HomeOwner’s Equity: Less than 15%

Interesting discussion on negative equity in this week’s Barron’s. Citing Stephanie Pomboy’s recent missive, Alan Abelson takes a closer look at some of the negative details around corporate profitability and homeowner equity.

When it comes to Homeowners Equity, the official data is misleading. Why? Pomboy notes the Fed data is accurate but misleading. It includes both the homes with mortgages and those owned free and clear.

Why is this significant? About a third of homes have no mortgages whatsoever. The unencumbered properties improve the homeowners equity data from the Fed’s Flow of Funds report. Add in 33% of homes with 100% equity and it skews the data. The total looks better.

before you say “So What?” co the following:  We know that those homeowners that do not have mortgages — i.e., 100% equity — cannot default. So if we want to understand the potential further mischief real estate land can cause, it is the mortgaged properties we should be watching. Back out the third of home owners that have no mortgage — the 33% of homes with 100% equity — and the Fed’s measure of 43% net equity drops precipitously.

Thus, Pomboy’s assertion that it would be more informative to say that those homes with a mortgage have homeonwers equity of less than 15%.

Here’s the Barron’s excerpt:

“The complacent reaction among the investment cognoscenti is that the credit markets are wildly oversold. More likely, she sniffs, it has something to do with the fact that “an overwhelming portion of some $8 trillion in mortgage debt (or 80% of the total) is teetering on the edge of, or in some state of, negative equity.”

As to the Fed’s claim that the equity of homeowners as a group stands at 43%, she points out that what the Fed neglects to tell you is that roughly a third of them have their houses free and clear. Lo and behold, some basic arithmetic reveals that 67% of homeowners with mortgages have equity of less than 15%. That, Stephanie comments drily, suggests the “destruction priced into the credit markets hardly seems out of whack with potential reality.”

And while, thanks to “the transfer of toxic assets to taxpayers” and the magic of accounting legerdemain, the scarred financials to some significant extent may be spared further pain, the same, alas, can’t be said for the nonfinancial sector. Little recognized, she insists, is how much the extraordinary gains in domestic nonfinancial profits from the low in 2001 to the peak in 2006 — a stunning rise of 388% — owed to the housing bubble.”

Ouch . . .


Shotgun Wedding
Barron’s May 4, 2009

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