Nearly 100 Metro Areas on Improving Market List

The list of Improving Housing Markets (IHM) maintained by
the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) took another big jump in
February, rising from 76 in January and more than doubling the 41 reported in
December.  There are now 98 metropolitan
areas
representing 36 states included on the list.

The IHM identifies metropolitan areas that have shown
improvement from their respective troughs on each of three metrics –
employment, housing permits, and home prices – for at least six consecutive
months.  NAHB uses data from the Bureau
of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Freddie Mac to measure
improved performance.

The additions to the February Index include some
metropolitan areas that had been particularly weak including Miami, Detroit,
Memphis, Kansas City, Missouri; Portland, Oregon, and Salt Lake City.  NAHB points out that inclusion in the Index
does not indicate strong recovery, merely that some of these troubled areas are
coming off of extreme lows.

Seven metro areas dropped off of the Index in February due
to softening housing prices.  One of
these was Washington, DC, one of the few areas that had continued to show
strong prices and sales through 2011. 

“While many of the markets on the February IMI are far from fully
recovered, the index points out where employment, home prices and housing
production are no longer retreating and have held above their lowest recession
troughs for six months or more,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.
“This is a sign that a large cross section of the country is starting to
turn the corner as local economic conditions stabilize.”

 MSA  Permits Trough Date Growth From Trough Prices Trough Date Growth From Trough Employment Trough Date Growth From Trough
1 Florence, AL 03/31/09 2.6% 02/28/11 0.6% 07/31/09 3.9%
2 Tuscaloosa, AL 05/31/11 8.8% 02/28/11 3.6% 06/30/09 1.7%
3 Fayetteville, AR 03/31/09 1.2% 02/28/11 1.0% 02/28/10 3.0%
4 Napa, CA 06/30/11 31.2% 02/28/11 0.3% 02/28/11 3.3%
5 Boulder, CO 11/30/09 11.6% 01/31/11 6.2% 01/31/10 2.7%
6 Denver, CO 03/31/09 2.8% 02/28/11 2.1% 01/31/10 1.4%
7 Fort Collins, CO 03/31/09 4.5% 12/31/10 4.6% 12/31/09 3.5%
8 Greeley, CO 11/30/10 8.1% 02/28/11 3.3% 12/31/09 0.1%
9 Bridgeport, CT 03/31/09 1.2% 02/28/11 4.5% 01/31/10 1.4%
10 New Haven, CT 04/30/11 26.0% 02/28/11 0.0% 02/28/10 2.1%
11 Cape Coral, FL 03/31/09 3.1% 02/28/11 8.1% 01/31/11 1.7%
12 Deltona, FL 03/31/11 2.6% 03/31/11 15.1% 01/31/11 3.3%
13 Jacksonville, FL 04/30/09 1.4% 02/28/11 1.5% 02/28/10 2.3%
14 Miami, FL 04/30/09 7.3% 03/31/11 2.6% 03/31/10 1.7%
15 North Port, FL 01/31/09 2.7% 02/28/11 6.2% 06/30/11 1.2%
16 Punta Gorda, FL 01/31/09 1.6% 02/28/11 11.5% 06/30/09 3.5%
17 Tampa, FL 03/31/09 1.7% 03/31/11 3.8% 12/31/09 2.6%
18 Athens, GA 03/31/11 4.2% 01/31/11 2.7% 01/31/10 0.8%
19 Augusta, GA 12/31/08 1.7% 03/31/11 3.0% 05/31/11 0.0%
20 Honolulu, HI 12/31/08 0.4% 01/31/11 3.4% 08/31/10 3.1%
21 Ames, IA 07/31/10 7.4% 02/28/11 6.3% 05/31/11 2.4%
22 Davenport, IA 05/31/09 1.8% 12/31/10 4.1% 01/31/10 0.7%
23 Des Moines, IA 02/28/09 4.5% 01/31/11 2.6% 05/31/11 1.5%
24 Dubuque, IA 12/31/08 5.0% 02/28/11 3.1% 04/30/09 5.8%
25 Waterloo, IA 03/31/09 1.4% 11/30/10 0.9% 07/31/09 4.1%
26 Elkhart, IN 04/30/09 2.2% 02/28/11 1.5% 08/31/09 10.4%
27 Indianapolis, IN 01/31/09 0.4% 02/28/11 3.0% 10/31/09 0.6%
28 Lafayette, IN 01/31/09 15.7% 02/28/11 5.4% 07/31/09 4.0%
29 Muncie, IN 04/30/11 11.1% 02/28/10 3.4% 02/28/11 2.7%
30 Lake Charles, LA 04/30/11 6.2% 02/28/11 0.9% 11/30/10 3.6%
31 Monroe, LA 03/31/09 3.3% 05/31/10 3.6% 03/31/11 1.3%
32 Shreveport, LA 01/31/09 1.9% 03/31/11 5.6% 10/31/09 3.2%
33 Boston, MA 02/28/09 1.1% 03/31/11 0.7% 07/31/09 2.9%
34 Springfield, MA 04/30/11 3.8% 03/31/11 2.5% 08/31/09 2.6%
35 Cumberland, MD 05/31/10 3.1% 01/31/11 6.2% 06/30/11 6.5%
36 Lewiston, ME 06/30/11 16.1% 01/31/11 1.4% 06/30/11 3.8%
37 Ann Arbor, MI 05/31/09 0.1% 12/31/10 4.5% 07/31/09 3.0%
38 Detroit, MI 04/30/09 8.6% 03/31/11 6.8% 06/30/09 2.4%
39 Grand Rapids, MI 04/30/09 2.9% 02/28/11 7.7% 07/31/09 5.0%
40 Lansing, MI 05/31/09 4.4% 02/28/11 10.6% 08/31/09 2.7%
41 Monroe, MI 12/31/09 2.7% 02/28/11 7.6% 10/31/09 2.5%
42 Muskegon, MI 11/30/09 0.2% 01/31/11 6.1% 12/31/10 1.6%
43 Duluth, MN 05/31/11 2.9% 03/31/11 4.6% 09/30/09 0.6%
44 Minneapolis, MN 03/31/09 1.8% 02/28/11 2.5% 09/30/09 1.5%
45 Rochester, MN 03/31/09 0.7% 02/28/11 2.4% 12/31/10 1.5%
46 Columbia, MO 11/30/08 1.7% 02/28/11 1.5% 08/31/09 3.6%
47 Jefferson City, MO 08/31/10 1.0% 03/31/11 3.9% 02/28/10 2.1%
48 Joplin, MO 02/28/11 5.0% 02/28/11 15.4% 08/31/09 1.2%
49 Kansas City, MO 03/31/09 3.2% 02/28/11 5.2% 06/30/11 1.2%
50 Hattiesburg, MS 01/31/11 2.2% 03/31/11 4.1% 04/30/11 3.6%
51 Fayetteville, NC 12/31/08 2.1% 01/31/10 0.3% 10/31/10 3.2%
52 Winston-Salem, NC 03/31/09 1.9% 11/30/10 0.1% 01/31/11 2.4%
53 Bismarck, ND 03/31/09 15.3% 02/28/10 8.8% 12/31/07 8.8%
54 Fargo, ND 04/30/09 4.9% 02/28/11 3.0% 07/31/09 4.2%
55 Grand Forks, ND 04/30/09 3.0% 12/31/10 7.7% 09/30/10 4.2%
56 Lincoln, NE 01/31/09 1.6% 01/31/11 4.2% 07/31/10 3.2%
57 Omaha, NE 07/31/10 4.5% 03/31/11 2.7% 02/28/10 2.6%
58 Manchester, NH 02/28/11 2.1% 02/28/11 0.5% 01/31/10 1.8%
59 Ocean City, NJ 03/31/09 1.0% 03/31/11 6.3% 05/31/11 5.7%
60 Syracuse, NY 03/31/11 2.9% 03/31/11 10.2% 08/31/10 1.5%
61 Cincinnati, OH 01/31/09 0.2% 02/28/11 2.1% 12/31/10 1.6%
62 Springfield, OH 01/31/11 13.4% 03/31/11 2.5% 01/31/10 3.5%
63 Toledo, OH 05/31/09 1.4% 01/31/11 0.6% 06/30/09 3.4%
64 Youngstown, OH 06/30/11 5.2% 02/28/11 3.9% 06/30/09 4.0%
65 Oklahoma City, OK 05/31/09 0.6% 02/28/11 1.0% 01/31/10 4.0%
66 Tulsa, OK 10/31/10 0.8% 02/28/11 4.4% 02/28/10 3.1%
67 Corvallis, OR 04/30/11 5.7% 02/28/11 4.3% 07/31/09 4.9%
68 Portland, OR 03/31/09 2.6% 03/31/11 3.7% 11/30/09 2.0%
69 Erie, PA 03/31/11 4.6% 02/28/11 3.1% 02/28/10 3.9%
70 Philadelphia, PA 03/31/09 0.7% 02/28/11 2.9% 02/28/10 0.5%
71 Pittsburgh, PA 02/28/09 1.6% 01/31/10 6.5% 02/28/10 4.1%
72 Williamsport, PA 03/31/11 46.3% 02/28/10 8.5% 12/31/09 3.9%
73 Chattanooga, TN 05/31/11 2.6% 02/28/11 4.0% 08/31/09 3.2%
74 Clarksville, TN 01/31/09 2.7% 02/28/11 1.3% 08/31/09 5.1%
75 Kingsport, TN 02/28/11 0.4% 01/31/11 1.6% 02/28/10 2.8%
76 Memphis, TN 04/30/09 2.8% 03/31/11 1.1% 09/30/10 3.1%
77 Nashville, TN 03/31/09 1.6% 02/28/11 1.4% 09/30/09 3.7%
78 Amarillo, TX 10/31/08 1.7% 01/31/10 3.2% 04/30/10 4.6%
79 College Station, TX 10/31/10 5.5% 02/28/11 10.2% 12/31/07 3.6%
80 Corpus Christi, TX 01/31/11 5.1% 12/31/10 4.3% 11/30/09 6.0%
81 Dallas, TX 05/31/09 0.9% 02/28/11 0.5% 12/31/09 3.6%
82 Laredo, TX 12/31/08 1.3% 01/31/10 2.9% 09/30/09 7.1%
83 Longview, TX 04/30/09 3.2% 03/31/11 5.9% 10/31/09 7.9%
84 McAllen, TX 01/31/09 0.4% 11/30/10 1.9% 12/31/07 5.2%
85 Midland, TX 04/30/09 3.6% 01/31/10 8.7% 08/31/09 10.0%
86 Odessa, TX 02/28/09 24.5% 11/30/10 8.9% 08/31/09 9.0%
87 Tyler, TX 03/31/09 0.4% 12/31/10 0.8% 07/31/10 5.3%
88 Victoria, TX 09/30/10 4.2% 02/28/11 6.2% 11/30/09 4.8%
89 Provo, UT 02/28/09 2.7% 03/31/11 1.1% 12/31/09 4.6%
90 Salt Lake City, UT 03/31/09 2.3% 03/31/11 0.4% 02/28/10 3.6%
91 Danville, VA 03/31/09 1.8% 11/30/10 11.4% 11/30/09 2.9%
92 Winchester, VA 04/30/11 7.9% 10/31/10 8.4% 08/31/09 5.4%
93 Burlington, VT 03/31/11 6.1% 01/31/10 1.3% 09/30/09 4.5%
94 Bellingham, WA 04/30/11 2.7% 03/31/11 0.2% 06/30/11 0.4%
95 Kennewick, WA 03/31/09 4.2% 03/31/11 0.3% 12/31/07 4.4%
96 Madison, WI 01/31/09 1.3% 02/28/11 0.8% 08/31/09 2.1%
97 Casper, WY 11/30/10 7.0% 01/31/10 3.2% 12/31/09 8.5%
98 Cheyenne, WY 12/31/08 6.0% 12/31/10 3.0% 01/31/10 2.8%

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Solemn Remembrance of Those Lost Aboard Shuttle Columbia

Like countless persons across the world, I watched in quiet disbelief as thousands of pieces of debris streaked across the vast Texas sky the morning of February 1, 2003.
 
Unlike what had transpired in 1986 during the launch of the shuttle Challenger, this time the shuttle Columbia was re-entering earth’s atmosphere.  Traveling at Mach 19 at an altitude of 200,000 feet, the shuttle was only a dozen or so minutes from touching down at the Kennedy Space Center – where family and support personnel waited.  Sadly, that landing never happened.
 
What also made this morning different for me was that I had taken over the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs only 10 days earlier.  The Office served as a policy-coordinating body across the White House policy councils, in addition to its primary function as an early warning system for events transpiring across the Executive branch – including NASA.
 
Watching the events unfold on television, I knew to quickly head to the office as I did most Saturdays and not surprisingly my phone went off en route to the White House.  I arrived at 10:00 and already meetings and conference calls related to the disaster were being scheduled.
 
There was no doubt that all aboard were lost – a point made crystal clear to us later that morning.  A human simply cannot withstand the tremendous physical forces from a rapid deceleration of that magnitude.  We also learned quickly that few nations have the capability to shoot down anything traveling at that altitude and speed, thus ruling out the possibility of an act of terror.
 
All we knew was that something had gone horribly wrong.
 
White House Chief of Staff Card entered my West Wing office early that afternoon and told me I was going to be the main point of contact for the White House for this tragic event and for the soon-to-be-announced accident investigation board.  I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at the time but Mr. Card instructed me to get the NASA chief of staff on the phone.
 
That is when I first met Courtney Stadd – an impassioned public servant who had dedicated his life to the US space program.  Courtney was amazingly patient with me and explained in great detail what protocols were already being invoked, as were dictated post-shuttle Challenger accident.  Courtney was laser-focused on the families of the astronauts, as was all of NASA.  Throughout the months-long ordeal of the accident investigation, Courtney worked diligently behind the scenes, focused at all times on the well-being of the families of the fallen astronauts.
 
Following a Homeland Security Council meeting that afternoon, a second meeting was held early in the evening among the various offices within the Executive branch, as we heard more about the soon-to-be-announced Columbia Accident Investigation Board and a memorial service at the Johnson Space Center later that week.
 
While it was not discussed that day, we also learned that, this time, the mindset of the public was questioning the American space program and, specifically, whether or not the risk of space flight was worth the reward.  That was in stark contrast to the mindset post-Challenger accident, when the public was eager for the shuttle to fly safely again as soon as possible.  This new mindset ultimately led us to chart a new course for NASA – a policy announced in January 2004.
 
But that was much later, as more immediate matters took precedent.
 
At the invitation of NASA, I attended the memorial service of Astronaut David Brown of Virginia.  I had never met Mr. Brown, but you could not help but be in awe of his accomplishments, which were many.  He was by training a medical doctor and was the first Navy flight surgeon to become a fighter pilot.  He was also a college gymnast and had somehow managed to remain single.  The similarities between the two of us were few and far between, yet as I sat only three feet from his flag draped coffin, I learned we were only a couple of months apart in age and both not yet married.  And as I heard others tell his life story during the memorial service at the Arlington National Cemetery Chapel, I felt a sense of deep regret that I never had the opportunity to meet him.
 
Following the service, the coffin was placed atop a horse-drawn caisson for the mile long walk to his final resting place near the marble amphitheater.  As we got closer, the crowd was 10 deep and I recall my amazement at seeing so many school kids who, I suspect, were there as part of a school trip.  Here they stood by the hundreds, heads draped and hands over heart as the cortege moved slowly toward Mr. Brown’s final resting place.  Many of them wiped away tears and occasionally cried aloud.  Otherwise, there was compete silence except for the occasional plane landing at nearby Reagan National Airport.
 
America buried many heroes that day and this is only one of many stories to be told of sacrifice and duty to Country which in this instance includes India and Israel.  I would hope that Americans remember them all, and on this — the 9th anniversary of Shuttle Columbia’s tragic accident — pay eternal solemn respect to the crew of her final mission: Commander Rick Husband, Commander William McCool, Commander Michael Anderson, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist Laurel Clark, and Mission Specialist David Brown.  The words of President Reagan spoken many years ago are a fitting tribute to each of them: May God cradle you in His loving arms.

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The State of the Mortgage Industry According to MBA

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) provided its annual
assessment of The State of the Mortgage Industry in a press conference Wednesday
afternoon.  Michael Young, MBA Chairman
said that the states that have been hardest hit by the housing crisis are and
will continue to deal with the aftermath but there are signs that in much of
the nation 2012 will bring a recovering market.

One bright spot, Young said, is that the turmoil in the
single family market has actually helped the multi-family sector; the rental
market has tightened and more lenders have moved into the sector, especially
life insurance companies.  In the
residential market, he said, the one topic that is discussed everywhere is the
lack of financing and what can be done about it.

David H. Stevens, MBA President and CEO said that lack of
financing
can be traced to a single factor, market uncertainty.  Part of it is uncertainty about international
markets and how they might ultimately impact the domestic situation but there
is also a tremendous amount of uncertainty about regulation.  Dodd-Frank, he said, has 300 regulations that
have yet to be fully promulgated and the new Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau (CFPB) and other regulators all have or are considering regulations
about how loans can be provided and serviced. 
There is uncertainty surrounding repurchases as well and while MBA
believes lenders should be held accountable for their mistakes, they should not
be held accountable for the loans performance if it failed solely due to
changing economic circumstances.  For
that reason MBA supports a time limit on the repurchase obligation.

Addressing three areas in particular, he said, would
decrease a lot of the insecurity.  New
regulations regarding Qualified Mortgages (QM) and Qualified Residential
Mortgages (QRM) are eminent and QM will in effect, define what loans get
made.  Mortgages which do not meet QM as
laid out by CRPB will simply not get made because lenders will feel there is
too much liability involved.   MBA supports certain parts of the QM such as
the requirement for full documentation but other parts such as the point and
fee cap lack flexibility and will disproportionately affect the pricing of small
loans.  

Most of all, he said, the proposed regulations are too general.  There needs to be specificity in the
underwriting standards such as in the definition of what constitutions “ability
to repay.”  Without a bright line in the
regulations that enable a safe harbor for lenders, he said, any lending is
going to be restricted on the margins and any loans that fall into the gap
between QM and QRM will see significant price adjustments to reflect the
liability.

While MBA also supports risk retention and much of the
intent of the QRM such as eliminating no-docs and interest only and other
exotic loans, regulators are going beyond the intent of Congress by adding debt
to income and loan-to-value ratios.  The
requirement for a 20 percent down payment will create a dual class system under
QRM, with lower income borrowers, unable to amass the down payment; forced into
FHA loans while there will be a private market for upper income borrowers.  Stevens said MBA will be “very aggressive” in
making sure these changes to QRM are pulled back.

Another area of uncertainty is the 50-state settlement with
servicers
.  Borrowers don’t care about
their servicers until they get into trouble with their mortgages but then the
multiple state and federal laws that govern servicing cause stress for the
borrowers and for servicers and investors as well.  The settlement may provide a framework for
national standards which would remove some of the uncertainty in this area.  In the same vein, Stevens said that President
Obama’s new fraud task force must be careful to avoid redundancy with other
investigations and carefully measure how it impacts borrowers or it could
create trepidation among lenders and further reluctance to lend.  

The present structure of the mortgage market with 90 percent
of lending having some government involvement through the GSEs or FHA is simply
unsustainable, Stevens said.  The private
sector must be brought back into the market and the major players in the
industry are close to agreement on what the future of the secondary market
should look like.  This is very close to
a model proposed by MBA some years ago which would have the following
characteristics:

  • Transactions would be funded with private
    capital from a broad range of sources.
  • The federal government should have a role in
    promoting stability and liquidity in the core mortgage market. This role should be in the form of an
    explicit credit guarantee on a class of mortgage-backed securities and the
    guarantee would be paid for by risk-based fees.
  • Taxpayers and the system itself should be
    protected through limits on the mortgage products covered, the types of
    activities undertaken, strong risk-based capital requirement, and actuarially
    fair payments into a federal insurance fund.

In answer to a reporter’s question about the chances of
President Obama’s streamlined refinancing program being approved, Stevens said
it would be an uphill climb.  FHA is
legislatively limited to loans with a maximum LTV of 97.5 percent so to go as
high as 140 percent which Steven’s said he expected the legislation to attempt
will require full approval of Congress.

Jay Brinkmann, Senior Vice President and Chief Economists said
he expects jobs to be created at about a 150,000 per month pace in 2012 but
this will be uneven by location and dependent on an individual’s education.  The length of unemployment hit a record high
in November and persons with a high school education or less are remaining
unemployed longer than those with a college degree.

According to Brinkmann, mortgage originations will drop from
$1.26 trillion in 2011 to $992 billion in 2012 with most of the loss coming in
refinancing.  The purchase market will be
largely unchanged or will rise slightly. 
This does not, however, reflect any changes that might be made in the
HARP program or any unforeseen outside events.

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Case-Shiller Reports Continued Erosion in Home Prices

Home prices continued to fall in November according to the
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices released this morning.  Both the 10-City and the 20-City Indices were
down 1.3 percent in November compared to the previous month and for the second
month in a row19 of the cities also saw their prices inch lower.   Phoenix was the only one of the 20 to post a
gain in November.

The year-over-year price declines in November widened from those in October.  The 10-City and 20-City Composites were down
3.6 percent and 3.7 percent respectively from November 2010 to November 2011
compared to the -3.2 percent and -3.4 percent annual rate of change in
October.  Thirteen of the cities in the
larger index also saw a large drop in annual prices than they had in October. 

Atlanta had the worst performance with its annual return down 11.8 percent.  Atlanta’s prices fell 2.5 percent in November
following a 5.0 percent decline in October, 5.9 percent drop in September and
2.4 percent loss in August.  As was the
case in October, only two cities, Detroit and Washington, DC saw an improved
annual rate, but in both cases that annual increase was lower than their
October number.

David Blizer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices said,
“Despite continued low interest rates and better real GDP growth in the fourth
quarter, home prices continue to fall. 
Annual rates were little better as 18 cities and both Composites were
negative.  Nationally, home prices are
lower than a year ago.  The trend is down
and there are few, if any signs in the numbers that a turning point is close at
hand.”

The 10-City Composite is now about 1.0 percent above its crisis low reached
in April 2009 and the 20-City is 0.6 percent above the low it reached in March
2011.  Both Composites are close to 33
percent off of their 2006 peak levels. 
As of November average home prices across the U.S. are back to mid-2003
levels.

“It’s not telling us much we don’t know. A lot of people fell into the trap of looking at the upturn in housing starts at the end of the year and mistaking that for a turnaround in the housing market. That’s absolutely premature.” – Andrew Wilkinson, Chief Economic Strategist, Miller Tabak & Co., New York.

 

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Housing Industry Reacts to State of the Union

Housing featured prominently in
President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.  The President made two specific proposals,
one to deal with the ghosts of housing past, the other to provide expanded
credit to homeowners.

In contrast to the settlement with banks
that Obama was widely rumored to announce
at the State of the Union, he instead directed Attorney General Eric Holder to
create a new office on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses.  The President said, “The American people
deserve a robust and comprehensive investigation into the global financial meltdown
to ensure nothing like it ever happens again.”

According to the Huffington Post, the new
office will take a three-pronged approach to the issue, holding financial
institutions accountable for abuses, compensating victims, and providing relief
for homeowners, and will operate as part of the existing Financial Fraud
Enforcement Task Force.  On Wednesday several
news outlets were reporting that the unit will be chaired by State Attorney
General Eric Schneiderman, who has been regarded as among the toughest of state
law enforcement officers with Lanny Breuer, an assistant attorney general in
the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) as co-chair.  Others reported to be in the group are Robert
Khuzami, director of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission,
U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Tony West, assistant AG, DOJ. 

The President’s second and more
broad-reaching proposal was for a massive refinancing of mortgage loans that
would reach beyond the current government initiates such as the Home Affordable
Refinance Program (HARP).  While few
details are available, the President said that his proposed initiative would
cut red tape and could save homeowners about $3,000 a year on their mortgage
payments because of the current historically low rates.  Unlike HARP, the program would apply to all
borrowers whether or not their current mortgages are government-backed and
would be paid for by a small fee on the largest financial institutions. Obama
did not mention principal reduction in his proposal.

Bloomberg is reporting that the program is
Obama’s response to a call by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in a paper sent to Congress
earlier this month for the administration to offer more aid for housing.   While largely dealing with the need to
convert excess housing inventory to rental property, the paper also touched on
the benefits of easing refinancing beyond the HARP program.

Bloomberg also outlined some of the
tradeoffs of a super-refinancing program saying it may damage investors in
government-backed securities by more quickly paying off those with high coupons
and limited default risk while aiding holders of other home-loan securities and
banks.  Word that such a proposal might be
forthcoming in the President’s speech, Bloomberg said, “Roiled the market for
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities according to a note to clients by Bank of
America Corp.”

The Associated Press quoted Stan
Humphries, chief economist at Zillow as saying the refinancing could allow 10
million more homeowners to refinance and, by preventing foreclosures and
freeing up money for Americans to spend, could give the economy a $40 to $75
billion jolt.  The Federal Reserve, the
AP said, was more cautious, estimating that 2.5 million additional homeowners
might be able to refinance.

The refinancing initiative would require
approval by Congress, however the day after the speech the focus was on other issues
such as tax reform and we could not find any reaction from members of Congress
specific to the refinancing issue.  Even the
Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) issued a statement from its president David
H. Stevens which did not mention the refinancing program, obliquely addressing
instead the creation of the mortgage fraud office.    

“Like the
President, we believe it is time to move forward with rebuilding this nation’s
housing market and that lenders and borrowers alike contributed to the housing
crisis we are currently in.  Let there also be no mistake, those who
committed illegal acts ought to face the consequences, if they haven’t already.”

Stevens
then called for a clear national housing policy “that establishes certainty for
lenders and borrowers alike.”  This,
according to MBA, requires finalizing the Risk Retention/Qualified Residential
Mortgage (QRM) rule “in a way that ensures access to credit for all qualified
borrowers,” establishing working national servicing standards, developing a
legal safe-harbor for Dodd-Frank QRM/Ability to Repay requirements, and “Move(ing)
quickly to determine the proper role of the federal government in the mortgage market
in order to ensure sufficient mortgage liquidity through all markets, good and
bad.

Creation
of the fraud office generated substantial comment, much of which was
unfavorable.  A lot of the criticism
focused on the lack of prosecutions that have emerged from the existing fraud
task force and there was a strong suspicion voiced by the liberal blogosphere
that the new office was merely a cover for pushing the DOJ/50-state attorneys
general settlement with major banks.  However,
one analysis, written by Shahien Nasiripour in U.S. Politics and Policies pointed out the wider powers of
enforcement available to attorneys general in some states such as New York’s
Martin Act and how the states and federal government might use the new office
to pool their powers and responsibilities to the benefit of each.  

The new
office will not lure California Attorney General Kamala Harris back into the
fold.  Harris and Schneiderman both
withdrew from the national foreclosure settlement last year, feeling that it
did not represent the interest of their respective states.  Despite the appointment of Schneiderman to
head the new office, Harris announced on Wednesday that she would not be
rejoining her fellow AGs
in their negotiations saying that the latest
settlement proposal was inadequate for California.  A spokesman for her office said, “Our
state has been clear about what any multistate settlement must contain:
transparency, relief going to the most distressed homeowners, and meaningful
enforcement that ensures accountability. At this point, this deal does not
suffice for California.”

Here’s the video of the speech beginning at the point discussing housing related issues…

…(read more)

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