Mortgage borrowers in Florida who are already financially strapped will have limited ability to face additional challenges from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to commentary today by Fitch Ratings. Half of all private-label securitized mortgages in Florida are at least 60 days delinquent, the ratings agency found. The state contains a disproportionate share of non-prime loans, with 85% of all loans categorized as Alt-A or subprime, Fitch said. Additionally, negative equity and unemployment remain high in Florida. The substantial delinquency rate is due in part to the fact 81% of all loans in the state are underwater. Unemployment — another determiner of the likelihood of default — peaked at 12.3% in February 2010 before recovering to the current 11.2% rate. Given the significant negative equity and unemployment level, “further economic stress brought on by the Gulf oil spill and declines in the tourism and fishing industries would be likely to further increase default rates,” said Fitch managing director Roelof Slump. Further deterioration in house values could be on the way along with the 2010 hurricane season. HousingWire‘s sources say BP is looking into gauge its insurance risk, should a hurricane push oiled water ashore and completely de-value or in some cases destroy property value. The company has reportedly been talking with some firms in the mortgage finance space to gauge its potential financial exposure to oil-enhanced damages to residential properties. As it is, borrowers have few choices of insurance in most hurricane-prone states, according to insurance company ratings service Weiss Ratings. Eight property insurers in each state control up to 77.2% of the market share. Florida, however, has relatively more insurance providers to choose from, as the big eight companies control only 38.4% of the market share in the state. “After consecutive years of devastating storms across Florida, several insurers have entered the market, seeking to capitalize on shrinking capacity,” said Melissa Gannon, vice president of Weiss Ratings, in a statement today. “But while the risk has now been spread among more players, the financial strength of the new entrants is questionable, and consumers must monitor the health of the insurer they select, especially in light of the forecast for another active hurricane season.” Write to Diana Golobay.
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