Home equity picture improves, a little, by Wendy Culverwell, Portland Business Journal


The number of homes worth less than their outstanding mortgages fell slightly in the first three months, according to figures released Tuesday by CoreLogic Inc. (NYSE: CLGX), a Santa Ana, Calif.-based real estate data firm.

According to CoreLogic, 27.2 percent — or 13.5 million homes — had negative or near-negative equity in the first quarter. That compares to 27.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

In Oregon, 17.2 percent of homes are worth less than their mortgages and another 5.8 percent had near-negative equity. Collectively, Oregonians owe $121.9 billion on 696,142 mortgages on properties worth a total of $175 billion.

“The current economic indicators point to slow yet positive economic growth, which will slowly reduce the risk of borrowers experiencing income shocks,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist with CoreLogic. “Yet the existence of negative equity for the foreseeable future will weigh on the housing market recovery by holding back sale and refinance activity.”

Negative equity occurs when a borrower owes more than the home is worth. “Near-negative” refers to homes with less than 5 percent equity, a figure that would be wiped out by transaction costs if the property were sold.

In Washington state, 16.9 percent of homes had negative equity and 5.8 percent had near-negative equity. Collectively, Washingtonians owe $291.7 billion on 1,412,110 mortgages on properties worth a total of $429.1 billion.

Nevada, where 63 percent of all mortgaged homes are worth less than the outstanding loan balance, led the nation for negative equity. The other top five states were Arizona, 50 percent, Florida, 46 percent, Michigan, 36 percent and California, 31 percent. Nevada, Arizona and Florida showed improvement from the prior quarter.

The average “underwater” home is worth $65,000 less than the outstanding mortgage balance.

Read more: Home equity picture improves, a little | Portland Business Journal

Nightmare on Every Street, by Alex J. Pollock, Reason Magazine


 

The Colonial Revival headquarters of Fannie Ma...

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Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are broke. The two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that togetherfinance more than $5 trillion in mortgages are insolvent, if you don’t count the $150 billion already injected into them by the federal government. The common shares of these state-corporate hybrids have lost more than 99 percent of their value, both have been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, and since September 2008 they have been official wards of the state. The largest owner of their obligations is now the United States Federal Reserve.

Housing finance inflation was at the center of the financial crisis, and the GSEs were at the center of housing finance inflation. Any meaningful reform of the mortgage system, and therefore the financial problems underlying the recession, must deal directly with Fannie and Freddie. But last summer our elected representatives instead passed a 2,300-page financial “reform” act that purposefully avoided addressing this central issue.

Discussions of how to reform Fannie and Freddie have now belatedly begun on Capitol Hill and in the Obama administration. The process will be complicated and controversial. But if we are to avoid future distortions and government-inflated bubbles in the housing market, Fannie and Freddie can and should be dismantled.

Divided and Conquered

The core problem with GSEs isn’t hard to understand. You can be a private company disciplined by the market, or you can be a government entity disciplined by the government. If you try to be both, you can avoid both disciplines.

To fix that, the first step is to put the GSEs into receivership (as opposed to the current conservatorship), so that the small remaining value of the common shares and all their governance rights are wiped out. Then the restructuring can proceed, Julius Caesar style: divide them into three parts.

The first of those parts, unfortunately, must be a “bad bank,” a liquidating trust that will bear Fannie and Freddie’s deadweight losses–the $150 billion spent by the Treasury so far, plus the additional losses that are embedded in the GSEs’ portfolios and will be realized over time. According to various estimates by the CBO and private analysts, it will cost in the range of $200 billion to $400 billion to make whole the foreign and domestic creditors of Fannie and Freddie. That cost will unjustly, but at this point unavoidably, be borne by taxpayers.

All the current debt and mortgage-based securities obligations that bear the Treasury’s implicit but very real guarantee should be placed in these trusts to run off over time, with all the current mortgage assets of the GSEs dedicated to servicing them. These trusts will be responsible for liquidating the old GSEs. They can be modeled on the structure used in the 1996 act that privatized another GSE: Sallie Mae, the federal student loan company.

The second of the three parts should be formed by privatizing Fannie and Freddie’s prime mortgage loan securitization and investing businesses. All their intellectual property, systems, human capital, and business relationships should be put into truly private companies, sold to private investors, and sent out into the world to compete, flourish, or fail like anybody else. As fully private enterprises, they will be free to do anything they think will create a successful business–except trade on the taxpayers’ credit card.

When there is a robust private secondary market for the largest segment of Fannie and Freddie’s business–high-quality prime mortgage loans to the middle and upper middle classes–private investors can then put private capital at risk, taking their own losses and reaping their own gains. In this mortgage sector, the risks are manageable, and no taxpayer subsidies or taxpayer risk exposures are necessary.

Decades ago, there may have been an argument for GSEs to guarantee the credit risk of prime mortgage loans in order to overcome the geographic barriers to mortgage funding, barriers that were themselves largely created by government regulation. More recently, there may have been a case for using GSEs to get through the financial crisis that they themselves had done so much to exacerbate. But as we move into the future mortgage finance system, the prime mortgage market can and should stand on its own, just like the corporate bond market.

A private secondary market for prime mortgages should have developed naturally a long time ago. It didn’t because no private entity could compete with the GSEs’ government-granted advantages. Bond salesmen, pushing trillions of dollars of GSE debt and mortgage-backed securities to investors all over the world, basically told them this: “You can’t go wrong buying this bond, because it is really a U.S. government credit, but it pays you a higher yield. So you get more profit with no credit risk.” Although there was, and still is, no formal government guarantee of Fannie and Freddie’s obligations, what the bond salesmen told the investors was nonetheless true, as events have fully confirmed. The Treasury has made it clear that its financial support of Fannie and Freddie is unlimited.

There can be no private prime middle class mortgage loan market as long as Fannie and Freddie use their government advantages both to make private competition impossible and to extract duopoly profits from private parties. The duopoly element of the old housing finance system should not be allowed to survive.

The third part to be carved from Fannie and Freddie should consist of intrinsically governmental activities, such as housing subsidies and nonmarket financing of risky loans. These should move explicitly to the government, where they will be fully subject to the discipline of congressional approval and appropriation of funds. This would be in sharp contrast to past practice, in which the GSEs received huge subsidies and used some of the money to win political favor, all concealed off budget. Instead, the funding for these activities would have to be appropriated by Congress in a transparent way, subject to the disciplines of democracy. These functions of Fannie and Freddie should be merged into the structure of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with the government mortgage programs of the Federal Housing Administration and Ginnie Mae.

Ending Freddie and Fannie, SlowlybIt is unrealistic to expect to achieve all this at once, but by clarifying where we should arrive, we can start the journey. That process has become somewhat easier because Fannie and Freddie are basically government housing banks

now, overwhelmingly owned and entirely controlled by the government.

Fair and transparent accounting demands that the GSEs not receive the political benefits of off-balance-sheet accounting. The Accurate Accounting of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Act (H.R. 4653), proposed by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), would require Fannie and Freddie to be part of the federal budget, a change recommended by the Congressional Budget Office. Honest, on-budget accounting would give Congress a strong incentive to junk the GSE model and restructure Fannie and Freddie on the principle of “one or the other, but not both.”

Congress should also take up a proposal from Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the GSE Bailout Elimination and Taxpayer Protection Act (H.R. 4889), which lays out a transition to a world with no GSEs. Hensarling’s bill would increase Fannie and Freddie’s capital requirements, reduce their role in the mortgage market, and establish a sunset on the GSE charters.

The ongoing, unlimited bailout of the GSEs will hit the taxpayers for much more than the $150 billion cost of the notorious savings and loan collapse of the 1980s. It is obviously difficult for Fannie and Freddie’s longtime political supporters to admit that the GSEs were a massive blunder. But that is now undeniable. The failure of Fannie and Freddie creates a perfect opportunity to restructure these hybrids, leaving no government-sponsored enterprise behind.

Alex J. Pollock is a resident fellow at AEI.

http://www.aei.org/article/102663

BofA Extends Freeze on Foreclosures to All 50 States, by Michael J. Moore, Lorraine Woellert and Dakin Campbell, Bloomberg.com


 

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Bank of America Corp., the biggest U.S. lender, extended a freeze on foreclosures to all 50 states as concern spread among federal and local officials that homes are being seized based on false data.

“We just want to clear the air,” Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan said today in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington.

Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. already froze foreclosures in 23 states where courts supervise home seizures amid allegations that employees used unverified or false data to speed the process. Bank of America’s new policy extends its moratorium to the entire nation, and the announcement spurred more demands from public officials and community groups for other banks to follow suit.

“All mortgage providers should follow the example of Bank of America and review their practices to ensure that they are not unfairly targeting homeowners in Nevada and across the nation,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said today in a statement.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. halted sales of foreclosed homes for a month to review documents in its mortgage servicing procedures, according to an Oct. 4 memo the Pittsburgh-based bank sent to lawyers handling the lender’s foreclosures.

Bank of America fell 13 cents, or 1 percent, to $13.18 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have lost 12 percent this year.

States Investigating

“We will stop foreclosure sales until our assessment has been satisfactorily completed,” the Charlotte, North Carolina- based company said today in a statement. “Our ongoing assessment shows the basis for foreclosure decisions is accurate.”

At least seven states are investigating claims that home lenders and loan servicers took shortcuts to speed foreclosures. Attorneys general in Ohio and Connecticut have said some of the practices used by banks to take away homes may amount to fraud. Acting Comptroller of the CurrencyJohn Walsh last week asked the nation’s seven biggest lenders to review foreclosures for defective documents, spokesman Bryan Hubbard said.

“Bank of America has done the right thing by stopping foreclosures in all 50 states,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said today in a statement. “Other banks that have questionable procedures should do the same while the investigation continues.”

President Barack Obama’s administration didn’t pressure the bank to enact the freeze, Moynihan said.

Record Foreclosures

Lenders took possession of a record 95,364 homes in August and issued foreclosure filings to 338,836 homeowners, or one of every 381 U.S. households, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based data vendor.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Vickee Adams said the lender is still processing foreclosures and referred to a statement the bank put out earlier this week, saying “our affidavit procedures and daily auditing demonstrate that our foreclosure affidavits are accurate.”

Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for New York-based JPMorgan, and Gina Proia, spokeswoman for Detroit-based Ally, declined to comment.

“Bank of America has made the right choice given the circumstances of this scandal,” said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition in San Francisco. “The primary concern for all of these banks should be to figure out where they are handling foreclosures illegally before they erroneously and unfairly take another family’s home.”

Lawmakers React

In Washington, dozens of lawmakers in Congress have called for a freeze on foreclosures and are seeking investigations. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ChairmanEdolphus Towns yesterday demanded a moratorium and asked New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate allegations of fraud. Towns, a New York Democrat, led hearings last year into Bank of America’s federal bailouts.

“The implications of ignoring the foreclosure problems are far too great to be ignored,” Towns said in a statement. “Bank of America did the right thing today and I expect to see every other responsible banking institution follow their lead.”

On Wednesday, two members of the House Financial Services Committee, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Dennis Moore of Kansas, asked the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program to investigate foreclosure practices.

‘Unwarranted Foreclosures’

“There is already enough evidence of unwarranted foreclosures and irregularities by lenders and servicers to warrant full investigations into the practices of these financial institutions,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter.

A coalition of community organizer groups and labor unions, including the National People’s Action and the Service Employees International Union, called for a national freeze on foreclosures.

“It is unconscionable that Wall Street banks continue to use a corrupt and fraudulent procedure to flood the housing market with illegal foreclosures that are throwing millions of American families out of their homes,” the groups said in a statement today. “It’s the latest example of a predatory industry.”

To contact the reporters on this story:
Michael J. Moore in New York at
mmoore55@bloomberg.net;
Lorraine Woellert in Washington at
lwoellert@bloomberg.net;
Dakin Campbell in San Francisco at
dcampbell27@bloomberg.net.To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alec D.B. McCabe in New York at
amccabe@bloomberg.net;
Rick Green in New York at
rgreen18@bloomberg.net.