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Monday Morning Cup of Coffee: Housing will take a beating

Looming possibility of tapering sparks junk bond splurge

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Monday Morning Cup of Coffee is a quick look at the news coming across the HousingWire weekend desk, with more coverage to come on bigger issues.

The mooted Federal Reserve tapering of its asset purchases has the capital markets on tenterhooks. So much so, a report in the Financial Times suggests investors are scurrying for riskier parts of the debt markets.

That means junk bonds. Essentially the Fed's attempt to stabilize the markets may actually harm as those investors exit safe havens as the government does as well.

It’s that old chestnut again: Rising mortgage interest rates and the upward creep of home prices is taking a toll on housing affordability. That is the news from USA Today Sunday report hinged on data from John Burns Real Estate Consulting and Zillow.

The problem is grounded in six key housing markets, five of them in California, and all of them on the Western Seaboard, the newspaper reports. In these cities — which, of course, include San Francisco — home prices have risen dramatically in tandem with the lauded housing recovery.

Furthermore, the cost of housing in 30 of 250 metropolitan areas will exceed historical averages for affordability and the average mortgage rate will pass the dreaded 5% mark.

The Washington Post reported on a weighty potential problem for the wider U.S. economy: the “outsize” influence of the graying population on the housing economy.

According to a study conducted by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., quoted by the newspaper, baby boomers in the Washington, D.C., area make up just 26% of the total area population but account for 47% of the region’s homeowners.

That could be viewed as a microcosm, a kind of allegory for a nation facing a coming calamity — widely written about and apparently occurring in a number of regions across the country, far outside the Beltway and its close confines.

The debate over eminent domain continues apace. Of late, Richmond, Calif., has been ground zero over planned use of the controversial measure.

The city government intends to put the legal mechanism to work to seize troubled mortgages within its limits from bondholders — under the pretext of saving communities. In response, the municipality is facing a legal fight from investors. The Federal Housing Finance Agency, guardian of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, may also take adverse action.

But one voice emerged late last week in support of the Richmond eminent domain plan in a prominent financial organ. Stephen Mihm, associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, wrote a column for Bloomberg claiming the Richmond case had merit, unlike, he wrote, with other examples where state authorities had excessively used eminent domain powers. He argues in favor of a train of thought that says by using eminent domain to keep homeowners in their properties, the risk of default likely would decrease, thereby benefiting the mortgage investors.

“In fact, the city's plan relies not on a novel use of eminent domain but on one endorsed by the conservative Supreme Court of 1935,” wrote Mihm.

Some more negative press for foreclosure attorneys: The Denver Post carried a report alleging a number of homeowners in Colorado had become the victims of large legal bills in relation to “phantom court cases against them.”

“The Post found 126 foreclosures since January 2012 in which homeowners in 11 counties were told by county public trustees to pay the charges associated with the filings or the foreclosure would continue,” the newspaper reported. “But, in fact, no foreclosure lawsuit was filed.”

Fannie and Freddie appear to be continuing their befuddlement of different points on the investment vehicle spectrum.

As HousingWire said, this is only the beginning.

The Wall Street Journal MoneyBeat blog details the conundrum facing mutual fund managers who bear equity in the government-sponsored entities. These investment houses holding Fannie and Freddie preferred shares, the WSJ reports, are divided between those who view them as the “best bet ever” and those who see them as a “political time bomb.”

The concerns revolve, in part, around when and how the secondary mortgage market behemoths will be returned to the public market.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. closed no banks last week.

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