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.

How Important Is Skin in The Game?

Haoyang Liu has posted a paper to SSRN that challenges the effectiveness of skin-in-the-game market discipline: Does Skin-in-the-Game Discipline Risk Management? Evidence from Mortgage Insurance. The abstract reads,

Many mortgage reform proposals suggest replacing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs) with private entities. A common assumption underlying these proposals is that unlike the GSEs, private insurers will properly manage risk and set fair prices. Inconsistent with this assumption, this paper presents evidence that private insurers less effectively managed home price risks during the 2000-2006 housing boom than the GSEs did. Mortgage origination data reveal that the GSEs were selecting loans with increasingly higher percentages of down payments, or lower loan to value ratios (LTVs), in boom areas than in other areas. These lower LTVs in boom areas reduced the GSEs’ exposure to overheated markets. Furthermore, the decline of LTVs in boom areas stems entirely from the segment insured by the GSEs only, and none of the decline stems from the segment where private mortgage insurers take the first loss position. Private insurers also did not lower their exposure to home price risks along other dimensions, including the percentage of high LTV GSE loans they insured and the percentage of insured mortgage balance. My results highlight that post-crisis reform of the mortgage insurance industry should carefully consider additional factors besides moral hazard induced by the government guarantees, such as mortgage insurers’ future home price assumptions and the industry organization of the mortgage origination chain.

The paper’s conclusions are sobering for those interested in increasing the role of private capital in the mortgage market (including yours truly):

Many mortgage market reform proposals assume that private insurers will set fair prices and properly manage risk. Evidence from this paper suggests that private insurers less effectively managed home price risk during the 2000-2006 housing boom than Fannie and Freddie did.

These somewhat surprising results are nevertheless consistent with the history of the private mortgage insurance industry, including its repeated and concentrated failures. Most recently in the 2008 crash, three out of the eight largest private mortgage insurers failed. However, perhaps 31 overshadowed by the highly publicized and controversial bailout of the GSEs, private mortgage insurers’ failures have received relatively little attention from academics and the popular press. Many post-crisis proposals also assume that replacing the GSEs by private insurers would be a panacea. My results suggest that privatizing the GSEs alone is unlikely to ensure sufficient risk management in the mortgage insurance industry. Additional factors besides private capital, such as assumptions about future house prices and bargaining power of private insurers in front of large lenders, are important in shaping risk management practices. One way to establish reasonable house price assumptions is to stress test mortgage insurers, forcing the industry to consider their exposure to the housing downturn scenarios proposed by regulators.

The mortgage insurance industry plays a crucial role in financing Americans’ mortgages. Their insurance reduces or removes mortgage default risks, thereby enhancing the liquidity of mortgage backed securities and lowering homebuyers’ borrowing costs. The risks they face and the optimal regulatory structure for them deserve more study to prevent them from being a source of systemic risk in the financial system. (31-32)

The paper suggests that we should not expect that private mortgage insurers can play an outsized role in keeping us safe from booms and busts. They have succumbed to bubble thinking in the past and there is no reason to think that they would not in the future as well.

Hope for the Securitization Market

The Structured Finance Industry Group has issued a white paper, Regulatory Reform: Securitization Industry Proposals to Support Growth in the Real Economy. While the paper is a useful summary of the industry’s needs, it would benefit from looking at the issue more broadly. The paper states that

One of the core policy responses to the financial crisis was the adoption of a wide variety of new regulations applicable to the securitization industry, largely in the form of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). While many post-crisis analysts believe that the crisis laid bare the need for meaningful regulatory reform, SFIG members believe that any such regulation must: ƒ

  • Reduce risk in a manner such that benefits outweigh costs, including operational costs and inefficiencies; ƒ
  • Be coherent and consistent across the various sectors and across similar risk profiles; ƒ
  • Be operationally feasible from both a transactional and a loan origination basis so as not to compromise provision of credit to the real economy; ƒ
  • Be valued by key market participants; and ƒ
  • Be implemented in a targeted way (i.e. without unintended consequences).

In this paper, we will distinguish between the types of regulation we believe to be necessary and productive versus those that are, at the very least, not helpful and, in some cases, harmful. To support this approach, we believe it is helpful to evaluate financial market regulations, specifically those related to securitization, under three distinct categories, those that are:

1. Transactional in nature; i.e., directly impact the securitization market via a focus on underlying deal structures;

2. Banking rules that include securitization reform within their mandate; and

3. Banking rules that simply do not contemplate securitization and, therefore, may result in unintended consequences. (3)

The paper concludes,

The securitization industry serves as a mechanism for allowing institutional investors to deliver funding to the real economy, both to individual consumers of credit and to businesses of all sizes. This segment of credit reduces the real economy’s reliance on the banking system to deliver such funding, thereby reducing systemic risk.

It is important that both issuers of securitization bonds and investors in those bonds align at an appropriate balance in their goals to allow those issuers to maintain a business model that is not unduly penalized for using securitization as a funding tool, while at the same time, ensuring investors have confidence in the market via “skin in the game” and sufficiency of disclosure. (19)

I think the paper is totally right that we should design a regulatory environment that allows for responsible securitization. The paper is, however, silent on the interest of consumers, whose loans make up the collateral of many of the mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities that are at issue in the bond market. The system can’t be designed just to work for issuers and investors, consumers must have a voice too.

Reiss on Federal Housing Policy

Law360 ran a story on President Obama’s vision for America’s housing policy and asked for my reaction:

For a piece of mortgage-related legislation to have any chance of passing, it has to require that a borrower pay some kind of down payment so as to remain responsible for at least a small amount of risk, said David Reiss, a professor of real estate and consumer financial services law at Brooklyn Law School.

“What we’ve seen fail pretty consistently is [legislation in which] the homeowner has no skin in the game at all,” and is allowed to obtain a loan — often backed by the government — without putting down a cent, he said.

While this type of policy may help more Americans become homeowners, it does little to fix the housing finance system, which needs a major overhaul, according to Reiss.

“This is the time to reset the market in a rational way, where private lenders make responsible loans because they are doing responsible underwriting,” he said. “Setting up the framework for that should be happening now, even though right now government lending in the residential sector is really the dominant form of lending.”

The rest of the story is here (behind a paywall).