Friday, April 2, 2010

Taking Off the Training Wheels

Pedaling Toward Independence from Government

If the mortgage industry were a kid on a bicycle, it just got its training wheels taken off. Although the Federal Government is our dad that is still holding on to the back of the bike, running along as the kid pedals down the sidewalk.

Turn the clock back a few years, and the mortgage industry was riding a unicycle... while juggling chainsaws... blind-folded... and drunk. Well, there was a terrible accident. Now the mortgage industry has to learn to ride again.

The training wheels came in the form of increased government intervention. The Federal Reserve purchased the bulk of mortgage backed securities for a full year. This pushed interest rates lower and help more people afford new mortgage payments. That program ended on March 31. Without the Fed buying up all of those mortgages, rates rose a bit. They are up from the all time lows, but they are still very attractive.

In addition, the home-buyer tax credit is going away. To be eligible, buyers must have an executed purchase contract by April 30, and close by June 30. This was a way for the government to stimulate the housing market. It was successful in encouraging people to buy homes. Going forward people will buy homes if they need them, not for a tax credit, and it is important that the market show it can survive without the extra government support.

But the mortgage industry still has a lot of government support. Dad is still holding on to the back of the bike, running by its side. The only mortgages that are being securitized and sold in the secondary market have some sort of government backing. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, and VA compose almost all of the market. Private label mortgage -backed securities haven't been issued for over two years. However, there are reports that they may be making a come-back. These private-label mortgage-backed securities would be primarily for jumbo loans. Jumbo loans today are primarily being held in banks' loan portfolios.

Re-emergence of securitation of non-government backed mortgages would be another big step for the mortgage industry to ride the bike again, without dad holding on. The true test will be seen with the reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That may be a long and painful process. The industry isn't there yet, but at least the training wheels are off.

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