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.

Ghost of A Crisis Past

photo by Chandres

The Royal Bank of Scotland settled an investigation brought by New York Attorney General Schneiderman arising from mortgage-backed securities it issued in the run up to the financial crisis. RBS will pay a half a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money even in the context of the settlements that the federal government had wrangled from financial institutions in the aftermath to the financial crisis. The Settlement Agreement includes a Statement of Facts which RBS has acknowledged. Many settlement agreements do not include such a statement, leaving the dollar amount of the settlement to do all of the talking. We are lucky to see what facts exactly RBS is “acknowledging.”

The Statement of Facts found that assertions in the offering documents for the MBS were inaccurate and the securities have lost billions of dollars in collateral. These losses led to “shortfalls in principal and interest payments, as well as declines in the market value of their certificates.” (Appendix A at 2)

The Statement of Facts outlines just how RBS deviated from the statements it made in the offering documents:

RBS’s Representations to Investors

11. The Offering Documents for the Securitizations included, in varying forms, statements that the mortgage loans were “originated generally in accordance with” the originator’s underwriting guidelines, and that exceptions would be made on a “case-by-case basis…where compensating factors exist.” The Offering Documents further stated that such exceptions would be made “from time to time and in the ordinary course of business,” and disclosed that “[l]oans originated with exceptions may result in a higher number of delinquencies and loss severities than loans originated in strict compliance with the designated underwriting guidelines.”

12. The Offering Documents often contained statements, in varying forms, with respect to stated-income loans, that “the stated income is reasonable for the borrower’s employment and that the stated assets are consistent with the borrower’s income.”

13. The Offering Documents further contained statements, in varying forms, that each mortgage loan was originated “in compliance with applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations.”

14. The Offering Documents also included statements regarding the valuation of the mortgaged properties and the resulting loan-to-value (“LTV”) ratios, such as the weighted-average LTV and maximum LTV at origination of the securitized loans.

15. In addition, the Offering Documents typically stated that loans acquired by RBS for securitization were “subject to due diligence,” often described as including a “thorough credit and compliance review with loan level testing,” and stated that “the depositor will not include any loan in a trust fund if anything has come to the depositor’s attention that would cause it to believe that the representations and warranties of the related seller regarding that loan will not be accurate and complete in all material respects….”

The Actual Quality of the Mortgage Loans in the Securitizations

16. At times, RBS’s credit and compliance diligence vendors identified a number of loans as diligence exceptions because, in their view, they did not comply with underwriting guidelines and lacked adequate compensating factors or did not comply with applicable laws and regulations. Loans were also identified as diligence exceptions because of missing documents or other curable issues, or because of additional criteria specified by RBS for the review. In some instances, RBS disagreed with the vendor’s view. Certain of these loans were included in the Securitizations.

17. Additionally, some valuation diligence reports reflected variances between the appraised value of the mortgaged properties and the values obtained through other measures, such as automated valuation models (“AVMs”), broker-price opinions (“BPOs”), and drive-by reviews. In some instances, the LTVs calculated using AVM or BPO valuations exceeded the maximum LTV stated in the Offering Documents, which was calculated using the lower of the appraised value or the purchase price. Certain of these loans were included in the Securitizations.

18. RBS often purchased and securitized loans that were not part of the diligence sample without additional loan-file review. The Offering Documents did not include a description of the diligence reports prepared by RBS’s vendors, and did not state the size of the diligence sample or the number of loans with diligence exceptions or valuation variances identified during their reviews.

19. At times, RBS agreed with originators to limit the number of loan files it could review during its due diligence. Although RBS typically reserved the right to request additional loan-level diligence or not complete the loan purchase, in practice it rarely did so. These agreements with originators were not disclosed in the Offering Documents.

20. Finally, RBS performed post-securitization reviews of certain loans that defaulted shortly after securitization. These reviews identified a number of loans that appeared to breach the representations and warranties contained in the Offering Documents. Based on these reviews, RBS in some instances requested that the loan seller or loan originator repurchase certain loans. (Appendix A at 4-5)

Some of these inaccuracies are just straight-out misrepresentations, so they would not have been caught at the time by regulators, even if regulators had been looking. And that’s why, ten years later, we are still seeing financial crisis lawsuits being resolved.

It is not clear that these types of problems can be kept from infiltrating the capital market once greed overcomes fear over the course of the business cycle. That’s why it is important for individual actors to suffer consequences when they allow greed to take the driver’s seat. We still have not figured out how to effectively address tho individual actions that result in systemic harm.

The Mortgage Servicing Collaborative

The Urban institute’s Laurie Goodman et al. have announced The Mortgage Servicing Collaborative:

All mortgage market participants share the same goal: successful homeownership. Failure to achieve that goal hurts not only consumers and neighborhoods, but investors, insurers, guarantors, and servicers. Successful homeownership hinges on several factors. Consumers need access to a range of mortgage products when buying a home and need effective mortgage servicing. Servicing is the critical work that begins after the mortgage loan is closed and includes collecting and transferring mortgage payments from borrowers to investors, managing escrow, assisting borrowers who fall behind on their payments, and administering the foreclosure process. If closing the loan is the birth of the mortgage, servicing is its day-to-day care.

Despite its importance, mortgage servicing is frequently overlooked in major policy conversations, including the housing finance reform debate. That is a mistake. The servicing industry has changed dramatically since the 2008 mortgage default and foreclosure crisis and subsequent Great Recession. Overlooking servicing while implementing changes to the housing finance system has resulted in some unintended and unwanted consequences, including significant increases in the cost of servicing, a suboptimal servicing system, reduced access to credit for consumers, and an exodus from the industry by depository servicers.

To address this policy oversight, the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center (HFPC) has convened the Mortgage Servicing Collaborative (MSC) to elevate the mortgage servicing discussion and facilitate evidence-based policymaking by bringing more data and evidence to the table. The MSC has convened key industry stakeholders—lenders, servicers, consumer groups, civil rights leaders, researchers, and government—and tasked them with developing a common understanding of the biggest issues in mortgage servicing, their implications, and possible solutions and policy options that can advance the debate. And with the mortgage industry no longer operating in crisis mode, we believe now is the right time for this effort.

In this brief, the first in a series prepared by HFPC researchers with the collaboration of the MSC, we review how we arrived at the present state of affairs in mortgage servicing and explain why it is important to institute mortgage servicing reforms now. (1-2, footnote omitted)

The report provides a short but useful history of servicing, which at the best of times is a dark corner of the mortgage market. It also provides an overview of the risks inherent in a poorly constructed system of servicing for consumers and other players in that market. The Collaborative will certainly be taking deeper dives into these risks in future releases.

As with much of the Housing Finance Policy Center’s work, this collaborative is very forward-looking. Hopefully, it will help us prepare for the next downturn in the housing market.

FHFA’s Strategic Plan for Fannie and Freddie

The Federal Housing Finance Agency released its Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2018-2022 for public input. As discussed in yesterday’s post, Director Watt is very focused on maintaining the health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Strategic Plan reiterates that focus:

As conservator of the Enterprises, FHFA will also promote stability by working to preserve and conserve the Enterprises’ assets and business operations. Additionally, FHFA will encourage the Enterprises and the housing industry to adopt standards and practices that promote market and stakeholder confidence. (8)

The Plan goes into depth to describe the FHFA’s role as conservator:

The Enterprises were placed into conservatorships in September 2008 in the midst of a severe financial crisis. Their ongoing participation in the housing finance market has been an important factor in maintaining market liquidity and stability. Conservatorship permitted the U.S. Government to take greater control over management of the Enterprises and gave investors in the Enterprises’ debt and MBS confidence that the Enterprises would have the capacity to honor their financial obligations. As conservator, FHFA establishes restrictions and expectations for the Enterprises’ boards and for their managements while authorizing them to conduct the Enterprises’ day-to-day operations.

As detailed earlier, FHFA’s authority as both regulator and conservator of the Enterprises is based upon statutory mandates. FHFA, acting as regulator and conservator, must follow the mandates assigned to it by statute and the missions assigned to the Enterprises by their charters. Congress may choose to revise the statutory mandates governing the Enterprises at any time.

*      *     *

The Enterprises are also parties to PSPAs with the Treasury Department. Under the PSPAs, the Enterprises are provided U.S. taxpayer backing with explicit dollar limits. The PSPA commitment still available to Fannie Mae is $117.6 billion and the commitment still available to Freddie Mac is $140.5 billion. Additional draws would reduce these commitments, and dividend payments do not replenish or increase the commitments under the terms of the PSPAs. Starting in 2013, the PSPAs provided each Enterprise with a capital buffer of $3 billion to protect each Enterprise against making additional draws of taxpayer support in the event of an operating loss in any quarter, and the PSPAs provide mandated declines of $600 million each year to these capital buffers. On January 1, 2017, each Enterprise’s capital buffer declined to $600 million and the capital buffer is scheduled to decline to zero on January 1, 2018.

FHFA continues to encourage Congress to complete the important work of housing finance reform. FHFA has reiterated the urgency of reform and that it is up to Congress to determine what future, if any, the Enterprises will have in the future housing finance system. (16-17)

Reading between the lines, I see the FHFA under Watt doing whatever it has to in order to maintain stability and liquidity in the mortgage markets. If Congress does not act, if the Treasury does not act, I think that Director Watt will go it alone and do what it takes to maintain Fannie and Freddie’s reputation with mortgage lenders and MBS investors.

Blockchain and Securitization

image by  David Stankiewicz

Deloitte prepared a report on behalf of the Structured Finance Industry Group and the Chamber of Digital Commerce, Applying Blockchain in Securitization: Opportunities for Reinvention. It opens,

The global financial system is betting on blockchain to revolutionize many aspects of its business, and we (the Structured Finance Industry Group and the Chamber of Digital Commerce) believe that securitization is one of the areas in the capital markets that could most benefit from this transformation. Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, recently called blockchain “a very important new technology” that “could make a big difference to the way in which transactions are cleared and settled in the global economy.” Financial services institutions have already invested over a billion dollars in the technology, with most big banks likely to have initiated blockchain projects by the end of 2017. There are already hundreds of use cases, ranging from international payments to securities processing, while technology firms including Amazon, Google, and IBM are offering a host of blockchain services aimed at the financial industry.

Why are all of these companies investing in blockchain? This new technology has the potential to dramatically disrupt the role of intermediaries—including that of banks—in financial transactions. Traditional activities performed by intermediaries might be changed or even replaced. Blockchain can also bring significant advances in efficiency, security, and transparency to many of the financial sector’s activities.

*     *     *

The Structured Finance Industry Group and the Chamber of Digital Commerce commissioned Deloitte & Touche LLP (Deloitte) to explore how blockchain might reinvent securitization—and how the securitization industry should consider preparing for this rapidly approaching future. This industry is exploring this nascent technology’s potential benefits and costs. Firm answers on blockchain’s likely use cases are not yet available, but discussions with securitization and blockchain experts have led to some key observations and insights about implications and possible paths forward. (1, footnotes omitted)

The report’s bottom line is that “[b]lockchain and smart contracts could catapult the securitization industry into a new digital age.” (2) It finds that

The technology’s potential to streamline processes, lower costs, increase the speed of transactions, enhance transparency, and fortify security could impact all participants in the securitization lifecycle—from originators, sponsors/issuers, and servicers to rating agencies, trustees, investors, and even regulators. (2)

The report provides a nice overview of blockchain basics for those who find distributed ledger technology to be mysterious. The real value of the report, however, is that it provides concrete guidance on how blockchain can be integrated in the securitization process. There is a chart on page 24 and an explanation of it on the following page that shows this in detail. This level of detail makes it much easier to visualize how blockchain can and most likely will change the nature of the business in years to come.

AIG Suit Strengthens Government Powers

photo by Tim Evanson

Law360 quoted me in Greenberg’s AIG Loss Strengthens Gov’t’s Crisis Powers (behind a paywall). It reads, in part,

The Federal Circuit’s decision reversing Maurice R. “Hank” Greenberg’s win in his campaign against the U.S. government over its bailout of American International Group Inc. was the latest in a string of defeats for investors challenging financial crisis bailouts, and could further strengthen the government’s hand in future crises, experts say.

The Federal Circuit on Tuesday rejected claims by Greenberg, AIG’s former chief executive, and his current company, Starr International Co. Inc., that the government engaged in an unconstitutional taking of property when it demanded and received 80 percent of the giant insurance company’s stock in exchange for an $85 billion bailout in September 2008.

Although the appellate panel overturned a lower court ruling by rejecting Greenberg’s standing to sue, it came in the wake of a series of rulings against shareholders in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those shareholders are seeking to overturn a President Barack Obama-era move to sweep profits from the bailed out mortgage giants back to the U.S. Department of the Treasury rather than into shareholder dividends, cases courts have repeatedly rejected.

Those wins mean that courts are giving the government wide latitude to respond to a financial crisis, even if some shareholders are harmed, said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.

“There’s now a lot of judges who have come down to effectively say, ‘The government had very broad authority to address the financial crisis, and we’re not going to second-guess that,'” he said.

Greenberg’s campaign against the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and other arms of the U.S. government stems from the effort to bail out AIG in 2008 after it was brought to the brink of insolvency due to the failure of credit default swaps held by its structured finance unit.

In exchange for the $85 billion loan that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York ultimately extended, AIG and its board agreed to hand over nearly 80 percent of its equity and fire its top executives.

Greenberg, who left AIG in 2005 under a cloud, and his current firm Starr International were the largest shareholders in the world’s largest insurer, and argued in a 2011 lawsuit that the government had engaged in an illegal taking of shareholder property.

Federal Claims Judge Thomas C. Wheeler agreed with at least part of Greenberg’s argument in a June 2015 decision, saying that the Fed had placed unduly tough terms on AIG in exchange for the bailout loan, with those terms exceeding the central bank’s authority under Section 13(3) of the Bank Holding Company Act.

However, Judge Wheeler did not award any damages to Greenberg and shareholders in the class action, arguing that their shares would have been worth nothing without the government’s action.

Both Greenberg and the government appealed, and the Federal Circuit on Tuesday reversed Judge Wheeler’s holding on the question of whether the government exceeded its authority by placing tough terms on the bailout.

However, the opinion did not focus on the government’s actions but on the question of standing. Greenberg and his company did not have it, so the rest of his argument was moot, the panel said.

    *     *     *

While the Federal Circuit did not address the substance of Greenberg’s claims, the U.S. Supreme Court might.

Greenberg and Starr said Tuesday they plan to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court takes up the case, despite a lack of a circuit split on the issue of lawsuits over financial crisis-era bailouts, they could set the terms under which the government acts in a future financial crisis.

But even without a Supreme Court ruling in their favor, the government should feel that it is on stronger legal ground during a financial crisis with its two wins at the appellate court level, Reiss said.

“Companies who are looking to reverse government actions at the height of the financial crisis … are having a really tough row to hoe,” he said.

Hope for the Securitization Market

The Structured Finance Industry Group has issued a white paper, Regulatory Reform: Securitization Industry Proposals to Support Growth in the Real Economy. While the paper is a useful summary of the industry’s needs, it would benefit from looking at the issue more broadly. The paper states that

One of the core policy responses to the financial crisis was the adoption of a wide variety of new regulations applicable to the securitization industry, largely in the form of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). While many post-crisis analysts believe that the crisis laid bare the need for meaningful regulatory reform, SFIG members believe that any such regulation must: ƒ

  • Reduce risk in a manner such that benefits outweigh costs, including operational costs and inefficiencies; ƒ
  • Be coherent and consistent across the various sectors and across similar risk profiles; ƒ
  • Be operationally feasible from both a transactional and a loan origination basis so as not to compromise provision of credit to the real economy; ƒ
  • Be valued by key market participants; and ƒ
  • Be implemented in a targeted way (i.e. without unintended consequences).

In this paper, we will distinguish between the types of regulation we believe to be necessary and productive versus those that are, at the very least, not helpful and, in some cases, harmful. To support this approach, we believe it is helpful to evaluate financial market regulations, specifically those related to securitization, under three distinct categories, those that are:

1. Transactional in nature; i.e., directly impact the securitization market via a focus on underlying deal structures;

2. Banking rules that include securitization reform within their mandate; and

3. Banking rules that simply do not contemplate securitization and, therefore, may result in unintended consequences. (3)

The paper concludes,

The securitization industry serves as a mechanism for allowing institutional investors to deliver funding to the real economy, both to individual consumers of credit and to businesses of all sizes. This segment of credit reduces the real economy’s reliance on the banking system to deliver such funding, thereby reducing systemic risk.

It is important that both issuers of securitization bonds and investors in those bonds align at an appropriate balance in their goals to allow those issuers to maintain a business model that is not unduly penalized for using securitization as a funding tool, while at the same time, ensuring investors have confidence in the market via “skin in the game” and sufficiency of disclosure. (19)

I think the paper is totally right that we should design a regulatory environment that allows for responsible securitization. The paper is, however, silent on the interest of consumers, whose loans make up the collateral of many of the mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities that are at issue in the bond market. The system can’t be designed just to work for issuers and investors, consumers must have a voice too.