This article initially appeared in National Mortgage Professional.com on March 13, 2014.
From time to time, fundamental shifts occur in all markets, upending the traditional roles of industry players and besetting them with new opportunities and risks. These shifts may be the consequence of technology, government regulation, economic exuberance or deflation or a combination of factors. Whatever the cause, however, old ways of doing business are threatened and new industry leaders emerge. Now is one of those times in the mortgage banking and brokerage industries. Success as the playing field changes is not guaranteed. Strategic missteps can lead to loss, even liquidation. The rewards, however, may be great for those who see the future, move forcefully to implement a winning strategy, and consolidate their gains as they proceed.
The right time and opportunity
Following the 2008 implosion of the mortgage-backed security market and the subsequent international recession, housing prices dropped by almost a third, and the stock market as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) fell to 6,469 on March 6, 2009, less than half its previous value of 14,164 on Oct. 9, 2007. As a consequence, a number of investment and commercial banks failed (Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual), some were forced into involuntary mergers (Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch), and some were bailed out by the federal government (Goldman Sachs). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into receivership while Congress initiated the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 followed by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 to aggressively regulate mortgage and commercial bank activities.
To paraphrase John Donne’s famous line, “Don’t ask whether you will be affected by the ongoing changes in the mortgage market—you will be.” The recovering but still nascent U.S. economy, the assault upon former industry practices and the uncertainty of the government’s future role in residential housing will severely challenge the capability of large wholesale correspondent lenders to adapt to the new market conditions.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) 2012 year-end forecast, overall mortgage volume is expected to drop from $1.7 trillion to $1.08 trillion in 2014. In addition, the ratio of refinance to purchase mortgages will essentially flip-flop, as refis decrease from 71 percent to less than 35 percent of total new mortgages in 2014. Since the bulk of refinancing occurs in the Big Four (Wells Fargo, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America), they will be hurt to a greater degree by the product shift than their smaller competitors. In fact, the lower volume and the fundamental structural change provide extraordinary opportunities for independent local and regional mortgage competitors to prosper.
Pressures on the Big Four
According to a 2012 study by Harvard Business School professors Robin Greenwood and David Sharfstein, the growth of residential mortgages from 34 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1980 to 79 percent of GDP in 2007 was spurred by the tremendous profits in the financial industry from fees, as well as the growth of a “shadow banking” system with loose or non-existent regulations.
The subsequent failure of the sub-prime mortgage market and resulting loss of confidence in the larger financial entities to self-regulate have had several results: