How Tight Is The Credit Box?

Laurie Goodman of the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has posted a working paper, Quantifying the Tightness of Mortgage Credit and Assessing Policy Actions. The paper opens,

Mortgage credit has become very tight in the aftermath of the financial crisis. While experts generally agree that it is poor public policy to make loans to borrowers who cannot make their payments, failing to make mortgages to those who can make their payments has an opportunity cost, because historically homeownership has been the best way to build wealth. And, default is not binary: very few borrowers will default under all circumstances, and very few borrowers will never default. The decision where to draw the line—which mortgages to make—comes down to what probability of default we as a society are prepared to tolerate.

This paper first quantifies the tightness of mortgage credit in historical perspective. It then discusses one consequence of tight credit: fewer mortgage loans are being made. Then the paper evaluates the policy actions to loosen the credit box taken by the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) and their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as well as the policy actions taken by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), arguing that the GSEs have been much more successful than the FHA. The paper concludes with the argument that if we don’t solve mortgage credit availability issues, we will have a much lower percentage of homeowners because a larger share of potential new homebuyers will likely be Hispanic or nonwhite—groups that have had lower incomes, less wealth, and lower credit scores than whites. Because homeownership has traditionally been the best way for households to build wealth, the inability of these new potential homeowners to buy could increase economic inequality between whites and nonwhites. (1)

Goodman has been making the case for some time that the credit box is too tight. I would have liked to see a broader discussion in the paper of policies that could further loosen credit. What, for instance, could the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau do to encourage more lending? Should it be offering more of a safe harbor for lenders who are willing to make non-Qualified Mortgage loans? The private-label mortgage-backed securities sector has remained close to dead since the financial crisis.  Are there ways to bring some life — responsible life — back to that sector? Why aren’t portfolio lenders stepping into that space? What would they need to do so?

When the Qualified Mortgage rule was being hashed out, there was a debate as to whether there should be any non-Qualified Mortgages available to borrowers.  Some argued that every borrower should get a Qualified Mortgage, which has so many consumer protection provisions built into it. I was of the opinion that there should be a market for non-QM although the CFPB would need to monitor that sector closely. I stand by that position. The credit box is too tight and non-QM could help to loosen it up.

Mortgage Market Overview

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The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center issued its May 2016 Housing Finance at a Glance Chartbook. This monthly report is invaluable for those of us who follow the mortgage market closely. The mortgage market changes so quickly and so much that what one thinks is the case is often no longer the case a few months later. This month’s report has new features, including Housing Credit Availability Index and first-time homebuyer share charts. Here are some of the key findings of the May report:

  • The Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds report has consistently indicated an increasing total value of the housing market driven by growing household equity in each quarter of the past 2 years, and the trend continued according to the latest data, covering Q4 2015. Total debt and mortgages increased slightly to $9.99 trillion, while household equity increased to $13.19 trillion, bringing the total value of the housing market to $23.18 trillion. Agency MBS make up 58.2 percent of the total mortgage market, private-label securities make up 6.1 percent, and unsecuritized first liens at the GSEs, commercial banks, savings institutions, and credit unions make up 29.4 percent. Second liens comprise the remaining 6.4 percent of the total. (6)

It is worth wrapping your head around the size of this market. Total American wealth is about $88 trillion, so household equity of $13 trillion is about 15 percent of the total. With debt and mortgages at $10 trillion, the aggregate debt-to-equity ratio is nearly 45%.

  • As of March 2016, debt in the private-label securitization market totaled $613 billion and was split among prime (19.5 percent), Alt-A (42.2 percent), and subprime (38.3 percent) loans. (7)

This private-label securitization total is a pale shadow of the height of the market in 2007, back to the levels seen in 1999-2000. It is unclear when and how this market will recover — and the extent to which it should recover, given its past excesses

  • First lien originations in 2015 totaled approximately $1,735 billion. The share of portfolio originations was 30 percent, while the GSE share dropped to 46 percent from 47 in 2014, reflecting a small loss of market share to FHA due to the FHA premium cut. FHA/VA originations account for another 23 percent, and the private label originations account for 0.7 percent. (8)

The federal government, through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, is insuring 69 percent of originations. Hard for me to think this is good for the mortgage market in the long term. There is no reason that the private sector could not take on a bigger share of the market in a responsible way.

  • Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) accounted for as much as 27 percent of all new originations during the peak of the recent housing bubble in 2004 (top chart). They fell to a historic low of 1 percent in 2009, and then slowly grew to a high of 7.2 percent in May 2014. (9)

It is pretty extraordinary to see the extent to which ARMs change in popularity over time, although it makes a lot of sense. When interest rates are high and prices are high, more people prefer ARMs and when they are low they prefer FRMs.

  • Access to credit has become extremely tight, especially for borrowers with low FICO scores. The mean and median FICO scores on new originations have both drifted up about 40 and 42 points over the last decade. The 10th percentile of FICO scores, which represents the lower bound of creditworthiness needed to qualify for a mortgage, stood at 666 as of February 2016. Prior to the housing crisis, this threshold held steady in the low 600s. LTV levels at origination remain relatively high, averaging 85, which reflects the large number of FHA purchase originations. (14)

It is hard to pinpoint the right level of credit availability, particularly with reports of 1% down payment mortgage programs making the news recently. But it does seem like credit can be loosened some more without veering into bubble territory.

Hard to keep up with all of the changes in the mortgage market, but this chartbook sure does help.

The State of Mortgage Lending

AmericanBankersAssociation-1950

The American Bankers Association has issued its 23rd Annual ABA Residential Real Estate Survey Report for 2016. There is a lot to unpack in its findings. The key ones are

  • About 86 percent of loans originated by banks were QM [Qualified Mortgage] compliant compared to 90 percent in 2014, likely because more banks are adjusting underwriting criteria to target selected non-QM loan opportunities
  • Despite increased non-QM lending, approximately 72 percent of respondents expect the current ATR [Ability to Repay]/QM regulations will continue to reduce credit availability – down from nearly 80 percent in 2014
  • Relatedly, the percentage of banks restricting lending to QM segments dropped from 33 percent to 26 percent, and those providing targeted non-QM lending rose to 54 percent from 48 percent
  • High debt-to-income levels continue to be the most likely reason why a non-QM loan did not meet QM standards
  • The percentage of single family mortgage loans made to first time home buyers continues to climb to a new all-time high as it represented 15 percent of loans underwritten in 2015 – up from 13 percent in 2013 and 14 percent in 2014
  • Approximately half of the respondents state that regulations have a moderate negative impact on business, while nearly a quarter report the impact as extremely negative (4)

The most important finding is that banks are becoming more and more comfortable with non-QM loans. I had thought that this would happen more quickly than it has, but it now seems that the industry has become comfortable with the ATR/QM regs.

There are good non-QM loans — for good borrowers with quirky circumstances. And there are bad non-QM loans — for bad borrowers generally. As a result, the finding that “High debt-to-income levels continue to be the most likely reason why a non-QM loan did not meet QM standards” could cut both ways. There are some non-QM borrowers with high debt-to-income [DTI] ratios who are good credit risks.  Think of the doctor about to finish a residency and enter private practice. And there are some non-QM borrowers with high DTI who are bad credit risks. Think of the borrower with lots of student loan, credit card and auto debt. Unfortunately this survey does not provide any insight into what types of non-QM loans are being originated. That is a big limitation of this survey.

The finding that about “half of the respondents state that regulations have a moderate negative impact on business, while nearly a quarter report the impact as extremely negative” is also ambiguous. Is a negative impact a reduction in the number of loan originations? But what if those loans were likely to be unsustainable because of the high DTI ratios of bad borrowers? Is it so bad for the ATR/QM regulations to have kept those loans from having been made in the first place? I don’t think so. It is hard to tell what is meant by this survey question as well. Perhaps the ABA could tighten up its questions for next year’s survey.

Did Dodd-Frank Make Getting a Mortgage Harder?

Christopher Dodd

Christopher Dodd

Barney Frank

 

 

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The short answer is — No. The longer answer is — No, but . . .

Bing Bai, Laurie Goodman and Ellen Seidman of the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center have posted Has the QM Rule Made it Harder to Get a Mortgage? The QM rule was originally authorized by Dodd-Frank and was implemented in January of 2014, more than two years ago. The paper opens,

the qualified mortgage (QM) rule was designed to prevent borrowers from acquiring loans they cannot afford and to protect lenders from potential borrower litigation. Many worry that the rule has contributed to the well-documented reduction in mortgage credit availability, which has hit low-income and minority borrowers the hardest. To explore this concern, we recently updated our August 2014 analysis of the impact of the QM rule. Our analysis of the rule at the two-year mark again finds it has had little impact on the availability of mortgage credit. Though the share of mortgages under $100,000 has decreased, this change can be largely attributed to the sharp rise in home prices. (1, footnotes omitted)

The paper looks at “four potential indicators of the QM rule’s impact:”

  1.  Fewer interest-only and prepayment penalty loans: The QM rule disqualifies loans that are interest-only (IO) or have a prepayment penalty (PP), so a reduction in these loans might show QM impact.
  2. Fewer loans with debt-to-income ratios above 43 percent: The QM rule disqualifies loans with a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio above 43 percent, so a reduction in loans with DTIs above 43 percent might show QM impact.
  3. Reduced adjustable-rate mortgage share: The QM rule requires that an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) be underwritten to the maximum interest rate that could be charged during the loan’s first five years. Generally, this restriction should deter lenders, so a reduction in the ARM share might show QM impact.
  4. Fewer small loans: The QM rule’s 3 percent limit on points and fees could discourage lenders from making smaller loans, so a reduction in smaller loans might show QM impact. (1-2)

The authors find no impact on on interest only loans or prepayment penalty loans; loans with debt-to-income ratios greater than 43 percent; or adjustable rate mortgages.

While these findings seem to make sense, it is important to note that the report uses 2013 as its baseline for mortgage market conditions. The report does acknowledge that credit availability was tight in 2013, but it implies that 2013 is the appropriate baseline from which to evaluate the QM rule. I am not so sure that this right — I would love to see some modeling that shows the impact of the QM rule under various credit availability scenarios, not just the particularly tight credit box of 2013.

To be clear, I agree with the paper’s policy takeaway — the QM rule can help prevent “risky lending practices that could cause another downturn.” (8) But we should be making these policy decisions with the best possible information.

Feds Financing Multifamily

Brett VA

The Congressional Budget Office has released The Federal Role in the Financing of Multifamily Rental Properties. The report opens,

Multifamily properties—those with five or more units— provide shelter for approximately one-third of the more than 100 million renters in the United States and account for about 14 percent of all housing units. Mortgages carrying an actual or implied federal guarantee have been an important source of financing for acquiring, developing, and rehabilitating multifamily properties, particularly after the collapse in house prices and credit availability that accompanied the 2008–2009 recession. According to the Federal Reserve, the share of outstanding multifamily mortgages carrying such a guarantee increased by 10 percentage points, from 33 percent at the beginning of 2005 to 43 percent at the end of the third quarter of 2014. (A slightly larger increase of about 16 percentage points occurred in the federal government’s market share of the much larger single-family market.) Such guarantees are made by a variety of entities, and some policymakers are looking for ways to make the federal government’s involvement more effective. Other policymakers have expressed concern about that expanded federal role and are looking at ways to reduce it. (1)

This debate is, of course, key to housing policy more generally: to what extent should the government be involved in the provision of credit in that sector?

This report does a nice job of summarizing the state of the multifamily housing sector, particularly since the financial crisis. It provides an overview of federal mortgage guarantees for multifamily projects and reviews the choices that Congress faces when it decides to determine Fannie and Freddie’s fate. That is, should we have a federal agency guarantee multifamily mortgages; take a hybrid public/private approach; authorize a federal guarantor of last resort; or take a largely private approach?

We should start by asking if there is a market failure in the housing finance sector and then ask how the government should intercede to correct that market failure. My own sense is that we intercede too much and we should move toward a federal guarantor of last resort with additional support for the low- and moderate-income subsector of the market.

 

 

 

The End of Private-Label Securities?

Steve Jurvetson

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase

J.P. Morgan’s Securitized Products Weekly has a report, Proposed FRTB Ruling Endangers ABS, CMBS and Non-Agency RMBS Markets. This is one of those technical studies that have a lot of real world relevance to those of us concerned about the housing markets more generally.

The report analyzes proposed capital rules contained in the Fundamental Review of the Trading Book (FRTB). JPMorgan believes that these proposed rules would make the secondary trading in residential mortgage-backed securities unprofitable. It also believes that “there is no sector that escapes unscathed; capital will rise dramatically across all securitized product sectors, except agency MBS.” (1) It concludes that “[u]ltimately, in its current form, the FRTB would damage the availability of credit to consumers, reduce lending activity in the form of commercial mortgage and set back private securitization, entrenching the GSEs as the primary securitization vehicle in the residential mortgage market.” (1)

JPMorgan finds that the the impact of these proposed regulations on non-agency residential-mortgage backed securities (jumbos and otherwise) “is so onerous that we wonder if this was the actual intent of the regulators.” Without getting too technical, the authors thought “that the regulators simply had a mathematical mistake in their calculation (and were off by a factor of 100, but unfortunately this is what was intended.” (4) Because these capital rules “would make it highly unattractive for dealers to hold inventory in non-agency securities,” JPMorgan believes that they threaten the entire non-agency RMBS market. (5)

The report concludes with a policy takeaway:

Policymakers have at various times advocated for GSE reform in which the private sector (and private capital) would play a larger role. However, with such high capital requirements under the proposal — compared with capital advantages for GSE securities and a negligible amount of capital for the GSEs themselves — we believe this proposal would significantly set back private securitization, entrenching the GSEs as the primary securitization vehicle in the mortgage market. (5, emphasis removed)

I am not aware if JPMorgan’s concerns are broadly held, so it would important to hear others weigh in on this topic.

If the proposed rule is adopted, it is likely not to be implemented for a few years.  As a result, there is plenty of time to get the right balance between safety and soundness on the one hand and credit availability on the other. While the private-label sector has been a source of trouble in the past, particularly during the subprime boom, it is not in the public interest to put an end to it:  it has provided capital to the jumbo sector and provides much needed competition to Fannie, Freddie and Ginnie.

Optimizing Mortgage Availability

"Barack Obama speaks to press in Diplomatic Reception Room 2-25-09" by Pete Souza - http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/02/25/Overhaul/. Licensed via ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_speaks_to_press_in_Diplomatic_Reception_Room_2-25-09.jpg#/media/File:Barack_Obama_speaks_to_press_in_Diplomatic_Reception_Room_2-25-09.jpg

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report, Mortgage Reforms: Actions Needed to Help Assess Effects of New Regulations. The GAO did this study to predict the effects of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) and Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) regulations. The GAO found

Federal agency officials, market participants, and observers estimated that the qualified mortgage (QM) and qualified residential mortgage (QRM) regulations would have limited initial effects because most loans originated in recent years largely conformed with QM criteria.

  • The QM regulations, which address lenders’ responsibilities to determine a borrower’s ability to repay a loan, set forth standards that include prohibitions on risky loan features (such as interest-only or balloon payments) and limits on points and fees. Lenders that originate QM loans receive certain liability protections.
  • Securities collateralized exclusively by residential mortgages that are “qualified residential mortgages” are exempt from risk-retention requirements. The QRM regulations align the QRM definition with QM; thus, securities collateralized solely by QM loans are not subject to risk-retention requirements.

The analyses GAO reviewed estimated limited effects on the availability of mortgages for most borrowers and that any cost increases (for borrowers, lenders, and investors) would mostly stem from litigation and compliance issues. According to agency officials and observers, the QRM regulations were unlikely to have a significant initial effect on the availability or securitization of mortgages in the current market, largely because the majority of loans originated were expected to be QM loans. However, questions remain about the size and viability of the secondary market for non-QRM-backed securities.

This last bit — questions about the non-QRM-backed market — is very important.

Some consumer advocates believe that there should not be any non-QRM mortgages. I disagree. There should be some sort of market for mortgages that do not comply with the strict (and, in the main, beneficial) QRM limitations.

Some homeowners will not be eligible for a plain vanilla QM/QRM mortgage but could still handle a mortgage responsibly. The mortgage markets would not be healthy without some kind of non-QRM-backed securities market for those consumers.

So far, that non-QRM market has been very small, smaller than expected. Regulators should continue to study the effects of the new mortgage regulations to ensure that they incentivize making the socially optimal amount of non-QRM mortgage credit available to homeowners.