The Auto Economy

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Green Shoots?

There was much talk earlier this spring about so called “green shoots” in the economy by talking heads trying to coin a phrase that would stick. Unfortunately for us, they had very little evidence to back up such statements. Housing was still tanking, unemployment was still skyrocketing, and GM and Chrysler were swirling down the toilet of bankruptcy.

I’ve been rather pessimistic on the economy for a while now. As recently as April I was predicting a long drawn out recovery. I also predicted that a second wave of foreclosures coming from a type of mortgage called Option ARMs would start carpet bombing the economy all over again. Well, unlike a certain ex-President of ours, I’m willing to chart a new course when provided with new information.

Here is why I am cautiously optimistic for a near term recovery. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the bottom was sometime in June 2009.

Option ARMs

First, my biggest reason for originally predicting a long, drawn out, recovery was the Option ARMs. In a previous blog post, I explained how Option ARMs are one of the most dangerous mortgage types out there. The cliff notes version of this is: You can pay less than the amortised amount each month and whatever you don’t pay gets tacked onto the principle, up to 125% of loan value, and thus charged interest. After about 5 years or once the principle reaches 125% of loan value, the monthly payment “recasts” and now the owner has to pay the entire amortized payment on 125% of the loan value and now they only have 25 years amortization… just as sugar on top. A large batch of these mortgages were due to start recasting at the end of 2009.

My reason for course change? Many of these mortgages aren’t even making it that far. 42% of Option ARMs originated in 2006 and 35% of Option ARMs originated in 2007 are more than 60 days late today. These mortgages are never going to make it to the 5 year mark for recasting. Now, I’m not saying that these people aren’t going to be foreclosed on, they are. It’s unlikely that ANY of these mortgages will qualify for loan modification since one of the requirements is a principle balance lower than the value of the home.

Here is the good part, by going into foreclosure sooner, it softens the overall impact on the economy. So while it’s still bad, it hurts less. Would you rather be hit by 18 inches of snow over a period of 3 days or get hit by an 18 inch diameter snowball?

Ford posts profit

Ford Motor Company had two pieces of good news. First, Ford posted an overall profit for 2nd quarter 2009. Their operating cash still took a $1 billion hit, but clearly progress is being made. The proof of that is in the next item.

Ford posts positive sales numbers

Ford posted their first sales gain in 19 months. Now I’m sure that a good portion of this can be attributed to the government’s Cash for Clunkers program, however Ford’s current model lineup easily stands on it’s own without help from the government. If their new Taurus had been in showrooms already, I’m sure they would have done even better.

This comes on the heals of Toyota’s statement that they are no longer profitable in North America.


I do I.T. consulting work on the side. One of my clients is a real estate appraiser. Just three months ago he was talking about closing up shop. Now he’s having me refurbish older computers that haven’t been used in a while so he can bring in more help for all the work he has.

A guy who does painting and drywall work for me was talking about how he is closing on a house on Thursday but he doesn’t have time to work on it because of all the work he has coming in suddenly.

GDP only at -1%

This is where the caution part of “cautiously optimistic” comes in. That number, in a vacuum, doesn’t look too good. Taken with the numbers of the previous quarters it signals a huge turnaround. However, much of that regrowth has come from the government’s stimulus projects. Sure the bill was passed in the late winter, but it took till April and May before any sizeable amount of money was dispersed. In my area alone there are no less than four major bridge building/refurb projects that have started or resumed.


The unemployment numbers still don’t look too great but they tend to be a lagging indicator simply because they aren’t reported till after someone gets or loses a job. Watch the unemployment stats over the next few months.

Green Shoots?

Not really. But the seeds have been planted and watered.

Watch this space.

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