Friday, July 3, 2009

Re-analyzing the housing crisis

Stan Liebowitz says the accepted explanation of what caused the housing crisis is wrong and that, therefore, our approach to solving it is also wrong:
What is really behind the mushrooming rate of mortgage foreclosures since 2007? The evidence from a huge national database containing millions of individual loans strongly suggests that the single most important factor is whether the homeowner has negative equity in a house -- that is, the balance of the mortgage is greater than the value of the house. This means that most government policies being discussed to remedy woes in the housing market are misdirected.

Many policy makers and ordinary people blame the rise of foreclosures squarely on subprime mortgage lenders who presumably misled borrowers into taking out complex loans at low initial interest rates. Those hapless individuals were then supposedly unable to make the higher monthly payments when their mortgage rates reset upwards.

But the focus on subprimes ignores the widely available industry facts (reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association) that 51% of all foreclosed homes had prime loans, not subprime, and that the foreclosure rate for prime loans grew by 488% compared to a growth rate of 200% for subprime foreclosures. . . .

[T]he most important factor related to foreclosures is the extent to which the homeowner now has or ever had positive equity in a home. . . . A simple statistic can help make the point: although only 12% of homes had negative equity, they comprised 47% of all foreclosures.

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