Skip to comments.Bernanke's Speech Lays Groundwork for Nationalization of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac
Posted on 03/04/2008 2:52:07 PM PST by hripka
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in a speech this morning in Orlando, FL on "Reducing Preventable Mortgage Foreclosures," reportedly urged lenders to forgive portions of mortgages held by homeowners at risk of defaulting, according to mainstream media reports. That's one way to look at it, but it actually misses the entire point of his speech.
In the speech Bernanke outlines the grim path ahead for individuals besieged by declining home values and rising mortgage payment resets. This year about 1.5 million loans, representing more than 40 percent of the outstanding stock of subprime Adjustable Rate Mortgages, are scheduled to reset. According to the Federal Reserve, the estimated payment adjustments upon reset will result in an average monthly payment of $1,500, a 10% increase. The fear, a very real fear, is a cascade of defaults that puts additional downward pressure on home prices and forces continued risk aversion on the part of mortgage lenders.
"This situation calls for a vigorous response," Bernanke said. "With low or negative equity, as I have mentioned, a stressed borrower has less ability (because there is no home equity to tap) and less financial incentive to try to remain in the home."
Consequently, according to Bernanke, principal reductions that restore some equity for the homeowner may be a relatively more effective means of avoiding delinquency and foreclosure. In other words, adjust the mortgage principal downward to reflect the declining home value.
Wait a minute, wouldn't that put yet more pressure on home prices in areas where a significant number of homeowners seek and receive principal writedowns? It sure would. Moreover, as Bernanke notes, "Lenders tell us that they are reluctant to write down principal. They say that if they were to write down the principal and house prices were to fall further, they could feel pressured to write down principal again." And of course, on the off chance home prices rise the lender would not share in the gains.
So what is this speech about? Is it really about urging principal writedowns that even Bernanke himself admits probably won't work, or is something else going on? We're going to go out on a limb and say, "something else." The real conclusion is reached at the very end of Bernanke's speech:
"The government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), likewise could do a great deal to address the current problems in housing and the mortgage market," Bernanke said. "New capital-raising by the GSEs, together with congressional action to strengthen the supervision of these companies, would allow Fannie and Freddie to expand significantly the number of new mortgages that they securitize."
That almost sounds like it would be a good thing. In at least one sense, it would be a good thing, but only by default. Bernanke concludes; "With few alternative mortgage channels available today, such action would be highly beneficial to the economy." That's certainly true, but only in a grimly ironic sense. It's government-enabled expansion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that led to a situation where there are "few alternative mortgage channels available today" in the first place.
So Bernanke's ultimate conclusion is this: "I urge the Congress and the GSEs to take the steps necessary to allow more potential homebuyers access to mortgage credit at reasonable terms. " It takes either a massive degree of denial or a broad imagination to accept that sentence at face value. What Bernanke is really urging is the full-scale nationalization of the GSE's.
We can continue to pretend that these companies are going to be just fine, but the reality is it is impossible to fit together the pieces - raising massive amounts of new capital in the face of a yet-to-peak-wave of mortgage resets and housing price declines while simultaneously expanding their mortgage securitizations - without taking what Bernanke calls "congressional action to strengthen the supervision of these companies" to mean,essentially, nationalization of the housing market.
Fannie and Freddie stocks are down about 6% so far today. Perhaps the reality is now setting in that nationalization doesn't benefit shareholders.
Housing gambler bailout ping
Let’s invent words and put them in Bernanke’s mouth.
From Bernake today:
“Lenders tell us that they are reluctant to write down principal. They say that if they were to write down the principal and house prices were to fall further, they could feel pressured to write down principal again. Moreover, were house prices instead to rise subsequently, the lender would not share in the gains. In an environment of falling house prices, however, whether a reduction in the interest rate is preferable to a principal writedown is not immediately clear. Both types of modification involve a concession of payments, are susceptible to additional pressures to write down again, and result in the same payments to the lender if the mortgage pays to maturity. The fact that most mortgages terminate before maturity either by prepayment or default may favor an interest rate reduction. However, as I have noted, when the mortgage is “under water,” a reduction in principal may increase the expected payoff by reducing the risk of default and foreclosure.”
I’m going to borrow to the hilt, blow the cash, spend my money, ignore moral hazard and come into the 21st C.
Why oh why oh why did I think being frugal and careful and honest was a good policy!!!
I just shake my head as I recall the flaming hoops I had to jump through to get a CP loan from Countrywide in 1998.
BS, let them sue their real estate brokers and appraisers if they were lied to. Otherwise suck it up.
It’s only a matter of time before most people are paying rent to the government. You can’t truly own real property: if you don’t pay the taxes on it, it can be foreclosed upon. It is never truly yours.
Sure prices are higher than they were four years ago and before.
The problem is all of the mortgages signed at higher prices.
Oh wait ... it kinda sorta already is nationalized.
But then so are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Why are so-called sophisticated investors so easily conned?
These were the same idiots who believed that the deregulation of the energy business was a true deregulation rather than just a scam for letting middlemen gouge the consumer.
Great, why not just declare homeownership a constitutionally protected right and give everyone a house? After all, what he's suggesting here is legislatively protecting stupidity and risk-taking.
“In my view, we could also reduce preventable foreclosures if investors acting in their own self interests were to permit servicers to write down the mortgage liabilities of borrowers by accepting a short payoff in appropriate circumstances. For example, servicers could accept a principal writedown by an amount at least sufficient to allow the borrower to refinance into a new loan from another source. A writedown that is sufficient to make borrowers eligible for a new loan would remove the downside risk to investors of additional writedowns or a re-default. This arrangement might include a feature that allows the original investors to share in any future appreciation, as recently suggested, for example, by the Office of Thrift Supervision.”
(Mish: My Comment: This idea is beyond stupid. Please see Postpone But Don’t Forget for more details.)
Somebody better figure something out. It ridiculously difficult to get a short sale thru, subsequently there will be lots of foreclosed properties applying even more pressure to drive prices down. Plus, the lenders for purchases are getting to be as tight as a bull’s a$$ in fly time.
Did I mention that the crisis is contained? Good.
The illusion of private property creates the reality of property taxes.
Maybe the writer is a little younger; there's not even a hint of "nationalization" in the air. Maybe if unemployment hits 30% it might talked about.
Hope I'm right.
this place is starting to get freaky.
Couldn't you also say, "If you pay taxes on it, it is never truly yours." ?
Where is a Sovereign Wealth Fund when you need it?