Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 26, 2013

FHFA: Critical Concerns Remain, Future Uncertain

By David Reiss

The FHFA issued its 2012 Report to Congress which provides a report of the annual examinations of Fannie, Freddie and the FHLBs. The report documents critical concerns about Fannie and Freddie, none of which are particularly newsworthy at this late date. But the report does have some intimations of what may lay ahead, which are particularly interesting now that the Senate has finally taken up GSE reform.

The report reviews the three goals set in 2012 for the ongoing conservatorship of Fannie and Freddie:

Build. Build a new infrastructure for the secondary mortgage market.
Contract. Gradually contract the Enterprises’ dominant presence in the marketplace while simplifying and shrinking their operations.
Maintain. Maintain foreclosure prevention activities and credit availability for new and refinanced mortgages. (1)

There are some interesting specifics attached to these general goals.

For the Build goal, FHFA has taken the position that there should be a new infrastructure for the secondary mortgage market that operates like a “market utility,” a model bandied about by Henry Paulson when he was Treasury Secretary. (13)

For the Contract goal, FHFA has indicated that it “will continue increasing guarantee fees in 2013  and evaluating how close current guarantee fee pricing is to the point where private capital would be willing to absorb credit risk.” 14)

For the Maintain goal, FHFA has taken the position that the mortgage market should transition to a more “competitive ” model, moving away from one in which “the government touches more than 9 out of every 10 mortgages.” (15)

While not surprising given Acting Director DeMarco’s past statements and actions, this report indicates that at least the FHFA believes that we should move away from such intense government involvement in the mortgage market to a system that better prices risk and which spreads that risk across a range of competitors. At such a high level of generality, I agree that these are worthwhile goals. But as with everything involving housing finance policy — the devil will be in the details.

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