Friday, December 14, 2012

Wells Fargo involved in race discrimination

originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner from Reuters:

Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $175 million to resolve allegations that the financial institution discriminated against qualified black and Hispanic borrowers in its mortgage lending according to the U.S. Justice Department.

In the second-largest settlement of its kind, the biggest U.S. mortgage lender will pay $125 million to borrowers who were allegedly steered into higher-priced subprime loans or who paid higher fees and rates than white borrowers.

Wells Fargo also will contribute $50 million to homebuyer assistance programs in eight metropolitan areas around the country. The government identified those areas as needing the most help in recovering from the housing crisis.

The settlement, which needs approval from a judge, would end the investigation into whether the fourth-largest U.S. bank knowingly targeted minorities between 2004 and 2009 for risky mortgages that came with higher costs, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The U.S. assistant attorney general for civil rights, said at a news conference in Washington, D.C. that this a case about real people, African-American and Latino, who suffered real harm as a result of Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending practices, people with similar qualifications should be treated similarly. They should be judged by the content of their credit worthiness and not the color of their skin.

The government investigation found that loans submitted to Wells Fargo by mortgage brokers had varied interest rates, fees and costs based only on race and not correlated to the borrowers’ creditworthiness, according to the court document.

The Obama administration has mounted a campaign to closely monitor banks in order to ensure loan discrimination practices that were a part of the housing bust and led to record defaults are eliminated. Bank of America’s Countrywide Financial unit agreed in December to pay a record $335 million to settle similar charges.

Wells Fargo said it was settling the matter solely for the purpose of avoiding contested litigation with the U.S. Justice Department. In the consent order with the government, Wells asserted it treated all its customers fairly and without regard to race and national origin.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage president said in a statement that he believes it is in the best interest of our team members, customers, communities and investors to avoid a long and costly legal fight, and to instead devote our resources to continuing to contribute to the country’s housing recovery.

Homebuilding looking up

originally appeared in Zacks Equity Research:

KB Home, one of the leading homebuilding companies in the U.S., recently acquired lands for 100 luxury homes in the sought after community of Playa Vista in Westside, Los Angeles. The construction of homes will start in spring.

The company intends to build three story detached homes of 2,800 square feet. The homes will have four bedrooms and three and half baths. The company also intends to build single floor condominium homes of 2,000 square feet with private elevator access for each home.

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Owing to its operational business model KBnxt, KB Home always begins construction only after a purchase agreement is executed. As such, the consumers buying KB homes in Playa Vista will get the liberty to plan their homes according to their preference.

This process also helps the company turn over its inventory more quickly than its peers, thereby supplying capital for reinvestment. In the long run, this reduces the risk of unsold inventory leading to higher returns on invested capital.

Playa Vista is one of the most sought after luxurious communities in Westside, Los Angeles. The acquisition of land in Los Angeles’ Westside is in line with KB Home’s strategic shift in its geographic footprint. The focus is to place the communities in highly desirable land-constrained submarkets that enable it to sell larger, higher-priced homes, thus driving a strong increase in average selling price.

The rising demand for new homes has led to a favorable situation in the housing market, where inventory levels are dropping and prices are moving up. The demand has been particularly strong for luxury homes. Toll Brothers, Inc., another leading luxury homebuilder in the US, has been witnessing strong overall growth over the past few quarters.

Therefore, building adequate number of new homes is necessary in order to maintain the required level of inventory to meet the growing demand for homes. Acquiring lots and lands in the Playa Vista community will help the company to capitalize on the increasing housing demand.

With housing market recovery gaining momentum, KB Home believes its strategic initiatives including overhead reduction, margin expansion, and land investments in higher-priced, better-located communities; and increasing backlog will help it achieve profitability in the upcoming quarters. Though we have faith in KB Home’s strategic initiatives, we believe that it may take time to achieve sustainable profitability as the housing market recovery process is erratic and uneven.

We currently have a Neutral recommendation on KB Home. The stock carries a Zacks #3 Rank (a short-term Hold rating).