Foreclosure Flood Cresting?
Could a flood of foreclosures that began to swell last year be close to cresting? That could be a first-blush interpretation of the numbers in the RealtyTrac U.S. Foreclosure Market Report released today. The chart below shows how the annual rate of increase in all three foreclosure actions tracked in the report -- defaults, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions -- slowed in August.
The rates of annual increase in defaults and scheduled auctions have been steadily slowing down each month this year, but this was the first month in which the rate of increase in bank repossessions (REO) has slowed since the beginning of the year. That seems to indicate (and please forgive this somewhat rambling analogy) that the torrent of defaults that began in earnest about 18 months ago may be working their way down the foreclosure river and spilling into the ocean of bank-owned inventory -- while the number of new defaults being added upriver is moderating. But alas, that would be labeled by many as a naively optimistic interpretation, given the possibility of another downpour of defaults looming from as much as $500 billion in outstanding option ARMs, many of which are expected to recast to higher payments in the next three years.
In addition, one must be careful about reading too much into a decreasing rate of increase. It's a bit like a politician arguing that a new budget will decrease spending when it's actually just slowing the rate of increase in spending. After all, the RealtyTrac report does show that foreclosure activity continues to increase across the board -- defaults, auctions and bank repossessions. And both the total number of properties with foreclosure filings (more than 300,000) and the foreclosure rate (one in every 416 U.S. properties received a foreclosure filing during the month) were the highest since RealtyTrac began issuing the report in January 2005.
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