By most accounts 2015 was a decent year for many builders, lenders, and real estate firms - especially here in Texas where I'm spending a few days with Fairway Independent Mortgage. Speaking of which, here are the hottest real estate markets according to NAR. As expected, the Bay Area tops the list, and California urban areas are well represented. What wasn't so hot were the stocks of publicly held companies in real estate with names like Stonegate (-60%) and Nationstar (-52%).

Under the banner of "upcoming events" on January 20 ATS Secured is hosting a FREE webinar, "Post-TRID Challenges and Innovative Solutions," presented by Richard Horn, Member at Richard Horn Legal PLLC. Horn will discuss the challenges lenders have been facing since TRID implementation. This webinar will also feature a panel of industry experts including Horn, Brent Laliberte and Wes Miller who will take questions from attendees, and provide innovative solutions. Don't miss out, have your top concerns addressed by leading industry experts! Click here to register.  

Banks weren't snoozing over the holidays and mergers & acquisitions continue to be announced. In the last week we've learned that in Illinois the First National Bank in Amboy ($171mm) will acquire Franklin Grove Bank ($29mm). In Pennsylvania the Farmers National Bank of Emlenton ($580mm) will acquire United-American Savings Bank ($91mm) for $14.1mm in cash. Out in California the Bank of the Sierra ($1.7B) will acquire Coast National Bank ($145mm) for about $13.8mm in cash and stock. In "Joisey" OceanFirst Bank ($2.6B) will acquire Cape Bank ($1.6B) for about $208.1mm in cash and stock or roughly 1.41x tangible book. Johnson Bank ($4.1B) will acquire investment advisory and wealth management firm Cleary Gull Advisors Inc. (WI). And in South Carolina CresCom Bank ($1.3B) will acquire Congaree State Bank ($116mm) for $16.3mm in cash and stock.

Jonathan Foxx of Lenders Compliance Group has published a White Paper on the new changes to HMDA and Regulation C. The new HMDA data collection requirements are considerable, requiring significant operational updates and regulatory mandates. For most institutions, the revisions will go into effect on January 1, 2018; but don't let that date fool you: now is the time to start planning for changes to your policies, procedures, and internal control plans.

As a follow-up to a blurb I ran yesterday regarding the Campaign for Accountability calling for the Dept. of Justice to investigate three former members of the Obama administration (including Mortgage Bankers Association president & CEO Dave Stevens) for revolving door practices, MBA spokesman Rob Van Raaphorst had this to say: "These false allegations are part of a smear campaign orchestrated by hedge funds and others, and perpetuated by a writer at the New York Times, designed to undermine the important work that MBA is doing to ensure that all lenders have equal access to a liquid and healthy market in which to do business. Unfortunately, this is the way Washington works. When you are effective, you get a target on your back and people start trying to knock you down. Dave has never violated the letter of the law or the spirit of the law. From the moment MBA approached Dave to discuss the CEO job he began meeting with ethics and legal officials at HUD to make sure he complied with all obligations while finishing up at HUD and after he left. Since leaving HUD he has continued to consult with counsel to make sure he did not approach the ethical or legal line. At every turn, he errs on the side of caution."

Speaking of the MBA, over the course of my travels I speak to many MBA members, as well as executives considering membership. More often than not, executives from nonmember companies tell me that cost is the reason that they do not join. I reached out to Pete Mills, MBA's senior vice president of residential policy and member engagement, to ask him to expand on the value proposition of MBA.

Pete replied, "How much would you pay to have lobbyists working on behalf of your business on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, dedicated policy analysts advocating on your behalf in front of the CFPB, HUD and other regulatory agencies in our nation's capital, and the data, research and policy analysis to help your state MBA fight for your business in state capitals across the country? It would cost your company $10,000 or more per month just to get a few hours of time with outside lobbyists, lawyers and consultants. This expense would only get you baseline reports and just triage the worst policy and legislative decisions.

"MBA members get an experienced team of expert lobbyists, policy advocates and research professionals working for them in both Washington, D.C., and the states, around the clock. We are actively engaged on Capitol Hill and with the regulatory agencies, fighting for policies favorable for our industry. By engaging our members both through segment-specific networks and targeted policy committees, we advocate for policies that strengthen the entire mortgage market, not just narrow segments.

"Our members also receive a wide-variety of networking opportunities, trusted industry data, forecasts and benchmarking information, the latest industry news and information about mortgage finance, robust corporate training programs curated to fit the needs of your  company, in-depth compliance guidance and model policies and procedures, and discounts on business-impacting offerings through our partnerships with the GSEs, industry cooperatives and a program for corporate health and wellness benefits.

"For the typical member," concluded Mills, "our annual membership dues, which grant you access to all of these benefits for your entire staff, and much more, amount to about only two-tenths of one basis point of a mortgage lenders' total production. Your readers can learn more about how MBA Membership can benefit their business, as well as why approximately 170 community lenders have made the decision to become MBA Members in the last year, at or by contacting Tricia Migliazzo (314.497.6999).

We did have a fair amount of economic news Wednesday. The ADP Employment Change came in at 257k, much better than the 198k Street expectation. (Tomorrow's jobs report is forecasting an increase of 200k in nonfarm payroll.) The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index fell to 55.3 from 55.9 last month. And Factory Orders fell 0.2% in November while durable goods orders were flat. The Treasury complex rallied sharply early in the day and stayed there all day as investors shrugged off a very robust December ADP employment report to focus on concerns about China's slowdown and a weaker-than-expected ISM Services reading in the U.S. Treasuries made fresh highs in the afternoon after the minutes from the December FOMC meeting showed less hawkish among the members than had been previously assumed.

Today is a sparking new day, and China's equity market closed early, down (7%), with trading halted in the session's first 30 minutes as the new circuit breaker rules were triggered. We've have the December Challenger Job Cuts news (15-year low in lay-offs) and Initial Jobless Claims (277k, -10k). We closed Wednesday with the 10-year at 2.18% and this morning it is sitting around 2.17% with agency MBS prices slightly better.

Jobs and Announcements

On the "improving" side of things, Centennial Lending Group, LLC was named one of the fastest growing private companies by Inc 500 Magazine! Centennial Lending Group is located in Horsham PA and looking for dynamic, experienced loan originators, processors, underwriters, and Branch Managers to join its team. "With processing, underwriting and closing all under one roof, Centennial makes the loan process easy for the loan officer and client. CLG knows its employees are its number one asset so management offers a positive environment different from the rest. With fantastic compensation packages, top notch benefits, extraordinary marketing and sales support, flexible work schedules, etc., Centennial Lending strives to have employees for life. Their team members enjoy a work environment which is dedicated, supportive, and fun! CLG prides itself on helping loan officers close more loans than the competition." Visit Centennial to learn more and schedule your confidential interview today. Email resumes to:"

Houston-based mortgage banker Envoy Mortgage has several fantastic opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Wine Country for professional originators who wish to focus on the purchase market. Envoy is a purchase centric (76% Y.T.D.) lender currently lending in 48 states. Envoy Mortgage has a strategic relationship with a Bay Area focused Real Estate company and needs to place originators inside of several offices.  For a more information about the opportunity please contact Bob Schwab (925.330.6588).

A publicly-traded mortgage industry leader and full-service seller/servicer is seeking a talented and proven sales leader to serve as retail branch manager for its Las Vegas area office. The company is committed to developing this area for both individual and team success while maintaining overall operational excellence and financial strength. Qualified candidates should send their resume to me at Onsite interviews will be conducted on January 13 and January 14. 

And Guaranteed Rate is searching for Loan Officers and Branch Managers nationally, and has an immediate need for VP of its Consumer Direct Call Center in Irvine, CA. "Guaranteed Rate is not your typical mortgage company. With 16 years of stability and growth we are committed to the development of a better process using our core values, serving our customers and building "next generation" LOs. Our Digital Mortgage is revolutionizing loan origination. GR funded over $18 billion in 2015 with 60% purchase business (+7% in 2015) and total production up 35%.  We have 30 of the nation's top 200 originators in Scotsman Guide, with more originators than any other firm in the nation's top 1%. Interested parties should contact Jeana Ziroli Kobielsky (949-233-5635).

Congratulations to Sara Weber who Multi-Bank Securities, Inc. promoted to Vice President, specializing in TBA and MBS fixed income bond markets as an associate to Gail Schaumann.

"Sara's primary focus is on providing unparalleled customer service to our mortgage banking clients, as well as competitive execution when trading TBA mortgage backed securities, specified pools and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)-eligible securities," said Gail Schaumann, Vice President at Multi-Bank Securities, Inc.

A quick congratulations to Rick Renna: National Mortgage Insurance Corporation (National MI), a subsidiary of NMI Holdings, Inc., (NASDAQ: NMIH) announced he is its new account manager in the greater Boston region "covering Greater Boston, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island." (Is there a lesser Boston area?)

And VRM Mortgage Services (VRM), an outsourcing provider for residential and commercial assets, has named Cheryl Travis-Johnson to the board of National Association of Women in Real Estate Business (NAWRB) and to the NAWRB Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council. Cheryl is currently the executive vice president and chief operating officer of VRM.

And Chase Mortgage announced it promoted Peter Muriungi to the head of servicing for mortgage banking.

On the other side of the coin we have news from Ditech. (For those displaced, they can always post a resume on for free.) Yes, it isn't the first and won't be the last. Last week we heard about Blackstone's Finance of America exiting correspondent, and this week, sure enough, Walter Investment Management Corp. spread the word that Walter Investment's wholly owned subsidiary, Ditech Financial LLC, will exit the Distributed Retail channel effective January 8. Exiting the channel, which generated funded volumes of approximately $400 million of Ditech's total funded volumes of approximately $19.6 billion in the nine months ended September 30, 2015, is expected to impact fewer than 200 employees. Ditech will continue to close loans currently in the channel's pipeline. "Throughout 2015 we moderated our investment in the Distributed Retail channel given current and expected market conditions, as well as recent regulatory considerations, and subsequently made the decision to exit the channel. This decision will allow us to concentrate on the continued development of the Consumer Direct channel, and further enhance our focus on the relationships and opportunities available to us in our Retention and Correspondent Lending channels," said Denmar J. Dixon, Walter Investment's Vice Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President."