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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Housing/Subprime/Credit Roundup — June 18, 2008

Items of Interest:

U.S. MBA's Mortgage Applications Index Fell 8.8% -- Mortgage applications in the U.S. declined last week, led by a slump in refinancing as borrowing costs surged.

The Mortgage Bankers Association's index of applications to purchase a home or refinance a loan fell 8.8 percent to 507.9 from 557.1 the prior week. The index reached a six-year low of 502.3 last month. The group's purchase index decreased 4.4 percent and its refinancing gauge lost 15 percent.

Prospective buyers are holding off as rising foreclosures add to the glut of properties on the market and force home values down even more. Sales will probably remain depressed as lenders restrict credit, and concern over inflation boosts mortgage rates.

``The increase in mortgage rates is decidedly negative for the housing outlook,'' said Michelle Meyer, an economist at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in New York. ``Higher rates strain affordability, suggesting home prices may have to fall further to provide an offset.'' ...

When Builders Go Broke -- Chicago-based Neumann Homes went bankrupt last November, leaving a trail of wreckage in its path. Its worst victims? Homeowners ...

At least a half-dozen homebuilders have filed for bankruptcy in the past several months. They include Levitt & Sons, the famed builder that created Levittown, the archetype for suburban planned communities, on New York's Long Island; Tousa of Hollywood, Fla.; and Kimball Hall, a suburban Chicago outfit.

Although the major publicly traded builders are all still operating, industry leaders DH Horton (DHI), Pulte Homes (PHM), Lennar (LEN), and Centex (CTX) are losing money, too. Any turnaround seems far off. On June 17, the government reported that home starts in May fell 32% from a year earlier. Builders, buyers, and investors will get their next take on the market on June 25, when the government reports new home sales for May; they're expected to be down 43% year-over-year...

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