Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

May 29, 2013

Risky Business Model for Homeowners?

By David Reiss

The Mortgage Bankers Association issued a report, Up-Front Risk Sharing: Ensuring Private Capital Delivers for Consumers, intended to increase the role of the private sector in the portion of the mortgage market currently dominated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The MBA argues that to “entice private capital into the mortgage market, FHFA should require the GSEs to offer risk sharing options to lenders at the “point of sale.” (1) The report notes that about “60 percent of new mortgage originations today are sold to the GSEs. This dynamic means that the GSEs’ credit pricing has effectively determined the cost of and access to credit for a wide majority of all new loans.” (5) The GSEs’ credit pricing is thus not set by the market.  The report continues, the GSEs

are now charging more than twice as much in guarantee fees as they did a few years ago, at the same time their acquisition profile shows they are taking on very little credit risk, even compared to pre-bubble credit standards. For example, average credit scores for GSE mortgage purchases prior to the crisis were about 720; today they are 760. Similarly, the weighted average LTV of loans outside of the HARP program are in the high 60% range, several percentage points lower than in the early 2000s. With this combination of high fees and ultra conservative underwriting, it is not surprising that the GSEs are seeing large, indeed record, profits — their revenues are up and their costs are down, not through their execution, but through government fiat and a privileged market position. (2)

Without quibbling with some of these characterizations, I would note that I have long taken the position that the private sector should bear more of the risk of credit loss in the residential mortgage market. As a result, I welcome proposals for them to do so.  This particular proposal also reduces the role of the GSEs which, while just a partial reduction, is another welcome development.  So, this proposal appears to be good for the mortgage industry (particularly private mortgage insurers).  It is also good for taxpayers because the private sector would be taking on credit risk from the federal government.

The question that remains is whether this is the right solution for homeowners.  The MBA says that this proposal will increase access to credit.  It would be helpful if the industry could model this claim.  The lending industry has its own cycle of credit loosening and tightening, so it would make sense to understand how such a cycle would impact homeowners if we moved toward such a system and moved away from the Fannie/Freddie duopoly.

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