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Tuesday, August 07, 2007


jumbo mortgage market grinds to a halt

via felix salmon, the wsj looks at the seizure of the jumbo mortgage market.

Turmoil in the U.S. home-mortgage market is starting to pinch even buyers of high-end homes with good credit records, in the latest sign of rising anxiety among lenders and investors.

This surge in rates on so-called jumbo loans is particularly notable because rates on 10-year Treasury bonds have been falling. Normally, mortgage rates move in tandem with Treasurys, but market jitters have caused investors to ditch mortgage securities.

Lenders -- having already slashed lending to subprime borrowers, as those with weak credit records are known -- now are jacking up rates on jumbo mortgages for prime borrowers. These mortgages exceed the $417,000 limit for loans eligible for purchase and guarantee by Fannie and Freddie. They account for about 16% of the total mortgage market, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication, and are especially prevalent in California, New Jersey, New York City, Washington, D.C., and other locales with high home costs.

Lenders were charging an average 7.34% for prime 30-year fixed-rate jumbo loans yesterday, according to a survey by financial publisher HSH Associates. That is up from an average of about 7.1% last week and 6.5% in mid-May.

The higher costs for such loans will put further downward pressure on home prices in areas where homes typically bought by middle-class people can easily cost $500,000 to $700,000.

Mortgages are typically packaged into securities and sold to investors. But as subprime weakness has made investors skittish, lenders are becoming more cautious in issuing mortgages. Though defaults have soared on subprime loans and are rising on Alt-A mortgages, a category between prime and subprime, losses on most types of prime mortgages have remained very low. Even so, lenders have raised rates on prime jumbo loans defensively because they are unsure what rattled investors may be willing to pay for them, said Doug Duncan, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The jump in jumbo-mortgage rates is the latest gust in a subprime storm that has sunk two hedge funds run by Bear Stearns Cos., knocked American Home and dozens of other lenders out of business, battered an already weak housing market and fueled weeks of stock-market turmoil. Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rebounded 286.87 points, or 2.2%, to 13468.78.

Alarmed by weakness in the housing market and rising foreclosures, investors who buy loans and securities backed by mortgages have fled the market for almost any loan that isn't guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, Mr. Duncan and others said. That means lenders must either hold loans, at least temporarily, and face the risk of falling values for them, or seek out borrowers who qualify for loans that can be purchased by Fannie and Freddie.

For other types of loans, Mr. Duncan said, "there is no market." He said it isn't clear how long the market will remain disrupted, but said some mortgage bankers fear the current paralysis could last weeks. "We're getting calls from members [of the lenders' association] who are quite desperate about their circumstances," Mr. Duncan said. Large banks have the capacity to retain loans on their books, but many other lenders can only make loans that can be sold quickly.

Even borrowers with good credit records who can afford a large down payment are finding rates surprisingly steep if they can't qualify for a loan that can be sold to Fannie or Freddie. Rates on prime jumbo loans have risen so fast that "nobody in their right mind would pull the trigger" and accept one now, unless they couldn't delay a home purchase, said Darren Weisberg, president of PFG Mortgage Services Inc., a mortgage broker in Lake Forest, Ill.

Some lenders are pulling the plug on whole categories of loans. Yesterday, National City Corp., a Cleveland banking company, said it has suspended its offerings of home-equity loans or lines of credit made through brokers rather than the bank's branches. The company cited market conditions.

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How can the Bankrate chart show a jumbo loan average of around 6.9% when Fannie Mae's RNY (wholesale price) for a conforming FRM is around 6.5%?

The HSH average is quoted as 7.34% - that sounds closer to what lenders I talked to are quoting. (World Savings, very competitive at 7.15% and 0; Citi is 7.875 and 0)

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there may be a lag, anon, in posting current data to the site. i don't use much, so i can't say.

i also ran through the pricing search (put in your loan specs, go fishign for rates) and for a jumbo with 20% down rates are all over the board by lender, anywhere from 6.625% to 9.875%. how they average all those quotes could give rise to the discrepency too.

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