Something weird is happening with mortgages …

Real estate investing is largely the business of using debt to acquire streams of income and build oceans of equity.

In the hands of a professional real estate investor, mortgages are like a super-charged power tool … making the job of wealth building easier, faster, and more profitable.

Of course, powerful tools in the hands of amateurs can do a lot of damage … hacking off chunks of equity or creating wounds which hemorrhage cash flow.

But in all cases, for any investor who has, or is building, a lot debt in their portfolio … it’s wise to pay close attention to the condition of credit markets.

Sometimes new tools create opportunity. Sometimes there are hints that something might be breaking down.

In a little more esoteric corner of our news feed, we noticed a potentially concerning headline …

MBS Day Ahead: Another Chance to Watch MBS Suffer
Mortgage News Daily, 8/27/19

For the uninitiated, MBS isn’t referring to the controversial crown prince from Saudi Arabia. They’re talking about Mortgage Backed Securities.

Mortgage-backed securities are the vehicle Wall Street uses to funnel investment dollars into Main Street real estate.

As you may recall, it was Wall Street stuffing toxic sub-prime mortgages into the MBS they sold to institutional investors that triggered the 2008 financial crisis.

So it’s well known that MBS suffering can lead to serious Main Street suffering, especially for aggressive users of mortgages … like real estate investors.

The notable takeaway from the article is this chart which shows mortgage rates have decoupled from 10-year Treasury yields …

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Source: Mortgage News Daily

According to The Real Estate Guys™ secret decoder ring, this means mortgage rates aren’t falling as far as fast as those of the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond.

This is notable, because it’s generally accepted among mortgage pros that the two are inextricably linked … because it’s always been that way.

But not now. Weird.

Of course, it begs the question … WHY?

According to the article, bond “traders are citing increased supply … with an absence of buyers …”

Now you can see from the chart, this has only been going on for a couple of weeks … so perhaps it’s just a little anomaly and nothing to freak out about.

But just like some war vets have panic attacks when a backfiring engine pops like live ammo, we get a little spooked when the bid on MBS dries up.

After all, it was MBS going no bid was the nuclear bomb which ignited the 2008 credit market collapse.

No one is saying another Great Financial Crisis is imminent … although for the aware and prepared, it could be a HUGE opportunity …

… but softness in MBS demand is a dot on the curve worth noting.

Looking at some other dots …

US home price growth slows for 15th straight month
Yahoo Finance, 8/27/19

“The market for existing-home sales remained soft in June despite some boost from lower mortgage rates as consumers remain wary of high home prices …”

Remember, home prices reflect the value of the collateral for mortgages being packaged up and put into mortgage-backed securities.

When property prices are rising, lenders (the buyers of MBS) see their security go up in the form of greater “protective equity” which insulates them from loss in the case of default.

Also, equity gained from rising property values creates greater incentives for the borrower to make the payments.

Sometimes, in a rising price environment, as lenders compete to make loans, they’re willing to take on more risk at inception …

… because they believe rising property values will increase their security over time.

So whereas a lender might really want 20-25% protective equity (75-80% loan-to-value) … they might be willing to originate a loan at only 10-15% to get the loan.

Then, as prices rise and equity builds, the lender quickly ends up with the protective equity they’re looking for.

But when prices slow or reverse, you’d expect the opposite …

FHA sets limits on cash-out refinancing
The Washington Post, 8/27/19

“Beginning Sept. 1, FHA borrowers will now be limited to cash-out refinancing a maximum of 80 percent of their home value.”

We’ve also heard rumors that Fannie Mae will be limiting access to cash-out loans on multi-family properties.  Stay tuned on that one.

Is this a meltdown? Hardly. But it’s a subtle shift in the wind which bears watching.

Meanwhile, rates are GREAT. Loans are still largely readily available.

And if you’ve got lots of equity and cash flow, now could be a great time to liquefy equity using long term debt while paying careful attention to cash flow.

If there’s a chance prime properties in solid markets will be going on sale in the not-too-distant future, you’ll want to be prepared to go shopping.

Meanwhile, there are still affordable rental markets offering reliable cash flows TODAY.

Repositioning equity from high-priced markets to affordable cash flow markets or product niches can be a great way to make your balance sheet work harder … without having to wait for a recession (or worse) to provide bargains.

After all, sometimes markets don’t crash suddenly or at all. They simply recede slowly for a season before ratcheting back up.  So sitting on the sidelines waiting for “the big one” could take your entire career. Base hits win games, too. Never swinging means you’ll never get on base.

Meanwhile, it’s probably a good idea to pay close attention to credit markets on the macro level and cash flow on the micro level.

Until next time … good investing!


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