Friday, September 4, 2009

FHA is subprime

When it was discovered that Fannie and Freddie were insolvent due to the poor performance of mortgages, Treasury Secretary Paulson, as a condition of guaranteeing the debt, mandated that Freddie and Fannie shrink their portfolios going forward.

The government need another agency to step into the gap and be the guarantor of mortgages so banks would not stop mortgage lending cold turkey. The agency given that charge was FHA and since then the government has become "the market" in mortgages.

"The FHA now insures $560 billion of mortgages—quadruple the amount in 2006. Among the FHA, Ginnie, Fannie and Freddie, nearly nine of every 10 new mortgages in America now carry a federal taxpayer guarantee."

As a house shopper I have been waiting for the strictest lending environment to achieve the best purchasing deal. Yet in the winter of 2007 my mortgage broker approached me at dinner (at the time he was moonlighting as a waiter) and said "Nothing has changed, FHA is the new subprime".

Since 2007 FHA has gone from single digits market share to providing over 25% of the mortgages in the US market. It was thought that the FHA full doc process would prevent the widespread fraud that underminded the ratings on securitized packages of mortgages. Although fraud has declined, I hear from mortgage brokers is still ways to game the FHA mortgage approval system.

Who will pay for the flaws of FHA? You will.

"Federal law says the FHA must maintain, after expected losses, reserves equal to at least 2% of the loans insured by the agency. The ratio last year was around 3%, down from 6.4% in 2007.
If its reserves fall short, the agency is obliged to notify Congress, which could spark a commotion over the extent to which the government is funding losses in the housing market. Some housing analysts have said losses might lead the FHA to pull back lending, which has helped boost flagging housing demand."(1)

This is a big problem. The agency has been the stop gap in the housing market, but now the stop gap is going insolvent. Officials think it could go insolvent by the end of this year.

...Officials said as recently as May that they didn't expect to fall below the 2% limit, but home-price declines have exceeded those used to model their expected losses. Given the pace of those declines, "there is no way they will make the 2%" if the current study follows last year's methodology, says Mr. Lawler."(1)

Although the problems is obvious, the solution is not. Congressional mid term elections are coming up and the Republicans would so much enjoy yelling "spendthrift" at Democrats for making another federal enterprise insolvent in two years. At the end of the day, another back door bailout including a relaxation of capital standards and additional borrowing capacity will probably occur. But the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats may be able to extract a higher required down payment requirement for FHA loans going forward, or stricter payment to income ratios for borrowers.

The author purchased SDS at $44.5.

(1) Wall Street Journal, Sept 4, 2009, "Loan Losses Spark Concern Over FHA" by Nick Timiraos

(2) "FHA ready to join Fannie and Freddie"

(3) Wall Street Journal, Aug 11, 2009, "The Next Fannie Mae"


Anonymous said...

It is the realtors and builders and mortgage brokers who need to be regulated by the Federal Reserve. Realtors did away with professional appraisors by lobbying for the right to do this themselves. Then they did away with the hard earned skills of professional engineers by getting themselves the right to do home inspections. They got themselves the right to do these things when they lack the decade of experience.

Lockstep said...

Never expected that the Fed Reserve would be able to repair the economy so quickly and that the stock market would hold up because of it.

Lockstep said...

Closing the position at $19.8 from a $44.5 entry.


Subprime is a curse.