Global Investing

Act now or forever hold your (b)-piece, Obama

It appears the penny has finally dropped in Washington. Bank bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, has unveiled a report that outlines the shocking state of the U.S. commercial mortgage sector, which left unaided could spark “economic damage that could touch the lives of nearly every American”. The Havard Law School Professor and her panel colleagues are talking the kind of apocalyptic language that may just shake the White House and its star policy advisers into facing problems we have now rather simply obsess about those we may or may not encounter in the future. The global banking system may well need some kind of Volcker-esque guidelines to curb the next generation of excessive risk-takers but Obama is putting the cart before the horse in his efforts to haul the economy back on track. Certainly, his and the previous administration has toiled long and hard to stabilise the U.S. housing market, propping up Fannie and Freddie and their dysfunctional offspring, but the subprime mess has distracted attentions from the toxic commercial market, where the clean-up task is no less important. Warren reckons there is about $1.4 trillion worth of outstanding commercial real estate loans in the U.S that will need to be refinanced before 2014, and about half of them are already “underwater,” an industry term that refers to loans larger than the property’s current value. But bank brains are wasting too much time figuring out how the so-called “Volcker rule” might affect their operations and future profitability, instead of getting their arms around underwater real estate loans that could break their institutions in two long before the anti-risk measures even take hold. Obama’s premature challenge to their investment autonomy, which he says cultivated the collapse of banks like Lehmans, is like suturing a papercut while your jugular gapes wide open. Maybe now, as Warren’s report hammers home the threat posed by unperforming commercial real estate debt, Obama will give Wall Street a chance to refocus on the “now” and worry about “tomorrow”, tomorrow.

It appears the penny has finally dropped in Washington.

Bank bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, has unveiled a report that outlines the perilous state of the U.S. commercial mortgage sector, which left unaided could spark “economic damage that could touch the lives of nearly every American”.

The Havard Law School Professor and her panel colleagues are talking the kind of apocalyptic language that may just shock the White House and its star policy advisers into facing problems banks have now rather simply obsess about those they may or may not encounter in the future.

The global banking system may well need some kind of Volcker-esque guidelines to curb the next generation of excessive risk-takers but critics say Obama is putting the cart before the horse in his efforts to haul the economy back on track.

Certainly, the U.S. government has toiled long and hard to stabilise the U.S. housing market, like propping up Fannie and Freddie and their dysfunctional offspring, but the subprime mess has distracted attentions from the toxic commercial market, where the clean-up task is no less important.

Remember the subprime crisis?

Remember the U.S. subprime crisis? Lombard Odier thinks the crisis is not over, and worse, a second wave is just ahead of us.

 ROUTE-RECOVERY/

Paul Marson, chief investment officer at the investment firm, thiknks that Alt-A and Option ARM (Adjustable Rates Mortages) mortgages are due for resets in 2010/11.

Alt-As sit somewhere between prime and subprime mortgages. Option ARMs are mortgages which required little or no documentation, where borrowers had the option of making minimum monthly payments lower than the accruded monthly interest on the loan. Given the shocking borrower quality, the hope was that house prices would continue to rise and homeowners could simply “flip” the property when the mortgage came to reset.