Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wells Fargo is a basket case

Voltron says: Remember, Wells Fargo is primarily a California bank . . . right in the heart of the housing meltdown.


The new Wells Fargo quarterly report paints a sad picture of the portfolio of “pick-a-pay” loans that World and Wachovia originated.

The amount owed on such loans at the end of March was $115 billion, which Wells estimates is 107 percent of the current value of the properties underlying the mortgages. Just over half the owners are paying the minimum allowed, causing their debt to rise each month.

A loan-to-value ratio of 107 percent is bad enough, but it is an average and many loans are in much worse shape. For loans in California, the average is now 120 percent, and the figure is no doubt much higher in such troubled areas as the Central Valley and the so-called Inland Empire, where nearly a third of the California loans were made. Wachovia estimated that last September the loan-to-value ratio in the Central Valley was 132 percent. Since then, the median sales price of homes in that area has fallen another 20 percent.

In all, more than 70 percent of the pick-a-pay loans are in California, Arizona or Florida, three states where prices rose the fastest during the boom and have since fallen the most. Wells says it thinks 61 percent of the loans in those three states will not be paid as required by the mortgage, in contrast to 36 percent of the loans in other states.

... Wells Fargo has written the value of the pick-a-pay portfolio down by about 20 percent, and is offering to restructure some of the loans. But many of the owners may have no reason to seek such a restructuring. It would take a big concession to lower their monthly payments, and an even larger one to get the principal value of the loan down to the current value of the house.

The result may be perverse: a prolonged foreclosure crisis, with Wells Fargo watching helplessly as the condition and value of some houses depreciate for years to come.

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