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The Mortgage Meltdown

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Scott Pelley reports on the mortgage crisis that's far from over, with a second wave of expected defaults on the way that could deepen the bottom of the U.S. recession.

One of the best guides to the danger ahead is Whitney Tilson. He's an investment fund manager who has made such a name for himself recently that investors, who manage about $10 billion, gathered to hear him last week. Tilson saw, a year ago, that sub-prime mortgages were just the start.

"We had the greatest asset bubble in history and now that bubble is bursting. The single biggest piece of the bubble is the U.S. mortgage market and we're probably about halfway through the unwinding and bursting of the bubble," Tilson explains. "It may seem like all the carnage out there, we must be almost finished. But there's still a lot of pain to come in terms of write-downs and losses that have yet to be recognized."

In 2007, Tilson teamed up with Amherst Securities, an investment firm that specializes in mortgages. Amherst had done some financial detective work, analyzing the millions of mortgages that were bundled into those mortgage-backed securities that Wall Street was peddling. It found that the sub-primes, loans to the least credit-worthy borrowers, were defaulting. But Amherst also ran the numbers on what were supposed to be higher quality mortgages.

"It was data we'd never seen before and that's what made us realize, 'Holy cow, things are gonna be much worse than anyone anticipates,'" Tilson says.

The trouble now is that the insanity didn't end with sub-primes. There were two other kinds of exotic mortgages that became popular, called "Alt-A" and "option ARM." The option ARMs, in particular, lured borrowers in with low initial interest rates - so-called teaser rates - sometimes as low as one percent. But after two, three or five years those rates "reset." They went up. And so did the monthly payment. A mortgage of $800 dollars a month could easily jump to $1,500.

Now the Alt-A and option ARM loans made back in the heyday are starting to reset, causing the mortgage payments to go up and homeowners to default.

"The defaults right now are incredibly high. At unprecedented levels. And there’s no evidence that the default rate is tapering off. Those defaults almost inevitably are leading to foreclosures, and homes being auctioned, and home prices continuing to fall," Tilson explains.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/12/12/...in4666112.shtml

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I need a *sigh* smilie. I need to be thankful that while we have a vacant house caught up in this mess, we are still lucky. We are not losing everything, and not foreclosing. What happens when I see articles like this is I get caught up in it again, wondering if we should be going all out just to get out of the mortgage so we can move on.

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