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MBA – mortgage applications down

Mortgage applications decreased 9.7% from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending September 15, 2017. Last week’s results included an adjustment for the Labor Day holiday. The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 9.7% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index increased 12% compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index decreased 9% from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 11% from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 10% compared with the previous week and was 2% higher than the same week one year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 52.1% of total applications from 51.0% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.8% of total applications. The FHA share of total applications remained unchanged at 9.9% from the week prior. The VA share of total applications decreased to 10.1% from 10.3% the week prior. The USDA share of total applications remained unchanged at 0.7% from the week prior.

Oil set for biggest 3Q rise since 2004, Iraq hints at OPEC extension

Oil headed for its largest third-quarter gain in 13 years as prices rose on Wednesday after the Iraqi oil minister said OPEC and its partners are considering extending or deepening output cuts aimed at reducing a global supply glut. Brent crude futures rose 64 cents to $55.78 a barrel by 1330 GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 52 cents to $50.00. The oil price is on course for a rise of nearly 16% this quarter, which would make this year’s performance the strongest for the third quarter since 2004. “With oil prices steadily appreciating, as investors become increasingly optimistic over OPEC’s effort to stabilize the saturated markets, the cartel should be encouraged to extend the current deal, which may fuel the upside,” FXTM analyst Lukman Otunuga said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers are considering a range of options, including an extension of cuts, but it is premature to decide on what to do beyond the agreement’s expiry in March, Iraqi oil minister Jabar al-Luaibi told an energy conference on Tuesday. OPEC and non-OPEC producers including Russia have agreed to reduce output by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) until March to reduce global oil inventories and support prices. Some producers think the pact should be extended for three or four months, others want it to run until the end of 2018, while some, including Ecuador and Iraq, think there should be another round of supply cuts, al-Luaibi said. Analysts, however, doubt that such an extension would have much of an impact on the overall oil market. “I can’t see the market tightening unless OPEC cuts output further next year,” said Commerzbank strategist Carsten Fritsch. US crude stocks rose last week while gasoline and distillate stocks decreased, according to the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday.

NAR – existing-home sales subside 1.7% in August

Existing-home sales stumbled in August for the fourth time in five months as strained supply levels continue to subdue overall activity, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Sales gains in the Northeast and Midwest were outpaced by declines in the South and West. Total existing-home sales, https://www.nar.realtor/topics/existing-home-sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, retreated 1.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in August from 5.44 million in July. Last month’s sales pace is 0.2% above last August, and is the lowest since then. The median existing-home price for all housing types in August was $253,500, up 5.6% from August 2016 ($240,000). August’s price increase marks the 66th straight month of year-over-year gains. Total housing inventory at the end of August declined 2.1% to 1.88 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 6.5% lower than a year ago (2.01 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 27 consecutive months. Unsold inventory is at a 4.2-month supply at the current sales pace, which is down from 4.5 months a year ago. Properties typically stayed on the market for 30 days in August, which is unchanged from July and down from 36 days a year ago. Fifty-one% of homes sold in August were on the market for less than a month. Inventory data from realtor.com® reveals that the metropolitan statistical areas where listings stayed on the market the shortest amount of time in August were San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., 29 days; Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash., 30 days; Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif., 31 days; and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif., and Salt Lake City, Utah, both at 32 days.

First-time buyers were 31% of sales in August, which is down from 33% in July and is the lowest share since last August (also 31%). NAR’s 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 20164 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 35%. According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate (link is external) for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.88% in August from 3.97% in July and is the lowest since November 2016 (3.77%). The average commitment rate for all of 2016 was 3.65%. All-cash sales were 20% of transactions in August, up from 19% in July but down from 22% a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 15% of homes in August, up from 13% in July and 12% a year ago. Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – were 4% of sales in August, down from 5% both in July and a year ago. Three% of August sales were foreclosures and 1% were short sales. According to President William E. Brown, a Realtor® from Alamo, California, the housing market continues to recover from the depths of the financial crisis. However, the significant household wealth many homeowners have accumulated in recent years through rising home values could be at risk if any of the proposed tax provisions follow through with attempts to marginalize the mortgage interest deduction and eliminate state and local tax deductions. “Consumers are smart and know that any attempt to cap or limit the deductibility of mortgage interest is essentially a tax on homeownership and the middle class,” said Brown. A study commissioned by NAR found that under some tax reform proposals, many homeowners with adjusted gross incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would see an average tax increase of $815, along with home values shrinking by an average of more than 10%. An even steeper decline would be seen in areas with higher property and state income taxes. Congress must keep homeowners in mind as it looks towards tax reform this year.”

Single-family home sales decreased 2.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.74 million in August from 4.84 million in July, but are still 0.4% above the 4.72 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $255,500 in August, up 5.6% from August 2016. Existing condominium and co-op sales climbed 1.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in August, but are still 1.6% below a year ago. The median existing condo price was $237,600 in August, which is 5.4% above a year ago. August existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 10.8% to an annual rate of 720,000, and are now 1.4% above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $289,500, which is 5.6% above August 2016. In the Midwest, existing-home sales rose 2.4% to an annual rate of 1.28 million in August, and are now 0.8% above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $200,500, up 5.0% from a year ago. Existing-home sales in the South decreased 5.7% to an annual rate of 2.15 million in August, and are now 0.9% lower than a year ago. The median price in the South was $220,400, up 5.4% from a year ago. Existing-home sales in the West fell 4.8% to an annual rate of 1.20 million in August, but are still 0.8% above a year ago. The median price in the West was $374,700, up 7.7% from August 2016.

UPS expects to hire about 95,000 workers for holiday season

–  UPS said it expected to hire about 95,000 employees for the holiday season.

–  The announcement marks the company’s fourth straight year of seasonal hiring during the holidays.

–  The seasonal employees would start in November and work through January, UPS said.

Package delivery company United Parcel Service said it expected to hire about 95,000 seasonal employees for its crucial peak holiday season for the fourth straight year. These employees would support the expected increase in package volume that will begin in November and continue through January, UPS said on Wednesday. Peak season begins on Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in November, and runs through to early January when there is a large wave of returns.

NAHB – housing production holds steady in August

Nationwide housing starts fell 0.8% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.18 million units, according to newly released data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Commerce Department. Single-family production rose 1.6% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 851,000 after a downwardly revised July reading. Year-to-date, single-family starts are 8.9% above their level over the same period last year. Multifamily starts dropped 6.5% to 329,000 units after an upward July revision. “This month’s report shows that single-family starts continue to move forward at a gradual, consistent pace,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “The three-month average for single-family production has reached a post-recession high, but the months ahead may show volatility given that the building markets affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma represent about 14% of national production.” “We are paying close attention to the communities affected by these hurricanes, and are helping them start on the rebuilding and restoration process,” said Granger MacDonald, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder and developer from Kerrville, Texas. Regionally in August, combined single- and multifamily housing production rose 22.0% in the Midwest and 4.0% in the West. Starts fell 7.9% in the South and 8.7% in the Northeast. Overall permit issuance in August was up 5.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.30 million units. Single-family permits edged down 1.5% to 800,000 units while multifamily permits rose 19.6% to 500,000. Regionally, overall permits rose 15.3% in the West, 8.8% in the Midwest and 3.7% in the South. Permits fell 13.0% in the Northeast.

Corelogic – reports a 16.9% year-over-year increase in mortgage fraud risk in the second quarter of 2017

–  New York overtakes florida as the state with the highest overall fraud risk

–  Florida dropped to number 3 state rank because of 3% decrease in application fraud risk year over year

–  Iowa had the largest year-over-year increase in fraud risk

CoreLogic released its latest Mortgage Fraud Report. As of the end of the second quarter of 2017, the report shows a 16.9% year-over-year increase in fraud risk, as measured by the CoreLogic Mortgage Application Fraud Risk Index. The analysis found that during the second quarter of 2017, an estimated 13,404 mortgage applications, or 0.82% of all mortgage applications, contained indications of fraud, as compared with the reported 12,718, or 0.70% in the second quarter of 2016.The CoreLogic Mortgage Fraud Report analyzes the collective level of loan application fraud risk the mortgage industry is experiencing each quarter. CoreLogic develops the index based on residential mortgage loan applications processed by CoreLogic LoanSafe Fraud Manager™, a predictive scoring technology. The report includes detailed data for six fraud type indicators that complement the national index: identity, income, occupancy, property, transaction, and undisclosed real estate debt. “This past year we saw a relatively large increase in the CoreLogic National Mortgage Application Fraud Index,” said Bridget Berg, principal, Fraud Solutions for CoreLogic. “If the factors that influenced the increase continue, including a shift to purchase transactions and growing wholesale channel origination activity, it is likely that mortgage application fraud risk will continue to rise as well. Fraud on cash-out refinance transactions and home equity loans may become more of a factor in the coming years as home values and equity rise.”

Report Highlights:

–  New York is the state with the highest level of application fraud risk. Florida, which held the top spot for the last several years, dropped to number 3, thanks to a 3% decrease in application fraud risk from 2016.

–  States with the greatest year-over-year growth in risk include Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Louisiana and Idaho. Although they have the highest growth in risk, except for Louisiana, the other four states are still outside the top 25 in terms of overall risk.

–  Jumbo refinance loans are the segment showing the greatest fraud risk increase by loan type.

–  Occupancy, Transaction and Income fraud types showed increases year-over-year, with the greatest increase in Occupancy fraud risk at 7.0%.

 

 

Black Knight – preliminary assessment shows over 3.1 million mortgaged properties in Hurricane Irma disaster areas 

– Represents $517 Billion in Unpaid Principal Balances

​- Florida FEMA-designated disaster areas related to Hurricane Irma include over 3.1 million mortgaged properties

– Irma-related disaster areas contain nearly three times as many mortgaged properties as those connected to Hurricane Harvey, and nearly seven times as many as those connected to Hurricane Katrina in 2005

– The $517 billion in unpaid principal balances in Irma-related disaster areas is nearly three times the amount as in those related to Harvey and more than 11 times of those connected to Katrina

– Irma-related disaster areas now include more than 90% of all mortgaged properties in Florida

The Data & Analytics division of Black Knight Financial Services, Inc. released a preliminary assessment of the potential mortgage-related impact from Hurricane Irma. As Black Knight Data & Analytics Executive Vice President Ben Graboske explained, both the number of mortgages and the unpaid principal balances of those mortgages in FEMA-designated Irma disaster areas are significantly larger than in the areas impacted recently by Hurricane Harvey. While the total extent of the damage from Hurricane Irma is still being determined, it is clear that the size and scope of the disaster is immense,” said Graboske. “Indeed, in terms of the number of mortgaged properties and their associated unpaid principal balances, Irma significantly outpaces even the number of borrowers impacted by Hurricane Harvey. With FEMA expanding the number of Irma-related designated disaster areas late Wednesday, Sept. 13, to a total of 37 Florida counties, more than 90% of all mortgaged properties in the state now fall into such areas. More than 3.1 million properties are now included in FEMA-designated Irma disaster areas, representing approximately $517 billion in unpaid principal balances. In comparison, Harvey-related disaster areas held 1.18 million properties – more than twice as many as with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – with a combined unpaid principal balance of $179 billion. Irma-related disaster areas now contain nearly seven times as many mortgaged properties as those connected to Katrina, with more than 11 times the principal balances.

“As Irma forged its path of destruction through the Caribbean, one relatively positive development was that Puerto Rico escaped the direct hit many had predicted. From a mortgage performance perspective, this was particularly good news, as delinquencies there were already quite high leading up to the storm. At more than 10%, Puerto Rico’s delinquency rate is nearly three times that of the US average, as is its 5.8% serious delinquency rate. In contrast, the disaster areas declared in Florida have starting delinquency rates below the national average, providing more than a glimmer of optimism as we move forward.” By the Numbers:

–  Total mortgaged properties in Hurricane Irma-related FEMA disaster areas: 3,140,000

– Total mortgaged properties in Hurricane Harvey-related FEMA disaster areas: 1,180,000

– Total mortgaged properties in Hurricane Katrina-related FEMA disaster areas: 456,000

– Total unpaid mortgage balances in Hurricane Irma-related FEMA disaster areas: $517 billion

– Total unpaid mortgage balances in Hurricane Harvey-related FEMA disaster areas: $179 billion

– Total unpaid mortgage balances in Hurricane Katrina-related FEMA disaster areas: $46 billion

Jeremy G. Philips – what Jamie Dimon is missing about Bitcoin

JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, is the most successful banker of his generation. He has successfully navigated a challenging environment over more than a decade, and his firm is stronger than ever. So naturally, given his status and success, his recent comments that Bitcoin was a “fraud” were taken seriously. Mr. Dimon’s comments may have come as a surprise to the dozens of employees at his bank working on projects related to blockchain, the bookkeeping technology underpinning digital currencies. And the comments must have been especially jarring to those employees who were holding a forum for hedge funds interested in Bitcoin— whose market value stood at about $70 billion at that moment. It’s no secret that Bitcoin and other digital currencies may dramatically fall in value at any time. How can an asset whose value jumps by 20% some days, and which no one can accurately value, plausibly not also suffer huge declines? But that’s a long way from Bitcoin being a worthless fraud. While we are still in the early stages of digital currencies, and much can still go wrong, Mr. Dimon’s rationale for his negativity was curious. His core problem with Bitcoin? “You can’t have a business where people are going to invent a currency out of thin air,” he said. Yet as one of the world’s foremost bankers, Mr. Dimon is plainly aware that countries also create fiat currencies out of thin air. (In Latin, fiat means “let it be done.”) It has been more than four decades since Richard Nixon removed the American dollar from the gold standard. And in any event, most of gold’s value doesn’t arise from its physical attributes, since it doesn’t have any magical ability to create usefulness or generate financial dividends despite its attractive shiny yellow hue. It’s instead because investors have believed in its value for thousands of years.

Of course, fiat currencies like the dollar have the backing of a sovereign nation. Digital currencies are obviously far more speculative, have been around for only a few years, and don’t have a government’s underlying support. But almost all currencies today are conjured up from nothing — the euro didn’t even exist 20 years ago — and their value is largely dependent on trust. Naturally, most people have more trust in the “full faith and credit of the United States” than in an anonymous distributed group of miners and traders. But trust in digital currency is clearly building over time and is a self-reinforcing network. And one of the advantages of Bitcoin is that its total supply is fixed. A fiat currency, on the other hand, can be devalued by centralized monetary policy. In his comments, Mr. Dimon cited the famed investor Howard Marks, who in a July memo to his clients referred to Bitcoin as an unfounded fad. But he seems to have missed Mr. Marks’s subsequent backflip in which, while remaining a skeptic, the hedge fund mogul wrote, “There’s absolutely no reason why Bitcoin — or anything else — can’t serve as a currency if enough people accept it as such.” Mr. Dimon is also too modest about JPMorgan’s own achievements in this arena. His firm conjured up its own currency: Chase Ultimate Reward points, its credit card loyalty program. Millions of customers have accumulated billions of points, trusting in Chase’s promise that this currency can be converted into cash or used for travel and other delights. And they hope that Chase won’t unilaterally choose to devalue them, while living with the risk that, unlike their bank accounts, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation provides no insurance for this valuable currency.

JPMorgan is even working on its own blockchain project, Quorum, which is built on the publicly accessible Etherereum network. Presumably, Mr. Dimon doesn’t think Etherereum, whose value is up more than 2,000% over the last year, is also a modern version of tulip mania. In Mr. Dimon’s telling, Bitcoin has value only for people who want to bypass the traditional banking system for illicit purposes, including “murderers and drug dealers,” or people living in countries with repressive governments like North Korea and Venezuela. He doubts that this is a large market opportunity, though perhaps he may concede that there are inherent difficulties in accurately sizing up markets where participants like to keep a low profile. Part of the promise of the blockchain, and associated digital currencies, is the absence of a central authority. It’s fair to say that the cult of decentralization may have run too far, with some enthusiasts imagining it as a panacea for every business problem. Centralized networks work well for many functions, like trading stocks or managing flight reservations. But new use cases for digital currencies are just starting to take shape. They are now being used to create value in the way that Silicon Valley has traditionally done so: regulatory arbitrage.

Ride-hailing got its start avoiding onerous taxi medallion costs; Airbnb avoided hotel taxes and regulations; and YouTube played fast and loose with copyright rules. Similarly, some entrepreneurs are using the blockchain as a way to avoid certain regulatory requirements for raising capital. As a rule, Silicon Valley prefers to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Companies are also creating tokens to align incentives around decentralized efforts like open source software or distributed storage networks. Undoubtedly, there will be plenty of hits and misses, as one would expect in the early days of a new technology. And there will be some outright scams as well. But the toothpaste is now out of the tube, and there is sufficient momentum for legitimate use cases to develop. Presumably, that’s why JPMorgan itself is investing resources in developing these technologies and applications. Economists use the term “cheap talk” for words that don’t have any payoff. Despite his withering Bitcoin critique, Mr. Dimon also said, “Don’t ask me to short it. It could be at $20,000 before this happens, but it will eventually blow up.” Mr. Dimon added that he would fire any employee who traded Bitcoin. But he didn’t say how he would deal with an employee who publicly identifies a $70 billion fraud — then doesn’t find a way to make a dime out of it.

US homebuilder sentiment falls in September

US homebuilders are feeling less optimistic about their sales prospects, reflecting concerns that rebuilding efforts following hurricanes Harvey and Irma will drive up costs for construction labor and materials. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Monday slipped to 64 this month. That’s down three points from a downwardly revised reading of 67 in August. Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor. The index has been above 60 since September last year. The latest index fell short of analyst predictions, which called for a reading of 67, according to FactSet. Readings gauging builders’ view of sales now and over the next six months declined from last month. A measure of traffic by prospective buyers also fell.

Pittsburgh’s self-driving car boom means $200,000 pay packages for robotics grads

–  At least four self-driving car companies are battling for robotics talent in Pittsburgh

–  These types of salaries were “unheard of for any role until recently”

–  By year-end, Argo expects to have 200 employees, with Pittsburgh as one of its main centers

There’s a war for talent in Pittsburgh’s booming autonomous car market. It started with Uber and now includes Argo AI, which is majority owned by Ford, and a start-up called Aurora Innovation. With so much hiring, it’s a good time to be at the city’s prized academic institution, Carnegie Mellon University. Andrew Moore, the dean of Carnegie Mellon’s computer science school, said that computer vision graduates right out of college are commanding pay packages of $200,000, which he described as “unheard of for any role until recently.” In addition to Uber, Argo and Aurora, Moore said there’s a fourth self-driving car company in Pittsburgh that’s not yet talking publicly. “One of the effects is this dramatic salary rise for anyone with robotics engineering skills,” said Moore, whose background is in artificial intelligence and robotics. “It does feel very much like a gold rush town at the moment.” Moore, who previously spent eight years at Google and ran the company’s Pittsburgh office, estimates that there are 1,000 to 2,000 people in the city working on autonomous driving. Pittsburgh has become the de facto capital for self-driving car development, thanks to Carnegie Mellon’s top-ranked robotics program and the city’s openness to partnering with tech companies on risky endeavors. Despite all of Uber’s legal, cultural and management troubles, the ride-hailing company is aggressively hiring in Pittsburgh. Uber currently has 60 job openings there in its advanced technologies group, which houses the self-driving engineering team.

Aurora has 12 listings for both Pittsburgh and Palo Alto, the two cities the company calls the “nerve centers of self-driving technology.” It has another opening in Pittsburgh for a vehicle operator manager. The start-up’s creators came from Google, Uber and Tesla, where they were all working on related projects. According to an April story in Fortune, Aurora will work with auto manufacturers and suppliers to build a “mix of sensors, software, and data services needed to deploy fully autonomous vehicles.” Argo captured headlines in February, when Ford announced a $1 billion investment for a majority stake in the company. Argo was founded by Carnegie Mellon alumni, who also happen to be former Google and Uber employees. Ford said that by the end of the year, Argo expects to have more than 200 people in Pittsburgh, Michigan and the Bay Area. The company has job openings in Pittsburgh for software engineers, hardware engineers, vehicle operators and other positions. “There is a healthy amount of poaching between the self-driving car companies in Pittsburgh,” Moore said. “Overall, it’s really good for the city because there are constantly new people moving in.”

NAR – student debt delaying millennial homeownership by 7 years

Despite being in the prime years to buy their first home, an overwhelming majority of millennials with student debt currently do not own a home and believe this debt is to blame for what they typically expect to be a seven-year delay from buying. This is according to a new joint study on millennial student loan debt released today by the National Association of Realtors® and nonprofit American Student Assistance®. The survey additionally revealed that student debt is holding back millennials from financial decisions and personal milestones, such as adequately saving for retirement, changing careers, continuing their education, marrying and having children. NAR and ASA’s new study found that only 20% of millennial respondents currently own a home, and that they are typically carrying a student debt load ($41,200) that surpasses their annual income ($38,800). Most respondents borrowed money to finance their education at a four-year college (79%), and slightly over half (51%) are repaying a balance of over $40,000. Among the 80% of millennials in the survey who said they do not own a home, 83% believe their student loan debt has affected their ability to buy. The median amount of time these millennials expect to be delayed from buying a home is seven years, and overall, 84% expect to postpone buying by at least three years.  “The tens of thousands of dollars many millennials needed to borrow to earn a college degree have come at a financial and emotional cost that’s influencing millennials’ housing choices and other major life decisions,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Sales to first-time buyers have been underwhelming for several years now1, and this survey indicates student debt is a big part of the blame. Even a large majority of older millennials and those with higher incomes say they’re being forced to delay homeownership because they can’t save for a down payment and don’t feel financially secure enough to buy.”

According to Yun, the housing market’s lifecycle is being disrupted by the $1.4 trillion of student debt US households are currently carrying2. In addition to softer demand at the entry-level portion of the market, a quarter of current millennial homeowners said their student debt is preventing them from selling their home to buy a new one, either because it’s too expensive to move and upgrade, or because their loans have impacted their credit for a future mortgage. “Millennial homeowners who can’t afford to trade up because of their student debt end up staying put, which slows the turnover in the housing market and exacerbates the low supply levels and affordability pressures for those trying to buy their first home,” added Yun. In addition to postponing a home purchase, the survey found that student debt is forcing millennials to put aside several additional life choices and financial decisions that contribute to the economy and their overall happiness. Eighty-six% have made sacrifices in their professional career, including taking a second job, remaining in a position in which they were unhappy, or taking one outside their field. Furthermore, more than half say they are delayed in continuing their education and starting a family, and 41% would like to marry but are stalling because of their debt. Even more concerning, according to Yun, is that it appears many millennials are putting saving for retirement on the backburner because of their student debt. Sixty-one% of respondents at times have not been able to make a contribution to their retirement, and nearly a third (32%) said they were at times able to contribute but with a reduced amount. “Being unable to adequately save for retirement on top of not experiencing the wealth building benefits of owning a home is an unfortunate situation that could have long-term consequences to the financial well-being of these millennials,” said Yun. “A scenario where only those with minimal or no student debt can afford to buy a home and save for retirement is not an ideal situation and is one that weakens the economy and contributes to widening inequality.”

The financial pressures many millennials with student debt are now experiencing appear to somewhat come from not having a complete understanding of the expenses needed to pay for college. Only one-in-five borrowers indicated in the survey that they understood all of the costs, including tuition, fees and housing. “Student debt is a reality for the majority of students attending colleges and universities across our country. We cannot allow educational debt to hold back whole generations from the financial milestones that underpin the American Dream, like home ownership,” said Jean Eddy, president and CEO at ASA. “The results of this study reinforce the need for solutions that both reduce education debt levels for future students, and enable current borrowers to make that debt manageable, so they don’t have to put the rest of their financial goals on hold.” “Realtors® are actively working with consumers and policy leaders to address the growing burden student debt is having on homeownership,” President William E. Brown, a Realtor® from Alamo, California. “We support efforts that promote education and simplify the student borrowing process, as well as underwriting measures that make it easier for homebuyers carrying student loan debt to qualify for a mortgage.” In April 2017, ASA distributed a 41 question survey co-written with NAR to 92,419 student loan borrowers (ages 22 to 35) who are current in repayment. A total of 2,203 student loan borrowers completed the survey. All information is characteristic of April 2017, with the exception of income data, which is reflective of 2016.

Homeowner attorney raises concerns over increase in HOA foreclosures

Arizona law allows an HOA to foreclose after a year of missed payments, or if dues and fines reach $1,200. “That definitely seems extreme,” said Reimer. “I didn’t even know about that. I wasn’t aware. As far as I’m concerned, it says if you’re two weeks late you owe 15 more dollars.” Attorney Jonathan Dessaules represents several clients on the verge of losing their homes. He said the number of HOA foreclosures is on the rise, with many homeowners having no idea it was even possible. “Once the HOA starts the foreclosure process it is a train going 90 mph,” said Dessaules. “The only way it can stop is if a homeowner accurately guesses how much a court will award in attorney fees.” According to an Arizona Republic investigation, HOAs have begun foreclosure procedures with more than 3,000 homeowners since 2015. Arizona law allows an HOA to foreclose after a year of missed payments, or if dues and fines reach $1,200. Dessaules said the biggest problem is how quickly the amount of money a homeowner owes can multiply, to the point where saving your own house can cost tens of thousands of dollars. “If you’re looking at a couple thousand dollars in assessments,” said Dessaules, “it comes with baggage in the form of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, and fee collection fees of various labels and kinds, and that adds up.” Dessaules would like to see state lawmakers change existing HOA laws, so that late fees and attorney’s fees are not included in any foreclosure proceeding, making it easier for homeowners to balance their accounts and keep their property. HOA management companies have argued that the foreclosure process is a last resort, and the threat of foreclosure is often the only leverage they have to convince homeowners to pay thousands of dollars in delinquent debt.

Amazon is skewing the whole country’s retail sales data and likely behind last month’s drop

–  The surprise 0.2% drop in August retail sales is being blamed on Hurricane Harvey and Amazon.

–  The report had an unusual decline of 1.1% in nonstore retail sales, the bulk of which is internet shopping.

–  Economists say that could be payback from the extra shopping that went on during Amazon’s Prime Day in July.

The surprise drop in August retail sales is being blamed on Hurricane Harvey and Amazon. Retail sales fell 0.2%, but without autos, sales were actually up 0.2% in August. Some of the 1.6% decline in auto sales was blamed on Harvey. But there was also a surprising dip in a category that rarely falls— online shopping. Nonstore retail sales, the bulk of which is internet shopping, fell 1.1%. “One possible, at least logical, explanation is that the 1.8% rise in July non-store retail sales was boosted by the July 11 Amazon Prime Day, so the apparent ensuing weakness is a return to a more normal sales activity post the Prime Day sales,” wrote Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies. He notes that nonstore sales were up 8% year over year even with the sharp August decline. Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont, also pointed to Amazon. He said details of July sales show that the sub category of internet shopping was up 2%, and probably the result of Amazon’s self-proclaimed one-day shopping holiday. Amazon has said its third annual Prime Day was its “biggest day ever,” with sales surpassing its 2016 Black Friday and Cyber Monday results. Prime Day sales grew by more than 60% from 2016.

Stanley also blamed Harvey for the drop in auto sales, which took a dip at the end of the month. Harvey also could have been partly to blame for some of the jump in gasoline sales, which were up 2.5%. Stanley said prices were already slightly higher in August ahead of the hurricane, which dumped unprecedented rainfall on the heart of the refining industry. Goldman Sachs economists, in a note, said Harvey likely added to sales declines in a number of discretionary categories—clothing, electronics and building materials. Sales for September should also show the impact of Irma, which hit Florida on Sunday and caused the evacuation of coastal towns in Florida and other parts of the Southeast. September could show more impact from storm preparations since residents had more time, ahead of Irma, which crashed through the Caribbean before slamming Florida. Harvey appeared fairly quickly, transforming rapidly from a tropical depression into a powerful hurricane. “In my numbers, I took half a% off of consumer spending in Q3 and added it back in to Q4,” Stanley said. “I think that’s broadly how I’m thinking about the hurricane effects. There will be ongoing impacts.”

Freddie mac suspends evictions, foreclosures in disaster areas

Freddie Mac will suspend all foreclosure sales and evictions through Dec. 31 in areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has declared eligible disaster areas as a result of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Freddie Mac is working with servicers to ensure that no property inspection costs resulting directly from either Harvey or Irma are passed on to impacted borrowers. “We appreciate the understanding and consideration that servicers are extending to borrowers coping with hardships related to these devastating storms. As we continue to work with servicers to assess the damage, we want to reassure borrowers that we will support them during this difficult time,” Yvette Gilmore, Freddie Mac’s vice president of single-family servicer performance management, said in a statement. “They may be able to put their mortgage payments on hold for up to one year if their mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac. The first step is for borrowers to contact their mortgage servicers – the companies they send their payments to each month.” Borrowers can look up the telephone number and mailing address of their mortgage servicers on the Mortgage Bankers Association’s website.An eligible disaster area is an area comprised of counties or municipalities that have been declared by the president of the United States to be major disaster areas where federal aid in the form of individual assistance is being made available. A list of these areas can be found on FEMA’s website. These additional disaster relief assistance program changes are scheduled to be sent to Freddie Mac servicers in a guide bulletin that will be issued today. A description of Freddie Mac’s disaster relief policies can be found on the agency’s website.

Equifax needs a plan to stop investor exodus

Shares of credit reporting agency Equifax (EFX) have fallen more than 35% since the company announced a massive cyber-security breach that likely impacted all US adults, however the lack of transparency in the wake of the incident has done little to increase consumer or investor confidence in the company. “[The only way to] restore your good name … is facts, facts, facts, transparency,” Lanny Davis, a lawyer who specializes in crisis management and former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, told FOX Business. “That’s what the stock market is mostly about, it’s usually about the investors’ perception and right now, Equifax has not put out sufficient facts to cure the negative perception.” Davis, who is not familiar with the specifics of the case other than what he’s read in the media, says there are two key issues that remain unclarified in the wake of the breach: how Equifax plans to fully secure the systems that allowed the hack to take place and what the company is doing about the supposedly coincidental sale of nearly $2 million worth of company stock by three different executives after the breach was discovered on July 29. “Even if it was coincidental they have not put the facts out to explain why it was coincidental, at least enough for most people to understand. And perception is all about protecting reputation. It doesn’t matter what the facts are if the media is portraying this as suspicious,” Davis said. On Thursday, shares of Equifax touched their lowest level in more than 2.5 years. Davis said releasing the facts, even if they are unfavorable, will go a long way toward restoring public perception and therefore, investor confidence.

NAR – homeownership a common interest, deserves protection in tax reform debateTax reform done right could yield savings and simplification that benefits average Americans, but history shows that misguided reforms can pose significant threats to the economy. That’s the message the National Association of REALTORS brought to Congress today as Iona Harrison, chair of NAR’s Federal Taxation Committee, testified (link is external) before the Senate Finance Committee. At the hearing, titled “Individual Tax Reform,” Harrison told senators that putting homeownership in the crosshairs of tax reform would strike at millions of American households. “Real estate is the most widely held category of assets that American families own, and for many Americans, it’s the largest portion of their family’s net worth,” Harrison said. “As 64% of American households are owner-occupied, we believe that homeownership is not a special interest, but is rather a common interest.” Over the past year, proposals for tax reform have included the elimination of important benefits like the state and local tax deduction, a near doubling of the standard deduction – which would all but nullify the benefits of the mortgage interest deduction – as well as caps to the MID.REALTORS® have warned lawmakers that proposals to limit or nullify the tax incentives for homeownership could actually raise taxes on millions of middle class homeowners while putting the value of their homes at risk. In her testimony, Harrison responded to critics of real estate deductions, who often claim those deductions benefit only a small number of wealthy individuals.

Harrison noted:

–  70% of the value of real property tax deductions in 2014 went to taxpayers with incomes less than $200,000;

–  53% of individuals claiming the itemized deduction for real estate taxes in 2014 earned less than $100,000;

–  32.7 million tax filers claimed a deduction for mortgage interest in 2015;

–  Half of taxpayers with mortgages over $500,000 have AGI below $200,000., according to research conducted for NAR.

–  To that end, Harrison reminded the committee that tax reform efforts in the late 1980’s were fraught with unintended consequences that delivered a broadside to the economy and only offered brief tax relief.

“When Congress last undertook major tax reform in 1986, it eliminated or significantly changed a large swath of tax provisions, including major real estate provisions, in order to lower rates, only to increase those rates just five years later in 1991,” said Harrison. “Most of the eliminated tax provisions never returned and in the case of real estate, a major recession followed.” Despite the REALTORS®’ concerns raised during the hearing, Harrison reminded Senators that REALTORS® do support tax reform. “Homeowners already pay 83% of all federal income taxes, and reform that raises their taxes is a failed effort,” said Harrison. “But NAR supports the goals of simplification and structural improvements for the tax system, and individual tax rates should be as low as possible while still providing for a balanced fiscal policy. We simply believe that to achieve these goals, Congress should commit first to doing no harm to the common interest that homeownership provides.”

Black Knight – July Mortgage Monitor: purchase lending hits highest level since 2007 despite continued headwinds from tight lending 

Black Knight – July Mortgage Monitor: purchase lending hits highest level since 2007 despite continued headwinds from tight lending

–  ​​$467 billion in first lien mortgages, including both purchase and refinance loans, were originated in Q2 2017, a 20% increase over Q1 2017, but down 16% from the same time last year

–  A 20%, $37 billion quarterly decline in refinances was more than offset by a 57%, $117 billion seasonal increase in purchase lending

–  Refinances accounted for 31% of all mortgage originations in Q2 2017, the lowest share since 2000

–  Purchase lending is now at its highest level since 2007, but the number of purchase originations lags pre-crisis norms by nearly 30%

–  Borrowers with credit scores of 720 or higher accounted for 74% of Q2 2017 purchase loans, as compared to a pre-crisis (2000 – 2003) average of 47%

–  65% fewer purchase mortgages are going to borrowers with sub-720 credit scores than the pre-crisis average

The Data and Analytics division of Black Knight Financial Services, Inc. released its latest Mortgage Monitor Report, based on data as of the end of July 2017. Reviewing second quarter mortgage origination volumes, Black Knight finds that while overall mortgage lending saw a 20% increase over Q1 2017, total volumes were down 16% from Q2 2016. Additionally, although purchase lending hit its highest level in 10 years, the total number of purchase mortgages being originated still falls far below pre-crisis (2000 – 2003) averages. As Black Knight Data & Analytics Executive Vice President Ben Graboske explained, more stringent credit requirements enacted in the wake of the Great Recession may be hampering purchase lending volumes. “We saw positive growth in lending in the second quarter, with $467 billion in first lien mortgages originated,” said Graboske. “While down 16% from a year ago, that marks a 20% increase in mortgage lending over Q1. Drilling down into the make-up of those originations, we see that refinance lending made up just 31% of all Q2 originations – the lowest such share in over 16 years. Refinance volumes were down as well, falling 20% from Q1, but that drop was more than offset by a 57% seasonal rise in purchase lending. Purchase originations totaled $321 billion in Q2 2017; up six% from last year, and the highest quarterly volume since 2007. As a result of growing average loan amounts for purchase originations, the total dollar amount of purchase originations is higher than averages seen from 2000 – 2003, prior to both the peak in home prices and the Great Recession that followed. This is partly due to rising home prices, but also comes as a result of an all-but-total absence of second lien usage for purchases, a shift toward high-dollar/low-risk loans among non-agency lenders and a higher share of cash purchases at the lower end of the market.​

“However, the number of purchase loans being originated still lags the pre-crisis average by almost 30%; while overall purchase origination volumes are strong from a total dollar amount perspective, the market still does not appear to be performing at peak capacity. One key cause is the more stringent purchase lending credit requirements enacted in response to the financial crisis. Consider that borrowers with credit scores of 720 or higher accounted for 74% of all Q2 2017 purchase loans as compared to a pre-crisis average of 47%. Today, there are 65% fewer purchase loans being originated to borrowers with credit scores below 720 than in those years. The lack of credit availability for those borrowers is causing a strong headwind for the purchase market. Using 2000 – 2003 averages as a measure, as many as 645,000 purchase loans were not originated in Q2 due to tighter lending standards. To put it another way, the purchase market is operating at less than two-thirds of peak capacity because of these factors.” Additionally, this month Black Knight assessed the impact of the recently announced extension of the federal government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) through the end of 2018. As 3.5 million borrowers have already utilized the program and after years of continual home price gains, the HARP-eligible borrower pool is relatively shallow. As of the end of July, there are only approximately 108,000 borrowers that would both meet HARP eligibility requirements and that have at least 75 BPS of interest rate incentive to refinance through the program. HARP eligibility is limited for the 2.5 million active GSE mortgages with current LTVs above 80% due to the requirement that loans have been originated pre-June 2009. Even expanding that to the bottom of the housing market in January 2012 – to include all borrowers negatively impacted by the downturn in home prices during the recession – would only increase the HARP-eligible/incented population by approximately 50,000.

As was reported in Black Knight’s most recent First Look release, other key results include:

​-  Total US loan delinquency rate: 3.90%​

​-  Month-over-month change in delinquency rate: 2.82%

​-  Total US foreclosure pre-sale inventory rate: 0.78%

​-  Month-over-month change in foreclosure pre​-sale inventory rate: -2.96%

​-  States with highest percentage of non-current loans: MS, LA, AL, WV, ME

​-  States with the lowest percentage of non-current loans: MT, OR, MN, ND, CO

​-  States with highest percentage of seriously delinquent loans: MS, LA, AL, AR, TN

Is Equifax telling the wrong people they were hacked?

The Equifax security breach impacted a jaw-dropping 143 million US consumers. That’s right, 143 million consumers, meaning the likelihood you or someone you know had their information wrongfully stolen is uneasily high. And to make matters worse, according to this from veteran securities reporter, Brian Krebs, on his Krebs on Security blog, the website (equifaxsecurity2017.com) that the credit bureau set up for consumers to see if their personal information was impacted by the breach, may just be haphazardly telling consumers they were impacted when they weren’t — and perhaps vice versa, too. Krebs proves his case by publishing screen shots. The credit bureau website is also intended as a place for consumers to sign up for credit file monitoring and identity theft protection, which will be provided by Equifax for one year. As Krebs notes, the new website not only drives new clients to Equifax, but also forces them to sign an arbitration clause to get out of being sued later. From the article:  “As noted in yesterday’s breaking story on this breach, the Web site that Equifax advertised as the place where concerned Americans could go to find out whether they were impacted by this breach — equifaxsecurity2017.com —

is completely broken at best, and little more than a stalling tactic or sham at worst. In the early hours after the breach announcement, the site was being flagged by various browsers as a phishing threat. In some cases, people visiting the site were told they were not affected, only to find they received a different answer when they checked the site with the same information on their mobile phones. Others (myself included) received not a yes or no answer to the question of whether we were impacted, but instead a message that credit monitoring services we were eligible for were not available and to check back later in the month. The site asked users to enter their last name and last six digits of their SSN, but at the prompting of a reader’s comment I confirmed that just entering gibberish names and numbers produced the same result as the one I saw when I entered my real information: Come back on Sept. 13.”

Equifax remains infuriatingly silent on a lot of the giant debacle, especially since the company said it discovered the unauthorized access on July 29, 2017, and “acted immediately to stop the intrusion.” But, it didn’t immediately inform the public on any of this, waiting nearly two months to say anything. As the public anxiously awaits news on how this impacts them, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the House Financial Services Committee, and the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are each launching an investigation into the breach.

CoreLogic – US economic outlook: September 2017

Nonresident foreign buyers purchased about 119,000 homes in the United States from April 2016 to March 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors, or about 2% of all homes sold.  The largest number of nonresident buyers were from Canada, the second most from China and third most from Mexico.  Buyers from these three nations accounted for 41% of the homes bought by nonresident foreign buyers. Since Canadians were the largest foreign buyer group, with 25,000 homes bought this past year, let’s look at where and why they bought. About 69% of the Canadian population live in the eastern portion of the country, stretching from Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.  This population distribution mirrors the locations in the US where Canadians buy homes, as about 7-in-10 homes were purchased in the eastern US and the rest in the west.  Canadians who live in the eastern provinces tend to buy in the southeast of the US, and those in the western provinces buy in the southwest of the US  For example, 9-in-10 Canadians who live in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces and 8-in-10 who live in Ontario bought in Florida.  In contrast, 8-in-10 Canadians from Alberta and 9-in-10 from British Columbia bought homes in the western US, primarily Arizona, California, and Washington. In the year ending March 2017, 64% of the homes bought by Canadians were located in Florida and 11% in Arizona. With three-fourths of home purchases in Florida and Arizona, the location of the purchases indicates a strong preference to acquire a winter retreat. And with the Global Financial Crisis and drop in home prices from 2006 through 2011, prices in many areas in these states are less than in Canada.  For example, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported that the average home purchase price in Canada during May 2017 was $453,300, measured in US currency.  In the Toronto metropolitan area the average home sales price was $600,000 and in Vancouver $721,100, again measured in US currency.  These prices are well above the sales price in the metropolitan areas that have been most popular with Canadian buyers.  The five most popular, accounting for more than one-half of Canadians’ purchases last year, were Miami, Phoenix, Tampa, Cape Coral, and Orlando. And because these areas were hit hard by the foreclosure process, prospective buyers can often buy an REO or short sale for an even lower price.

Americans headed towards $1 trillion in credit card debt, study says

Americans are starting to pile up more credit card debt than ever before. According to a new study released Monday, US consumers added $33 billion in credit card debt during the second quarter of 2017, making it the second-highest point of debt since the end of 2008. Personal Finance website WalletHub.com—who conducted the study—projects that by the end of 2017, Americans will pile more than $60 billion in new credit card debt, which means overall the US is headed towards well over $1 trillion in credit card debt.The news comes following the worst year for credit card debt (2016) since the Great Recession, where US consumers ended the year with $87.2 billion in new credit card debt. The first quarter of 2017, however, started out strong as consumers payed down $30.5 billion of that debt but then relapsed during the second quarter from April 1 to June 30. According to WalletHub, the average household credit card balance has rose to $7,996 in 2017, up from $7,584 during the same period last year. Total credit card debit is up more than 6% reaching $936.10 billion from $884.70 billion last year.

LegalShield Law Index shows consumer financial stress worsened significantly in August–while consumer confidence continues to be overstated

The LegalShield Law Index for August, released today, suggests as it has for the last few months that there will be a downward correction in consumer confidence, which remains high despite middling consumer spending and retail sales data. The LegalShield data, based on demand for legal services, indicate that retail sales and other consumer activity may fall short of expectations this holiday shopping season. While consumer finances are generally healthy, there remains a noteworthy divergence between LegalShield data and the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, which improved in August despite only moderate retail growth. LegalShield data continue to signal a pending correction in Consumer Confidence, as historically when these two indices diverge, it is typically Consumer Confidence that moves into line with LegalShield data, as it has in the past, most notably in the run-up to the 2008-09 recession. “While confidence remains an important economic indicator, our data suggest that confidence is inflated right now. Decision makers who rely heavily on confidence measures in forecasting consumer spending may be disappointed,” explained James Rosseau, LegalShield’s chief commercial officer. “Our data, which stem from concrete legal actions undertaken by consumers and small businesses, point to moderate consumer spending heading into the holiday shopping season later this year.”

Affecting the worsening in the Consumer Financial Stress Index is another component of the LegalShield Law Index, the Foreclosure Index, which rose (worsened) 5.1 points to 63.8 in August—though foreclosures remain down nearly 5% year-over-year. “Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity,” Rosseau said. “The LegalShield Consumer Financial Stress Index tends to lead the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index by one to three months and provides a useful ‘hard’ data check on survey-based, ‘soft’ data measures that are not always consistent with underlying economic conditions.” “We are coming to believe that confidence remains near record-highs due to stubborn optimism on the part of survey respondents,” Rosseau noted. “Our data indicate that consumers have reason to be confident about the economy, and of course we hope for continued economic strength. That said, our data, along with other measures of consumer health (such as the University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumer Sentiment), have worsened in recent months. In light of these developments, we want to make decision makers aware that consumer spending will likely continue to fall short of the levels implied by consumer confidence. In short, the consumer picture is pretty good, but not gangbusters.” Having debuted with the release of data for May, the LegalShield Law Index is made up of five indices, including the LegalShield Consumer Financial Stress Index, LegalShield Housing Activity Index, LegalShield Bankruptcy Index, LegalShield Foreclosure Index, and the LegalShield Real Estate Index. To depict the health of the US economy, each index relies on LegalShield’s unique and proprietary database of member demand for and usage of legal services.

Additional predictive takeaways based on the data through August:

–  Housing construction, which has been essentially flat over the last two years, despite substantial demand pressures, should pick up in the months ahead.

–  Bankruptcies should remain subdued in the near term. However, bankruptcies may increase in the medium term, particularly if student loan debt, auto loan debt, or credit card debt begin to drag on consumer financial health.

–  Existing home sales should slowly improve through the remainder of the year. However, a strong sales resurgence is unlikely to occur in the near term.

Black Knight: Hurricane Harvey could result in 300,000 new mortgage delinquencies, with 160,000 borrowers becoming seriously past due

–  ​FEMA-designated disaster areas related to Hurricane Harvey are home to 1.18 million mortgaged properties

–  Harvey-related disaster areas contain over twice as many mortgaged properties as those connected to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, carrying nearly four times the unpaid principal balance

–  Post-Katrina mortgage delinquencies in Louisiana and Mississippi FEMA-designated disaster areas soared 25 percentage points, peaking at over 34%

–  A similar impact to Harvey-related disaster areas would equate to 300,000 borrowers missing at least one mortgage payment, and 160,000 becoming 90 or more days past due

The Data & Analytics division of Black Knight Financial Services, Inc. released an updated assessment of the potential mortgage-related impact from Hurricane Harvey. As Black Knight Data & Analytics Executive Vice President Ben Graboske explained, using post-Katrina Louisiana and Mississippi as benchmarks presents the possibility for significant rises in both early and long-term delinquencies. “Although the situation around Hurricane Harvey continues to evolve, millions of American lives have already been impacted by the storm and immense flooding,” said Graboske. “For many, their struggles are just beginning. Using post-Hurricane Katrina as a model, Black Knight has found that as many as 300,000 homeowners with mortgages in FEMA-designated Harvey disaster areas could become past due over the next few months. Post-Katrina, delinquencies spiked in Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas, jumping 25% to peak at 34% of all mortgaged properties being past due. The serious delinquency rate – tracking mortgages 90 or more days past due, but not yet in foreclosure – rose to more than 16%. New Orleans was hardest hit, with its delinquency jumping by 46 percentage points to nearly 55%, and the serious delinquency rate increasing by 24%

“Thankfully, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration have all announced temporary moratoria on evictions and foreclosure sales in Harvey-related disaster areas. With these three organizations accounting for nearly 900,000 of mortgaged properties, the moratoria should help temper the negative effects. Forbearance plans will help as well, though interest on the mortgage will continue to accrue under any of these efforts. Still, there are 1.18 million mortgaged properties in Harvey-related disaster areas, more than twice as many as were hit by Hurricane Katrina, with nearly four times the unpaid principal balance. This will be a long-term recovery. If the Harvey-related disaster areas follow the same trajectory as those hit by Katrina, within four months we could be looking at as many as 160,000 borrowers falling 90 or more days past due on their mortgages.”

By the Numbers

–  Total mortgaged properties in Hurricane Harvey-related FEMA disaster areas: 1,180,000

–  Total mortgaged properties in Hurricane Katrina-related FEMA disaster areas: 456,000

–  Total unpaid mortgage balances in Hurricane Harvey-related FEMA disaster areas: $179 billion

–  Total unpaid mortgage balances in Hurricane Katrina-related FEMA disaster areas: $46 billion

–  Post-Katrina delinquency (30+ days) increase in FEMA-designated disaster areas: from 8.7 to 34%

–  Post-Katrina serious delinquency (90+ days) increase in FEMA-designated disaster areas: from 2.8 to 16.3%.

–  Post-Harvey potential new delinquencies (30+ days): 300,000

–  Post-Harvey potential new serious delinquencies (90+ days): 160,000

Equifax: 143M US consumers affected by criminal cybersecurity breach

Credit reporting company Equifax (EFX) announced Thursday a cybersecurity data breach that could have impacted about 143 million US consumers. The company said in a statement the unauthorized entry occurred mid-May through July 2017, as criminals “exploited US website application vulnerability” to access files ranging from social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers. Hackers also accessed the credit card numbers of about 209,000 consumers in the US and other documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people in the US Equifax said it discovered the breach on July 29, 2017 but did not publically disclose the information until Sept. 7, 2017. “This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes,” Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard F. Smith said in a statement. “We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting data, and we are conducting a thorough review of our overall security operations.  We also are focused on consumer protection and have developed a comprehensive portfolio of services to support all US consumers, regardless of whether they were impacted by this incident.”

Equifax said it also found that hackers gained unauthorized access to limited personal information for certain residents in the United Kingdom and Canada. The company said its investigation has not found any evidence of illegal activity on its “core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.” “This is the nuclear explosion of identity theft opportunity. They’ve got names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses … I don’t think 143 [million] is going to be the number. Like with anything else, it starts at a number and it always seems to grow. So this thing could grow higher than 143 million,” cybersecurity expert Morgan Wright told “Risk & Reward.” As a result, the company has set up a website for consumers Opens a New Window. that will help them identify if their information was affected. It will also send notices directly in the mail to consumers that have had credit card numbers or dispute documents with personal identifying information compromised, according to Equifax. Shares of Equifax tumbled nearly 6% in after-hours trading and have advanced 19% this year.

CoreLogic – Hurricane Harvey: identifying the insurance gap

– CoreLogic estimates that 70% of the flood damage from Hurricane Harvey is uninsured

As hurricane Harvey made landfall north of Corpus Christi last week, this Category 4 hurricane left devastation in its wake. CoreLogic® estimates that the total residential insured and uninsured flood loss for Hurricane Harvey is between $25 Billion and $37 billion. In the days before making landfall, the hurricane rapidly intensified, transforming itself from a small tropical storm of little concern, to now, what we consider to be one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the United States. Yet, the real characteristic that sets Hurricane Harvey apart from other hurricanes is the unprecedented flooding that resulted, with record setting rainfall reaching upwards of 50 inches in a single location. Subsequently, the enormous geographic breadth of the flood area is beyond comparison to any recent hurricane or flood event in the US CoreLogic analysis estimates that 70% of the flood damage from Hurricane Harvey is uninsured, highlighting an insurance gap that leaves many of those impacted uninsured.

Naturally occurring catastrophic events can be tipping-point events, where a failure in one area can quickly cascade into interconnected failures. We cannot control the timing of low-probability catastrophes (and the rare occurrence of more than one event in a short period, such as Hurricane Irma on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, making landfall in the continental United States) of this severity but can improve our ability to respond, and subsequently rebuild. Having a comprehensive and granular understanding of risk powered by data and analytics is critical to that. We look to do this through improvements gained largely though the maintenance of better insurance exposure data sets, and the introduction and acceptance of catastrophe risk loss models that can simulate the occurrence of large catastrophic events. In 1992 when Hurricane Andrew made landfall, it took months for the government and insurance industry to accurately quantify the losses from this event and this delay increased the losses in both financial and human terms. However, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the loss severity was rapidly assessed, quickly putting into motion large scale government and private restoration efforts. In short, as bad as the effects were from Hurricane Katrina, they could have been significantly worse.

The widespread flooding from Hurricane Harvey, caused by storm surge and inland flooding, highlights the challenge of flood risk to properties in the United States. Since we cannot influence the timing and severity of natural catastrophes, we need to focus on resilience – our collective ability to rebuild and restart businesses and lives. Insurance is an important part of our resilience because insurance provides the funds necessary to restore the damage to capital from these events. Hurricane risk modeling became accepted after Hurricane Andrew highlighted weaknesses in our ability to respond to large urban catastrophes, and this adoption has led to faster restoration of lives and livelihoods after hurricanes. Flood risk modeling is a much more complex data and analytic challenge than hurricane risk modeling, but the greater availability of location data sets and grid computing in 2017 have improved our ability to respond to flood disasters. If we characterize the last phase of risk resilience improvement as the era of catastrophe modeling data and analytics, the next era will be known as the era of big data and grid-computing analytics. And one where we began to actively manage flood risk in the United States.

FBI probing if Uber used software to interfere with rivals: WSJ

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing to see if Uber Technologies Inc had used software to illegally interfere with its competitors, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. The investigation is focusing on an Uber program, internally known as “Hell,” that could track drivers working for rival service Lyft Inc, the WSJ said, citing people familiar with the investigation. Under the program, which was discontinued last year, Uber created fake Lyft customer accounts to seek rides, allowing it to track nearby Lyft drivers and ride prices, the Journal said. This also allowed Uber to obtain data on drivers who worked with both the car-ride providers and could have allowed it to lure drivers to leave Lyft with cash incentives, WSJ added. Uber was not immediately available for comment. The key question for investigators was whether the program comprised of unauthorized access of a computer, the newspaper reported. The investigation is being led by the FBI’s New York office and the Manhattan US attorney’s office, the Journal said. Uber is already grappling with a range of legal troubles and the report of the FBI investigation comes days after the company named Expedia’s Dara Khosrowshahi as its chief executive.

House to consider bill to change TRID rules

The House of Representatives could soon consider a bill that would bring several changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure rule”, also known as the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule or TRID. The new bill is called the “TRID Improvement Act of 2017,” and has yet to be officially introduced into the House, but the bill was discussed on Capitol Hill on Thursday during a meeting of the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee. The bill is sponsored by Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas. According to the Republican arm of the House Financial Services Committee, the TRID Improvement Act of 2017 would amend the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and the Truth in Lending Act to expand the time period granted to a creditor to cure a good-faith violation on a loan estimate or closing disclosure from 60 to 210 days. The bill would also amend RESPA to “allow for the calculation of a simultaneous issue discount when disclosing title insurance premiums.” The bill’s proposed changes come just over a month before the CFPB’s finalized updates to TRID rule officially take effect on Oct. 10, 2017. The Federal Register published the rule last month, marking the 60-day period until the amendments take effect. The bureau released the updates back in July, answering industry calls asked for greater clarity and certainty on the controversial rule.

During the hearing, the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee also discussed a number of other bills, including the “Community Institution Mortgage Relief Act of 2017.” That bill, which is set to be formally introduced by Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New York, would amends the Truth in Lending Act to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to “exempt from certain escrow or impound requirements a loan secured by a first lien on a consumer’s principal dwelling if the loan is held by a creditor with assets of $50 billion or less.” The bill would also require the CFPB to provide certain exemptions to the mortgage loan servicing and escrow account administration requirements of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act for servicers of 30,000 or fewer mortgages. “The legislation discussed in the Subcommittee today will better allow financial companies to serve their customers,” Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Missouri. “From banks and credit unions to attorneys, we’ve seen an impeded ability for businesses across the nation to offer financial services and guidance. In order to preserve consumer choice and financial independence, Congress must tackle regulatory reform and simplify rules. The policies outlined in today’s legislation start to break down those barriers.”

MBA – mortgage applications down

Mortgage applications decreased 2.3% from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending August 25, 2017. The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 2.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index decreased 4% compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index decreased 2% from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 3% from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 5% compared with the previous week and was 4% higher than the same week one year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 49.4% of total applications from 48.7% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.9% of total applications. The FHA share of total applications decreased to 9.7% from 10.1% the week prior. The VA share of total applications decreased to 10.0% from 10.2% the week prior. The USDA share of total applications decreased to 0.7% from 0.8% the week prior.

US second-quarter GDP growth revised up to 3%

The US economy grew faster than initially thought in the second quarter, notching its quickest pace in more than two years, and there are signs that the momentum was sustained at the start of the third quarter. Gross domestic product increased at a 3.0% annual rate in the April-June period, the Commerce Department said in its second estimate on Wednesday. The upward revision from the 2.6% pace reported last month reflected robust consumer spending as well as strong business investment. Growth last quarter was the strongest since the first quarter of 2015 and followed a 1.2% pace in the January-March period. Economists polled by Reuters had expected that second-quarter GDP growth would be raised to a 2.7% rate. Retail sales and business spending data so far suggest the economy maintained its stamina early in the third quarter. Strong growth and a labor market that is near full employment support views the Federal Reserve will lay out a plan to start unwinding its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities next month and increase interest rates in December. With GDP quickening in the second quarter, the economy grew 2.1% in the first half of 2017. That was up from the 1.9% reported last month. Republican President Donald Trump has set an ambitious 3.0% growth target for 2017, to be achieved through a mix of tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending. The Trump administration has so far failed to pass any economic legislation and is yet to articulate plans for tax reform and infrastructure. Chances are slim that the Republican-controlled US Congress will debate and pass tax reform legislation before the end of the year. So far, the political gridlock in Washington has not hurt either business or consumer confidence.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac suspend foreclosures and evictions in wake of Hurricane Harvey

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are extending additional relief to homeowners affected by the catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Last week, Fannie and Freddie announced a number of measures that mortgage servicers can take to aid borrowers whose homes were damaged by the storm, including mortgage forbearance and other options. Now, with officials declaring that Harvey dumped more water on Texas than any storm in history, Fannie and Freddie announced Tuesday that each of the government-sponsored enterprises is suspending foreclosures and evictions in affected areas. Specifically, each of the GSEs is implementing a 90-day foreclosure sale suspension and a 90-day eviction suspension on borrowers whose homes are located in eligible disaster areas. Freddie Mac also said that it will be working with servicers to ensure that no property inspection costs resulting directly from Hurricane Harvey will be passed on to the affected borrowers. “We’re committed to ensuring that homeowners receive the mortgage assistance they need to overcome the devastating tragedy of Hurricane Harvey,” Yvette Gilmore, Freddie Mac’s vice president of single-family servicer performance management, said. “Once they’re out of harm’s way, homeowners should contact their servicers – the company to which they send their monthly mortgage payments. They may be eligible for forbearance on mortgage payments for up to one year if their mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac.”

Freddie Mac also said that it is authorizing mortgage servicers to verbally grant 90-day forbearances to “all borrowers whose homes or places of employment are located in eligible disaster areas, including borrowers with mortgages that have been previously modified or are in a modification trial period plan.” Fannie Mae noted that homeowners impacted by Hurricane Harvey may qualify for a temporary suspension or reduction of their mortgage payment for up to six months. “Our thoughts are with the families in the path of this powerful and catastrophic storm. We continue to monitor the situation in the affected areas. The storm, while weakened, continues in many areas and it is simply too early to provide any data or assessment about the scale or scope of damage resulting from Hurricane Harvey,” Carlos Perez, senior vice president and chief credit officer at Fannie Mae, said. “Preliminary assessments of actual damage at this point may be inaccurate and potentially misleading,” Perez cautioned. “We will continue to work with our Single-Family servicers to communicate our policies and ensure borrowers have access to the information and resources they need to help manage their housing challenges.”

Trump pushes tax overhaul, says it’s ‘badly needed’

President Donald Trump will kick off his lobbying effort for a tax overhaul at an event with a Midwestern manufacturing backdrop and some economic tough talk. The one thing missing? A detailed proposal. Instead, in Springfield, Missouri, Wednesday, Trump will give remarks that the White House said will focus on his “vision” for spurring job creation and economic growth by cutting rates and revising the tax code. Details will come later, officials said, when lawmakers work them out. After a year with no major legislative wins, the stakes are high for the White House and GOP leaders, who face mounting pressure to get points on the board before next year’s midterm elections. Complicating matters, the tax push comes amid an intense September workload that requires Congress to act by month’s end to fund the government and raise the debt limit, as well as pass emergency spending for the Harvey disaster. After failing to deliver on seven years of promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, many Republicans believe they must produce on taxes or face a reckoning in next year’s congressional midterm elections. If they don’t have something to show for full control of Congress and the White House, voters could try to take it all away, beginning with the GOP’s House majority. On Twitter Sunday, Trump previewed his trip, stressing the politics. Calling Missouri a “wonderful state,” he said the state’s Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill — up for re-election next year — is “opposed to big tax cuts” and said a “Republican will win” the state. “Will be leaving for Missouri soon for a speech on tax cuts and tax reform – so badly needed!” he tweeted Wednesday morning.

Trump is kicking the effort off in Springfield, considered the birthplace of the historic Route 66 highway, known as “America’s Main Street.” Emphasizing domestic jobs, he’s appearing at the Loren Cook Company, which manufactures fans, gravity vents, laboratory exhaust systems and energy recovery ventilators. A key challenge is to frame a tax plan that could include cuts for corporations and top earners as a boon for the middle class. Officials suggested Trump would argue that cutting business taxes will benefit American companies and workers. The remarks were drafted by Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller with the speechwriting team, under Trump’s guidance, the White House said. Trump will be joined by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, and Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, said the White House. Also expected are Missouri elected officials, including Sen. Roy Blunt and Gov. Eric Greitens, as well as local business owners. Trump is expected to continue his sales pitch and Republicans are hoping the president commits in a way he never did for health care. “If you’re a Republican, you have to be encouraged by the president’s recent focus on tax reform,” said Brian McGuire, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Not only does presidential leadership make the chances of success here far more likely, it could also very well be the difference between Donald Trump presiding over a jobs boom and Nancy Pelosi presiding over an impeachment trial.”

Foreclosures on the rise for seniors with reverse mortgages

Across the nation, an increasing number of seniors are facing foreclosure after taking out reverse mortgages, either because they fell behind on property charges or failed to meet other requirements of the complex mortgage loans, according to federal data and interviews with consumer and housing specialists. “Folks who had expected to age in place and live for the rest of their lives in their home are now having to scramble to find a new place to live,” said Odette Williamson, a staff attorney with the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center, which advocates for consumer justice for low-income people. “People just don’t know where to turn. It’s heartbreaking.” The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which insures most reverse mortgages in the country, says it lacks detailed data on how many homeowners have lost their homes or are facing foreclosure in the program, which was launched in 1989 and covers about 636,000 loans. Nationstar declined to comment for this article.But a HUD report issued last fall found that nearly 90,000 reverse mortgage loans held by seniors were at least 12 months behind in payment of taxes and insurance and were expected to end in “involuntary termination” in fiscal 2017. That’s more than double the number the year before. Losses in the senior mortgage program have been a drain on the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage insurance fund that supports all single-family loan programs, including traditional forward mortgages and reverse mortgages.

HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said the agency has tightened the requirements to reduce defaults for new loans going forward. It’s a necessary measure as its reverse mortgage portfolio — whose value can go down with defaults or home prices and property values if homes fall into disrepair — was valued last fall at negative $7.7 billion. Still, he said, reverse mortgages are “a critical resource for seniors who wish to access their accumulated home equity and age in place.” Before 2015, the only thing homeowners ages 62 and older needed to qualify for a reverse mortgage was equity in their home; lenders weren’t required to determine whether they could afford to maintain their homes or cover tax and insurance payments in the future. Some homeowners used the funds to pay off the original mortgages or ran out of money after covering living expenses over many years. Now HUD requires all borrowers to undergo a financial assessment to qualify, to make sure they will be able to pay their taxes and insurance.But tens of thousands of troubled loans remain. More than 18% of reverse mortgage loans taken out from 2009 to June 2016 are expected to go into default because of unpaid taxes and insurance, according to the HUD report. That compares with less than 3% of federally insured loans that are considered seriously delinquent in the traditional mortgage market.

Joanne Savage, an attorney with AARP’s Legal Counsel for the Elderly, said that seniors like Rayford are the victims of a past system. She joins other advocates who argue that HUD and lenders should work harder to help troubled borrowers facing displacement for relatively small debts compared with the value of their homes. “There needs to be a little more mercy,’’ Savage said. “We are going to have a steady stream of these clients for five to 10 years.” Foreclosures on these mortgages have been on the rise after a 2011 mandate from HUD requiring loan servicers to work out a repayment plan with seniors in tax and insurance default — or to foreclose if there is no way to help them. In 2015, the federal agency instituted detailed timelines for lenders to work with borrowers. HUD made the changes to shore up its insurance fund after a federal audit a year earlier that criticized it for allowing lenders to continue paying property charges for defaulting borrowers, adding to the borrowers’ final debt, which resulted in millions of dollars of losses in 2009 and 2010. In many cases, a lender paid property charges to municipalities for years, in an effort to protect the lender’s investments. Representatives of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association declined to comment for this report.

Leslie Flynne, a senior vice president at the Houston-based company Reverse Mortgage Solutions, said servicers and lenders are struggling to meet strict timelines HUD set for them to deal with defaulting loans or risk losing money. She said servicers don’t want to displace struggling senior citizens, but in many cases borrowers simply don’t have enough resources to save their homes. She said seniors who obtained loans before 2015 are more likely to be in trouble. Families, nonprofits, churches and others should work to help them, Flynne said. “You have people who have run out of money, they can’t pay their taxes, and they are awaiting a miracle,” she said. Why elderly homeowners didn’t pay their taxes depends on their story. Some say they weren’t aware they had to pay taxes and insurance, thinking the charges would be covered by lenders; others knew about their obligations but ran out of money; others still say they think loan servicers have mischarged them. Advocates of the loans — including celebrity spokesmen such as Tom Selleck and Henry Winkler — say reverse mortgages can help seniors enjoy their later years. In a recent TV advertisement for American Advisors Group, Selleck says: “Many older Americans are in a tough spot right now. Why not use a reverse mortgage loan to access that equity?” Borrowers can receive 50% to 66% of the value of their equity, depending on their age and the interest rate, generally set at about 5%. For example, a 73-year-old with a home worth $100,000 and no current mortgage could receive a loan in a lump sum or monthly installments, or a line of credit, of up to $57,900, not including closing costs, according to HUD.

The debt increases each month with interest on the loan, and in many cases fees to the servicer and an insurance payment to HUD, which guarantees to take over the debt from the lender when it grows bigger than the value of the house. The loan comes due when the borrower dies, moves or violates loan requirements. At that point, owners or their heirs who want to keep the home can pay the debt or 95% of appraised value of the property — whichever is less. Or they can walk away from the house. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has long warned about deceptive advertising and reverse mortgages. In December, the federal agency fined three companies — American Advisors Group, Reverse Mortgage Solutions and Aegean Financial — for alleged false claims, saying they told seniors with reverse mortgages that they would not have to make monthly payments or face foreclosure, omitting the risks of failing to pay property charges. “These companies tricked consumers into believing they could not lose their homes with a reverse mortgage,’’ said Richard Cordray, bureau director. The companies did not admit wrongdoing in settlements that required them to collectively pay $790,000 in fines. Sarah White, a foreclosure prevention attorney at the nonprofit Connecticut Fair Housing Center in Hartford, said she went from never hearing of problems with reverse mortgages to spending a large portion of her workday helping senior citizens stave off foreclosure.

Black Knight – Home Price Index Report: June 2017 Transactions 

The Data and Analytics division of Black Knight​ Financial Services released its latest Home Price Index (HPI) report, based on May 2017 residential real estate transactions. The Black Knight HPI utilizes repeat sales data from the nation’s largest public records data set, as well as its market-leading, loan-level mortgage performance data, to produce one of the most complete and accurate measures of home prices available for both disclosure and non-disclosure states. Non-disclosure states do not include property sales price information as part of their publicly available county recorder data.-  US Home Prices Hit Another New High with 0.9% Gain in June, Up 6.2% Year-Over-Year

–  The national-level HPI hit a new peak in June, marking a 5.5% gain in home prices since the start of 2017

–  Year-over-year price appreciation continued to accelerate, with a 6.2% rise in home prices as compared to the same time last year

–  All 50 states saw monthly gains in home prices; Michigan and Wisconsin led with 1.9 and 1.8% appreciation, respectively

–  For the second consecutive month, Carson City, Nev., saw the greatest appreciation of all metropolitan areas with home prices there gaining 2.2% in June

–  Among the nation’s 40 largest metros, Las Vegas, Nev., Nashville, Tenn. and Seattle, Wash. have all seen year-over-year gains of 10% or higher

–  12 of the 20 largest states and 21 of the 40 largest metros hit new home price peaks in June​

Gasoline soars and dollar dented as Tropical Storm Harvey rages

US gasoline futures jumped to two-year highs while an already weak dollar hit 16-month lows against a basket of currencies on Monday as Tropical Storm Harvey pummeled the heart of the US energy sector and raised concerns about the economy. The dollar index, on the defensive since US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen failed to mention monetary policy in a closely watched speech at Jackson Hole on Friday, extended its falls as the most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years was seen as negative for economic growth. Weakness in the US currency helped the euro to its highest in two and a half years at close to $1.20, building on gains made on Friday after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi refrained from talking down the strong currency. Renewed euro strength pushed down European stock markets, with Germany’s blue-chip index 0.5% lower and France’s CAC 40 slipping by 0.4%. Trade in general was subdued, with the London market closed for a public holiday. “The strong euro is weighing on European stock markets,” said London Capital Group analyst Ipek Ozkardeskaya. “Tapering talks could further demoralize stock traders in the run-up to the ECB verdict (next month). IT stocks are again on the chopping block.” US stock futures were also a touch lower, suggesting a softer opening on Wall Street later in the day. Gasoline futures soared as much as 6.8% as the storm, which came ashore on Friday, continued to batter the state. They were last up 4.5%.

Zestimates?

The real estate industry has long had its issues with the “Zestimate,” the property value estimation tool that appears on every listing on Zillow. While Zillow describes the Zestimate as a “great starting point” for determining the value of a home, homebuyers and sellers often believe that the Zestimate listed on a home is the true market value of the home. And that causes issues when the true market value differs from the Zestimate’s projection. Just last week, a judge in Illinois dismissed a lawsuit brought by a number of homeowners who claimed that the Zestimate undervalued their homes and cost them money when they tried to sell their house. The suit claimed that home buyers read the estimate as an appraisal regardless of whether it was an official appraisal and expected to negotiate accordingly. Zillow, for its part, had stressed that the Illinois statute made clear that calculations formulated in the way that Zestimates are can’t be used as official appraisals. The judge, in dismissing the suit, agreed. “Zestimates are not false, misleading, or likely to confuse,” the ruling read. “The word ‘Zestimate — an obvious portmanteau of ‘Zillow’ and “estimate’ — itself indicates that Zestimates are merely an estimate of the market value of a property.” Zillow has consistently tinkered with the algorithm that powers the Zestimate over the years, improving its accuracy, measured by how close the Zestimate is to the eventual sale price of a home, from 14% in 2006 to 5% as of a few months ago. But a 5% error rate is still a 5% error rate, which leads to problems like lawsuits in Illinois.

Zillow wants so badly to make its Zestimate even more accurate that earlier this year, it launched a contest to improve the algorithm that powers the Zestimate, offering $1 million to anyone who could markedly improve the Zestimate’s accuracy. But Zillow isn’t sitting on its hands and waiting for someone else to improve the Zestimate. Its analysts are also still working to make the Zestimate more accurate. In fact, as part of an announcement about the Zestimate contest, Zillow said Friday that it just released a “major” update to the Zestimate that brings the error rate down from 5% to 4.3% nationwide. Zillow said that it accomplished this latest improvement by moving its data into the cloud. “To establish these new gains in home valuation accuracy, Zillow transitioned all its data to the cloud and can now compute the Zestimate in near-real time,” Zillow said. “Now, Zillow can process three times as much data as before, which allows its data scientists to experiment and iterate faster than ever, creating more accurate valuations.” As for the contest itself, Zillow said that it is very encouraged by the response. According to Zillow, more than 15,500 people have downloaded the competition dataset since the contest launched in late May. Additionally, more than 2,500 competitors from 76 countries have submitted an average of 350 entries a day to the contest. “The Zestimate is trying to answer an incredibly complex and important question, and with the strong contest submissions we’re already seeing, we are on pace to reach our goal of becoming one of the world’s most impactful machine learning competitions,” Stan Humphries, Zillow Group chief analytics officer, said. “In the meantime, we think homeowners will be pleased with the new enhancements we’ve made to ensure they have a trusted starting point when monitoring the value of what is often the largest purchase of their lifetime.” The contest runs through Jan. 15, 2019.

Hurricane Harvey much less damaging than Katrina, Sandy

Damages from Harvey, the hurricane and tropical storm ravaging Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, are estimated to be well below those from major storms that have hit New Orleans and New York, according to Hannover Re on Monday. Hannover Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers, said that insured losses for Katrina in 2005 were around $80 billion, while losses from Sandy in 2012 were $36 billion. “We are far from Katrina and Sandy in magnitude in the case of Hurricane Harvey,” a spokeswoman for the company said. Insured losses for Harvey are so far estimated at less than 3 billion, a person with knowledge of an early market estimate said on Monday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the industry is still assessing costs while the storm continues. Harvey was set to dump more rain on Houston on Monday, worsening flooding that has paralyzed the United States’ fourth-biggest city, forced thousands to flee and swollen rivers to levels not seen in centuries.

RealtyTrac – number of equity rich US properties increases to 14 million in Q2

ATTOM Data Solutions released its Q2 2017 US Home Equity & Underwater Report, which shows that at the end of the second quarter of 2017 there were more than 14 million (14,038,372) US properties that were equity rich — where the combined loan amount secured by the property was 50% or less of the estimated market value of the property — up by nearly 320,000 properties from the previous quarter and up by more than 1.6 million properties from a year ago. The 14 million equity rich US properties represented 24.6% of all US properties with a mortgage, up from 24.3% in the previous quarter and up from 22.1% in Q2 2016. The report is based on publicly recorded mortgage and deed of trust data collected and licensed by ATTOM Data Solutions nationwide along with an industry standard automated valuation model (AVM) updated monthly in the ATTOM Data Warehouse of more than 150 million US properties. The report also shows that more than 5.4 million (5,433,684) US properties were still seriously underwater — where the combined loan amount secured by the property was at least 25% higher than the property’s estimated market value — at the end of Q2 2017, down by more than 64,000 properties from the previous quarter and down by more than 1.2 million from a year ago. The 5.4 million seriously underwater properties represented 9.5% of all properties with a mortgage, down from 9.7% in the previous quarter and down from 11.9% in Q2 2016. “An increasing number of US homeowners are amassing impressive stockpiles of home equity wealth, enjoying the benefits of rapidly rising home prices while staying conservative when it comes to cashing out on their equity — homeowners are staying in their homes nearly twice as long before selling as they were prior to the Great Recession, and the volume of home equity lines of credit are running about one-third of the level they were at during the last housing boom,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions. “However, this home equity wealth is unevenly distributed across different geographies, value ranges, occupancy statuses and lengths of ownership, with a disproportionately high equity rich share among high-end properties, investor-owned properties and properties owned for more than 20 years.”

States with the highest share of equity rich properties at the end of Q2 2017 were Hawaii (38.3%); California (36.6%); New York (34.2%); Vermont (33.5%); and Oregon (32.2%). Among 91 metropolitan statistical areas with a population of 500,000 or more, those with the highest share of equity rich properties were San Jose, California (52.0%); San Francisco, California (47.0%); Los Angeles, California (40.0%); Honolulu, Hawaii (40.0%); and Portland, Oregon (35.0%). Among 7,192 US zip codes with at least 2,500 people, those with the highest share of equity rich properties were 15201 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (74.4%); 11220 in Brooklyn, New York (74.2%); 11228 in Brooklyn, New York (71.6%); 78207 in San Antonio, Texas (71.3%); and 11355 in Flushing, New York (71.1%). Some characteristics of the 14 million equity rich US properties as of the end of Q2 2017:

–  44.0% of properties with an estimated market value over $750,000 were equity rich, compared to an equity rich rate of 29.6% for properties valued between $300,000 and $750,000; 21.0% for properties valued between $100,000 and $300,000; and 15.5% for properties valued up to $100,000.

–  45.7% of properties owned more than 20 years were equity rich, while only 10% of properties owned less than a year were equity rich.

–  27.1% of non-owner occupied (investment) properties with a mortgage were equity rich as of the end of Q2 2017 compared to 23.8% of owner-occupied properties.

–  Highest share of seriously underwater in Cleveland, Baton Rouge, Akron, Las Vegas, Toledo

States with the highest share of seriously underwater properties as of the end of Q2 2017 were Nevada (17.4%), Louisiana (17.1%); Illinois (16.8%); Ohio (16.5%); and Indiana (16.4%). Among 91 metropolitan statistical areas with a population of 500,000 or more, those with the highest share of seriously underwater properties were Cleveland, Ohio (21.8%); Baton Rouge, Louisiana (21.0%); Akron, Ohio (20.5%); Las Vegas, Nevada (20.2%); and Toledo, Ohio (20.2%). “Ohio housing has been increasing in value quarter over quarter, and the report shows the number of homes with negative equity has decreased substantially in 2017, with a decrease of nearly 100,000 properties statewide compared to a year ago,” said Matthew Watercutter, senior regional vice president and broker of record for HER Realtors, covering the Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati markets in Ohio. “A shortage of inventory and increase in overall cost for new construction has caused the value of existing homes to increase at an accelerated rate in 201, lowering the overall number of homes underwater.”Among 7,192 US zip codes with at least 2,500 properties with mortgages, those with the highest share of seriously underwater properties were 89109 in Las Vegas, Nevada (69.9%); 48235 in Detroit, Michigan (69.1%); 60466 in Park Forest, Illinois (68.4%); 08611 in Trenton, New Jersey (68.0%); and 48228 in Detroit, Michigan (67.5%).

Some characteristics of the 5.4 million seriously underwater US properties as of the end of Q2 2017:

–  30.4% of properties with an estimated market value of $100,000 or less were seriously underwater compared to a seriously underwater rate of 9.1% for properties valued between $100,000 and $300,000; 4.9% for properties valued between $300,000 and $750,000; and 4.7% of properties valued above $750,000.

–  11.7% of properties owned between 10 and 15 years were seriously underwater, the highest share of any five-year period up to 20 years. Only 7.2% of properties owned more than 20 years are seriously underwater.

–  19.2% of non-owner occupied (investment) properties with a mortgage were underwater as of the end of Q2 2017 compared to only 6.8% of owner-occupied properties.

US consumer sentiment rose in August

US consumer sentiment increased in the first half of August to its highest level since January, as consumers cited a positive outlook for future economic conditions. The University of Michigan on Friday said its preliminary reading on overall consumer sentiment during August was 97.6, up from 93.4 in July. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected an August figure of 94.5.

MBA – mortgage applications slightly increase in latest MBA weekly survey

Mortgage applications increased 0.1% from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending August 11, 2017. The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 0.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index decreased 1% compared with the previous week. The Refinance Index increased 2% from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2% from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 3% compared with the previous week and was 10% higher than the same week one year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 47.8% of total applications, its highest level since February 2017, from 46.7% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity decreased to 6.6% of total applications. The FHA share of total applications remained unchanged from the week prior at 10.2%. The VA share of total applications decreased to 10.5% from 10.7% the week prior. The USDA share of total applications remained unchanged from the week prior at 0.8%.

Oil nudges higher on tightening supplies, weak dollar

Oil prices edged higher on Friday, with investors offered some encouragement from data hinting that oversupply was easing steadily and a weaker dollar. But prices were still on track to close the week 2 to 3% lower after concerns about weaker Chinese oil demand weighed earlier in the week. At 1152 GMT, benchmark Brent crude futures were up 6 cents at $51.09 a barrel on the day but still about 2% lower on the week. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 11 cents at $47.20 a barrel, although they were also set to end the week more than 3% lower. “Falling US commercial stocks are supportive and I also believe that high US product demand, and gasoline demand in particular, is helping too,” Tamas Varga, senior analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil Associates, said of Friday’s move up. He also said a weaker dollar was bullish for oil prices as equity markets piled pressure on the greenback.

CoreLogic – US economic outlook: August 2017

Major cities have been the entry gateway for immigrants to both the US and Canada.  Today, about 13% of the US population and 21% of the Canadian population is foreign born.  In Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, more than one-third of the population is foreign born. Immigrants to Canada have concentrated in the Toronto metro area, with the Vancouver metro second, and these two areas account for one-half of all immigrants in Canada. While immigrants add to economic growth and housing demand, there has been growing concern over the role played by nonresident foreign buyers.  These buyers are often high-wealth and may add to speculative pressures, especially for expensive homes.  Further, these buyers may effectively restrict supply if they leave their homes vacant.  These effects will be greater in areas where nonresident buyers account for a larger portion of sales.  While the share of home sales to foreign buyers will vary by locale, the National Association of Realtors reports that the overall share of existing homes sold to nonresident foreign buyers in the US has remained relatively small since 2010, averaging about 2.2% of sales. Two Canadian metros have sought to minimize the effect that nonresident foreign buyers have by implementing a 15% tax on sales to these buyers.  This was enacted after steep price increases in the Toronto and Vancouver markets.  The new tax on sales was effective April 21 in Toronto and has been in place in Vancouver since August 2016. After imposing the nonresident foreign buyer tax in Vancouver, home-price growth slowed from a torrid 26% annual rise in August 2016 to 8% in June 2017.  As a benchmark, two neighboring cities that do not have a foreign buyer tax, Victoria and Seattle, have seen home-price growth remain robust since August 2016, suggesting the tax may have had its intended effect. In contrast, two months after enacting the tax in the Toronto area, price growth has yet to slow, perhaps because of the far larger size of the Toronto market. In summary, nonresident foreign buyers appear to have a larger effect on prices for expensive homes and a bigger effect in smaller markets than in larger markets.  Affordability is affected further if homes are kept vacant.

NAR – home prices jump 6.2% in second quarter; eclipse 2016 high

The headstrong supply and demand imbalances in much of the country slightly tempered the pace of sales and caused home prices to maintain their robust growth in the second quarter, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).  The national median existing single-family home price in the second quarter was $255,600, which is up 6.2% from the second quarter of 2016 ($240,700) and surpasses the third quarter of last year ($241,300) as the new peak quarterly median sales price. The median price during the first quarter increased 6.9% from the first quarter of 2016.  Single-family home prices last quarter increased in 87% of measured markets, with 154 out of 178 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) showing sales price gains in the second quarter compared with the second quarter of 2016. Twenty-three areas (13%) recorded lower median prices from a year earlier. Twenty-three metro areas in the second quarter (13%) experienced double-digit increases, down from 30 areas in the first quarter (17%). Overall, there were slightly more rising markets in the second quarter compared to the first quarter, when price gains were recorded in 85% of metro areas.  Total existing-home sales, including single family and condos, slipped 0.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million in the second quarter from 5.62 million in the first quarter, but are still 1.6% higher than the 5.48 million pace during the second quarter of 2016. At the end of the second quarter, there were 1.96 million existing homes available for sale4, which was 7.1% below the 2.11 million homes for sale at the end of the second quarter in 2016. The average supply during the second quarter was 4.2 months — down from 4.6 months in the second quarter of last year.

Last quarter, a rise in the national family median income ($71,529)5 was not enough to offset weaker affordability from the combination of higher mortgage rates compared to a year ago and rising home prices. To purchase a single-family home at the national median price, a buyer making a 5% down payment would need an income of $56,169, a 10% down payment would require an income of $53,213, and $47,300 would be needed for a 20% down payment. The five most expensive housing markets in the second quarter were the San Jose, California, metro area, where the median existing single-family price was $1,183,400; San Francisco, $950,000; Anaheim-Santa Ana, California, $788,000; urban Honolulu, $760,600; and San Diego, $605,000. The five lowest-cost metro areas in the second quarter were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio, $87,000; Cumberland, Maryland, $98,200; Decatur, Illinois, $107,400; Binghamton, New York, $109,000; and Elmira, New York, $111,600. Metro area condominium and cooperative prices — covering changes in 61 metro areas — showed the national median existing-condo price was $239,500 in the second quarter, up 5.4% from the second quarter of 2016 ($227,200). Eighty-seven% of metro areas showed gains in their median condo price from a year ago.

Total existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 1.3% in the second quarter and are 0.4% above the second quarter of 2016. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast was $282,300 in the second quarter, up 3.2% from a year ago. In the Midwest, existing-home sales increased 4.2% in the second quarter but are 0.5% below a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest increased 6.6% to $204,000 in the second quarter from the same quarter a year ago.Existing-home sales in the South dipped 3.0% in the second quarter but are 2.5% higher than the second quarter of 2016. The median existing single-family home price in the South was $229,400 in the second quarter, 6.7% above a year earlier. In the West, existing-home sales decreased 3.7% in the second quarter but are 3.1% above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West increased 7.5% to $372,400 in the second quarter from the second quarter of 2016.

Chinese takeovers of US companies plummet this year amid tough Trump talk

–  As of early August, Chinese dealmaking in the US has dropped by 65% this year, according to Dealogic.

–  The sharp decline comes amid greater uncertainty around whether the Trump administration will allow the deal to be completed.

–  The Dealogic report estimated a further drop in Chinese deals in the US, putting $75 million in advisor fees at risk.

As the Trump administration looks to take a tougher stance against Beijing, Chinese investments into the US have more than halved this year, according to Dealogic. “Amid growing regulatory scrutiny of China outbound M&A targeting the US, volume has seen a 65% year-on-year decline in 2017 year-to-date,” Nicholas Farfan and Karl But of Dealogic Research said in an Aug. 8 note. “In comparison, such deals peaked at $65.2 billion last year, with high-profile deals including HNA’s acquisition of 25% of Hilton Worldwide.” “With tightening restrictions, Chinese buyers may look to stop pursuing or shelve potential acquisitions in the US,” the note said. The pressure and uncertainty is coming from both countries. On Beijing’s side, authorities are reportedly targeting some of the largest Chinese dealmakers to try to keep capital from fleeing the country and contributing to yuan weakness. On the American side, reports indicate the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is looking to use national security concerns to prevent more Chinese purchases of US firms, especially in technology. Anecdotally, Gregory Husisian, chair, export controls and national security group at law firm Foley & Lardner, noted that an increasing number of clients are concerned about working with Chinese buyers due to the potential for regulatory intervention. The dealmaking industry could also suffer some significant business setbacks. The Dealogic analysts estimate about $9.7 billion in pending Chinese deals to buy US firms could fall under regulatory scrutiny, potentially putting $75 million in advisor fees at risk.

NAHB – single-family starts hold steady in July after upward June revision

Nationwide housing starts fell 4.8% in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.16 million units, according to newly released data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Commerce Department. Single-family production slipped 0.5% in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 856,000 after a strong, upwardly revised June reading. Year-to-date, single-family starts are 8.6% above their level over the same period last year. Multifamily starts dropped 15.3% to 299,000 units. “The overall strengthening of the single-family sector is consistent with solid builder confidence in the market,” said Granger MacDonald, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder and developer from Kerrville, Texas. “The sector should continue to firm as the job market and economy grow and more consumers enter the housing market.” “New-home production numbers this month are in line with our forecast for a slow and steady recovery of the housing market,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “We saw multifamily production peak in 2015, and this sector should continue to level off as demand remains solid.” Regionally in July, combined single- and multifamily housing production rose 0.6% in the South, and fell 1.6% in the West, 15.2% in the Midwest and 15.7% in the Northeast. Overall permit issuance in July was down 4.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.22 million units. Single-family permits held steady at 811,000 units while multifamily permits fell 11.2% to 412,000. Regionally, overall permits rose 19.2% in the Northeast. Permits fell 1.4% in the South, 7.9% in the West, and 17.4% in the Midwest.

Fiat Chrysler joins BMW, Intel in developing self-driving cars

Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) said Tuesday it will partner with BMW and Intel (INTC) to develop a platform for self-driving cars. The Italian-American automaker will contribute engineering and other technical resources to the existing BMW-Intel alliance, which launched in July 2016 to create an automated driving system for global manufacturers. Fiat Chrysler also said its involvement in the group will accelerate product development. Earlier this year, the alliance announced its plan to test 40 autonomous cars on public roads by the end of 2017. The companies, including Intel-owned Mobileye, expect to offer solutions for fully automated driving by 2021. The alliance’s goal is to create the “most relevant” self-driving platform that automakers can adopt while maintaining their brand identities. “In order to advance autonomous driving technology, it is vital to form partnerships among automakers, technology providers and suppliers,” said FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Joining this cooperation will enable FCA to directly benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective.” In a joint announcement, the companies said they invite other automakers and technology firms to adopt their platform. Financial terms of the Fiat Chrysler deal weren’t disclosed.

CoreLogic – US single-family rents up 2.8% year over year in June

–  National rent growth decelerated in June 2017 compared with June 2016

–  Low-end rent growth more than doubled high-end rent growth

–  Orlando had the highest year-over-year rent growth in Q2

Single-family rents, as measured by the CoreLogic Single-Family Rental Index (SFRI), climbed steadily between 2010 and 2016. However, the index shows year-over-year rent growth has decelerated slowly since February 2016, when it peaked at a 4.4%. As of June 2017, single-family rents increased 2.8% year over year, a 1.6 percentagepoint decline since the February 2016 peak. The index measures rent changes among single-family rental homes, including condominiums, using a repeat-rent analysis to measure the same rental properties over time. Using the index to analyze specific price tiers reveals important differences. The index’s overall growth was pulled down by the high-end rental market, defined as properties with rents 125% or more of a region’s median rent. Rents on higher-priced rental homes increased 1.9% year over year in June 2017, down from a gain of 3% in June 2016. Growth in the low-end market, defined as properties with rents less than 75% of the regional median rent, increased 4.4% in June 2017, down from a gain of 5.5% in June 2016.

Rent growth varies significantly across metro areas. Rental vacancy rates are available quarterly from the US Census Bureau Housing Vacancy Survey. Figure 3 shows the relationship between the rent growth and rental vacancy rates for 37 metro areas that are available for both CoreLogic’s rental index and the Census’s vacancy survey in Q2 2017. Cities with limited new construction and strong local economies that attract new employees tend to have low rental vacancy rates and stronger rent growth. Orlando experienced 4.5% year-over-year rent growth in Q2 2017, driven by employment growth of more than 3% year over year and a rental vacancy rate of 7.1%, slightly lower than the 7.3% national single-family rental home vacancy rate in Q2 2017.  In contrast, Oklahoma City, which has been hit with energy-related job losses since early 2015 and a rental vacancy rate of 11.5% in Q2 2017, experienced a 3% year-over-year decrease in rents, according to CoreLogic data.

DSNews – further simplifying foreclosures

Foreclosures can be a messy process for all involved—from the homeowner that loses their home, to the servicers that eventually take care of the property—it is anything but a pleasant experience. In addition, the entire process can be complicated by a slew of paperwork, payments, and transfers with many moving parts that are easy to miss. But, according to The Journal Times, one county in Wisconsin is making a small change to its foreclosure procedure that could go a long way in ensuring smooth transitions of title, one that the rest of the country could possibly benefit from if it goes as planned. The proposed change is as simple as removing a middle-man, the article notes. In Racine County, as of now, when a foreclosure is sold through the sheriff’s office the buyer receives a copy of the deed and is required to take that deed down to the Register of the Deed’s office to get it filed. However, this little step is often overlooked, according to the Racine County Register of Deeds, which can cause big problems for borrowers and the state, since the tax bill will continue to be sent to the old owner to never be paid. This can lead to further complications, like tax interception. The proposed bill, Senate Bill 175, would allow the Clerk of Courts Office to simply take the deed directly to the Register of Deeds Office, and eliminate the middle man, who has little incentive to make sure the task gets accomplished.

Currently, this practice has been implemented in Milwaukee County, but if passed would become state-wide practice. Critical and constant examination of foreclosure requirements and best practices are vital to streamlining and simplifying the industry, and taking a look at what certain states and municipalities are doing is just one of the many ways for the industry to stay ahead of the curve.

Wells Fargo accused of ripping off mom-and-pop shops

Wells Fargo has already admitted to charging people for overdrawing bank accounts that they didn’t have and for car insurance that they didn’t need. Now, it’s being accused of ripping off vulnerable mom-and-pop businesses. For several years, Wells Fargo’s merchant services division overcharged small businesses for processing credit card transactions, a lawsuit alleges. Business owners who tried to leave Wells Fargo were charged “massive early termination fees,” according to the lawsuit filed in US District Court. The “overbilling scheme” targeted less sophisticated businesses by using “deceptive language” in a 63-page contract designed to confuse them, the lawsuit filed on August 4 claims. The lawyer filed court documents to seek class action status. The latest controversy centers on Wells Fargo Merchant Services, a joint venture that is 60% owned by Wells Fargo and 40% controlled by First Data (FDC). A former employee of the Wells Fargo (WFC) business claimed that he was instructed to target these small businesses. “We used to be told to go out and club the baby seals: mom-pop-shops that had no legal support,” he said in an interview. The former Wells Fargo employee spoke on the condition of anonymity, but CNNMoney verified that he worked for Wells Fargo Merchant Services. The former Wells Fargo employee said that when he worked there, from 2011 to 2013, it was nearly impossible for business owners to leave the merchant agreement. “God would have had a hard time” escaping the contract, he said. “It really was like a shady used car deal.”

One of the plaintiffs in the suit, Queen City Tours, claims it was assessed a $500 early termination fee after trying to leave Wells Fargo Merchant Services. The North Carolina company, which focuses on African-American themed tours in Charlotte and is owned by military veteran Juan Whipple, alleges in the lawsuit that Wells Fargo charged it monthly fees of $20 to $35 for failing to have a minimum number of transactions. That’s despite the fact that the company claims the contract said there would be no such fees. The tour company says in the lawsuit that its business is seasonal, and that it has few sales during off-peak months.The second plaintiff, the Pennsylvania restaurant Patti’s Pitas, claims it was “pounded by excessive fees” — even after it went out of business in May 2017. When Patti’s Pitas tried to leave the contract, it was told it couldn’t because of a three-year term that the owner wasn’t aware of, the lawsuit said. Wells Fargo, which was already under heavy legal scrutiny regarding unauthorized bank and credit card accounts, eventually closed the account without a termination fee. Regarding the lawsuit, the bank said, “We deny these claims and intend to defend against [it].” The company added that it believes its “negotiated pricing terms are fair and were administrated appropriately.”Wells Fargo declined to respond to the specific claims by the former employee.

Oil prices pushed lower by strong dollar

Oil prices edged down Monday, depressed by a strong dollar and concerns that reduced global appetite for crude might frustrate efforts by major producers to cut supply. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, fell 0.46% to $51.87 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures exchange. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate futures were down 0.43% at $48.61 a barrel. The appreciating US dollar helped push down crude futures. The Wall Street Journal Dollar Index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of other currencies, rose 0.23% to $86.17 Monday. As oil is priced in dollars, the commodity becomes more expensive for holders of other currencies as the greenback appreciates. Last week, the International Energy Agency published revised figures for global crude demand. At the end of 2017, demand is now seen at 33 million barrels a day, compared with a previous estimate of 33.6 million barrels. The new estimate is “only marginally above the current level of OPEC output,” according to Commerzbank analysts. “In other words, there will no longer be any significant supply deficit in the second half of the year, so there is hardly likely to be any further inventory reduction,” they said in a note. Since 2016, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and a handful of nations outside the cartel have cut global oil supply by about 2% in an attempt to rebalance the market. While global inventories have declined, stockpiles remain above the five-year average–the level to which OPEC wants to return and oil prices have moved little. “Since the end of July we have basically gone sideways with small movements for brent crude, so we are pretty range bound,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB Markets.

Mortgage scams

The latest attack involves well-known mortgage company Nationstar. According to a scam alert issued by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, callers who claim to be with Nationstar are asking for money to be sent to an attorney in Florida promising a loan modification on the victim’s mortgage. The scammers are asking New Mexicans to wire money upwards of $1200, money that they may never get back, Balderas cautioned. The alert stated that the calls come from Ymax or Magic Jack phone numbers and can appear to come from any area code. “Calls and offers like these are scams and New Mexico homeowners need to be vigilant, because once you wire that money you may never get it back,” said Balderas. “If you are struggling to make your mortgage payments, there is legitimate help available to you from our Keep Your Home New Mexico program. Please contact our office and we will work with you to see what options are available to you and your family.” “Foreclosure can feel like a hopeless, scary situation, but the worst thing you can do is nothing at all. Ignoring the problem will only make it worse so please contact Keep Your Home New Mexico if you need assistance,” Balderas added.

Trump to ramp up trade pressure on China with call for probe on Monday

–  President Donald Trump will order his top trade adviser to determine whether to investigate Chinese trade practices that force US firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property.

–  The move could eventually lead to steep tariffs on Chinese goods.

–  Trump has said he would be more amenable to going easy on Beijing if it were more aggressive in reining in North Korea.

President Donald Trump on Monday will order his top trade adviser to determine whether to investigate Chinese trade practices that force US firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property, senior administration officials said on Saturday. The move, which could eventually lead to steep tariffs on Chinese goods, comes at a time when Trump has asked China to do more to crack down on North Korea’s nuclear missile program as he threatens possible military action against Pyongyang. Trump has said he would be more amenable to going easy on Beijing if it were more aggressive in reining in North Korea. An administration official, however, insisted diplomacy over North Korea and the potential trade probe were “totally unrelated,” saying the trade action was not a pressure tactic. “These are two different things,” the official said, speaking to reporters on a conference call. Trump will direct US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine if an investigation is warranted of “any of China’s laws, policies, practices or actions that may be unreasonable or discriminatory, and that may be harming American intellectual property, innovation and technology,” the official said. “China’s unfair trade practices and industrial policies, including forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft, harm the US economy and workers,” a second official said. “The action being taken on Monday is a reflection of the president’s firm commitment to addressing this problem in a firm way.”

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