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Posts Tagged ‘GSE’

The Bi-Partisan Fannie and Freddie Solution That Isn’t A Fix

March 16, 2014 | 11:35 am | wsjlogo |

fanniefreddieredone
[Source: WSJ, click to expand]

Roughly 90% of the residential market has passed through Fannie and Freddie since the onset of the financial crisis. Reliance on these institutions was only around 50% before the crisis – and are they making a lot of money for the federal government right now. I’ll leave out the part where FHA stepped in to pick up the high risk slack. The private secondary mortgage market was obliterated by the credit crunch/housing crash and in the half decade that has passed, investors are just now dipping their toes in the water.

There is a great summary piece by Nick Timiraos at WSJ: “What Can Take the Place of Fannie and Freddie” on the proposed Fannie and Freddie “overhaul.”

Big Dumb Banks
As my friend Barry Ritholtz over at Big Picture once told me that the former GSEs are merely “Big Dumb Banks.” In other words, they do as they were told.

Swapping them with another alphabet soup named agency doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, I contend that replacing Fannie and Freddie completely would likely create more problems since little if anything has been done to reduce the systemic risks that nearly brought down the financial system – and whose impact are still being felt by most Americans today.

If we can agree that Fannie and Freddie created a stable mortgage market environment for decades (Fannie since the Depression and Freddie since the 1960s) and then blew up in the recent decade or more (problems began back in late 1990s), there are clearly other issues in play. I’ve always seen Fannie and Freddie as the symptom not the cause of our current economic problems.

Fixing the symptom may make some feel better, but it does nothing to reduce the probability of a systemic credit collapse. The bailout of the GSEs was a result of policy from Washington – the congress, the executive branch and both political parties who in various ways encouraged proactive neutering of regulatory powers, allowed the revolving doors of regulators with Wall Street, allowing Wall Street to compete directly with commercial banks with mind boggling leverage, limited separation of competing interests (ie rating agencies and investment banks) and incentivizing a shifting culture to serve the shareholders over the taxpayers.

I suspect that last point is the impetus for this bi-partisan proposal – reduce the risk exposure to the taxpayer by getting the private market to take over. Congress clearly has an image problem that it is trying to fix as of late (until mid-terms).

Setting Standards to Follow
One of the under appreciated functions of Fannie Mae and to a lesser degree Freddie Mac, was to serve as the leader to the private mortgage market. When Fannie Mae adopted a standard or policy, the private market (ie jumbo mortgage investors), followed their lead. With Fannie and Freddie floating in limbo with a potential looming overhaul, it’s hard to imagine a robust private market developing anytime soon. This would be a completely new institution that would replace and reinvent the former GSEs, you simply invite anywhere from chaos to uncertainty into the financial system and instability to the housing market, a key economic engine for the economy.

The whole plumbing of the mortgage market runs through these companies. You can’t just take these things away without having a very clear and specific view about what’s going to replace them,” said Daniel Mudd, Fannie’s former chief executive, in an interview last year.

No real alternative to the system has been proposed that I’m aware of and this is really window dressing to show bi-partisanship in Washington. There is no time frame proposed and very little details to reinvent the secondary mortgage market have been brought forward.

Here’s a great podcast from WNYC called “Money Talking” featuring Heidi Moore and Joe Nocera covering the proposal.

Key Issues to Fix
The WSJ piece summarizes the key issues that need to be address quite succinctly:

  • Make the “implied” guarantee explicit and require any successors to Fannie and Freddie to pay a fee for that guarantee.
  • Get rid of those investment portfolios, or shrink them to the point where they don’t create systemic risks.
  • Require more capital and tighter regulation, since too little of both is what got Fannie and Freddie into trouble.

The trouble is, the solution to over-reliance on Fannie and Freddie is too complex for Congress to solve in this era of gridlock. Record revenue being generated by the former GSEs make long term solutions unobtainable for now. I don’t see how any major changes can be inserted into the financial systems for a long time.

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On Bloomberg TV, Surveillance w/Tom Keene 3-11-13: Housing, Mortgages, Rising Prices

March 11, 2013 | 11:46 am | bloomberg_news_logo | Public |

Had a great visit with Tom Keene this morning on Bloomberg TV’s Surveillance along with Scarlet Fu and Sara Eisen. It was simulcast on Bloomberg Radio.

Also in studio was James Lockhart, vice chairman of WL Ross & Co., formerly the head of GSE regulator FHFA. We were also joined by Nicolas Retsinas, a senior lecturer in real estate at Harvard Business School who called in – he has been on my old podcast a few times. Both provided great insight to the housing narrative.

Here’s the second clip from the same session. My basic premise is that while new home sales are rising, it will not be enough to address the collapse of listing inventory which will drive housing prices higher in the US. Hint: It’s mostly about tight credit. Housing is local and credit is national.

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[FHFA] U.S. Monthly House Price Index Up 0.8% M-O-M, Down 12.8% From Peak

June 23, 2010 | 9:54 am | irslogo |

[click to expand

FHFA, the oversight agency for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, released their monthly US Housing Price Index for April. The index shows some stabilization since January however, April is the last month of the federal tax credit for first time buyers and existing homeowners so it would be reasonable to expect declines over the next 2-3 months.

U.S. house prices rose 0.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from March to April, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s monthly House Price Index. The previously reported 0.3 percent increase in March was revised to a 0.1 percent increase. For the 12 months ending in April, U.S. prices fell 1.5 percent. The U.S. index is 12.8 percent below its April 2007 peak.

Index Background
The index lags NAR’s Existing Home Sale by one month but it is a repeat sales index rather than an aggregate report. The index tracks Fannie and Freddie purchases mortgages where they acquire the paper or provide a guaranty, which dominates the mortgage business and provides the standardization that the secondary mortgage market relies on. This promotes liquidity of the US mortgage market but is limited to conforming mortgages of $417,000 in most of the country and $729,750 in designated high priced housing markets like the NYC metro area.

As a result of its data source, this repeat sales index is NOT a proxy for the US Housing market because it is skewed toward the sub-million housing market, roughly 80% of the US housing stock but is performing much better than the remainder because of the standardization provided by the former GSEs (Fannie and Freddie) and the backing of the federal government. Still, it represents the majority of the US housing market and warrants observation.

Since I am wary of seasonal adjustments my chart tracks the non-seasonally adjusted index, even though the press release relies on seasonal adjustments – the trend is the same but the month over months vary somewhat.


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[The Housing Helix Podcast] Mark Willis, Research Fellow, NYU Furman Center

June 15, 2010 | 12:05 am | furmancenterlogo | Podcasts |

I have a conversation with Mark Willis, a Resident Research Fellow at the Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy at New York University.

He is the co-author of Improving U.S. Housing Finance through Reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Assessing the Options along with Ingrid Gould Ellen and John Napier Tye.  This white paper was completed as part of the What Works Collaborative, a foundation-supported partnership that conducts timely research and analysis to help federal, state and local housing policy-makers frame and implement evidence-based housing and urban policy agendas.

The paper is essential reading as we go through a period of financial reform.  The report is described as a timely assessment of alternative proposals for the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ranging from nationalization to dissolution.  The paper explains the role Fannie and Freddie have played, explores the goals a healthy secondary market for both single- and multifamily housing should serve, and develops a framework to help understand and evaluate the various proposals for reform.

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.


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[Interview] Mark Willis, Research Fellow, NYU Furman Center

June 15, 2010 | 12:01 am | furmancenterlogo | Podcasts |

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[Furman Center] Improving U.S. Housing Finance through Reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

June 7, 2010 | 11:11 pm | furmancenterlogo |

[click to open paper]

The NYU Furman Center for Real Estate released a white paper: Improving U.S. Housing Finance through Reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Assessing the Options by Ingrid Gould Ellen, John Napier Tye and Mark A. Willis that lays out possible paths to take. They also lay out the functions they serve and were intended to serve.

Wow.

A great primer on Fannie and Freddie.

After facing insolvency one year ago, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed in government conservatorship in September 2008. The Obama Administration’s recently released report on financial regulatory reform calls for a “wide-ranging process” to explore options for the future of the GSEs. The Furman Center, in cooperation with the What Works Collaborative, has conducted research to better understand six primary options for the future of the enterprises, ranging from nationalization to dissolution. This white paper provides an overview of the U.S. housing finance system and the basic operations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before conservatorship. It then discusses the basic goals of a healthy secondary market for both the single- and multifamily market, and offers a framework to help to describe and understand the different proposals for reform. Finally, it looks in detail at some of the specific proposals now emerging for reform of the housing finance system. As the federal government contemplates the future of these two entities, we hope that this paper offers a useful framework to evaluate the alternative proposals.

The GSEs were fundamentally flawed institutions because they were accountable to two parties: shareholders and taxpayers – shareholders as privatized institutions and taxpayers because of the assumed federal backstop. Both parties ended up being crushed by bias favoring shareholders and scramble for market share during the housing boom.

They serve an essential function of creating liquidity for lenders by freeing up their capital to lend more through buying mortgage securities, stabilizing mortgage rates and establishing standardization for the secondary mortgage market. But they are hemorrhaging now with no concrete solution in sight.

There are a lot of good ideas in the paper (I’ve read it twice, and will look at a few more times).

Not to go all regulatory crazy here, but I like the concept of regulating underwriting:

The industry needs to be regulated as to its underwriting standards, the quality of the underwriting process, operational risk, the level of capital/reserves, and even the quality of its servicing of the mortgage loans and the rating of its securities.37 The ability to regulate these entities effectively would be facilitated by requiring, for example, that all securitizers be licensed or chartered. Such a regulatory system/environment would help guard against the proliferation of toxic products, poor quality controls, and unfair and deceptive marketing practices, and thereby prevent the kind of race to the bottom that we have just witnessed, in which safer products are driven out of the market place.

It’s going to be a work in progress, I’m afraid.


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Weening Off Quantitative Easing, But Who Buys GSE Debt?

October 7, 2009 | 11:31 pm | irslogo |

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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[DMV-Like Executives] Placing All Our Housing Hopes On Institutions Losing Billions

May 19, 2009 | 10:24 am |

Every quarter for more than a year, we have seen losses in the neighborhood of $10B – $20B for each of the former GSEs Fannie and Freddie. However, with the Stim and bailouts in the multi-trillion range, the current losses seem like chicken feed (no offense meant to hard working chickens).

My kids remind me often of the Austin Powers quote:

Why make trillions,
…when you can make…billions?

Modified version “why lose trillions, when you can lose billions?”

FHFA, the federal oversight agency that was created after the meltdown began (don’t get excited, it is essentially the former OFHEO and appears to be run per the same executives that were in charge of oversight before the meltdown) reported that both Fannie and Freddie are facing “critical” problems.

Ok, this is nothing new. We know these agencies will be losing money for many years until we undergo extensive de-leveraging.

What continues to be a concern for me is the ability of these agencies to attract talented people to steer them. Even though the GSEs are essentially federal agencies, they are dealing with enormous and complex problems. Their predecessors were highly compensated but, like everyone else, didn’t see it coming.

Images of the government issued gray painted rooms and bulky metal desks come to mind – ie, your local DMV. One could argue that the “talented” executives were the ones that got us in trouble. However, I think this is an over simplification and short sighted.

One hurdle to putting Fannie and Freddie back on firm financial footing is the many vacancies in their executive ranks. Hiring has been slowed by compensation concerns, the agency said.

That’s why salary caps in most company situations are probably short-sighted. Ben & Jerry’s took several years to find a CFO because of their 5x salary cap from lowest to highest paid employees kept away good talent.

Yes some Wall Streeters got crazy compensation packages, but do we get even with them and apply it to all executives connected with this financial morass that take Fed dollars or work in Fed agencies? Is this a case where the exception makes the rule?

How will “toxic mortgages” be sold off if the company purchasing them feels even a hint of salary cap talk, even retroactive salary caps? Senior executives are not likely to jump in the pool, if their bathing suit might be taken away without warning – ok, bad visual but hopefully you get my point.

Although when I renewed my driver’s license last year, it only took 10 minutes.


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[Seeing only 70% of the Risk] Fannie Mae Crushed Condo New Development Sales

March 22, 2009 | 11:40 pm | wsjlogo |

The future of condo new development sales activity across the US appears in serious trouble, yet it doesn’t have to be that way – and its all due to a new government agency, Fannie Mae.

Back in September 2008, when the wheels were coming off the economic wagon, the US Treasury bailed out the former GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (and AIG). It was the end of an era where both enterprises served two masters: the US taxpayer (exposure to risk) and its shareholders (profits and share price), to simply serving the former.

The mandate of promoting home ownership at all costs (literally) by these institutions had run amok which is one of the reasons why we are in this mess. While the GSEs served a noble purchase of providing standardization and liquidity to the mortgage market to promote home ownership, somewhere along the way, the link between value and risk was lost because systemic risks were not clearly understood. To be fair, they were simply one part of a giant problem, yet a key part because Fannie Mae set the tone for the mortgage industry and that message was grow at all costs and lend by exception.

Now that Fannie Mae is effectively a government agency, it is getting reacquainted with the religion of risk, and it’s become a quick student by adopting policies that are prudent, but very damaging to the collateral they are trying to protect. It is of great concern because the rules are being changed in the middle of the game, making weak markets worse by stranding thousands of would be buyers and owners. Many new development projects are stalled or have had only a handful of sales since the September tipping point.

Effective March 1, Fannie Mae:

The government-backed mortgage-finance company stopped guaranteeing mortgages in condo buildings where fewer than 70% of the units have been sold, up from 51%. In addition, the company won’t back loans for sales in buildings where 15% of current owners are delinquent on association fees or where more than 10% of units are owned by a single-entity.

Prudent, yet devastating to the existing inventory of newly developed condos across the country – a robotic like ruling that may likely stop most sales activity in new developments if buyers can’t qualify for mortgages. This will simply damage the entire collateral classification (new development condo) and push many existing loans underwater.

Of all the new changes (which are not unreasonable if the housing market wasn’t in crisis) the increase from 51% to 70% pre-sale requirement for a mortgage to qualify for purchase by Fannie Mae makes it nearly impossible for buyers to qualify for a mortgage in a new development unless it is nearly sold out. All the projects that came online late in the cycle could be damaged by this hard core – its a catch-22 really. How does a project claw its way from say 20% sold to 70% sold? All cash lenders and those that ignore Fannie Mae are few.

The policy will result in a higher rate of foreclosures for entire developments as well as individual homeowners who no longer qualify.

In other words, if you helped make the mess, you need to help clean it up, not make it worse. And of course, get a bonus.


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[Mortgage Appraisal Havoc] Of AMCs and Code of Conduct

January 14, 2009 | 2:07 am | nytlogo |

The appraisal world changes on May 1, 2009.

I have been on a mission over the past year to creat awareness of the continuing issue of appraisal pressure and to prevent the enabling of appraisal management companies via the Cuomo/Fannie deal to dominate the mortgage appraisal business. It appears a foregone conclusion that appraisal management companies will dominate the mortgage appraisal process and as a result, will end up with a system worse off than before the credit crunch began.

Earlier this year, Mr. Cuomo threatened to sue government-sponsored mortgage investors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for allegedly failing to ensure that appraisers were shielded from pressure to inflate their estimates. Appraisers have long maintained that many loan officers or brokers, whose pay depends on how many loans they complete, pressure them to come up with value estimates high enough to ensure approval of the loans.

In March, Fannie and Freddie, eager to avoid a legal battle, agreed with Mr. Cuomo on an appraisal code of conduct. That plan drew fire from mortgage-industry groups and some federal regulators. Among other things, they said the code could raise costs for consumers and cause unnecessary disruption in the appraisal business.

One of the key issues facing appraisers was the pressure we were placed under to “hit the number” during the recent mortgage/housing boom. 20 years ago our clients were stodgy financial institutions with a separate appraisal departments surrounded by a firewall to keep loan officers away from the appraiser. Just before the onset of the credit crunch, the mortgage system originated something like 3/4 of its volume via mortgage brokers, who are paid when the loan closes. They select the appraiser {red flag} to perform the appraisal for the mortgage. If the appraiser comes in low, eventually, maybe not initially, the mortgage broker would find someone “better” {wink}. I can tell you, 75% of the appraisals completed for mortgage purposes are not worth the paper they are written on.

New York State Attorney General Cuomo opted to start with the appraiser and follow the mortgage. He ended up striking a deal with then GSEs Fannie and Freddie to curtail some past practices called Home Valuation Code of Conduct or HVCC. Some appraisers lovingly call the agreement “Havoc” because of the chaos it created. It enabled appraisal management companies.

One of the main changes was removing the ability of mortgage brokers to order mortgage appraisals directly if the mortgage was to be sold to Fannie and Freddie. If a mortgage application has an appraisal order through the mortgage broker, then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac won’t buy it from the bank. This is a significant incentive for a lender because many banks need to sell their loans rather than retain them in portfolio in order to recapitalize and lend more.

I thought this was a terrific idea because stopped this tainted relationship structure between the person setting values and the person being paid on a commission if the value was high enough. But with this solution, a problem was created and that new problem outweighs the former problem.

Because of the way the HVCC is being implemented, most lenders are effectively incentivized to order appraisals through appraisal management companies. The best way I can describe much of this cottage industry is

a centralized appraisal ordering and management organization run by 19 year old kids without any real estate experience who focus nearly exclusively on turn time and half market rate appraisal fees.

Kenneth Harney, of the nationally syndicated column, The Nation’s Housing in the Washington Post writes in his article: An Appraisal Upheaval

When you apply for a mortgage to buy or refinance a house, should you be concerned that your appraiser is being paid much less than the $300 to $600 you’re charged, perhaps half?

Should you know who pockets the rest, or that cut-rate fees are too low to attract the most experienced appraisers?

Should you care that the appraiser might be pushed to come up with a number so quickly — almost overnight in some cases — that he or she doesn’t have the time to do a proper inspection and accurate evaluation of comparable properties, pending sales contracts and local market trends?

Without realizing it, Cuomo has moved the problem from “values biased high” to “values unreliable”

But some prominent appraisers are scathing in their criticism of management firms. “Their quality is terrible — all they want you to do is crank it out at the lowest cost,” said Jonathan Miller, president and chief executive of Miller Samuel, one of the largest appraisal companies in the New York City area. Only “the least experienced people” are willing to do the work, he said, “and the product is unreliable.”

In recent issue of American Banker, Kate Berry wrote an article Re-Appraisal: How Revision is Recasting Expectations

“You’re creating a situation where a lender is going to have to order a lot of appraisals from an AMC,” said Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive officer of the New York appraisal firm Miller Samuel Inc.

Mr. Miller said, “Appraisal-management companies are subject to the same pressure as mortgage brokers; only there’s actually more at stake. They’re almost more vulnerable” because most of the companies depend heavily on a few lender clients.

Do you remember the AMC known as eAppraise-it?

Cuomo sued them for all the reasons this agreement shouldn’t be implemented without modification.


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