SAN DIEGO - On the closing day of the annual Mortgage Bankers Association convention here, two economists sent the conferees home happy.
They predicted that economic and business conditions would push mortgage originations up by as much as 15% next year and greatly increase profitability.
David Lereah, chief economist for the MBA, predicted that originations would climb to about $728 billion in 1996 from a projected $641 billion this year.
And Lyle E. Gramley, a consulting economist for the MBA and former Fed governor, said mortgage bankers could take a good deal of comfort in growth as fixed investment by businesses spurs the economy.
But the best news, he said, is that inflation remains under control. He cited as major factors slower rises in health-care costs, reduced inflationary expectations, and the globalization of trade.
"The spiking up of interest rates that killed our industry before is unlikely," he asserted. The former Fed governor also said he expects the Fed to push rates down another 50 basis points next year.
He said the MBA's forecast for next year was for:
*A rise to 2.6% growth in real gross domestic product, from 2.3% this year.
*A slight increase in inflation to 3.2%, from 2.9%, based on the consumer price index.
*The creation of 1.7 million new jobs, down from two million.
*A decline in the federal funds rate to 5.5%, from 5.75%.
Mr. Lereah said that while the mortgage banking industry lost money last year and has only struggled back to slight profitability this year, he expects profits to return next year "in a big way."
But he also raised some concerns. He pointed out that mortgage bankers account for about 80% of all FHA loans and thus Congressional efforts to end or curtail the FHA insurance program were a big negative.
He added: "If they target FHA, they will be pushing 100,000 to 200,000 families out of the housing market."
Mr. Lereah also said elimination of the mortgage interest and property tax deductions would mean a capitalized loss of $1.7 trillion to the 28 million households.
Also worrisome is the sharp rise in the average loan-to-value ratio on conventional fixed-rate mortgages. He said that as recently as 1991, the figure was under 73%, but by the end of last year had climbed above 80%. The ratio slipped slightly this year but still hovers near 80%.
Behind the rise has been a steady growth of purchase loans and a surge in mortgages with low down payments to low- and moderate-income groups as a result of special programs.
Mr. Lereah thus expects delinquencies to rise from their present rate of roughly 4%, the lowest point in more than 20 years.
On the positive side, the strong purchase market is expected to continue through the decade at an average of 4.1% a year, buoying up the mortgage market for years to come, he said.
Earlier, James A. Johnson, chairman of the Federal National Mortgage Association, predicted that mortgage originations would top $700 billion for the next three years, reach $900 billion by 1999, and top the $1 trillion mark in 2000.
Another significant trend, Mr. Lereah said, was the expected strong growth in the minority population. Citing Census Bureau figures, he said minorities would make up 28% of the population by 2000 and almost half by 2050, with strong immigration contributing to the growth.
"Lenders may have to shift their strategies as a result of this trend," he said.