The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has released its February 2017 Housing Finance at a Glance Chartbook, always a great resource for housing geeks. Each Chartbook highlights one topic. This one focuses on GSE credit risk transfers, an important but technical subject:
The Federal Housing Finance Agency has posted its FHFA Progress Report on the Implementation of FHFA’s Strategic Plan for the Conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As its name suggests, it provides a progress report on a range of topics, but I was particularly interested in its section on credit risk transfers for single-family credit guarantees:
The 2014 Conservatorship Strategic Plan’s goal of reducing taxpayer risk builds on the Enterprises’ previous risk transfer efforts. Under the 2013 Conservatorship Scorecard, FHFA expressed the expectation that each Enterprise would conduct risk transfer transactions involving single-family loans with an unpaid principal balance (UPB) of at least $30 billion. The 2014 Conservatorship Scorecard tripled the required risk transfer amount, with the expectation that each Enterprise would transfer a substantial portion of the credit risk on $90 billion in UPB of new mortgage-backed securitizations. FHFA also expected each Enterprise to execute a minimum of two different types of credit risk transfer transactions. FHFA required the Enterprises to conduct all activities undertaken in fulfillment of these objectives in a manner consistent with safety and soundness. During 2014, the two Enterprises executed credit risk transfers on single-family mortgages with a UPB of over $340 billion, which is well above the required amounts. (14)
Risk transfer is an important tool to reduce the risks that taxpayers will be on the hook for future bailouts. The mechanism for these risk transfer deals are not well understood because they are pretty new. The Progress Report describes how they work in relatively clear terms:
The primary way that the Enterprises have executed single-family credit risk transfers to date has been through debt-issuance programs. Freddie Mac transactions are called Structured Agency Credit Risk (STACR) notes, and Fannie Mae transactions are called Connecticut Avenue Securities (CAS). Following the release of historical credit performance data in 2012, each Enterprise has issued either STACR or CAS notes that transfer a portion of the credit risk from large reference pools of single-family mortgages to private investors. These reference pools are comprised of loans that the Enterprises had previously securitized to sell the interest rate risk of the loans to private investors. The STACR and CAS transactions take the next step of transferring a portion of the credit risk for these loans to investors as well. Each subsequent credit risk transfer transaction is intended to provide credit protection to the issuing Enterprise on the mortgages in the relevant reference pool. (14)
The Progress Report provides more detail for those who are interested. For the rest of us, we may just want to think through the policy implications. How much credit risk can Fannie and Freddie offload? Is it sufficient to make a real dent in the overall risk that the two companies pose to taxpayers? It would be helpful if the FHFA answered those questions in future reports.