- Bank of America, Wells Fargo & Citigroup cannot escape the City of Miami’s discriminatory lending suit, which caused a loss in city tax revenue.
- Texas federal judge sanctions the US Environmental Protection Agency for failure to turn over documents that would have killed a Clean Water Act suit brought against Thomas Lipar, a property developer, and four other Lipar companies.
- Mortgage borrowers of Citibank and JPMorgan Chase seek class certification in suit over property inspection fees.
- If appeal fails from Second Circuit judgment, Nomura Holdings & Royal Bank of Scotland Group will pay $33 million more than the $806 million damages for selling risky mortgage securities.
- A New York federal judge found that federal law did not cover many claims in class action against Citibank for “mishandling mortgage-backed securities in more than $17 billion worth of pooled loans.”
- Property owners have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to determine their standing in suit against several banks, including Bank of New York Mellon, HSBC, US Bank, Deutsche Bank & Wells Fargo, after the Second Circuit denied their claims that those banks did not own their mortgages.
- A class action over highly leveraged mortgage-backed securities against Goldman Sachs is dismissed for lack of evidence.
- The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) claims the Fifth Circuit incorrectly interpreted an FDIC statute, by extending the statute of limitations period, when it reinstated $2.1 billion mortgage-backed securities suit, which conflicts with Supreme Court precedent in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger.
Yesterday, I wrote about the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA)’s FHFA comment letter. Today I write about SIFMA’s comment letter in response to Treasury’s request for input relating to the future of the private-label securities market. Like the FHFA comment letter, this one is written with the concerns of SIFMA’s members in mind, no others, but it identifies many of the structural problems that exist in the housing finance system today.
If I were to identify a theme of the comments, it would be that the federal government has not moved with sufficient speed to establish a well delineated infrastructure for the housing finance market. Some commentators identify benefits of a slow approach — time to get consensus, time to get rules right, time to for trial and error before committing for the long term. Few identify the costs of regulatory uncertainty — failure to get buy-in for capital-intensive ventures, atrophy of existing resources, limited investor interest.
Now, SIFMA’s members want a vibrant private-label MBS market to make money. But a vibrant private-label MBS market is also good for the overall health of the mortgage market as it spreads risk to private MBS investors and reduces the footprints of the gargantuan GSEs and the government’s own FHA. After all, most of us want the private sector taking a lot of the risk, not the taxpayer.
Notwithstanding the strengths of SIFMA’s comment letter to Treasury in critiquing the status quo, I will highlight a few passages from it that hit a false note. The first relates to the role that private-label securities (PLS) have played
in funding mortgage credit where loan size or other terms may differ from those available in the Agency markets, or where economics dictate that PLS execution is superior. The PLS market may also be more innovative and flexible than the Agency markets in adapting to economic conditions or consumer preferences, or to changing capital markets appetite. (3)
This innovation has obviously cut both ways in terms of introducing new products that can help expand access to credit as well as expand access to credit on abusive terms. The latter way seems to have predominated during the most recent boom in PLS MBS.
The second one relates to assignee liability. SIFMA states that
Investors are concerned with the prospect of assignee liability stemming from violations of the ability-to-repay rules contained in Title XIV of Dodd-Frank and embodied in the CFPB’s implementing regulations. SIFMA has raised concerns with assignee liability in many forms over the years based on the fact that mortgage investors are not at the closing table with the lender and borrower, and should not be held liable for defects of which they have no knowledge or ability to prevent. While efforts were made by policymakers to provide some level of certainty through the inclusion of safe-harbor provisions, no safe harbor is entirely safe, and it is important to note that none of these provisions have been tested in court. It will be in litigation where the market learns the exact boundaries of the protections provided by any safe harbor. This potential liability for investors is likely to reduce the availability of higher-priced QM loans and non-QM loans, all else equal, due to higher required yields to compensate for the increased risk. (5-6)
This focus on assignee liability seems to be a red herring, one that SIFMA has floated for years. The risk from assignee liability provisions is not limitless and it can be modeled. Moreover, the notion that investors should face no liability because they are not at the closing table is laughable — without them, there would be no closing table at all. They paid for it, even if they are not in the room when the closing takes place.
The last one relates to the threatened use of eminent domain by some local governments to take underwater mortgages and refinance them to reflect current property valuations:
Investors have significant concerns with, and continuing distrust of the policy environment because of a sense that rules have been and continue to be changed ex-post. The threat by certain municipalities to use eminent domain to seize performing mortgage loans has been a focus of MBS investors for the last two years and would introduce a significant new risk into investing in PLS. These municipalities propose to cherry-pick loans from PLS trusts and compensate holders at levels far below the actual value of the loans. SIFMA’s investor members view such activity as an illegal taking of trust assets, and successful implementation of these plans would severely damage investor confidence in investing in PLS. (6)
This is another red herring as far as I am concerned. The use of eminent domain is not an ex post legal maneuver. Rather, it is an inherent power of government that precedes the founding of this country. I understand that MBS investors don’t like it, but it is not some kind of newfangled violation of the rule of law as many investor advocates have claimed.
Notwithstanding its flaws, I recommend this letter as a trenchant critique of the housing system we have today.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) released their comment letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s request for input relating to the role of the Fannie and Freddie guarantee fee (g-fee) in the housing finance market. While clearly reflecting the concerns of SIFMA’s members, the letter provides a thoughtful take on the complexities of the housing finance system. SIFMA writes,
Policymakers should not assume that increases in g-fees alone will lead to a significant increase in PLS issuance. Specific decisions on best execution for a given loan vary depending on the terms of the loan being originated. In some instances, a portfolio purchase may offer best execution, and in other instances the GSEs, private label MBS (PLS) or FHA may be optimal. Taken wholly in isolation, we do agree that increases in guarantee fees should cause originators to look toward other avenues to fund loans – in their portfolios, FHA, or in PLS. However, it is not so simple that an across the board increase in guarantee fees will result in a corresponding uptick in private-label securitization. To the extent GSE securitization becomes more expensive for issuers, PLS are one of a number of options, and not necessarily the most attractive in all instances. Today bank portfolios offer a more attractive funding alternative to the GSEs than PLS for most institutions. Of course, the appetite of banks for loans held in portfolio will vary with economic and regulatory conditions, and cannot always be assumed to comprise a certain percentage of the market.
There are also a number of reasons that increases to g-fees will not directly lead to increased PLS issuances that are not precisely quantifiable or directly related to cost. PLS issuers and investors face uncertainty as to the future shape of the mortgage market and questions related to compliance with the future regulatory regime. The re-regulation of the mortgage and securitization markets is not complete, and a number of consequential rulemakings are incomplete. These include but are not limited to risk retention and proposed revisions to the SEC’s Regulation AB. The final form of the definition of QRM and the rest of the risk retention rules will directly impact the economics of securitization. Regulation AB will impact the offering process, disclosure practices, and require fairly massive infrastructure adaptation at many RMBS issuers and sponsors. Of course, given that final rules are not available for any of these items, issuers and sponsors cannot begin this work. In this environment of uncertainty, it is difficult and indeed may be unwise for issuers or investors to expend resources to develop long-term issuing and investment platforms.
* * *
For these reasons, we do not believe FHFA or other policymakers should look at increases to GSE g-fees in a vacuum, and must consider them within the broader context of mortgage finance conditions. (6-7, footnotes omitted)
SIFMA is right to emphasize the regulatory uncertainty that its members face. The federal government has not done enough to address this. Housing finance, like nature, abhors a vacuum. More on this tomorrow.