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from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 2-2

Homeownership rate falls to 2000 level (CR) At 67.2% it's still way overstated. Home "ownership" is a misnomer in cases when the owner has withdrawn mortgage equity or when the price of the home has fallen below the principal value of the mortgage. A better measure of homeownership, I think, is just to look at total owner's equity as a % of household real estate. The most recent Fed Flow of Funds report (page 104, line 50) puts the figure at just 37.6%...

U.S. could extend bank fee beyond 10 years, Geithner says (Di Leo/Crittenden, WSJ) The proposed tax on non-deposit liabilities should be permanent, and should target ALL liabilities, including repos. Deposits are guaranteed via FDIC. While that insurance is dramatically underpriced (witness the cash-strapped state of the DIF) at least banks pay something for it. Non-deposit liabilities are also effectively guaranteed, for the biggest banks anyway, via the promise that none which is too big will be allowed to fail. To counter moral hazard, this implicit guarantee must be taxed in order to offset any benefit derived from lower funding costs.

Must-Read: What's a college degree really worth? (Pilon, WSJ) A lot less than you think, as argued here before. This piece is well-written with lots of good data!

AIG derivatives staff said to forgo $20 million in retention bonuses (Katz/Son, Bloomberg) They're still well-paid, but this is better than nothing I suppose.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Lunchtime Links 1-19

MUST READ -- Souring mortgages, weak market put FHA on tightrope (Timiraos, WSJ) Good article, though Timiraos doesn't address the absurd circularity perpetuated by FHA Chief David Stevens when Stevens says, on the one hand, that more gov't lending protects the housing market from further declines, while simultaneously arguing that such lending isn't sustainable. That said, Timiraos has worked lots of interesting stuff into this piece, especially towards the end. For instance, in late '07 investors were refinancing at-risk borrowers into FHA loans in order to shift risk to taxpayers. Barney Frank defends permanently raising FHA maximum loans for certain geographies to $729k. Also lots of data about how badly FHA loans are performing.

Citi's Q4 earnings: Not terrible but not great (Wilchins, Reuters) Trading revenues in the investment bank were much weaker compared to last quarter. Citi also benefited from a tax break, without which they wouldn't have met consensus estimates for the quarter. Here's a helpful chart.

Government weighed down by bad mortgages

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The Federal Housing Administration – the U.S. agency that actually enjoys full faith and credit of the government – is in quite a pickle. Reuters reporting that its capital reserves stand at a scant 0.53 percent, below the 2 percent regulatory minimum and without spitting distance of the “help me” threshold.

The deterioration has been fast and furious. Last year the ratio stood at 3% and the year before than 6.4%, according to The Wall Street Journal.

from Rolfe Winkler:

FHA bailout watch

From Bloomberg, ht AK:

The Federal Housing Administration, which insures mortgages with low down payments, may require a U.S. bailout because of $54 billion more in losses than it can withstand, a former Fannie Mae executive said.

“It appears destined for a taxpayer bailout in the next 24 to 36 months,” consultant Edward Pinto said in testimony prepared for a House committee hearing in Washington today. Pinto was the chief credit officer from 1987 to 1989 for Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance company that is now government-run.

The other GSE problem

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It’s hard to keep all the U.S. housing agencies straight. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still basket cases relying on government support, while the Federal Housing Administration and its partner, Ginnie Mae, are setting off alarm bells with their more aggressive efforts to support overstretched homeowners.

But the Federal Home Loan Banks, a government-sponsored
enterprise (GSE) that is the lesser-known cousin to Fannie and Freddie, is one to watch — particularly as small regional banks grapple with deteriorating loan portfolios and fewer financing alternatives.

from Rolfe Winkler:

WSJ: Loan losses spark concern over FHA

A must-read in tomorrow's WSJ talks about the solvency crisis facing FHA:

The Federal Housing Administration, hit by increasing mortgage-related losses, is in danger of seeing its reserves fall below the level demanded by Congress, according to government officials, in a development that could raise concerns about whether the agency needs a taxpayer bailout.

The required reserve level is a paltry 2%. Readers may recall that was the capital level Fannie and Freddie were operating with just before they were taken into conservatorship:

The subprime to prime mortgage handoff

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Data released by the Mortgage Bankers Association confirms the trend that prime borrowers are the ones to worry about.

While the percentage of mortgages entering the foreclosure process in the 2Q held relatively steady at 1.36%, the change in composition is noteworthy.

from Rolfe Winkler:

WSJ: The Next Fannie

A must-read opinion from yesterday's WSJ about the expansion of federal backing for home mortgages:

Only last week, Ginnie [Mae] announced that it issued a monthly record of $43 billion in mortgage-backed securities in June. Ginnie Mae President Joseph Murin sounded almost giddy as he cheered this “phenomenal growth.” Ginnie Mae’s mortgage exposure is expected to top $1 trillion by the end of next year—or far more than double the dollar amount of 2007....

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