Category: Mortgage News


The Sacramento Bee via Mortgage Daily

Activity climbed on mortgage fraud cases being prosecuted in California, leaving the state with more fraud than any other. New York also saw acceleration, while Florida’s mortgage fraud index topped the list and Minnesota remained prominently perched among the worst locales. But as a whole, the country’s case activity was slower.The Third-Quarter 2011 Mortgage Fraud Index from MortgageDaily.com came in at 1170. The index represents activity on civil and criminal cases. Victim lenders were deceived by fraudulent documentation or inflated appraisals. Cases were tracked from the mortgage fraud blog FraudBlogger.com."The Mortgage Fraud Index reflects current efforts by law enforcement officials to prosecute defendants who typically committed mortgage fraud three to five years ago," said Mortgage Daily founder and Publisher Sam Garcia said. "Many of the recently opened cases were uncovered by mortgage bankers who were forced to repurchase the loans."The index fell 7 percent from the second quarter but climbed 16 percent from a year earlier.On a dollar basis, the aggregate balance of mortgage fraud cases was $1.3 billion — lower than the second quarter and the third-quarter 2010.

The number of cases with activity in Florida climbed, giving it the worst state fraud index. California had the second-highest index, followed by Minnesota.

Based solely on the dollar amount of cases with third-quarter activity, California’s $204 million was highest. New York was a close second, while Minnesota maintained its standing among the five-worst states.

"While mortgage fraud has historically been more prevalent in states hit hard by the housing crisis, Minnesota and New York — two states that have not suffered as badly from foreclosures — have recently emerged as active states for prosecutors," Mr. Garcia added.

 

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Relative yields on mortgage-backed securities that guide new loan rates have fallen to the lowest in five months as investors wager the Federal Reserve is on standby to expand its holdings if the U.S. economy or Europe’s debt crisis worsens.

Yields on Fannie Mae’s current-coupon, 30-year bonds ended last week at 94 basis points more than 10-year Treasuries, the narrowest since July 8, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The spread widened to 98 basis points yesterday after reaching 121 basis points, or 1.21 percentage points, on Nov. 24.

The Fed is already bolstering the market, adding "dollar roll" trades this month that lower financing costs for investors, after starting in October to recycle proceeds from past investments in housing-related debt to help real estate escape its worst slump since the 1930s. While a smaller share of economists predict the central bank will add to its $1 trillion of holdings as the U.S. grows, bond buyers may benefit regardless, said Dwight Asset Management Co.’s Paul Norris.

"Let’s say that something bad happens in Europe," said Norris, a senior money manager whose Burlington, Vermont-based firm oversees about $50 billion. "Initially mortgages may widen out a bit but what that would likely lead to is a really quick implementation of QE3," he said, referring to what would be the third round of Fed asset purchases called quantitative easing.

If the situation is reversed and "Europe gets its act together," benchmark interest rates would probably rise, benefiting mortgage-bonds spreads partly by reducing refinancing and the supply of new securities, Norris said.

Economists Forecast

While Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Janet Yellen, Governor Daniel Tarullo and Fed Bank of New York President William C. Dudley have signaled more mortgage-bond purchases are possible, economists say it’s growing less likely.

About 49 percent surveyed by Bloomberg News see the Fed announcing next year additional debt buying, down from more than two-thirds before the central bank’s November meeting. The Federal Open Market Committee meets today in Washington. Money managers are "overweight" on agency mortgage bonds by the most in at least two years, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Elsewhere in credit markets, Caterpillar Inc. sold $600 million of bonds after the cost to protect the debt of the world’s largest construction and mining-equipment maker rose to the highest level in more than two years. U.S. interest-rate swap spreads widened as Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings said Europe’s leaders did little last week to fix the region’s debt crisis. Blue Coat Systems Inc. sought $465 million in loans as prices fell for a fourth day.

Caterpillar Swaps

Bonds of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp. were the most actively traded U.S. corporate securities by dealers yesterday, with 77 trades of $1 million or more, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Caterpillar’s offering consisted of $400 million of 1.125 percent notes due in December 2014 that yield 85 basis points more than similar-maturity Treasuries and $200 million of two- year, floating-rate debt that pays 30 basis points more than the London interbank offered rate, Bloomberg data show.

Credit-default swaps on Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar’s debt traded yesterday at 149.3 basis points, the highest since July 2009 and up from 118.5 at the end of October, according to data provider CMA, which is owned by CME Group Inc. and compiles prices quoted by dealers in the privately- negotiated market.

Markit CDX Index

Benchmark gauges of company credit risk in U.S. and Europe rose after Moody’s said a European Union summit offered few new measures and doesn’t diminish the risk of credit downgrades on European nations. Fitch said a comprehensive solution hasn’t yet been offered and predicted a "significant economic downturn" in the region.

The Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index, which investors use to hedge against losses on corporate debt or to speculate on creditworthiness, added 3.5 basis points to a mid- price of 125.4 in New York, according to data provider CMA. The gauge has climbed from 79 on Feb. 8.

The Markit iTraxx Europe Index of 125 companies with investment-grade ratings dropped 1.5 basis points to 184.25, according to JPMorgan at 11 a.m. in London.

Risk Gauges

The indexes typically rise as investor confidence deteriorates and fall as it improves. Credit-default swaps pay the buyer face value if a borrower fails to meet its obligations, less the value of the defaulted debt. A basis point equals $1,000 annually on a contract protecting $10 million of debt.

The difference between the two-year swap rate and the comparable-maturity Treasury note yield increased 1.54 basis points to 43.93 basis points, the widest since Dec. 2. The measure, which rises when investors favor government bonds, has expanded from 41.55 on Nov. 30.

The Standard & Poor’s/LSTA U.S. Leveraged Loan 100 index fell 0.3 cent to 90.39 cents on the dollar, the lowest level since Nov. 29. The measure, which tracks the 100 largest dollar- denominated first-lien leveraged loans, has declined from 90.83 on Dec. 6.

Blue Coat, a provider of web security solutions, is seeking funding to back its buyout by Thoma Bravo LLC. The financing will include a $415 million term loan and a $50 million revolving line of credit, according to a Dec. 9 regulatory filing. Investment bank Jefferies Group Inc. is arranging the financing for the Sunnyvale, California-based company.

Emerging Markets

Leveraged loans and high-yield bonds are rated below Baa3 by Moody’s and lower than BBB- by S&P.

In emerging markets, relative yields rose for a second day, up 1 basis point to 409 basis points as of 10:08 a.m. in Hong Kong, according to JPMorgan’s EMBI Global index. The measure has ranged this year from 259 on Jan. 5 to 496 on Oct. 4.

The Fed, which under QE1 bought $1.25 trillion of mortgage securities and $172 billion of other agency debt through March 2010, has purchased a net $56.1 billion since October to offset prepayments and maturities, Bloomberg data show. The acquisitions are focused on the $5.3 trillion market of home- loan bonds guaranteed by government-supported Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or U.S.-owned Ginnie Mae.

Anticipation of more transactions may be boosting demand among private investors. About 64 percent of money managers surveyed by JPMorgan are "overweight" agency mortgage securities, or holding a greater percentage than found in benchmark indexes, the highest since at least mid-2009, according to a Dec. 9 report by the New York-based bank.

QE3 Potential

Because of the potential for QE3, government-backed mortgage securities "offer that rare beast: positive exposure to event risk," Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia, wrote in a Dec. 7 report. He recommended the bonds over other debt "within the interest rate sphere," such as Treasuries, in his 2012 outlook.

Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his fellow policy makers will start another QE program next quarter, 16 of the 21 primary dealers of U.S. government securities that trade with the central bank said in a Bloomberg News survey last month. The Fed may buy about $545 billion in home-loan debt, based on the median of the firms that provided estimates.

A majority of 51 percent of the 41 economists polled by Bloomberg from Dec. 7 through Dec. 9 said the central bank will refrain from QE3. That contrasts with a survey before the Fed’s November meeting that showed 69 percent forecasting the action. This month, 13 percent of the economists said they expect the move will be announced in January and 21 percent in March.

Jobless Rate Falls

The likelihood has fallen after the unemployment rate declined to 8.6 percent from 9.1 percent, U.S. manufacturing expanded at the fastest pace in 5 months and vehicle sales climbed to their highest level in over 2 years.

A program may include $700 billion of home-loan securities, Citigroup Inc. analysts said. That figure reflects how much would be needed to "tangibly influence" mortgage rates without disrupting functioning in the market, analysts Inger Daniels and Mayank Singhal wrote in the Dec. 9 report.

Tarullo, in an October speech, said additional mortgage- bond purchases should "move back up toward the top of the list of options" because "the aggregate-demand effect should be felt not just in new-home purchases, but also in the added purchasing power of existing homeowners who are able to refinance."

Dollar Rolls

Yellen said in a Nov. 29 speech that she sees "see a strong case for additional policies to foster more-rapid recovery in the housing sector." If the Fed opted to buy more bonds, "it might make sense" for much of those to consist of mortgage securities to boost the housing market, Dudley said Nov. 17.

During the week ended Dec. 7, the Fed engaged in $4.35 billion of paired purchases and sales of mortgage securities in different months for the first time since starting to reinvest in the market along with its "Operation Twist" for Treasuries.

Those so-called dollar rolls boosted mortgage bonds last week, JPMorgan analysts led by Matt Jozoff and Morgan Stanley analysts Vipul Jain, Janaki Rao and Zofia Koscielniak said. The implied cost of financing Fannie Mae 3.5 percent bonds, which had climbed in a few weeks from about 30 basis points to almost 50 basis points, retraced that advance, according to JPMorgan.

Financing Rates

"Although funding markets in MBS have not shown significant signs of stress, financing rates have gone up in tandem with other funding rates, especially around year-end, and the Fed action helps alleviate some of those pressures," the Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a Dec. 9 report.

With dollar rolls, an investor seeking to borrow money enters into contracts to sell mortgage securities in any month and then buy similar bonds the following month; a lender would undertake the opposite trades. Investors entering into transactions for other reasons may be on either side of the contracts.

The transactions will "facilitate the settlement of our outstanding MBS purchases," Jonathan Freed, a New York Fed spokesman, said in a Dec. 6 e-mailed statement.

The Fed’s use of the trades underscored the central bank’s commitment to supporting the market, Dwight Asset’s Norris said. "All of their speeches that I’ve read and all of the anecdotal evidence points to them being fully involved," he said.

While the central bank probably isn’t ready to announce additional mortgage-bond buying, it may provide new aid to the market if it details changes to its so-called communication strategy in a way that reduces expected interest-rate volatility, he added. Higher forecasted volatility damages investors by increasing doubt about when the debt will be repaid as projected homeowner refinancing fluctuates and by boosting hedging costs.

 

 

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via Washington Post

A government watchdog said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac improperly foreclosed on homeowners and cost the government billions of dollars by not holding major banks to strict underwriting requirements.

The report released Tuesday also said the Federal Housing Finance Agency gave “undue deference” to Fannie and Freddie officials and didn’t scrutinize more than $35 million in bonuses and compensation to Fannie and Freddie executives.

FHFA’s inspector general had previously released each of the findings on an individual basis. But the semi-annual report to Congress sketched a portrait of abuse at the two mortgage giants that the government failed to stop.

Fannie, Freddie and the FHFA didn’t respond to the report. But they have responded to similar allegations in previous reports.

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans. The Bush administration seized control of the mortgage giants in September 2008.

Like banks, the mortgage giants relaxed lending standards during the housing boom and didn’t thoroughly check incomes and assets weren’t properly checked. High-interest loans, some with low “teaser” rates, were doled out to risky borrowers.

The inspector general report found that Fannie and Freddie did not force banks to repurchase mortgages when they failed to meet strict underwriting requirements. That decision cost the government billions of dollars.

When a senior examiner at FHFA raised “serious concerns” about Freddie’ process for reviewing Bank of America’s mortgages, senior Freddie managers disagreed, according to the report. The managers also said they feared losing business from Bank of America if the government became more aggressive in getting money back for bad mortgages, the report said.

The report also found:

— Fannie knew about allegations of improper foreclosure practices by law firms as far back as 2003 but did not act to stop them.

— Fannie failed to establish an “acceptable and effective” way to monitor foreclosure proceedings between 2006 and early 2011.

— FHFA failed to oversee the government’s signature foreclosure-prevention program, the Home Affordable Modification Program. As a result, it cost the government extra time and resources to fix it.

Fannie officials said they told a government official about false foreclosure practices in 2006. That unnamed official, who now works for Fannie’s regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said he couldn’t recall the conversation, the report said.

And both mortgage giants have defended executive bonuses and compensation as necessary to keep talented officials.

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American International Group Inc. (AIG) is holding out as rival mortgage insurers accept policy changes that support the U.S. government push to stoke refinancing among borrowers with little or no home equity.

The bailed-out insurer’s United Guaranty unit is telling lenders it’s unwilling to offer the same protections on defective loans that competitors are granting to aid the Home Affordable Refinance Program, said four people with knowledge of the discussions. MGIC Investment Corp. (MTG) and Radian Group Inc. (RDN) have said they will forfeit some rights to revoke coverage under a plan that gets borrowers into less expensive loans.

President Barack Obama has said expanding the HARP program will make cheaper credit available to more homeowners at a time when mortgage rates are near record lows. The planned changes may also limit banks’ losses on loans that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or insurers say were poorly underwritten.

“The real issue here is that some of the lenders with fraudulent or poorly documented or undocumented mortgages want to use the HARP program to relieve themselves of the risk tied to their bad lending decisions,” Mark Herr, a spokesman of New York-based AIG, said in an e-mailed statement.

HARP covers loans already guaranteed by government- supported Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which may detail adjustments to the program as soon as today. The mortgage finance companies have protection against some losses under insurance sold by firms including United Guaranty.

Obama highlighted an expansion of the program on Oct. 24, saying it can help the economy move past the worst housing slump since the 1930s without relying on an “increasingly dysfunctional Congress.”

‘Surprising’

With the U.S. Treasury Department owning most of AIG, “it’s surprising that they’d be the ones not on board,” said Cliff Rossi, executive-in-residence at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Matt Anderson, a Treasury Department spokesman, declined to comment.

The refinancing program, which began in 2009, has reached less than one quarter of homeowners that Obama initially projected. While United Guaranty has been an “industry leader” on HARP, facilitating $3.4 billion of refinancing, it doesn’t want to be part of “a back-door bailout” of banks, Herr said.

Mortgage insurers cut claims costs by voiding policies for errors including inflated appraisals or borrower incomes. The AIG unit benefited from $584 million of denied claims and rescinded coverage in its first-lien business in the nine months through Sept. 30, according to regulatory filings. Rescissions can hurt lenders rather than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because originators must buy back loans when insurance is canceled.

Underwriting Mistakes

AIG’s rivals are generally agreeing, when dealing with HARP loans, to waive rights to void coverage for most types of underwriting mistakes on borrowers’ original loans, said two of the people, who declined to be identified because the talks are private. The companies may also accept limits on the vetting of the new loans, even when homeowners add closing costs to balances, they said.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are willing to have less power to force home-loan repurchases in an effort to aid housing through HARP as lenders also offer concessions, said Joe Pigg, vice president for the American Bankers Association.

“Everybody is being asked to do their part, so it seems to me the mortgage insurance companies need to step up and do their part,” Pigg said in a telephone interview. “If they don’t, that will be an inhibiting factor, hurting borrowers.”

$87.5 Billion

United Guaranty provides insurance on about $88 billion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans, the fourth-most, according to securities filings. It was the largest mortgage insurer by policy sales last quarter, followed by Radian and MGIC, according to newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance.

Under their government charters, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac normally must have borrowers buy mortgage insurance if they take out loans exceeding 80 percent of a home’s value. HARP waives the requirement when refinancing loans that didn’t need insurance at origination. The program also can allow existing coverage to roll over at the same cost when borrowers replace their debt and insurers agree.

About 900,000 loans have been refinanced under HARP, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the independent regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that says the volume may double by the end of 2013. Obama said the program would aid 4 million to 5 million as the initiative was introduced.

FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco told reporters last month that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would offer “substantial” relief from buyback demands when HARP is used, without providing “absolute” waivers, citing instances of fraud as an exception. Corinne Russell, an FHFA spokeswoman, declined to comment.

‘Recommitting’

Allowing banks to use HARP to lessen repurchase risk tied to so-called representations and warranties on previously issued mortgages may help fuel refinancing by pushing lenders to prioritize the program, Sandipan Deb, an analyst at Barclays Capital, said in an Oct. 24 interview.

“Typically, such defects show up in the first few years of a mortgage and so the value of the reps and warrants decline over time,” the FHFA said in a document on its website. “By refinancing into a lower interest rate and/or shorter term mortgage, these borrowers are recommitting to their mortgage and strengthening their household balance sheet.”

‘Good for Everybody’

MGIC is ready to accept lessened rights to rescind policies since “it’s good for everybody because it puts the borrower in a better position to service their debt,” said Mike Zimmerman, its investor-relations head. Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based MGIC’s mortgage-insurance unit has the most Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac policies outstanding.

MGIC, which plans to “line up” with the two companies’ repurchase procedures, also will drop a fee of 0.5 percentage point that it has charged to allow a new lender to refinance a homeowner under HARP without taking on rescission risk stemming from the original mortgage, Zimmerman said. One reason that repurchase and rescission rights are being limited is that they have helped to “restrict” borrowers to their current lenders, David Stevens, head of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said.

Radian expects borrowers will be about 50 percent to 70 percent less likely to default after a HARP refinancing lowers their rates, said Teresa Bryce Bazemore, president of the Philadelphia-based firm’s mortgage-insurance unit.

Lessening rescission rights to help achieve that outcome is “in our best interest,” partly because Radian must set aside reserves when loans default, draining capital, even if the insurer expects to reject the claim later, she said in a telephone interview.

Fraud, Negligence

The Washington-based Mortgage Insurance Companies of America said in a statement last month that its four members planned to “relieve lending institutions of representations from the original loan files.” Members are Radian, MGIC and Old Republic International Corp. (ORI) and Genworth Financial Inc. (GNW) units.

“The MI companies waiving their reps and warranties are worried about upsetting their lender relationships,” said Herr, AIG’s spokesman. “We’re worried about assuming someone else’s fraud or negligence.”

United Guaranty’s third-quarter operating loss narrowed to $96 million from $124 million a year earlier. AIG, whose 2008 bailout after bad bets on mortgage securities reached $182.3 billion, is now 77 percent owned by the U.S., down from 92 percent before a May share sale.

Arizona Regulator

The housing crash has pressured all mortgage insurers, with PMI Group Inc., once the third-largest, having its main unit seized by Arizona regulators last month.

The state “has agreed to allow PMI to continue to fully participate in HARP and also to permit PMI to release lenders from representations and warranties on the original loan for eligible HARP refinances,” Erin Klug, a spokeswoman for its insurance department, said in an e-mail.

 

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Approach to spread credit risk is based on Freddie multi-family securitizations

By Ronald D. Orol, MarketWatch

A proposal floated by the Obama administration and Freddie Mac to induce private mortgage investors back into the single-family loan industry likely would need to offer double-digit yields to entice buyers, analysts say.

The approach, which is still in the conceptual study phase, would have Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two government-seized mortgage giants, sell single family mortgage securitizations of which a small slice — 5% or 10% — would be sold without a government guarantee. Investors buying the subordinated security would be the first to take a loss if mortgages in the package default. To attract these investors, Freddie and Fannie would need to offer a higher yield.

“Because there is still a lot of risk aversion in the market and people are still reluctant to put capital to work right now, they would need to be offered 10% or even higher yields to buy unguaranteed securities,” said Chris Flanagan, head of U.S. mortgage and structured finance research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

“There are people out there who are willing to do that sort of investing, not as many as those who would buy the guaranteed securities, but there are people who know mortgage credit well and would buy it for a 10% or greater yield,” he added

Regulators are considering the approach because of the success of an existing program that Freddie Mac has employed to sell some multi-family mortgage securities without a government guarantee.

The goal of the new approach would be to begin the process of defrosting the private-label single-family mortgage securities market, which has been all but frozen and unable to function since the financial crisis of 2008.

Outgoing Freddie Mac CEO Charles Haldeman said Oct. 11 at a Mortgage Bankers Association conference in Chicago that he hopes to use the firm’s multi-family mortgage securitizations as a template for attracting private capital to the single-family mortgage securities market.

Freddie Mac has completed 17 of these multi-family securitizations since June 2009 with a value of $18.7 billion, of which $16.4 billion was guaranteed and $2.3 billion carried no government guarantee.

David Brickman, senior vice president for multi-family mortgages at Freddie Mac, said the mortgage giant has had strong demand with multi-family securitizations, in part, because investors have seen extremely low delinquency rates with only 0.3% with the loans defaulting on average.

“We’ve had one of the best portfolios in the industry and the lowest delinquency rates on our multi-family loans,” Brickman said.

He noted that the subordinate slice of the securitization that is not guaranteed by Freddie comes with a much higher yield in the “teens”and that investors in those securities who specialize in these apartment securities really understand the investments. Freddie Mac now has a list of roughly 100 potential buyers for the ‘securitizations’, Brickman said.

“The folks who invest in that [subordinated un-guaranteed] class are given a substantial amount of property-level information to help them assess the investment and they frequently visit the properties in the pool. The yields on those are typically in the teens,” he said. “They are frequently real estate investors and private equity funds who look for that high yield.”

He noted that some of the slightly less subordinate unsecured, mezzanine, bonds typically come with a 5% to 6% yield and are often purchased by insurance companies, hedge funds and some high-yield funds managed by conventional money managers.

Mike McMahon, managing director at Redwood Trust Inc., a publicly traded real estate investment trust, said buyers would come for the unguaranteed tranches if yields are high enough.

“If mortgage credit investors are persuaded that the collateral is clean and it is well underwritten and provides an equity-like return, then there will be a lot of buyers,” said McMahon.

Since the crisis began Redwood has come to the market with three private-label residential mortgage-backed securities transactions, in sizes of $238 million, $295 million and $375 million, respectively.

Manoj Singh, formerly senior vice president of pricing and securitization at Freddie Mac, says investors are willing to take the credit risk on new single-family mortgage securities for a high yield because these loans are typically made with tight underwriting standards and will have low default rates.

“These securitizations will be made up of new originations from borrowers with pristine credit, high credit scores, and high-yield investors will be willing to take that risk,” said Singh. “The interest rate they receive will be a few percentage points above the securities with a guarantee.”

Flanagan said default rates will not be as low as with the multi-family securities, but they will still be low. He points out that high-yield investors would be interested in buying some of these unguaranteed securities for such a high yield because traditional guaranteed mortgages securities are offering such a low yield.

“In today’s environment, there is no yield left in easy, liquid government securities,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan said that Fannie and Freddie will need to ease into such a new securitization market carefully and probably only issue roughly $10 billion in unguaranteed securities a year at the beginning, a small piece of the total mortgage market. Fannie and Freddie own roughly $1.4 trillion in mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, as of June, according to the agency.

Ajay Rajadhyaksha, chief of U.S. fixed income research at Barclays Capital in New York, in September told senators at a banking committee hearing that such an approach would work. He said the new securitizations would be critical to revive the stagnating private mortgage market because they would create a price for private mortgage securities, driving investment.

“The single most important reason to sell Freddie and Fannie credit risk is to establish a benchmark against which the private sector can price mortgage credit,” Rajadhyaksha said. “At the very least, investors would be able to have a better sense of what they should be paying for new purchases in the private label mortgage markets, encouraging primary issuance.”

Bose George, analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in New York, said that creating these kinds of securitizations could help revive the private mortgage market in the near term, while other efforts to do so, such as sweeping restructuring of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will take years.

“Even if it is a modest program it will be putting some private capital into the mortgage market rather than waiting for Fannie and Freddie reform which will take much more time,” George said.

 

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by Neil Roland via The Street

Mortgage brokers, many of whom originated deceptive loans that helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis, are still supervised by a dysfunctional patchwork of state and federal regulators.

A federal lawsuit against a leading mortgage broker last week exposed a gaping regulatory hole that will persist as long as Senate Republicans block appointment of a chief for the new consumer agency.

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by the Dodd-Frank legislation can’t examine or supervise mortgage brokers until it gets a director confirmed by the Senate. Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray was nominated in July, but a Senate vote has not yet been scheduled.

Senate Republicans headed by their leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Richard Shelby of Alabama are playing Russian roulette with borrowers’ homes and assets by threatening to block Cordray’s nomination. If he were to be confirmed, the consumer agency would likely have the focus and independence to prevent a massive decade-long fraud like that allegedly conducted by Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp.

"These crises can be averted," said William Black, an economics and law professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City who was a senior thrift regulator in the 1980s. "But if you create regulatory black holes, mortgage brokers will just move to areas where regulation is weakest."

The hazards of the status quo were highlighted by the federal civil-fraud complaint last week against Allied, which billed itself as the nation’s largest privately held mortgage broker.

The allegations, if true, show how a determined broker can easily sidestep disengaged and unconnected regulators. Since 2003, three federal agencies and more than a dozen states cited or settled with Allied or a related company for misconduct, according to a 2010ProPublica story. Yet Allied chugged along. Thousands of other mortgage brokers committed similar deception about loans they were peddling in the run-up to the financial meltdown.

In 2005, many of the $1 trillion in nonprime loans were handled by mortgage brokers, who were paid by lenders to prepare loan paperwork for borrowers, according to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report.

Many of the 200,000 new brokers who began their jobs during the subprime boom had criminal records, the January report said.

It cited a Miami Herald story that said more than 10,000 brokers with criminal records entered the field in Florida between 2000 and 2007, 40% of whom had been convicted of crimes such as fraud, bank robbery, racketeering or extortion.

"Lack of accountability created a condition in which fraud flourished," Marc Savitt, former National Association of Mortgage Brokers president, told the commission.

The regulatory structure at the time, which remains in place to this day, consists largely of the states and the Federal Trade Commission, whose varied missions include consumer protection. Brokers that originate mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration also are monitored by that agency.

The problem with FHA oversight, as the Allied case shows, is that it relies on supervision by federal computers that are easily evaded.

No boots are on the ground in the form of federal examiners, nor is there any umbrella coordination of state efforts. The CFPB, which began operating in July, is the only government agency in the United States with the dedicated mission of protecting consumers in the financial marketplace.

"I believe that a fully functioning CFPB would be more likely to identify and prevent serious violations of law by mortgage brokers and nonbank lenders," George Washington University law professor Arthur Wilmarth said.

Without a director, CFPB can examine the 100 or so banks with assets of more than $10 billion, and has begun doing so. The agency also has asked state regulators to share information about enforcement actions taken to protect consumers against mortgage abuses.

But it can’t oversee nonbank providers such as mortgage brokers and servicers, payday lenders and debt collectors. The federal suit last week alleged Houston-based Allied cost the FHA at least $834 million in insurance claims on defaulted home loans.

The broker engaged in "reckless mortgage lending" in originating 112,324 FHA-backed loans, most to low- and middle-income borrowers, from 2001 to 2010, the complaint contended. About a third of those loans defaulted, leaving thousands of homeowners facing eviction.

Allied, headed by Jim Hodge, who also was sued, did not reply to requests seeking comment. The broker successfully evaded housing regulators through a series of maneuvers, prosecutors alleged.

When an Allied branch office approached unacceptably high default rates, the company made a subtle change to the office address to fool FHA computers and ostensibly create a new branch with a blank default slate.

All the broker had to do to hoodwink the government was change "Street" in the address to "St.," or add a suite number, the suit alleged.

When the FHA upgraded its system to prevent such manipulation, Allied simply switched ownership of its branches to a successor entity with a slightly different name.

And in 2006, when the FHA barred a North Carolina branch of Allied from originating loans, the broker said the mortgages were from a different branch with a cleaner slate, according to the suit.

In Congress, the Republican charge is being led in part by Shelby, by far the leading 2010 recipient of campaign contributions from finance and credit companies, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Shelby, the top Republican on the banking committee, and 43 other Senate Republicans sent a May letter to President Obama calling for revisions in the Dodd-Frank law.

Their letter called for "accountability" for the consumer agency — oddly, the same concept said to be lacking for mortgage brokers during the subprime boom.

The Republicans threatened to block the appointment of any agency director unless CFPB was headed by a bipartisan board rather than a single director. The agency also should be funded by Congress rather than through the self-supported Federal Reserve, they said.

Under Senate rules, it would take 60 votes to halt the filibuster threatened by the 44 Republicans. The White House has not disclosed its plans nor whether it is holding any back-room talks with Senate Republicans.

But this is a clear-cut issue — the protection of consumers against the potential greed of mortgage brokers — on which the president should stand tall.

 

 

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Mary Ellen Podmolik via Los Angeles Times

Many consumers applying for a mortgage are going to start sharing more personal information with lenders next year, like it or not.

FICO scores, the industry standard for determining credit risk in mortgages backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration, largely have been based on a person’s credit history. But in an attempt to develop a more well-rounded picture of a person’s finances beyond credit, tools are being developed to help the lending industry dig deeper.

Fair Isaac Corp., or FICO, the company behind the widely used scoring formula, and data provider CoreLogic recently announced a collaboration that will result in a separate score that will be available to mortgage lenders and incorporates information that will include payday loans, evictions and child support payments. In the future, information on the status of utility, rent and cellphone payments may also be included.

Separately, the big three credit reporting companies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — recently began providing estimates of consumer income as a credit report option. And Experian this year began including data on on-time rental payments in its reports.

The new information could prove to be a double-edged sword for consumers: It may open the door to homeownership to some consumers who have, according to industry speak, a "thin file" or worse, a "no file," meaning that they lack sufficient credit histories.

On the other hand, the extra information may make a borderline borrower look even worse on paper. Also, it’s unlikely to quiet critics who complain that too much emphasis is put on a single number.

Still, there is thought among researchers that consumer transparency, if it demonstrates both good and bad behavior, has its place.

"You’re trying to convince someone to loan you an awful lot of money at a low interest rate," said Michael Turner, president of the Policy and Economic Research Council. "Only you know whether you’re going to pay it back. There is a harmony in this data exchange."

The FICO-CoreLogic partnership won’t result in a credit score that will rule out a borrower for a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or the FHA, which together own or guarantee at least 90% of the mortgages being written. That’s because the report required for such a loan does not rely on CoreLogic data. However, it could affect mortgage fees or interest rates charged by lenders that in today’s lending environment have heartily adopted risk-based pricing.

"We’re fascinated to see, as we get into the data, whether that may expand the universe of people who can get a mortgage," said Joanne Gaskin, director of product management global scoring for FICO. "Banks are saying, ‘How do I find ways to safely increase loan volume, to find the gems out there?’"

As a result, there’s a rush by credit reporting firms to provide financial companies, including mortgage banks and credit card providers, with a wealth of information on individual customers.

"Before the [housing] bubble burst, there was a huge amount of interest in targeting the unbanked," said Brannan Johnston, an Experian vice president. "It was a desperate dash to try and grow and go after more and more consumers. When the bubble burst, that certainly dialed back some. They want to grow their business responsibly by taking good credit risks."

FICO scores have been around since the 1950s, but they didn’t become a major factor in mortgage lending until 1995, when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac began recommending their use to help determine a mortgage borrower’s creditworthiness. The score, which ranges from 300 to 850, factors in how long borrowers have had credit, how they’re using it and repaying it, and whether they have any judgments or delinquencies logged against them.

The change comes as mortgage lenders reward the most creditworthy borrowers with low rates and tack extra fees onto loans for those with lower credit scores.

There are concerns about whether inquiries and charge-offs from payday and online lenders should be included in determining credit scores.

"Payday loans are extremely onerous," said Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. "They trap people in a cycle of debt. To report on them is to cite that person as financially distressed. We certainly don’t think that’s going to help people with a credit score."

The extra information may also help more affluent homeowners who aren’t on the credit grid.

Two years ago, David Pendley, president of Avenue Mortgage Corp., worked with a college professor who didn’t believe in using credit. "He was putting down 40% and he had the hardest time getting a loan, even though he had $120,000 in the bank and he was 22 years on the job."

Eventually, Pendley secured a loan for the customer through a private bank, but he paid for it. "He didn’t get the lowest rate possible," Pendley recalled.

 

 

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Brian Coester, Coester Appraisal Group

The Uniform Collateral Data Portal (UCDP) and Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD) deadlines are right around the corner and with the constant changes in appraisal regulations over the past years it’s easy to get lost in it all and just say ‘My Appraisal Management Company is taking care of this.’

The reality is — with these new UCDP and UAD changes, the updates are probably not being handled properly and you are probably not ready for the changes; changes that are taking effect December 1, 2011.

The UCDP is a part of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s Loan Quality Initiative (LQI) that started these programs over two years ago under the Collateral Data Delivery (CDD) program. Brian Coester, CEO of Coester Appraisal Group, has been conducting presentations and educational seminars for local Mortgage Bankers Associations (MBAs) around the country. Coester expressed his shock at the lack of preparation by both Appraisal Management Companies (AMCs) and lenders. “We had six AMCs at our last MBA seminar and none of them had any idea about what was going on nor were they registered to handle the files for their clients. We’ve been preparing for this for more than a year and it’s shocking that a such a big change would go unnoticed or unaccounted for."

Coester also warns that lenders are still unprepared and a Wells Fargo correspondent rep at one of the UCDP seminars confirmed this. Coester states, "The reps have indicated their correspondents are just getting around to looking at this. The problem arises because the time it takes to register and get what you need set-up and done, is 7-10 business days. Now they are telling people 20 business days, which falls just before the December 1, 2011 transition date. If lenders don’t jump on this they may not be able to close loans or sell loans at all.” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require registering for the UCDP which most lenders have not yet completed. “They think they don’t have to register or aren’t going to be held responsible for this. Most of the feedback though, is that they their investor would be handling this; the reality is that’s not the case." says Brian Coester.

Coester is fully registered for the UCDP and will be handling the complete end-to-end delivery, review, and submission files for its clients. "With us it’s pretty simple: login to the UCDP portal, type in our name, add us a Lender Agent, and you’re done. Very few companies will be able to say that it was that easy for them and we are glad we can help our clients." says Brian Coester. Coester admits that he has been working on the project for over a year now.

About Coester Appraisal Group:

Coester Appraisal Group is a nationwide Appraisal Management Company specializing in high quality appraisal reports that comply with all industry guidelines and regulations. With its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, Coester Appraisal Group was founded in 1970 as a local appraisal company but has since developed into a formidable force in the appraisal management segment. For more information, please visit Coester Appraisal Group online at http://www.CoesterAppraisals.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kenneth Harney via Washington Post

When you apply for a mortgage to buy a house, how often does the lender ask detailed questions about monthly energy costs or tell the appraiser to factor in the energy-efficiency features of the house when coming up with a value?

Hardly ever. That’s because the big three mortgage players — Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration, who together account for more than 90 percent of all loan volume — typically don’t consider energy costs in underwriting. Yet utility bills can be larger annual cash drains than property taxes or insurance — key items in standard underwriting — and can seriously affect a family’s ability to afford a house.

A new, bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill could change all this dramatically and for the first time put energy costs and savings squarely into standard mortgage underwriting equations. A bill introduced Oct. 20 would force the big three mortgage agencies to take account of energy costs in every loan they insure, guarantee or buy. It would also require them to instruct appraisers to adjust their property valuations upward when accurate data on energy efficiency savings are available.

Titled the SAVE Act (Sensible Accounting to Value Energy), the bill is jointly sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). Here’s how it would work: Along with the traditional principal, interest, taxes and insurance (PITI) calculations, estimated energy-consumption expenses for the house would be included as a mandatory underwriting factor.

For most houses that have not undergone independent energy audits, loan officers would be required to pull data from either previous utility bills — in the case of refinancings — or from an Energy Department survey database to arrive at an estimated cost. This would then be factored into the debt-to-income ratios that lenders already use to determine whether a borrower can afford the monthly costs of the mortgage. Allowable ratios probably would be adjusted to account for the new energy/utilities component.

For houses with significant energy-efficiency improvements built in and documented with a professional audit, such as a home energy rating system study, lenders would instruct appraisers to calculate the net present value of monthly energy savings — i.e., what that stream of future savings is worth today in terms of market price — and adjust the final appraised value accordingly. This higher valuation, in turn, could be used to justify a higher mortgage amount.

For example, Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit advocacy group and a major supporter of the new legislation, estimates that a typical new home that is 30 percent more energy efficient than a similar-sized, average house will save about $20,000 in utility expenses over the life of a mortgage. Under the Bennet-Isakson bill, appraisers would be required to add those savings to the current market valuation of the house. In this instance, Callahan says, the increase in value would be about $10,000.

Dozens of housing, energy and environmental groups have endorsed the new legislation including appraisers, large home builders, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, green-designated real estate brokers, the Institute for Market Transformation and the National Association of State Energy Officials, among others.

Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber are backing the legislation because they see it as an employment generator that requires no federal budget outlays, no new taxes or programs. A joint study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Institute for Market Transformation estimated that 83,000 new jobs in the construction, renovation and manufacturing industries could be stimulated by the legislation if the new underwriting rules were phased in over a period of years.

But not all interest groups are lining up behind the bill. The National Association of Realtors expressed concern that it might hamper a real estate recovery by complicating the mortgage process. “NAR supports efforts to promote energy-efficiency in housing and believes it’s something that all consumers should strive toward,” the group said. “However, we believe that homeowners should move toward energy efficiency at their own pace, without a mandate that impedes their ability to qualify for a mortgage or causes them to incur substantial additional costs to purchase a home, especially while the housing market continues to recover.”

Another group whose members and clients could be affected by the bill, the Mortgage Bankers Association, declined to comment for the record, saying it is still evaluating the bill’s provisions.

But one might ask: In a fractious, polarized Congress, could this bill actually make it through this session? The co-sponsors are optimistic and supporting groups say there is substantial bipartisan support — a rarity — for the idea in both the House and Senate.

In the meantime, for homeowners who think their energy-efficiency and cost-saving improvements should be worth something, there is no rule barring you from asking a qualified appraiser or a lender to assess the added market value of those features. You can get your house rated and documented and insist they do precisely that.

Or you can invest in documented improvements that save on utility expenses — a worthy goal in its own right — and hope that the federal agencies see the light and change their underwriting and valuation procedures before you go to sell. Sooner or later, this is going to happen.

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By Elyse Cherry via Los Angeles Times

President Obama recently announced that the federal government will take steps to reduce interest rates on mortgages for some existing homeowners. Unfortunately, that won’t help millions of U.S. homeowners already in foreclosure and millions more about to join them.

The current foreclosure crisis is not due to poor choices by individual homeowners. Most people caught up in it fell prey to a national bubble and bad lending practices. These taxpayers – schoolteachers and medical technicians, salesclerks and mechanics, veterans and parents of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan – are often simply people who got in over their heads. They deserve a second chance.

One reason the mortgage industry hasn’t done more, its leaders say, is that it fears creating a "moral hazard" – the concept being that if homeowners in default are given too much help, other homeowners might be tempted to deliberately default in order get the same help. That hasn’t been the experience of Boston Community Capital, a 27-year-old nonprofit, community development finance institution I’ve led for 14 years.

As part of its Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods initiative, Boston Community Capital has renegotiated many mortgages on foreclosed homes, and we’ve seen no evidence that doing so sets off a flood of voluntary defaults. We believe our model could be applied much more widely in this national crisis.

Foreclosure isn’t something a homeowner chooses if it can be avoided. Today, a good credit score is required for countless transactions, and foreclosure destroys a person’s credit score. In many states foreclosed homeowners can’t qualify for another mortgage for many years, nor can they easily rent houses, qualify for college and car loans, or even get some jobs.

Since 2009, Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods has prevented the eviction of almost 150 Massachusetts households by securing reduced mortgage payments that line up with homeowners’ real incomes – rather than with the value set by a real estate bubble that burst long ago.

Our formula is straightforward. We negotiate with the lender’s representative to buy foreclosed homes at current, distressed market values – often 50 percent less than the amount paid by the homeowner. We then resell the homes to their current occupants with a new 30-year mortgage at a fixed interest rate of 6.375 percent (a rate that, although higher than the best loans available to people with excellent credit, is far lower than the rate that the high-risk clients we assist could get elsewhere – if they could get other loans at all).

We qualify our clients by closely analyzing their finances and employment situations. We work with local nonprofits to understand client histories. Even after accounting for reserves, emergency repairs and closing expenses, we are able to lower monthly housing expenses and the overall cost of a home loan to affordable levels. On average, homeowners pay about 40 percent less per month.

We require homeowners to share any future potential appreciation with our neighborhood nonprofit if the market rebounds, discouraging speculators and people who aren’t serious about keeping their homes from coming to us.

Our initiative cannot solve every foreclosure problem. Some would-be participants don’t have enough income to sustain even a sharply reduced mortgage payment. Some in the mortgage industry, citing moral hazard, refuse to sell us homes at their current values because we plan to keep foreclosed homeowners in the homes. At times, we have been outbid for a home we were trying to save, but we won’t spend more on a home if that would mean we would have to offer our borrowers new mortgages that were still too high for them to manage.

Our Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods initiative is not a bailout or a charity. It is a sustainable model that can offer relief to a substantial percentage of homeowners in foreclosure and relieve mortgage industry gridlock. The Open Society Foundations and others have provided us planning funds to explore other locations across the country where our model might work. The approach is best suited to areas that have suffered substantial depreciation in housing prices, that have high levels of foreclosures, and that have trusted, long-standing community organizations interested in entering partnerships to administer the program. We estimate that our approach could help 1 in 5 homeowners whose homes have significantly dropped in market price, and who are either late in paying their mortgages or in foreclosure.

Renegotiating realistic mortgages that keep people in their homes helps homeowners and neighborhoods. It also helps the mortgage industry, which must come to grips with the fact that many of its borrowers can’t afford to continue to make payments on mortgages that were entered into during the bubble. Our strategy could work on a far grander scale – the kind of scale that, say, Bank of America, Citigroup, HSBC or Wells Fargo or others could adopt.

Foreclosure and eviction are lengthy and expensive. As more homes become owned by lenders, those institutions will bear increasing responsibility for paying local property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs, as well as steep fines if they fail to comply with local building codes and city ordinances.

The groundless fear that helping some borrowers will lead to an avalanche of new foreclosures has discouraged sensible and systemic solutions to the foreclosure crisis. Allowing the mortgage industry to hide behind this fiction has created a genuine hazard – to neighborhoods, to communities and to the nation’s economic health.

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