The Housing Market Under Trump

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TheStreet.com quoted me in Interest Rates Likely to Rise Under Trump, Could Affect Confidence of Homebuyers. It opens,

Interest rates should increase gradually during the next four years under a Donald Trump administration, which could dampen growth in the housing industry, economists and housing experts predict.

The 10-year Treasury rose over the 2% threshold on Wednesday for the first time in several months, driving mortgage rates higher with the 30-year conventional rate rising to 3.73% according to Bankrate.com. Mortgage pricing is tied to the 10-year Treasury.

Housing demand will remain flat with a rise in interest rates as many first-time homebuyers will be saddled with more debt, said Peter Nigro, a finance professor at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I.

“With first-time homebuyers more in debt due to student loans, I don’t expect much growth in home purchasing,” he said.

Interest rates will also be affected by the size of the fiscal stimulus since additional infrastructure spending and associated debt “could push interest rates up through the issuance of more government debt,” Nigro said.

Even if interest rates spike in the next year, banks will not benefit, because there is a lack of demand, said Peter Borish, chief strategist with Quad Group, a New York-based financial firm. The economy is slowing down, and consumers have already borrowed money at very “cheap” interest rates, he said.

The policies set forth by a Trump administration will lead to contractionary results and will not spur additional growth in the housing market.

“I prefer to listen to the markets,” Borish said. “This will put downward pressure on the prices in the market. Everyone complained about Dodd-Frank, but why is JPMorgan Chase’s stock at all time highs?”

An interest rate increase could still occur in December, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. With nearly five weeks before the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the market can contemplate the potential outcomes.

“While the market is now indicating a reduced probability of a short-term rate hike at that meeting, the Fed has repeatedly indicated that they would be data-driven in their decision,” he said in a written statement. “If the markets calm down and November employment data look solid on December 2, a rate hike could still happen. The market moves yesterday are already indicating that financial markets are pondering that the Trump effect could be positive for the economy.

“The Fed is likely to start increasing the federal funds rate at a “much faster pace starting next year,” said K.C. Sanjay, chief economist for Axiometrics, a Dallas-based apartment market and student housing research firm. “This will cause single-family mortgage rates to increase slightly, however they will remain well below the long-term average.”

Since Trump has remained mum on many topics, including housing, predicting a short-term outlook is challenging. One key factor is the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who are the main players in the mortgage market, because they own or guarantee over $4 trillion in mortgages, remain in conservatorship and “play a critical role in keeping mortgage rates down through the now explicit subsidy or government backing which allows them to raise funds more cheaply,” Nigro said.

It is unlikely any changes will occur with them, because “Trump has not articulated a plan to deal with them and coming up with a plan to deal with these giants is unlikely,” he said.

Trump could attempt to take on government sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist for Trulia, a San Francisco-based real estate website.

“If he does, it’s going to be a hairy endeavor for him, because he’ll need bipartisan support to do so,” he said.

Since he has alluded to ending government conservatorship and allowing government sponsored enterprises to “recapitalize by allowing retention of their own profits instead of passing them on to the Treasury,” the result is that banks could have their liquidity and lending activity increase, which could help boost demand for homes, McLaughlin said.

“We caution President-elect Trump that he would also need to simultaneously help address housing supply, which has been at a low point over the past few years,” he said. “The difficulty for him is that most of the impediments to new housing supply rest and the state and local levels, not the federal.”

Even on Trump’s campaign website, there is “next to nothing” about his ideas on housing, said David Reiss, a law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in New York. The platform of the Republican Party and Vice President-elect Mike Pence could mean that the federal government will have a smaller footprint in the mortgage market.

“There will be a reduction in the federal government’s guaranty of mortgages, and this will likely increase the interest rates charged on mortgages, but will reduce the likelihood of taxpayer bailouts,” he said. “Fannie and Freddie will likely have fewer ties to the federal government and the FHA is likely to be limited to the lower end of the mortgage market.”

Foreclosure Review

The US Government Accountability Office issued a report, Foreclosure Review:  Regulators Could Strengthen Oversight and Improve Transparency of the Process. GAO did this study because it was asked to examine the amended consent order process relating to foreclosures. This process was pretty controversial. By way of background,

In 2011 and 2012, OCC and the Federal Reserve signed consent orders with 16 mortgage servicers that required the servicers to hire consultants to review foreclosure files for errors and remediate harm to borrowers. In 2013, regulators amended the consent orders for all but one servicer, ending the file reviews and requiring servicers to provide $3.9 billion in cash payments to about 4.4 million borrowers and $6 billion in foreclosure prevention actions, such as loan modifications. One servicer continued file review activities. (no page number)

GAO concluded that

One of the goals that motivated the original file review process was a desire to restore public confidence in the mortgage market. In addition, federal internal control standards and our prior work highlight the importance of providing relevant, reliable, and timely communications, including providing information about the processes used to realize results, to increase the transparency of activities to stakeholders — in this case, borrowers and the public. Without making information about the processes used to categorize borrowers available to the public, such as through forthcoming public reports, regulators may miss a final opportunity to address questions and concerns about the categorization process and increase confidence in the results. (66)

GAO also found that in “the absence of specific expectations for evaluating and testing servicers’ actions to meet the foreclosure prevention principles, regulators risk not having enough information to determine whether servicers are implementing the principles and protecting borrowers.” (66)

So we are left with an ongoing crisis in confidence for the public and homeowners in particular. We are also left with regulators who are at risk of not being able to properly regulate financial institutions. With much of the news we are receiving these days, it feels as if we have let our financial crisis go to waste. No foreclosure reform, no housing finance reform, no real leadership to create a housing finance system for the 21st Century.

During the Great Depression, the federal government created the Federal Home Loan Bank System, the Federal Housing Administration, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. We have created a black hole — Fannie and Freddie are in that limbo known as conservatorship. The President must take a lead on housing finance reform. Otherwise, my money is on another bailout in the not so distant future.