Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Government Housing Support Update

by Bill McBride on 3/30/2010 06:03:00 PM

One of the key questions is: Will house prices fall as the government support for housing eases? From CNBC: Housing Prices May Be Heading for a Double Dip

Anyone thinking housing prices have reached a bottom had better do some recalculating. Despite Tuesday's Case Schiller report showing smaller declines in January, housing prices may already be in another free fall.

Newly revised numbers are pointing to the decline.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) adjusted figures show a housing price decline of 2 percent in December and 0.6 percent decline in January—reversing some regional price increases in 2009.

And more pricing dips are predicted.
Few people use the FHFA index anymore, but I do think prices will fall further in many areas. And I think the key housing price indexes, Case-Shiller and First American CoreLogic, have not bottomed yet - although it is possible.

Right now the Case-Shiller composite 10 index is 4.4% above the bottom of May 2009 (seasonally adjusted), and CoreLogic's index is 3.5% above the bottom of March 2009 (NSA), so it will not take much of a decline to see new post-bubble lows.

Last year I listed some of the temporary Government housing support programs (as opposed to permanent programs like tax breaks). This included:

  • Housing Tax Credit: Buyer must sign a contract by April 30th and close by June 30, 2010 to qualify. Real estate agents in SoCal are telling me there has been a pickup in activity lately - more than seasonal - of buyers trying to beat the deadline for the tax credit. But it is nothing like the buying spurt last November. Most economists opposed the tax credit as misdirected, expensive and ineffective at reducing the supply. Luckily the supporters have promised no extension, from the LA Times: No more extensions of tax credit for first-time home buyers

  • Federal Reserve MBS Purchase Program: The Federal Reserve is has purchased $1.25 trillion of agency mortgage-backed securities and about $175 billion of agency debt. This is scheduled to end tomorrow, March 31, 2010. It seems very unlike there will be a huge surge in rates as some feared, but I do expect the spread to Treasury yields to increase slightly.

  • Treasury MBS Purchase Program: This program ended Dec 31, 2009. The Treasury purchased approximately $220 billion of securities.

  • HAMP Trial Programs Extended: Although the most recent extension ended Jan 31, 2010, the Treasury has added more hoops and hurdles before the lenders can foreclosure, effectively extending the timeframe once again. Now borrowers might be eligible for a temporary unemployment reduction, principal reduction, or participate in the HAFA short sale program.

  • Support for Fannie and Freddie: This is ongoing.

  • FHA to tighten Lending Standards: In January the FHA announced slightly tighter standards, but the standards are still pretty loose.

  • Various Holiday Foreclosure Moratoria: Although this ended back in January, some lenders like Marshall & Ilsley have extended their foreclosure moratoriums:
    Marshall & Ilsley Corporation (M&I) today announced it has extended its foreclosure moratorium an additional 90 days – through June 30, 2010. The initial moratorium was announced on December 18, 2008, as part of M&I's Homeowner Assistance Program. The moratorium is on all owner-occupied residential loans for customers who agree to work in good faith to reach a successful repayment agreement. The moratorium applies to applicable loans in all M&I markets.
    And other lenders are clearly not been aggresive in foreclosing.

    So although some key programs are ending (MBS purchase program and housing tax credit), there are still a number of temporary programs providing support for the housing market.