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Senate Banking Leaders Unveil Proposal for Housing Finance Reform

The leaders of the Senate Banking Committee announced Tuesday plans to move forward on a new proposal to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in favor of a new government backstop for private financiers. According to committee chairman Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the newly unveiled reform proposal is the result of months of exploratory hearings and negotiations.

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Credit Availability Up in February

The Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) Mortgage Credit Availability Index, a measure of borrower eligibility and underwriting criteria from more than 85 lenders, moved up half a percentage point to 113.5 last month, building on an increase of two points recorded in January. Once again, the expansion in credit offerings in February was the result of offsetting factors, said MBA chief economist Mike Fratantoni.

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Analysts Revise Forecasts on Weak MBS Issuance

Citing weak Q1 MBS issuance data, researchers for investment bank FBR Capital Markets anticipate a weak first quarter, with issuances likely totaling near $200 billion. While noting that issuances are not the same as origination figures, FBR nevertheless dialed back its first-quarter origination projections to $244 billion, bringing its full-year forecast to $1.2 trillion from $1.3 trillion previously.

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Private Mortgage Insurers Launch New Trade Group

Six of the nation’s leading active mortgage insurance (MI) companies announced Monday the formation of a new trade association: U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI). Founded by member companies Arch MI, Essent, Genworth MI, MGIC, National MI, and Radian Guaranty, the new organization replaces Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA), which wound up operations earlier this year.

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Consumer Attitudes Improve on Housing, Weaken on Economy

After starting the year on a low note, consumer attitudes toward housing brightened overall in February, according to Fannie Mae. That renewed confidence in home prices spurred a boost in those saying now is a good time to buy a home; that number was up 3 percentage points to 68 percent. At the same time, though, the share of respondents saying they think it would be easy for them to get a mortgage right now retreated from January's all-time high.

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2013 Originations Down 14%; Wells Fargo Stays on Top

While mortgage origination volumes looked different last year compared to 2012, the list of top lenders looked very much the same. In full-year originations, Wells Fargo held on to its top spot, generating approximately $351 billion in loans—about 19 percent of last year’s total volume, according to Mortgage Daily. JPMorgan Chase followed up at No. 2 at $168 billion.

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Former RMBS Trader Found Guilty in TARP Fraud Case

The Special Inspector General's office for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) announced the fraud conviction of a former managing director at New York-based Jefferies & Co. According to Special Inspector Christy Romero, Jesse C. Litvak misrepresented asking prices on residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS), pocketing the profits. "Trading in mortgage securities can be a complicated business, but what the defendant did was simple—he lied to, defrauded, and illegally overcharged customers out of pure greed to benefit Jefferies and himself," Romero said.

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Treasury Official Chimes in on Housing Finance Reform

Amid calls from the Obama administration for a more stable housing market—particularly where affordable housing is concerned—Michael Stegman, counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury for Housing Finance Policy, Thursday called for top-down reforms that would rewire how the federal government funds and regulates both government and private-label securities. He also criticized a pair of "implausible scenarios" that would either leave the GSE system to amend itself or rely on minor revisions.

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