Saturday, December 13, 2008

Harper/Flaherty 40 year mortgage error in the spotlight

The media are finally zeroing in on a very under reported aspect of the Harper Conservatives' financial foolishness: "How high-risk mortgages crept north." This is a must-read today to learn how the Harper government's choices, principally bringing us the 40 year mortgage with zero down, have led us to the present state of affairs where the Bank of Canada is warning about the prospect of a substantial increase in housing defaults. An excerpt:
The mushrooming of a Canadian version of subprime mortgages has gone largely unnoticed. The Conservative government finally banned the practice last summer, after repeated warnings from frustrated senior officials and bankers that the country's financial system was being exposed to far too much risk as the housing market weakened.

Just yesterday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty repeated the mantra that the government acted early to get rid of risky mortgages. What he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper do not explain, however, is that the expansion of zero-down, 40-year mortgages began with measures contained in the first Conservative budget in May of 2006.
The new rules encouraged the entry of such U.S. players as American International Group – the world's largest insurance company – and Triad Guarantee Inc. of Winston-Salem, N.C. Former Triad chief executive officer Mark Tonnesen, who spearheaded his company's aborted push into Canada, said the proliferation of high-risk mortgages could have been mitigated if Ottawa had been more watchful.

“There was a lack of regulation around the expansion of increased risk,” he said.

Virtually unavailable in Canada two years ago, high-risk mortgages proliferated in 2007 and early 2008 and must now be shouldered by thousands of consumers at a time when the economy is sinking quickly and real-estate prices are swooning. Long-term mortgages – designed to help newcomers get into the housing market sooner – are the most expensive in terms of interest costs, and least flexible when mortgage-holders cannot meet their payments and need extensions. (emphasis added)
That's AIG, the subject of a massive U.S. bailout just recently.

Read the article for the Harper and Flaherty spin on what they did, patting themselves on the back for "acting early" to yank the 40 year mortgages out of the market place. Harper got away with repeating this hooey without any questioning during the recent federal election. How irrelevant to say they acted early when they were unwise to proceed down this road in the first place.
Banking and insurance officials were so concerned about the alarming rush to 40-year mortgages at the beginning of 2008 that one bank executive warned the Bank of Canada's chief financial stability officer, Mark Zelmer, in a meeting that “the government has got to put an end to this.”
And these Harper Conservatives are the party who typically get the vote of confidence from Canadians in polls as to who is best placed to steer the economy in difficult times...just remarkable as their incompetence continues to pile up.