Recovery, Twisting in the Wind

I find that, when discussing The Shadow Inventory, almost all real estate specialists, lawyers, regulators and many financial analysts can’t tie one very significant cause into the conversation.

The very significant cause that is missed is a rational explanation of why banks and other mortgage investors are so reluctant to liquidate (or renegotiate) bad investments.

Why do they hold significant amounts of mortgage investments which have little hope of being profitable (over the long term)? When a mortgage is in serious default, why don’t mortgage investors accept a ‘short sale’ - and why do they allow a property to go into the potentially higher loss alternative of foreclosure?

I believe the key to understanding why mortgage investors appear to be behaving irrationally, is to understand the implications of the delay in the implementation of Financial Accounting Standard #157 (mark-to-market accounting).(1)

To understand the implications of the delay in the implementation of FAS #157 read an article from the Wall Street Journal titled, Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule By Susan Pulliam & Tom McGinty | pub. 6/3/2009.(2)

 Then watch Georgetown University Law Professor, Adam Levitin’s Congressional testimony titled, Federal Regulators Don’t Want to Know . . . (3)

The point that I believe most commenters miss:

The postponement of the implementation of mark-to-market accounting (FAS 157) gives banks and other mortgage (product) investors the opportunity to delay recognition of their market losses until legal ownership of the property changes (foreclosure). Thus, for the investor, the hoped for offset of losses against future revenue is 'the gating factor’ for the liquidation of the shadow inventory.

Most mortgage investors are institutions. These institutions want to delay the recognition of, and the reporting reporting of, any losses to their investors - and to their regulators - for as long as possible.

As Professor Levitin explains in his Congressional testimony, these institutional investors hope to offset losses against income (fees and penalty revenue) over the next decade.

So, the shadow inventory seems to be a consequence of the rational ‘work-out’ in a world in which institutions can carry (and report) highly depreciated assets at (fantasy) origination value.

P.S. I believe in creative destruction.(4)

1. See Wikipedia Mark-to-Market accounting scroll to, Effect on subprime crisis and Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, at:
2. Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule By Susan Pulliam & Tom McGinty | pub. 6/3/2009.
3. Georgetown University Law Professor, Adam Levitin’s Congressional testimony titled, Federal Regulators Don’t Want to Know . . . at:
4. Creative Destruction (Shumpeter) see:

End Note: Even some fairly sophisticated observers can’t put the delay in the implementation of FAS 157 into its proper perspective. Why do mortgage investors prefer foreclosure over a short sale? Watch Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) question a panel of mortgage professionals asking, ‘Are there things in accounting principals that we need to change to get everybody to do what’s in everybody's best interests?’at:

 Then listen to Thomas Cox, of Main Attorney’s Saving Homes Project, answer Rep. Scott. Mr. Cox emphasizes a different point (the conflict of interest created by servicer fee revenue) in The Short Sale Conundrum - Misaligned Incentives of Mortgage Servicers, at: and when James Kowalski, a Florida Trial Attorney for Saving Home Project, gets his turn he moves to The MERS Mess. Mr. Kawolski explains the increase in the shadow inventory as a documentation problem rather than an accounting problem, at:

The Undisclosed Inventory of Homes

My comment on the article, Foreclosure Machines Still Running on ‘Low’  By Robbie Whelan in The Wall Street Journal [Developments Blog] – pub. July 31, 2012 at:

The shadow inventory and the large inventory of bank ‘Real Estate Owned’ (REO’s) is a phenomenon which I believe has been caused to a significant extent by the decision to delay the implementation of FAS #157 [commonly known as ‘fair value accounting’ or ‘mark-to-market accounting’].

The delay in the implementation of mark-to-market accounting allows mortgage investors to report (on books and records) the value of their mortgage investments at the investment’s origination value rather than requiring these assets be valued at an estimate of current market value. See article, Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule By Susan Pulliam & Tom McGinty - pub. Wall Street Journal June 3, 2009 | at:

For further insight into the implications, and one of the likely consequences of the delay of mark-to-market accounting watch a brief video-clip of a portion of Georgetown University Law Professor, Adam Levitin's U.S. Congressional testimony titled, Federal Regulators Don't Want to Know at:

The shadow inventory and bank REO's (not under current listing contracts) represent an historically significant supply of housing which in many ways is not transparent or adequately disclosed, and therefore is not fully-factored into the ‘market's pricing” of homes (supply and demand).

Zombie Accounting and The Shadow Inventory

I recently watched a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Hearing on C-SPAN. The hearing, which was held on December 15, 2010, was titled “Mortgage Services and Foreclosure Practices”.1 The testimony and the questions and answers in the hearing provided a significant amount of interesting information about the processes, and the legal and practical issues surrounding the mortgage servicing industry, and the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS).

Because I followed the history of Congress’s involvement in pressuring the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to delay the implementation of FAS #157 in early 2009.2 I found a question, which was asked by Congressman Bobby Scott (D. VA) troubling.

At approximately 1 hour 36 minutes into the hearing Congressman Scott asked, in essence, if there was anything in “accounting standards” that might provide incentives for mortgage investors and mortgage servicers not to agree to short sales and to prefer alternatives that might be less advantageous for all parties.

I was surprised by the question because of Congress’ significant role in pressuring the FASB for a delay in FAS #157 and I was also bit surprised that none of the witnesses could directly answer the question - from an accounting standards perspective. In general, the witnesses only discussed the mis-alignment of incentives, where mortgage pooling and servicing agreements provide ongoing revenue for servicers when a short sale is not agreed to and a foreclosure is delayed.3

1. The December 15, 2010 House Judiciary Committee “Mortgage Services and Foreclosure Practices” hearing may be seen at:
2. See a Wall Street Journal article titled, Congress Helped Banks Defang Key Rule By Susan Pulliam and Tom McGinty pub. 6/3/2009 at: Also see, For Your Reading Pleasure By Jack Ciesielski pub. in the Analyst’s Accounting Observer 2/25/2010 at:
3. Under the typical mortgage securitization “Pooling and Servicing Agreements” mortgage investors agree to pay mortgage servicers fees for arranging: home inspections, arranging broker ‘opinion of value’, preparing and filing documents, general documentation, notifications, forced insurance fees, and etc.

Hedge Funds Build Case For Housing

By Gregory Zuckerman
Wall Street Journal – December 29, 2011
Many commenters here have used the term 'Shadow Foreclosures' the proper term is "Shadow Inventory'. Shadow inventory represents the excess supply of housing. Banks and other mortgage investors have been deferring foreclosures (for several reasons) but one primary reason is because they realize if all the inventory was to come to market in any short time period home prices in most markets would plummet (further). It's estimated, by S&P, that the current shadow inventory will take about 45 months 'to clear'.1

A subtlety, hedge funds invest other peoples' money (o.p.m.) and they collect an annual management fee while they wait for their strategy to pay-off. If the strategy pays-off they get a very large incentive bonus (portion of the profits). Hedge funds generally will not allow investors to 'cash-out' for a couple of years after the investor deposits his or her investment (the 'lock-up' period). So, the idea is to sell a very risky or a very volatile strategy, so you can get the management fee while you wait for - and hopefully eventually reap - the huge incentive fees.2 

What happens when a hedge fund strategy "blows-up"? The manager moves-on to a different strategy, and most likely, a different group of investors.

Picking the bottom of any market is a timing issue, by the time these hedge fund "lock-ups" have expired most of the investors will probably start to see signs of life in the housing market and will decide that after a couple years of pain, during the "lock-up", it's probably a good idea to hang-in-there and perhaps enjoy some profit. In my opinion the hedge fund managers in this article are following a contrarian strategy and may be quite early . . . but, it takes time to convince those hedge fund investors to invest.

Remember, home prices change at the margin, one-sale-at-a-time, the next sale is based upon comparable sales and an appraisal - and in most cases - the completion of the sale is dependent upon the availability of mortgage financing.

Watch unemployment and don't just look at the published numbers for mortgage interest rates, look at the number of new mortgages actually issued. If what used to be a qualified buyer can't buy, the excess inventory will not be absorbed by anybody but investors who want to be landlords. I believe Mr. Mark Hanson (in the article) has the proper current view of the housing market.

1. see article, S&P: 45 Months to Clear Shadow Inventory By Kerry Panchuk pub. Housing Wire November 23, 2011 - at:
2. see Introduction pages 1 and 2 to A Balancing Act: Privacy, Regulation, and Innovation in Hedge Funds By Thomas Van De Bogart and Justin Blincoe