Pending Sales of U.S. Existing Homes Rose 3.5% in November, by Bob Willis, Bloomberg.com


The number of contracts to buy previously owned homes rose more than forecast in November, a sign sales are recovering following a post-tax credit plunge.

The index of pending resales increased 3.5 percent after jumping a record 10 percent in October, the National Association of Realtors said today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey called for a 0.8 percent rise in November, and the gain was the fourth in five months. The group’s data go back to 2001.

Home demand is stabilizing after sales collapsed to a record low in July, as the effects of a tax incentive worth as much as $8,000 waned. A jobless rate hovering near 10 percent means foreclosures will remain elevated and any recovery in housing, the industry that precipitated the worst recession since the 1930s, will take time to develop.

The figures are “in line with an ongoing gradual pickup in existing-home sales in December,” Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York, said in an e-mail to clients. “Housing demand should continue its uneven recovery entering 2011 as housing oversupply should keep pushing housing prices down.”

A report today from the Labor Department showed claims for jobless benefits fell last week to the lowest level since July 2008, showing the labor market is improving heading into 2011. Filings decreased by 34,000 to 388,000 in the week ended Dec. 25, fewer than the lowest estimate of economists surveyed.

Business Barometer

Other figures showed the economy accelerated at the end of the year. The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago Inc.’sbusiness barometer jumped to 68.6 in December from 62.5 in the prior month. Readings greater than 50 signal expansion and the level was the highest since July 1988.

Stocks fluctuated between gains and losses after the reports. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Indexfell 0.1 percent to 1,258.23 at 11:17 a.m. in New York. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note declined, pushing up the yield to 3.39 percent from 3.35 percent late yesterday.

The projected increase in pending home sales was based on the median of 24 forecasts in the Bloomberg survey. Estimates ranged from a drop of 5 percent to a gain of 5 percent.

Two of four regions saw an increase, today’s report showed, led by an 18 percent jump in the West. Pending sales rose 1.8 percent in the Northeast. They fell 4.2 percent in the Midwest and 1.8 percent in the South.

November 2009

Compared with November 2009, pending sales in the U.S. were down 2.4 percent.

Even as the labor market is improving and manufacturing is growing, housing remains a weak link. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun last week estimated there were about 4.5 million distressed properties that could potentially reach the market in coming months.

Average home prices as measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller indexes have begun dropping again after rising when the tax incentive was in effect. The group’s 20-city index fell 0.8 percent in October from a year earlier, the biggest year-on-year decline since December. It fell 1 percent from the prior month, and is down 30 percent from its July 2006 peak.

Reports earlier this month showed the housing market is stuck near recession levels. Housing permits fell in November to the third-lowest level on record, while starts rose for the first time in three months, the Commerce Department reported Dec. 16.

Home Sales

Sales of new and existing homes last month rose less than projected by the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, reports from the Commerce Department and the National Association of Realtors showed last week. Existing home sales represent closings on the contracts captured by the pending sales gauge.

Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., the largest homebuilder in New Jersey, on Dec. 22 reported a fourth-quarter loss bigger than analysts expected as revenue fell 19 percent.

“The year can generally be described as one where we and the industry were bouncing along the bottom,” Chief Executive Officer Ara Hovnanian said on a conference call.

Even so, economists in the past two weeks have boosted projections for fourth-quarter growth, reflecting a pickup in consumer spending and passage of an $858 billion bill extending all Bush-era tax cuts for two years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Willis in Washington at bwillis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net

    MERS Enters Self-Preservation Mode, Issues Press Release To “Clarify” Its Role In Foreclosure Fraud, by Tyler Durden, Zerohedge.com


    As more people realize that the fake title transfer aspect of foreclosure fraud is just the tip of the iceberg which runs, via MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) conduits all the way to the core of the securitization system, and thus $10 trillion in first level debt (and who knows how much in 3rd and 4th level layering of debt on top of this: think CDO-squared and cubed), we expect an increasing number of denials from the enablers in the explosion of securitization over the past ten years. Such as MERS. Which is why it is not surprising that late last night, it was precisely MERS who not only acknowledged for the first time its involvement in this whole fiasco (by a press release and a “fact and rebuttal” session), but has made it all too clear just how deep the problem truly runs. We would like to highlight just how very alike is the defense prepared by the High Frequency Signing Lobby to that by the High Frequency Traders out there: it is all just technological advancement, and if you want to blame it on someone, blame it on Intel and their fast fast chips: “What we’re seeing now is that the foreclosure process itself was not designed to withstand the extraordinary volume of foreclosures that the mortgage industry and local governments must now handle.” Obviously the volume only exploded once failed systems such as MERS appeared on the scene: it is precisely in this aspect that MERS served as an enabling catalyst to let loose the wave of exponential re-re-securitization. It continues: “The MERS process of tracking mortgages and holding title provides clarity, transparency and efficiency to the housing finance system.” And here is where MERS basically puts the ball back in the corrupt legal system’s court: “We are committed to continually ensuring that everyone who has responsibilities in the mortgage and foreclosure process follows local and state laws, as well as our own training and rules.” Because why not blame the entire judicial system, when one could just acknowledge the burden of having failed at doing their own job properly… One thing is certain: someone is going down for this biggest snafu in the history of mortgages/securitization.

    Follows the full MERS press release:

    Statement by CEO of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) RESTON, Va.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–

    October 09, 2010

    Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) Chief Executive Officer R.K. Arnold today issued the following statement regarding the organization and clarifying certain aspects of its operations:

    “MERS is one important component of the complex infrastructure of America’s housing finance system. Billions of dollars of mortgage money flow through the financial system every year. It takes many, often-unseen mechanical processes to properly get those funds into the hands of qualified homebuyers.

    Technology designed to reduce paperwork has a very positive effect on families and communities. They may not see it, but these things save money and time, creating reliability and stability in the system. That’s important to keep the mortgage funds flowing to the consumers who need it. [ZH: odd how almost identical this defense is to the one prepared by the HFT lobby. Perhaps, it should now be called High Frequency Signing and Trading?]

    With millions of Americans facing foreclosure, every element of the housing finance system is under tremendous strain. What we’re seeing now is that the foreclosure process itself was not designed to withstand the extraordinary volume of foreclosures that the mortgage industry and local governments must now handle.

    MERS helps the mortgage finance process work better. The MERS process of tracking mortgages and holding title provides clarity, transparency and efficiency to the housing finance system. We are committed to continually ensuring that everyone who has responsibilities in the mortgage and foreclosure process follows local and state laws, as well as our own training and rules.”

    Facts about MERS

    FACT: Courts have ruled in favor of MERS in many lawsuits, upholding MERS legal interest as the mortgagee and the right to foreclose.

    This legal right springs from two important facts:

    1) MERS holds legal title to a mortgage as an agent for the owner of the loan 2) MERS can become the holder of the promissory note when the owner of the loan chooses to make MERS the holder of the note with the right to enforce if the mortgage loan goes into default.

    MERS does not authorize anyone to represent it in a foreclosure unless both the mortgage and the note are in MERS possession. In some cases where courts have found against MERS, those cases have hinged on other procedural defects or improper presentation of MERS’s legal interests and rights. Citations can be found at the end of this document.*

    FACT: MERS does not create a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust

    Claims that MERS disrupts or creates a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust are not supported by fact or legal precedents. This is often used as a tactic by lawyers to delay or prevent the foreclosure. The mortgage lien is granted to MERS by the borrower and the seller and that is what makes MERS the mortgagee. The role of mortgagee is legal and binding and confers to MERS certain legal rights and responsibilities.

    FACT: The trail of ownership does not change because of MERS

    MERS does not remove, omit, or otherwise fail to report land ownership information from public records. Parties are put on notice that MERS is the mortgagee and notifications by third parties can be sent to MERS. Mortgages and deeds of trust still get recorded in the land records.

    The MERS System tracks the changes in servicing rights and beneficial ownership. No legal interests are transferred on the MERS System, including servicing and ownership. In fact, MERS is the only publicly available comprehensive source for note ownership.

    While this information is tracked through the MERS System, the paperwork still exists to prove actual legal transfers still occurred. No mortgage ownership documents have disappeared because loans were registered on the MERS System. These documents exist now as they have before MERS was created. The only pieces of paper that have been eliminated are assignments between servicing companies because such assignments become unnecessary when MERS holds the mortgage lien for the owner of the note.

    FACT: MERS did not cause mortgage securitization

    MERS was created as a means to keep better track of the mortgage servicing and beneficial rights as loans were getting bought and sold at a high rate during the late 1990s.

    At the height of the housing market, low interest rates prompted some homeowners to refinance once, twice, even three times in the space of months. Banks were originating loans at more than double their usual rate. Assignments – – the document that names the holder of the legal title to the lien — primarily between servicing companies, were piling up in county land record offices, awaiting recording. Many times the loans were getting refinanced before the assignments could get recorded on the old loan. The delay prevented lien releases from getting recorded in a timely manner, leaving clouds on title.

    MERS was created to provide clarity, transparency and efficiency by tracking the changes in servicing rights and beneficial ownership interests. It was not created to enable faster securitization. MERS is the only publicly available source of comprehensive information for the servicing and ownership of the more than 64 million loans registered on the system. The Mortgage Identification Number (MIN), created by MERS, is similar in function to a motor vehicle VIN, which keeps track of these loans. Without MERS the current mortgage crisis would be even worse.

    FACT: Lenders cannot “hide” behind MERS

    MERS is the only comprehensive, publicly available source of the servicing and ownership of more than 64 million loans in the United States. If a homeowner needs to identify the servicer or investor of their loan, and it is registered in MERS, they can be helped through the MERS website or via toll-free number at 888-679-6377.

    FACT: MERS fully complies with recording statutes

    The purpose of recording laws is to show that a lien exists, which protects the mortgagee and any bona fide purchasers. When MERS is the mortgagee, the mortgage or deed of trust is recorded, and all recording fees are paid.

    *NOTABLE LEGAL VICTORIES:

    a. IN RE Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) Litigation, a multi- district litigation case in federal court in Arizona who issued a favorable opinion, stating that “The MERS System is not fraudulent, and MERS has not committed any fraud.”

    b. IN RE Tucker (9/20/2010) where a Missouri bankruptcy judge found that the language of the deed of trust clearly authorizes MERS to act on behalf of the lender in serving as the legal title holder.

    c. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. v. Bellistri, 2010 WL 2720802 (E.D. Mo. 2010), where the court held that Bellistri’s failure to provide notice to MERS violated MERS’ constitutional due process rights.