The Housing Market Under Trump

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TheStreet.com quoted me in Interest Rates Likely to Rise Under Trump, Could Affect Confidence of Homebuyers. It opens,

Interest rates should increase gradually during the next four years under a Donald Trump administration, which could dampen growth in the housing industry, economists and housing experts predict.

The 10-year Treasury rose over the 2% threshold on Wednesday for the first time in several months, driving mortgage rates higher with the 30-year conventional rate rising to 3.73% according to Bankrate.com. Mortgage pricing is tied to the 10-year Treasury.

Housing demand will remain flat with a rise in interest rates as many first-time homebuyers will be saddled with more debt, said Peter Nigro, a finance professor at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I.

“With first-time homebuyers more in debt due to student loans, I don’t expect much growth in home purchasing,” he said.

Interest rates will also be affected by the size of the fiscal stimulus since additional infrastructure spending and associated debt “could push interest rates up through the issuance of more government debt,” Nigro said.

Even if interest rates spike in the next year, banks will not benefit, because there is a lack of demand, said Peter Borish, chief strategist with Quad Group, a New York-based financial firm. The economy is slowing down, and consumers have already borrowed money at very “cheap” interest rates, he said.

The policies set forth by a Trump administration will lead to contractionary results and will not spur additional growth in the housing market.

“I prefer to listen to the markets,” Borish said. “This will put downward pressure on the prices in the market. Everyone complained about Dodd-Frank, but why is JPMorgan Chase’s stock at all time highs?”

An interest rate increase could still occur in December, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. With nearly five weeks before the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the market can contemplate the potential outcomes.

“While the market is now indicating a reduced probability of a short-term rate hike at that meeting, the Fed has repeatedly indicated that they would be data-driven in their decision,” he said in a written statement. “If the markets calm down and November employment data look solid on December 2, a rate hike could still happen. The market moves yesterday are already indicating that financial markets are pondering that the Trump effect could be positive for the economy.

“The Fed is likely to start increasing the federal funds rate at a “much faster pace starting next year,” said K.C. Sanjay, chief economist for Axiometrics, a Dallas-based apartment market and student housing research firm. “This will cause single-family mortgage rates to increase slightly, however they will remain well below the long-term average.”

Since Trump has remained mum on many topics, including housing, predicting a short-term outlook is challenging. One key factor is the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who are the main players in the mortgage market, because they own or guarantee over $4 trillion in mortgages, remain in conservatorship and “play a critical role in keeping mortgage rates down through the now explicit subsidy or government backing which allows them to raise funds more cheaply,” Nigro said.

It is unlikely any changes will occur with them, because “Trump has not articulated a plan to deal with them and coming up with a plan to deal with these giants is unlikely,” he said.

Trump could attempt to take on government sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist for Trulia, a San Francisco-based real estate website.

“If he does, it’s going to be a hairy endeavor for him, because he’ll need bipartisan support to do so,” he said.

Since he has alluded to ending government conservatorship and allowing government sponsored enterprises to “recapitalize by allowing retention of their own profits instead of passing them on to the Treasury,” the result is that banks could have their liquidity and lending activity increase, which could help boost demand for homes, McLaughlin said.

“We caution President-elect Trump that he would also need to simultaneously help address housing supply, which has been at a low point over the past few years,” he said. “The difficulty for him is that most of the impediments to new housing supply rest and the state and local levels, not the federal.”

Even on Trump’s campaign website, there is “next to nothing” about his ideas on housing, said David Reiss, a law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in New York. The platform of the Republican Party and Vice President-elect Mike Pence could mean that the federal government will have a smaller footprint in the mortgage market.

“There will be a reduction in the federal government’s guaranty of mortgages, and this will likely increase the interest rates charged on mortgages, but will reduce the likelihood of taxpayer bailouts,” he said. “Fannie and Freddie will likely have fewer ties to the federal government and the FHA is likely to be limited to the lower end of the mortgage market.”

Mortgage Market Forecast

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OnCourseLearning.com’s new financial services blog quoted me in Mortgage Rates Likely to Remain Low for Foreseeable Future. It opens,

In the weeks since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, previously low interest rates have fallen to near historically low levels.

For the week ending Aug. 25, a 30-year fixed rate mortgage averaged 3.43%, just slightly above the record low of 3.31% established in 2012. At the same time a year ago, the average mortgage rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.84%, according to Freddie Mac.

The drop in interest rates appears to be drawing more homeowners into the mortgage market. Freddie Mac now expects 2016 loan originations to reach $2 trillion, the highest level since 2012.

Market Uncertainty

While markets have calmed since the Brexit vote in late June, the Mortgage Bankers Association cautioned in a July 14 Economic and Mortgage Finance commentary that the actual “terms and conditions of the exit will continue to destabilize markets.”

Global economic uncertainty, oil price fluctuations, slow economic growth and the potential for interest rate hikes suggest market instability will likely continue for some time, experts said. As a result, most analysts expect interest rates will remain low, at least in the short term.

“Those who have been betting on increasing interest rates have been wrong for a long time now,” said David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and research director of its Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. He believes rates likely will remain low “over the next six to 12 months, partially driven by a further reduction in spreads between Treasury yields and mortgage rates.”

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, a personal finance website, expects “the backdrop of slow global economic growth, low inflation, and negative interest rates elsewhere will keep demand for U.S. bonds high, and mortgage rates [below] 4% in the foreseeable future.”

In July, Freddie Mac predicted the 30-year rate won’t top 3.6% in 2016, or 4% in 2017.

Lending Opportunities

The low-interest rates have created new opportunities for lenders. Refinance bids recently reached their highest level in three years.

“With mortgage rates having been range-bound for so long, this breakout to the low side has opened the door to refinancing for homeowners who had previously refinanced around 4% or even just below,” McBride said. He expects refinancing demand to continue as long as mortgage rates stay close to 3.5%, but predicts rates may need to drop a bit more to prolong the boom.

Meanwhile, rising home prices are creating more equity, and the MBA expects homeowners to want more cash-out refinancing. In its July 14 report, the MBA raised its 2016 refinance origination forecasts by 10% to $760 billion, replacing its pre-Brexit projection of a decrease.

As rates fall, refinancing becomes attractive earlier for those with outsize mortgages. These jumbo loans are those that exceed $417,000 in most of the country, or $625,000 in high-priced markets like New York and San Francisco, according to a July 7 online article in the Wall Street Journal. With these big loans, lower rates can mean substantial savings.

“Borrowers with larger loans stand to gain more by refinancing, and may not need as large of a rate incentive than borrowers with lower loan balances,” according to the July 14 MBA report. Because more affluent borrowers take out these loans, they generally have fewer delinquencies or foreclosures, and lenders can steer big borrowers to a bank’s other accounts and services. They’re also becoming cheaper: Rates on jumbo loans were at record lows in July, according to the MBA.

Reiss thinks lenders have been somewhat “slow to expand in the jumbo market, and may now gain a leg up over their competitors by doing so.”

Potential Risks

Still, lenders face some risks to profitability, including increased regulatory expenses such as the impact of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new TRID rule. Most of the pain from the TRID regulations, Reiss said, involve “transition costs for implementing the new regulation, and those costs will decrease over time.”

Investing in Mortgage-Backed Securities

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US News & World Report quoted me in Why Investors Own Private Mortgage-Backed Securities. It opens,

Private-label, or non-agency backed mortgage securities, got a black eye a few years ago when they were blamed for bringing on the financial crisis. But they still exist and can be found in many fixed-income mutual funds and real estate investment trusts.

So who should own them – and who should stay away?

Many experts say they’re safer now and are worthy of a small part of the ordinary investor’s portfolio. Some funds holding non-agency securities yield upward of 10 percent.

“The current landscape is favorable for non-agency securities,” says Jason Callan, head of structured products at Columbia Threadneedle Investments in Minneapolis, pointing to factors that have reduced risks.

“The amount of delinquent borrowers is now at a post-crisis low, U.S. consumers continue to perform quite well from a credit perspective, and risk premiums are very attractive relative to the fundamental outlook for housing and the economy,” he says. “Home prices have appreciated nationwide by 5 to 6 percent over the last three years.”

Mortgage-backed securities are like bonds that give their owners rights to share in interest and principal received from homeowners’ mortgage payments.

The most common are agency-backed securities like Ginnie Maes guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, or securities from government-authorized companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The agency securities carry an implicit or explicit guarantee that the promised principal and interest income will be paid even if homeowners default on their loans. Ginnie Mae obligations, for instance, can be made up with federal tax revenues if necessary. Agency securities are considered safe holdings with better yields than alternatives like U.S. Treasurys.

The non-agency securities are issued by financial firms and carry no such guarantee. Trillions of dollars worth were issued in the build up to the financial crisis. Many contained mortgages granted to high-risk homeowners who had no income, poor credit or no home equity. Because risky borrowers are charged higher mortgage rates, private-label mortgage securities appealed to investors seeking higher yields than they could get from other holdings. When housing prices collapsed, a tidal wave of borrower defaults torpedoed the private-label securities, triggering the financial crisis.

Not many private-label securities have been issued in the years since, and they accounted for just 4 percent of mortgage securities issued in 2015, according to Freddie Mac. But those that are created are considered safer than the old ones because today’s borrowers must meet stiffer standards. Also, many of the non-agency securities created a decade or more ago continue to be traded and are viewed as safer because market conditions like home prices have improved.

Investors can buy these securities through bond brokers, but the most common way to participate in this market is with mutual funds or with REITs that own mortgages rather than actual real estate.

Though safer than before, non-agency securities are still risky because, unlike agency-backed securities, they can incur losses if homeowners stop making their payments. This credit risk comes atop the “prepayment” and “interest rate” risks found in agency-backed mortgage securities. Prepayment risk is when interest earnings stop because homeowners have refinanced. Interest rate risk means a security loses value because newer ones offer higher yields, making the older, stingier ones less attractive to investors.

“With non-agencies, you own the credit risk of the underlying mortgages,” Callan says, “whereas with agencies the (payments) are government guaranteed.”

Another risk of non-agency securities: different ones created from the same pool of loans are not necessarily equal. Typically, the pool is sliced into “tranches” like a loaf of bread, with each slice carrying different features. The safest have first dibs on interest and principal earnings, or are the last in the pool to default if payments dry up. In exchange for safety, these pay the least. At the other extreme are tranches that pay the most but are the first to lose out when income stops flowing.

Still, despite the risks, many experts say non-agency securities are safer than they used to be.

“Since the financial crisis, issuers have been much more careful in choosing the collateral that goes into a non-agency MBS, sticking to plain vanilla mortgage products and borrowers with good credit profiles,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who studies the mortgage market.

“It seems like the Wild West days of the mortgage market in the early 2000s won’t be returning for quite some time because issuers and investors are gun shy after the Subprime Crisis,” Reiss says. “The regulations implemented by Dodd-Frank, such as the qualified residential mortgage rule, also tamp down on excesses in the mortgage markets.”