,000 tax credit for purchasers of foreclosed homes or newly built homes that have been sitting vacant.
The Post says the two parties’ agreement would stiffen “truth-in-lending” laws for the mortgage industry, something that surely is needed as of yesterday.
The NYT also writes on C1 that the White House’s Hope Now plan is not really working out, and when it does it tends to help lenders more than homeowners.
Hope Now says it is succeeding. The group, which also includes nonprofit organizations that advise people on managing their debts, says it has helped more than a million people avoid foreclosure.
But Hope Now does not disclose details about how the loan modifications and payment plans it ostensibly helps to broker actually help homeowners. Many people merely get the chance to catch up on late payments.
Even Hope Now says it is unsure how effective it is. The group does not break out the number of loan workouts that occur as a result of its efforts and those that might have happened anyway. Some people who work with Hope Now say it has done little to keep the housing crisis from deepening.
“Hope Now is a failure,” said Michael Shea, the executive director of the Acorn Housing Corporation, a large counseling agency that is part of the Hope Now alliance. “It’s industry-dominated.”
The WSJ was less skeptical a month ago when it reported that the program had helped a million people keep their homes. The Times notes that the program employs a grand total of three people and just four percent of people who dial its touted toll-free line actually talk to a human housing counselor.
But we’re not sure how most of this stuff this is going to solve the housing crisis, anyway, as it will only be really over when people think home prices have fallen enough (or their incomes rise enough) to justify buying again. Converting ARMs into low-rate fixed notes is a no-brainer, but why not force the mortgage industry to do that rather than have local housing authorities do it? And a $15,000 tax credit for buying a foreclosed house? It seems to us like much of this is a short-term fix that helps put some more air into the deflating bubble—that still has a major leak.