Refinancing Apps Rise on Record Low Rates

Mortgage
rates broke another set of records during the week ended February 3,
establishing several new historic lows. 
In response, the seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA)
Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage application volume, rose 7.5
percent and 8.7 percent on an unadjusted basis. 
  

The increases were
driven solely by refinancing which represented 80.5 percent of total applications for the week,
up from 80.0 percent the previous week. 
The Index measuring applications for refinancing increased 9.4 percent over
that of the week ended January 27 but the seasonally adjusted basis the
Purchase Index ticked up only 0.1 percent. The unadjusted Purchase Index was 6
percent higher than in the previous week and 4.1 percent lower than during the
same week in 2011. 

The four-week
moving averages for the seasonally adjusted Market and Purchase Indices were up 4.88 percent and 0.65 percent respectively and
the moving average for the Refinance Index rose 5.72 percent. 

Statistics for the
month of January indicate that investors played a slightly smaller part in the
purchase mortgage market than in December with the investor share of applications
for home purchase at 6.4 percent compared to 6.9 percent in December.  In
addition, the share of purchase mortgages for second homes increased to 5.9
percent in January from 5.4 percent in December.  The investor share of applications declined
in the West and East North Central regions. 

Purchase Index vs 30 Yr Fixed

Click Here to View the Purchase Applications Chart

Refinance Index vs 30 Yr Fixed

Click Here to View the Refinance Applications Chart

Both the average
contract interest rate and the effective rate for all types of mortgages with
loan-to-value ratios of 80 percent declined for the week and all fixed-rate
mortgages (FRM) reached new lows. 

  • Rates for 30-year FRM with onforming loan balances of $417,500
    or less
    decreased to 4.05 percent from 4.09 percent, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.41 including the
    origination fee. 
  • Jumbo 30-year FRM, those with loan
    balances greater
    than $417,500,
    had averages
    rates of 4.29 percent with .43 point compared to 4.33
    percent with 0.41 point.
  • The rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the
    FHA decreased to 3.89 percent from 3.96 percent, with points increasing to 0.78
    from 0.61. 
  • Fifteen-year FRM had an average
    rate of 3.33 percent, down 3 basis points from the previous week and points decreased to
    0.37 from 0.41. 
  • The rate for 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) decreased to
    2.91 percent from 2.94 percent, with points increasing
    to 0.40 from 0.39. The ARM share of mortgage
    applications was up to 6.0 percent from 5.6
    percent the previous week.

MBA’s Weekly
Mortgage Applications Survey covers over 75 percent of all U.S. retail
residential mortgage applications, and has been conducted weekly since
1990.  Respondents include mortgage bankers, commercial banks and
thrifts.  Base period and value for all indexes is March 16, 1990=100.

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Industrial and Multi-family Loans Drive Annual CRE Increase

The Mortgage Bankers Association
(MBA) reports that commercial and multifamily loan originations were down 7
percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to the third quarter but were 13
percent higher than originations in the fourth quarter a year earlier.  The year-over year change was driven by
originations for both industrial and multifamily properties which increased 43
percent and 31 percent respectively from Q4 2010.  On the negative side, retail loans were down
8 percent, loans for healthcare properties fell 24 percent, office properties
were down 29 percent and hotel originations decreased 44 percent.

Quarter over quarter results were
mixed.  There was a 153 percent jump in
originations for health care properties; industrial loans were up 51 percent
and multifamily properties increased 29 percent.  Originations for healthcare properties fell 52
percent, office properties were down 39 percent, and retail property loans
decreased 24 percent.

Looking at lending by investor groups,
commercial bank portfolios were up by 122 percent compared to the fourth
quarter of 2010 and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (the GSEs) increased lending 17
percent.  Life insurance companies and
conduits for commercial mortgage backed securities (CMBS) decreased lending by
23 percent and 50 percent respectively.

 On a quarter-over-quarter basis only the GSEs
increased their loans, which rose 34 percent to an all time high.  Conduits for CMBS were down 26 percent, life
insurance companies decreased lending by 23 percent, and commercial bank
portfolios declined by 16 percent.  

“MBA’s Commercial/Multifamily
Mortgage Bankers Origination Index hit record levels for life insurance
companies in the second and third quarters of 2011,” said Jamie Woodwell,
MBA’s Vice President of Commercial Real Estate Research. “In the fourth
quarter, multifamily originations for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hit a new
all-time high. While the CMBS market continued to be held back by broader
capital markets uncertainty during the past year, others – like the GSEs, life
companies and many bank portfolios – increased their appetite for commercial
and multifamily loans.”

Commercial/Multi-family
Originations by Investor Types

Investor
Type

Origination Volume Index*

% Chg

Q4-Q4

Average Loan Size ($millions)

Q3 2011

Q4 2011

Q3 2011

Q4 2011

Conduits

42

31

-50

30.5

23.9

Commercial
Banks

169

143

122

11.8

7.8

Life
Insurance

282

216

-13

20.5

14.0

GSEs

176

236

17

13.8

14.3

Total

138

129

13

14,9

11.6

*2001 Ave. Quarter = 100

Commercial/Multi-family
Originations by Property Types

Investor
Type

Origination Volume Index*

% Chg

Q4-Q4

Average Loan Size ($millions)

Q3 2011

Q4 2011

Q3 2011

Q4 2011

Multi-family

140

181

31

13.2

13.5

Office

91

56

-29

19.1

11.7

Retail

222

169

-8

20.9

12.3

Industrial

142

214

43

12.4

16.2

Hotel

231

110

-44

39.0

20.1

Health
Care

91

229

-24

7.2

12.4

*2001 Ave. Quarter = 100

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Refinancing Continues to Drive Application Volume

The
Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey
reported that mortgage applications as measured by its Market Composite Index
were down 2.9 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during the week ended
January 27 but increased 9.0 percent from the previous week on an unadjusted
basis.

The
seasonally adjusted Purchase Index was down 1.7 percent while it increased 17.1
percent on an unadjusted basis from the week ended January 20 and was 4.3
percent lower than during the same week in 2011.  The Refinance Index decreased 3.6 percent
from the previous week.

All
of the four week moving averages were higher for the week.  The seasonally adjusted Market Index rose
4.11 percent, the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index was up 2.48 percent and
the Refinance Index increased 4.22 percent.

Applications for
refinancing represented 80.0 percent of all applications, down from 81.3
percent the previous week.  Applications
for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) had a 5.6 percent market share compared to
5.3 percent a week earlier.

Refinancing
applications in December increased in every U.S. state according to MBA and,
despite multiple holidays only 12 states had fewer purchase applications than
in November.  In Connecticut refinancing
applications increased 80.1 percent from November and Maine saw a 30.8 percent
increase in applications for home purchase mortgages.

Purchase Index vs 30 Yr Fixed

Click Here to View the Purchase Applications Chart

Refinance Index vs 30 Yr Fixed

Click Here to View the Refinance Applications Chart

Rates fell for all
fixed rate mortgages (FRM) compared to the previous week.  The average contract interest rate for
30-year conforming FRM (balances under $417,500) decreased to 4.09 percent with
0.41 point from 4.11 with 0.47 point. Rates for jumbo mortgages (those with
balances over $417,500) decreased from 4.39 percent to 4.33 percent while
points increased from 0.40 to 0.41.  This
is the lowest rate for the 30-year jumbo mortgages since MBA started tracking
them one year ago. 

FHA backed 30-year
FRM rates decreased one basis point to 3.96 percent with points increasing to
0.61 from 0.57.  Rates for the 15-year
FRM were down from 3.40 percent with 0.40 point to 3.36 percent with 0.41
point.  The effective rate of all of the
mortgage products listed above also decreased.

The sole rate increase was for the 5/1 ARM which increased on average to 2.94 percent with 0.39 point
from 2.91 percent with 0.41 point.  The
effective rate also increased. 

Follow what drives changes in mortgage rate each day with Mortgage Rate Watch from MND.

All rates quoted
are for 80 percent loan to value loans and points include the origination fee.

Michael
Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice President of Research and Economics said of the week’s
results, “The Federal Reserve surprised the market last week by indicating
that short-term rates were likely to stay at their current low-levels until the
end of 2014.  Longer-term treasury rates dropped in response, and mortgage
rates for the week were down slightly as a result.  Although total application volume dropped on
an adjusted basis relative to last week, refinance volume remains high, with
survey participants reporting that the expanded Home Affordable Refinance
Program (HARP) contributed to roughly 10 percent of their refinance
activity.”

MBA’s weekly
survey covers over 75 percent of all U.S. retail residential mortgage
applications, and has been conducted since 1990.  Respondents include
mortgage bankers, commercial banks and thrifts.  Base period and value for
all indexes is March 16, 1990=100.

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FHFA Answers Conflict of Interest Charges against Freddie Mac

The
Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) issued a statement late Monday refuting a
story
from ProPublic and NPR
that a complicated investment strategy utilized by Freddie Mac had influenced
it to discourage refinancing of some of its mortgages.  FHFA confirmed that the investments using
Collateralized Mortgage Obligations (CMOs) exist but said they did not impact
refinancing decisions and that their use has ended. (the NPR Story)

Freddie Mac’s charter calls for
it to make home loans more accessible, both to purchase and refinance their
homes but the ProPublica story, written by Jesse
Eisinger (ProPublica) and Chris Arnold (NPR) charged that the CMO trades “give Freddie a powerful incentive to do
the opposite
, highlighting a conflict of interest at the heart of the company.
In addition to being an instrument of government policy dedicated to making
home loans more accessible, Freddie also has giant investment portfolios and
could lose substantial amounts of money if too many borrowers refinance.”

Here,
in a nutshell, is what the story (we are quoting from an “updated” version)
says Freddie has been doing.  

Freddie
creates a security (MBS) backed by mortgages it guarantees which was divided
into two parts.  The larger portion, backed
by principal, was fairly low risk, paid a low return and was sold to investors.  The smaller portion, backed by interest
payments on the mortgages, was riskier, and paid a higher return determined by
the interest rates on the underlying loans. 
This portion, called an inverse floater, was retained by Freddie Mac.

In
2010 and 2011 Freddie Mac’s purchase (retention) of these inverse floaters rose
dramatically, from a total of 12 purchased in 2008 and 2009 to 29.  Most of the mortgages backing these floaters had
interest rates of 6.5 to 7 percent.

In
structuring these transactions, Freddie Mac sells off most of the value of the
MBS but does not reduce its risk because it still guarantees the underlying
mortgages and must pay the entire value in the case of default.  The floaters, stripped of the real value of
the underlying principal, are also now harder and possibly more expensive to
sell, and as Freddie gets paid the difference between the interest rates on the
loans and the current interest rate, if rates rise, the value of the floaters
falls. 

While
Freddie, under its agreement with the Treasury Department, has reduced the size
of its portfolio by 6 percent between 2010 and 2011, “that $43 billion drop in
the portfolio overstates the risk reduction because the company retained risk
through the inverse floaters
.”

Since
the real value of the floater is the high rate of interest being paid by the
mortgagee, if large numbers pay off their loans the floater loses value.  Thus, the article charges, Freddie has tried
to deter prospective refinancers by tightening its underwriting guidelines and
raising prices.  It cites, as its sole
example of tightened standards that in October 2010 the company changed a rule
that had prohibited financing for persons who had engaged in some short sales
to prohibiting financing for persons who had engaged in any short sale, but it
also quotes critics who charge that the Home Affordable Refinance Program
(HARP) could be reaching “millions more people if Fannie (Mae) and Freddie
implemented the program more effectively.”

It
has discouraged refinancing by raising fees. 
During Thanksgiving week in 2010, the article contends, Freddie quietly
announced it was raising post-settlement delivery fees.  In November 2011, FHFA announced that the
GSEs were eliminating or reducing some fees but the Federal Reserve said that “more
might be done.”

If
Freddie Mac has limited refinancing, the article says, it also affected the whole
economy which might benefit from billions of dollars of discretionary income generated
through lower mortgage payments.  Refinancing
might also reduce foreclosures and limit the losses the GSEs suffer through defaults
of their guaranteed loans.

The
authors say there is no evidence that decisions about trades and decisions
about refinancing were coordinated.  “The
company is a key gatekeeper for home loans but says its traders are “walled
off” from the officials who have restricted homeowners from taking advantage of
historically low interest rates by imposing higher fees and new rules.”

ProPublica/NPR says that the
floater trades “raise questions about the FHFA’s oversight of Fannie and
Freddie” as a regulator but, as conservator it also acts as the board of
directors and shareholders and has emphasized that its main goal is to limit
taxpayer losses.  This has frustrated the
administration because FHFA has made preserving the companies’ assets a
priority over helping homeowners.  The
President tried to replace acting director Edward J. DeMarco, but Congress
refused to confirm his nominee. 

The
authors conclude by saying that FHFA knew about the inverse floater trades
before they were approached about the story but officials declined to comment on whether the
FHFA knew about them as Freddie was conducting them or whether the FHFA had
explicitly approved them.”

The
FHFA statement
said that Freddie Mac has historically used CMOs as a tool to
manage its retained portfolio and to address issues associated with security
performance.  The inverse floaters were
used to finance mortgages sold to Freddie through its cash window and to sell
mortgages out of its portfolio “in response to market demand and to shrink its
own portfolio.”  The inverse floater
essentially leaves Freddie with a portion of the risk exposure it would have
had if it had kept the entire mortgage on its balance sheet and also results in
a more complex financing structure that requires specialized risk management
processes.  (Full FHFA Statement)

The
agency said that for several reasons Freddie’s retention of inverse floaters ended in
2011 and only $5 billion is held in the company’s $650 billion retained
portfolio.  Later that year FHFA staff
identified concerns about the floaters and the company agreed that these
transactions would not resume pending completing of the agency examination.

These
investments FHFA said did not have any impact on the recent changes to
HARP.  In evaluating changes, FHFA
specifically directed both Freddie and Fannie not to consider changes in their
own investment income in the HARP evaluation process and now that the HARP
changes are in place the refinance process is between borrowers and loan
originators and servicers, not Freddie Mac.

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AG Holder Announces Structure of MBS Fraud Unit

The formation of the Residential
Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group
tasked with investigating mortgage
fraud is now official.  The new office,
which will be part of the Administrations Financial Fraud Enforcement Task
Force (FFETF) was first announced by President Obama in his State of the Union
speech on Tuesday.

At a press conference this morning (video below), Attorney General Eric Holder along with
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, Securities and
Exchange Commission (SEC) Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami and New York
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Holder outlined the mechanics of the working
group which will bring together the Department of Justice (DOJ), several state
attorneys general and other federal entities to investigate those responsible
for misconduct contributing to the financial crisis through the pooling and
sale of residential mortgage-backed securities. 
The group will consist of at least 55 DOJ attorneys, analysts, agents,
and investigators from around the country including the 15 civil and criminal
attorneys and 10 FBI agents already employed in the FFETF unit.  This team will join existing state and federal
resources investigating similar misconduct under those authorities.

Holder said that the goal of the group will be to hold accountable any
institutions that violated the law; to compensate victims and help provide
relief for homeowners struggling from the collapse of the housing market,
caused in part by this wrongdoing and to help turn the page “on this
destructive period in our nation’s history.”

Holder confirmed the principal staff that we identified here earlier this
week:  Schneiderman will chair the group
with co-chairs Khuzami, Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division,
DOJ; John Walsh, U.S. Attorney, District of Colorado; and Tony West, Assistant
Attorney General, Civil Division, DOJ. 
Schneiderman will lead the effort from the state level and will be
joined by other state attorneys general.

Schneiderman said, “In coordination with our federal partners, our office
will continue its steadfast commitment to holding those responsible for the
mortgage crisis accountable, providing meaningful relief for homeowners
commensurate with the scale of the misconduct, and getting our economy moving
again.  The American people deserve a thorough investigation into the
global financial meltdown to ensure nothing like it ever happens again, and
today’s announcement is a major step in the right direction.”

The new office has been the target of criticism from Wall Street since the
President’s announcement such as that from JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon who said
the working group would “derail” the proposed settlement between the states and
major banks, and Jaret Seiberg,
Senior Vice President of the Washington Research Group who told CNBC that the
sole purpose of the group is to bring criminal charges against bankers.

Press Conference Video

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