DeMarco Outlines Justification against GSE Principal Reduction

Acting Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)
Director Edward J. DeMarco responded Friday to a request from 16 House
Democrats to explain the statutory authority that DeMarco has claimed prohibits
FHFA from offering principal reduction as part of loan modifications on loans
it owns or guarantees.  The request was
made last November after DeMarco told the House Committee on Oversight and
Government Reform that his agency had concluded that “the use of principal reduction within the context of a loan
modification is not going to be the least-cost approach for the taxpayer.”  When a committee member pointed out that several
banks are already implementing principal reduction programs in an attempt to
help delinquent or underwater homeowners and citing specific examples, DeMarco said “I believe that the decisions that we’ve made with regard
to principal forgiveness are consistent with our statutory mandate,” and committed
to providing documentation of that statutory authority to the Committee.

a letter sent to the Committee’s ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) DeMarco laid
out the statutory requirements as originating in three congressional mandates;
first FHFA’s role as conservator and regulator of the government sponsored
enterprises (GSEs) which requires it to preserve and conserve the assets and
properties of the GSEs; second, maintaining the GSE’s pre-conservatorship missions
and obligations to maintain liquidity in the housing market; and third, under
the Emergency Economic  Stabilization Act
of 2008 (EESA), FHFAs statutory responsibility to maximize assistance to
homeowners to minimize foreclosure while considering the net present value
(NPV) of any action to prevent foreclosures.

The focus of the letter, however, is not
the statutory framework but rather why FHFA has decided that principal
forgiveness does not meet its core responsibility within that framework to
preserve and conserve the assets of the GSEs.

DeMarco’s rationale relies on an internal
analysis provided to him in December 2010 and updated in June 2011 which shows
that the use of principal reduction as a loss mitigation measure for GSE loans
under with the Making Home Affordable (HAMP) program or the FHA Short Refi
program would cost the Enterprises more than the benefits derived and
recommended that, instead the GSEs should more aggressively pursue propriety
loan modifications
that reduce the interest rate, extend the mortgage term, and
provide for substantial principal forbearance and promote HARP refinance
transactions for borrowers who are current on their mortgages but underwater in
respect to their equity. 

The GSEs collectively guarantee or hold
about 30 million loans and, using the FHFA Home Price Index to estimate home
values it appears that less than two million of these loans are secured by
properties valued at less than the outstanding debt; i.e. underwater.  Of these loans, more than half are performing
and about one-half million are severely delinquent or in foreclosure.  The table below clearly shows that high LTV
loans are only a small proportion of the GSE’s loans and that most of the loans
are either current or severely delinquent.

Using the Treasury HAMP NPV model the
FHFA study team compared the economic effectiveness of forgiving principal down
to a mark-to-market LTV (MTMLTV) level of 115 percent versus forbearance of the
same amount of principal for all loans with a MTMLTV greater than 115 percent.  The model suggested no better result from principal
reduction than from forbearance and showed the latter as slightly more
effective in reducing GSE losses.  The
team also evaluated the accounting and operational implications of the
principal reduction to measure those costs against benefits to borrowers.  The costs were found to include, in addition
to the immediate losses, the costs of modifying technology, providing training
to servicers, and the opportunity cost of diverting attention away from other
loss mitigation activities.

Principal forbearance, in
contrast, requires no systems changes and is a common approach in government
credit programs, including FHA. The borrower is offered changes to the loan
term and rate as well as a deferral of principal, which has the same effect on
the borrower’s monthly payment as principal reduction, but provides the investor
with potential recovery. The forborne principal is paid in full or part upon
sale of the property or payoff of the loan. This traditional approach would
minimize the Enterprise losses and treat GSE borrowers in a manner that is
consistent with other government programs.

Given the large portion of the
high LTV borrowers that are current on their mortgages, a principal reduction
program for this segment, such as the FHA Short Refi program, simply transfers
performing GSE borrowers over to FHA, at a cost to the GSEs. A less costly
approach for the Enterprises to assist these borrowers is to provide a GSE
refinance alternative, such as HARP. Clearly, the HARP program has been
underutilized to date, suggesting that the program features should be revisited
to remove barriers to entry wherever possible.

…(read more)

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Study: No Additional Restrictions on QRM Needed

The proposed down payment standards
for new mortgages might push 60 percent of potential borrowers into high-cost
loans or out of the housing market altogether according to a paper released
today by the Center for Responsible Lending.  The paper,
Balancing Risk and Access:  Underwriting
Standards for Qualified Residential Mortgages
, is the result of a study to
weigh the effects of proposed underwriting guidelines for qualified residential
mortgages (QRM)
, mortgages that are exempt from the risk retention requirements
laid out in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

The Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan
research and policy organization with a stated mission of “protecting
homeownership and family wealth by working to eliminate abusive financial
practices” has, along with other consumer and industry groups, raised concerns
about a potential disproportionate impact of restrictive QRM guidelines on
low-income, low-wealth, minority and other households traditionally underserved
by the mainstream mortgage market.  The
study examines the way different QRM guidelines may affect access to mortgage
credit and loan performance and estimates the additional impacts on defaults
resulting from guidelines above and beyond QM product requirements.

The researchers, Roberto G. Quercia,
University of North Carolina Center for Community Capital, Lei Ding, Wayne
State University, and Carolina Reid, Center for Responsible Lending used
datasets from Lender Processing Services (collected from servicers) and
Blackbox (data from loans in private label securities collected from investor
pools.)  They identified from among 19
million loans originated between 2000 and 2008 the 10.9 million that would meet
the current QRM guidelines, i.e. loans with full documentation that have no
negative amortization, interest only, balloon, or prepayment penalties.  Adjustable rate mortgages must have fixed
terms of at least five years and no loans over 30 years duration. 

The default rate for the universe of
loans was 11 percent, for prime conventional loans, 7.7 percent, and for loans
(regardless of type) that would have met the QM product feature limits, 5.8
percent.  In other words, the research “suggests
that the QM loan term restrictions on their own would curtail the risky lending
that occurred during the subprime boom and lead to substantially lower
foreclosure rates without overly restricting access to credit.”

The next step was to apply some of
the suggested additional criteria for QRM to the loans; a minimum down payment
of 20 percent, a range of higher FICO scores, and lower debt to income (DTI)
ratios.  The goal was to determine the
benefit of each as measured by an improvement in default rates without an undo reduction
in borrowers able to qualify for an affordable loan.

When various permutations of
loan-to-value (LTV), FICO scores, and DTI ratios were applied to the loans lower
default rates were achieved.  These
improvements, however, were accompanied by the exclusion of a larger share of
loans.  As Figure 4 shows, some of the restrictions
resulted in the exclusion of as many as 70 percent of loans.   

To quantify this, the authors
developed two additional measures.  The
first, a benefit ratio, compares the percent reduction in the number of
defaults to the percent reduction in the number of borrowers who would have
access to QRM loans with the proposed guidelines.  For example, an underwriting restriction that
resulted in a 50 percent reduction in foreclosures while excluding only 10
percent of borrowers would have a higher benefit ratio than one with the same
reduction in foreclosures that excluded 20 percent of borrowers.

One finding was that LTVs of 80 or
90 percent resulted in particularly poor outcomes while an LTV of 97 percent
had added benefits of reduced defaults relative to borrower access.  This suggests that even a very modest down payment
may play an important role in protecting against default while excluding a
smaller share of borrowers than would a higher down payment requirement.

Since underwriting is unlikely to
impose restrictions in isolation, the study analyzed a combination of possible
QRM restrictions.  They found that the
strictest guidelines produced the worst outcomes and that none of the patterns
of proposed restrictions performed as well as the QM restrictions on their own.

The second measure, an exclusion
ratio, looks at the number of performing loans a certain threshold would
exclude to prevent one default.  In this
measure, the number of excluded loans can be viewed as a proxy for the number
of “creditworthy” borrowers who would be excluded from the QRM market.

Imposing 80 percent LTV requirements
on the universe of QM loans would exclude 10 loans from the QRM market to
prevent one additional default.  Adding
to this a FICO above 690 and 30 percent DTI ratio would exclude 12 creditworthy
borrowers to prevent one default.

The current QRM criteria are more
restrictive for rate-term and cash-out refinancing than for purchase
loans.  The study found that the QM
product restrictions are the most effective in balancing the demand between reducing
defaults and ensuring access to credit.

The study also found that imposing
additional LTV, DTI, and FICO underwriting requirements
on QM loans had
disproportionate effects on low-income borrowers and borrowers of color.  Just over 75 percent of African-American
borrowers and 70 percent of Latino borrowers would not qualify for a 20 percent
down QRM mortgage and significant racial and ethnic disparities are evident for
FICO requirements as well.  At FICO
scores above 690, 42 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of Latino
borrowers would be excluded against 22 percent of white and 25 percent of Asian
households.  At the most restrictive
combined thresholds (80 percent LTV, FICO above 690, DTI of 30 percent) approximately
85 percent of creditworthy borrowers would not qualify with African American
and Latino disqualifications each above 90 percent.

The Center says in conclusion that
its research provides “compelling evidence that the QM product loan guidelines
on their own would curtail the risky lending that occurred during the subprime
boom and lead to substantially lower foreclosure rates, while not overly
restricting access to credit.”

…(read more)

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Builder Confidence Index At 54 Month High

Home builder confidence rose in January
for the fourth consecutive month as builders saw more buyer traffic and
anticipated higher sales.  The National
Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) rose
four points to 25
in January to reach its highest level since June 2007.  Each of the three components of the HMI also
increased for the fourth month and the improved confidence was evident across
every region of the country.

The HMI is the result of a monthly
survey of NAHB has conducted for 20 years. 
The survey asks the Association’s home builder members their perceptions
of current single-family home sales and their expectations for such sales over
the next six months, each graded on a scale of “good,” “fair,” or “poor.”  The survey also asks builders to rate the
current traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average,” or “low
to very low.”  Answers to each question
are used to calculate a component index and those comprise the composite
index.  For each index a number over 50
indicates more builders view conditions as good than as poor.

Each of the three component indices rose
three points in January.  The component
measuring current sales conditions is at 25 and the index measuring traffic of
prospective buyers is at 21, the highest point for each since June 2007; the
index reflecting expectations for the next six months rose to 29, the highest score
September 2009.

Bob Nielsen, NAHB chairman said of the
results, “This good news comes on the heels of several months of gains in
single-family housing starts and sales, and is yet another indication of the
gradual but steady improvement that is beginning to take hold in an increasing
number of housing markets nationwide. Policymakers must now take every
precaution to avoid derailing this nascent recovery.”

“Builders are seeing greater interest among potential buyers as employment
and consumer confidence slowly improve in a growing number of markets, and this
has helped to move the confidence gauge up from near-historic lows in the first
half of 2011,” noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “That said,
caution remains the word of the day as many builders continue to voice concerns
about potential clients being unable to qualify for an affordable mortgage,
appraisals coming through below construction cost, and the continuing flow of
foreclosed properties hitting the market.”

The HMI also posted gains in all four regions in January, including a
nine-point gain to 23 in the Northeast, a one-point gain to 24 in the Midwest,
a two-point gain to 27 in the South and a five-point gain to 21 in the West.

…(read more)

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On Location: In Catskill, N.Y., Finding an Affordable Country Home

Finding a gem in the country, then clearing the clutter and using a light touch.

OCC Notes Fewer Banks Tightening Underwriting Standards

The Office of Comptroller of the Currency
(OCC) recently completed its 18th annual “Survey of Credit
Underwriting Practices
.” The survey seeks to identify trends in lending
and credit risks for the most common types of commercial and retail
credit offered by National Banks and Federal Savings Associations (FSA).  The latter was included for the first time in
this year’s survey.

The survey covers OCC’s examiner
assessments of underwriting standards at 87 banks with assets of three billion
dollars or more.  Examiners looked at
loan products for each company where loan volume was 2% or more of its
committed loan portfolio.  The survey covers
loans totaling $4.6 trillion as of December 31, 2011, representing 91% of total
loans in the national banking and FSA systems at that time.  The large banks discussed in the report are
the 18 largest by asset size supervised by the OCC’s large bank supervision
department; the other 69 banks are supervised by OCC’s medium size and
community bank supervision department. 
Underwriting standards refer to the terms and conditions under which
banks extend or renew credit such as financial and collateral requirements,
repayment programs, maturities, pricings, and covenants.

The results showed that underwriting
standards remain largely unchanged
from last year.  OCC examiners reported that those banks that changed
standards generally did so in response to shifts in economic outlook, the
competitive environment, or the banks risk appetite including a desire for
growth.  Loan portfolios that experienced
the most easing included indirect consumer, credit cards, large corporate,
asset base lending, and leverage loans. 
Portfolios that experienced the most tightening included high
loan-to-value (HLTV) home equity, international, commercial and residential
construction, affordable housing, and residential real estate loans.

Expectations regarding future health of
the economy
differed by bank and loan products but examiners reported that
economic outlook was one of the main reasons given for easing or tightening
standards.  Others were changes in risk
appetite and product performance. Factors contributing to eased standards were changes
in the competitive environment, increased competition and desire for growth and
increased market liquidity. 

The survey indicates that 77% of
examiner responses reflected that the overall level of credit risk will remain
either unchanged or improve over the next 12 months.  In last year’s survey 64% of the responses
showed an expectation for improvement in the level of credit risk over the
coming year. Because of the significant volume of real estate related loans,
the greatest credit risk in banks was general economic weakness and its results
and impact on real estate values.   

Eighty-four of the surveyed banks (97
percent) originate residential real estate loans.  There is a slow continued trend from
tightening to unchanged standards with 65 percent of the banks reporting
unchanged residential real estate underwriting standards.  Despite the many challenges and uncertainties
presented by the housing market, none of the banks exited the residential real
estate business during the past year however examiners reported that two banks
plan to do so in the coming year.  Additionally,
examiners indicated that quantity of risk inherent in these portfolios remained
unchanged or decreased at 81% of the banks.

Similar results were noted for
conventional home equity loans with 68% of banks keeping underwriting standards
unchanged and 18% easing standards since the 2001 survey.  Of the six banks that originated high
loan-to-value home equity loans, three banks have exited the business and one
plans to do so in the coming year

Commercial real estate (CRE) products
include residential construction, commercial construction, and all other CRE
loans.  Almost all surveyed banks offered
at least one type of CRE product and these remain a primary concern of examiners
given the current economic environment and some banks’ significant
concentrations in this product relative to their capital.  A majority of banks underwriting standards
remain unchanged for CRE; tightening continued in residential construction and
commercial (21 percent and 20 percent respectively).  Examiners site cited the distressed real
estate market, poor product performance, reduced risk appetite and changing
market strategy as the main reasons for the banks net tightening.

Nineteen banks (22 percent) offered
residential construction loan products but recent performance of these loans
has been poor and many banks have either exited the product or significantly
curtailed new originations.

Of the loan products surveyed 17% were originated
to sell, mostly large corporate loans, leveraged loans, international credits,
and asset based loans.  Examiners noted
different standards for loans originated to hold vs. loans originated to sell
in only one or two of the banks offering each product.  There has been continued improvement since
2008 in reducing the differences in hold vs. sell underwriting standards and
OCC continues to monitor and assess any differences.

…(read more)

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