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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

WSJ: FHA Close to Exhausting Reserves

by Calculated Risk on 11/14/2012 04:07:00 PM

As we discussed last week, the FHA Fiscal Year 2012 Actuarial Review is due this week. Nick Timiraos at the WSJ has a preview: Housing Agency Close to Exhausting Reserves

The Federal Housing Administration is expected to report later this week that it could exhaust its reserves because of rising mortgage delinquencies ... That could result in the agency needing to draw on taxpayer funding for the first time in its 78-year history.

... The New Deal-era agency, which doesn't actually make loans but instead insures lenders against losses, has played a critical role stabilizing the housing market by backing mortgages of borrowers who make down payments of as little as 3.5%—loans that most private lenders won't originate without a government guarantee. ... Overall, the FHA insured nearly 739,000 loans that were 90 days or more past due or in foreclosure at the end of September, an increase of more than 100,000 loans from one year ago. That represents around 9.6% of its $1.08 trillion in mortgages guarantees.

The FHA's annual audit estimates how much money the agency would need to pay off all claims on projected losses, against how much it has in reserves. Last year, that buffer stood at $1.2 billion ...

The decision over whether the FHA will need money from Treasury won't be made until next February, when the White House typically releases its annual budget. Because the FHA has what is known as "permanent and indefinite" budget authority, it wouldn't need to ask Congress for funds; it would automatically receive money from the U.S. Treasury.

Most of the agency's losses now stem from loans made as the housing bust deepened. Around 25% of mortgages guaranteed in 2007 and 2008 are seriously delinquent, compared with around 5% of those insured in 2010.
As Timiraos notes, the FHA's market share was small during the peak of the bubble (luckily) and most of the really horrible loans were made by Wall Street related mortgage lenders. However, Timiraos doesn't mention that many of the loans that the FHA insured at the peak were so-called Downpayment Assistance Programs (DAPs). These DAPs circumvented the FHA down payment requirements by having the seller funnel the "down payment" to the buyer through a "charity" (for a small fee of course). The FHA attempted to stop this practice - the IRS called it a "scam" - but thanks to Congress, the DAPs led to billions of losses for the FHA.

Of course, as Timiraos mentioned, the FHA also saw a sharp increase in demand in the 2007 through 2009 period as private lenders disappeared and Fannie and Freddie tightened standards - and those loans have performed poorly.  Now the bill is coming due ...