"For the debt-to-income ratio to return to 65 percent, mortgage debt needs to fall from its current level of $8.9 trillion to $6.4 trillion to $7.4 trillion," Madeline Schnapp, TrimTabs director of economic research lays out very clearly in a report to clients today. "At the current pace, it could take four to six more years to work through the current and expected backlog of delinquencies."
One problem with this math could be that Schnapp assumes there will be very little income growth because of high unemployment so the only way to get back to normal is to lower the debt side of the equation through foreclosures. However, she’s also assuming 60 to 65 percent is the "sustainable" amount of debt to income an average homeowner can handle and many believe that will still have to come down even further. Either way, you’re left with at least a five-year slog, according to many economists and investors.
"It may take longer than 4-6 years in my opinion to work through the delinquencies," said Simon Baker, CEO of Baker Avenue Asset Management. He cited the stall in the foreclosure process taking place in the court system as banks are forced to prove they actually own mortgages that changed so many hands during Wall Street’s securitization process.
Earlier this month Massachusetts highest court called seizures of two homes by U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo invalid because the banks didn’t have the proper documentation at the time of the of the foreclosure.
"Sloppy paperwork and government policies that slow foreclosures and allow banks to postpone losses are only delaying the necessary adjustment in the housing market," wrote Schnapp in her report. "The faster home prices reach a market clearing level, the faster the housing market will boost the economy."
Several banks halted foreclosures temporarily last year over the so-called robo-signing scandal where delinquency records were not properly analyzed but instead processed in mass quantities by computer. Bank of America said this week that it had not only halted foreclosures back in October, but also notices of default (the first part of the foreclosure process) as well. This means that the foreclosure process is even more backed up than previously feared.
"The era of deleveraging is still in first half," said Steve Cortes of Veracruz Research. "For this reason, the Fed’s efforts to inflate the economy are not working. The effects of rising commodity prices are more than offset by the deflationary forces of deleveraging, especially in property arena, where a double dip is already a reality in many cities, and soon will be nationally."
The latest Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller data showed that housing prices fell again across most of the major cities, with eight markets such as Las Vegas and Miami setting new lows since the housing crisis. Data released today showed a much higher than expected jump in weekly jobless claims, dampening hopes of an increase in wages anytime soon.
"We do not expect a true turn in home sales to occur until it becomes clear that the unemployment rate has peaked and is on a steady downtrend," said Michelle Meyer, an economist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a report to clients. "In addition, the turn in new home sales should be slower than that of existing homes given the lure of deeply discounted foreclosures."
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John Melloy is the Executive Producer of Fast Money. Before joining CNBC, he was an editor for Bloomberg News, overseeing the U.S. Stock Market coverage team.