Friday, July 15, 2005

Housing: New Loan Guidance Ignored

by Bill McBride on 7/15/2005 11:19:00 AM

The NY Times is reporting: A Hands-Off Policy on Mortgage Loans

For two months now, federal banking regulators have signaled their discomfort about the explosive rise in risky mortgage loans.

First they issued new "guidance" to banks about home-equity loans, warning against letting homeowners borrow too much against their houses. Then they expressed worry about the surge in no-money-down mortgages, interest-only loans and "liar's loans" that require no proof of a borrower's income.

The impact so far? Almost nil.

"It's as easy to get these loans now as it was two months ago," said Michael Menatian, president of Sanborn Mortgage, a mortgage broker in West Hartford, Conn. "If anything, people are offering them even more than before."

The reason is that federal banking regulators, from the Federal Reserve to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, have been reluctant to back up their words with specific actions. For even as they urge caution, officials here are loath to stand in the way of new methods of extending credit.
The regulators think Banks are not in danger because they have shifted the risk to investors and borrowers:
The main issue for regulators is whether banks and other lenders are properly managing their own risk, and the lenders are looking good.

They have hedged their risks by bundling mortgages into securities that are then sold to investors around the world. And if interest rates go higher, they have shifted much of the risk onto consumers because a growing share of home buyers have taken on adjustable-rate mortgages. At the same time, they have built sturdier financial institutions through mergers and the breakdown of barriers to interstate banking.

Bert Ely, an independent banking analyst who was among the first to recognize the crisis at savings and loan institutions in the 1980's, said the banks are far sounder today. "It's a night-and-day difference," Mr. Ely said. "No comparison."

But consumers - and perhaps the broader economy - are taking on more risk.
A couple of comforting thoughts:
"There is a lot of pressure on banks to build market share, and consumers are looking for a quick response," said Barbara J. Grunkemeyer, deputy comptroller for credit risk at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. "With respect to these new mortgage products, they are new and have taken off rapidly. We are still in the process of understanding the risk-management systems that surround them."
"If you are the comptroller of the currency or the Federal Reserve, you're looking out for the system of the world," Mr. Frank added. "You're making macroeconomic policy. It's much more fun than looking out for consumers."