Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The problem with "alternate" mortgages

Greg McArthur and Jacquie McNish

Globe and Mail Update Published on Sunday, Dec. 06, 2009 8:06PM EST Last
updated on Monday, Dec. 07, 2009 7:29PM EST

For the past three years, Lisa Matthews has never missed a mortgage payment
- handing over $292, like clockwork, every week.

But if nothing changes, a bailiff, acting at the request of her mortgage
lender, will ring her doorbell and tell Ms. Matthews, her two daughters and her boyfriend to vacate the two-storey house for good.

"This was a pure slap in the face," said Ms. Matthews, a 36-year-old clerk
with the City of Hamilton, who was recently told that, despite her perfect payment record, her mortgage will not be renewed at the end of its three-year term.

Ms. Matthews is one of many Canadians being abandoned by a breed of alternative lenders that have stopped lending to customers, who, because of poor credit scores, lower-paying jobs, or minimal home equity, couldn't obtain financing from a traditional lender, such as a bank.

Everyone from the chief executive officer of Ms. Matthews' lender, Xceed Mortgage Corp., to senior officials in Ottawa, agree that borrowers such as Ms. Matthews, who have dutifully paid their mortgage bills, are being unfairly stranded. What they can't agree on is how many Lisa Matthews are out there.

Records obtained under the Access to Information Act show that a lobby group
representing these lenders has warned the federal government that, unless
taxpayers offer help, they will be forced to foreclose on as many as 30,000
homeowners over the next three years.

These "orphaned mortgages," as the industry is calling them, are held by customers who have impeccable payment histories.

But they can't be renewed because the credit crunch has shut off the funding
pipeline of non-bank lenders, the lobby says.

This wave of forced sales and evictions will hit its crest this coming year when nearly half of these mortgages - most of which were issued during the real estate boom of 2007 - will not be renewed, the mortgage companies say.

Executives with alternative mortgage companies say they cannot renew the stranded mortgages because the once-thriving securitization market that attracted investors to these risky - and lucrative - mortgages collapsed in the wake of the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis. To replace the lost pool of capital, lenders are asking the federal government to back a special billion-dollar fund that would renew the healthy mortgages of borrowers who do not qualify for loans from traditional lenders.

Finance Department officials, however, have responded to the lobby group's
alarm bells with caution and questioned their estimates, according to sources close to the negotiations. These sources say Ottawa is frustrated that some of the companies in this small segment of the Canadian mortgage market have been unwilling to hand over data so the problem can be fully assessed, one source said.

"The government thinks this group is asking for help for itself," said the official close to the talks, which bogged down this summer. "Had they been willing to co-operate with the government and provide that information, some sort of program could have been designed. But you can't design a program on anecdotes."

The roots of the problem can be traced back to the housing and lending heyday of half a decade ago, when an assortment of "non-conforming," or subprime mortgage lenders launched operations. Some, such as Xceed and Mississauga-based N-Brook Mortgage Group Inc. had roots in Canada, and others, such as San Diego-based Accredited Home Lenders, migrated from the saturated subprime market in the United States.

Many of these mortgage companies aren't federally regulated so, unlike a bank, they aren't required to insure mortgages when the down payment is equal to less than 20 per cent of the value of the home. And unlike banks, they could - and often did - give loans to people who couldn't afford a down payment. After extra fees were piled on, some of these mortgages added up to as much as 104 per cent of the value of the house being purchased. Interest rates hovered as high as 11 per cent.

Within a few years, this sort of lending started to explode and the new players quickly took hold of 5 per cent of the Canadian market.

But when the financial crisis struck last year, and "subprime" became a dirty word, the pension funds and investment banks that these companies relied upon to fund their mortgages, spurned them. Investors that previously had a ravenous appetite for securities backed by high-risk mortgages were now demanding their money back from companies like Xceed. These investment windows are closing at a time when thousands of mortgages, like Ms. Matthews' loan, are coming due.

Few of the low-income borrowers who were targeted by alternative lenders gave much thought to where their mortgage money was coming from.

"The way we understood it, as long as our mortgage was paid, they would just
renew it. The joke was on me," said Joyce Marentette, a cook in Chatham,
Ont., who was also told last year by Xceed that she would have to find other
financing, when her three-year term came up.

The problem is more acute in depressed areas such as Southwestern Ontario and parts of Alberta, where there are fewer private financiers and property values have sagged, industry insiders say.

Mortgage brokers in Ontario cities such as Windsor, Chatham and St. Thomas say they regularly receive frantic phone calls from homeowners who are shocked to receive a letter explaining that their mortgage won't be renewed.

"We're not talking about a scoundrel that brought it upon himself. These are people that didn't do anything wrong," said Joel Katz, a Windsor mortgage broker. Mr. Katz said he believes the issue isn't on the government's radar because this type of lending accounted for such a small segment of the market compared with the United States. "The problem wasn't as big here, and there are people who are getting stepped on and overlooked."

But exactly how many people are being "stepped on?" Public records in Canada
are so scarce, it's impossible - even for lawmakers - to know for sure.

Ottawa relies on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. for data, but because
none of these subprime players insured their mortgages through CMHC, the public agency knows very little about their state of their books. One source close to the Finance Department said officials at the Crown corporation figure that stranded borrowers account for only "a tiny sliver" of the country's homeowners.

Paul McGill, president of mortgage provider N-Brook and spokesman for the
mortgage lenders lobby, argues Ottawa is understating the problem. He said he has supplied federal officials with data showing that $1.7-billion of healthy mortgages could be stranded and that these borrowers lack high enough credit scores to qualify for loans from more conservative lenders.

Mr. McGill said federal officials responded by asking mortgage lenders to supply extensive borrower details such as marital status and garage dimensions. Mr. McGill said the requests would have cost too much time and money to fulfill. Lenders have scaled back their proposal to call for a $1-billion Ottawa-backed fund that could renew stranded mortgages. He said Ottawa has not been supportive.

In response to questions, the Finance Department issued a statement saying: "The government is monitoring housing and mortgage markets in order to ensure they remain stable, strong and competitive."

Far away from the push and pull in Ottawa, Ms. Matthews has put her house up
for sale. A handful of prospective buyers has wandered through, but she has
received no offers. A few weeks ago, she received a letter from Xceed's lawyers, explaining that she owes the company nearly $128,000. This means that, despite paying Xceed about $40,000 over the past three years, she now owes $1,000 more than she originally borrowed.

When she opted to buy her first home, she had to get over the hurdle of her low credit score. An unpaid student loan had caught up with her. She had no down payment, and paid a 9.15-per-cent interest rate with Xceed.

"I just thought they were my foot in the door," she said.

Ivan Wahl, Xceed's CEO, said his company has identified 1,100 borrowers that his company will maroon over the next three years. For those people "it is an absolute disaster," he said. Despite his sympathy, he says he is contractually obligated to pay Xceed's investors, which means demanding full payment at renewal time. "The government certainly should step up to the plate to provide some facilities for people who got caught in the crunch."

Ms. Matthews said she doesn't expect the government to do anything for her, and is reserving her frustration for Xceed. She said the companies involved should be giving their customers more warning about their inability to renew. She received a warning letter 31/2 months before her mortgage matured.

"If I knew it was going to end like this, I never would have done it."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Economic recovery is "solidly entrenched": Bank of Canada

Paul Vieira, Financial Post

OTTAWA -- After months of uncertainty, the economic recovery now appears to be "solidly entrenched," the Bank of Canada said Tuesday, indicating its forecast for growth should unfold as envisaged.

Still, in its latest interest rate announcement, the central bank reiterated, as expected, its conditional commitment to keep its key policy rate at a record low 0.25% until June 2010 as inflation is still not expected to hit its preferred 2% target until the second half of 2011.

Recent data - from retail sales to a stunningly strong jobs report for November -- have painted a mostly cheer picture of the Canadian economy, analysts say, even though third-quarter GDP growth of 0.4% annualized came in well below the central bank's 2% expectation.

Since the central bank's latest economic forecast in October, "global economic developments have been slightly more positive and the global outlook has improved modestly," the bank's governing council said in its statement, adding though that "significant fragilities" remain.

The central bank said the composition of economic growth is unfolding as expected, highlighted by a shift toward stronger domestic demand and less reliance on exports.

"The main drivers and the profile of the projected recovery in Canada remain consistent with the bank's [outlook]," it added. "The bank continues to expect economic growth to become more solidly entrenched over the projection period and inflation to return to the 2% target in the second half of 2011."

According to the central bank's outlook, Canada is expected to grow 3.3% this quarter, followed by expansion of 3% next year and 3.3% in 2011. Predictions for strong growth gained steam late last week when data indicated the Canadian economy added 79,000 jobs in November.

Further, the central bank on Tuesday played down the impact of the stronger dollar, even though it acknowledged it remained a key risk to its forecast, and "could act as a significant further drag" on growth and inflation. The stronger loonie, which has advanced as much as 25% this year against its U.S. counterpart, led to a surge in imports in the third quarter - resulting in net exports acting as a drag on the economy of roughly 5.3 percentage points.

Since the last rate announcement, however, the dollar has on average traded a couple of cents below the central bank's working assumption of a US96¢ loonie.

Most analysts were looking for any change in nuance in the bank's statement - in particular a hint or two that it might move before its conditional pledge to keep rates at a record low until June 2010 given the surge in domestic consumption as households take advantage of record low borrowing costs.

Instead, the central bank reiterated that its target rate of 0.25% "can be expected" to remain intact until the end of the second quarter of next year. The pledge is conditional on inflation hitting the 2% target in the third quarter of 2011, as the bank expects.

The last time the bank raised its key policy rate, to 4.5%, was in July of 2007 - and shortly afterward the first signs of the credit crisis emerged.

Some economists, such as Ryan Brecht of Action Economics, expect the central bank to begin hiking its policy rate, and aggressively, starting in the second half of next year.

In a note released Tuesday morning, Mr. Brecht, the firm's senior North American economist, said he envisaged the Bank of Canada raising its target rate by 175 basis points before December of 2010, for a policy rate of 2%, or "more normal levels." Still, that would be below the 3% level in September of 2008, when Lehman Bros. collapsed, or the 4.5% peak hit more than two years ago.

Housing Starts Rise in November

Tavia Grant Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009 8:17AM EST

Housing starts hit their highest level this year in November, more proof that Canada's real-estate market has clawed out of recession.

Starts rose slightly to 158,500 units, on a seasonally adjusted basis, up from 157,400 in October as single-home construction outweighed a drop in multiple home activity, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Tuesday.

"The improvement in housing starts continued in November," said Bob Dugan, CMHC's chief economist.

The results were slightly less than the 165,000 starts economists had expected. Still, they're running at a much stronger level than in April, when they sunk to the 118,500 mark.

Record low interest rates are fuelling a rebound in Canada's real-estate market, spurring rising prices and a flurry of buying activity. The Bank of Canada will provide its current view of lending rates and the economy today at 9 a.m. Eastern time.

More builders have plans in the works, a report showed yesterday. Building permits jumped 18 per cent in October to the highest value in 13 months, Statistics Canada
said yesterday.

Multiple starts eased in November, CMHC said, to 71,300 units from 72,500 units a month earlier. Single starts rose 3.4 per cent to 69,800 units.

The annual rate of urban starts has risen the most in Quebec, at 10 per cent, followed by Atlantic Canada.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Next Bank of Canada Meeting

The Bank of Canada is set to meet tomorrow to have their last meeting of 2009 regarding interest rates.

It is widely held that there will be no movement from the current overnight rate of 0.25% and therefore that the prime rate will also stay at 2.25%.

Stay tuned to The Your Mortgage Matters Blog for all the details tomorrow morning. For a full report on current interest rates, make sure you check with a licensed mortgage broker.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Canadian Homeowners Feeling Bigger Pinch

Garry Marr, Financial Post Published: Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bidding wars and higher interest costs have lead to the inevitable - a drop in housing affordability for the first time in five quarters, according to a new index produced by the Royal Bank of Canada.

The bank says home ownership costs are up, something that has not happened since the spring of 2008. Despite the increase, costs are still off the peak reached for this housing cycle.

Royal Bank says 45.8% of pre-tax household income was needed to service the cost of owning a standard detached home in the third quarter of this year. That was up 1.2 percentage points from a quarter ago but well off the high of 52.3% hit in the 2008. The all-time high was 57.1%, reached in the second quarter of 1990.

"Home affordability has deteriorated in all provinces and major markets in Canada due to a slight rise in key mortgage rates and appreciation in property values," said Robert Hogue, senior economist with Royal Bank.

Further proof that house prices are on the rise came Wednesday from the Teranet-National Bank National Composite House Price Index which showed September house prices were up 1.3% from the month before, the fifth straight month that prices have risen.

"The vigor is consistent with an improvement in market conditions over 2009 to date - more homes have been selling and fewer have been coming on the market," said Marc Pinsonneault, senior economist with National Bank Financial Group.

Data released this month from the Canadian Real Estate Association, which represents 100 boards across the country, shows the trend of escalating prices is not slowing down. The Ottawa-based group said existing home prices were up 20.7% last month from October, 2008, the largest year over year increase in 20 years.

Those price increases have come as interest rates have also started to rise. Mr. Hogue said the 5.4% posted rate for a five-year closed mortgage, reached in the second quarter, is the lowest since Royal Bank started doing the study in 1985. Rates climbed to 5.73% in the third quarter for a five-year closed mortgage. The posted rate is generally at least one percentage point higher than what consumers can get on a discounted basis.

Prices have also been impacted by a supply shortages across the country. New listings last month in the country's 25 largest markets were off 16% from a year ago. New home construction is on the rise but has not been able to respond fast enough to meet the rising demand.

Phil Soper, chief executive of Royal LePage Real Estate Services,
expects the supply side problem to improve in the spring, a traditional time when families consider selling to coincide with the end of the school year.

"It's a much more common time for people to list their homes than this time of year," said Mr. Soper. "I suspect the supply side of this problem will ease considerably."

He's also not that concerned with rising mortgage rates. "That's what I hoped would happen," said the chief executive. "I know policy makers are hoping they can ease their stimulative approach to monetary policy at the same time as consumer confidence and the economy overall start to improve and not cause a sharp negative downturn in housing activity. So far, this is unfolding in not a bad fashion."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Abode Mortgage Holdings Corp Announces Closure

Abode Mortgage Holdings Corp. Announces the Closure of the Company's
Mortgage Origination Business
11/30/2009 10:25:02 AM - Market Wire

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, Nov 30, 2009 (Marketwire via COMTEX News Network)

Abode Mortgage Holdings Corp (TSX VENTURE:ABD) (the "Company" ) today
announces that the sale of its wholly-owned subsidiary, Abode Mortgage
Corporation (AMC), as described in the Company's November 27, 2009 press
release is no longer proceeding. Further, the interim funding and mortgage
loan purchase arrangements referred to in the release have terminated.
Without an established funding and whole loan purchase arrangement, AMC
cannot properly carry on its business and the Directors of the Company have
decided to cease operations.

In commenting on these developments, the Company's CEO, Mike Linehan, stated: "Management and the staff of AMC are devastated by the decision to cease operations. However, without a committed mortgage funding and whole loan sale partner, the business of AMC is not viable. We wish to thank our loyal industry partners and deeply regret our inability to carry on in business."

About Abode Mortgage Holdings Corp.

Abode Mortgage Holdings Corp. is a public company trading on the TSX Venture
Exchange under the symbol ABD.

SOURCE: Abode Mortgage Holdings Corp.

Abode Mortgage Holdings Corp. Mike Linehan CEO

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