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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

CBO: An Evaluation of Large-Scale Mortgage Refinancing Programs

by Calculated Risk on 9/07/2011 06:33:00 PM

Some economists have proposed a large scale mortgage refinancing program for homeowners with loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie, Freddie or the FHA, and who are current on their mortgages but who can't refinance - usually because of Loan-to-values (LTV) much greater than 100%. Some economists have suggested this program could be used by 30 million borrowers and deliver $70 billion in annual savings - at essentially no cost.

Tom Lawler and I have pointed out that these economists (who missed the housing bubble) seem to be overlooking current programs - and also the offsetting losses for investors.

The CBO has analyzed a proposal for a large scale refinancing program: An Evaluation of Large-Scale Mortgage Refinancing Programs (ht mort-fin). Some key findings:

We analyze a stylized large-scale mortgage refinancing program that would relax current income and loan-to-value restrictions for borrowers who wish to refinance and whose mortgages are currently insured by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the Federal Housing Administration. The analysis relies on an estimate of the volume of incremental refinancing that would occur and an estimate of how future default and prepayment behavior would be affected by such refinancing. Relative to the status quo, the specific program analyzed here is estimated to cause an additional 2.9 million mortgages to be refinanced, resulting in 111,000 fewer defaults on those loans and estimated savings for the GSEs and FHA of $3.9 billion on their credit guarantee exposure, measured on a fair-value basis. Offsetting those savings, federal investors in MBSs, including the Federal Reserve, the GSEs, and the Treasury, would experience an estimated fair-value loss of $4.5 billion. Therefore, on a fair-value basis, the specific program analyzed here would have an estimated cost to the federal government of $0.6 billion.
We also discuss the impact of this program on various stakeholders, including homeowners, non-federal mortgage investors, mortgage lenders, mortgage service providers, private mortgage insurers, and subordinated mortgage holders. For example, non-federal investors would experience an estimated fair-value loss of $13 to $15 billion; most of that wealth would be transferred to borrowers.
From the borrowers’ perspective, savings from lower mortgage payments is projected to total $7.4 billion in the first year of the program; the associated effect on consumption would decline significantly over time as borrowers pay off those loans.
The program has the potential to provide economic stimulus by increasing the resources households have available to spend because of the reduction in the size of their mortgage payments. However, those effects would be partially offset by a reduction in spending by investors as a result of their losses from the program. In aggregate, the fair-value loss to both federal and non-federal investors is equivalent to the gain experienced by borrowers from the decline in their interest payments (less transaction costs for both parties). Nevertheless, because a significant share of investors is composed of foreigners and the U.S. government, and because private investors would be expected to reduce spending in response their losses by less than the increase in spending by borrowers in response to their lower interest payments as well as their lower mortgage principal payments, the net effect would be an economic stimulus. ... We have not quantified the potential stimulus in our analysis, but it is likely to be small relative to GDP while large relative to the net federal cost of the program.

With respect to the housing market, the overall impact of the program is also small; the 111,000 homeowners saved from foreclosure by virtue of lower monthly mortgage payments will have a minor impact on the path of future home prices. Because this program is directed toward current homeowners, it would do little to alleviate the tighter underwriting standards and increased credit pricing for purchase loans. In addition, it would not create much demand for homes, because all of its participants would already have at least one property.
After a quick read, this analysis seems reasonable.