The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has released its November 2017 Housing Finance at a Glance Chartbook. The Introduction looks out how this summer’s big storms have pushed up delinquency rates:
The Department of Housing and Urban Development released its Annual Report to Congress Regarding the Financial Status of the FHA Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. The MMIF fund is the FHA’s main vehicle for insuring mortgages. As we saw last week, FHA reverse mortgage (formally known as “Home Equity Conversion Mortgage” or “HECM”) portfolio is not doing so well. FHA standard (sometimes referred to as “forward”) mortgages are doing better, although their performance is also slipping.
The MMIF declined from its 2.35 percent FY 2016 Capital Ratio to 2.09 percent. This still exceeds its statutorily-required level of 2.00 percent. The Economic Net Worth of the MMIF was $25.6 billion while the MMIF Insurance-in-Force was approximately $1.23 trillion at the end of FY 2017. The decline was driven by the negative Economic Net Worth of the reverse mortgage portfolio, as the capital ratio for the forward mortgage portfolio on its own was 3.33%.
The report contains a multitude of useful tables and charts about the FHA’s mortgage portfolio. The FHA has an 18 percent share of the mortgage market, which is pretty high. (Table A-2) Indeed, it is in the same range of its market share during the financial crisis years (2008-2010). The FHA remains a strong force in the first-time homebuyer market, with an 82.2 percent share. (Table B-2)
The FHA’s objectives for FY 2018 are worth reviewing:
Play a Significant Role in Disaster Recovery. In the wake of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, and wildfires in California, in FY 2017 and the first part of FY 2018, FHA has played a significant role in relief and recovery efforts in affected areas, while taking immediate actions to protect its Single Family assets and financial exposure. (78)
Make Necessary Changes to the Home Equity Conversion Program (HECM). During FY 2017, FHA revised the HECM initial and annual Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIPs), and Principal Limit Factors (PLFs). These revisions were necessary to enable FHA to continue to endorse HECM loans in FY 2018, protect the program for seniors, and balance serving FHA’s mission with taxpayer protection. (79)
No less important than these objectives is the FHA’s second-to-last one, Technology Modernization:
FHA is working to update its systems over the coming years to allow the Agency to work more effectively with lenders participating in the program, while operating FHA with greater efficiency and control. The technology systems that support FHA’s Single Family business have an average age of more than 18 years, with the Computerized Homes Underwriting Management System (CHUMS) exceeding 40 years. Similarly, the systems supporting the servicing, default, claims and REO areas have an average age of 14 years. FHA’s systems have been maintained, modified and enhanced over the years, but it has become fundamentally difficult and exceedingly expensive to maintain systems beyond their usable life. FHA’s outdated systems make it more difficult to work with lenders and to collect and manage important data. FHA remains a largely paper-processing entity while the rest of the industry has increasingly migrated to digital processes. FHA needs systems that can capture and effectively process the extensive volumes of data now in use, with enhanced storage and processing capabilities to handle the migration from paper forms to digital ones. Additionally, FHA requires the ability to analyze and manage insured loans comprehensively over the many phases of the mortgage life cycle. (80)
When you stop and think about how bad the state of the FHA’s technology is, you think that maybe this should be their top priority.
The Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute issued its September 2017 Housing Finance At A Glance Chartbook. The introduction asks what the recent hurricanes tell us about GSE credit risk transfer. But it also has broader implications regarding the impact of climate-change related natural disasters on the mortgage market:
The GSEs’ capital markets risk transfer programs that began in 2013 have proven to be very successful in bringing in private capital, reducing the government’s role in the mortgage market and reducing taxpayer risk. Investor demand for Fannie Mae’s CAS and Freddie Mac’s STACR securities overall has been robust, in large part because of an improving economy and extremely low delinquency rates for loans underlying these securities.
Enter hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. These three storms have inflicted substantial damage to homes in the affected areas. Many of these homes have mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and many of these mortgages in turn are in the reference pools of mortgages underlying CAS and STACR securities. It is too early to know what the eventual losses might look like – that will depend on the extent of the damage, insurance coverage (including flood insurance), and the degree to which loss mitigation will succeed in minimizing borrower defaults and foreclosures.
Depending on how all of these factors eventually play out, investors in the riskiest tranches of CAS and STACR securities could witness marginally higher than expected losses. Up until Harvey, CRT markets had not experienced a real shock that threatened to affect the credit performance of underlying mortgages (except after Brexit, whose impact on the US mortgage market proved to be minimal). The arrival of these storms therefore in some ways is the first real test of the resiliency of credit risk transfer market.
It is also the first test for the GSEs in balancing the needs of borrowers with those of CRT investors. In some of the earlier fixed severity deals, investor losses were triggered when a loan went 180 days delinquent (i.e. experienced a credit event). Hence, forbearance of more than six months could trigger a credit event. Fannie Mae put out a press release that it would wait 20 months from the point at which disaster relief was granted before evaluating whether a loan in a CAS deal experienced a credit event. While most of Freddie’s STACR deals had language that dealt with this issue, a few of the very early deals did not; no changes were made to these deals. Both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have provided investors with an exposure assessment of the volume of affected loans in order to allow them to better estimate their risk exposure.
So how has the market responded so far? In the immediate aftermath of the first storm, spreads on CRT bonds generally widened by about 40 basis points, meaning investors demanded a higher rate of return. But thereafter, spreads have tightened by about 20 basis points, suggesting that many investors saw this as a good buying opportunity. This is precisely how capital markets are intended to work. If spreads had continued to widen substantially, that would have signaled a breakdown in investor confidence in future performance of these securities. The fact that that did not happen is an encouraging sign for the continued evolution of the credit risk transfer market.
To be clear, it is still very early to reasonably estimate what eventual investor losses will look like. As the process of damage assessment continues and more robust loss estimates come in, one can expect CAS/STACR pricing to fluctuate. But early pricing strongly indicates that investors’ underlying belief in these securities is largely intact. This matters because it tells the GSEs that the CRT market is resilient enough to withstand shocks and gives them confidence to further expand these offerings.