A popular US website that tracks casualties among mortgage lenders and banks is planning to also track European mortgage providers who collapse as the credit crunch deepens. The site, Implode-O-Meter, lists chronologically the major American mortgage providers that have gone under, or imploded, in the last two years.
Aaron Krowne, a 28-year-old computer technology graduate, set up the web site to track the American credit crunch in late 2006 because he could not understand why the implosion of mortgage lenders was not being taken seriously at the time. Two years on, his provocatively-named Implode-O-Meter, that uses insider tips to predict the next banking casualty, has become a $2m business, making Krowne, paradoxically, one of the successful chroniclers of the worst global financial crisis since 1929.
Krowne, speaking last week, said he plans to expand the site into Europe, probably based in London, because he believes that the crisis will not lighten anytime soon.
The Implode–O–Meter of the website (www.ml-impode,com) is a counter – set at 274 late last week. The big and small names of the American mortgage debacle are listed, including Bear Stearns Mortgage Residential (appearing at No 237), and IndyMac (No 265) and the most recent listing, Western Residential Mortgage, that increased the count of the financially 'imploded' in recent days.
The rate of mortgage implosions has slackened, but Krowne predicts, based on public information and email tips from staff of ailing lenders, that the casualty list will reach 300 this year. And he warned the next round of financial services implosions will likely be among US conventional bank lenders. He has stared tracking those too through a separate bank-o-implosion list.
Krowne said that American regulators and Wall St analysts tap the site for early warnings of lenders that are in difficulty. "But the biggest crowd is the actual brokers and lenders. The real rank and file read the news because those in the field are looking for truth. They are looking to see whether they have jobs the next day or [whether] to send their business to various parties. We get 50-60,000 visits a day. That's busier than it has been," said Krowne.
US banking regulators, unlike other parts of the world, appear to be supportive of Implode-O-Meter, he said, because the regulatory culture is different there. The site got into trouble with a Californian lender that claimed it lost $4m in credit lines because the site listed it, briefly, as an ailing lender. A "non-monetary" settlement was reached, he said. The site and its 10 staff make money by attracting advertising from lenders who want to publicise their strength. In short, that they are not going to feature on Implode-O-Meter.
On the crisis itself, Krowne bluntly states that it will not be going away anytime soon. "Most of the Anglo-Saxon sphere and Spain is affected. The same is going to happen elsewhere. There is just too much leverage out there. You can calculate home affordability by income and the debt burden. And if it rises above the historical mean, it is not sustainable. We collectively fool ourselves that exotic products would alleviate that problem. But they do not."