Another backlog camp likes to point the finger at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled entities that actually guarantee the mortgages. The theory is that these two are demanding that borrowers fulfill overly strict conditions to get mortgages. Banks fear that if they don’t ensure compliance with these requirements, they’ll have to take mortgages back once they’ve sold them, a move that can saddle them with losses.
As a result, the banks have every incentive to slow things down to make sure mortgages are in full compliance, which can add to the backlog. Once this so-called put-back threat is decreased, or the banks get better at meeting requirements, supply should ease.
But there is a weakness to the backlog theories.
The banks have handled two huge waves of mortgage refinancing since the 2008 financial crisis. During those, the spread between mortgage and bond rates did increase. But not anywhere near as much as it has recently. And the spread has stayed wide for much longer this time around.
For instance, $1.84 trillion of mortgages were originated in 2009, a big year for refinancing, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication. In that year, the average spread between bonds and loans was 0.89 percentage points. And the banking sector was in a far worse state, which would in theory make the backlog problem worse.
Today, the sector is in better shape, with more mortgage lenders back on their feet. But the spread between loans and bonds is considerably wider. In the last 12 months, when mortgage origination has been close to 2009 levels, it has averaged 1.1 percentage points. This suggests that it’s more than just a backlog problem
Some mortgage banks seem to be having little trouble adapting to the higher demand. U.S. Bancorp originated $21.7 billion of mortgages in the second quarter of this year, 168 percent more than in the second quarter of last year.
Wells Fargo is currently the nation’s biggest mortgage lender, originating 31 percent of all mortgages in the 12 months through the end of June. In a conference call with analysts in July, the bank’s executives seemed unfazed about the challenge of meeting mounting customer demand.
“We’ve ramped up our team members in mortgage to be able to move the pipeline through as quickly as possible,” said Timothy J. Sloan, Wells Fargo’s chief financial officer. He also said that the bank had increased its full time employees in consumer real estate by 19 percent in the prior 12 months. Not exactly the picture of a bank struggling to expand capacity.
But if banks are readily adding capacity, why aren’t mortgage rates falling further, closing the spread between bond yields? Perhaps a new equilibrium has descended on the market that favors the banks’ bottom lines.
The drop in rates draws in many more borrowers. The banks add more origination capacity, but not quite enough to bring the spread between bonds and loans back to its recent average.
The banks don’t care because mortgage revenue is ballooning. But it all means that the 2.8 percent mortgage may never materialize.