The Advantages of ARMs

photo by Kathleen Zarubin

The Wall Street Journal quoted me in Why Home Buyers Should Consider Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (behind paywall). It opens,

While many out-of-the-mainstream loans got a black eye in the subprime debacle, today’s versions have been shorn of the toxic features—such as negative amortization and prepayment penalties—that tripped up many borrowers during the housing bubble a decade ago.

Plan to move

Experts say today’s adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, as well as interest-only loans, are especially suitable for borrowers who expect to move before any rate increases can wipe out the savings in the early years. They’re also useful for sophisticated borrowers wrestling with uneven income, borrowers who expect their income to rise, or borrowers who are willing to bet they can invest their mortgage savings for a greater return elsewhere.

“Many of the mortgage products that some may have thought slipped into extinction, such as interest-only loans, do still exist today, but in far less volume” than in the heyday of the subprime era, says Bill Handel, vice president of research and product development at Raddon Financial Group, consultant to the financial-services industry.

Adds David Reiss, a law professor and academic program director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School: “The benefits of non-30-year, fixed-rate mortgages are legion.”

A sweet spot

Many borrowers can find a sweet spot, for example, in the so-called 7/1 adjustable-rate mortgage, which carries a fixed rate for seven years before starting annual adjustments. With a typical rate of 3.75%, the monthly payment on a $300,000 loan would be $1,389, compared with $1,449 for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan at 4.1%, saving the borrower $5,040 over seven years.

Even if the loan rate then went up, it could take two or three years for higher payments to offset the initial savings, making the mortgage a good choice for a borrower likely to move within 10 years. Once annual adjustments begin, they are generally calculated by adding a fixed margin to a floating rate, such as the London interbank offered rate.

“ARMs are very underutilized,” says Mat Ishbia, president of United Wholesale Mortgage, a lender in Troy, Mich. He expects the 7/1 ARM to account for 15% of new mortgages within the next few years, up from less than 5% today. Historically, ARMs become more popular as interest rates rise, making savings from the loan’s low initial “teaser rate” more attractive, he notes.

A HELOC of a Securitization

S&P posted A Look At U.S. Second-Lien And HELOC Transactions Post-Crisis.  In 2008, they announced that “would halt rating new U.S. RMBS closed-end second-lien transactions because loan performance had deteriorated significantly.  [They] haven’t rated any U.S. RMBS second-lien (both second-lien HCLTV [high-combined loan-to-value] and closed-end second-lien) or HELOC [home equity line of credit] transactions since 2007.” (1) They also note that notwithstanding the fact that such securitizations had ended, “HELOC loans continue to be originated, with banks generally keeping these types of loans on their books.” (1)

The report provides a some interesting data on those securitizations.  Let me share one highlight, a table of lifetime loss projections of RMBS with different collateral types. For the 2007/2008 vintage, they performed as follows.

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Second-lien  HCLTV:  45%

Closed-end second lien:  58%

HELOC:  42%

Subprime:  49%

Alt-A:  29.25%

Negative Amortization:  43.25%

Prime:  10%

With a bit of understatement, they conclude that “[c]losed-end second-lien transactions may be limited going forward because of limited investor and issuer appetite, given past performance and uneven home price appreciation.” (5) They note that HELOCs are not included in the definition of Qualified Mortgages or Qualified Residential Mortgages [QRM] “so the issuer would most likely have to retain a stake in the deal, increasing issuance costs.” (6)

This seems like a good a good result, if you ask me. Here is a product that performed miserably (with losses of greater than 40%!!!) as a securitization. If the new QRM rules reduce these securitization but banks continue to originate them for their own portfolio, perhaps Dodd-Frank is doing its job in the mortgage markets. Of course, we want to ensure that there is sufficient sustainable credit for HELOCs, but it is good to see that portfolio lenders are stepping in where they see a market that RMBS issuers has exited.

Reiss on New Limits on Lending for Fannie and Freddie

Law360 interviewed me in Fannie, Freddie Will Only Buy Qualified Mortgages, FHFA Says (behind a paywall) about the new limits on lending imposed on Fannie and Freddie:

The Federal Housing Finance Agency on Monday said that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would only be allowed to purchase so-called qualified mortgages when the new standard comes into effect in January.

Under the new standard, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will only be able to purchase and securitize mortgages that qualify to an exemption to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s ability to repay rule, which the federal consumer finance watchdog finalized in January.

* * *

Given the cautious state of mortgage lending, the change is likely to only affect Fannie, Freddie and the mortgage market along the margins, said Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss.

“It will be interesting to see, however, whether the private-label market will step into the void and offer more of these products — and it will be interesting to see how the market prices them,” he said in an email.