Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

August 14, 2014

Housing Finance Abhors A Vacuum

By David Reiss

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) released their comment letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s request for input relating to the role of the Fannie and Freddie guarantee fee (g-fee) in the housing finance market. While clearly reflecting the concerns of SIFMA’s members, the letter provides a thoughtful take on the complexities of the housing finance system. SIFMA writes,

Policymakers should not assume that increases in g-fees alone will lead to a significant increase in PLS issuance. Specific decisions on best execution for a given loan vary depending on the terms of the loan being originated. In some instances, a portfolio purchase may offer best execution, and in other instances the GSEs, private label MBS (PLS) or FHA may be optimal. Taken wholly in isolation, we do agree that increases in guarantee fees should cause originators to look toward other avenues to fund loans – in their portfolios, FHA, or in PLS. However, it is not so simple that an across the board increase in guarantee fees will result in a corresponding uptick in private-label securitization. To the extent GSE securitization becomes more expensive for issuers, PLS are one of a number of options, and not necessarily the most attractive in all instances. Today bank portfolios offer a more attractive funding alternative to the GSEs than PLS for most institutions. Of course, the appetite of banks for loans held in portfolio will vary with economic and regulatory conditions, and cannot always be assumed to comprise a certain percentage of the market.

There are also a number of reasons that increases to g-fees will not directly lead to increased PLS issuances that are not precisely quantifiable or directly related to cost. PLS issuers and investors face uncertainty as to the future shape of the mortgage market and questions related to compliance with the future regulatory regime. The re-regulation of the mortgage and securitization markets is not complete, and a number of consequential rulemakings are incomplete. These include but are not limited to risk retention and proposed revisions to the SEC’s Regulation AB. The final form of the definition of QRM and the rest of the risk retention rules will directly impact the economics of securitization. Regulation AB will impact the offering process, disclosure practices, and require fairly massive infrastructure adaptation at many RMBS issuers and sponsors. Of course, given that final rules are not available for any of these items, issuers and sponsors cannot begin this work. In this environment of uncertainty, it is difficult and indeed may be unwise for issuers or investors to expend resources to develop long-term issuing and investment platforms.

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For these reasons, we do not believe FHFA or other policymakers should look at increases to GSE g-fees in a vacuum, and must consider them within the broader context of mortgage finance conditions. (6-7, footnotes omitted)

SIFMA is right to emphasize the regulatory uncertainty that its members face.  The federal government has not done enough to address this.  Housing finance, like nature, abhors a vacuum.  More on this tomorrow.


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