Cost for World-Trade Tower Rises to $3.8 Billion

The price tag for One World Trade Center, the signature skyscraper under construction at Ground Zero in New York, has risen to more than $3.8 billion, making it by far the world’s most expensive new office tower.

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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.

In
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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Office-Building Recaps Surged in 2011

Some of the nation’s biggest real-estate investors took stakes in major office properties in 2011, a year that registered a record amount of recapitalizations for that sector, according to Real Capital Analytics.

“There were a lot of white knights coming to help recapitalize” buildings that had mortgage loans coming due last year, said Dan Fasulo, managing director at real-estate data firm Real Capital. Recapitalizations in 2011 were at the highest level since RCA started tracking them in 2001.

Such deals usually involve an investor buying a big stake in a property by injecting additional equity or taking over a loan and restructuring borrowing terms. The sheer volume of $13.3 billion in office recapitalizations last year underscored the massive amounts of debt office landlords had accumulated on their buildings during the boom times. This recapitalization volume also surpassed the last peak of $11 billion in 2007.

The number of recapitalizations is “the function of the market fixing itself,” Mr. Fasulo said. To be sure, each property owner’s decision to recapitalize could be driven by a number of factors outside of maturing loans.

The largest recapitalization in 2011 was Paramount Group and Beacon Capital’s purchase of a 49% stake in a New York building, 1633 Broadway, from a Morgan Stanley joint venture. The deal valued the building at $1.62 billion and the interest at $793.8 million. The next largest recapitalization was by Vornado Realty Trust’s acquisition of a 49.5% stake, valued at $646 million, for 666 Fifth Ave in New York. (Eight of the 10 largest deals were in New York; the other two were in Houston.) Paramount and Vornado officials were not available for comment Wednesday.

Real-estate companies, especially publicly traded real-estate investment trusts, have been raising massive amounts of capital over the past year via equity raises and debt issuance in order to pounce on these kinds of acquisitions, which are expected to continue to rise this year.

In general, private investors have been less successful at raising debt and equity over the past six months amid concerns that Europe’s debt crisis could filter down to hurt U.S. credit markets by raising the cost of capital.