Spreading Mortgage Credit Risk

photo by A Syn

The Federal Housing Finance Agency has released the Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer Progress Report. Important aspects of Fannie and Freddie’s future are described in this report. It opens,

Since 2012, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has set as a strategic objective that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac share credit risk with private investors. While the Enterprises have a longstanding practice of sharing credit risk on certain loans with primary mortgage insurers and other counterparties, the credit risk transfer transactions have taken further steps to share credit risk with private market participants. Since the Enterprises were placed in conservatorship in 2008, they have received financial support from the U.S. Department of the Treasury under the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs). The Enterprises’ credit risk transfer programs reduce the overall risk to taxpayers under these agreements.

These programs have made significant progress since they were launched in 2012 and credit risk transfer transactions are now a regular part of the Enterprises’ businesses. This progress is reflected in FHFA’s 2016 Scorecard for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Common Securitization Solutions (2016 Scorecard), which sets the expectation that the Enterprises will transfer risk on 90 percent of targeted single-family, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages. FHFA works with the Enterprises to ensure that credit risk transfer transactions are conducted in an economically sensible way that effectively transfers risk to private investors.

This Progress Report provides an overview of how the Enterprises share credit risk with the private sector, including through primary mortgage insurance and the Enterprises’ credit risk transfer programs. The discussion includes year-end 2015 data, a discussion of which Enterprise loan acquisitions are targeted for the credit risk transfer programs, and an overview of investor participation information. (1, footnotes omitted)

This push to share credit risk with private investors is a significant departure from the old Fannie/Freddie business model and it should do just what it promises: reduce taxpayer exposure to credit risk for the trillions of dollars of mortgages the two companies guarantee through their mortgage-backed securities. That being said, this is a relatively new initiative and the two companies (and the FHFA, as their conservator and regulator) have to navigate a lot of operational issues to ensure that this transfer of credit risk is priced appropriately.

There are also some important policy issues that have not been settled. The FHFA has asked for feedback on a series of issues in its Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer Request for Input, including,

  • how to “develop a deeper mortgage insurance structure” (RfI, 17)
  • how to develop credit risk transfer strategies that work for small lenders (RfI, 18)
  • how to price the fees that Fannie and Freddie charge to guarantee mortgage-backed securities (RfI, 19)

Congress has abdicated its responsibility to implement housing finance reform, so it is left up to the FHFA to make it happen. Indeed, the FHFA’s timeline has this process being finalized in 2018. The only way for the public to affect the course of reform is through the type of input the FHFA is now seeking:

FHFA invites interested parties to provide written input on the questions listed [within the Request for Input] 60 days of the publication of this document, no later than August 29, 2016. FHFA also invites additional input on the topics discussed in this document that are not directly responsive to these questions.

Input may be submitted electronically using this response form. You may also want to review the FHFA’s update on Implementation of the Single Security and the Common Securitization Platform and its credit risk transfer page as it has links to other relevant documents.

Tall Mortgage Tales

Todd Zywicki has posted The Behavioral Law and Economics of Fixed-Rate Mortgages (and Other Just-So Stories) to SSRN. The article contains

SPOILER ALERT!

a spoof, in order to make a larger point.

The abstract reads,

A major cause of the recent financial crisis was the traditional American mortgage, which is distinctive for the following features: it is a thirty-year, self-amortizing loan with an unlimited right to prepay. The United States is unique in the world for standardizing on a mortgage product with these features. Yet not only have a majority of the foreclosures that occurred during the financial crisis been fixed-rate mortgages, the fixed-interest-rate characteristics have undermined efforts by the Federal Reserve and government to assist recovery of the housing market. Moreover, the long fixed-rate term and ability to refinance are highly expensive and suboptimal features for many consumers. Nevertheless, many consumers persist in purchasing this mortgage. Drawing on the methodology of behavioral law and economics, this article provides rationalizations for how behavioral law and economics can explain the persistence of a product that is so harmful to many consumers and to the economy at large. The article then draws conclusions about what this analysis means for the behavioral law and economics research program generally and for the use of behavioral law and economics in government policymaking.

 I have a lot to say about this article but I don’t want to ruin it for you!  Suffice it to say, the article is a provocative critique of behavioral law and economics. Those of us who hope to see a healthy mortgage market develop would do well to take this critique seriously — even if you end up rejecting its broader implications.

Myths About Home Buying

I was quoted by MainStreet.com in Top 5 Myths About Home Buying Today.  It reads in part,

 

The fact is, buying a home today is absolutely, totally different from buying one in 2003. And right there is why so many myths swirl around a process that, in many ways, is utterly novel from what it has been. What was true isn’t anymore.

* * *

Myth 3: Fixed rate mortgages are the only way to go.

Not true, said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in real estate. He elaborated: “The necessity of getting a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is one of the biggest myths about homebuying. The average American household stays in their home for about seven years. Typically, 30-year fixed rate mortgages have higher interest rates than adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs). Homebuyers should take a hard look at their plans for the new home.”

Only 6.5% of applications for mortgages in a recent period were for ARMs, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. A typical ARM went out at 3.21% interest, versus 4.69% for a typical 30 year fixed rate. That adds up to a difference worth tens of thousands of dollars over, say, a seven year probable life of the loan.

Do the math.