REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

November 8, 2016

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • The Massachusetts legislature is aware of the need for more affordable housing. As a result, the Baker administration awarded 3.4 million for more affordable housing in the Boston area.

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November 8, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 7, 2016

Miami Vice?

By David Reiss

by Roberlan Borges

REFinBlog has been nominated for the second year in a row for The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Competition in the Education Category.  Please vote here if you like what you read.

The BNA Banking Report quoted me in BofA, Wells Fargo Try to Squelch High-Risk City Bias Suits (behind a paywall). It opens,

Bank of America and Wells Fargo are hoping an Election-Day U.S. Supreme Court argument will help them sidestep allegations of biased lending practices and the massive liability that could follow (Bank of Am. Corp. v. Miami, U.S., No. 15-cv-01111, argument scheduled 11/8/16).

At issue is a 2015 federal appeals court ruling that reinstated a Fair Housing Act lawsuit by the city of Miami. The suit said Bank of America and Wells Fargo made discriminatory home loans that spurred widespread foreclosures while driving tax revenues down and city expenditures skyward.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Nov. 8, with a focus on two questions – whether Miami has the right to assert such claims, and whether it can establish the critical “causal link” by tracing its problems to actions by the banks.

The case is high on the “must-watch” list of banks and consumer advocates. The court’s decision will affect a series of separate lawsuits against Bank of America and Wells Fargo by other cities that are now on hold and awaiting a decision in this case, as well as lawsuits against JPMorgan, Citigroup, and HSBC.

“There are suits all over the country raising these issues,” said Karen McDonald Henning, associate professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. “The potential exposure to banks could be enormous.”

The case also could clarify how the law is applied to address societal wrongs, Henning added in an assessment echoed by Mehrsa Baradaran, associate professor of law at the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens, Ga.

“This could really give the Fair Housing Act some teeth to do away with problems it was meant to remedy,” she said.

Fair Housing Act

According to Miami, Bank of America and Wells Fargo violated the Fair Housing Act in two ways. The city said the banks intentionally discriminated against minority borrowers by targeting them for loans with burdensome terms.

Miami also said the banks’ practices had a disparate impact on minority borrowers that resulted in a disproportionate number of foreclosures and exploitive loans in minority neighborhoods.

Bank of America did not immediately respond to a request for comment ahead of the argument. Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Goyda declined to comment.

Both banks have consistently defended their lending practices, citing efforts to boost community development and trying in some cases to take what Wells Fargo has called “a collaborative approach” when it comes to disputes.

But both banks say the lawsuits are off-base as a matter of law. In its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court in June, Bank of America said the plaintiffs are making demands “based on a multi-step theory of causation that would have made Rube Goldberg proud.”

Risk Goes Local

Even so, if Miami’s suit is allowed to go forward, it could expose global financial institutions to liability from local governments across the nation, said Professor David Reiss of Brooklyn Law School in New York.

That’s new, he said. Although the federal government and state attorneys general have reached multi-billion settlements with banks in the wake of the financial crisis, local governments haven’t had much of a role in those battles, Reiss told Bloomberg BNA.

But if Miami’s suit goes ahead, mortgage lenders could face significant litigation costs and monetary judgments under new theories of liability. “These new theories are independent of the theories relied upon by the federal government and the states and could therefore expand the overall liability of financial institutions from the same underlying set of facts,” Reiss said.

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November 7, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Jamila Moore

 

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November 7, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 4, 2016

The Jumbo/Conforming Spread

By David Reiss

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Standard & Poor’s issued a research report, What Drives the Variation Between Conforming and Jumbo Mortgage Rates? It opens,

What drives the variation between the conforming and jumbo mortgage rates for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) product offered in the U.S. residential housing market? While credit and interest rate risk are the main factors at play, S&P Global Ratings explores how these risks relate to capital market execution and whether this relationship translates into additional liquidity risk. In our study, we compare the historical spreads between the two average note rates over time, and we also examine the impact of certain loan credit characteristics. Our data indicate that the rate difference grows in periods for which the opportunity for securitization declines as a viable exit strategy for lenders. (1)

My main takeaways from the report are that (1) the decrease in securitization since the financial crisis has contributed to a wider spread between jumbo and conforming mortgages; (2) the high guaranty fee for conforming mortgages pushes down the spread between jumbo and conforming mortgages; and (3) the credit box appears to be loosening a bit, which should mean that jumbos will become available to more than the “super-prime” slice of the market.

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November 4, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • A paper by Colin Caines of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, titled Can Learning Explain Boom-Bust Cycles in Asset Prices? An Application to the US Housing Boom, argues that boom-bust behavior in asset prices can be explained by a model in which boundedly rational agents learn the process for prices. The key feature of the model is that learning operates in both the demand for assets and the supply of credit.
  • John C. Williams of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco delivers a speech titled, Measuring the Effects of Monetary Policy on House Prices and the Economy.
  • The Freddie Mac Multi-Indicator Market Index for August was up 5.4% over the same month last year, driven by its purchase component, which had an 18.6% increase. August’s Multi-Indicator Market Index was 85.7, its highest level since August 2008. This was a 1.05% increase over July. The index has continually increased on a month-to-month basis since December 2011, except for October 2013 and January 2015.
  • Purchases of new U.S. homes in September stayed close to an almost nine-year high, showing residential real estate was maintaining momentum heading into the quieter selling season. Sales climbed 3.1 percent to a 593,000 annualized rate from an August pace that was weaker than initially reported, Commerce Department data showed Wednesday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 600,000 pace in September. Purchases in June and July were revised lower.

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November 4, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 3, 2016

Will Congress Recap and Release Fannie & Freddie?

By David Reiss

Senator Shelby

Senator Shelby

Richard Shelby, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs asked the Congressional Budget Office to prepare a report on The Effects of Increasing Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s Capital. The report acknowledges that the legislative reform of the two companies is going nowhere, but it analyzed one potential reform option that shares characteristics with some of the GSE reform bills that have been introduced over the years. The option studied by the CBO contemplates recapitalizing the two companies along the following lines:

each GSE would be allowed to retain an average of $5 billion of its profits annually and would thus increase its capital by up to $50 billion over 10 years. The government’s commitment to purchase more senior preferred stock from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if necessary to ensure that they maintain a positive net worth would remain in place. In addition, the GSEs would invest the profits that they retained under the option in Treasury securities, and returns on those securities would raise the GSEs’ income. Through its holdings of senior preferred stock, the government would continue to have a claim to the GSEs’ net worth ahead of other stockholders. (2, footnote omitted)

The CBO’s mandate is “to provide objective, impartial analysis,” but this report seems like it is laying the groundwork for a proposal to recapitalize Fannie and Freddie so that they can be released from conservatorship. Most policy analysts (as opposed to investors in the two companies) think that allowing the two companies to return to their prior lives as public/private hybrids is a terrible idea. It is too difficult for them to simultaneously answer to the federal regulators who set their public mission as well as to the private shareholders who would ultimately own them. And, if we were to take this path, the taxpayer would be left holding the bag once again if they were to ever need another bailout.

I think that Senator Shelby has done GSE reform a disservice by looking at this recapitalization option out of context. What we need is an analysis of a compromise plan that Congress can pass once the election is settled. Otherwise we are just leaving the two companies to limp along in conservatorship, slouching toward their next, yet unknown, crisis. Or worse, we are preparing to release them from conservatorship to go back to business as usual. Both of those options are very bad. Congress owes it to the American people to create a workable housing finance system for the 21st century that does not repeat our past mistakes.

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November 3, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments