REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

February 6, 2017

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Two former Thornburg Mortgage executives can rest easily because the SEC is no longer seeking damages for their behavior during the early 2000’s financial crisis. The cases spanned over 5 years and disputed an amount over 400 million in losses.
  • Exxon Mobile Corp. is back on the hook for royalties owed to over 40 landowners. Texas’ highest court reinstated the “mineral royalty dispute” on February 3, 2017. The court stated the suit was previously wrongly dismissed.
  • New Jersey’s city of Hoboken is not happy with a developer’s plan to develop the waterfront area. Residents of the city asked the New Jersey Appellate Division to block the developers plan; however, the court refused to do so. Shipyard Associates LLP, will be able to add recreational and parking facilities to its mixed use property along the Hudson River.

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February 6, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

February 3, 2017

Whither FHA Premiums?

By David Reiss

Various NBC News affiliates quoted me in What You Need To Know About Trump’s Reversal of the FHA Mortgage Insurance Rate Cut. It opens,

On his first day in office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to undo a quarter-point decrease in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance premiums. The rate decrease had been announced by the Obama administration shortly before Trump’s inauguration. Many congressional Republicans, including incoming Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, opposed the Obama administration’s rate cut because they worried that the FHA would not be able to maintain adequate cash reserves.

What does this mean for potential homebuyers going forward? We’ll explain in this post.

How FHA mortgage insurance premiums work

FHA-backed mortgages are popular among first-time homebuyers because borrowers can get a loan with as little as 3.5% down. However, in exchange for a lower down payment, borrowers are required to pay mortgage insurance premiums. Lower mortgage insurance premiums can make FHA mortgages more affordable, and help incentivize more first-time homebuyers to enter the housing market.

On January 9, 2016, outgoing HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced that the administration would reduce the annual mortgage insurance premiums borrowers pay when taking out FHA-backed home loans.

For most borrowers, the rate reduction would have meant mortgage insurance premiums decrease from 0.85% of the loan amount to 0.60%. The FHA estimated that the reduction, a quarter of one percentage point, would save homeowners an average of $500 per year.

To see how the numbers would compare, we ran two scenarios through an FHA Loan Calculator — once with the reduced MIP, and again with the higher rates.

Using the December 2016 median price for an existing home in the U.S. of $232,200 and assuming a 30-year loan, a down payment of 3.5%, and an interest rate of 3.750%, the difference in the monthly payment under the new and old rates would be as follows:

Monthly payment under the existing MIP rate: $1,213.27

Monthly payment with the reduced MIP rate: $1,166.98

Annual savings: $555.48

What the rate cut reversal means for consumers

This could be bad news for people who went under contract to buy a house using an FHA loan during the week of Trump’s inauguration. Those buyers could find that their estimated monthly payment has gone up.

Heather McRae, a loan officer at Chicago Financial Services, says Trump’s move was unfortunate. “A lower premium provides for a lower overall monthly payment,” she says. “For those homebuyers who are on the bubble, it could be the deciding factor in determining whether or not the person qualifies to purchase a new home.”

David Reiss, a law professor at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, says the change will have only a “modest negative impact” on a potential borrower’s ability to qualify for a loan.

To be clear, the fluctuating mortgage insurance premiums do not affect homeowners with existing loans. They do affect buyers in the process of buying a home using an FHA-backed loan, and anyone buying or refinancing with an FHA-backed mortgage loan in the future. Had the rate cut remained in effect, Mortgagee Letter 2017-01 would have applied to federally-backed mortgages with closing/disbursement dates of January 27, 2017, and later.

Reiss does not believe the rate reversal will have an impact on the housing market. “Given that the Obama premium cut had not yet taken effect,” he says, “it is unlikely that Trump’s action had much of an impact on home sales.”

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February 3, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • January more jobs than economists expected, led by gains in retail trade, construction and financial activities. Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 227,000 in January, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.8%, according to today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The Federal Open Market Committee unanimously voted to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0.5% to 0.75% during the first meeting of the year. After not moving interest rates since December 2015, the FOMC finally announced an increase to interest rates in the final meeting of 2016.

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February 3, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

February 2, 2017

Mortgage Rates & Refis

By David Reiss

TheStreet.com quoted me in Mortgage Rates Expected to Rise and Push Down Refinancing Levels. It reads, in part,

Mortgage rates will continue their upward climb in 2017 as the economy demonstrates additional growth and inflation, but this will of course dampen the enthusiasm for homeowners who have sought to refinance their mortgages up until early this year.

The levels of refinancing will definitely “take a hit relative to 2016,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, a New York-based financial content company.”

A survey conducted by RateWatch found that 56.57% of the 400 financial institutions polled said it is unlikely mortgage rates will fall and unlikely there will be an increase in refinancing in 2017. RateWatch, a Fort Atkinson, Wis.-based premier banking data and analytics service owned by TheStreet, Inc., surveyed the majority of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions in the U.S. between December 16 and December 29, 2016 on how the Donald Trump presidency will affect the banking industry. The survey found that 35.71% said an increase in refinancing levels is very unlikely, while 6.29% said such an increase is somewhat likely, 1.14% said one would be likely and 0.29% said it would be very likely.

Mortgage rates, which are tied to the 10-year Treasury note, are predicted to fluctuate between 4% to 4.5% in 2017 “with a brief trip below 4% in the event of a market sell-off or economic stumble,” McBride said.

The 4% threshold is critical for homeowners, because when mortgage rates fall below this benchmark level, more consumers are in a position to refinance “profitably,” which is why 2016 experienced a “surge in activity,” McBride said.

When rates rise about the 4% level, the number of homeowners who opt to refinance declines dramatically and “refinancing levels will be notably lower in 2017,” he said.

The mortgages in the 3% range gave many homeowners the opportunity to refinance last year, some for the second time, as many consumers also chose to refinance their mortgages during the 2013 to 2015 period.

As the economy expands and workers are experiencing pay increases, the number of home sales should also rise in 2017.

“People who are working and receiving a pay increase will buy a house whether mortgage rates are 4% or 4.5%,” McBride said. “They may buy a different house, but they will still buy a house.”

Refinancing activity is likely to continue ramping up in January rather than later in the year as the “recent dip in rates allows procrastinators to act before rates continue their movement up,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. “As interest rates resume their ascent and get closer to 4.5% on the 30-year mortgage, the number of households who can benefit from refinancing will diminish. That’s why we expect lenders to shift their focus to the purchase market this year.”

Economic growth resulted in interest rates rising before the election and in its aftermath. The rates rose because of the expectation from the financial markets of expanding fiscal policies leading to additional growth and inflationary pressures, Smoke said.

Mortgage rates will continue to rise in 2017 as a result of more people being employed, and this economic backdrop will favor the buyer’s market instead of the refinancing market. Current data from the Mortgage Bankers Association already demonstrates that refinancing activity has declined compared to 2016 due to higher interest rates, Smoke said.

“Rates have eased a bit since the start of the year as evidence of a substantial shift in inflation remains limited and the financial markets oversold bonds in December,” he added.

*     *     *

Borrowers should be concerned with increased interest rate volatility in 2017, said David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School. The Trump administration has been sending out mixed signals, which may lead bond investors and lenders to change their outlook more frequently than in the past.

“Borrowers should focus on locking in attractive interest rates quickly and working closely with their lender to ensure that the loan closes before the interest rate lock expires,” he said. “While there is no clear consensus on why rates went lower after the new year, Trump has not set forth a clear plan as to how he will achieve those goals and Congress has not signaled that it is fully on board with them. This leaves investors less confident that Trump will make good on those positions, particularly in the short-term.”

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February 2, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • Kaitlyn Snyder and Rebekah King from the National Housing Conference write about the necessity of including affordable housing in any major infrastructure legislation, as part of a series of blog posts on the connection between housing and infrastructure by the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF). According to Snyder and King, providing affordable housing near jobs, similar to roads and bridges, helps connect workers to economic activity and ease congestion on transportation infrastructure.
  • In a web seminar titled, How Should We Measure Affordability, Chris Herbert the Managing Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies discusses the Joint Center’s annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report noted that the number of cost-burdened renters—those paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing—reached a record high of 21.3 million in 2014.
  • The largest trade group in the mortgage finance space, the Mortgage Bankers Association, released its initial plans for its recommended approach for secondary mortgage market reform, unveiling the first product from its recently formed “task force,” which is made up of some of the top lenders and insurers in the industry. The paper is a first look at the MBA’s plans for ending the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises, with the full paper anticipated to come in April.

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February 2, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

February 1, 2017

Gorsuch and the CFPB

By David Reiss

photo provided byUnited States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Judge Gorsuch

Bankrate.com quoted me in Supreme Court Pick Could Spell Trouble for the CFPB. It opens,

President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court pick has been identified as the “most natural successor” to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he would replace.

Neil Gorsuch, 49, a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, is said to share many of Scalia’s beliefs and his judicial philosophy. That could tip the high court back toward the 5-4 conservative split it held during controversial cases prior to Scalia’s death, although Justice Anthony Kennedy will remain a liberal swing vote on certain social issues before the court.

Gorsuch’s big judicial decisions have favored religious freedom over government regulation and state’s rights over the power of the federal government.

But how might that impact consumers or their wallets directly?

“I think with a judge like Gorsuch, you can see there probably will be a tendency in that direction to dissuade innovation,” says David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School and the academic program director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship.

That could mean the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose unique management structure a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last fall called unconstitutional, could face an obstacle on the bench should the legal fight over its construction ever reach the Supreme Court.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote the majority opinion for the D.C. circuit panel, said because this independent agency is headed by a director whom the president cannot fire at will – and not, say, a set of commissioners like other agencies within the government – it is a threat to individual liberty.

“In short, when measured in terms of unilateral power, the director of the CFPB is the single most powerful official in the entire U.S. government, other than the president,” Kavanaugh wrote. “In essence, the director is the president of consumer finance.”

How Gorsuch May Rule

Supporters of the bureau are trying to get a hearing before the full U.S. Court of Appeals, but the issue could well wind up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court – that is if Congress doesn’t take action first.

Legal scholars say should Gorsuch win Senate confirmation he is unlikely to look favorably on the bureau’s structure.

Indeed, Gorsuch is likely to “echo the views of Judge Kavanaugh,” Melissa Malpass, senior legal editor for consumer regulatory finance at Thompson Reuters Practical Law, said in an email.

“Judge Gorsuch, through recent decisions, has expressed his disfavor with permitting government agencies to not only determine what the law is, but also to interpret and re-interpret the law as they see fit, often based on the political climate,” Malpass says.

If the Supreme Court were to uphold the Kavanaugh ruling, it “may, in effect, destroy the CFPB as we know it, and that will have an effect on consumers,” Reiss says.

Not everyone, though, thinks restructuring the CFPB as a commission-led agency like the Federal Communications Commission, for example, would be bad for consumers.

Gorsuch’s Path to the High Court

Democrats, still stung over the Senate’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland, then-President Barack Obama’s pick to succeed Scalia, could try to block Gorsuch’s nomination. Under current Senate rules, at least eight Democrats will need to cross the aisle to prevent a filibuster of the appointment.

Gorsuch, who was confirmed for his current post in 2006 by Senate voice vote, has won widespread acclaim in Republican circles. He also received a vote of confidence from a former Obama administration official.

“I think the Democrats are going to ask questions to determine if the nominee is outside what they call the political mainstream,” Reiss says. “We know this battle will be a brutal one, almost definitely because of the treatment of Merrick Garland’s nomination under the Obama administration.”

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February 1, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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February 1, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments