Archive for 2008

Efficient Markets Theory The efficient markets theory is the idea that speculative asset prices always incorporate the best information about fundamental values and that prices change only because new information enters the market and investors act in an appropriate, rational manner with regards to this information(i). This idea dominated academic fields in the early 1970s. Efficient markets theory is an elegant attempt to tether asset prices to fundamentals through the common-sense notion that people would not behave in irrational ways with their money in financial markets. This theory is encapsulated by the “value investment” paradigm prevalent in much of the investment community. Efficient Markets Theory   In an efficient market, prices are tethered to perceived fundamental valuations. If prices fall…[READ MORE]

Bailouts and False Hopes One of the more interesting phenomenon observed during the bubble was the perpetuation of denial with rumors of homeowner bailouts. Many homeowners held out hope that if they could just keep current on their mortgage long enough, the government would come to their rescue in the form of a mandated bailout program. Part of this fantasy was not just that people could keep their homes, but that they could keep living their lifestyle as they did during the bubble. What few seemed to realize was any government bailout program would be designed to benefit the lenders by keeping borrowers in a perpetual state of indentured servitude. With all their money going toward debt service payments, little…[READ MORE]

Mortgage Default Losses There is risk of loss in any investment, and losses in collateralized debt obligations arise from the difference in the book value of the underlying mortgage note and the actual resale value of the collateral on the open market, if this collateral is subject to foreclosure. There is an important distinction that must be made between the default rate on a mortgage loan and the resultant loss incurred when a default occurs. High mortgage default rates do not necessarily translate into high mortgage default losses and vice-versa. Subprime loans have had high default rates since their introduction. When subprime mortgages began to capture broader market share starting in 1994, the rate of home ownership in the United…[READ MORE]

During the Great Housing Bubble, many speculators tried to make money through trading houses. The vast majority of these traders were not professionals but amateurs who thought they could be professionals. Most amateurs ended up losing money because they did not understand what it takes to be successful in a speculative market. The first and most obvious difference in the investment strategy between professional traders and the amateurs in the general public is their holding time. Traders buy with intention to sell for a profit at a later date. Traders know why they are entering a trade, and they have a well thought out plan for their exit. The general public adopts a “buy and hold” mentality where assets are…[READ MORE]

An option contract provides the contract holder the option to force the contract writer to either buy or sell a particular asset at a given price. A typical option contract has an expiration date, and if the contract holder does not exercise their contract rights by a given date, they lose their contractual right to do so. An option giving the holder the right to buy is a “call” option, and the option giving the holder the right to sell is a “put” option. The writer of an options contract is typically paid a fee or a premium for taking on the risk that prices may move against their position and the contract holder may exercise their right. The holder…[READ MORE]

Houses and Commodities Trading Commodities are items of value and uniform quality produced in large quantities and sold in an open market. Although every residential real estate property is unique, these properties became uniformly desired by investors because all real estate prices rose during the Great Housing Bubble. The commoditization of real estate and the active, open-market trading it inspires caused houses to lose their identity as places to live and call home. Houses became tradable stucco boxes similar to baseball playing cards where buying and selling had nothing to do with possession and use and everything to do with making money in the transaction. In a commodities or securities market, rallies unsupported by valuation measures will fall back to…[READ MORE]

Mortgage Equity Withdrawal Mortgage Equity Withdrawal or MEW is the process of obtaining cash through refinancing residential real estate using the accumulated equity as collateral for the loan. Before MEW, a homeowner would have to wait until the property was sold to get their equity converted to cash. Apparently, this was deemed an inefficient use of capital, so lenders found ways to “liberate” this equity with home equity lines of credit or cash-out mortgage refinancing. The impact of MEW on equity is obvious; it reduces it by increasing the loan balance. It has been noted that equity is a fantasy and debt is real, and MEW is the process of living the fantasy with the addition of very real debt.…[READ MORE]

The Size of the Bubble Figure 1 - Median Home Prices 1968-2006   The Great Housing Bubble was an asset bubble of unprecedented proportions. Between 2000 and 2006 Home prices increased 45% nationally, and in California home prices increased 135%. Had this amazing price increase coincided with a period of high inflation, it may not have been indicative of a price bubble, merely the general increase in prices of all goods and services; however, inflation was low during this period. The inflation adjusted price increases nationwide were 23% and in California it was 100%. Figure 2 - Inflation Adjusted Median Home Prices 1986-2006   There are many variables that impact house prices, and some of the variability in prices over…[READ MORE]

Systemic Risk in the Housing Market Credit rating and analysis of collateralized debt obligations and all structured finance products are part of the smooth function of the secondary market for mortgage loans. A credit rating agency is a company that analyzes issuers of debt and debt-like securities and gives them an overall credit rating which measures the issuer’s ability to satisfy its debt obligations. There are more than 100 major rating agencies around the world, and three of the largest and most-important ones in the United States are Fitch Ratings, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. A debt issuer’s credit rating is very similar to the FICO score of an individual rated by the Fair Isaac Corporation widely used in the…[READ MORE]

Structured Finance Structured finance is an innovation of the finance industry on Wall Street. It is a method of redistributing risk based on complex legal and corporate entities such as corporations, limited liability companies or some other kind of legal entity capable of entering into contracts. The shares or other interests in structured financial entities are derivatives that obtain their value from an underlying asset. Any asset that has a regular cashflow can be pooled through structured finance to create an asset-backed security. This cashflow can be split among various parties and valued based on the risk of repayment. For instance, the most common form of structured finance utilized to inflate the Great Housing Bubble was the collateralized debt obligation…[READ MORE]

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