I got a last second call from CNBC to provide commentary on the stimulus plan, specifically how and increase in conforming loan limits for both the GSE’s and FHA helps housing, if at all.
The key point with the expansion of the loan limits is the potential increase in availability of mortgage products in higher priced home markets. Right now the east and west coasts have less representation in conforming loan pools because their price points are much higher. For example, the cost of living, specifically to housing in San Jose, CA is 5x as much as Cleveland, OH. This proposal could spread the access around. However, it also has the effect of restricting access in lower priced markets because the portfolio caps the GSEs abide by aren’t on the agenda to be raised. That limits the effectiveness of the expansion of loan limits (if you believe Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can be receive adequate oversight).
OFHEO raises legitimate concerns about oversight of the GSE’s and the higher potential for risk. However, OFHEO was asleep at the switch when FNMA had accounting issues a few years back so I am not convinced OFHEO would be able to understand what changes would be needed to better oversee GSE actions. Also, any stimulus plan form needs to be implemented quickly or not at all. Government is not known for being nimble.
Interestingly, Diane Olick, who was interviewed in the above clip, mentions (via Housing Doom) that the Fannie Mae home page has changed in the past 2 years to reflect a different mission. I wonder if OFHEO understands what that change means?
The rate actions by the Fed this week and this expansion of loan limits, if passed, seem to push us in the right direction (symbolically and politically), in finding a solution to the weakening economyt. Much of the solution is correction and letting time go by.
In reality, its all about credit. So far, the symbolism in these gestures would go toward restoring confidence, but I suspect there is a long way to go.