Matrix Blog

Federal Reserve, New York

Weening Off Quantitative Easing, But Who Buys GSE Debt?

October 7, 2009 | 11:31 pm | |

Council on Foreign Relations has a very interesting chart on who financed the massive amounts of debt that the U.S. government issued in the first half of 2009.– it is divided by “official buyers” who generally are government entities have have motivations other than profit and “economic buyers” who are looking for a return.

The Federal Reserve plans to slow and then stop its purchases by the end of the first quarter of 2010. This raises the question of who will replace this source of demand, and at what price.

This would likely result in higher mortgage costs next year if the Fed stops buying GSE paper because of reduced liquidity (The article has several other charts which serve to emphasis the Fed’s role in stabilizing the banking system and keeping mortgage rates low).

The point of the Fed’s purchases was to lower mortgage rates during the worst of the housing slump and lower funding costs at the GSEs, which were struggling with skittish investors in the private market. That plan has largely worked; rates for a 30-year fixed-rate loan have fallen to 5.11%, according to Bankrate.com, and GSE debt with five-year maturities traded at 30.5 basis points above Treasuries this week.

But most analysts are predicting those rates will rise by at least 50 basis points before the Fed stops buying and could rise even further afterward. That might not hurt as much on the MBS side, as long as investors have an appetite for mortgages, but could pose problems on the debt side if investors are worried about funding an institution that might not be around a few years down the road.

At the same time, there is discussion of dismantling the GSE’s in favor of a new agency or restructure into smaller agencies.

My sense is that we can’t revert to the old Fannie and Freddie because they answered to 2 masters: Taxpayers and Shareholders.

I don’t see how mortgage rates don’t edge up next year. That offsets any hope that housing prices will begin to rise and suggests there are a number of years to go before they do.


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[New York Fed] Is the Worst Over?

October 5, 2009 | 11:45 pm | |

In the recently released paper “Is the Worst Over? Economic Indexes and the Course of the Recession in New York and New Jersey”, by Jason Bram, James Orr, Robert Rich, Rae Rosen, and Joseph Song the answer seems to be…sort of.

In this paper, key metrics of nonfarm payroll employment, real earnings (wages and salaries), the unemployment rate, and average weekly hours worked in the manufacturing sector were used to create coincident indexes for New York state, New York City and New Jersey. A coincident index is a single summary statistic that tracks the current state of the economy.

The paper points out that regional economic cycles are not the same as national cycles. They conclude that the region may not mirror, and could lag the national economy.

  • Wall Street, once it begins to rehire, will be subject to more regulatory oversight, which may limit its economic contribution.
  • Government shortfalls
  • Private education and health sector employment may not contribute as much of a stabilizing effect on total employment as it has in years past.



The Housing Market Is Working…For The Government

September 17, 2009 | 1:39 pm | |

In a WSJ piece called No Easy Exit for Government as Housing Market’s Savior

…the article notes that

After a year of extraordinary interventions in the economy, the federal government is starting to pare its support for the private sector.

except for housing…

  • 80% of new mortgages benefit from government support
  • The $8,000 first time home buyers tax credit
  • The Federal Reserve has worked hard to keep interest rates at or near historic lows

“At least for the next two years, and possibly longer, it is not possible that the government would say: ‘The U.S. mortgage market no longer needs our support,'” says Dwight Jaffee, an economics professor at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “Were they to say that, the mortgage market and the housing market would almost surely crash.”

The article does seem to suggest that the government should rethink its stance on housing.

Promoting homeownership has been a stated goal of Republican and Democratic presidencies for decades. The Obama administration recognizes it will need — at some point — to rethink broadly the government’s role in housing and mortgages. Administration officials also acknowledge that moment won’t come soon.

Good grief – it’s not housing that is the problem – it’s credit. That’s where the focus should be. Both parties and government regulators help foster the environment the ultimately imploded. The housing boom was merely a byproduct.

It could have been gemstones or pet rocks. Let’s not confuse stupid credit policy with housing.

That’s why it is bitterly disappointing to see the momentum gone for real regulatory reform for financial services. The same regulators and executives remain at the helm.

It’s amazing how the passage of time makes the current credit environment somehow not seem broken. Not much has changed in the mortgage lending process to enhance the safety of the financial system.

Of course there are always gemstones.



[Interview] Jason Bram, Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

September 3, 2009 | 10:30 pm | | Podcasts |

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[The Housing Helix Podcast] Jason Bram, Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

September 3, 2009 | 7:38 pm | | Podcasts |


I was fortunate to have Jason Bram, Senior Economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York join me for the podcast. We covered a lot of ground including regional employment, securities industry employment versus all other employment, the rent versus ownership ratio and confidence versus sentiment.

Jason referenced a few charts during the discussion including the forward looking Index of Coincident Economic Indicators.

Note: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee only and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System.

Check out the podcast

The Housing Helix Podcast Interview List

You can subscribe on iTunes or simply listen to the podcast on my other blog The Housing Helix.



July 2009 Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices

August 17, 2009 | 5:40 pm | |

Since the direction of the housing market is now largely determinate on bank underwriting practices, and this is a fairly abstract thing, unlike mortgage rates, I like to look at this report from the Fed called (released at 2pm today) Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices.

The message seems to be that bank underwriting hasn’t gotten any tighter over the past several months, but it is still constrained.

Residential mortgage loan demand (prime) has done better than other types of lending.

In the July survey, domestic banks indicated that they continued to tighten standards and terms over the past three months on all major types of loans to businesses and households, although the net percentages of banks that tightened declined compared with the April survey.2 Demand for loans continued to weaken across all major categories except for prime residential mortgages.

And fewer have tightened underwriting standards further:

The net fraction of domestic banks that reported tightening their lending standards on home equity lines of credit fell to roughly 30 percent, from 50 percent in the April survey



[Beige Book] Less Bad = Begun To Stabilize, Moderated

July 30, 2009 | 12:57 am | |

The Federal Reserve just released the Beige Book which provides anecdotal commentary on the economy nationally and across the regions of its member banks.

Here’s real estate and mortgage excerpts from the overall report. The macro take away is the pace of economic decline has “begun to stabilize” or “moderated.”

Residential real estate markets stayed soft in most Districts, although many noted some signs of improvement.

Real Estate and Construction

Residential real estate markets in most Districts remained weak, but many reported signs of improvement. The Minneapolis and San Francisco Districts cited large increases in home sales compared with 2008 levels, and other Districts reported rising sales in some submarkets. Of the areas that continued to experience year–over–year sales declines, all except St Louis–where sales were down steeply– also reported that the pace of decline was moderating. In general, the low end of the market, especially entry-level homes, continued to perform relatively well; contacts in the New York, Kansas City, and Dallas Districts attributed this relative strength, at least in part, to the first–time homebuyer tax credit. Condo sales were still far below year–before levels according to the Boston and New York reports. In general, home prices continued to decline in most markets, although a number of Districts saw possible signs of stabilization. The Boston, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts mentioned that the increasing number of foreclosure sales was exerting downward pressure on home prices. Residential construction reportedly remains quite slow, with the Chicago, Cleveland, and Kansas City Districts noting that financing is difficult.

Banking and Finance

In most reporting Districts, overall lending activity was stable or weakened further for most loan categories. In contrast, Philadelphia reported a slight increase in business, consumer, and residential real estate lending. As businesses remained pessimistic and reluctant to borrow, demand for commercial and industrial loans continued to fall or stay weak in the New York, Richmond, St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts. Consumer loan demand decreased in New York, St. Louis, Kansas City, and San Francisco, stabilized at a low level in Chicago and Dallas, and was steady to up in Cleveland.

Residential real estate lending decreased in New York, Richmond, and St. Louis. Dallas reported steady but low outstanding mortgage volumes, while Kansas City noted that the rise in mortgage loans slowed. Refinancing activity fell dramatically in Richmond, decreased in New York and Cleveland, and maintained its pace in Dallas. Bankers in the New York District indicated no change in delinquency rates in all loan categories except residential mortgages, while Cleveland, Atlanta, and San Francisco reported rising delinquencies on loans linked to real estate.

Banks continued to tighten credit standards in the New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts; and some have stepped up the requirements for the commercial real estate category, in particular, due to concern over declining loan quality. Meanwhile, Cleveland and Atlanta reported that higher credit standards remained in place, with no change expected in the near term. Credit quality deteriorated in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Kansas City, and San Francisco, while loan quality exceeded expectations in Chicago and remained steady in Richmond.


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[Over Coffee] Morning Quote From The Home Front

July 29, 2009 | 6:00 am | |

From Caroline Baum’s excellent column: Conan’s Couch, ‘Daily Show’ Ready for Bernanke:

Alan Greenspan prided himself on being opaque. The former Federal Reserve chairman used to joke that if the audience thought he was being clear, they probably misunderstood what he was saying.

Bernanke believes in transparency. With everyone hanging on every word of every report, every pundit, every TV show, every government official release etc., I’m not quite sure this doesn’t create a lot of more volatility. But if we could have the Fed Chairman on the Daily Show?

My life would be complete.

Aside: The IRS is more popular than the Fed.


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The Housing “Turning a Corner” Concept: On A Matrix

July 6, 2009 | 5:35 pm | |

There is a lot of discussion about when housing is going to turn around yet it looks like housing in this cycle is going to trail the economy rather than lead it because credit is not placing housing in the hands of the consumer.

Here is a terrifically interactive graphic a la NYTimes.com/Business with a 4-quadrant matrix based on data compiled by NYT from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.); Federal Reserve; National Bureau of Economic Research; Conference Board.

As you watch the time series, the current year shows the sharpest downturn since the mid 1970s when the data series begins. In other words it is hard to imagine we are nearly out of the downturn quadrant.

Here’s the OECD Business Cycle Clock.



[Damp Squib?] Financial Regulatory Reform Is Sort of Here

June 16, 2009 | 11:47 pm | |

A phrase that’s being thrown around lately, damp squib.

The phrase “damp squib” has since come into general use to mean anything that fails to meet expectations. The word “squib” has come to take on a similar meaning even when used alone, as a synonym for dud.

Because this will take a year to enact through legislation, I wonder whether it will be relevant when the final version in place? Banks will probably be stronger. Wall Street will be in somewhat better shape. Still, I am hopeful this will be a productive effort, given the lack of effective regulation that enabled a whacked out credit environment.

On Monday, Timothy Geithner, secretary of the Treasury and Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council wrote an Op-Ed piece for WaPo called A New Financial Foundation. Here’s the conclusion:

By restoring the public’s trust in our financial system, the administration’s reforms will allow the financial system to play its most important function: transforming the earnings and savings of workers into the loans that help families buy homes and cars, help parents send kids to college, and help entrepreneurs build their businesses. Now is the time to act.

The administration has been working hard to develop a plan.

The earlier vision was a super agency and the elimination of a number of existing agencies that overlap each other. Turf wars continue to be a real issue.

Tonight, the administration released the details of the plan to revamp the financial regulatory system, one of many aspects of the financial system that didn’t function.

Here’s the white paper on the plan.

The Obama administration last night detailed a series of proposals that would involve the government much more deeply in the private markets, from helping to steer consumers into affordable mortgage loans to imposing new limits on the largest financial companies, in a sweeping effort to prevent the kinds of risk-taking that sparked the economic crisis.

The plan is an attempt to overhaul an outdated system of financial regulations, according to senior administration officials.

It would vastly increase the powers of the Federal Reserve in an effort to create stronger and more consistent oversight of the largest companies and most important markets.

It also would create a new agency to protect consumers of mortgages, credit cards and other financial products.

I’m hoping something constructive comes out of this and not simply more regulation. This is being done in the name of prevention, and has limited impact on the current situation in the housing/mortgage/credit markets.

I can’t over the feeling that we will end up creating regulations for what we went through rather than where we are going.


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[No OCC, OTS in T-E-A-M] Reducing Banking Regulatory Clutter

May 28, 2009 | 10:34 am | |

Empirical evidence says that the myriad of alphabet soup regulatory agencies didn’t work to prevent the systemic breakdown of the financial system on a global scale, stemming from CMBC activity. Of course, I’m not naive to think that they would have prevented it, but I do think the scale of the crisis was significantly larger as a result of the lack of logical oversight.

It’s not about lack of regulation, it’s about limited coordination, lack of responsibility and most importantly, departmental turf wars.

Hopefully this may change in a few weeks as the administration takes the wraps of an emerging plan to reorganize regulatory oversight.

Senior administration officials are considering the creation of a single agency to regulate the banking industry, replacing a patchwork of agencies that failed to prevent banks from falling into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, sources said.

Ideas include

  • Federal Reserve – becomes a powerful systemic risk regulator
  • Create a new agency to protect consumers of consumer products
  • Merge the SEC into CFTC to protect investors from fraud
  • OCC and OTS would go away and their responsibilities would be distributed to FDIC and the Federal

One of the key issues, which runs parallel to investment banks being able to select the most favorable ratings agency or mortgage brokers to pick their own appraiser, is the fact that banks can pick whichever regulator is most lenient: FDIC, OTS or OCC.

Seriously, a regulator that is competing with other agencies to get more banks to work with them to justify their existence is inherently flawed.

Of course the American Bankers Association is against this:

“As a practical matter, I think the idea is a nonstarter,” said Ed Yingling, president of the American Bankers Association. He said the administration should focus on the two ideas that command the broadest consensus: the creation of a system risk regulator and a resolution authority for collapsing companies. “That’s probably all Congress can handle,” he said. “They can propose a lot of things, but there’s a real risk in doing so that you just overload the system.”

Good grief. Use of the word “Risk” and “Overload” seems kind of quaint at this point, doesn’t it?

The proposal also urges creation of a new government agency to conduct “prudential regulation,” with supervision authority over state and federally chartered banks, bank holding companies and insurance firms, the source said.

Yes the Fed will have new powers, but seriously, why have any of these agencies if they aren’t very effective? In the current format, it all seems like a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars unless the system is streamlined and reorganized. However, the turf wars will move from the regulators to Congress as everyone tries to hold onto their power base.

The new bank regulatory agency could prove controversial because it would consolidate the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision and strip supervisory powers from the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Ideally, it is in everyone’s benefit to reduce the regulatory clutter and create clean lines of responsibility and authority. My worry is that we don’t jettison enough of what didn’t work after the power struggle/compromise struggle shakes out.

Housing doesn’t stabilize until banking/credit stabilizes. Period.


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[FOMC Parse] Nowhere To Go, Although Badness Troughs

April 30, 2009 | 3:44 pm | |

The Federal Open Market Committee cut the federal funds rate another 25 basis points to 2%. The WSJ breaks out the announcment FOMC statement in a feature called Parsing The Fed.

Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in March indicates that the economy has continued to contract, though the pace of contraction appears to be somewhat slower. Household spending has shown signs of stabilizing but remains constrained by ongoing job losses, lower housing wealth, and tight credit. Weak sales prospects and difficulties in obtaining credit have led businesses to cut back on inventories, fixed investment, and staffing.

With talk of green shoots and everyone digging hard to find silver linings, the Fed announcement was consistent with other news as of late. In other words:

Things are getting worse but not as fast as before.

I’ll take that.

GDP was -6.1% however consumer consumption is up since January which suggests this may be the trough of its decline. The recent Case Shiller index results brought similar comments about housing, that the worst may be over but demand and prices are still falling and have more to go.


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