Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bernanke suggests Mortgage Lending Standards are "Overly Tight", "Pendulum has swung too far"

by Bill McBride on 11/15/2012 01:20:00 PM

From Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke: Challenges in Housing and Mortgage Markets. Excerpt:

Although the decline in the number of willing and qualified potential homebuyers explains some of the contraction in mortgage lending of the past few years, I believe that tight credit nevertheless remains an important factor as well. The Federal Reserve's Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices indicates that lenders began tightening mortgage credit standards in 2007 and have not significantly eased standards since. Terms and standards have tightened most for borrowers with lower credit scores and with less money available for a down payment. For example, in April nearly 60 percent of lenders reported that they would be much less likely, relative to 2006, to originate a conforming home-purchase mortgage to a borrower with a 10 percent down payment and a credit score of 620--a traditional marker for those with weaker credit histories. As a result, the share of home-purchase borrowers with credit scores below 620 has fallen from about 17 percent of borrowers at the end of 2006 to about 5 percent more recently. Lenders also appear to have pulled back on offering these borrowers loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

When lenders were asked why they have originated fewer mortgages, they cited a variety of concerns, starting with worries about the economy, the outlook for house prices, and their existing real estate loan exposures. They also mention increases in servicing costs and the risk of being required by government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to repurchase delinquent loans (so-called putback risk). Other concerns include the reduced availability of private mortgage insurance for conventional loans and some program-specific issues for FHA loans as reasons for tighter standards. Also, some evidence suggests that mortgage originations for new purchases may be constrained because of processing capacity, as high levels of refinancing have drawn on the same personnel who would otherwise be available for handling loans for purchase. Importantly, however, restrictive mortgage lending conditions do not seem to be linked to any insufficiency of bank capital or to a general unwillingness to lend.

Certainly, some tightening of credit standards was an appropriate response to the lax lending conditions that prevailed in the years leading up to the peak in house prices. Mortgage loans that were poorly underwritten or inappropriate for the borrower's circumstances ultimately had devastating consequences for many families and communities, as well as for the financial institutions themselves and the broader economy. However, it seems likely at this point that the pendulum has swung too far the other way, and that overly tight lending standards may now be preventing creditworthy borrowers from buying homes, thereby slowing the revival in housing and impeding the economic recovery.
emphasis added
Clearly Bernanke and the Fed are concerned that credit isn't flowing to a large segment of the population.

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