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Fed: How Fannie and Freddie Are Hurting the Housing Market

United States Federal Reserve
Tetra Images | Getty Images
United States Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve has put out a white paper on the housing market.

There’s a lot in there to digest so I’ll be picking out points and writing up posts as I go through it.

One point that shows up early on in the Fed’s analysis is that lenders are hesitating to make home loans even when they face no credit risk because the loans are eligible for guarantees from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Why aren’t banks making these “safe” loans? The Fed cites three reasons: 1) mortgage servicing costs in the post-robo signing era, 2) uncertainty over the capital treatment mortgages will get under Basel III, and 3) the put-back lawsuits filed by the GSE.

Lenders’ reaction to the possibility of forced repurchases highlights the tradeoff between the GSEs pursuing a policy of reducing their near-term losses and risk exposure versus adopting policies to support the broader housing market. Aggressively putting back delinquent loans to lenders helps the GSEs maximize their profits on old business and thus limits their draws on the U.S. Treasury, but at the same time, it discourages lenders from originating new mortgages. Meanwhile, for loans that are ineligible for GSE purchase, only high-credit-score borrowers generally have access to financing, and lenders often keep these loans in portfolio, leading them to be selective about the volume of such loans they originate.

To put it slightly differently, what the Fed is arguing is that making banks follow the rules for mortgage lending results in far less lending.

We want banks to be more diligent about reviewing loan delinquency filings. We want them not to foist losses off on the taxpayer through the GSE’s. We want stricter capital requirements.

As it turns out, we cannot get these things without paying for them in the form of far less mortgage lending.

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