Tag Archives: Fannie Mae

ACKMAN: The US government is perpetrating ‘the most illegal act of scale’ with Fannie and Freddie

Bill Ackman

Bill Ackman, the founder of Pershing Square Capital

by Julia La Roche.

Hedge fund titan Bill Ackman, the founder of $19 billion Pershing Square Capital Management, slammed the US government on Tuesday night for keeping all of the profits from mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Ackman called it “the most illegal act of scale” he has ever seen the US government do.

Ackman spoke on Tuesday evening during a panel at Columbia University for the launch of Bethany McLean’s new book “Shaky Ground.” McLean and former Fannie Mae CEO Frank Raines were also panelists. Ackman, however, did most of the talking.

During the financial crisis, Fannie and Freddie needed massive bailouts and were taken over by the government. It’s been seven years since the financial crisis and the companies are still in a state of conservatorship. Today, the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) make billions in profits, all of which goes directly to the Treasury.

Ackman, the largest shareholder of Fannie and Freddie, and other investors are suing the US government for taking property for public use without just compensation.

“And there is no way they will not be allowed to stand, from a legal point of view. And the reason for that is if the US government can step in and take 100% of profits of a corporation forever, then we are in a Stalinist state and no private property is safe — and take your money out of every financial institution, put it into gold or bitcoin and just get the hell out because we’re done, maybe the clothes on your back, but other than that nothing is safe,” he said.

A stands outside Fannie Mae headquarters in Washington February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

            A man stands outside Fannie Mae in Washington

In Ackman’s view, Fannie and Freddie are vital to the US economy. Right now, he said, the biggest threat to the US middle class is rising rental rates.

“If you don’t own a home, and you’re a member of the middle class, you have a problem,” he said. “This is the biggest threat to the middle class livelihood is that your cost of living, the roof over your head is not fixed, it’s floating.”

Ackman said that Fannie and Freddie were set up to make middle class housing more accessible. Together, they have enabled widespread availability and affordability with the 30-year, fixed-rate, pre-payable mortgage—a system that’s been in place for 45 years.

Ackman said he’s optimistic about the future of Fannie and Freddie. He has said before that with the right reforms they could be worth a lot more. He has given the GSEs a price target ranging between $23 and $47, which is well above the current $2 range.

Watch the full panel below:

Read more in Business Insider

America’s Home Buyers Being Targeted as Washington’s ‘Pay-For’ Piggy Bank

Would-be home buyers recently averted a major price hike by the narrowest of margins. No, this potential hike had little to do with the wholesale cost of building materials, the cost of borrowing capital, a scarcity of inventory, or the transaction costs of builders, Realtors or lenders. Rather, the latest proposed tax on new homeowners was designed to cover the cost of maintaining our nation’s bridges and roads.

Wait a second — what, if anything, does highway spending have to do with the cost of a residential mortgage? If you guessed “absolutely nothing at all” you’d be correct. Unless, of course, you happen to be a member of the 114th Congress. In that case, America’s newest class of would-be homeowners represents something similar to years past when homeowners were taxed to cover things like the payroll tax reduction extension.

In the Washington of today — similar to past occasions, the American homeowner is all-too-often referred to as a “pay for.”

In this case, various members of Congress sought an offset for a proposed $47 billion federal highway spending bill.

As crazy as it sounds, the latest unsuccessful home ownership “pay-for” proposal isn’t the first time such a plan has been considered. In fact, if you bought a home after December 2011 with a mortgage purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you’re already paying for much more than the cost of a place to live.

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 — H.R. 3765 of the 112th Congress charged new homeowners an additional 10 basis points in guarantee fee costs over the life of a 30-year mortgage. The proceeds were intended to help cover an increase in a two-month extension of the payroll tax credit and also unemployment compensation payments to long-term unemployed workers for roughly two months, from mid-December 2011 until February 29, 2012.

The law states that loan guarantee fees at Fannie and Freddie will rise “by not less than an average increase of 10 basis points for each origination year or book year above the average fees imposed in 2011 for such guarantees.” This means that an estimated $36 billion in additional fees collected over 10 years will be used to offset $33 billion in up-front costs tallied by a mere eight weeks of payroll tax deductions and unemployment insurance.

Kap / Spain, Cagle Cartoons

Of course none of this has anything to do with the financial health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or the creditworthiness of the individual borrower, but it directly impacts the cost of a new home purchase or refinance. It happened because there’s value in home ownership — value that some congressional leaders think can be taxed for almost anything.

The recent flurry of loan guarantee fee increases at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (three times in just over four years) has nothing to do with the risk expected within the overall portfolios of loan business purchased by either of the two mortgage guarantor giants Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac during this time frame. The overall creditworthiness of loan portfolios purchased by both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has risen significantly over the last six years. In fact, both GSEs carry loan portfolios with aggregate average FICO scores well in excess of the average American. Yet, loan guarantee fees at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have skyrocketed by more than 160 percent over the exact same time period.

One reason for the recent rise in “g-fee” expenses has to do with congressional spending packages brokered by both parties for all sorts of concerns. Add to this equation the simple fact that the GSEs themselves are essentially a government-controlled duopoly, and one can understand exactly how the last six years of guarantee fee hikes came to pass.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both currently operate under federal conservatorship administered by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Now in its 84th consecutive month, this “temporary” conservatorship has continued for almost seven years with no proposed plan for a future model. Freddie Mac declared over $8 billion in profits in 2014 alone. Fannie Mae recently declared profits of $4.6 billion in the brief April-through-June time period of 2Q 2015 by itself. Meanwhile, home buyers, cities, communities and the lenders and real estate agents that support the home ownership market have continued to struggle to recover from the housing financial crisis.

Keep in mind, the true cost of capital for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac alike, is essentially zero — they are “conservatees” of the federal government. The notion of passing the cost of capital to the consumer, much like a private sector bank would, simply does not apply in the same sense.

The damage that a deliberate yet unwarranted campaign of GSE guarantee fee has done to American home ownership is clear. With wrongheaded policies such as these, it is easy to understand how the U.S. home ownership rate has dropped to the lowest level in almost 50 years.

It bears mentioning that not everyone on Capitol Hill is interested in using your nest egg as their fiscal piggy bank. Various members of Congress from both political parties have stood in unison to say “enough.” Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee recently joined Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia in authoring an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) in opposition to the “homes for highways” pay-for gambit.

“Each time guarantee fees are extended, increased or diverted for unrelated spending, homeowners are charged more for their mortgages and taxpayers are exposed to additional risk,” said Senators Corker and Warner. Exactly.

It took a (rare) bipartisan effort led by Senators Corker and Warner to publicly shame Congress into upholding the same measure prohibiting such g-fee “pay-for” deals that they themselves passed only months ago.

It has happened before, and it will undoubtedly happen again. It’s just too easy, and it makes almost everyone happy. Everyone except the unsuspecting homeowner, that is. Various constituent groups get whatever spending item they’re after today, fiscal watchdogs get the satisfaction of knowing that at least someone, somewhere, is on the hook to pay the added cost. The problem is, if you’re in the market to buy a home in the foreseeable future or planning to refinance your existing home loan, that “someone” will most likely be you.

Prospective new homeowners have all sorts of pressing concerns to consider. Strapping the cost of a federal highway spending bill onto their backs by way of artificially inflated loan guarantee fees paid over the life of a 30-year mortgage shouldn’t be one of them.

Read more by Garrick T. Davis in The Huffington Post

25 Percent of all U.S. Foreclosures Are Zombie Homes

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RealtyTrac’s Q1 2015 Zombie Foreclosure Report, found that as of the end of January 2015, 142,462 homes actively in the foreclosure process had been vacated by the homeowners prior to the bank repossessing the property, representing 25 percent of all active foreclosures.

The total number of zombie foreclosures was down 6 percent from a year ago, but the 25 percent share of total foreclosures represented by zombies was up from 21 percent a year ago.

“While the number of vacated zombie foreclosures is down from a year ago, they represent an increasing share of all foreclosures because they tend to be the problem cases still stuck in the pipeline,” said Daren Blomquist vice president at RealtyTrac. “Additionally, the states where overall foreclosure activity has been increasing over the past year — counter to the national trend — tend to be states with a longer foreclosure process more susceptible to the zombie problem.”

“In states with a bloated foreclosure process, the increase in zombie foreclosures is actually a good sign that banks and courts are finally moving forward with a resolution on these properties that may have been sitting in foreclosure limbo for years,” Blomquist continued. “In many markets there is plenty of demand from buyers and investors to snatch up these distressed properties as soon as they become available to purchase.”

Florida, New Jersey, New York have most zombie foreclosures

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Despite a 35 percent decrease in zombie foreclosures compared to a year ago, Florida had the highest number of any state with 35,903 — down from 54,908 in the first quarter of 2014. Zombie foreclosures accounted for 26 percent of all foreclosures in Florida.

Zombie foreclosures increased 109 percent from a year ago in New Jersey, and the state posted the second highest total of any state with 17,983 — 23 percent of all properties in foreclosure.

New York zombie foreclosures increased 54 percent from a year ago to 16,777, the third highest state total and representing 19 percent of all residential properties in foreclosure.

Illinois had 9,358 zombie foreclosures at the end of January, down 40 percent from a year ago but still the fourth highest state total, while California had 7,370 zombie foreclosures at the end of January, up 24 percent from a year ago and the fifth highest state total. 

“We are now in the final cycle of the foreclosure crisis cleanup, in which we are witnessing a large final wave of walkaways,” said Mark Hughes, Chief Operating Officer at First Team Real Estate, covering the Southern California market. “This has created an uptick in vacated or ‘zombie’ foreclosures and the intrinsic neighborhood issues most of them create.

“A much longer recovery, a largely veiled underemployment issue, and growing examples of faster bad debt forgiveness have most likely fueled this last wave of owners who have finally just walked away from their American dream,” Hughes added.

Other states among the top 10 for most zombie foreclosures were Ohio (7,360), Indiana (5,217), Pennsylvania (4,937), Maryland (3,363) and North Carolina (3,177).

“Rising home prices in Ohio are motivating lending servicers to commence foreclosure actions more quickly and with fewer workout options offered to delinquent homeowners, creating immediate vacancies earlier in the foreclosure process,” said Michael Mahon, executive vice president at HER Realtors, covering the Ohio housing markets of Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. “Delinquent homeowners need to understand how prices have increased in recent months, and how this increase in equity may provide positive options for them to avoid foreclosure.”

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Metros with most zombie foreclosures: New York, Miami, Chicago, Tampa and Philadelphia. The greater New York metro area had by far the highest number of zombie foreclosures of any metropolitan statistical area nationwide, with 19,177 — 17 percent of all properties in foreclosure and up 73 percent from a year ago.

Zombie foreclosures decreased from a year ago in Miami, Chicago and Tampa, but the three metros still posted the second, third and fourth highest number of zombie foreclosures among metro areas nationwide: Miami had 9,580 zombie foreclosures,19 percent of all foreclosures but down 34 percent from a year ago; Chicago had 8,384 zombie foreclosures, 21 percent of all foreclosures but down 35 percent from a year ago; and Tampa had 7,838 zombie foreclosures, 34 percent of all foreclosures but down 25 percent from a year ago.

Zombie foreclosures increased 53 percent from a year ago in the Philadelphia metro area, giving it the fifth highest number of any metro nationwide in the first quarter of 2015. There were 7,554 zombie foreclosures in the Philadelphia metro area as of the end of January, 27 percent of all foreclosures.

Other metro areas among the top 10 for most zombie foreclosures were Orlando (3,718), Jacksonville, Florida (2,368), Los Angeles (2,074), Las Vegas (1,832), and Baltimore, Maryland (1,722).

Metros with highest share of zombie foreclosures: St. Louis, Portland, Las Vegas

Among metro areas with a population of 200,000 or more and at least 500 zombie foreclosures as of the end of January, those with the highest share of zombie foreclosures as a percentage of all foreclosures were St. Louis (51 percent), Portland (40 percent) and Las Vegas (36 percent).

Metros with biggest increase in zombie foreclosures: Atlantic City, Trenton, New York

Among metro areas with a population of 200,000 or more and at least 500 zombie foreclosures as of the end of January, those with the biggest year-over-year increase in zombie foreclosures were Atlantic City, New Jersey (up 133 percent), Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey (up 110 percent), and New York (up 73 percent).

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Texas Home Buyers Are Better Off Than National Average

by Rye Durzin

Texas homebuyers

The March 2015 Texas Home buyers and Sellers Report from the Texas Association of Realtors shows that between July 2013 and June 2014 median household income for Texas home buyers increased 5.9 percent year-over-year compared with a national increase of only 1.4 percent.

Home buyers in Texas are older, more likely to be married and make more money than the national averages, according to the March 2015 Texas Home buyers and Sellers Report from the Texas Association of Realtors.

The study shows that between July 2013 and June 2014 median household income for Texas home buyers increased 5.9 percent year-over-year compared with a national increase of only 1.4 percent. However, the percentage of first-time home buyers in Texas fell 4 points to 29 percent, compared to a 5 percent decline nationally to 33 percent.

Home buyers in Texas are also two years older compared to the previous period, edging up to 45 years of age, and 72 percent of home buyers are married, compared to 65 percent nationally.

Texans are also buying larger and newer homes than other buyers across the U.S. In Texas, the typical three-bedroom, two-bathroom home had 2,100 square feet and was built in 2002, compared to the typical national home built in 1993 with 1,870 square feet.

Forty-seven percent of first-time home buyers in Texas said that finding the right property was the most difficult step in buying a home, as did 48 percent of repeat home buyers.

For Texans selling homes, 21 percent said that the reason for selling was because of job relocation, followed by 16 percent who said that their home was too small. The median household income for a Texas home seller was $120,800, compared with a national media income of $96,700 among home sellers.

Texas home buyers (overall): July 2013 – June 2014

  • Median household income: +5.9% to $97,500
  • Percent of homes bought that were new: 28% (-1% from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Percentage of first-time home buyers: 29% (-4% from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Age of typical home buyer: 45 years old (+2 years from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of first-time home buyer: 32 years old (+1 year from July
  • 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of repeat home buyer: 50 years old (unchanged from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for first-time home buyers: +5.8% to $72,000 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for repeat home buyers: -8.9% to $97,500 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percent of married home buyers: 72% (+1% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • New homes purchased: 28% (-2% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for home sellers: $120,800
  • Age of average home seller: 49 years

National home buyers (overall): June 2013 – July 2014

  • Median household income: +1.4% to $84,500
  • Percent of homes bought that were new: 16% (constant from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percentage of first-time home buyers: 33% (-5% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Age of typical home buyer: 44 years old (+2 years from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Average age of first-time home buyer: 31 years old (unchanged from July
  • 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of repeat home buyer: 53 years old (+1 year from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for first-time home buyers: +2.3% to $68,300 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for repeat home buyers: -1% to $95,000 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percent of married home buyers: 65% (-1% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • New homes purchased: 16% (unchanged from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for home sellers: $96,700
  • Age of average home seller: 54 years

Courts Confirm Fannie and Freddie Are Sovereign Credits: Report

by Jacob Passy

Recent court decisions against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders have put to rest the notion that the two mortgage giants exist as anything but instrumentalities of the U.S. government, according to a report released Thursday by Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

Private equity investor groups recently have raised lawsuits against the Federal Housing Finance Agency, in an effort to regain control of the two entities. The failure of these legal actions points to the de facto nature of the two entities as sovereign credits, given their complete backing by the U.S. government.

The KBRA report also suggests that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have morphed into insurance agents rather than insurance companies, since they cannot produce the capital to bear the risk of their guarantees that the FHFA prices to begin with.

Still, the two bodies’ investors take issue with the 3rd Preferred Stock Purchase Agreement that directs all of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s profits to the government, the KBRA report said.

But these investors’ suits have been unsuccessful because, in judges’ eyes, the legislation passed by Congress that saved Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the brink gives the U.S. Treasury and FHFA the right to manage the two companies as they see fit. But KBRA finds instead that “the 3rd PSPA simply compensates the Treasury for the capital injection made in 2008 and, more important, the open-ended support of the U.S. taxpayer.”

The report goes on to argue that these investors misinterpret the support the U.S. government lent to the two mortgage entities. Prior to the capital injection, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had negative net worth, meaning that Treasury’s aid only brought them to zero.

But, as the report reads, all of the profits the two make now represent therefore the return on the government’s investment, so to recapitalize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would essentially involve taxpayer money, which the report found “galling.”

“They are not talking about injecting any of their own cash into the companies,” KBRA writes. “If you accept the idea that the taxpayers are due a return on both the implicit and explicit capital advanced to keep the mortgage market operating, there are no earnings to be retained in the GSEs.”

The report did contend that while this may not spell out good news for the two mortgage agencies’ equity investors, it should end some of the uncertainty bond investors have faced by confirming their standing in the eyes of government.


Fannie Mae Ended 2014 on a Sour Note

by Phil Hall

Fannie Mae hit more than a few financial potholes during 2014, closing the year with significantly lower net income and comprehensive income and a stated concern that things may not get better during 2015.

The government-sponsored enterprise reported annual net income of $14.2 billion and annual comprehensive income of $14.7 billion in 2014, far below 2013’s levels of $84 billion in net income and $84.8 billion in comprehensive income.

The fourth quarter of 2014 was especially acute: Fannie Mae’s net income of $1.3 billion and comprehensive income of $1.3 billion for this period, a steep drop from the net income of $3.9 billion and comprehensive income of $4.0 billion for the third quarter. Fourth quarter net revenues were $5.5 billion, down from $6 billion for the third quarter, while fee and other income was $323 million for the fourth quarter, compared with $826 million for the third quarter. Net fair value losses were $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter, up substantially from $207 million in the third quarter.

Fannie Mae explained that its fourth quarter results were “driven by net interest income, partially offset by fair value losses on risk management derivatives due to declines in longer-term interest rates in the quarter.” Nonetheless, Fannie Mae reported a positive net worth of $3.7 billion as of Dec. 31, 2014, which resulted in a dividend obligation to the U.S. Department of the Treasury of $1.9 billion that will be paid next month.

In announcing its 2014 results, Fannie Mae offered a blunt prediction that this year will see continued disappointments.

“[Fannie Mae] expects its earnings in future years will be substantially lower than its earnings for 2014, due primarily to the company’s expectation of substantially lower income from resolution agreements, continued declines in net interest income from its retained mortgage portfolio assets, and lower credit related income,” said Fannie Mae in a press statement. “In addition, certain factors, such as changes in interest rates or home prices, could result in significant volatility in the company’s financial results from quarter to quarter or year to year. Fannie Mae’s future financial results also will be affected by a number of other factors, including: the company’s guaranty fee rates; the volume of single-family mortgage originations in the future; the size, composition, and quality of its retained mortgage portfolio and guaranty book of business; and economic and housing market conditions.”


 Default Risk Index For Agency Purchase Loans Hits Series High

by Brian Honea

Agency Loan Mortgage Default Risk

The default risk for mortgage loan originations rose in January, marking the fifth straight month-over-month increase, according to the composite National Mortgage Risk Index (NMRI) released by AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk.

In January, the NMRI for Agency purchase loans increased to a series high of 11.94 percent. That number represented an increase of 0.4 percentage points from the October through December average and a jump of 0.8 percentage points from January 2014.

“With the NMRI once again hitting a series high, the risks posed by the government’s 85 percent share of the home purchase market continue to rise,” said Stephen Oliner, co-director of AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk.

Default risk indices for Fannie Mae, FHA, and VA loans hit series highs within the composite, according to AEI. The firm attributes to the consistent monthly increases in risk indices to a substantial shift in market share from large banks to non-bank accounts, since the default risk tends to be greater on loans originated by non-bank lenders.

AEI’s study for January revealed that the volume of high debt-to-income (DTI) loans has not been reduced by the QM regulation. About 24 percent of loans over the past three months had a total DTI above 43 percent, compared to 22 percent for the same period a year earlier. The study also found that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were compensating to a limited extent for the riskiness of their high DTI loans.

Further, the NMRI for FHA loans in January experienced a year-over-year increase of 1.5 percentage points up to 24.41 percent – meaning that nearly one quarter of all recently guaranteed home purchase loans backed by FHA would be projected to default if they were to experience an economic shock similar to 2007-08. AEI estimates that if FHA were to adopt VA’s risk management practices, the composite index would fall to about 9 percent.

“Policy makers need to be mindful of the upward risk trends that are occurring with respect to both first-time and repeat buyers,” said Edward Pinto, co-director of AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk. “Recent policy moves by the FHA and FHFA will likely exacerbate this trend.”

AEI said the cause of the softness in mortgage lending is not tight lending standards, but rather reduced affordability, loan put back risk, and slow income growth among households.

More than 180,o00 home purchase loans were evaluated for the January results, bringing the total number of loans rated in the NMRI since December 2012 to nearly 5.5 million, according to AEI.

The Next Housing Crisis May Be Sooner Than You Think

How we could fall into another housing crisis before we’ve fully pulled out of the 2008 one.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.citylab.com/media/img/citylab/2014/11/RTR2LDPC/lead_large.jpgby Richard Florida

When it comes to housing, sometimes it seems we never learn. Just when America appeared to be recovering from the last housing crisis—the trigger, in many ways, for 2008’s grand financial meltdown and the beginning of a three-year recession—another one may be looming on the horizon.

There are at several big red flags.

For one, the housing market never truly recovered from the recession. Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko points out that, while the third quarter of 2014 saw improvement in a number of housing key barometers, none have returned to normal, pre-recession levels. Existing home sales are now 80 percent of the way back to normal, while home prices are stuck at 75 percent back, remaining undervalued by 3.4 percent. More troubling, new construction is less than halfway (49 percent) back to normal. Kolko also notes that the fundamental building blocks of the economy, including employment levels, income and household formation, have also been slow to improve. “In this recovery, jobs and housing can’t get what they need from each other,” he writes.

Americans are spending more than 33 percent of their income on housing.

Second, Americans continue to overspend on housing. Even as the economy drags itself out of its recession, a spate of reports show that families are having a harder and harder time paying for housing. Part of the problem is that Americans continue to want more space in bigger homes, and not just in the suburbs but in urban areas, as well. Americans more than 33 percent of their income on housing in 2013, up nearly 13 percent from two decades ago, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The graph below plots the trend by age.

Over-spending on housing is far worse in some places than others; the housing market and its recovery remain highly uneven. Another BLS report released last month showed that households in Washington, D.C., spent nearly twice as much on housing ($17,603) as those in Cleveland, Ohio ($9,061). The chart below, from the BLS report, shows average annual expenses on housing related items:

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The result, of course, is that more and more American households, especially middle- and working-class people, are having a harder time affording housing. This is particularly the case in reviving urban centers, as more affluent, highly educated and creative-class workers snap up the best spaces, particularly those along convenient transit, pushing the service and working class further out.

Last but certainly not least, the rate of home ownership continues to fall, and dramatically. Home ownership has reached its lowest level in two decades—64.4 percent (as of the third quarter of 2014). Here’s the data, from the U.S. Census Bureau:

(Data from U.S. Census Bureau)

Home ownership currently hovers from the mid-50 to low-60 percent range in some of the most highly productive and innovative metros in this country—places like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. This range seems “to provide the flexibility of rental and ownership options required for a fast-paced, rapidly changing knowledge economy. Widespread home ownership is no longer the key to a thriving economy,” I’ve written.

What we are going through is much more than a generational shift or simple lifestyle change. It’s a deep economic shift—I’ve called it the Great Reset. It entails a shift away from the economic system, population patterns and geographic layout of the old suburban growth model, which was deeply connected to old industrial economy, toward a new kind of denser, more urban growth more in line with today’s knowledge economy. We remain in the early stages of this reset. If history is any guide, the complete shift will take a generation or so.

It’s time to impose stricter underwriting standards and encourage the dense, mixed-use, more flexible housing options that the knowledge economy requires.

The upshot, as the Nobel Prize winner Edmund Phelps has written, is that it is time for Americans to get over their house passion. The new knowledge economy requires we spend less on housing and cars, and more on education, human capital and innovation—exactly those inputs that fuel the new economic and social system.

But we’re not moving in that direction; in fact, we appear to be going the other way. This past weekend, Peter J. Wallison pointed out in a New York Times op-ed that federal regulators moved back off tougher mortgage-underwriting standards brought on by 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act and instead relaxed them. Regulators are hoping to encourage more home ownership, but they’re essentially recreating the conditions that led to 2008’s crash.

Wallison notes that this amounts to “underwriting the next housing crisis.” He’s right: It’s time to impose stricter underwriting standards and encourage the dense, mixed-use, more flexible housing options that the knowledge economy requires.

During the depression and after World War II, this country’s leaders pioneered a series of purposeful and ultimately game-changing polices that set in motion the old suburban growth model, helping propel the industrial economy and creating a middle class of workers and owners. Now that our economy has changed again, we need to do the same for the denser urban growth model, creating more flexible housing system that can help bolster today’s economy.

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Dream housing for new economy workers
?

Energy Workforce Projected To Grow 39% Through 2022

The dramatic resurgence of the oil industry over the past few years has been a notable factor in the national economic recovery. Production levels have reached totals not seen since the late 1980s and continue to increase, and rig counts are in the 1,900 range. While prices have dipped recently, it will take more than that to markedly slow the level of activity. Cycles are inevitable, but activity is forecast to remain at relatively high levels.  

An outgrowth of oil and gas activity strength is a need for additional workers. At the same time, the industry workforce is aging, and shortages are likely to emerge in key fields ranging from petroleum engineers to experienced drilling crews. I was recently asked to comment on the topic at a gathering of energy workforce professionals. Because the industry is so important to many parts of Texas, it’s an issue with relevance to future prosperity.  

 

Although direct employment in the energy industry is a small percentage of total jobs in the state, the work is often well paying. Moreover, the ripple effects through the economy of this high value-added industry are large, especially in areas which have a substantial concentration of support services.  

Petroleum Engineer

Employment in oil and gas extraction has expanded rapidly, up from 119,800 in January 2004 to 213,500 in September 2014. Strong demand for key occupations is evidenced by the high salaries; for example, median pay was $130,280 for petroleum engineers in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  

Due to expansion in the industry alone, the BLS estimates employment growth of 39 percent through 2022 for petroleum engineers, which comprised 11 percent of total employment in oil and gas extraction in 2012. Other key categories (such as geoscientists, wellhead pumpers, and roustabouts) are also expected to see employment gains exceeding 15 percent. In high-activity regions, shortages are emerging in secondary fields such as welders, electricians, and truck drivers.  

The fact that the industry workforce is aging is widely recognized. The cyclical nature of the energy industry contributes to uneven entry into fields such as petroleum engineering and others which support oil and gas activity. For example, the current surge has pushed up wages, and enrollment in related fields has increased sharply. Past downturns, however, led to relatively low enrollments, and therefore relatively lower numbers of workers in some age cohorts. The loss of the large baby boom generation of experienced workers to retirement will affect all industries. This problem is compounded in the energy sector because of the long stagnation of the industry in the 1980s and 1990s resulting in a generation of workers with little incentive to enter the industry. As a result, the projected need for workers due to replacement is particularly high for key fields.

The BLS estimates that 9,800 petroleum engineers (25.5 percent of the total) working in 2012 will need to be replaced by 2022 because they retire or permanently leave the field. Replacement rates are also projected to be high for other crucial occupations including petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers (37.1 percent); derrick, rotary drill, and service unit operators, oil, gas, and mining (40.4 percent).  

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Putting together the needs from industry expansion and replacement, most critical occupations will require new workers equal to 40 percent or more of the current employment levels. The total need for petroleum engineers is estimated to equal approximately 64.5 percent of the current workforce. Clearly, it will be a major challenge to deal with this rapid turnover.

Potential solutions which have been attempted or discussed present problems, and it will require cooperative efforts between the industry and higher education and training institutions to adequately deal with future workforce shortages. Universities have had problems filling open teaching positions, because private-sector jobs are more lucrative for qualified candidates. Given budget constraints and other considerations, it is not feasible for universities to compete on the basis of salary. Without additional teaching and research staff, it will be difficult to continue to expand enrollment while maintaining education quality. At the same time, high-paying jobs are enticing students into the workforce, and fewer are entering doctoral programs.  

Another option which has been suggested is for engineers who are experienced in the workplace to spend some of their time teaching. However, busy companies are naturally resistant to allowing employees to take time away from their regular duties. Innovative training and associate degree and certification programs blending classroom and hands-on experience show promise for helping deal with current and potential shortages in support occupations. Such programs can prepare students for well-paying technical jobs in the industry. Encouraging experienced professionals to work past retirement, using flexible hours and locations to appeal to Millennials, and other innovative approaches must be part of the mix, as well as encouraging the entry of females into the field (only 20 percent of the current workforce is female, but over 40 percent of the new entries).

Industry observers have long been aware of the coming “changing of the guard” in the oil and gas business. We are now approaching the crucial time period for ensuring the availability of the workers needed to fill future jobs. Cooperative efforts between the industry and higher education/training institutions will likely be required, and it’s time to act.

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Today’s Hottest Trend In Residential Real Estate

The practice of multigenerational housing has been on the rise the past few years, and now experts are saying that it is adding value to properties.
by Lauren Mennenas

The practice of multigenerational housing has been on the rise the past few years, and now experts are saying that it is adding value to properties.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, several couples across the country are quoted saying that instead of downsizing to a new home, they are choosing to live with their adult children.

This is what many families across the country are doing for both a “peace of mind” and for “higher property values.”

“For both domestic and foreign buyers, the hottest amenity in real estate these days is an in-law unit, an apartment carved out of an existing home or a stand-alone dwelling built on the homeowners’ property,” writes Katy McLaughlin of the WSJ. “While the adult children get the peace of mind of having mom and dad nearby, real-estate agents say the in-law accommodations are adding value to their homes.”

And how much more are these homes worth? In an analysis by Zillow, the homes with this type of living accommodations were priced about 60 percent higher than regular single-family homes.

Local builders are noticing the trend, too. Horsham based Toll Brothers are building more communities that include both large, single-family homes and smaller homes for empty nesters, the company’s chief marketing officer, Kira Sterling, told the WSJ.

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Single Family Construction Expected to Boom in 2015

https://i0.wp.com/s3.amazonaws.com/static.texastribune.org/media/images/Foster_Jerod-9762.jpgKenny DeLaGarza, a building inspector for the city of Midland, at a 600-home Betenbough development.

Single-family home construction is expected to increase 26 percent in 2015, the National Association of Home Builders reported Oct. 31. NAHB expects single-family production to total 802,000 units next year and reach 1.1 million by 2016.

Economists participating in the NAHB’s 2014 Fall Construction Forecast Webinar said that a growing economy, increased household formation, low interest rates and pent-up demand should help drive the market next year. They also said they expect continued growth in multifamily starts given the nation’s rental demand.

The NAHB called the 2000-03 period a benchmark for normal housing activity; during those years, single-family production averaged 1.3 million units a year. The organization said it expects single-family starts to be at 90 percent of normal by the fourth quarter 2016.

NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said multifamily starts currently are at normal production levels and are projected to increase 15 percent to 365,000 by the end of the year and hold steady into next year.

The NAHB Remodeling Market Index also showed increased activity, although it’s expected to be down 3.4 percent compared to last year because of sluggish activity in the first quarter 2014. Remodeling activity will continue to increase gradually in 2015 and 2016.

Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi told the NAHB that he expects an undersupply of housing given increasing job growth. Currently, the nation’s supply stands at just over 1 million units annually, well below what’s considered normal; in a normal year, there should be demand for 1.7 million units.

Zandi noted that increasing housing stock by 700,000 units should help meet demand and create 2.1 million jobs. He also noted that things should level off by the end of 2017, when mortgage rates probably will  rise to around 6 percent.

“The housing market will be fine because of better employment, higher wages and solid economic growth, which will trump the effect of higher mortgage rates,” Zandi told the NAHB.

Robert Denk, NAHB assistant vice president for forecasting and analysis, said that he expects housing recovery to vary by state and region, noting that states with higher levels of payroll employment or labor market recovery are associated with healthier housing markets

States with the healthiest job growth include Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, as well as farm belt states like Iowa.

Meanwhile Alabama, Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island continue to have weaker markets.

BofA Banker Arrested In Hong Kong For Double Murder Of Two Prostitutes

Rurick Jutting, a Cambridge University graduate, has been named as the suspect of the double murder

by Tyler Durden

The excesses of 1980s New York investment banking as captured best (and with just a dose of hyperbole) by Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho may be long gone in the US, but they certainly are alive and well in other banking meccas, such as the one place where every financier wants to work these days (thanks to the Chinese government making it rain credit): Hong Kong. It is here that yesterday a 29-year-old British banker, Rurik Jutting, a Cambridge University grad and current Bank of America Merrill Lynch, former Barclays employee, was arrested in connection with the grisly murder of two prostitutes. One of the two victims had been hidden in a suitcase on a balcony, while the other, a foreign woman of between 25 and 30, was found lying inside the apartment with wounds to her neck and buttocks, the police said in a statement.
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A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch told Reuters on Sunday that the U.S. bank had, until recently, an employee bearing the same name as a man Hong Kong media have described as the chief suspect in the double murder case. Bank of America Merrill Lynch would not give more details nor clarify when the person had left the bank.

Britain’s Foreign Office in London said on Saturday a British national had been arrested in Hong Kong, without specifying the nature of any suspected crime.

The details of the crime are straight out of American Psycho 2: the Hong Kong Sequel. One of the murdered women was aged between 25 and 30 and had cut wounds to her neck and buttock, according to a police statement. The second woman’s body, also with neck injuries, was discovered in a suitcase on the apartment’s balcony, the police said. A knife was seized at the scene.

According to the WSJ, the arrested suspect, who called police to the apartment in the early hours of Nov. 1, was until recently a Hong Kong-based employee of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

 
 

Filings with Hong Kong’s securities regulator show that the suspect was an employee with the bank as recently as Oct. 31.The man had called police in the early hours of Saturday and asked them to investigate the case, police said.

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper said the suspect had taken about 2,000 photographs and some video footage of the victims after the killings including close-ups of their wounds. Local media said the two women were prostitutes.

The apartment where the bodies were found is on the 31st floor in a building popular with financial professionals, where average rents are about HK$30,000 (nearly $4,000) a month.

According to the Telegraph the suspect, who had previously worked at Barclays from 2008 until 2010 before moving to BofA, and specifically its Hong Kong office in July last year, had apparently vanished from his workplace a week ago. It has also been reported that he resigned from his post days before news of the murders emerged.

And as usual in situations like these, the UK’s Daily Mail has the granular details. It reports that the British banker arrested on suspicion of a double murder in Hong Kong has been identified as 29-year-old Rurik Jutting. 

 
 

Mr Jutting, who attended Cambridge University, is being held by police after the bodies of two prostitutes were discovered in his up-market apartment in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Officers found the women, thought to be a 25-year-old from Indonesia and a 30-year-old from the Philippines, after Mr Jutting allegedly called police to the address, which is located near the city’s red light district. The naked body of the Filipina victim, who had suffered a series of knife wounds, was found inside the 31st-floor apartment in J Residence – a development of exclusive properties in the city’s Wan Chai district that are popular with young expatriate executives.

The second woman was reportedly discovered naked and partially decapitated in a suitcase on the balcony of the apartment. She is believed to have been tied up and to have been left there for around a week. 

Sex toys and cocaine were also reportedly found, along with a knife which was seized by officers.

Mr Jutting’s phone is today being examined by police in a bid to identify possible further victims, according to the South China Morning Post. 

It is understood that photos of the woman who was found in the suitcase, apparently taken after she died, were among roughly 2,000 that officers found on the device.

Mr Jutting attended Winchester College, an independent boys school in Hampshire, before continuing his studies in history and law at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he became secretary of the history society.  

He appears to have worked at Barclays in London between 2008 and 2010, when he took a job with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He was moved to the bank’s Hong Kong office in July last year. 

A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch confirmed that it had previously employed a man by the same name but would not give more details nor clarify when the person had left the bank.

CCTV footage from the apartment block, located near Hong Kong’s red light district, showed the banker and the Filipina woman returning to the 31st floor shortly after midnight local time yesterday.

He allegedly called police to his home at 3.42am, shortly after the woman he was seen with is believed to have been killed.

She was found with two wounds to her neck and her throat had been slashed. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The body on the balcony, wrapped in a carpet and inside a black suitcase, which measured about three feet by 18 inches, was not found by police until eight hours later. 

A police source quoted by the South China Morning Post said: ‘She was nearly decapitated and her hands and legs were bound with ropes. ‘She was naked and wrapped in a towel before being stuffed into the suitcase. Her passport was found at the scene.’

Wan Chai, the district where the apartment is located, is known for its bustling nightclub scene of ‘girly bars,’ popular with expatriate men and staffed by sex workers from South East Asia.  Police have today been contacting nearby bars in an attempt to find out more about the background of the two murdered women.  

One resident in the 40-storey block, where most of the residents are expatriates, said he had noticed an unusual smell in recent days. He told the South China Morning Post that there had been ‘a stink in the building like a dead animal’.

And just like that, the worst excesses of the “peak banking” days from 1980, when sad scenes like these were a frequent occurrence, are back.


Government workers remove the body of a woman who was found dead at a flat in Hong Kong’s Wan chai district in the early hours of this morning. A British man was been arrested in connection with the murders.

A second victim was found stuffed inside a suitcase on the balcony of the residential flat in Hong Kong

The 40-storey J Residence is reportedly a high-end development favored by junior expatriate bankers

Update

Bank Of America Psycho Killer Was Busy Helping Hedge Funds Avoid Taxes During His Business Hours

The most bizarre story of the weekend was that of Bank of America’s 29-year-old banker Rurik Jutting, who shortly after allegedly killing two prostitutes (and stuffing one in a suitcase), called the cops on himself and effectively admitted to the crime having left a quite clear autoreply email message, namely “For urgent inquiries, or indeed any inquiries, please contact someone who is not an insane psychopath. For escalation please contact God, though suspect the devil will have custody. [Last line only really worked if I had followed through..]”

But while his attempt to imitate Patrick Bateman did not go unnoticed, even if it will be promptly forgotten until the next grotesquely insane banker shocks the world for another 15 minutes, the question that has remained unanswered is what did young Master Jutting do when not chopping women up.

The answer, as the WSJ has revealed, is just as unsavory: “he had been part of a Bank of America team that specialized in tax-minimization trades that are under scrutiny from prosecutors, regulators, tax collectors and the bank’s own compliance department, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.”

Basically, when not acting as a homicidal psychopath, Jutting was facilitating full-blown tax evasion, just the activity that every developed, and thus broke, government around the globe is desperately cracking down on, and why every single Swiss bank is non-grata in the US and may be arrested immediately upon arrival on US soil.

More from the WSJ:

Mr. Jutting, a U.K. native and a competitive poker player, worked in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Structured Equity Finance and Trading group, first in London and then in Hong Kong, according to these people and regulatory filings. Mr. Jutting resigned from the bank sometime before Oct. 27, which police say was the date of the first murder, according to a person familiar with the matter.

 The trading group, known as SEFT, employs about three dozen people globally, one of these people said. It helps hedge funds and other clients manage their stock portfolios, often through the use of derivatives, according to the people and internal bank documents.

Mr. Jutting joined Bank of America in 2010 and worked three years in its London office, the bank’s hub for dividend-arbitrage trades, the people familiar with the matter say. He moved to Bank of America’s Hong Kong office in July 2013.

Ironic, because it was just this summer that a Congressional panel headed by Carl Levin was tearing foreign banks Deutsche Bank and Barclays a new one for providing structures such as MAPS and COLT, which did precisely this: give clients a derivative-based means of avoiding taxation (as described in “How Rentec Made More Than 34 Billion In Profits Since 1998 “Fictional Derivatives“).

As it turns out not only did a US-based bank – Bank of America – have an entire group dedicated to precisely the same type of hedge fund, and other Ultra High Net Worth, clients tax evasion advice, but it also housed a homicidal psychopath.

Perhaps if instead Levin had been grandstanding and seeking to punish foreign banks, he had cracked down on everyone who was providing this service, Jutting’s group would have been disbanded long ago, and two innocent lives could have been saved, instead allowing the alleged cocaine-snorting murderer to engage in far more wholesome, banker-approrpriate activities:

During his time in Asia, Mr. Jutting’s pastimes apparently included gambling. In a Sept. 14 Facebook post, he boasted of winning thousands of dollars playing poker at a tournament in the Philippines. He signed off the post: “God I love Manila.” The comment drew eight “likes.”

Alas one will never know “what if.”

But we are certain that with none other than America’s most prominent bank, the one carrying its name, has now been busted for aiding and abetting hedge fund tax evasion around the globe, it will get the same treatment as evil foreign banks Barclays and Deutsche Bank, right Carl Levin?

FHA Is Set To Return To Anti-House-Flipping Restrictions


House flippers buy run-down properties, fix them up and resell them quickly at a higher price. Above, a home under renovation in Amsterdam, N.Y. (Mike Groll / Associated Press)

Can you still do a short-term house flip using federally insured, low-down payment mortgage money? That’s an important question for buyers, sellers, investors and realty agents who’ve taken part in a nationwide wave of renovations and quick resales using Federal Housing Administration-backed loans during the last four years.

The answer is yes: You can still flip and finance short term. But get your rehabs done soon. The federal agency whose policy change in 2010 made tens of thousands of quick flips possible — and helped large numbers of first-time and minority buyers with moderate incomes acquire a home — is about to shut down the program, FHA officials confirmed to me.

In an effort to stimulate repairs and sales in neighborhoods hard hit by the mortgage crisis and recession, the FHA waived its standard prohibition against financing short-term house flips. Before the policy change, if you were an investor or property rehab specialist, you had to own a house for at least 90 days before reselling — flipping it — to a new buyer at a higher price using FHA financing. Under the waiver of the rule, you could buy a house, fix it up and resell it as quickly as possible to a buyer using an FHA mortgage — provided that you followed guidelines designed to protect consumers from being ripped off with hyper-inflated prices and shoddy construction.

Since then, according to FHA estimates, about 102,000 homes have been renovated and resold using the waiver. The reason for the upcoming termination: The program has done its job, stimulated billions of dollars of investments, stabilized prices and provided homes for families who were often newcomers to ownership.

However, even though the waiver program has functioned well, officials say, inherent dangers exist when there are no minimum ownership periods for flippers. In the 1990s, the FHA witnessed this firsthand when teams of con artists began buying run-down houses, slapped a little paint on the exterior and resold them within days — using fraudulent appraisals — for hyper-inflated prices and profits. Their buyers, who obtained FHA-backed mortgages, often couldn’t afford the payments and defaulted. Sometimes the buyers were themselves part of the scam and never made any payments on their loans — leaving the FHA, a government-owned insurer, with steep losses.

For these reasons, officials say, it’s time to revert to the more restrictive anti-quick-flip rules that prevailed before the waiver: The 90-day standard will come back into effect after Dec. 31.

But not everybody thinks that’s a great idea. Clem Ziroli Jr., president of First Mortgage Corp., an FHA lender in Ontario, says reversion to the 90-day rule will hurt moderate-income buyers who found the program helpful in opening the door to home ownership.

“The sad part,” Ziroli said in an email, “is the majority of these properties were improved and [located] in underserved areas. Having a rehabilitated house available to these borrowers” helped them acquire houses that had been in poor physical shape but now were repaired, inspected and safe to occupy.

Paul Skeens, president of Colonial Mortgage in Waldorf, Md., and an active rehab investor in the suburbs outside Washington, D.C., said the upcoming policy change will cost him money and inevitably raise the prices of the homes he sells after completing repairs and improvements. Efficient renovators, Skeens told me in an interview, can substantially improve a house within 45 days, at which point the property is ready to list and resell. By extending the mandatory ownership period to 90 days, the FHA will increase Skeens’ holding costs — financing expenses, taxes, maintenance and utilities — all of which will need to be added onto the price to a new buyer.

Paul Wylie, a member of an investor group in the Los Angeles area, says he sees “more harm than good by not extending the waiver. There are protections built into the program that have served [the FHA] well,” he said in an email. If the government reimposes the 90-day requirement, “it will harm those [buyers] that FHA intends to help” with its 3.5% minimum-down-payment loans. “Investors will adapt and sell to non-FHA-financed buyers. Entry-level consumers will be harmed unnecessarily.”

Bottom line: Whether fix-up investors like it or not, the FHA seems dead set on reverting to its pre-bust flipping restrictions. Financing will still be available, but selling prices of the end product — rehabbed houses for moderate-income buyers — are almost certain to be more expensive.

kenharney@earthlink.net. Distributed by Washington Post Writers Group. Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

U.S. To Ease Repurchase Demands On Bad Mortgages

Mel WattMelvin Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, outlined ways in which his agency would clarify actions it takes against bankers on loans that go bad. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press).

by E. Scott Reckard, John Glionna & Tim Logan

Hoping to boost mortgage approvals for more borrowers, the federal regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac told lenders that the home financing giants would ease up on demands that banks buy back loans that go delinquent.

Addressing a lending conference here Monday, Melvin Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, outlined ways in which his agency would clarify actions it takes against bankers on loans that go bad after being sold to Freddie and Fannie.

The agency’s idea is to foster an environment in which lenders would fund mortgages to a wider group of borrowers, particularly first-time home buyers and those without conventional pay records.

To date, though, the agency’s demands that lenders repurchase bad loans made with shoddy underwriting standards have resulted in bankers imposing tougher criteria on borrowers than Fannie and Freddie require.

A lot of good loans don’t get done because of silly regulations that are not necessary. – Jeff Lazerson, a mortgage broker from Orange County

Those so-called overlays in lending standards, in turn, have contributed to sluggish home sales, a drag on the economic recovery and lower profits on mortgages as banks reduced sales to Fannie and Freddie and focused mainly on borrowers with excellent credit.

Watt acknowledged to the Mortgage Bankers Assn. audience that his agency in the past “did not provide enough clarity to enable lenders to understand when Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac would exercise their remedy to require repurchase of a loan.”

Going forward, Watt said, Fannie and Freddie would not force repurchases of mortgages found to have minor flaws if the borrowers have near-perfect payment histories for 36 months.

He also said flaws in reporting borrowers’ finances, debt loads and down payments would not trigger buy-back demands so long as the borrowers would have qualified for loans had the information been reported accurately.  And he said that the agency would release guidelines “in the coming weeks” to allow increased lending to borrowers with down payments as low as 3% by considering “compensating factors.”

The mortgage trade group’s chief executive, David Stevens, said Watt’s remarks “represent significant progress in the ongoing dialogue” among the industry, regulators and Fannie and Freddie. Several banks released positive statements that echoed his remarks.

Others at the convention, however, said Watt’s speech lacked specifics and did little to reassure mortgage lenders that the nation’s housing market would soon be back on track.

“The speech was horribly disappointing,” said Jeff Lazerson, a mortgage broker from Orange County, calling Watt’s delivery and message “robotic.”

“They’ve been teasing us, hinting that things were going to get better, but nothing new came out,” Lazerson said. “A lot of good loans don’t get done because of silly regulations that are not necessary.”

Philip Stein, a lawyer from Miami who represents regional banks and mortgage companies in loan repurchase cases, said the situation was far from returning to a “responsible state of normalcy,” as Watt described it.

“When the government talked of modifications in the process, I thought, ‘Oh, this could be good,'” Stein said. “But I don’t feel good about what I heard today.”

Despite overall improvements in the economy and interest rates still near historic lows, the number of home sales is on pace to fall this year for the first time since 2010 as would-be buyers struggle with higher prices and tight lending conditions

Loose underwriting standards–scratch that, non-existent underwriting standards–caused the mortgage meltdown. If borrowers are willing to put down just 3% for their down payment, their note rate should be 0.50% higher and 1 buy-down point. The best rates should go to 20% down payments.

Once-torrid price gains have cooled, too, as demand has subsided. The nation’s home ownership rate is at a 19-year low.

First-time buyers, in particular, have stayed on the sidelines. Surveys by the National Assn. of Realtors have found first-time owners making up a significantly smaller share of the housing market than the 40% they typically do.

There are reasons for this, economists said, including record-high student debt levels, young adults delaying marriage, and the still-soft job market. But many experts agree that higher down-payment requirements and tougher lending restrictions are playing a role.

Stuart Gabriel, director of the Ziman Center for Real Estate at UCLA, said he’s of a “mixed mind” about the changes.

On one hand, Gabriel said, tight underwriting rules are clearly making it harder for many would-be buyers to get a loan, perhaps harder than it should be.

“If they loosen the rules a bit, they’ll see more qualified applicants and more applicants getting into mortgages,” he said. “That would be a good thing.”

But, he said, a down payment of just 3% doesn’t leave borrowers with much of a cushion. If prices fall, he said, it risks a repeat of what happened before the downturn.

“We saw that down payments at that level were inadequate to withstand even a minor storm in the housing market,” he said. “It lets borrowers have very little skin in the game, and it becomes easy for those borrowers to walk away.”

Selma Hepp, senior economist at the California Assn. of Realtors, said lenders will welcome clarification of the rules over repurchase demands.

But in a market in which many buyers struggle to afford a house even if they can get a mortgage, she wasn’t sure the changes would have much effect on sales.

“We’re still unclear if we’re having a demand issue or a supply issue here,” said Hepp, whose group recently said it expects home sales to fall in California this year. “It may not have an immediate effect. But in the long term, I think it’s very positive news.”

Watt’s agency has recovered billions of dollars from banks that misrepresented borrowers’ finances and home values when they sold loans during the housing boom. The settlements have helped stabilize Fannie and Freddie, which were taken over by the government in 2008, and led many bankers to clamp down on new loans.

Fannie and Freddie buy bundles of home loans from lenders and sell securities backed by the mortgages, guaranteeing payment to investors if the borrowers default.

scott.reckard@latimes.com

john.glionna@latimes.com

tim.logan@latimes.com

Reckard and Logan reported from Los Angeles; Glionna from Las Vegas

‘1,000 Shades of Non-QM’: Home Lenders Court Niche Borrowers

By Kate Berry, National Mortgage News    Nonstandard. Atypical. Irregular. One-off.

These are just a few of the terms that mortgage lenders have coined to describe loans that do not meet the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s definition of an ultra-safe “qualified mortgage.”

Since the CFPB’s mortgage rules went into effect in January, some mortgage lenders and investors have been desperately trying to figure out how to originate loans that fall outside the definition.

Non-QM loans offer lenders the potential to earn the kind of profits last seen during the heady days of subprime lending. At a time when loan volumes have plummeted, lenders can charge consumers significantly higher mortgage rates for these products. The profit potential would be even greater if the loans eventually get pooled together, securitized and sold to investors.

“Mortgage bankers are looking to find other sources of business in order to remain profitable or to get back to profitability,” says Michele Perrin, a principal at Perrin & Associates, a warehouse lending advisory firm in Tustin, Calif. “Everybody is looking for financing for non-QM loans.”

Many lenders are wading into the non-QM space by initially offering loans to self-employed borrowers, foreign nationals and borrowers with blemished credit from a past short sale or foreclosure. Some lenders also are focusing on specific property types like condominiums that do not meet standards set by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

“There will be 1,000 flavors of non-QM like 1,000 shades of gray,” says Brian Hale, the CEO of Stearns Lending, in Santa Ana, Calif. “I believe all lenders will have to do some portion of their volume in the non-QM space. It’s easy to race in and there’s no shortage of demand because there are an awful lot of customers that don’t fit the QM box.”

But non-QM loans come with significant legal risks. The “ability to repay,” rule, a crucial provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, requires that lenders consider eight specific underwriting factors to verify the borrower’s income.

Failure to do so can result in possible criminal liability, fines of $5,000 per day, enforcement actions by federal and state agencies, and civil and class action lawsuits by individual borrowers. Borrowers have three years to bring a legal action against a lender for potential violations of the ability to repay rule and also can raise a defense to a foreclosure years down the road.

Lenders are dividing the market into various niches that they deem safe enough to compensate for legal dangers. Most are identifying well-qualified borrowers with ample assets but income that might be difficult to document.

“I think you’ll find that non-QM loans are pristine loans otherwise that could be challenged on the ability to repay rule,” says Raymond Natter, a partner at the law firm of Barnett Sivon & Natter, who conceded that “nonbank lenders might be more comfortable with a riskier business model.”

Of course, the nation’s top banks originally claimed they would not make any non-QM loans, but they all have continued to make interest-only jumbo mortgages to wealthy borrowers. Such loans are held on bank balance sheets and tend to have very low default rates. Interest-only loans are excluded from being considered ultra-safe “qualified mortgages” because borrowers often face payment shock once they are required to start paying principal, typically after five to seven years of paying just interest.

Non-QM lenders are replicating the playbook of banks that naturally gravitated toward interest-only and jumbo loans to borrowers with lots of reserves and income.

“They’re not making an IO loan to a part-time Wal-Mart worker who lives paycheck to paycheck,” says Michael Kime, the chief operating officer at W.J. Bradley Mortgage, a Colorado lender. “Banks feel grounded to defend the non-predatory nature of the loan. How do we identify underserved markets, make responsible loans and have enough of them to get…deal flow?”

This month, W.J. Bradley will start originating nonagency condo loans. Many condominiums are tied up in litigation or have too many unoccupied units that make them ineligible for sale to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Mortgages on certain mixed-use commercial and residential properties also can’t be sold to the government-sponsored enterprises and exemplify the types of niche non-QM loans W.J. Bradley will originate from now on, Kime says.

“We’re wringing our hands at the opportunity,” he says. “How do we parlay the same logic a bank is using into a nonbank securitization?…The real issue is ability-to-repay: Are you [the lender] behaving in a predatory manner or are you originating assets to reasonable borrowers?”

A handful of lenders and investors are lining up to originate nonagency, non-QM loans. They include Caliber Home Loans, an Irving, Texas, lender owned by private equity firm Loan Star Funds, and Legg Mason Inc.’s bond firm Western Asset Management, which plans to buy non-QM loans from lenders.

Perrin is working with non-QM lenders including some hard-money lenders that are offering short-term financing at rates ranging from 11% to 13% to individual investors who are buying and flipping properties. The biggest hurdle, she says, is trying to get warehouse lines of credit.

“Warehouse lenders do not want to be anywhere near the origination piece of the transaction,” says Perrin. “They do not want to be potentially sued and most of these firms believe attorneys will be lining up to sue non-QM lenders.”

Some warehouse lenders are considering creating special purpose entities that would serve as a buffer between them and the originating lender as a shield from being sued, Perrin says.

Non-QM lending is still in the very early stages and many lenders believe it will evolve as lenders become more comfortable with the litigation risk.

“You’re going to have non-QM, it’s just another asset to throw in there along with reperforming and nonperforming securitizations,” says Michele Patterson, a senior director at Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

Still, the lack of a secondary market take-out for lenders, the dearth of available capital and historically low interest rates, which make the risks harder to justify, are all headwinds for non-QM loans.

Finding a catchy moniker also would help.

“We started internally calling these nonprime loans but that has a connotation of subprime, and you can’t call them alt-A because of the stigma,” says Kime, referring to alternative-A, a boom-era subcategory of loans that had less than full documentation and lower credit scores but higher loan-to-value ratios.

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