The Costs and Benefits of A Dodd-Frank Mortgage Provision

Craig Furfine has posted The Impact of Risk Retention Regulation on the Underwriting of Securitized Mortgages to SSRN. The abstract reads,

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 imposed requirements on securitization sponsors to retain not less than a 5% share of the aggregate credit risk of the assets they securitize. This paper examines whether loans securitized in deals sold after the implementation of risk-retention requirements look different from those sold before. Using a difference-in-difference empirical framework, I find that risk retention implementation is associated with mortgages being issued with markedly higher interest rates, yet notably lower loan-to-value ratios and higher income to debt-service ratios. Combined, these findings suggest that the implementation of risk retention rules has achieved a policy goal of making securitized loans safer, yet at a significant cost to borrowers.

While the paper primarily addressed the securitization of commercial mortgages, I was particularly interested in the paper’s conclusion that

the results suggest that risk retention rules will become an increasingly important factor for the underwriting of residential mortgages, too. Non-prime residential lending has continued to rapidly increase and if exemptions given to the GSEs expire in 2021 as currently scheduled, then a much greater fraction of residential lending will also be subject to these same rules. (not paginated)

As always, policymakers will need to evaluate whether we have the right balance between conservative underwriting and affordable credit. Let’s hope that they can address this issue with some objectivity given today’s polarized political climate.

Treasury’s Overreach on Securitization Reform

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Being Sworn in by Vice President Pence

The Department of the Treasury released its report, A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities Capital Markets. I will leave it to others to dissect the broader implications of this important document and will just highlight what it has to say about the future of securitization:

Problems related to certain types of securitized products, primarily those backed by subprime mortgage loans, contributed to the financial crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. As a result, the securitization market has acquired a popular reputation as an inherently high-risk asset class and has been regulated as such through numerous post-crisis statutory and rulemaking changes. Such treatment of this market is counterproductive, as securitization, when undertaken in an appropriate manner, can be a vital financial tool to facilitate growth in our domestic economy. Securitization has the potential to help financial intermediaries better manage risk, enhance access to credit, and lower funding costs for both American businesses and consumers. Rather than restrict securitization through regulations, policymakers and regulators should view this component of our capital markets as a byproduct of, and safeguard to, America’s global financial leadership. (91-92, citations omitted)

This analysis of securitization veers toward the incoherent. It acknowledges that relatively unregulated subprime MBS contributed to the Great Recession but it argues that stripping away the regulations that were implemented in response to the financial crisis will safeguard our global financial leadership. How’s that? A full deregulatory push would return us to the pre-crisis environment where mortgage market players will act in their short-term interests, while exposing counter-parties and consumers to greater risks.

Notwithstanding that overreach, the report has some specific recommendations that could make securitization more attractive. These include aligning U.S. regulations with the Basel recommendations that govern the global securitization market; fine-tuning risk retention requirements; and rationalizing the multi-agency rulemaking process.

But it is disturbing when a government report contains a passage like the following, without evaluating whether it is true or not:  “issuers have stated that the increased cost and compliance burdens, lack of standardized definitions, and sometimes ambiguous regulatory guidance has had a negative impact on the issuance of new public securitizations.” (104) The report segues from these complaints right to a set of recommendations to reduce the disclosure requirements for securitizers. It is incumbent on Treasury to evaluate whether those complaints are valid are not, before making recommendations based upon them.

Securitization is here to stay and can meaningfully lower borrowing costs. But the financial crisis has demonstrated that it must be regulated to protect the financial system and the public. There is certainly room to revise the regulations that govern the securitization sector, but a wholesale push to deregulate would be foolish given the events of the 2000s.

The Future of Securitization

SEC Commissioner Piwowar

SEC Commissioner Piwowar

SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar’s Remarks at ABS Vegas 2016 are worth a look for all of those interested in the future of the mortgage-backed securities market. I have interspersed selections of his remarks with my comments:

As our country’s capital markets regulator, the SEC’s tripartite mission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.  Securitization can transform illiquid assets like mortgages, auto loans, credit card receivables, and future sales of David Bowie albums into marketable securities.  By serving as an efficient means of allocating scarce capital, securitization supports economic growth, business development, and job creation.  Securitization further fosters resiliency by diversifying the funding base of our economy.

There are many other benefits associated with securitization, including the potential for reduced costs of, and expanded access to, credit for borrowers, the ability to match risk profiles for specific investor demands, and increased secondary market liquidity.  Because banks and other originators can move loans off of their balance sheets into asset-backed securities (ABS), securitization can increase the availability of credit for both businesses and individuals.  In many instances, securitization can allow a person to obtain more favorable terms than can be obtained from a bank or other financial institution.

Thus, the ABS market serves as a critical source of capital, providing funding for home and automobile loans, credit cards, and many other purposes.  Yet, as shown during the recent financial crisis, investors may abandon the ABS market if they do not believe they possess sufficient information to evaluate the risks associated with a particular asset-backed security and to price it accordingly.

While I generally agree with Piwowar’s assessment of securitization’s value, it is worth noting that he does not acknowledge how important robust consumer protection is to maintaining a healthy securitization market over the long run.

I found his discussion of the Dodd-Frank credit risk retention rules particularly interesting:

For the record, I voted against the credit risk retention rules.  These rules require a securitizer to retain a minimum 5% credit risk of any securitization transaction and generally prohibit the sponsor from hedging its retained interest.  I was particularly dismayed by the “one-size-fits-all” approach taken by the regulators to create a flat 5% risk retention requirement for all asset classes, except for securitizations involving so-called “qualified residential mortgages” (QRMs) for which the risk retention level is zero.  These were arbitrary choices.

Residential mortgages, commercial mortgages, credit card receivables, and automobile loans each have distinct and different attributes associated with their underlying borrowers.  Rather than carefully examining these attributes to determine an optimal credit risk retention rate for each asset class, prudential regulators in Washington, D.C., took the easy way out – they simply set it at the maximum statutory rate and ignored the authorization from Congress to create lower risk retention requirements or use alternative methods to align interests.

Perhaps the prudential bureaucrats had their own conflict of interests in setting these requirements.  After all, a prudential bureaucrat has a strong interest in self-preservation.  Will a prudential bureaucrat get credit if optimally tailored risk retention rates increase economic growth and provide additional opportunities to families and businesses across America?  No.  Will a prudential bureaucrat take the blame if the next financial crisis – and there will be one eventually – relates at all to securitizations?  Probably.  Hence, what better way to side step responsibility than to refrain from using reasoned judgment and rely solely on the most risk-averse interpretation of statute instead?

Bureaucratic self-preservation might also explain the decision to adopt as broad of an exemption for QRMs as possible, so as to minimize any political fallout from the real estate and housing industries.  Few will disagree that residential mortgage-backed securities played an important role in the 2008 financial crisis.  For those in the audience involved in RMBS offerings, you must be quite happy with the broad exemption from the risk retention rules.  For those of you in the audience who are involved in other types of securitizations that had little, if any, part in causing the financial crisis, you are probably wondering why you were unfairly targeted.  Unfortunately, unlike Las Vegas, what happens in Washington does not stay in Washington. (footnotes omitted)

Piwowar gives short shrift to the benefits of clear and simple rules, but it is still worth paying attention to his critique of the “one size fits all” risk retention rules. If researchers can demonstrate that these rules are not optimally tailored, perhaps that would provide a reason to reconsider them. This is, of course, a long shot, given that the rules have been finalized, but Piwowar is right to shine light on the issue nonetheless.

Candid and thoughtful remarks from regulators are always refreshing. These make the grade.

Optimizing Mortgage Availability

"Barack Obama speaks to press in Diplomatic Reception Room 2-25-09" by Pete Souza - http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/02/25/Overhaul/. Licensed via ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_speaks_to_press_in_Diplomatic_Reception_Room_2-25-09.jpg#/media/File:Barack_Obama_speaks_to_press_in_Diplomatic_Reception_Room_2-25-09.jpg

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report, Mortgage Reforms: Actions Needed to Help Assess Effects of New Regulations. The GAO did this study to predict the effects of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) and Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) regulations. The GAO found

Federal agency officials, market participants, and observers estimated that the qualified mortgage (QM) and qualified residential mortgage (QRM) regulations would have limited initial effects because most loans originated in recent years largely conformed with QM criteria.

  • The QM regulations, which address lenders’ responsibilities to determine a borrower’s ability to repay a loan, set forth standards that include prohibitions on risky loan features (such as interest-only or balloon payments) and limits on points and fees. Lenders that originate QM loans receive certain liability protections.
  • Securities collateralized exclusively by residential mortgages that are “qualified residential mortgages” are exempt from risk-retention requirements. The QRM regulations align the QRM definition with QM; thus, securities collateralized solely by QM loans are not subject to risk-retention requirements.

The analyses GAO reviewed estimated limited effects on the availability of mortgages for most borrowers and that any cost increases (for borrowers, lenders, and investors) would mostly stem from litigation and compliance issues. According to agency officials and observers, the QRM regulations were unlikely to have a significant initial effect on the availability or securitization of mortgages in the current market, largely because the majority of loans originated were expected to be QM loans. However, questions remain about the size and viability of the secondary market for non-QRM-backed securities.

This last bit — questions about the non-QRM-backed market — is very important.

Some consumer advocates believe that there should not be any non-QRM mortgages. I disagree. There should be some sort of market for mortgages that do not comply with the strict (and, in the main, beneficial) QRM limitations.

Some homeowners will not be eligible for a plain vanilla QM/QRM mortgage but could still handle a mortgage responsibly. The mortgage markets would not be healthy without some kind of non-QRM-backed securities market for those consumers.

So far, that non-QRM market has been very small, smaller than expected. Regulators should continue to study the effects of the new mortgage regulations to ensure that they incentivize making the socially optimal amount of non-QRM mortgage credit available to homeowners.

S&P: Future of Private-Label RMBS Uncertain

S&P has posted an Executive Comment, Lifted By Improving Economic Conditions, The U.S. Leads The Global Securitization Rebound–But Headwinds Remain. It concludes,

After surviving its first severe test, the market for securitization is slowly emerging from a sharp downturn, demonstrating its viability to efficiently distribute risk and expand credit availability. In this light, with many regulatory and economic uncertainties still present, we’re forecasting continuing slow growth going into next year.

The question is if, and when, securitization will register large issuance numbers again, contribute to the funding diversity and liquidity positions of banks, and improve the efficient allocation of resources to foster global economic growth.

For the U.S.–far and away the largest and most mature securitization market in the world–it’s clear, given the interconnectivity of the economy, the securitization market, and housing finance, that a continued economic recovery is necessary before the securitization market can fully recover. Economic growth will also encourage regulators, policymakers, and investors to work on the eventual return of private housing finance. But we believe that mortgage financing remains a concern for general credit availability and a continuing housing market recovery. The future of non-agency RMBS will remain in question so long as the GSEs dominate housing finance while enjoying exemptions from the qualified mortgage and risk-retention rules. (7)

I do not think that there is anything particularly new in this analysis, but it does highlight an important issue, one that I have touched on before. The gridlock on housing finance reform in DC has many effects. The GSEs are not on solid footing. The private-label industry does not know what part of the mortgage market it can operate in, whether with Qualified Mortgage (QM) or Non-QM products. And most importantly, homeowners are  not getting credit at a price that a stable and mature market would offer.

The conventional wisdom is that housing finance reform is off the table until after the mid-term elections or even until after the next presidential election. That is bad news for American households, the housing industry and the financial markets. And without some strong leadership in DC, it looks like the conventional will be right.