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KBRA: Don’t Remove Government Backing from Mortgages

DSN-freddiefannie-620x330Nearly every stakeholder on both sides of the political aisle agrees that the government’s eight-years-long-and-counting conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should end. They just can’t agree on how it should end.

Various theories exist as to the best way to end the conservatorship. Many papers have been published on the topic, and several legislative actions have been proposed in the last few years, though none have gained any significant headway.

One school of thought says that privatizing the GSEs would be the best answer, suggested by Treasury Secretary Nominee Steve Mnuchin; another says that the best solution is to liquidate them, as suggested by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). Some have called for the GSEs to be recapitalized and released from conservatorship.

Kroll Bond Ratings Agency (KBRA) in a new paper titled “Housing Reform 2017: Can the GSEs Be Privatized?” [1] contends that government backing of securities issued by the GSEs is essential for the existence of a forward “to be announced” market which reduces lenders’ interest rate risk and consumers’ costs.

“The privatization of the GSEs implies, in the short term at least, a significant decrease in the financing available to the U.S. housing market,” KBRA Senior Managing Director Christopher Whalen wrote. “In the absence of a TBA market, no coupon would be high enough to support the entire range of demand for mortgage finance, only pockets of higher quality loans as with the jumbo mortgage market today.”

The mortgage market in the U.S. is worth approximately $10 trillion, about half of which is held by large commercial banks. Non-banks account for the rest, but they would be marginalized without a TBA market to hedge interest rate risk, according to KBRA.

“While privatization may seem desirable in terms of protecting taxpayers, the functional reality is that the GSEs today perform functions that the private markets are unwilling to provide, at least at current levels of mortgage interest rates and equity returns,” Whalen said. “[T]he GSEs take market and credit risk that private investors have so far been unwilling to bear. With respect to the credit risk, today there is no significant market for taking first loss risk on single family mortgages other than prime loans held in portfolio on the balance sheets of depository institutions.”

KBRA contends that if the GSEs are privatized, non-banks would be unable to fund the production of residential mortgage loans unless the U.S. adopted the mortgage model used in Denmark, which featurs 100 percent variable rate notes.

Unless the U.S. moved to the Danish model with 100% variable rate notes, no nonbank could fund the production of home mortgages efficiently and commercial banks are unlikely to pick up the slack for the reasons discussed above. If non-banks are removed from the mortgage loan equation, commercial banks would be unlikely to move in and take their market share, according to KBRA.

Click here [1] to view the complete paper from KBRA.