FHFA: House Prices Rose 1% in November

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA)
Home Price Index (HPI) rose 1.0 percent from October to November reflecting an
increase in U.S. housing prices on a seasonally adjusted basis. As can be seen
in the figure below, the there is little difference between seasonally adjusted
and unadjusted FHFA figures.  The estimated
figure for October was revised down from a -0.2 change as first reported to -0.7.
 The current index is 183.8 a drop of 1.8
percent from November 2010 when the index was at 187.3. 

The current HPI is 18.8 percent below
the peak it reached in April 2007 and indicates that prices have returned to
roughly the same range as existed in February 2004.

The HPI is calculated using purchase
prices of houses with mortgages that have been sold to or guaranteed by Freddie
Mac or Fannie Mac.  The index is based on
100 representing prices for homes in the first quarter of 1991.

The HPI rose for all regions
except the Middle Atlantic division (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) which
fell 0.2 percent.  The biggest increase
was in the West South Central Division (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana)
which rose 2.1 percent.  West South
Central and West North Central (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota,
Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri) were the only regions to increase on a
year-over-year basis.

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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.

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40 Wall Rises Again

Donald Trump has avoided what could have been a big problem for one of his most valuable office buildings in New York, partly by taking advantage of the downtown’s transformation away from finance.

First Round of Pilot Rental Initiative Completed with 2,500 Homes Sold

The first round of winners has been
selected to purchase foreclosed real estate from Freddie Mac and Fannie
Mae.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency
(FHFA) announced today that 2,500 single family homes had been awarded to successful
bidders under a pilot initiative to convert real estate acquired by the two
government sponsored enterprises (GSE) through foreclosure into rental property. 

Successful candidates for purchasing properties
from the GSE’s real estate portfolio (REO) had undergone several steps in a
qualification process before being permitted to bid on the houses which they had
to agree to hold and rent for a period of time before reselling. 

The properties were offered in sale
pools which were geographically concentrated in various locations across the
United States.  The GSEs, FHFA and other federal
agencies involved, Departments of Treasury, Housing and Urban Development,
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Federal Reserve, had several
goals
for the program.  They hoped to
relieve the GSEs of the costs and administrative burdens of managing thousands
of foreclosed properties, alleviate the blight imposed on communities by large
number of vacant and possibly deteriorating properties, increase the rental
stock, while at the same time not flooding the market with distressed
properties.

 FHFA described the response to the pilot
initiative as “robust with strong qualified bidder interest.”  Some 4,000 responses were received to the
initial “Request for Information” issued by the program sponsors last February,
however beyond announcing that the awards had been made FHFA released no
information on the names or even the numbers of successful bidders.

“FHFA
undertook this initiative to help stabilize communities and home values in
areas hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis,” said Edward J. DeMarco, Acting
Director of FHFA. “As conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, we believe
this pilot program will assist us in achieving our objectives and help to
maximize the benefit to taxpayers. We are pleased with the response from the
market and look forward to closing transactions in the near future.”

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OIG Finds FHLBanks Corrected Foreign Credit Exposure, more Supervision Needed

The Office of the Inspector General
(OIG) of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) issued a report this morning
that was mildly critical of the FHFA’s oversight of Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBanks)
granting of unsecured credit to European banks.   OIG said that extensions of unsecured credit
in general increased by the FHLBanks during the 2010-2011 period, even as the
risks for doing so were intensifying.

FHFA regulates the FHLBanks and has
critical responsibilities to ensure that they operate in a safe and sound
manner.  FHFA’s OIG initiated an
evaluation to assess the regulator’s oversight of the Banks unsecured credit
risk management practices.

Unsecured credit extensions to European
institutions
and others grew from $66 billion at the end of 2008 to more than
$120 billion by early 2011 before declining to $57 billion by the end of that
year as the European sovereign debt crisis intensified.  During this period extensions of unsecured
credit to domestic borrowers remained relatively static but extensions to
foreign financial institutions fluctuated in a pattern that mirrored the
FHLBanks’ total unsecured lending.  That
is, it more than doubled from about $48 billion at the end of 2008 to $101
billion as of April 2011 before falling by 59 percent to slightly more than $41
billion by the end of 2011.

FHFA OIG also found that certain
FHLBanks had large exposures to particular financial institutions and the
increasing credit and other risks associated with such lending.   For example, one FHLBank extended more than
$1 billion to a European bank despite the fact that the bank’s credit rating
was downgraded and it later suffered a multibillion dollar loss.

During the time period in question OIG
found there was an inverse relationship between the trends in lending to
foreign financial institutions and the Banks advances to their own members.  Since mid-2011 the extensions to foreign
institutions have declined sharply but the advances have continued their
longstanding decline.  OIG said it
appears that some FHLBanks extended the unsecured credit to foreign
institutions to offset the decline in advance demand and that they curtailed
those unsecured extensions as they began to fully appreciate the associated
risks.

At the peak of the unsecured lending,
about 70 percent of the FHLBank System’s $101 billion in unsecured credit to
foreign borrowers was made to European financial institutions and 44 percent
were to institutions within the Eurozone. 
About 8 percent of unsecured debt ($6 billion) was to institutions in
Spain, considered by S&P to be even riskier than the Eurozone as a whole.

Some banks within the FHL System had
extremely high levels of unsecured credit extended to foreign borrowers.  The Seattle Bank’s exposure to foreign
borrowers as a percentage of its regulatory capital was more than 340 percent
in March 2011; Boston was at 300 percent, and Topeka 360 percent.  All three had declined substantially by the
end of 2011 but Seattle and Topeka remained above 100 percent.

OIG said that the vast majority of the
Banks’ extensions of unsecured credit appeared to be within current regulatory
limits (although OIG said these limits may be outdated and overly permissive),
some banks did exceed the limits and OIG found the three banks (which for some
reason it treated anonymously) definitely did so and blamed that on a lack of
adequate controls of systems to ensure compliance.

OIG reviewed a variety of FHFA internal
documents during the 2010-2011 period during which it found the Agency had
expressed growing concern about the Banks’ unsecured exposures to foreign
financial institutions.  But, even though
FHFA identified the unsecured credit extensions as an increasing risk in early
2010, it did not prioritize it in its examination process due to its focus on
greater financial risks then facing the FHLBank system especially their private
label mortgage-backed securities portfolios. 
In 2011, however, FHFA initiated a range of oversight measures focusing
on and prioritizing the credit extensions in the supervisory process and
increasing the frequency with which the Banks had to report on that part of
their portfolios.

OIG believes that FHFA’s recent initiatives
contributed to the significant decline in the amount of unsecured credit being
extended by the end of 2011.

The final findings issued by OIG in its
report are:

  1. Although
    FHFA did not initially prioritize FHLBank unsecured credit risks, it has
    recently developed an increasingly proactive approach to oversight in this
    area.
  2. FHFA
    did not actively pursue evidence of potential FHLBank violations of the limits
    on unsecured exposures contained in its regulations.
  3. FHFA’s
    current regulations governing unsecured lending may be outdated and overly
    permissive.

To correct
these deficiencies, OIG recommends that the Agency:

  • Follow up on any potential evidence of violations of
    the existing regulatory limits and take action as warranted;
  • Determine the extent to which inadequate systems and
    controls may compromise the Banks’ capacity to comply with regulatory limits;
  • Strengthen the regulatory framework by establishing
    maximum exposure limits; lowering existing individual counterparty limits; and
    ensuring that the unsecured exposure limits are consistent with the System’s
    housing mission.

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