Pricey and posh Orange County office complexes housed half of America's 20 leading subprime lenders. I occasionally asked mortgage executives what explained this coincidence. The question puzzled them. They lived in ocean-view Newport Beach homes. Why would they want to work anywhere else? The subprime industry chose to ignore economic and efficiency factors that had driven so many other businesses far from the costly California coast.
Another peculiarity was compensation. Top salespersons at companies such as New Century Mortgage Corporation often drew astronomical seven-figure salaries (and perks such as first-class trips to Spain and Germany). Capped teeth and breast implants trumped a work ethic for many who aspired to make it in subprime sales. Their counterparts in prime lending were lucky if they reached six figures.
...By and large, the lenders were no less irresponsible than the borrowers who aspired to live a bigger life than they could afford. But all of the strange creatures of subprime -- the overpaid loan officers, bloated budgets, lavish Las Vegas "planning meetings" and the like -- were nurtured by consumers who believed that incurring massive debt was the secret to becoming a rich landholder (or boat owner).
As Glenn Maguire, chief Asia economist for Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong, told an audience in Shanghai on Dec. 12, less than you might think.
The economic repercussions of the housing bust and mortgage woes are limited to a great extent because less than half of American families own a home with a mortgage, he said. Almost a third of all families rent their house or apartment, almost a fourth own and have no mortgage and the vast majority with a mortgage are current in their payments.
...Even with about a tenth of all subprime mortgages now in foreclosure, only a small share of all American families -- about 0.3 percent -- own a home in foreclosure, he said.
Consider also the political implications of this. How much sympathy are the renters, free-and-clear owners, and non-defaulting borrowers going to have for the subprime borrowers? I suspect that those trying to make hay out of this politically are going to wind up with something much less sweet-smelling in their pitchforks.