Nonbanks and The Next Crisis



Researchers at the Fed and UC Berkeley have posted Liquidity Crises in the Mortgage Markets. The authors conclusions are particularly troubling:

The nonbank mortgage sector has boomed in recent years. The combination of low interest rates, well-functioning GSE and Ginnie Mae securitization markets, and streamlined FHA and VA programs have created ample opportunities for nonbanks to generate revenue by refinancing mortgages. Commercial banks have been happy to supply warehouse lines of credit to nonbanks at favorable rates. Delinquency rates have been low, and so nonbanks have not needed to finance servicing advances.

In this paper, we ask “What happens next?” What happens if interest rates rise and nonbank revenue drops? What happens if commercial banks or other financial institutions lose their taste for extending credit to nonbanks? What happens if delinquency rates rise and servicers have to advance payments to investors—advances that, in the case of Ginnie Mae pools, the servicer cannot finance, and on which they might take a sizable capital loss?

We cannot provide reassuring answers to any of these questions. The typical nonbank has few resources with which to weather these shocks. Nonbanks with servicing portfolios concentrated in Ginnie Mae pools are exposed to a higher risk of borrower default and higher potential losses in the event of such a default, and yet, as far as we can tell from our limited data, have even less liquidity on hand than other nonbanks. Failure of these nonbanks in particular would have a disproportionate effect on lower-income and minority borrowers.

In the event of the failure of a nonbank, the government (through Ginnie Mae and the GSEs) will probably bear the majority of the increased credit and operational losses that will follow. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the government shared some mortgage credit losses with the banking system through putbacks and False Claims Act prosecutions. Now, however, the banks have largely retreated from lending to borrowers with lower credit scores and instead lend to nonbanks through warehouse lines of credit, which provide banks with numerous protections in the event of nonbank failure.

Although the monitoring of nonbanks on the part of the GSEs, Ginnie Mae, and the state regulators has increased substantially over the past few years, the prudential regulatory minimums, available data, and staff resources still seem somewhat lacking relative to the risks. Meanwhile, researchers and analysts without access to regulatory data have almost no way to assess the risks. In addition, although various regulators are engaged in micro-prudential supervision of individual nonbanks, less thought is being given, in the housing finance reform discussions and elsewhere, to the question of whether it is wise to concentrate so much risk in a sector with such little capacity to bear it, and a history, at least during the financial crisis, of going out of business. We write this paper with the hope of elevating this question in the national mortgage debate. (52-53)

As with last week’s paper on Mortgage Insurers and The Next Housing Crisis, this paper is a wake-up call to mortgage-market policymakers to pay attention to where the seeds of the next mortgage crisis may be hibernating, awaiting just the right conditions to sprout up.

Fannie & Freddie G-Fee Equilibrium


The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Division of Housing Mission & Goals has issued its report on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Single-Family Guarantee Fees in 2015. Guarantee fees (also known as g-fees) are another one of those incredibly technical subjects that actually have a major impact on the housing market. The g-fee is baked into the cost of the mortgage, so the higher the g-fee, the higher the mortgage’s Annual Percentage Rate. Consumer groups and housing trade associations have called upon the FHFA to lower the g-fee to make mortgage credit even cheaper that it is now. This report gives reason to think that the FHFA won’t do that.

The report provides some background on guarantee fees, for the uninitiated:

Guarantee fees are intended to cover the credit risk and other costs that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac incur when they acquire single-family loans from lenders. Loans are acquired through two methods. A lender may exchange a group of loans for a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac guaranteed mortgage-backed security (MBS), which may then be sold by the lender into the secondary market to recoup funds to make more loans to borrowers. Alternatively, a lender may deliver loans to an Enterprise in return for a cash payment. Larger lenders tend to exchange loans for MBS, while smaller lenders tend to sell loans for cash and these loans are later bundled by the Enterprises into MBS.

While the private holders of MBS assume market risk (the risk that the price of the security may fall due to changes in interest rates), the Enterprises assume the credit risk on the loans. The Enterprises charge a guarantee fee in exchange for providing this guarantee, which covers administrative costs, projected credit losses from borrower defaults over the life of the loans, and the cost of holding capital to protect against projected credit losses that could occur during stressful macroeconomic conditions. Investors are willing to pay a higher price for Enterprise MBS due to their guarantee of principal and interest. The higher value of the MBS leads to lower interest rates for borrowers.

There are two types of guarantee fees: ongoing and upfront. Ongoing fees are collected each month over the life of a loan. Upfront fees are one-time payments made by lenders upon loan delivery to an Enterprise. Fannie Mae refers to upfront fees as “loan level pricing adjustments,” while Freddie Mac refers to them as “delivery fees.” Both ongoing and upfront fees compensate the Enterprises for the costs of providing the guarantee. Ongoing fees are based primarily on the product type, such as a 30-year fixed rate or a 15-year fixed rate loan. Upfront fees are used to price for specific risk attributes such as the loan-to-value ratio (LTV) and credit score.

Ongoing fees are set by the Enterprises with lenders that exchange loans for MBS, while those fees are embedded in the price offered to lenders that sell loans for cash. In contrast to ongoing fees, the upfront fees are publicly posted on each Enterprise’s website. Upfront fees are paid by the lender at the time of loan delivery to an Enterprise, and those charges are typically rolled into a borrower’s interest rate in the same manner as ongoing fees.

Under the existing protocols of the Enterprises’ conservatorships, FHFA requires that each Enterprise seek FHFA approval for any proposed change in upfront fees. The upfront fees assessed by the two Enterprises generally are in alignment. (2-3)

The report finds that “The average single-family guarantee fee increased by two basis points in 2015 to 59 basis points. This stability is consistent with FHFA’s April 2015 determination that the fees adequately reflected the credit risk of new acquisitions after years of sharp fee increases. During the five year period from 2011 to 2015, fees had more than doubled from 26 basis points to 59 basis points.” (1)

At bottom, your position on the right g-fee level reflects your views about the appropriate role of the government in the housing finance market. If you favor lowering the g-fee, you want to further subsidize homeownership  through cheaper mortgage credit, but you risk a taxpayer bailout.

If you favor raising it, you want to to reduce the government’s footprint in the housing finance market, but you risk rationing credit to those who could use it responsibly.

From this report, it looks like today’s FHFA thinks that it has the balance between those two views in some kind of equilibrium.