Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

February 8, 2016

GSE Reform, by Stealth?

By David Reiss

Photo By Greg Willis

The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has issued its January 2016 Housing Finance at a Glance Chartbook. It opens by noting,

The FHFA recently released its 2016 Scorecard for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with updated guidance for credit risk transfer transactions. A year ago, under the 2015 scorecard, the FHFA had required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to transfer credit risk on a fixed dollar amount of UPB [unpaid principal balance] – $150 billion for Fannie Mae and $120 billion for Freddie Mac. Both exceeded those targets (Fannie $187 billion and Freddie 210 billion). Additionally, the 2015 scorecard did not indicate how much credit risk should be transferred (expected or unexpected, or a specific numeric threshold for example), instead leaving it to the GSEs’ discretion.
But that changes in 2016. FHFA’s 2016 scorecard is a notable departure from 2015 in that it requires the GSEs to transfer credit risk on “at least 90 percent” of the newly acquired UPB (with exceptions for HARP refinances, mortgages with maturities 20 years and below and with loan-to-value ratios 60 percent and below). Another departure from 2015 is the added requirement to transfer a substantial portion of credit risk covering “most of the credit losses projected to occur during stressful economic scenarios.” In other words, GSEs are required to transfer nearly all credit risk on new production, except for what is catastrophic. These two requirements are highly noteworthy because over time they will put the GSEs (and hence the taxpayers) in a remote, catastrophic risk position, letting private capital bear vast majority of credit losses the vast majority of the time – a key objective of most housing finance reform proposals. (3)
I have been arguing for a long time that the private sector should bear the credit risk in the mortgage market, so I think this is a good thing in principle. The FHFA needs to ensure, of course, that the agencies are pricing the transfer of credit risk properly, but overall this is a step in the right direction. Not being privy to any conversations in the Beltway, I always wonder if things like this happen with some kind of bipartisan acquiescence, but I guess we won’t know until someone tells us what happened behind closed doors.
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