A CEO’s personal position
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the largest bank in America, has sent a 38 page letter1 to shareholders explaining his personal take on earnings, the mortgage crisis and his opinion on the real estate economy. In full detail, Dimon explains why mortgages stalled their profits and dives into how deep the mortgage crisis truly has been, wrapping up with notes on signs of improvement in housing – we offer highlights of the letter below.
A shortfall in profits
Dimon writes, “The main reason for the difference between what we are earning and what we should be earning continues to be high costs and losses in mortgage and mortgage-related issues. While these losses are increasingly less severe, they will still persist at elevated levels for a while longer.”
The extent of the crisis
The mortgage crisis has hit several sectors, particularly banking. Dimon opines, “Many of the financial crises of the past hundred years around the world were related to real estate. Real estate was not the only culprit in the recent crisis, but it certainly was at the eye of the storm. I suspect that the mortgage crisis will be the worst financial catastrophe of our lifetime. What the world experienced was almost a collective brain freeze…We need to write a letter to the next generation that says, ‘Never forget: 80% loan to value and verify appropriate income.’”
Dimon writes that “clearly, it was not our finest hour,” but adds that Chase was “one of the better actors in this situation – but not good enough; we made too many mistakes. We generally were a better underwriter. We did not originate option-ARMs. Many of our problems were inherited from Bear Stearns and WaMu. Even our subprime mortgages outperformed most other subprime mortgages. Early in the crisis, we also stopped dealing with mortgage brokers, some of whom underwrote the worst of the mortgages and probably missold mortgages more than most.”
“But we did participate in this disaster by originating mortgages that wouldn’t have been given a decade earlier (and won’t be given a decade later),” said Dimon. “And when delinquencies and foreclosures grew dramatically, we were ill-prepared operationally to deal with the extraordinary volume of troubled mortgages and upset borrowers. Our servicing operations left a lot to be desired: There were too many paperwork errors, including affidavits that were improperly signed because the signers did not have personal knowledge about what was in the affidavits but, instead, relied on the company’s processes.”
The $25 billion mortgage settlement
The historic $25 billion mortgage settlement2 between the government (state and federal) and the five largest mortgage servicers, which according to Dimon has led to Chase agreeing to pay $1.1 billion in cash payments to 50 states, some of which will go to borrowers, $500 million to refinance underwater borrower, and $3.7 billion additional relief (principal reductions, short sale assistance, etc.). The banks have agreed to a set of enchanced standards for servicing, including contact requirements, staff training, and document execution.
Dimon notes, “The global settlement releases JPMorgan Chase from further claims related to servicing activities, including foreclosures and loss mitigation activities, certain origination activities and certain bankruptcy activities.”
Although Chase is often in the spotlight for wrongful foreclosures and misteps, Dimon advocates for “strong reform” in his letter. “JPMorgan Chase has consistently supported higher capital standards, more liquidity in the system, a Resolution Authority to better manage and unwind large financial firms, better regulation of the mortgage business, the clearing of standardized derivatives through wellstructured clearinghouses and even stronger consumer protection (however, we thought this should have been a strengthened department inside the bank regulator).”
Within Chase, Dimon says the company is doing the following to try to “properly and fairly deal with delinquencies, modifications and foreclosures:”
- If we treated a homeowner improperly, we should make it right.
- If a homeowner can afford to pay the mortgage – whether or not the home is underwater – the mortgage should be paid. If a homeowner cannot afford the mortgage but can afford a reduced payment, we try to modify the loan. If a homeowner cannot afford the home, even with the modification, we still try to avoid foreclosure.
- Foreclosure. While foreclosure is a terrible option, it sometimes is the only option. While it is awful for the homeowner, it does allow an individual to get a fresh start and more affordable housing – and relief from a crushing debt burden. Foreclosure is the worst option for the bank, too, because the house usually is left in poor condition and sold for substantially less than the outstanding balance on the loan, resulting in a loss.
- Home equity loans generally are modified if we modify the mortgage loan and almost always are written off if there is a short sale or foreclosure.
Dimon writes, “This is a miserable situation all around, but we want our shareholders to know that we are trying to treat every borrower fairly and properly based on the individual’s situation and circumstances.”
Housing is improving
Although Dimon is harsh in his assessment of the mortgage crisis, it isn’t all doom and gloom. He writes, “Housing is getting better – there, I said it. However, if one looks at the leading indicators, all signs are flashing green – the turn is coming if it is not here already. We don’t want to be blindly optimistic, but the facts are the facts… More jobs, more households, more Americans, good value – it’s just a matter of time.”
“The mortgage business is important,” asserts Dimon, “that’s why we are going to stay in it.”
Is the real estate industry endorsing Carson’s nomination to HUD?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Ben Carson’s initial appointment to HUD was controversial given his lack of experience in housing, but what is the pulse now?
NAR strongly backs Dr. Carson’s nomination
When President-Elect Donald Trump put forth Dr. Ben Carson’s name as the nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, NAR President William E. Brown said, “While we’ve made great strides in recent years, far more can be done to put the dream of homeownership in reach for more Americans.”
At the time of nomination, the National Association of Realtors (the largest trade organization in the nation) offered a positive tone regarding Dr. Carson and said the industry looks forward to working with him. But does that hold true today?
The confirmation hearings yesterday were far less controversial than one would expect, especially in light of how many initially reacted to his nomination. Given his lack of experience in housing, questions seemed to often center around protecting the LGBT community and veterans, both of which he pledged to support.
In fact, Dr. Carson said the Fair Housing Act is “one of the best pieces of legislation we’ve ever had in this country,” promising to issue a “world-class plan” for housing upon his confirmation…
Job openings hit 14-year high, signaling economic improvement
The volume of job openings is improving, but not across all industries. The overall economy is improving, but not evenly across all career paths.
Job openings hit a high point
To understand the overall business climate, the U.S. Labor Department studies employment, today releasing data specific to job vacancies. According to the department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLT) for April, job openings rose to 5.38 million, the highest seen since December 2000, and a significant jump from March’s 5.11 million vacancies. Although a lagging indicator, it shows strength in the labor market.
The Labor Department reports that the number of hires in April fell to 5 million, which indicates a weak point in the strong report, and although the volume remains near recent highs, this indicates a talent gap and highlights the number of people who have left the labor market and given up on looking for a job.
Good news, bad news, depending on your profession
That said, another recent Department report notes that employers added 221,000 jobs in April and 280,000 in May, but the additions are not evenly spread across industries. Construction jobs rose in April, but dipped in professional and business services, hospitality, trade, and transportation utilities. In other words, white collar jobs are down, blue collar jobs are up, which is good or bad news depending on your profession.
Additionally, the volume of people quitting their jobs was 2.7 million in April compared to the seven-year high of 2.8 million in March. Economists follow this number as a metric for gauging employee confidence in finding their next job.
If you’re in the market for a job, there are an increasing number of openings, so your chance of getting hired is improving, but there is a caveat – not all industries are enjoying improvement.
If you’re hiring talent, you’ll still get endless resumes, but there appears to be a growing talent gap for non-labor jobs, so you’re not alone in struggling to find the right candidate.
Economists suspect the jobs market will continue to improve as a whole, but this data does not pertain to every industry.
Gas prices are down, so are gas taxes about to go up?
Do low gas prices mean higher gas taxes are on the way? Budgeting for 2015 just got a bit more complicated, if some politicians have their way.
Gas taxes and your bottom line
Many industries rely heavily on time in their vehicle, not just truck drivers and delivery trucks. Sales professionals hop in their vehicles throughout the day, as do many other types of professionals (service providers like plumbers, and so forth). For that reason, gas prices and taxes are a relevant line item that must be budgeted for 2015, but with politicians making the rounds to push for higher gas taxes, budgeting becomes more complicated.
Gas prices are down roughly 50 cents per gallon compared to a year ago, which some analysts say have contributed to more money in consumers’ pockets. Some believe that this will improve holiday sales, but others believe the timing is just right to increase federal taxes on gas. The current tax on gas is 18.40 cents per gallon, and on diesel are 24.40 cents per gallon.
Supporters and opponents are polar opposites
Supporters argue as follows: gas prices are low, so it won’t hurt to increase federal gas taxes, in fact, those funds must go toward improving our infrastructure, which in the long run, saves Americans money because smoother roads mean better gas mileage and less congestion.
Gas taxes have long been a polarizing concept, and despite lowered gas prices, the controversial nature of the taxes have not diminished.
While some are pushing for complete abolition of federal gas taxes, others, like former Pennsylvania Governor, Ed Rendell (D) tell CNBC, “Say that cost the average driver $130 a year. They would get a return on that investment” in safer roads and increased quality of life, he added.
The Washington Post‘s Chris Mooney points out that federal gas taxes have been “stuck” at 18 cents for over 20 years, last raised when gas was barely a dollar a gallon and that the tax must increase not only to improve the infrastructure, but to “green” our behavior, and help our nation find tax reform compromise.
Is a gas tax politically plausible?
Mooney writes, “So, this is not an argument that a gas tax raise is politically plausible — any more than a economically efficient tax on carbon would be. It’s merely a suggestion that — ignoring politics — it might be a pretty good idea.”
Rendell noted, “The World Economic Forum, 10 years ago, rated us the best infrastructure in the world,” adding that we “need to do something for our infrastructure, not in a one or two year period, but over a decade.”
Others would note that this rating has not crumbled in just a few years, that despite many bridges and roads in need of repair, our infrastructure is still superior to even the most civilized nations.
Regardless of the reasons, most believe that Congress won’t touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, especially leading up to another Presidential campaign season starting next year.
“I think it’s too toxic and continues to be too toxic,” Steve LaTourette (the former Republican congressman best known for his close friendship with his fellow Ohioan, Speaker John Boehner) tells The Atlantic. “I see no political will to get this done.”
Whether the time is fortuitous or not, and regardless of the positive side effects, many point to a fear of voters’ retaliation against any politician siding with a gas hike, so this matter going any further than the proposal stage is unlikely.
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