Good Riddance 30-Year Fixed Mortgage? Not So Fast…

J. Wallison’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal on government support
of the residential housing market (“What’s So Special About the 30-Year
“) is an interesting academic exercise but it has no relevance to
the reality of the U.S. housing market.

it is true that, for many years over the life of a 30-year loan, most of the
payments go to interest and not principle, if we were to remove the tax
deductibility of the interest paid
(regardless of the term of amortization) as
some have suggested, we would remove another 33% of value from the American homeowner,
based on the marginal rate at the Federal level of 28% and the average State
and local tax rate of 5%.


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District Court Upholds MERS Rights to Assign and Foreclose

Mortgage Electronic Registration
Systems, Inc. better known as MERS won a significant victory in court on
Tuesday as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Judicial Circuit validated
its rights to assign a security deed and/or foreclose on secured property.  The decision upheld the decision of the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Smith V. Saxon Mortgage.

The plaintiff in the original case had
contested the foreclosure of her home on the grounds that:

1).   The assignment of the security deed was
invalid because MERS, as nominee of a defunct lender could not assign the documents
of its own volition.

    The “splitting” of the mortgage and
the note rendered the mortgage null and void and therefore notices of
foreclosure were invalid as not coming from a secured creditor.

In the original District Court opinion in March 2011, U.S. Magistrate Judge
Janet F. King pointed to the standard language in the Georgia security deed
signed by all borrowers at closing which grants MERS the power to act on behalf
of the current and future owners of the loan. 
.   “Unless the instrument
creating the power specifically provides to the contrary . . . an assignee
thereof . . . may exercise any power therein contained,” Judge King wrote.
“[T]he Security Deed . . . transfers rights to MERS, and MERS’ assigns may
exercise any power contained therein.”

The 11th District Court which has jurisdiction over federal cases
originating in the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, agreed with Judge
King’s recommendation.  “It is not
disputed that plaintiff executed the Security Deed which granted MERS the power
to sell the Property, if plaintiff was not able to comply with the terms of the
Note,” Senior U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley wrote. “Furthermore, the
Security Deed expressly states that it applies to MERS ‘[and] to the . . .
assigns of MERS.’ Pursuant to the terms of the Security Deed, MERS had
authority to assign the Security Deed.”

MERS issued the following statement in response to the District Court

“A significant body of clear and specific federal case law is coming
together with this decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, along with
favorable rulings from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth circuit
appellate courts and U.S. District Courts in a number of states,” said Janis L.
Smith, MERSCORP’s vice president of corporate communications. “The 11th
Circuit’s ruling underscores the soundness of MERS’ business model by
solidifying the legality of MERS’ role in the security deed, explaining how
that role came about, and clarifying MERS’ power to act on behalf of the

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Paper Suggests Lower GSE Fees May Pay Off in Reduced Defaults

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York
recently released a paper that looked at the impact of HARP revisions on loan
defaults and pricing
.  The paper, Payment Changes and Default Risk: the Impact
of Refinancing on Expected Credit Losses
was written by Joseph Tracy and
Joshua Wright. 

When the Home Affordable Refinance Program
(HARP) was initiated, its goal to stimulate the economy and reducing defaults
by lowering mortgage payments in households with high loan-to-value mortgages. These
were borrowers who were otherwise unable to refinance.

HARP was implemented in 2009 but refinancing
activity was much lower than expected. 
Just over one million refinances have been done under HARP rather than
the 3 to 4 million expected.  This
confirms, the authors say, the original rationale for HARP, that in the wake of
the housing bust borrowers need help refinancing.

HARPS lackluster results have provoked discussion
about the impediments to refinancing including credit risk fees, limited lender
capacity, a costly and time consuming appraisal process, limitations on
marketing, and legal risks for lenders.  HARP
was recently revised to better address these impediments. .

Concerns about revising HARP included
doubts about its fairness and about macroeconomic efficiency.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has
a responsibility to weigh the value of any proposed changes in terms of a possible
impact on the capital of the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs).  These could include a reduction in the income
generated through interest on the GSE’s Holdings of MBS, on the expected
revenues from the put-backs of guaranteed mortgages that default, and finally
on the impact of refinancing on expected credit losses to the GSE fees. 

One outcome of an improved program would
be more borrowers in a position to refinance. 
Estimates can be made of the average reduction in monthly mortgage
payments that would result from a refinance; the question is how this payment
reduction would affect future defaults. 
Ideally a study could determine the difference in expected credit losses
from two identical borrowers with identical mortgages where one borrower
refinances and the other does not.  However,
once the existing mortgage is refinanced it disappears so both
mortgage/borrower sets cannot be similarly tracked and the impact of the
payment change on a borrower’s performance must be inferred.

A recent congressional budget office
working paper estimates that reduced credit losses would produce an incremental
2.9 million refinances of agency and FHA mortgages and that such a program
would reduce expected foreclosures by 111,000 or 38 per 1000 refinances,
reducing credit losses by $3.9 billion.

Using data from Lender Processing
Services the authors selected eligible borrowers from among borrowers who had
been current on mortgage payments for at least 12 months and had estimated loan-to-value
ratios (LTV) over 80 percent. To measure motivation the authors selected loans
where the borrower could recover refinancing costs in two years.  Using these parameters it was determined that
refinancing would reduce the required monthly payment by 26 percent on average.

The authors found impacts on results
from various combinations of local factors such as house prices, employment
rates, the local legal methods of handling delinquencies, and contagion risk,
i.e. the exposure of the borrower to others who had defaulted.  There were also effects from FICO scores and
debt to income ratios and loan specific factors such as the purpose of the
loan, full documentation of the loan, and length of loan term.  Various methods were used to control for
these variables including excluding loans from the sample.

It is acknowledged that LTV ratios have
a significant correlation with default and the authors did test and confirm
this relationship.   The next step was to estimate the impact of a
26 percent payment reduction on the average default rate.  The authors used estimated ARM default and
prepayment hazards to do a five-year cumulative default forecast holding the
local employment rate and home prices stable. 
At five years the models imply that the expected cumulative default rate
would be 17.3 percent. When the payments are reduced by 26 percent the expected
default rate is reduced to 13 percent a 24.8 percent reduction.   The same analysis was run for borrowers with
prime conforming fixed-rate mortgages obtaining a cumulative default rate of
15.2 percent which refinancing reduced to 11.4 percent, a decline of 3.8
percentage points. 

These figures were used to conduct a
simple pricing exercise to measure the difference between a refinancing fee
that maximizes fee income for a certain category of borrowers and a fee that
maximizes the combination of the fee income and the reduction in the expected
future credit losses using the GSE pricing categories for their loan level adjustments.  It was found that FICO score strongly impacted
both payment reductions and default rates ultimately resulting in reductions in
the default rate of 1.9 percentage points for a high FICO borrower and 9.1
points for a low one.  This implies that
incorporating the impact of expected credit losses into the pricing decision
should generate higher price discounts for weaker credit borrowers as measured
by FICO score and LTV.

The authors found that incorporating the
impact of expected credit losses after refinancing on average lowed the desired
pricing by 17 basis points.  Looking at
the averages by LTV intervals shows an impact of 15 basis points for mortgages
with a current LTV of 80 to 85 and increases to 14 basis points for mortgages
with a current LTV of 105 or higher. 
Basing fees on FICO scores involves a much more complicated set of

The authors conclude that the average
HARP refinance would result in an estimated 3.8 percent lower default
rate.  Assuming a conservative average
loss-given default of 35.2 this indicates an expected reduction in future
credit losses of 134 basis points of a refinanced loan’s balance.

The paper concludes that the impact
of refinancing on future default risk is important to the current debate of the
GSE fee structure for HARP loans.  “These
results suggest that refinancing can be fruitfully employed as a tool for loss
mitigation by investors and lenders.  The
optimal refinance fee will be lower if this reduction in credit losses is
recognized.”  Reducing fees, the authors
say, will increase incentives to refinance but at the cost of fee income to the
GSEs.  “Our analysis shows, however, that
there is an offset to this lower fee income today which is lower credit losses
in the future.”

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Boost your odds of landing a mortgage

For some would-be buyers and refinancers, today’s mortgage rates are the ultimate tease. While ads tout the lowest rates in history (recently under 4% for a 30-year fixed), qualifying for a mortgage that cheap can be an exercise in frustration or futility.