Great news! It was announced that the housing market has fully recovered from the debacle of the Great Recession. While good for the housing industry as a whole, the better news for mortgage lenders is the elimination of any new regulations. Having dealt with two of the most difficult fallout of the crisis can we now wipe our hands of the problem and get back to running business the way we did prior to 2004? Well, not quite. There is still the issue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to address.
Everyone, including consumers, is aware that these entities were up to their eyeballs in the lending programs between 2004 and 2008. Despite the fact that they each provided an AUS for use by lenders, the rules were written so that it would basically approve every loan submitted. Staying competitive seemed to be the only criteria. Their punishment however was slightly different. They were taken into government conservatorship after being bailed out by the federal government. And here they have remained. But now it seems that the time has come, or the industry has determined that it is time to finally resolve this problem. So what’s to be done and when.
The interest in answering this question seems to have generated a number of ideas about what to do and when to do it. For example, on a recent conference call one speaker, when asked about the GSE’s situation stated that he did not see any political catalyst to do anything at the present time. One of the primary reasons is the belief that the FHFA and its director, have a reasonably well run organization which allows for a delay in any action. He went on to say that while some changes in the charter and mandate are likely to occur, the issue of repaying taxpayers the $187B owed by them has to be addressed.
Prior to these statements, articles in industry magazines were suggesting that there seems to be some disagreement on exactly what to do with the GSEs. While most agree that there is a continuing need for the government to be involved in the secondary market, whether this is the current GSEs or some other type of entity seems to be at the heart of the debate. One popular idea is to create a public utility with government control of all fees and charges through regulation. Paramount in this approach is the expectation that this entity will continue to offer access to all lenders and provide them with equal pricing.
With one of the GSE mandates being to provide affordable housing options to working class families, those involved in organizations that monitor this also want to ensure that this focus continues. However, based on the latest HMDA data, which shows that the greatest correlation to denials for non-white, Hispanic males or females was whether they were to be sold to one of the GSEs. This issue will continue to be burdensome to the agencies and despite the fact automated systems will continue to evolve, the on-going use of rules-based algorithmic models will do nothing to ensure the viability of any lending program, especially for these affordability issues. One thing seems consistent through all of these discussions. In whatever structure this government involvement takes place, it cannot be allowed to pose such an enormous risk to taxpayers again, nor can it ever again place the broader financial system at the level of risk it did during the Great Recession.
Another voice in the on-going discussion of what to do with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) who recently published an introduction of its forthcoming proposal for addressing this issue. Based on the document it is clear they support a new secondary market approach. This initial document places an emphasis on the role of the federal government and the necessity of preventing this new “market” from fluctuations due to political turmoil, favoritism and/or changing administrations.
The GSEs cannot be allowed to pose such an enormous risk to taxpayers again, nor can they ever again place the broader financial system at the level of risk it did during the Great Recession.
While most agree that there is a continuing need for the government to be involved in the secondary market, whether this is the current GSEs or some other type of entity seems to be at the heart of the debate.
The focus of any congressional actions, according to the MBA position, should be to promote liquidity that stimulates investor purchases of mortgage-backed securities and prevent the taxpayers from taking on the risk of these securities. There are four critical elements they have identified that they believe must be part of any long-term solution. These include establishing the value of combining competition and regulations; providing equal access for all lenders regardless of size or structure; enhancing their current public mission for promoting affordable housing and finally, to maintain the level of liquidity for both single and multi-family housing. Furthermore, the MBA has included in this statement support for allowing the creation of additional privately owned entrants to compete with the reformed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
These entities, including the new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be organized as private utilities with a regulated rate of return and a public purpose of providing credit to the conventional mortgage market. In addition to this “end state,” MBA has identified a series of “Guardrails” that must be implemented to reinforce this new mandate. Among these are such standards as the maintenance of a “bright line” between the primary and secondary markets; these utility companies must be standalone to prevent any undue influence (such as those from big banks) and the resulting utilities should be regulated as a Systemically Important Financial Institution (SIFI).
So, What’s Missing?
Although these ideas and discussions are preliminary presentations of the more in-depth concepts discussions and legislative actions to come, the common thread in all the current offerings is the focus on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s role in a new secondary market functionality. Emphasis has been placed on the idea that these new utilities will be aggregators of conventional single family and multi-family loans. So, where does that leave the other activities of that these agencies now control?
One of the most obvious is that of creating and administering credit policy. While one of the “guardrails” listed in the MBA’s GSE Reform Principles and Guardrails, released on January 30, 2017, is the operation and management of “…the government’s QM-like single family eligibility parameters…”. What is not clear is whether the credit policies to be put in place will be unique to each utility or whether there will be one set of guidelines for everyone. One question left unanswered is whether the QM exception in place today will remain past the current stated end date.
As everyone is aware today, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac compete through the variations in these guidelines, even to the point of differing calculations for determining income for rental properties. If this level of diversity in guidelines was to exist in several different utilities, it seems likely that it would cause confusion as well as set up any number of these entities to take risks that are would not be acceptable. Furthermore, the ATR/QM standards are the result of the CFPB regulations that the current administration as well as congressional opponents have vowed to eliminate.
In addition to these problems, while Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have as a foundation of their charters the requirement that they expand homeownership opportunities for potential borrowers requiring more affordable housing, the reality is that this has not occurred. All one must do is review the past year’s HMDA data, including 2015, to see that the denials for non-white, Hispanic, men and women are most highly correlated to the intent to sell the loan to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. So, the question remains, if the current guidelines are failing to produce the results required of these agencies, how does adding more of the same expand that opportunity? On the other hand, will the emergence of very divergent guidelines individualized from each utility cause too much confusion and misdirection for the industry to handle?
Another expensive and antiquated program that are part of the agency requirements is Quality Control. Following the mortgage meltdown and the abundant evidence that quality failures were a direct cause of the mortgage failures, both agencies introduced loan quality initiatives. Unfortunately, these programs did not address the primary issues of ensuring the processes that produced these loans were under control, but continued to rely on controlling each loan through an inspection process both before the loan went to funding as well as afterward.
Despite the fact automated systems will continue to evolve, the on-going use of rules-based algorithmic models will do nothing to ensure the viability of any lending program.
The issue of what to do with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will continue to play out for some time to come.
While the intent to “discover” problems prior to funding was a noble effort, the result has been companies implementing 100% reviews on approved loans without a clear understanding of what to do with the results, how to cure many of the problems or obtaining updated information. Furthermore, the post-closing QC still occurs 90 days after the loan is closed and the sampling programs acceptable remain biased and the results incomprehensive. To add insult to injury, these additional reviews double the cost while adding little if any, value.
With the adaptation of multiple utilities will the existing QC requirements remain, will each aggregator have the option to determine how they expect this analysis process to be completed or will every lender can design their own? Regardless of how it plays out, the value of quality control can be added in by ensuring that pricing reflects the product quality sold.
Last, but not least is the issue of compliance with regulatory requirements. Up to this point the GSEs have deliberately avoided evaluating individual compliance to regulations. While there are some valid reasons for this approach, with the new utilities, will this continue or will utilities decide to become involved with this process.
The issue of what to do with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will continue to play out for some time to come. However, forward thinking originators and servicers will also be scoping out how any of these options can impact their business and be prepared when it does happen.