Wednesday, April 04, 2012

FHFA's DeMarco: FHFA to make decision on GSE Principal Reductions this month

by Bill McBride on 4/04/2012 04:50:00 PM

From a speech today by FHFA acting director Edward DeMarco:

On a nationwide basis, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own or guarantee 60 percent of the mortgages outstanding, but they account for only 29 percent of seriously delinquent loans, obviously a much lower proportion than their share of the market.

Even though the Enterprises have a smaller share of seriously delinquent loans than other market participants, they account for just over half of all Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP modifications. Between HAMP modifications and their own proprietary loan modifications, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have completed more than 1.1 million loan modifications since the fourth quarter of 2008.

It has been well-publicized that there is one form of loan modification that FHFA has not embraced, that being principal forgiveness. To be clear, the disagreement is not about helping borrowers. FHFA, with the Enterprises, has been making great efforts to assist troubled homeowners with underwater mortgages who have the ability to make a mortgage payment and a willingness to do so. While we are currently evaluating the recent Treasury changes to HAMP regarding principal forgiveness, I would like to explain the position we have taken to date.

The fundamental point of a loan modification is to adjust the borrower’s monthly payment to an affordable level. We have seen repeatedly that what matters most in successfully helping borrowers is a meaningful reduction in the monthly payment to an amount that helps stabilize the family’s finances. Indeed, we have found that payment reduction, not loan-to-value, is the key indicator of success in loan modifications.

For many underwater borrowers, we achieve this by forbearing on principal – that is, charging a zero rate of interest on the forbearance amount and deferring its repayment. This focus on making the monthly mortgage payment affordable is an efficient way to provide assistance to the borrower and keep them in their home. If the borrower remains successful in this modified loan, this approach preserves for taxpayers an ultimate recovery on the debt.

Stated differently, the principal forbearance mod being used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac produces the same, lower monthly payment as a modification based on principal forgiveness. If the borrower ends up defaulting even with the modification, the loss to the taxpayer is the same either way. But if the borrower is successful, the taxpayer retains the opportunity to benefit from the upside – a reasonable deal given the support the taxpayer has provided to assist the family in keeping their home.

Moreover, this approach recognizes that three out of every four deeply underwater borrowers in Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s book of business today are current on their loans. These borrowers are demonstrating a continued willingness to meet their mortgage obligations. This should be recognized and encouraged, not dampened with incentives for people to not continue paying. As I have stated previously, we are currently evaluating the recent Treasury Department proposal to HAMP regarding principal forgiveness and expect a decision this month.
CR Note: I'd like to see the data on "payment reduction, not loan-to-value, is the key indicator of success in loan modifications".

DeMarco makes a key point that "three out of every four deeply underwater borrowers in Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s book of business today are current on their loans". The key problem with a principal reduction program is that even if it makes sense for an individual borrower, it might not makes sense overall if a large number of current borrowers decide to default hoping for a principal reduction.

One way around this problem - that has been effective for some banks - is to sell underwater loans to a 3rd party, and let them do the principal reduction. Since the biggest risk is that the word gets out, and everyone underwater stops making payments, selling to a 3rd party allows the bank (or GSE) to say they don't do principal reductions, but they would still get most of the benefit (with some shared with the 3rd party).

It sounds like the FHFA will make a decision this month. I hope they release the internal studies first.

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