Archive for June, 2009

RateWatch – Birthday Week

Markets: Mortgage-backed securities are down 9bps, which is nothing.  We were down 44 at one point today, but we’ve crawled back on the shocking news that most people think the economy is crap.  Rates are still drifting down slowly.  We’re in the low 5% range on most everything as long as you have good credit.

Analysis: What’s to analyze?  It’s a holiday week.  There are about 6 bond traders working, and all of them are taking off around noon.  There’s no volume to speak of, and the volatility that usually accompanies light volume is being muted because all the economic data are conflicting with themselves.  Yes, folks, “data” is a plural.  No, really.  Look it up.

Cj

P.S. Unless something truly wondrous occurs in the next couple days, you’ll next hear from me on Monday. Tomorrow is my birthday, Thursday is my son Crispin’s 13th birthday, and Saturday is some other birthday that I can’t remember.  Has to do with barbecues, I think. :-)   But as always, if you have questions, I’ll be here.

@PaulRevere The what are coming? Is this really you?

Over at #PDF09 (it’s a new-media conference), there’s lots of hoo-hawing over how world-altering Twitter and other social media are.  I agree with all of this, but I have a caveat and a caution.

Caveat: the more possible sources of information, the more face-to-face contact will matter.

Caution: do not confuse your Facebook friends and your Twitter followers with people that will help you when it matters.

See what I mean?

Alec Ross said at PDF09 that Paul Revere would simply have tweeted instead of having to ride.  Maybe he’s right.  But the genius of Revere was not that he communicated, but that the people in so many villages and towns knew him and trusted what he said.  And let’s not minimize this, either – a tweet is great, but a real man on a real horse riding through your town is a lot more attention-getting, and a lot more mobilizing.  Revere wasn’t interested in people knowing that the regulars were out, he was interested in people acting on that knowledge.

More timely: Iranians were tweeting and Facebooking and YouTubing like crazy, but the potential for revolution was only made real when they marched.

I believe that we’re pushing over a very real threshold here with Twitter and other tools of social media.  In most ways, I’m not really qualified to talk about this.  I’m a mortgage guy, for Heaven’s sake, not a consultant with Radian 6.  What I know about Twitter and Facebook and FriendFeed and all that is just what I’ve observed myself and learned from an admittedly limited experience.

But in another way, I’m well placed for observing the effects of these things.  I live in a small town, my office is less than a mile (2 stop signs) away from my home, and my life is interwoven with many of the little businesses that line Main Street.  I know people that are well-versed in social media but not integrated into the place they actually live, and others that are ignorant of SM, but who have a vibrant place in the local community.  I see the relative power of those personal, physical connections every single day, and with all due respect to Alec Ross, who is a much smarter guy than I am, I think that Paul Revere might still have chosen to ride.

This has lots of business and personal implications.  My business is already ephemeral – nobody ever sees any of the money that changes hands in a mortgage transaction – and the electronic media I use for communication can only do so much to advance the relationships that I depend on for referrals.  It’s certainly easier for people to tweet me or email me a referral, but I’ve found that it’s more likely that they’ll give me one on the phone or in person.  I become the product my company sells, and raving fans rave more often in the physical presence of the thing they’re raving about.

As previously stated, I love Twitter and I’m an evangelist for social media.  I think it is immensely powerful.  But I do think we’re running the risk now of having the engine revving at incredibly high speeds, but the clutch is engaged and the car is not moving.  There are scads of information out there, more than ever before, coming at us at an impossible rate, yet our lives, the things we are and do, remain bounded by the same 24 hours and the same willingness – or unwillingness – to act.

Why Twitter is Doomed

It’s the name.  Really.  Twitter is doomed because it has a lame name.  Twitter?  Tweets?  Tweeters?

Silly.

Let me parenthetically add that I love Twitter, permanently have TweetDeck open and running, tweet about 10-15 times a day, and have met some of the most interesting and affable people in the world thanks to this great little piece of social media technology.  I like Twitter better than Facebook, though for different reasons. So it’s not like I’m a social mediaphobe, or that I can’t get into the technology, despite being 41 years old in 48 hours.

But TWITTER?  Geesh, it’s like a name my 7-year-old thought up.  I seriously think that the name itself is stunting its growth, and making it the butt of jokes.  A couple days ago, the US Secretary of State joked that she “wouldn’t know a twitter from a tweeter”, and this was not only acceptable, it was funny.  Ha ha.  The most important communications medium of the nascent (and apparently declining) Iranian Revolution, and the US Secy of State thinks it’s funny to joke about how she doesn’t know anything about it.  This is like “M” joking that she never reads any of the gobbledygook in the intelligence reports.

I bet you $10 that if it were called “Zip”, and we were all “zipping” because we are “zippers”, or something a bit less…kindergarteny…than “Twitter”…there would be far fewer jokes about it and more people taking it seriously.  How seriously can you take “tweeting”?  I mean, I’m an evangelist for this technology, and even I feel silly when I’m explaining it to people.

Okay, so “doomed” is a bit harsh.  I think Twitter has a long life ahead of it, despite Internet gurus pronouncing it moribund because it doesn’t have a 100% participation rate.  I think it’s a fantastic business tool, and I’ll keep using it no matter what it’s called, and I will not be alone.

But part of me will always wonder how much the name of the thing is cooling its growth.

@TylerOsby asked a question this morning on Twitter – “how long do you work every day?”  Apropos of this, I also read an article this morning by Tim Ferriss, who wrote The 4-Hour Work Week, about how he works, um, 4 hours a week.  Obviously.  But anyway, what I found was that I could not give a straight answer to Tyler’s question.  I’ve had trouble with this for a while, and it’s getting worse.

On the surface, it seems simple.  You work when you’re working, and you aren’t working when you’re not working.  Oh, if only.  Here’s an example: right now, am I working?

I don’t know.

The blog, in general, is a marketing vehicle to let people know that I have a certain level of expertise in mortgages.  I do.  In fact, I’m very good at them.  I’ve been doing them a long time, in several capacities, and I understand them well from many sides.  But the part of this blog that establishes that credibility is primarily the RateWatch segment, which I love, but which this post is not.  So is this post work or not?

Um.

There’s so much more.  In 20 minutes, I’m meeting with Nathan Larsen from Classic Books and Gifts to talk about a really innovative book contest we’re putting together.  There is practically no chance that this contest will pay me any money, though it is about 90% certain that I’m going to be headmanning it.  It will take volumes of time and some money.  Is the meeting work?  It will be benefitting the bookstore.  It will employ (eventually) many people.  It has lots of outgrowth possibilities that could make many of the people I know better off.  It’s also fun.  So what is this meeting?  Work?

I’m going out to garden at some point today.  Is that work?  I spent half an hour reading articles this morning and some of those led to this post.  Was that work?

I know there’s all this fancy talk about balance these days, how to balance your professional and personal life, how to balance family with work, how to keep your different compartments separate and weighing about the same.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I find that philosophy so stupid my eyes cross.  I can’t for one second separate all the different parts of my life.  Practically no activity that I engage in has no spiritual component.  Practically every activity has some family aspect.  When I’m with my family, much of the time, my phone is on and on my hip.  Am I working?  I’m on call.  Isn’t that working?  On the other hand, when I’m sitting in the office, often I’m discussing the Jazz with my brother.  Is that working?

Much of what I do every day produces no direct financial benefit.  Nearly everything I do EVERY day produces some indirect financial benefit, and the part that doesn’t produces other kinds of benefits in friendships, quality of life, larger vegetables, and suchlike.  It’s not a job, that’s for sure.  But isn’t “work” the thing you add to the universe to stop it from going straight to crap?  Am I not ALWAYS working?

I need help here, obviously.

So I told Tyler that my first communication with the outside world happens between 6:30 and 7am, and my last communication between 6pm and 11pm, depending on the day, which was true but not what he asked.  He responded that that was a long day.  I replied that everyone’s day is that long; mine just has more in it than most people’s.  I got the sense, though, that that wasn’t very satisfying to him.  It wasn’t all the way for me, either.

Can you help?

RateWatch – Nothing to See Here

Market: So, yesterday we were watching the Fed, and as it turned out there was nothing to see. Bonds ended exactly flat at 0. Today we’re up 12bps and sitting on a multiple resistance line (Note: if this doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry. It’s not important in the cosmic sense. I just want you to know that I’m paying attention to it, and that I know what it means. Call it outsourcing your worry about rates.)

Analysis: Oil spiked a couple weeks ago because it looked like the recession was bottoming out. Whoops. Demand continues to be bad. Oil is now falling. GDP numbers today showed the economy shrinking by 5.5%, and unemployment numbers were bad again, and now earnings are bad as well, so what we learn from this is that we still have a long way to go. This argues for a flat rate environment.

In fact, we’d be trending strongly downward except that every time the government holds a press conference it talks about changing the face of the financial landscape to such a degree that lenders and banks are forced to hedge their bets. Think of it this way: you’re in Vegas. You want to play a little blackjack. You go to the table and the dealer deals you some cards. Then when you look at them, he takes one back. Apparently you can’t look at both of them. This hand, the dealer says, 23 will be the winning score. Next hand it’s back to 21, except you can’t win if you have clubs. How much would you bet on a game like that?

But that’s precisely what’s happening with the US government. Between President Obama, Ben Bernanke, Secretary Geithner, FHA, FHFA, OFHEO, HUD, and a partridge in a pear tree, every single day (and sometimes twice) the rules for lending, how much you can lend, to whom, under what conditions, are changing. If you were a bank, how much would you bet on a game like that?

If it weren’t so catastrophic to so many people, it would be actually kind of fun, like trying to do a puzzle using a funhouse mirror. At least I can say my job isn’t dull.

Cj

Chris Jones
City 1st Mortgage Services, Utah’s Mortgage Lender of Choice (and nearly everywhere else)
801-310-3407

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