Mortgage Rates Slightly Higher Despite Bond Market Improvements

After setting new record lows yesterday, Mortgages Rates
rose slightly today, though 3.875% best-execution remains intact.  Rather than affect the prevailing rates being quoted, today’s weakness is most likely to be seen in the form of slightly higher borrowing/closing costs for the same rates quoted yesterday (learn more about how we calculate Best-Execution in THIS POST).  The increases run counter to today’s market movements as well.  

Treasury yields are lower again today, and MBS (the “mortgage-backed-securities” that most directly govern interest rates) are slightly improved as well.  One reason that loan pricing hasn’t adjusted to match that fact is that MBS weakened late in the trading session yesterday.  Not all lenders priced that in by issuing adjusted rate sheets, instead reflecting the changes in this morning’s rates.  The MBS market was indeed weaker this morning, so if we’re comparing the time of day that most lenders put out their first rate sheets, today was indeed worse than yesterday.  Beyond that objective explanation, we also have to consider the fact that continued rate improvements from all-time lows are going to continue to be slow and hard-fought.  Lenders have little incentive to offer lower rates if current offerings are generating more-than-sufficient demand.  (read more on this topic in this previous post)

Finally, and although it’s not the only other potential factor, this Friday’s Employment Situation Report (aka “jobs report,” or “NFP”) represents a high-risk situation, ESPECIALLY with mortgage rates at or near all-time lows.  NFP, which stands for the the reports chief component “Non-Farm-Payrolls” is generally regarded as the single most important piece of economic data each month.  Even against the current backdrop of European headlines exerting more and more influence on domestic markets, it’s immensely important.  Based on where markets sit right now, we think that rates are somewhat vulnerable if the report is better-than expected.  In other words, there’s a certain natural level of “push-back” at current rate levels anyway, and a bullish jobs report would probably accelerate that. 

This, of course, is contingent on the report coming in with better-than-expected results.  If the opposite happens, rates could still improve.  It’s just that those improvements would likely be slower and smaller than the losses would be in the opposite scenario.  It’s also very much contingent on rates not moving much between now and Thursday afternoon, which may or may not be the case.

Today’s BEST-EXECUTION Rates

  • 30YR FIXED –  3.875% mostly, with a few lenders on either side of this
  • FHA/VA -3.75%
  • 15 YEAR FIXED –  3.25%, some lenders venturing lower, some completely stuck at 3.25%
  • 5 YEAR ARMS –  2.625-3.25% depending on the lender

Ongoing Lock/Float Considerations

  • Rates and costs continue to operate near all time best levels
  • Current levels have experienced increasing resistance in improving much from here
  • There are technical reasons for that as well as fundamental reasons
  • Lenders tend to get busier when rates are in this “high 3’s” level
    and can throttle their inbound volume by raising rates or costs.
  • While we don’t necessarily think rates are destined to go higher,
    given the above facts, there seems to be more risk than reward regarding
    floating
  • But that will always be the case when rates
    operating near historic lows
  • (As always, please keep in mind
    that our talk of Best-Execution always pertains to a completely ideal
    scenario.  There can be all sorts of reasons that your quoted rate would
    not be the same as our average rates, and in those cases, assuming you’re following along on
    a day to day basis, simply use the Best-Ex levels we quote as a
    baseline to track potential movement in your quoted rate).

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LPS: Mortgage Originations Among Highest Quality Ever in 2010-2011

The Lender Processing Services (LPS) Mortgage Monitor Report for December show
improvement in a number of the metrics it tracks. Many measures of delinquency
rates are down, inventories are clearing in some states, and recent loan
originations are “among the best quality on record.”

The overall delinquency rate did not
change from November, remaining at 8.15 percent but is down 7.7 percent since
December 2010.  Seriously delinquent
loans, those 90 or more days overdue or in foreclosure decreased 0.6 percent to
7.67 percent, a -5.9 percent change from one year earlier.

The foreclosure rate which was 4.16
percent in November fell to 4.11 percent in December and is down 1.0 percent
year-over-year.  Foreclosure starts
showed the most dramatic change.  There
were 159,092 starts in December compared to 165,205 in November, a -3.7 percent
change and starts were 38.7 percent below the level in December 2010.   This is the lowest level of foreclosure starts
since at least 2008.

While 90+ day delinquencies are about
the same in judicial and non-judicial states there remains a large distinction between
these states in other measures of foreclosure activity.  LPS found that half of all loans in
foreclosure in judicial states have not made a payment in more than two years
as the foreclosure process drags on.  The
foreclosure sales rate in non-judicial states is four times that in judicial
states (6.8 percent vs. 1.6 percent). 
Foreclosure inventories stand at about 3.5 percent nationwide; in
non-judicial states those inventories are about 2 percent while in judicial
states they are 2.5 times greater – over 6 percent.  Still, pipeline ratios (the time it would
take to clear through the inventory of loans either seriously delinquent or in
foreclosure at the current rate of foreclosure sales) has declined
significantly from earlier this year in judicial states while remaining flat in
non-judicial states.


Loan
originations
(month ending November 11) numbered 537,720 compared to 597,888 in
October, a decline of 10.1 percent and 29.3 percent below originations one year
earlier.  The loans originated over the
last two years
, however, are among the best quality on record according to
LPS.  2010-11 vintage originations showed
90-day default rates below those of all other years, going back to 2005.
December origination data also shows that recent prepayment activity – a key
indicator of mortgage refinances – has remained strong, with 2008-09
originations, high credit score borrowers and government-backed loans having
benefited the most from recent, historically low interest rates.

…(read more)

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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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Consumer Advocacy Group Weighs in on AG Settlement

Rumors have been circulating for some
time that the Obama Administration is pressuring the 50 state attorneys general,
the Justice Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to
settle with major banks over issues relating to errors in servicing and
foreclosure abuses including the robo-signing uproar.  The settlement has been controversial and several
attorneys general including those in California, Delaware, and New York have opted
out of the settlement and/or launched independent lawsuits of their own,
claiming the settlement is not sufficient to the offense.  The rumors have intensified over the last few
days based on a theory that the President hopes to announce the settlement
during his State of the Union Address tonight.

Today the Center for Responsible Lending
which has been an early and outspoken critic of mortgage lending came out in
favor of the settlement saying, while it isn’t perfect, it would represent an important
step forward in addressing foreclosure abuses

“The settlement would include key reforms to clean up unfair mortgage
servicing practices,” the statement from the Center said.  “It would also provide an important template
for ways banks can use principal reduction to reduce unnecessary foreclosures
and put the country back on a path to economic recovery.”

While the Center admits that not all
details of the settlement are available as yet, but based on current
information, the key reforms include:

  • The
    elimination of robo-signing as banks would agree to individually review
    foreclosure documents according to the law.
  • Adoption
    of practices that would improve communication with services and end servicer
    abuses including fairer treatment for homeowners who are late on mortgage
    payments.
  • More
    sustainable loan modifications including a requirement that banks “get serious”
    about reducing principal balances.
  • While
    the state AGs would be prohibited by the settlement from pursuing further
    actions against the banks, the Center said that nothing in the settlement would
    prevent homeowners from suing on an individual basis nor would the settlement
    shield the banks from prosecution for criminal activities or from claims based
    on mortgage securities violations, fair lending suits or claims against the
    Mortgage Electronic Registration System.
  • The
    settlement would be enforceable in court by an independent monitor.

The Center said that its research
indicates that the country is only about half-way through the mortgage crisis,
but the proposed settlement would wrap up a year-long investigation into
robo-signing and other abuses and is “crucial to containing the damaging
effects of foreclosures on our economy.” 
It stresses, however, that additional policy actions on multiple fronts
is a necessary addition to the settlement.

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Mr. President, it’s Time for a National Housing Policy

Please Mr. President, enough with the one-off responses, it’s time for a National Housing Policy.

The only thing more predictable than the fact that the President will deliver to Congress a State of the Union Address each year is the speculation that precedes it regarding what “Big” announcements the President’s speech will contain.

This year is no different, and a great deal of current speculation surrounds the topic of housing and whether the President’s speech will include some grand proposal intended to relieve those American homeowners who continue to suffer under the weight of a housing economy that remains stuck in neutral.

One plan getting a great deal of attention would involve the government granting debt forgiveness to borrowers whose mortgages are underwater, meaning that the amount currently owed by them on their mortgage exceeds the current value of their home.

To date, the Federal Finance Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) – the primary regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – has resisted calls from Congress to approve principal forgiveness. In a report circulating today, we now understand why. According to that report, the cost of such a plan to Fannie and Freddie could well exceed $100 Billion! That $100 Billion would be in addition to the $151 Billion already owed by the two enterprises to the US Treasury. And to be clear, that means owed to US taxpayers.

Hopefully, current speculation is wrong and the President’s address includes no such proposal. Its not that we don’t sympathize with underwater homeowners, we most certainly do. We too look forward to the day when the American housing economy is once again growing and functioning well – and by extension, when the challenges facing homeowners are far less. When that day arrives, that will be a sure sign that the American economy generally has returned to a healthy condition.

Our objection is broader and goes to the fact that since 2009 the policy response to the housing crisis by the Administration has involved one tactical reaction after another – or as we have said before … “a series of one-off reactions …” and, unfortunately, little more.

And while certain tactical reactions were appropriate and even required in 2009 and even into 2010, the time is long passed for the development and introduction of a comprehensive National Housing Policy. Such a policy would lay out in clear terms the goals to be achieved through the Nation’s support of housing; the economic costs and benefits of such a policy; as well as the anticipated intangible benefits of such a policy. Finally, such a plan would identify the likely costs and risks of the failure to implement such a plan.

With such a plan in place (or at least proposed), the uncertainty that today plagues this industry would begin to lift and Congressional policy makers, regulators and business leaders alike would be better equipped to address the important considerations that must still be resolved if we hope to develop an enduring solution to the Nation’s housing crisis.

And for those who would ask, “Why should a housing policy be a priority?”, consider the following written in 2003 – perhaps the last time we had a legitimate National Housing Policy in this great Nation – by the Millennial Housing Commission:

“… housing matters. It represents the single largest expenditure for most American families and the single largest source of wealth for most homeowners. The development of housing has a major impact on the national economy and the economic growth and health of regions and communities. Housing is inextricably linked to access to jobs and healthy communities and the social behavior of the families who occupy it. The failure to achieve adequate housing leads to significant societal costs.”

Until these sort of deliberations and debate occur and a National Housing Policy is in place, it is impossible to know what we as taxpayers get (and give up) for another $100 Billion spent in this manner in support of the housing crisis.

It seems to us, that the time to answer the important question: “What do we get?” … before we give more … is long overdue.

…(read more)

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