Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More on the Freeze Plan

by Tanta on 12/05/2007 07:30:00 PM

I am, in fact, working on detailed post about The Plan. Since it appears there will be details released tomorrow, I expect to have more worthwhile to say after that.

But, to speak to what just got released (as presented in Bloomberg): this thing with the FICO score buckets seems to have taken a lot of people aback. Certainly we hadn't heard explicit mentions of FICO bucketing in the earlier hints about The Plan.

I think what this is about is a way to keep this focused on subprime loans. As regular readers of this blog (at least) know, there really aren't hard-and-fast definitions of subprime. Saying that efforts will be "prioritized" by FICOs under 660 is a way to try to target this effort to what we would consider "subprime," regardless of how the loans might be described by a servicer or in a prospectus.

And that, really, is a way to target the "freeze" to start rates that are already pretty high. I think some people are getting a bit misled by the idea of "teaser" rates here. As Bloomberg reports quite correctly, the loans being targeted have a start rate in the 7.00% to 8.00% range. (My back-of-the-envelope calculation is a weighted average of about 7.70%, with a weighted average first adjustment rate of just over 10.00%.) Nobody wants to come out and say that "Hope Now" is all about freezing just the highest initial ARM rates that there are, but that's in fact what it's about.

So asking, in essence, why we are "rewarding" people with the worst credit profiles is, really, missing the point. The point is that the cost of this goes directly to investors in asset-backed securities, and those investors are being asked to forgo 10% (the reset rate) and take 7.70% (the current or start rate). They are not being asked, say, to forgo 7.70% and take 5.70%, which is roughly what it would be if this "freeze" were extended to the significantly-over-660 crowd (Alt-A and prime ARMs).

So far, I'm prepared to believe assurances that this will not involve taxpayer subsidies: the cost of this is, actually, going to be absorbed by investors in mortgage-backed securities. This is why "good credit" borrowers are not going to be "rewarded"--because investors cannot be brought to forgo that much interest. Somebody did the math, and somebody concluded that freezing a rate that is still about 200-250 bps over the 6-month LIBOR isn't going to be a disaster (at least not compared to having to foreclose these things).

More tomorrow.