Thursday, July 1, 2010

I am putting Michael Lewis' The Big Short on my FBE 589 reading list for this fall

So many great lines. Perhaps my favorite (from pp 151-152):

The only interested parties missing from the conference were the ultimate borrowers, the American home buyers, but even they, in a way, were on hand, serving drinks, spinning wheels, and rolling dice. "Vegas was booming," said Danny. "The homeowners were at the f**king tables."

A couple of thoughts. First, I would bet (forgive the word) that gambling habits would be a good underwriting variable for predicting mortgage default. If lenders could know whether someone gambled more than one percent of their annual income in casinos, at the race track, or on lottery tickets, it might say something about propensity to repay a mortgage [full disclosure, I bet $18 once or twice a year at Santa Anita].

Second, I do remember being mystified at what happened to house prices on my street in Bethesda, Maryland. When my wife and I moved there in 2002, we thought it was awfully expensive, but decided that the schools and proximity to metro made it worth while. We swallowed hard and got a mortgage where our mortgage payments + property taxes were about 20 percent of our gross income. My wife was an attending physician at a large medical center, and I was a finance professor at George Washington.

By 2005 or so, the price of houses on our street had increased by about 2/3 (because all houses were 30s vintage colonials, every sale we observed was a good comp). The mysterious part was the buyers were young one-earner households. I wondered how on earth they were "affording" their houses. Now we know.