Turns out the rich may not be so different from you and me: They, too, are falling behind on their mortgages.
The U.S. housing market crash triggered the 2008 financial crisis and fueled a wave of mortgage defaults and foreclosures over the past two years. Now, growing numbers of well heeled Americans, their portfolios hammered by depressed markets, have stopped repaying loans or even walked away from mortgages.
The affluent are not immune to the recession. It just took a while to manifest itself, said Jay Welker, chief executive of Wells Fargo Private Bank. In this economy, the high net worth segment has had to de-leverage itself as well.
The rich by definition can weather a job loss or down markets longer than the average Joe. Yet their wealth is linked to securities, properties and hard-to-sell assets such as private businesses. North America's millionaires still have not yet fully recovered $11 trillion lost in the crisis.
Early on in the crash, the weakness was in the lower-price tiers. In the past year, most of the biggest price declines have been in the upper tiers, said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics. That suggests high-end households are coming under increasing pressure.
First American CoreLogic, which tracks U.S. real estate and mortgages, says the percentage of $1 million-plus loans more than 90 days delinquent rose to 13.3 percent in February, half again as high as the 8.6 percent overall delinquency rate.
The million-dollar delinquency rate has exceeded the overall delinquency rate since April 2008.
The high end of the housing market has deteriorated at a worse rate than the market as a whole, said Sam Khater, senior economist at CoreLogic. This recession is unlike prior recessions. It hit the high end just as much as the low end.
Last month there were 205 foreclosure filings for mortgages of $5 million or more, the third straight month such filings rose, according to RealtyTrac, which manages an online foreclosures marketplace. The 205 foreclosures totaled $813 million.
Analysts noted the recession did not start with Federal Reserve tightening, a spike in inflation or a slowdown in spending. Rather, the subprime freeze created a credit crunch that spread to every market.
A lot of the wealthy are less wealthy. The stock market hasn't fully recovered, taxes are on the way up, and real estate isn't worth what it once was. That shakes people, said Christian Magoon, an adviser to asset management companies and a former president of Claymore Securities.
After snapping back in 2009, markets have turned south again, weighed down by worries about European sovereign debt, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the uncertain outlook for the global economy. Near-zero interest rates mean investors get a lot less income from bonds and cash vehicles.
This trend could pose a problem for U.S. private banks, which help the rich manage their money, provide credit and keep deposits.
Bank of America Corp's (BAC.N) venerable U.S. Trust unit reported a sixfold increase in its loan-loss provision in the first quarter, to $184 million from $31 million a year earlier. The increase in credit costs was a key reason the unit's profit fell to $36 million from $106 million.
The U.S. Trust loan-loss provision rose primarily due to higher reserve additions in the residential mortgage and commercial portfolios, Bank of America said in an April conference call.
U.S. Trust, which ended March with $53.4 billion of total assets, declined further comment.
Northern Trust Corp, a bank catering to wealthy individuals, also saw higher first-quarter credit costs. Net charge-offs rose to $31 million from $2.7 million a year earlier, though they were down from the 2009 fourth quarter.
JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc and Wells Fargo & Co do not disclose credit data for their private banks.
Foreclosure filings among the biggest properties, to be sure, are well down from their January 2009 peak of 621 and from the 489 in February this year.
Even so, Rick Sharga, head of operations and management at RealtyTrac, predicts foreclosures among the rich will continue to rise.
This is probably the first foreclosure cycle that crept into the more affluent corner of the market, he said. This cycle triggered a downturn which triggered job losses and a second wave of foreclosures. I don't think we've peaked yet.
(Reporting by Joseph A. Giannone; editing by John Wallace)