Mortgage Market Roundup, Friday Edition

I think it’s safe to say this is the week we all got comfortable with bond insurers — it seemed like every time HW published one story about something that was taking place at one insurer, something else took place at another. Or even at the same one. It felt sort of like herding a bunch of cats, to be honest. At any rate, for all of the stories we did get to this week, there’s more out there; and as usual, I’ll offer up some commentary. Jump off wherever you’re most interested … The results are in: Thanks to the more than 1,800 of you that took 5 minutes out of your day to take the 2008 HW reader survey. The survey is now closed unless you’ve received a personal invitation from me via email. I’ve received some incredible feedback from readers — if anything, I’m probably more flattered than anything; I guess you don’t realize the impact you’re having until other people manage to let you know about it. That being said, I did hear loud and clear what you wanted to see, and you have my commitment to striving to deliver in 2008. One of the new features this site will offer shortly, for example, is special reports covering specific issues of interest more in-depth; it’s a chance to hear other industry experts’ thoughts on key issues, and to learn what’s really taking place within a particular area of mortgage finance. I say I’m flattered because so many of you seem to “get it” in terms of this site’s purpose; the survey comments bear it out loud and clear. HW exists to provide a unique spin on the concept of mortgage industry trade media, mixing traditional news with the free-form commentary that defines a blog. I do wish I had more good news to riff on quite often, but I also feel strongly that reporting on what’s really going on in this industry — especially right now — is more important than spinning something to make it more palatable. And I think the readership growth here illustrates the value of such an approach. When a negative is a positive: HW readers know that First American decided to spin off its title ops this past week; Fitch Ratings today said that it’s placed the title and info services giant on negative watch over concerns about losses in the company’s title biz. The rating agency was clear in a press statement that the placement onto negative watch was related solely to the company’s title insurance business, and not to the company’s decision to split apart (or, implicitly, because of concern over its information services segment) — all of which makes First American’s move look increasingly prescient. Declining markets: Rob Chrisman, in a post at Mortgage News Clips, points to a site that will undoubtedly keep you interested for hours: I’m lucky enough to be in a “low risk” ZIP — others actually get graded out as if you were in a classroom. Don’t spend too long, however, thinking about why this site would be put out there by ResCap and made publicly available. (Trust me on this one.) More on ResCap: It seems appropos at this point to note some news coming out of GMAC Finance in the past day or so; ResCap isn’t in danger of risking a possible default this quarter, and will meet all of the financial covenants governing its credit lines for the fourth quarter. Given that this was a company many suspected to be on the brink of disaster, I think the above ought to be characterized as very good news. Smoke and mirrors?: Is it possible that we’ve all been duped on the “BofA purchase of Countrywide?”’s Felix Salmon covers a litany of reasons we probably should see the deal as a call option more than anything else — among them, the so-called “Material Adverse Effect” clause. Salmon notes that it only covers Countrywide through the end of Q3; Q4 is open season, as a result:

My feeling is that this clause is a “get out of jail free” card for BofA: if Ken Lewis changes his mind, he shouldn’t find it too hard to find a material adverse effect at some point in the past few months.

I’ve had some commentary on the proposed merger (“Five Things to Know About the Countrywide/BofA Deal,” Jan. 13) covered pretty extensively in the past week or so — by none other than Salmon, as well as Inman News and others — but perhaps that list should have been six items long. Loss mit isn’t for real estate agents: Tanta at Calculated Risk published a gem of a story and commentary to go with it earlier this week. Essentially, some real estate agents are trying to get deals closed on a short sale basis while a borrower is still performing; and apparently some are getting ticked off that they can’t just whisk on through into loss mitigation. Worth the parting shot for this week’s roundup:

Is it the job of the Loss Mitigation Department to care about clearing your local RE market? No. Is it their job to care about keeping your buyer wiggling on the hook long enough to get papers signed? No. Is a short sale supposed to be a painless alternative to foreclosure for anyone involved? No. There are no painless alternatives. There shouldn’t be. There cannot be.

Have a great weekend, and see you next week.

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