NEW YORK — The US home mortgage sector remains under siege -- as recent huge losses reported by government-run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac show -- from high unemployment and troubled loans.
"Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are being hit by continuous problems. That pressure is going to continue through the rest of the year -- I think there's no question," Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, told AFP.
Fannie Mae announced Friday a net loss of 16.3 billion dollars for the fourth quarter, the full-year 2009 red ink to 74.7 billion dollars.
That was even worse than in 2008, when the mortgage finance giant posted a loss of 59.8 billion dollars. This time Fannie Mae said it would tap an additional 15.3 billion taxpayer dollars from the US Treasury by March 31.
Dan Teclaw, of Standard & Poor's credit rating agency, pointed out that Fannie's "fourth-quarter losses are smaller than in the third quarter" and that "a lot" of the debt pile was amassed in the first two quarters, an improving trend that could be a harbinger of stabilization.
Freddie Mac last week reported a fourth-quarter net loss of 6.47 billion dollars, and a loss of 21.55 billion dollars for 2009, but did not see any additional government aid.
"With a slow-growth economy and high unemployment we're likely not to see any great improvement" until at least 2011, Celia Chen, an economist at Moody's Economy.com, told AFP.
"The quality of new mortgages is better but we are still working on a large inventory of troubled loans," she added.
The 30-day delinquency rate for mortgage loans fell in the fourth quarter but remain at a worrisome high, while the percentage of loans 90 days or more past due and loans in foreclosure set new record highs, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in a report last month.
More than one in 10 mortgage holders is behind on payments and, adding those in the process of foreclosure, 15.02 percent of borrowers are delinquent, the MBA said, the highest level ever recorded since its survey began more than 40 years ago.
"Despite the drop in short-term delinquencies, foreclosure rates could continue to climb, however, based on the ability of borrowers 90 days or more delinquent to solve their problems," the MBA said.
For S&P's Teclaw, the recovery in the housing sector, the epicenter of the global crisis, will be slow.
"The problem will probably last two to three years," he said, explaining that foreclosures in some states can take only a few months but can take "up to two years" in others, such as Florida.
Mortgage finance firms also face an increase in "strategic defaults," in which homeowners who have the financial means to make mortgage payments purposely default on the loan rather than continue to pay on a home that is "underwater" -- when the size of the mortgage exceeds the home's market value.
Chen pointed out that credit conditions remain strained, although they were better than two years ago when the global financial crisis was dragging the world economy into the worst recession since World War II>
More than 700 banks are in trouble, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the agency that guarantees up bank deposits.
Failures of federally insured US banks reached 140 in 2009, the highest level since 1992, and the FDIC projects the 2010 number will be higher.
"The financial system is in the process of healing but it's going to be a long process," said Chen.
Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved. More »