This Is What GSE Reform Looks Like

Scene from Young Frankenstein

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Division of Conservatorship release an Update on Implementation of the Single Security and the Common Securitization Platform. As I had discussed last week, housing finance reform is proceeding apace from within the FHFA notwithstanding assertions by members of Congress that they will take the lead on this. The Update provides some background for the uninitiated:

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) 2014 Strategic Plan for the Conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac includes the strategic goal of developing a new securitization infrastructure for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) for mortgage loans backed by 1- to 4-unit (single-family) properties. To achieve that strategic goal, the Enterprises, under FHFA’s direction and guidance, have formed a joint venture, Common Securitization Solutions (CSS). CSS’s mandate is to develop and operate a Common Securitization Platform (CSP or platform) that will support the Enterprises’ single-family mortgage securitization activities, including the issuance by both Enterprises of a common single mortgage-backed security (to be called the Uniform Mortgage-Backed Security or UMBS). These securities will finance the same types of fixed-rate mortgages that currently back Enterprise-guaranteed securities eligible for delivery into the “To-Be-Announced” (TBA) market. CSS is also mandated to develop the platform in a way that will allow for the integration of additional market participants in the future.

The development of and transition to the new UMBS constitute the Single Security Initiative. FHFA has two principal objectives in undertaking this initiative. The first objective is to establish a single, liquid market for the mortgage-backed securities issued by both Enterprises that are backed by fixed-rate loans. The second objective is to maintain the liquidity of this market over time. Achievement of these objectives would further FHFA’s statutory obligation and the Enterprises’ charter obligations to ensure the liquidity of the nation’s housing finance markets. The Single Security Initiative should also reduce the cost to Freddie Mac and taxpayers that has resulted from the historical difference in the liquidity of Fannie Mae’s Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) and Freddie Mac’s Participation Certificates (PCs). (1, footnote omitted)

This administratively-led reform of Fannie and Freddie is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly because the executive and legislative branches have not taken up reform in any serious way since the two companies entered conservatorship in 2008. While Congress could certainly step up to the plate now, it is worth understanding just how far along the FHFA is in its transformation of the two companies:

Upon the implementation of Release 2, CSS will be responsible for bond administration of approximately 900,000 securities, which are backed by almost 26 million home loans having a principal balance of over $4 trillion. CSS’S responsibilities related to security issuance, security settlement, bond administration and disclosures were described in the September 2015 Update on the Common Securitization Platform. The Enterprises and investors, along with home owners and taxpayers, will rely on the operational integrity and resiliency of the CSP to ensure the smooth functioning of the U.S. housing mortgage market. (8)

That is, upon the implementation of Release 2, the merger of Fannie and Freddie into Frannie will be complete.

Mortgage Bankers Ask Permission to Hijack GSE Reform

The Mortgage Bankers Association issued a concept paper that calls for a board of mortgage industry representatives to “have the authority to direct the scope and immediate priorities of the [Central Securitization] Platform’s development, and the capability to redirect resources from the GSEs’ back offices to aid the project.” (3) So, to be clear, the mortgage industry wants not only to (a) define the scope and activities of the Platform but also (B) tell Fannie and Freddie how to spend their money to do so.  As Christmas is still a ways away, let’s spend some time working through this industry wishlist in the concept paper, The Central Securitization Platform: Direction, Scope, and Governance.

To start, what is the purpose of this mysterious “Platform?” According to the FHFA, it is supposed to “streamline and simplify those functions that are commoditized and routinely repeated across the secondary mortgage market.”(Building a New Infrastructure for the Secondary Mortgage Market, 5-6)

The MBA is calling for the establishment of “a strong panel of industry representatives to guide the development of the Platform.” (1)

But here is where I become nervous: “this Platform is just one piece of a much larger puzzle that impacts borrowers, lenders and the market as a whole. For these reasons, it is critical to appoint an industry advisory panel with real authority over the Platform’s early development. FHFA should establish and convene this panel before any further development is undertaken.” (2, emphasis added) Moreover, the MBA “believes the Platform should ultimately be owned by the industry as a cooperative.” (2)

So we have an acknowledgement that the Platform impacts “borrowers” and “the market as a whole.” But we have a call for a board with real powers that is only made up of “industry representatives.” Where have I heard a similar story like this before?  Oh, the Mortgage Electronic Recording System (MERS), a system designed by the mortgage industry that has been consistently attacked by local government officials and borrowers.

For now, I am agnostic as to whether the Platform is a good idea or not. But I certainly do not believe that only the industry should have the power to define its “scope and activities” and I certainly don’t believe that the industry should have the power to spend Fannie and Freddie’s money to pursue its vision. There are a lot more interests at stake than just the special interests represented by the MBA.