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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Foreclosures made up 20% of home sales in 3Q

Sales of homes in foreclosure comprised 20% of all U.S. residential sales during the third quarter, according to RealtyTrac.

Applications Fall 5% during Holiday Shortened Week

Mortgage applications were down during
the week ended January 20 according to the Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey
conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).  The Market Composite Index, a measure of
application volume fell 5 percent on a basis that was adjusted seasonally and
to account for the week shortened by the Martin Luther King holiday.  On a non-seasonally adjusted basis the
Composite fell 13.8 percent from the previous week which ended January 13.

The
seasonally adjusted Purchase Index was down 5.4 percent and the unadjusted
Purchase Index 9.7 percent.  The latter
was 6.5 percent lower than during the same week in 2011.  The index measuring applications for
refinancing was down 5.2 percent. 

The
four week moving averages for all indices remained positive.  The Composite Index was up 4.12 percent, the
Refinance Index increased 4.85 percent and the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index
rose 0.47 percent.

Refinancing
continued to represent the majority of mortgage activity, falling slightly from
82.2 percent of all applications the previous week to 81.3 percent.  Applications for adjustable rate mortgages
were at a 5.3 percent level compared to 5.6 percent a week earlier. 

Looking
back at the month of December, MBA found that refinancing borrowers applied for
30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRM) in 56.6 percent of cases and 24.3 percent of
applications were for a 15-year FRM.   ARMs represented 5.3 percent of applications in
December.  The
share of refinance applications for “other” fixed-rate mortgages with
amortization schedules other than a 15 or a 30-year term was 13.8 percent of
all refinance applications.

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

The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with
conforming loan balances of $417,500 or less increased to 4.11 percent from
4.06 percent with points down one basis point to 0.47 point.  The effective rate increased from the
previous week.  The rate for jumbo
30-year FRM with balances over $417,500 decreased from 4.40 percent with 0.37
point to 4.39 percent with 0.40 point. 
The effective rate also decreased. 
The rate for FHA-backed 30-year FRM rose to 3.97 percent from 3.91
percent while points were down from 0.59 to 0.57 point.  The effective rate increased.

The
average rate for 15-year FRM increased to 3.40 percent from 3.33
percent, with points increasing to 0.40
from 0.39 and the effective rate increased as well. The rate for the 5/1 hybrid ARM was
up one basis point to 2.91 percent with points decreasing to 0.41l from
0.45.  The effective rate increased.

All
rates quoted are for 80 percent loan-to-value mortgages and points include the
application fee.

 The
MBA 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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Zell’s Archstone Purchase Blocked, Officially

Bloomberg News
Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Residential

Equity Residential’s purchase of a stake in competitor Archstone has been blocked by the estate of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., as Lehman has exercised an option to match the company’s $1.33 billion bid, Equity Residential said in a securities filing today.

But this latest step in the complex fight over apartment-company Archstone doesn’t put Equity Residential out of the picture. The Chicago company, whose chairman is investor Sam Zell, has another bite at the apple: It has an option to buy another 26.5% stake for at least the same price. It has 30 days to make a deal, at which point Lehman would, once again, have the right to match that offer.

Lehman’s purchase – which is half of the position in Archstone owned by Bank of America Corp. and Barclays PLC – ups its stake in Archstone to 73.5%. The failed investment bank’s advisers are expecting Equity Residential to put in an offer for the final 26.5% stake, and are preparing to block that too, according to people familiar with the matter.

Of course, it’s unclear what price Equity Residential would bid, and in theory it could be high enough that Lehman wouldn’t match it. Equity Residential is entitled to a breakup fee of up to $80 million if Lehman blocks its second purchase.

Study: No Additional Restrictions on QRM Needed

The proposed down payment standards
for new mortgages might push 60 percent of potential borrowers into high-cost
loans or out of the housing market altogether according to a paper released
today by the Center for Responsible Lending.  The paper,
Balancing Risk and Access:  Underwriting
Standards for Qualified Residential Mortgages
, is the result of a study to
weigh the effects of proposed underwriting guidelines for qualified residential
mortgages (QRM)
, mortgages that are exempt from the risk retention requirements
laid out in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

The Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan
research and policy organization with a stated mission of “protecting
homeownership and family wealth by working to eliminate abusive financial
practices” has, along with other consumer and industry groups, raised concerns
about a potential disproportionate impact of restrictive QRM guidelines on
low-income, low-wealth, minority and other households traditionally underserved
by the mainstream mortgage market.  The
study examines the way different QRM guidelines may affect access to mortgage
credit and loan performance and estimates the additional impacts on defaults
resulting from guidelines above and beyond QM product requirements.

The researchers, Roberto G. Quercia,
University of North Carolina Center for Community Capital, Lei Ding, Wayne
State University, and Carolina Reid, Center for Responsible Lending used
datasets from Lender Processing Services (collected from servicers) and
Blackbox (data from loans in private label securities collected from investor
pools.)  They identified from among 19
million loans originated between 2000 and 2008 the 10.9 million that would meet
the current QRM guidelines, i.e. loans with full documentation that have no
negative amortization, interest only, balloon, or prepayment penalties.  Adjustable rate mortgages must have fixed
terms of at least five years and no loans over 30 years duration. 

The default rate for the universe of
loans was 11 percent, for prime conventional loans, 7.7 percent, and for loans
(regardless of type) that would have met the QM product feature limits, 5.8
percent.  In other words, the research “suggests
that the QM loan term restrictions on their own would curtail the risky lending
that occurred during the subprime boom and lead to substantially lower
foreclosure rates without overly restricting access to credit.”

The next step was to apply some of
the suggested additional criteria for QRM to the loans; a minimum down payment
of 20 percent, a range of higher FICO scores, and lower debt to income (DTI)
ratios.  The goal was to determine the
benefit of each as measured by an improvement in default rates without an undo reduction
in borrowers able to qualify for an affordable loan.

When various permutations of
loan-to-value (LTV), FICO scores, and DTI ratios were applied to the loans lower
default rates were achieved.  These
improvements, however, were accompanied by the exclusion of a larger share of
loans.  As Figure 4 shows, some of the restrictions
resulted in the exclusion of as many as 70 percent of loans.   

To quantify this, the authors
developed two additional measures.  The
first, a benefit ratio, compares the percent reduction in the number of
defaults to the percent reduction in the number of borrowers who would have
access to QRM loans with the proposed guidelines.  For example, an underwriting restriction that
resulted in a 50 percent reduction in foreclosures while excluding only 10
percent of borrowers would have a higher benefit ratio than one with the same
reduction in foreclosures that excluded 20 percent of borrowers.


One finding was that LTVs of 80 or
90 percent resulted in particularly poor outcomes while an LTV of 97 percent
had added benefits of reduced defaults relative to borrower access.  This suggests that even a very modest down payment
may play an important role in protecting against default while excluding a
smaller share of borrowers than would a higher down payment requirement.

Since underwriting is unlikely to
impose restrictions in isolation, the study analyzed a combination of possible
QRM restrictions.  They found that the
strictest guidelines produced the worst outcomes and that none of the patterns
of proposed restrictions performed as well as the QM restrictions on their own.

The second measure, an exclusion
ratio, looks at the number of performing loans a certain threshold would
exclude to prevent one default.  In this
measure, the number of excluded loans can be viewed as a proxy for the number
of “creditworthy” borrowers who would be excluded from the QRM market.

Imposing 80 percent LTV requirements
on the universe of QM loans would exclude 10 loans from the QRM market to
prevent one additional default.  Adding
to this a FICO above 690 and 30 percent DTI ratio would exclude 12 creditworthy
borrowers to prevent one default.

The current QRM criteria are more
restrictive for rate-term and cash-out refinancing than for purchase
loans.  The study found that the QM
product restrictions are the most effective in balancing the demand between reducing
defaults and ensuring access to credit.

The study also found that imposing
additional LTV, DTI, and FICO underwriting requirements
on QM loans had
disproportionate effects on low-income borrowers and borrowers of color.  Just over 75 percent of African-American
borrowers and 70 percent of Latino borrowers would not qualify for a 20 percent
down QRM mortgage and significant racial and ethnic disparities are evident for
FICO requirements as well.  At FICO
scores above 690, 42 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of Latino
borrowers would be excluded against 22 percent of white and 25 percent of Asian
households.  At the most restrictive
combined thresholds (80 percent LTV, FICO above 690, DTI of 30 percent) approximately
85 percent of creditworthy borrowers would not qualify with African American
and Latino disqualifications each above 90 percent.

The Center says in conclusion that
its research provides “compelling evidence that the QM product loan guidelines
on their own would curtail the risky lending that occurred during the subprime
boom and lead to substantially lower foreclosure rates, while not overly
restricting access to credit.”

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