Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ben Brings the Pain

Note: Bronchitis is no fun.

So, Ben dropped the news on Congress...we may see a bank fail. This sent shock waves, along with the disappointing news on GDP and unemployment, that sank the market today.

But should we really be shocked by this statement? I don't think so. You saw Northern Rock bank in the UK basically fail and the government stepped in to prop it up. A company as large as Countrywide, which has it's own bank, basically went under if not for B of A stepping in and picking up the pieces.

So news that banks failing should not be big news. Banks are just like any other business out there and sometimes they fail. It is disturbing, no doubt. Nobody wants their money being held by a failing bank. But this is not something anyone should really be worried about.

A) The most likely bank to fail would be a small regional bank that has heavily invested in sub-prime mortgages or other off balance sheet instruments. B) You will probably see a bigger bank come in and buy out the smaller rival that is struggling and will never have to worry about the run on the bank. C) You are insured up to $100,000 by the FDIC or NCUA (credit unions) which covers that fast majority of it. So if your bank fails and a bigger rival doesn't buy it you would get a check cut for your money within 48 hours.

It is big news that the Fed would acknowledge the depth of the problems in the banking industry but it should surpise no one.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mortgages & Credit Unions

In a time of tighter underwriting standards and declining home values where can a person turn for options when their current mortgage lender or bank is saying no? How about your local credit union?

Haven't you thought about this option before? You're not alone. Roughly, only 2% of all outstanding first mortgage loans are held by credit unions. There are a number of reasons for this:

1) A good portion of credit unions (44% see last section of article) do not even offer mortgages.

2) In the past, you also needed to "qualify for membership" which could limit which, if any, credit union you could establish a relationship with. Today, many credit unions offer "community charters" which allow membership to those that live, work, worship, etc, in a particular geographic area. This makes membership much more attainable.

3) Those credit unions that do offer mortgages are simply not the first choice for many borrowers as they do not advertise as heavily as some of the larger banks such as Wells Fargo or Countrywide/Bank of America.

Credit Unions at their very heart were created for low to mid income individuals in mind. Credit Unions are owned by their membership. They are not worried about boardrooms and stock price as banks tend to be. Credit Unions are worried about service and relationship.

What does mean for you and your mortgage? It means that your relationship could outweigh other financing hurdles that you may be facing with another bank/lender. The deeper history that you have with a credit union, the more likely a credit union will take a chance on you.

3 factors that Credit Unions will look at beyond just your credit score:

1) Do you use them as your primary institution? If you do and if you have direct deposit of your income.

2) Have you had loans in the past? Have you paid those loans on time or worked with the credit union in times that you were struggling financially?

3) What is the story to why you are refinancing? Has your family made a bad financial decision and didn't think of the consequences? Young and unresponsible? Medical bills? Death? Divorce? Kinda sounds like FHA doesn't it? But if your story makes sense, a credit union can help you also.

Now, it may not mean that you will get into that 30 year fixed rate mortgage that you hoped for. If a bank/mortgage lender is having trouble getting you qualified for a traditional 30 year fixed rate mortgage, a credit union is going to have a similar issue. But their may be alternatives. Maybe the credit union will do another ARM but with a longer initial period, such as 5 years or more. A number of credit unions still offer balloon mortgages which may make sense.

The credit union where I work (yes, I'm biased. But I have worked for mortgage lenders in the past) offers a 10 year balloon. What this means is that your payment would be a 30 year term, giving you the payment you're looking for, but it requires that if you have not refinanced, sold, or paid off the home at the end of 10 years the remaining loan balance comes due and you would be required to refinance at that time at current rates. Who knows what rates will be 10 years from now? But you have 10 years to work it out. That gives you plenty of time to get your credit where it needs to be, wait through rate cycles if you need, and the rate doesn't change throughout that term. Not a bad "short term" solution.

Another credit union in my market offers a 15 year balloon that can be converted into a fixed rate mortgage (at prevailing rates) at that time or another balloon term extended for 5 years for a small fee.

The point is, credit unions are more willing to be creative to help you find ways to afford your home without making you "home poor". And when you have issues paying on your mortgage, credit unions are much more willing to work the situation out.

Now, there is no guarantee that your credit union is going to be able to help you out in every situation. There is only so much risk that they are willing to take. Credit Unions will not fill the gap in subprime loans. Credit Unions overall did not get involved in subprime loans and as such their loan performance reflects in their deliquency rates, foreclosures, and workouts (this is a small sampling from California).

If your home is still affordable in your budget and you have an established history with a credit union (and even if you don't), call them and see what options they may have available to you. What do you have to lose?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Reason Inflation Won't Moderate

With President Chavez doing some saber rattling yesterday we say the price of oil surge and the price at the pump took a nice jump today right along with it.

Also there is news that OPEC will help control supply to help keep the cost of a barrel of oil around $90.

So much for inflation moderation.

We also see commodities, anything from gold to Minnesota wheat having a giant bull market.

The ECB has still been making it's stand firm that it will continue to fight inflation.

And this bit brought a smile to my face and my thoughts to hypocrisy.

The White House warn about legislation regarding mortgage reform.

This statement caught my eyes:

"Markets naturally self correct, rewarding good strategies and punishing bad ones. Government actions may be less effective at differentiating between the two and may prevent markets from creating products that benefit consumers," the report concluded.

No kidding? Then why oh why are is the Federal Reserve tampering with the markets every step of the way with their rate cuts. The cut before the market opened after President's Day was made to try to prop up the stock market. That was it. The full effects of the cut will not be felt for months. But the White House and Congress fully supports the actions of the Fed.

Now, I am not a financial historian, but it seems to me that Mr. Ron Paul may be right that the Federal Reserve needs to be disbanded. Open manipulating of the markets cannot be a good thing and the price to pay later on will be severe.

The Financial Bullet is Interviewed

Check out my interview at

This was something fun and interesting and something that I never have done before.

Once you get your head full of me, check out some of the other cool sites listed out there.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Market Falls Based on Inflation News

Ok, so there was a lot of news that pushed the market lower today, when it should have rebounded to some extent from the knee-jerk reaction to the ISM report yesterday.

Those included:

Merrill Lynch possible downgrade by Standard & Poor's because of their involvement in the sub-prime mess. To me, this is overdone also. Merrill has already written off billions of dollars and have changed their CEO. That new CEO (John Thain) will write down even more in billions trying to clean out the old guard.

Goldman Sachs downgraded GM & Ford, citing consumer spending slowdown. Like that is a surprise. Car sales have lagged for the last few years based on the change of consumer wants (no SUV and more high MPG cars) and a move by the companies away from high incentitives.

But to me, the big one was Mr. Plosser's speech on the economy. He mentions his concerns that inflation is not going to moderate even in the face of a slowing economy.

This is big. The market took this that the Fed won't be cutting rates until at least March. Boy, it breaks my heart to disappoint the market like that. 1.25% in two week wasn't good enough. Bill Gross from Pimco stated that his expectation for the Fed rate to hit 2.5% from it's current 3%. I still believe that it will not go below 2%.

Inflation is here to stay. This will keep the Fed bankers on their toes, even more than a slowing economy. Slowdowns are natural and a necessary part of every open economy and it is about time that the Fed and the rest of our government take a honest look and realize that all growth all the time is not necessarily the best for the future. There is always a price to pay when the Fed starts dropping rates and it is always inflation.

Monday, February 4, 2008

What We Can Learn From the Super Bowl

So much has happened yesterday and more tomorrow.

Congrats to the New York Giants for winning the Super Bowl. Things we learned:

1) Playing every game counts. The Giants learned that they could beat the unbeatable when they met in week 17 when there was nothing to play for.

See what not playing earns to: Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.

2) Confidence is different than cocky.

See Giants and trademarking 19-0...weeks ago.

3) And for my loving wife. Cheaters never win.

See a former teacher of mine that said, "If you cheat, you suck."

Now, what can we take from this to your finances and investments?

1) Confidence. Believe in your picks. If you have studied a company and believe that company fits your plan, jump on it.

Paralaysis by analysis is deadly. See Peyton Manning, and as seen yesterday the Patriots.

2) Change your gameplan when needed. What worked yesterday may not work today, or tomorrow. When it comes to your portfolio, cut the losers when you need to. Rebalance yourself when needed.

See Patriots not playing their "game" , relying more on their previous "cold weather" game plan. Did they realize they were indoors?

3) Cheaters never win. Just because my wife wants me to say it.

Now that we have crowned a new champ and seen a historic "choke" we are now set up for Super Tuesday.

I am sure that we will have more to learn and how it still fits in your investment portfolio.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Microsoft & Yahoo And Bank of America & Countrywide

This marks the 100th post of this blog...and I have one burning question for you....

Which sounds more sexually deviant?




I think that they both sound sufficiently twisted. You can have agree. I prefer Ya-Soft, which sounds like a Bostonian insult.

It is a whole separate question on whether you would want to invest in the company. It is questionable that this combined company has what it takes to really tackle Google. They have many redundant elements. I think that the Curious Investor's post regarding the merger/buyout gives all the pros and cons of what each company is bringing to the table.

I'm not hot on the deal. If I was an investor before the offer in Yahoo! I would be clamoring for them to take it being that it was over a 60% premium on it's current stock price.

Another interesting posting I came across was an ingenious way of investing in Bank of America through Countrywide on Arohan's Investing Life. Though as it is noted in this post the gap has closed significantly.

I hope you have enjoyed the first 100 postings. I hope to entertain, inform, and explore with you in the next 100 and beyond.