Subprime Mortgage Crisis: Background

The crisis began with the bursting of the United States housing bubble and high default rates on "subprime" and adjustable rate mortgages (ARM), beginning in approximately 2005–2006. Government policies and competitive pressures for several years prior to the crisis encouraged higher risk lending practices. Further, an increase in loan incentives such as easy initial terms and a long-term trend of rising housing prices had encouraged borrowers to assume difficult mortgages in the belief they would be able to quickly refinance at more favorable terms. However, once interest rates began to rise and housing prices started to drop moderately in 2006–2007 in many parts of the U.S., refinancing became more difficult. Defaults and foreclosure activity increased dramatically as easy initial terms expired, home prices failed to go up as anticipated, and ARM interest rates reset higher. Foreclosures accelerated in the United States in late 2006 and triggered a global financial crisis through 2007 and 2008. During 2007, nearly 1.3 million U.S. housing properties were subject to foreclosure activity, up 79% from 2006.

Financial products called mortgage-backed securities (MBS), which derive their value from mortgage payments and housing prices, had enabled financial institutions and investors around the world to invest in the U.S. housing market. Major banks and financial institutions had borrowed and invested heavily in MBS and reported losses of approximately US$435 billion as of 17 July 2008. The liquidity and solvency concerns regarding key financial institutions drove central banks to take action to provide funds to banks to encourage lending to worthy borrowers and to restore faith in the commercial paper markets, which are integral to funding business operations. Governments also bailed out key financial institutions, assuming significant additional financial commitments.

The risks to the broader economy created by the housing market downturn and subsequent financial market crisis were primary factors in several decisions by central banks around the world to cut interest rates and governments to implement economic stimulus packages. These actions were designed to stimulate economic growth and inspire confidence in the financial markets. Effects on global stock markets due to the crisis have been dramatic. Between 1 January and 11 October 2008, owners of stocks in U.S. corporations had suffered about $8 trillion in losses, as their holdings declined in value from $20 trillion to $12 trillion. Losses in other countries have averaged about 40%. Losses in the stock markets and housing value declines place further downward pressure on consumer spending, a key economic engine.[9] Leaders of the larger developed and emerging nations met in November 2008 to formulate strategies for addressing the crisis.

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