Posts Tagged ‘GSEs’

Fannie and Freddie to Marry?

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac might find themselves merged into a single government-run entity.  Representative Gary Miller (R-CA) is set to unveil a bill that would create a utility-like entity and phase out government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The new company would buy mortgages and repackage them as government-backed securities.  The major difference from Fannie and Freddie lies in the fact that it would not have shareholder investors.  The National Association of Homebuilders and the National Association of Realtors are expected to support the proposal, which reflects concerns by the industry, consumer groups and some policymakers that a complete withdrawal of government support for home lending could make the housing recession go further downhill.

A competing proposal by Representatives Gary Peters (D-MI) and John Campbell (R-CA) would create a minimum of five private companies to replace the two co-called government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs.  The point of contention for many lawmakers is whether to provide a government backstop for mortgages and on what terms to provide the guarantee.  House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) is trying to forge a consensus among Republican members.  Any bill that is generated by Bachus’ committee and is passed by the Republican-led House would likely still be in jeopardy once it reaches the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“There was the idea that people were so tired of taxpayer losses related to housing that the traditional housing lobby would not be able to retaliate effectively,” said Jim Vogel, chief of agency debt research at Memphis-based FTN Financial. “It’s time to start waving the housing flag again.”

That would represent a sea change from February, when the Treasury Department recommended selling off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac holdings within 10 years; Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) wanted to do it in half that time.  Since then, homebuilders, real estate agents, investment banks, civil rights leaders and consumer advocates have lobbied to retain a government role — including the unspoken federal guarantee behind Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Congress created the programs as private companies to expand home ownership.

Already, the government is slowing its efforts to prop up the housing market.  Beginning this fall, the cap on Fannie and Freddie-backed mortgages — loans where taxpayers are on the hook if borrowers don’t pay — will decline in some regions.  At the height of the housing crisis, Congress raised the cap to $729,750 in areas where homes are most expensive.  After October, that will fall to $625,500.  The limit varies by county.  Mortgages that are too expensive to get backing from Fannie and Freddie are called jumbo loans and usually have higher interest rates and require larger downpayments.  That maximum was set by Congress in 2008 in an attempt to ensure that borrowers could continue to obtain loans in particularly expensive housing markets during the credit crunch, especially in prime real estate locations, such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The Deal Book column in the New York Times thinks that the idea of merging Fannie and Freddie is not as outrageous as it may at first seem.  “Consider the math: For the first six months of this year, both companies spent $1.825 billion in overhead costs combined; on an annualized basis, that means the companies are spending about $3.65 billion.  Given that the companies do pretty much the same thing – buying mortgages from banks, insuring them and creating mortgage-backed securities – there might be opportunities for savings if many of their managers and staff are, to put it politely, redundant.  Conservatively, a combined Fannie and Freddie could probably cut a third of its overhead and staff, saving some $1.2 billion annually.  The way Wall Street values companies, that means – presto – billions more in value, perhaps as much as $18 billion or $19 billion, could be created overnight.”

“It would instill a huge amount of confidence. The market will know that both entities combined will have much more consistent, stable margins,” John Lekas, chief executive of Leader Capital, an investment firm, said on CNBC last week. He added that it “doesn’t cost taxpayers one nickel.”

Additionally, Fannie and Freddie are on track in 2011 to spend about $1.8 billion on what is known as “foreclosure costs,” which means maintaining and selling thousands of homes that became part of their ownership portfolios after the owners were unable to pay the mortgage.  The costs are staggering, given that Fannie and Freddie together own approximately 153,000 foreclosed homes. “This is just one of the costs that Fannie and the rest of us will pay to dig out of a very big hole,” says Karen Petrou, of Federal Financial Analytics.  When she says “the rest of us,” she is telling the truth.  Fannie Mae’s tab to American taxpayers is up to $86 billion since September 2008 when it was taken into government conservatorship.  During the 1st quarter of 2011, Fannie racked up $488 million in foreclosure-related expenses, including holding costs (insurance, taxes and maintenance); valuation adjustments for changes in market value; gains/loss when the property is sold; legal fees; eviction costs; weatherization costs to prevent pipes from bursting; costs to secure the property; and repair costs.

“We want to make sure that we’re comparable with the market or with the neighborhood,” said Elonda Crocket, a Fannie Mae executives who is part of the management team of its massive portfolio of foreclosed properties.  The goal is to stabilize the neighborhoods where there are foreclosed homes and get the properties to a condition where first-time homebuyers want to purchase them.  “We want to make sure that we can maximize our return on the investment,” she said.  In 2010, Fannie Mae repaired 87,000 foreclosed homes.

“It makes them — I think — indisputably the largest purchaser of paint and general appliances for these homes they’re fixing up,” said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance.  “If they don’t maintain the houses, then the neighborhoods go downhill, other people are put at risk and the housing crisis gets worse because you have still more downward pressure on overall house prices,” Petrou said.

CMBS Stages a Comeback

Monday, March 14th, 2011

CMBS activity came back strongly during February with more than $6.5 billion in new securitization reported. Additionally, Freddie Mac brought two multifamily-backed offerings totaling $1.86 billion to market.  February’s level of activity is almost two-thirds of all CMBS deals offered in 2010.  The level resembles 2007, when commercial mortgage-backed securities offerings were at their peak.  Because of CMBS’ resurgence, the commercial real estate market is both bullish and fretful.  The rising volume in CMBS loan origination is a welcome sign that liquidity is returning to the markets.  The fact that a relatively large amount was created during the year’s shortest month is raising worries that the still delicate condition of commercial real estate is being sustained by too-eager lenders.

“I think it is clear that CMBS is coming back — something that is probably positive in the short-term as far as jump-starting the investment marketplace and helping to establish a new baseline for pricing while, hopefully, alleviating some of the distress issues out there. But is it a good thing in the long run?” asks Garrick Brown, Northern California research director of Cassidy Turley BT Commercial asked.

“As the number of participants in CMBS lending continues to increase, the competition to originate loans eligible for new CMBS deals will be fierce,” said John O’Callahan, capital markets strategist for CoStar Group.  “Insurance companies, GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises), and even the healthier large banks will lend on the best properties in desirable markets, while CMBS originators will compete among themselves for the leftovers. They will have to cast a wider net across all markets to garner the volumes anticipated in 2011.”

Just 15 months after the initial CMBS issuance, structural, leverage and issuance amount trends have quickly changed, according to Standard & Poor’s. The ‘CMBS 2.0’ market started with the pricing of three single-borrower transactions with relatively simple structures in late 2009; more recent deals have been more complex, more highly leveraged and with significantly higher opening balances.  “Most recently, three $1.2 billion plus conduit/fusion deals were issued this month, each of which included an average of 10 principal and interest bonds and two interest-only classes.  Compared with late-2009 issuances, the newer multi-borrower deals have higher leverage, less debt service coverage and somewhat looser underwriting,” says Standard & Poor’s analyst James Manzi.

Despite the good news from February, Trepp LLC, a provider of commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) and commercial mortgage information, analytics and technology to the global securities and investment management industry, found that the CMBS delinquency rate rose 9.34 percent in January. The value of delinquent loans exceeds $61.4 billion.  “While the rate continues to head higher, optimists can point to the fact that the rate of increase is significantly smaller than it was in the prior two months,” said Manus Clancy, managing director of Trepp LLC.  “Pessimists can counter that the jump comes despite the fact that new issues continue to make their way into the calculation and servicers continue to resolve troubled loans.”

The re-emergence of CMBS does not mean a return to the go-go years of 2004-2007. If $35 billion is issued in 2011, it will total just 15 percent of the peak.  Additionally, the revised underwriting criteria are far more conservative and issuances are smaller and geared toward low-risk assets.  Significantly, originators are more frequently required to retain stakes in the offering.  The CMBS market is expected to steadily climb this year and could see additional issuance in 2012, perhaps rising to $100 billion by 2013.  This would still be less than half the peak level of 2007, but a substantial amount, bringing desirable liquidity to the commercial real estate market.

Fannie, Freddie and the American Taxpayer

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

As the United States government commits a bare minimum of $100 billion of taxpayer money to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the final reckoning depends on how effectively Washington runs the mortgage powerhouses.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, with the sheer magnitude of Fannie and Freddie – with $5 trillion in home loans on their combined books – the taxpayers’ burden is likely to add up to billions of dollars very quickly. 00037darling-let-s-get-deeply-into-debt-postersThe worst-case scenario could see the tab rise as high as the $125 billion it cost the taxpayers in the early 1990s to bail out failed savings-and-loan institutions. The rosiest scenarios hypothesize that the short-term cash infusion might be recouped with little or no net cost to the taxpayers.

Part of the reason that Fannie and Freddie are under conservatorship is that foreign central banks and investors have been divesting themselves of American mortgage debt, because they are nervous about falling prices, weak credit and the weak dollar. Since foreign ownership represents $1.4 trillion, it is a sizable piece of the puzzle.

The bottom line is that every U.S. taxpayer is now tied directly to the troubled housing market. And the stakes here are significantly higher than the government’s $30 billion bailout of Bear Stearns. The ultimate cost to taxpayers is tied directly to the depth of the housing slump. If housing prices continue to fall and foreclosures rise, the losses to Fannie and Freddie will increase. The opposite scenario would be far better news for taxpayers.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), because Congress chartered them to create a stable mortgage market. They have functioned well by guaranteeing home loans or buying them outright. Even with steep declines in the number of sales and prices, investors have continued to fund home loans with a Fannie or Freddie seal of approval; this has kept mortgages relatively available and affordable.

The Treasury Department had no alternative but to intervene, become an equity investor in Fannie and Freddie, and a buyer of their mortgage-backed bonds. Their objective is to restore consumer confidence in the credit markets, reduce the cost of mortgages, and help the housing market recover.