Spreading Mortgage Credit Risk

photo by A Syn

The Federal Housing Finance Agency has released the Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer Progress Report. Important aspects of Fannie and Freddie’s future are described in this report. It opens,

Since 2012, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has set as a strategic objective that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac share credit risk with private investors. While the Enterprises have a longstanding practice of sharing credit risk on certain loans with primary mortgage insurers and other counterparties, the credit risk transfer transactions have taken further steps to share credit risk with private market participants. Since the Enterprises were placed in conservatorship in 2008, they have received financial support from the U.S. Department of the Treasury under the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs). The Enterprises’ credit risk transfer programs reduce the overall risk to taxpayers under these agreements.

These programs have made significant progress since they were launched in 2012 and credit risk transfer transactions are now a regular part of the Enterprises’ businesses. This progress is reflected in FHFA’s 2016 Scorecard for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Common Securitization Solutions (2016 Scorecard), which sets the expectation that the Enterprises will transfer risk on 90 percent of targeted single-family, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages. FHFA works with the Enterprises to ensure that credit risk transfer transactions are conducted in an economically sensible way that effectively transfers risk to private investors.

This Progress Report provides an overview of how the Enterprises share credit risk with the private sector, including through primary mortgage insurance and the Enterprises’ credit risk transfer programs. The discussion includes year-end 2015 data, a discussion of which Enterprise loan acquisitions are targeted for the credit risk transfer programs, and an overview of investor participation information. (1, footnotes omitted)

This push to share credit risk with private investors is a significant departure from the old Fannie/Freddie business model and it should do just what it promises: reduce taxpayer exposure to credit risk for the trillions of dollars of mortgages the two companies guarantee through their mortgage-backed securities. That being said, this is a relatively new initiative and the two companies (and the FHFA, as their conservator and regulator) have to navigate a lot of operational issues to ensure that this transfer of credit risk is priced appropriately.

There are also some important policy issues that have not been settled. The FHFA has asked for feedback on a series of issues in its Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer Request for Input, including,

  • how to “develop a deeper mortgage insurance structure” (RfI, 17)
  • how to develop credit risk transfer strategies that work for small lenders (RfI, 18)
  • how to price the fees that Fannie and Freddie charge to guarantee mortgage-backed securities (RfI, 19)

Congress has abdicated its responsibility to implement housing finance reform, so it is left up to the FHFA to make it happen. Indeed, the FHFA’s timeline has this process being finalized in 2018. The only way for the public to affect the course of reform is through the type of input the FHFA is now seeking:

FHFA invites interested parties to provide written input on the questions listed [within the Request for Input] 60 days of the publication of this document, no later than August 29, 2016. FHFA also invites additional input on the topics discussed in this document that are not directly responsive to these questions.

Input may be submitted electronically using this response form. You may also want to review the FHFA’s update on Implementation of the Single Security and the Common Securitization Platform and its credit risk transfer page as it has links to other relevant documents.

Reiss on Hedge Funds’ GSE Strategy

American Banker quoted me in Everything Lenders Need to Know About GSE Shareholders’ Lawsuits (behind a paywall, but available in full here). It reads in part,

A powerful group of shareholders is amplifying attacks on housing finance reform legislation as they await resolution of a major legal battle, attempting to slow momentum on the bill before it likely passes the Senate Banking Committee.

Several big hedge funds that stand to possibly win billions of dollars for their shares in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are leading the charge, both in federal court and in the court of public opinion.

New investors’ rights groups said to be backed by the funds have popped up in recent weeks attacking legislation by Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Mike Crapo, the panel’s top Republican.

Their presence is yet another complicating factor in the tumult ahead of a scheduled April 29 vote by the committee, potentially hurting efforts to secure additional support for the measure.

“Now that different people have come out with their bills, it’s been laid bare that the people working on [government-sponsored enterprise] reform aren’t going to do major favors for the shareholders,” said Jeb Mason, a managing director at Cypress Group. “As a result, the shareholders have adjusted their strategy to muddy the waters – and, if they can, kill the Johnson-Crapo bill.”

*     *     *

As part of their effort, investors have begun taking their concerns public through new tax-exempt groups in Washington. The investors argue they were on the receiving end of a rotten deal from the government, particularly those that bought the stocks before the enterprises were put into conservatorship.

“The hedge funds have this incredibly sophisticated, multi-pronged strategy – lawsuits, legislation, academics on the payroll, funding anonymous PR campaigns, offering to buy the companies. They’re coming at it from all angles,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.

*     *     *

Given the size and complexity of the cases, it’s likely to take years before the matter is resolved entirely. Analysts have suggested that if both sides continue to push the issue, it could even rise up to the Supreme Court over the next several years.

“You’re talking about many-year or potentially, decades-long lawsuits,” said Reiss. “The stakes are humongous and the parties are incredibly sophisticated and well financed. The government parties’ incentives to settle are not the same as a private party – I could imagine them seeing this all the way through.”

U.S. Dismissive of Frannie Suits

The Federal Housing Finance Agency filed its motion to dismiss all the claims in Perry Capital v. Lew, D.D.C., No. 13-cv-01025, 1/17/14. I blogged about this case (and similar cases) when they were filed last summer. It is quite interesting to read the government’s side of the story now. Today’s post focuses on the federal government’s alternative narrative. Where the private investors describe an opportunistic and abusive government in their complaints, the FHFA’s brief describes the government as a white knight who rode in to save the day at the depth of the financial crisis:

The national crisis having eased, Plaintiffs now ask the Court to re-write the agreements that FHFA, on behalf of the Enterprises, and Treasury executed to stabilize the Enterprises and the national economy, pursuant to express congressional authority. Plaintiffs want to cherry-pick those aspects of the agreements that they like—namely, the unprecedented financial support from Treasury at a time when the Enterprises required billions of dollars in capital—and discard the parts they do not like—namely, the Third Amended PSPAs—now that over one hundred billion dollars of federal taxpayer capital infusions and commitments have allowed the Enterprises to remain in business and produce positive earnings, rather than being placed into mandatory receivership and then liquidation. Plaintiffs’ attempt to reward themselves, at the expense of federal taxpayers who risked and continue to risk billions of dollars to save the Enterprises from receivership and liquidation, directly contravenes the relevant statutory authorities as implemented by the unambiguous language of the PSPAs.

Plaintiffs’ charges of common law and APA violations have it exactly backwards: FHFA, on behalf of the Enterprises, has acted at all times consistent with the Enterprises’ contractual obligations and FHFA’s powers as Conservator and statutory successor to all rights of the Enterprises and their stockholders. The shareholder-Plaintiffs, on the other hand, are attempting through these cases to convince this Court, during the conservatorships, to give shareholders financial value that they are not owed under the terms of their stock certificates or statutes, and to ignore the rights of the Enterprises’ senior preferred stockholder, the U.S. Treasury. By doing so, Plaintiffs seek not only to undermine the purposes of conservatorship, but also the very statutory mission of the Enterprises in which they chose to invest. (4-5)

While I think that the investors raise some serious legal issues for the court to decide, the federal government’s narrative of the financial crisis jibes a whole lot more with my own than does the investors’. I argued last summer that the side that wins control of the narrative will have an advantage in the battle over the legal issues. I would say that the federal government has won this first round.