Mortgage Crisis Slams California: Porsche and Home Sales Plunge; Restaurants Suffer

Discussion in 'Wall St. News' started by ByLoSellHi, Mar 28, 2007.

  1. Subprime Mortgage Collapse Eviscerates California Headquarters

    By Daniel Taub

    March 28 (Bloomberg) --
    The words ``New Century'' used to flash several times a day on caller ID at Taleo Mexican Grill in Irvine, California, where diners wash down Salmon Veracruz with $7 hand-shaken margaritas. Reservations were often for 10 or more.

    Not anymore, said Nic Villarreal, the owner of the restaurant, located two blocks from New Century Financial Corp.'s headquarters. ``We don't get any.''

    In Irvine, where just nine months ago office vacancies approached a three-year low, home prices were at an all-time high, and unemployment was less than the national average, at just 3.6 percent, the unraveling subprime mortgage market is ruining the recent prosperity.

    Hometown lenders including New Century and Ameriquest Mortgage Co. already have fired more than 3,000 people, house and condominium prices are down 17 percent since June and office vacancy rates are poised to double this year, said John McDermott, regional manager for Orange County at commercial real estate broker Sperry Van Ness.

    ``It's a huge engine that has been shut off,'' McDermott said. ``I don't know where the new influx of jobs are if you take the lending market out of the equation.''

    At Phillips Auto in nearby Newport Beach, California, no one from the mortgage industry is shopping for Porsches these days, said Theresa Seradsky, the dealership's general sales manager. Instead, they're putting their Porsches up for sale through the consignment program, she said.

    No Buyers

    ``Two years ago, every other day we had somebody coming in to buy,'' Seradsky said. ``In the last two weeks, we've had nobody.''

    New Century, Irvine's second-biggest employer, may be forced to seek bankruptcy protection after the lender to people with bad or limited credit said New York-based Morgan Stanley and UBS AG of Zurich were among the companies that cut off access to $17.4 billion of credit lines. New Century is supposed to be the anchor tenant of an almost-complete, 20-story office tower being built by Maguire Properties Inc.

    ``We don't have any comment on industry rumors or speculation,'' said New Century spokeswoman Laura Oberhelman. ``There has not been a bankruptcy filing.''

    The collapse of the subprime industry probably will affect everyone from printer-paper suppliers to office-maintenance companies to retailers who depend on employees of lenders including New Century for sales, said Jacquie Ellis, president of the Irvine Chamber of Commerce. Before its collapse, New Century had 7,400 employees, compared with 8,600 at the University of California, Irvine, she said.

    `Massive Layoffs' Coming

    ``There are going to be massive layoffs and maybe something worse than that,'' Ellis said. ``You wonder what impact it's going to have on other companies as well.''

    Cracks in the mortgage market began to appear last year. U.S. subprime borrowers fell behind on their payments at the highest rate in four years during the fourth quarter, according to data compiled by the Washington-based Mortgage Bankers Association.

    The Center for Responsible Lending in Durham, North Carolina, expects the foreclosure rate for subprime loans to exceed 22 percent in California metropolitan areas including Irvine, Merced, Bakersfield, Vallejo-Fairfield, Fresno, Stockton, Santa Ana, Anaheim and Riverside.

    Half of the 20 biggest U.S. subprime lenders are in California, including three in Irvine, and about 13 percent of the nation's subprime loans are in the state, according to the Washington-based Mortgage Bankers Association and industry newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance of Bethesda, Maryland.

    More than two dozen mortgage lenders have closed or sought buyers since the beginning of the year. Irvine-based People's Choice Home Loan Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection last week. H&R Block Inc. is trying to sell its Irvine-based Option One Mortgage Corp. unit. Accredited Home Lenders Holding Co., based in San Diego, has offices in Irvine, and Ameriquest is based in Orange, just north of Irvine.

    Home Prices Fall

    For Irvine's 190,000 residents, the median price for new and resale houses and condominiums was $641,500 in February, down 17 percent from last June's peak of $775,000, according to La Jolla, California-based DataQuick Information Systems. The city's median home price is still almost triple what it was a decade ago.

    New buildings with about 2.5 million square feet of space are set to open this year in Irvine, which may boost the city's vacancy rate to about 22 percent from 11.2 percent now, according to a Sperry Van Ness analysis of data from CoStar Group Inc. The rate was at 7.9 percent, close to a three-year low, as recently as the third quarter.

    Office Vacancies

    Increasing delinquencies in the subprime market may be hardest on Irvine's biggest office owners including closely held Irvine Co. and Los Angeles-based Maguire Properties, which last month agreed to pay $2.88 billion for 22 office complexes in Orange County and two in downtown Los Angeles that Blackstone Group LP acquired in its February takeover of Equity Office Properties Trust, Sperry Van Ness's McDermott said.

    New Century leases about 267,000 square feet of space in two buildings at Maguire's Park Place project in Irvine, and agreed to lease about 190,000 square feet, or more than a third, of the space at the new 20-story office building that Maguire plans to complete in the third quarter.

    Maguire has said New Century's leases at existing buildings and the new site are at below-market prices and could be replaced at higher rates. Maguire also is trying to sell 11 Orange County properties with about 3 million square feet of space that were formerly Equity Office sites.

    Bill Flaherty, senior vice president of marketing for Maguire Properties, said while it may be ``a little choppy in '07,'' even with a worst-case scenario of subprime companies abandoning space, Orange County still will have an office vacancy rate of about 10 percent or 11 percent.

    `Some Chop'

    ``At 10 percent, we're building in those markets, as are our competitors,'' Flaherty said. ``That doesn't mean there won't be some chop, but this isn't a risk-free business we're in.''

    Taleo Mexican Grill is in the same Michelson Drive retail- and-office park as Maguire's new building, and restaurant owner Villarreal had prepared for the influx of lunchtime customers from the about 600 New Century workers that would have been there. Instead, lunchtime business is down by as many as 60 people a week, he said. New Century used to call with reservations of 10 to 20 people two or three times a week.

    Sales at Baguette Time, a sandwich shop across the parking lot from Taleo, are down about 10 percent in the past several weeks, said owner Mo Khataw. The shop used to get walk-in customers from New Century and made $80 to $100 deliveries to the company once or twice a week.


    `Small Guy'

    ``We're a small guy, so even if we lose $100, $200 a day, that's a lot of money,'' Khataw said.

    As recently as last year, loan officers were getting annual pay of as much as $200,000, said Charlyn Cooper, a former manager at subprime lender Secured Funding based in nearby Costa Mesa. Now they're being offered low-paying jobs in call centers.

    At the California unemployment office in Santa Ana, which also serves Irvine, fliers in a rack by the door read: ``Home Loan Funding in Irvine is now seeking energetic and enthusiastic customer service representatives. While other mortgage companies are downsizing, we are hiring and expanding!!!''

    ``Twelve dollars an hour is not a living wage for us,'' said Jorge Perez, who manages the office. ``You can't live here and have an apartment. That's not near what you need to be making.''

    Home Loan Funding Inc. representatives didn't return telephone calls seeking comment.

    Ankur Kumar, 27, worked in Ameriquest's fraud-detection department from mid-2004 until last May when he lost his job as part of the company's layoffs. In his new career as a fitness trainer, he hopes to have an income of $30,000 this year, compared with more than $40,000 when he worked at Ameriquest.

    `Something Risky'

    Kumar lives in a five-bedroom Irvine house and pays almost $3,000 a month between his interest-only loan payment and taxes. Kumar rents out three of the house's five bedrooms, which pays for about half his monthly housing expenses. The interest rate on Kumar's adjustable-rate mortgage is scheduled to go up in October. He plans to refinance. ``I'll probably have to do something risky, to be honest,'' he said.

    Natalie Lohrenz, director of counseling at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County, is meeting with about 65 people a month who are seeking help to avoid defaults on their mortgages. It was about 25 a month last year. She said she has counseled people with monthly mortgages of $4,000 and incomes of $6,000 a month.

    ``There are plenty of people out there living their lives with two-thirds of their income going to their mortgage,'' Lohrenz said. ``That's something we didn't see a few years ago.''

    Even with New Century's collapse, some Orange County real estate brokers and landlords expect space given up by the lender and others in the mortgage industry to be taken by others.


    Doug Holte, western regional partner at closely held real estate developer Hines, which is building a 12-story Irvine office tower scheduled to open in May, said he expects his company to have few problems leasing space at the 266,603-square- foot site. New space, as well as sublease space put on the market by lenders, will likely be absorbed by lawyers, accountants, technology companies and others, he said. This week, Hines announced a 25,400-square-foot lease with Wachovia Corp.

    ``It's a resizing of an industry that had hyper growth,'' Holte said. ``We didn't really anticipate that that hyper growth would continue.''

    The subprime mortgage business's roots in Orange County go back to the emergence of the area's homebuilding industry in the 1960s. Companies such as Newport Beach-based William Lyon Homes Inc. and Lennar Corp. started developing houses in the area, and the two remain among Orange County's largest homebuilders, according to an Orange County Business Journal ranking.

    Savings and Loans

    They in turn attracted the savings and loan industry, which provided the mortgages used to purchase homes, said Peter Navarro, a business professor at the University of California, Irvine.

    After the collapse of the savings and loans in the 1980s, executives from that industry started subprime and other mortgage lenders, said Melissa Richards, general counsel for the California Mortgage Bankers Association. Their time at savings and loans gave them experience dealing with investment banks, which ended up buying packages of loans from subprime lenders for mortgage-backed securities, she said.

    ``You have the developers there, and you had the need for companies to get people into homes they can't afford,'' Navarro said. ``And that's how I'd describe the subprime industry.''

    The 65-square-mile city of Irvine last year was named by the U.S. Census Bureau as one of the county's 10 fastest-growing cities. Once entirely part of the 120,000-acre Irvine Ranch, which was assembled through Mexican and Spanish land grants, Irvine has grown to 190,000 residents from 10,081 when the city was incorporated in 1971.

    Irvine Ranch

    In the 1960s, as urbanization moved south from Los Angeles County, Irvine Co., which was formed to manage Irvine Ranch, began designing master-planned communities for the land. The closely held company sells land to homebuilders who construct residential villages following Irvine Co.'s designs.

    Irvine's residential neighborhoods, many in gated communities, are dense with beige-colored houses with Spanish- tile roofs, each home looking almost exactly like the one next to it. Covenants, conditions and restrictions homeowners must follow keep homes looking similar and their yards free of clutter.

    The city's median home price is about 36 percent higher than the state average, according to DataQuick.

    Beth Krom, Irvine's mayor since 2004 and a city council member for four years before that, said housing affordability is one of the city's biggest issues. The increase in prices has outpaced incomes, she said.

    ``This isn't Beverly Hills,'' Krom said. ``It's not a community where everybody is living next door to a millionaire. Many people couldn't afford to move back into their homes today.''
  3. Ever been on one of those Cabbage Soup Diets, or all veggies or something? That is what this is going to look like. I'm referringl, of course, to the aftermath. And Wall St. is going to continue to pound out the "no big deal" retoric while they position themselves to distribute losing assets to the public.

    It doesn't take a genius to realize real estate agents aren't genuises (gawd, that might be the understatement of the century) and overspent their exhorbitant incomes. How many Ditech ads and the like do you see on TV? All that is gone. And it will continue to unwind.

    All you have to do is not die; when you seen one of these things, you have seen them all. The news that will come on this topic will all be bad.
  4. That article is fairly depressing even by my normal, depressing standards.

    I can empathize with those people, because Michigan and Ohio have gone through the same process with the automotive industry woes.

    The part about the developers continuing to develop those pricey office buildings surprises me, though. Typically, for preleased construction, if your anchor tenant goes Bankrupt, that's going to cause repercussions.
  5. I feel much less sorry for Irvine/Orange County than I do for any of the midwestern Manufacturing cities that suffer because of an industrial loss. At least the people in Ohio and Michigan worked for a living and built real things.
  6. blast19


    DON'T WORRY BOYS! stock_trad3r said it's no big deal...he didn't explain anything, but I'm sure he's a genius! :p
  7. That's true.
  8. blast19


    I feel no semblance of sadness for most people in Southern California...that's why I got the fuck out of there, it was turning into a giant shopping center. Crazy I tell you, CRAZY! :eek:

    Your point is so true. California is full of idiots and assholes. I was no Gray Davis supporter, but that recall was a joke...his hands were tied like almost anyone else's would have been...but they leveraged it into a political circus to ostracize him.

    Bakersfield to Barstow are shithole deserts and yet, $600k are the norm. It's amazing how stupid and greedy people can can go to Palmdale(yes the skinheads and meth are the cities most famous attractions) and find people who commute to LA(2 hours or so) everyday so they can have bigger houses that cost them only $50k let them afford that nice SUV that they spent the housing difference on and it eats its worth in gas every 2 years.

    California truly has some of the most beautiful landscape in the country and the world(redwoods are unbelievable!), but the negatives are pretty heavy and luckily mostly in the southern part.

    There's my rant...but yeah, I agree with you totally that at least people who lost their jobs in other parts of the country were losing real jobs and not just losing out on acting parts to Luke Perry! :p
  9. You have to remember that mortgage brokers and cars sales people are some of the lowest skilled workers on the fringe of the service economy. They are the early warning vector of trouble with an economy.

    Yet when professional service people (paralegals, dental techs) get laid off...that's the big sign.
  10. I think we might need more paralegals for the upcoming lawsuits about to be filed.

    I substitute teach at a Jr.Hi.

    I'll let ya'll know when the economy is about to be flushed, cuz it'l be hard to get a sub assignment due to all the competition from everyone that's been laid off working as a sub teacher.
    #10     Mar 28, 2007