Geithner Outlines Accomplishments, Future of Financial Reform

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told
the Financial Stability Oversight Council that the financial system is getting
stronger and safer and that much of the excess risk-taking and careless
financial practices that caused so much damage has been forced out.  However, he said, “These gains will erode
over time if we are not able to put our full reforms into place.”

He outlined the basic framework has been
laid, with new global agreements to limit leverage, rules for managing the
failure of a large firm and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
up and running, and the majority of the new safeguards for derivatives markets proposed.  Geithner ticked off the major accomplishments
of reform.

First, banks now face much
tougher limits on risk which are critical to reducing the risk of large
financial failures and limiting the damage such failures can cause.  The focus in 2012 will be “on defining the
new liquidity standards and on making sure that capital risk-weights are
applied consistently.”

 The new rules are tougher on
the largest banks that pose the greatest risk and are being complemented by
other limits on risk-taking such as the Volcker Rules and limits on the size of
firms and concentration of the financial systems.  These will not apply only to banks but to
other large financial institutions that could pose a threat to financial system
stability and this year the Risk Council will make the first of these
designations.

Second, the derivatives market will,
for the first time, be required to meet a comprehensive set of transparency
requirements, margin rules and other safeguards.  These reforms are designed to move
standardized contracts to clearing houses and trading platforms and will be
complemented with more conservative safeguards for the more complex and
specialized products less amenable to central clearing and electronic
trading.  These reforms, the balance of
which will be outlined this year, will lower costs for those who use the
products, allow parties to hedge against risk, but limit the potential for
abuse, the Secretary said. 

Third, is a carefully designed set
of safeguards against risk outside the banking system and enhanced protections
for the basic infrastructure of the financial markets: 

  • Money market funds will have new
    requirements designed to limit “runs.”
  • Important funding markets like the
    tri-party repo market are now more conservatively structured.
  • International trade repositories are
    being developed for derivatives, including credit default swaps.
  • Designated financial market utilities
    will have oversight and requirements for stronger financial reserves;

Fourth; there will be a stronger set
of protections in place against “too big to fail” institutions.  The key elements are:

  • Capital and liquidity rules with
    tough limits on leverage to both reduce the probability of failure and prevent
    a domino effect;
  • New protections for derivatives,
    funding markets, and for the market infrastructure to limit contagion across
    the financial system;
  • Tougher limits on institutional size;
  • A bankruptcy-type framework to
    manage the failure of large financial firms.
    This “resolution authority” will prohibit bailouts for private
    investors, protect taxpayers, and force the financial system to bear the costs
    of future crisis.

Fifth, significantly stronger
protections for investors and consumers are being put in place including the
CFPB which is working to improve disclosures for mortgages and credit cards and
developing new standards for qualified mortgages.  New authorities are being used to strengthen protections
for investors and to give shareholders greater voice on issues like executive
compensation.

Geithner pointed to the failure of
account segregation rules to protect customers in the MF Global disaster as proof
of the need for more protections and said that the Council will work with the
SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Council on this problem.   

Moving forward, reforms must be
structured to endure as the market evolves and to work not just in isolation
but to interact appropriately with each other and the broader economy.  “We
want to be careful to get the balance right-building a more stable financial
system, with better protections for consumers and investors, that allows for
financial innovation in support of economic growth.” 

First, he said, we have to make sure
we have a level playing field at home; that financial firms engaged in similar
activity and financial instruments that have similar characteristics are
treated roughly the same because small differences can have powerful effects in
shifting risk to where the rules are softer. 
A level field globally is also important, particularly with reforms that
toughen rules on capital, margin, liquidity, and leverage, as well as in the
global derivatives markets.  “In these areas we are working to discourage
other nations from applying softer rules to their institutions and to try to
attract financial activity away from the U.S. market and U.S. institutions.” 

It is necessary to align the
developing derivatives regimes around the world; preventing attempts to soften
application of capital rules, limiting the discretion available to supervisors
in enforcing rules on risk-weights for capital and designing rules for
resolution of large global institutions.  Also, because some U.S. reforms are different
or tougher from rules in other markets, there needs to be a sensible way to
apply those rules to the foreign operations of U.S. firms and the U.S.
operation of foreign firms.

 The U.S. also needs to move
forward with reforms to the mortgage market including a path to winding down
the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs.) 
The Administration has already outlined a broad strategy, Geithner said,
and expects to lay out more detail in the spring.  The immediate concern is to repair the damage
to homeowners, the housing market, and neighborhoods.  The President spoke this week about the range
of tools he plans to use.  Our ultimate goals
are to wind down the GSEs, bring private capital back into the market, reduce
the government’s direct role, and better target support toward first-time
homebuyers and low- and moderate-income Americans.

Geithner said the new system must
foster affordable rentals options, have stronger, clearer consumer protections,
and create a level playing field for all institutions participating in the
system.  For this to happen without
hurting the broader economy and adding further damage to those areas that have
been hardest hit, banks and private investors must come back into the market on
a larger scale and they want more clarity on the rules that will apply. 

Credit availability is still a problem
and there is a broad array of programs in place to improve access to credit and
capital for small businesses.  As
conditions improve, it is important that we remain focused on making sure that
small businesses, a crucial engine of job growth, have continued access to
equity capital and credit.

Many Americans trying to buy a home
or refinance their mortgage are also finding it hard to access credit, even for
FHA- or GSE-backed mortgages.  The Administration has been working closely
with the FHA and FHFA to encourage them to take additional measures to remove
unnecessary barriers and they are making progress.  They will probably outline additional reforms
in the coming weeks.

Bank supervisors, in the normal
conduct of bank exams and supervision, as well as in the design of new rules to
limit risk taking and abuse, must be careful not to overdo it with actions that
cause undue damage to the availability of credit or liquidity to markets.

Geithner said the U.S. financial
system is getting stronger
, and is now significantly stronger than it was
before the crisis.  Among the achievements:

  • Banks have increased common equity
    by more than $350 billion since 2009.
  • Banks and other financial
    institutions with more than $5 trillion in assets at the end of 2007 have been
    shut down, acquired, or restructured.
  • The asset-backed commercial paper
    market has shrunk by 70 percent since its peak in 2007, and the tri-party repo
    market and prime money market funds have shrunk by 40 percent and 33 percent
    respectively since their 2008 peaks.
  • The financial assistance we provided
    to banks through TARP, for example, will result in taxpayer gains of
    approximately $20 billion.

The Secretary said the strength of
the banks is helping to support broader economic growth, including the more
than 3 million private sector jobs created over 22 straight months, and the 30
percent increase in private investment in equipment and software.  
Broadly, the cost of credit has fallen significantly since late 2008 and early
2009.  Banks are lending more, with commercial and industrial loans to
businesses up by an annual rate of more than 10 percent over the past six
months.  

He concluded by saying that no
financial system is invulnerable to crisis, and there is a lot of unfinished
business on the path of reform.  The reforms are tough where they need to
be tough.  “But they will leave our financial system safer, better able to
help businesses raise capital, and better able to help families finance safely
the purchase of a house or a car, to borrow to invest in a college education,
or to save for retirement.  And they will protect the taxpayer from having
to pay the price of future crisis.”

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LPS: Mortgage Originations Among Highest Quality Ever in 2010-2011

The Lender Processing Services (LPS) Mortgage Monitor Report for December show
improvement in a number of the metrics it tracks. Many measures of delinquency
rates are down, inventories are clearing in some states, and recent loan
originations are “among the best quality on record.”

The overall delinquency rate did not
change from November, remaining at 8.15 percent but is down 7.7 percent since
December 2010.  Seriously delinquent
loans, those 90 or more days overdue or in foreclosure decreased 0.6 percent to
7.67 percent, a -5.9 percent change from one year earlier.

The foreclosure rate which was 4.16
percent in November fell to 4.11 percent in December and is down 1.0 percent
year-over-year.  Foreclosure starts
showed the most dramatic change.  There
were 159,092 starts in December compared to 165,205 in November, a -3.7 percent
change and starts were 38.7 percent below the level in December 2010.   This is the lowest level of foreclosure starts
since at least 2008.

While 90+ day delinquencies are about
the same in judicial and non-judicial states there remains a large distinction between
these states in other measures of foreclosure activity.  LPS found that half of all loans in
foreclosure in judicial states have not made a payment in more than two years
as the foreclosure process drags on.  The
foreclosure sales rate in non-judicial states is four times that in judicial
states (6.8 percent vs. 1.6 percent). 
Foreclosure inventories stand at about 3.5 percent nationwide; in
non-judicial states those inventories are about 2 percent while in judicial
states they are 2.5 times greater – over 6 percent.  Still, pipeline ratios (the time it would
take to clear through the inventory of loans either seriously delinquent or in
foreclosure at the current rate of foreclosure sales) has declined
significantly from earlier this year in judicial states while remaining flat in
non-judicial states.


Loan
originations
(month ending November 11) numbered 537,720 compared to 597,888 in
October, a decline of 10.1 percent and 29.3 percent below originations one year
earlier.  The loans originated over the
last two years
, however, are among the best quality on record according to
LPS.  2010-11 vintage originations showed
90-day default rates below those of all other years, going back to 2005.
December origination data also shows that recent prepayment activity – a key
indicator of mortgage refinances – has remained strong, with 2008-09
originations, high credit score borrowers and government-backed loans having
benefited the most from recent, historically low interest rates.

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Remodelers See Business Improving

Like their home-building counterparts, remodelers
who are members of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) are
displaying more confidence in their industry than they have in years.  The NAHB’s Remodeling Market Index (RMI) for
the fourth quarter of 2011 which measures remodelers’ sentiments about their
business climate rose to 46.6 its highest level in five year.  In the third quarter the Index was 41.7.

Like the Home Builders Index (HMI) the measures
responses from home builders, the RMI surveys NAHB members who are involved in
remodeling about current market conditions and about indicators of future
conditions.  Scores above 50 for the HMI,
the RMI or their component indices indicate that more respondents view the
market as good than view it as fair.  In
January the HMI hit a 54 month high of 25.

The RMI component measuring current market conditions rose to 48.4 from 43.0
and two of the categories within that index rose significantly.  Market activity related to major additions
rose from 45.2 to 52.3 and minor additions from 45.7 to 50.1

The component measuring future market indicators of
remodeling business rose to 44.8 from 40.4 in the previous quarter and two of
its categories rose over the 50 mark; calls for bids increased from 45.4 to 50.7
and appointments for proposals to 50.1 from 43.3.   The third category, work committed for the
next three months rose only slightly to 31.5 from 29.9.

 “As more consumers remain in their
homes rather than move in this economy, remodelers benefited from a gradual
increase in home improvement activity, taking us to a five-year high,” said
NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bob Peterson, CGR, CAPS, CGP.  “2011 ended on a strong note for the
remodeling industry.”

Scores improved for both future market indicators and current market
conditions in all four regions of the country.  

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Pending Home Sales Decline in December, Remain Above a Year Ago

Pending home sales fell off of the
19-month high reached in November according to figures released on Wednesday by
the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), but were still higher than one
year ago.  NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index
(PHSI) dropped from 100.1 in November to 96.6 in December, a decline of 3.5 percent.  December pending home sales were still 5.6
percent above the December 2010 index of 91.5.

The PHSI is a measure of signed
sales contracts for home purchases where the transaction has not closed.  It is considered a forward indicator as the
sale is usually finalized within one or two months of contract signing.  An index
of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the trend line remains
positive.  “Even with a modest decline, the preceding two months of
contract activity are the highest in the past four years outside of the
homebuyer tax credit period,” he said.  “Contract failures remain an
issue, reported by one-third of Realtors® over the past few months,
but home buyers are not giving up.”

Yun said some
buyers successfully complete the sale after a contract delay, while others stay
in the market after a contract failure and make another offer.  “Housing
affordability conditions are too good to pass up,” he said.  “Our hope is
lending conditions will gradually improve with sustained increases in closed
existing-home sales.”

On a regional
basis results were mixed with three regions showing increases on a year to year
basis but only one increasing during the December.

Pending Home Sales by Region

Region

Index in

December

Chg Nov to
Dec.

(%)

Chg Dec.
2010 to

Dec. 2011
(%)

Northeast

74.7

-3.1

-0.8

Midwest

95.3

+4.0

+13.3

South

101.1

-2.6

+4.9

West

107.9

-11.0

+3.7

U.S.

96.6

-3.5

+5.6

NAR also issued an economic forecast which predicts a healthy growth in
both real and nominal GPD over the next two years with real GDP growing in a historically
normal range of around 3 percent and the unemployment rate falling under 8
percent by 2013. 

Housing starts are expected to improve to around 750,000 in 2012 and
reach a million the next year – both figures well below the historically
typical 1.5 million.  Housing sales, both
new and existing, will remain relatively flat with new home sales reaching a
half million by the end of 2013.  
Existing home sales are estimated to have totaled 4.26 million in 2011
and will rise gradually to 4.45 million and 4.62 million in 2012 and 2013
respectively. 

Inventories are not projected into the future, but the supply of existing
homes is trending down and is now around 2.25 million.  The inventory of new homes has declined to a
nearly negligible level, however given the pace of sales, both inventories
represent about a six month supply.

NAR expects
median prices of both new and existing homes to rise only slightly from current
levels of$223,400 and $166,100 during 2012 but will rise more rapidly during
2013 to a median level of $235,800 and $172,600 by year end.

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Momentum Seen for Home Improvement Spending

Spending
on home improvements and remodeling have shown signs of a rebound and the
Remodeling Futures Program at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies is
projecting that sector of the economy will end 2012 on a positive note.

The
Joint Center produces the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) each
quarter.  It is designed to estimate
national homeowner spending on improvements for the current quarter and the
following three quarters.  The indicator, measured as an annual rate-of-change
of its components, provides a short-term outlook of homeowner remodeling
activity and is intended to help identify future turning points in the business
cycle of the home improvement industry.

The
figures from the most recent quarter, the fourth quarter of 2011, showed an
estimated four-quarter moving total of $112.4 billion in home improvement
spending compared to $113.8 billion in the third quarter.  This number is expected to dip further in the
first quarter of 2012, to $108.1 billion before starting to build at mid-year.

 “Sales of existing homes have been increasing
in recent months, offering more opportunities for home improvement projects,”
says Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint
Center.  “As lending institutions become less fearful of the real estate
sector, financing will become more readily available to owners looking to
undertake remodeling.”

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