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Here we go again? Wall Street buying risky mortgages

Michael Santoli
Michael Santoli

Reading the financial pages these days, it’s hard to figure out if we’re supposed to be still agonizing over the last mortgage crisis or wringing hands about the chances for the next one.
The New York Times today highlights a little trend among big investors to buy up pools of delinquent, bubble-vintage mortgages. These are loans on properties about enter foreclosure, and the folks buying them are basically doing salvage work, grabbing somewhat higher yields while betting on recovering some percentage of face value.
Then there’s a Reuters piece on the revival of a kind of low-documentation “stated-income” loan – mortgages extended by subprime lenders to borrowers who can’t provide paperwork like pay stubs or tax returns.
Both stories are infused with the tone of “Can you believe it?” and “Here we go again” and “Will we ever learn?” But this coverage says a bit more about how we in the media remain anchored in the old bubble-and-bust storyline than it does about genuine threats to financial health now.
The mopping up of old, broken housing debt is exactly what you’d want to see at this stage, with clearer eyes on property values and cheap capital seeking a home. As for the low-doc loans, the lenders are saying they’re mostly to small business people and such, and they’re requiring bank or brokerage statements showing an ability to cover at least half a year’s payments.
In other words, relax. This is minor stuff happening around the edges of an economy that is more sober about debt and less pumped about asset speculation. The system isn’t airtight and free of wacky ideas and abuses. And there will absolutely be another crisis at some point down the road. But it won’t follow the script from the last time, no matter how many times we look for the same old plot points and villains.

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