FHFA Makes a Big Bet

There were several releases from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) this past week including:

-A speech by acting FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco.
-A report on the efforts by Fannie and Freddie regarding restructuring exiting mortgages.

First consider this from the restructuring report:

Trial loan modifications under HAMP more than tripled from June to August, from 66,200 to 202,200.

In addition, the Agencies restructured 58,000 outside of HAMP. The average loan is close to $200,000. That means that the GSE’s have restructured $52 billion in loans. $39 billion of that was in the three months ending in August. Their rate for September must have been close to $20 billion. The total is north of $70 billion. As a percentage of their total book this comes to 1.25%, or 5+% annually.

From the speech this slide:

On numerous occasions the FHFA has used this type of graph to demonstrate how well they are doing. They point to the relatively low default rate they are experiencing compared to the private sector and other government lenders. DeMarco said in his speech:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have a combined 57 percent share of mortgages Outstanding, that accounts for only 25 percent of serious delinquencies.

The FHFA is blowing smoke at us. Their default rate looks good by comparison because they are not recognizing losses. They are just rolling them forward. They have done $70billion already and now that they have it figured out they will continue the process. How much of the 5% annualized rate should go on top of their stated numbers? Over time, more than half . The Agency default rate is understated in the report as a result.

Most of the restructured loans are from seriously delinquent borrowers. Those in payment default by 90 days. When these loans are restructured they go off of the Delinquent list. Therefore the more the Agencies restructure, the lower their delinquency rate looks. Mr. DeMarco said this about his ability to restructure dead mortgages:

With HARP, these barriers have been addressed. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac today will refinance mortgages they currently hold, even up to a current loan-to-value of 125 percent.

The ‘barriers’ he is referring to are prudent lending standards. Recent data shows that one half of these loans will re-default.If real estate prices do not make a significant recovery, the very high re-default rate will continue.

Also from the speech this slide on the balance sheets of the Agencies:

The funded portfolio at the Agencies has been static. This is because there are limits on the size of the portfolio. These were mandated as a result of the conservatorship. But there are no limits on the amount of MBS that is guaranteed. They are using that loophole to maximum advantage. Who owns this guaranteed MBS? Increasing it is the Federal Reserve through their non-stop POMO buys. The Fed is mixing its QE monetary policy objectives with support for bad credits. Agency MBS is not money good at par unless Treasury funds the losses. Agency MBS is still not full faith and credit paper. With the absence of a full guaranty the Fed would normally have to haircut this paper. The Fed typically requires ‘two ways out’. (1) The promise to pay by the borrower and (2) the collateral that backs up that promise. As of today there is only one certain way out of this MBS. And that is not worth par.

The Fed's POMO buys have facilitated HAMP. That is well outside of traditional monetary policy.

From the speech, a comment by Mr. DeMarco:

There is an opportunity today to help many more homeowners strengthen their own balance sheets by taking advantage of the HARP program.

How can lending someone 125% of the value of their home improve a balance sheet? At best it improves cash flow for the borrower for a short period of time. This is at the expense of a larger principal obligation. Underwater borrowers are bad credits. Rolling over bad loans is a bet on the come. The FHFA is playing at the big casino on the hope of a RE recovery. It isn't an even money bet.


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