On May 8, FHFA Director Mel Watt spoke at the 22nd Annual Economic Summit, focusing on the agency’s conservatorship activities with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Most significantly, Director Watt announced that the agency is extending the GSEs’ participation in HAMP and HARP until the end of 2016. Since their 2009 inception, the two programs have relieved many borrowers of high monthly payments. HARP, allowing borrowers who regularly make their mortgage payments to refinance their loans and take advantage of low income rates, and HAMP, providing significant payment reductions tied to borrowers’ income, have prevented a number of foreclosures. Since HARP and HAMP were never intended to be permanent programs, this will be FHFA’s final extension of the GSEs’ participation. Looking forward, the agency plans to “consider how best to build on the lessons of HAMP for 2017 and beyond,” exploring possible streamlined modifications and refinance solutions for borrowers.
On May 20, the FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac released updates to their operational and financial eligibility requirements for single-family mortgage Seller/Servicers. Because of changes in the servicing industry, the FHFA directed Fannie and Freddie to update their Seller/Servicer standards to “help ensure the safe and sound operation of the Enterprises and provide greater transparency, clarity and consistency to industry participants and other stakeholders and reflect feedback received over the past several months.” Fannie Mae’s revised operational standards will take effect by September 1, 2015, and Servicers must implement the financial eligibility changes by December 31, 2015. Operational standards for Freddie Mac Servicers will take effect August 18, 2015; financial eligibility revisions must be in place by December 31, 2015.
On April 17, FHFA released the results of its Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Guarantee Fee Review. The FHFA’s review considered the public responses to its June 2014 request for input, and according to the agency’s fact sheet, sought to reach a balance of (i) ensuring the safety and soundness of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and (ii) fostering a liquid national housing market. Because the analysis of the fees showed that “the current average level of guarantee fees appropriately reflects the current costs and risks associated with providing [Fannie and Freddie’s] credit guarantee,” the agency will make only minor adjustments to the fees and does not expect the changes to impact Fannie and Freddie’s loan volume. The fee adjustments will fall into two categories: (i) elimination of the 25 basis point upfront adverse market charge; and (ii) addition of small fee increases for certain loans with risk-layering attributes, such as loans with secondary financing or investment properties.
On April 17, the FHFA announced that Fannie and Freddie have revised the requirements for private mortgage insurance companies insuring mortgage loans that Fannie and Freddie either own or guarantee. By setting financial and operational standards for the mortgage insurers seeking approval with Fannie and Freddie, the new requirements are designed to reduce risk to the GSEs. The new requirements are effective immediately for new applicants and will become effective December 31, 2015 for existing insurers already approved by Fannie and Freddie.
On March 18, the FHFA Inspector General released a white paper detailing the challenges faced by the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that could adversely affect their future profitability. According to the white paper, the GSEs’ return to profitability in 2012 was linked significantly to non-recurring sources of income such as the release of valuation allowances against deferred tax assets, settlements of disputed representation and warranty claims, and settlements of legal claims relating to mortgage-backed securities. Specifically, the OIG reported that non-recurring sources accounted for 60% and 45% of net income in 2013 and 2014 respectively. In addition, the white paper cites the GSEs’ requirement to decrease its retained portfolio annually by 15%, requirements to pay a quarterly dividend to Treasury, the possibility of lower guaranty fees, congressional inaction to adopt housing finance reform, and market conditions such as changes in interest rates and home prices as factors that could force the GSEs to draw on the Department of Treasury for a taxpayer-funded bailout.
On January 27, FHFA Director Mel Watt is scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Financial Services. The hearing, scheduled to begin at 10am, will be the first for the Committee in the 114th Congress.
On January 13, the CFPB published a report based on results from its recent survey of consumers who had recently taken out new mortgages. The survey, jointly conducted by the CFPB and the FHFA, found that (i) almost half of consumers who take out a mortgage fail to shop around prior to application; (ii) three out of four consumers only apply with one lender or broker; (iii) 70% of consumers report relying on their lender or broker to get information about mortgages; and (iv) consumers who are knowledgeable about the mortgage process are more likely to shop around for loans. Along with the survey results, and as part of the CFPB’s Know Before You Owe initiative, the Bureau unveiled an interactive online tool called “Owning a Home,” which is designed to inform consumers shopping for a mortgage. The tool takes the borrower from the start of the home-buying process — with a guide to loan options, terminology, interest rates and costs — to the closing table with a closing checklist.
On December 11, Representatives Cummings (D-MD), Waters (D-CA), and Moore (D-WI) led the effort to submit a letter to FHFA’s IG requesting that the agency conduct a comprehensive audit to determine if Fannie and Freddie “are taking adequate steps to ensure that preservation companies maintain or service REO properties in compliance with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.” The letter, which was signed by a total of 26 House Members, suggested that companies contracted by Fannie and Freddie to maintain their REOs provide inferior service within African-American, Latino, and other non-Caucasian communities. The Representatives’ allegations stem from National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) research, in addition to complaints filed with HUD and several U.S. banks. Moreover, the letter comes directly after the December 9 Senate Banking Committee hearing, “Inequality, Opportunity, and the Housing Market,” during which Deborah Goldberg, Special Project Director of NFHA, addressed that REOs are managed differently based on the community of the property.
On December 1, the FHFA issued an advisory bulletin highlighting its supervisory expectation that Fannie and Freddie maintain the safety and soundness of their operations by closely assessing the risk profile of lenders and servicers. Under the new framework, any new lender or servicer that enters into a contract with Fannie or Freddie will undergo a thorough assessment of their capital levels, business models and whether they would be able to fulfill certain responsibilities under economic downturns. This includes buying back faulty mortgages or being able to work with borrowers to avoid foreclosure. Other risks, such as potential legal troubles, will also be examined.
On November 19, the Senate Banking Committee will hold an oversight hearing, “The Federal Housing Finance Agency: Balancing Stability, Growth, and Affordability in the Mortgage Market.” FHFA Director Melvin Watt is a scheduled witness and will give the opening remarks.
On November 3, FHFA Director Mel Watt announced David Applegate as the CEO for Common Securitization Solutions, LLC (CSS). As detailed in FHFA’s 2014 Strategic Plan for the Conservatorships, the creation of CSS furthers the goal to build a new securitization infrastructure to meet the needs of Fannie and Freddie. Prior to being named to the CEO post at CSS, Applegate served as the President, CEO of Homeward Residential, Inc. In addition, Applegate previously served as an executive with GMAC Mortgage and GMAC Bank. CSS was created by both Fannie and Freddie to operate a new secondary mortgage infrastructure, Common Securitization Platform. The platform is intended to replace certain elements of the GSEs’ proprietary system with regards to securitizing mortgages and performing back-office administrative functions.
On October 22, coordinated by the Department of Treasury, six federal agencies – the Board of Governors, HUD, FDIC, FHFA, OCC, and SEC – approved a final rule requiring sponsors of securitized transactions, such as asset-backed securities (ABS), to retain at least 5 percent of the credit risk of the assets collateralizing the ABS issuance. The final rule, which largely mirrors the proposed rule issued in August 2013, defines a “qualified residential mortgage” (QRM) and exempts securitized QRMs from the new risk retention requirement. Government-controlled Fannie and Freddie are exempt from the rule. Most notably, the final rule’s definition of a QRM parallels with that of a qualified mortgage as defined by the CFPB. Further, initially part of the proposed rule, the final rule does not include down payment provisions for borrowers. The final rule will be effective one year after publication in the Federal Register for residential mortgage-backed securities, and two years after publication for all other types of securitized assets.
On October 20, FHFA Director Melvin Watt delivered remarks at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Watt addressed the Agency’s progress in ensuring safety and soundness and liquidity in the housing finance market. Specifically, Director Watt focused on the Agency’s continued work to revise the Representation and Warranty Framework (Framework) under which lenders and Enterprises function, stressing the importance of providing “clear rules of the road to allow lenders to manage their risk and lend throughout the Enterprises’ credit box.” In January 2013, the Agency implemented the first improvements to the Framework, which ultimately “relieved lenders of representation and warranties obligations related to the underwriting of the borrower, the property, or the project for loans that had clean payment histories for 36 months;” and in May, the Agency announced additional clarifications on the 36 month benchmark. Now, the Agency is focusing on improving the Framework by (i) clearly defining the life-of-loan exclusions to ensure lenders know what the exclusions are and when the exclusions apply to loans that are eligible for repurchase relief. These exclusions range into six categorical types: 1) misrepresentations, misstatements and omissions; 2) data inaccuracies; 3) charter compliance issues; 4) first-lien priority and title matters; 5) legal compliance violations; and 6) unacceptable mortgage products. Details regarding the definitions of the life-of-loan exclusion types will be released by the Enterprises in the coming weeks; (ii) clarifying that only life-of-loan exclusions can trigger a repurchase; and (iii) adding a “significance” test that requires the Enterprises to “determine that the loan would have been ineligible for purchase initially if the loan information had been accurately reported.” By making these revisions to the Framework, the Agency anticipates that the Enterprises will continue to conduct quality control reviews, enhance their risk management practices, and “engage in transactions that sell a portion of the credit risk from new mortgage purchases to the private market.”
On October 7, the GAO published a report to help policymakers assess proposals for changing the single-family housing finance system and consider ways to make it more effective and efficient. To this end, the report first describes the market developments since 2000 that have led to changes in the federal government’s role in single-family housing finance. Most notably, the GAO found that as the market share of nonprime mortgages grew before the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the share of new mortgage originations insured by federal entities (including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) fell dramatically before rising sharply again during and after the crisis. Second, the report analyzed whether and how these market developments created challenges for the housing finance system. The GAO concluded that mortgage markets since 2000 have challenged the housing finance system, revealing the following weaknesses: (i) misaligned incentives between originators and securitizers on the one hand, and borrowers and investors on the other, as the former did not share the risks of the latter; (ii) a lack of reliable information and transparency for borrowers because originators were not required to share certain information; (iii) excessive risk taking due to a loosening of underwriting standards prior to the financial crisis; and (iv) a lack of federal oversight (since addressed by Congress through the FHFA and CFPB). Finally, the report presents a nine-pronged evaluation framework for assessing potential changes to the housing finance system designed to help policymakers understand the strengths and weaknesses of competing goals and policies, to craft new proposals, and to understand the risks of transitioning to a new housing finance system.