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Despite Declines, Negative Equity Picture Looks Grim

The company released Tuesday its Negative Equity Report for the first quarter, revealing an estimated 9.7 million homeowners continue to owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. While the continuing downward trend in underwater rates is a welcome sign of improvement in the housing sector, the company notes that the "effective" negative equity rate remains elevated at more than one in three.

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Despite Declines, Originator Rankings Little Changed in Q1

The decline in mortgage production in the year's opening months failed to produce any names to the list of top lenders for the quarter, but it did shake up the rankings a bit. Staying firmly in the No. 1 spot for the quarter was Wells Fargo, which held on to 14.3 percent of the market with $36 billion in origination volumes, down from $50 billion in Q4 2013. On the servicing side, Wells Fargo again beat out all others, boasting a portfolio estimated at $1.81 trillion.

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Housing Shows Life After Meek March

In its Real-Time Price Tracker report for April, national brokerage Redfin reported a 12.4 percent monthly pickup in home sales across its 30 surveyed markets, restoring some faith in sales after an unexpected dive in March. However, compared to April 2013, last month's sales fell 7.6 percent short, with nine markets posting double-digit annual declines.

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Experts Split on Housing Affordability Concerns

In a survey of 106 experts in housing and investments, Zillow found a slight majority—28 percent—pinned the most blame for declining affordability on stagnant income growth across the country, even as the rest of the economy has moved in a generally positive direction. At the same time, the number of respondents pointing to "abnormally high rates of home price and rent appreciation" as the main problem was only slightly smaller at 27 percent.

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Housing Starts Rise on Multifamily Spike

According to the Commerce Department and HUD, privately owned housing starts last month were at an estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.07 million, representing a 13.2 percent jump from March’s barely revised pace of 947,000. Unfortunately for the supply-constrained single-family market, most of that spike came in apartment buildings.

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Fannie/Freddie Phase-Out Bill Moves Forward

The Johnson-Crapo housing finance reform bill, which would phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in favor of a more limited federal insurer, has passed through the Senate Banking Committee. While the bill always had enough support in the committee to make it to the Senate floor, whether or not it goes any further is the real question.

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Disappointing Sales Knock Down Builder Confidence

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released Thursday its Housing Market Index (HMI) for May, reporting another slip in builder confidence as single-family home sales continue to disappoint. The index, a gauge of homebuilder sentiment toward the single-family housing market, dropped to 45 from a downwardly revised reading of 46 in April. A score below 50 indicates a market viewed by more builders as “poor” rather than “good.”

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Settlement Monitor: Most Banks Meeting Compliance Reqs

According to examination results released Wednesday by the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight, five of the six banks met or exceeded expectations across 29 different compliance metrics in the third and fourth quarters of 2013. Not faring as well was Green Tree, a wholly owned subsidiary of Walter Investment Management Corp., which has part of ResCap's servicing portfolio.

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Household Debt Rises, but New Mortgages Drag

The New York Fed recorded an increase of $129 billion in national outstanding household debt in the first three months of the year, bringing the total debt level up to $11.65 trillion. Leading the increase was a rise in mortgage debt, which was up by $116 billion from the end of 2013, according to the bank. However, with originations dropping to $332 billion—the lowest level since the housing recovery started—there was little to celebrate on that front.

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FHFA Director Lays Out Strategic Vision

After staying quiet for months following his swearing-in as head of the agency, Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mel Watt took the stage at the Brookings Institution this week to outline his own plans for the GSEs. Like FHFA's original Strategic Plan for Enterprise Conservatorships, the newly unveiled plan is built on three blocks: maintain, reduce, and build. However, Watt's revised plan suggests a shift in focus toward broadening credit access.

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