With talk of taper at the top of the monetary policy discussion, it is worthwhile to dig a bit into the role of the Federal Reserve in the functioning of the MBS market. As is well known, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a resurgence of central bank purchases of Agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS).
Financial support for rural communities has been a feature of US economic policy since the Farm Credit System was established as the first GSE in 1916, sixteen years before the Federal Home Loan Banks were established in 1932. This support continues to this day and has expanded to encompass additional programs.
Ginnie Mae Program
While the best-known collateral for Ginnie Mae securities is loans underwritten through the FHA and VA programs, another form is loans underwritten by the US Department of Agriculture Rural Development (RD) Program, launched in 1990 as part of the Farm Bill passed that year. The Single-Family Direct Home Loan Program in particular is designed to provide payment assistance to low- and very-low-income households in rural communities. Of course, FHA and VA provide loans in rural areas under the terms of their programs as well.
GSE Rural Lending
Single-family lending at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was handed a mandate to provide liquidity to rural communities through the adoption of the Duty-to-Serve provision of the HERA Act enacted in 2008. This program requires the GSE’s to engage in activities to facilitate liquidity in three underserved markets:
A key feature of this regulation is that FHFA has provided new datasets and tools to enhance the analysis of these markets. In particular,
FHFA's Duty to Serve regulation defines "rural area" as: (1) a census tract outside of a metropolitan statistical area, as designated by the Office of Management and Budget; or (2) a census tract in a metropolitan statistical area, as designated by the Office of Management and Budget, that is outside of the metropolitan statistical area's Urbanized Areas as designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural-Urban Commuting Area Code #1, and outside of tracts with a housing density of over 64 housing units per square mile for USDA's RUCA Code #2. Below is a link to the specific geographies which meet the Rural Areas definition.
Using this segmentation, we are now in a position to load their definition into our databases and look at trends in this market segment. Using HMDA data as a base, we produce the following chart:
In a recent post we looked at the evolution of the FHA purchase mortgage market share broken down between areas with a high percentage of Low-Moderate Income (LMI) households and those without. While the overall FHA share has generally declined since the onset of the pandemic, its share has held up in areas with a preponderance of LMI households. There are many factors behind these trends, but a natural consideration is underwriting standards.
To examine this factor, we use the Recursion Matched Dataset, where we create a large sample of loans with characteristics from both HMDA and the Agency disclosure data. A very high share of mortgages can be matched using our proprietary algorithm over the years 2018-2020. The coverage ratio from the Matched Dataset is provided in a previous post.
We proceed by looking at three major underwriting characteristics for LMI and non-LMI areas for FHA and the GSE’s: Credit Score (CS), Loan-to-Value (LTV) and Debt-to-Income (DTI),
Most interesting is Credit Scores:
In a recent post, we looked at the declining FHA share of the purchase mortgage market relative to the GSE’s across a variety of price points. Another way to look at this question is by a geographic breakdown focusing on those census tracts with a Low-Moderate Income (no greater than 80% of area median income) population greater than 51% (we will call these LMI areas).
To address this issue, we utilize the HMDA dataset, and then apply the LMI information to compute shares of originated purchase loans delivered to FHA vs GSE. This is done on both a loan count and loan balance basis.
The recent unprecedented surge in home prices to a record 18% jump on a year-year basis as measured by the FHFA purchase-only index brings affordability front and center to the current housing policy debates. In May 2021, indexed home prices stood 15.5% above indexed aggregate earned income, a bit less than half of the peak house price overvaluation of 29.0% reached in December 2005, just before the onset of the Global Financial Crisis.
The topic of affordability is very broad, and will be the subject of much further commentary, but in this post we look briefly at this topic through the distribution of the purchase mortgage market across securitization agencies, notably FHA and the GSE’s.
Looking at the distribution between the GSEs and FHA is informative in this issue because the FHA program is aimed at low-income borrowers. According to 2020 HMDA data, the weighted average household income for FHA borrowers of purchase mortgages was $85K while for those in conforming mortgages the figure was $228K.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, the share of FHA purchase mortgages of the total delivered to agency pools as been in general decline, on both a loan count and outstanding balance basis:
With a base consisting of relatively lower-income borrowers, it makes sense that the borrowers in this program are struggling to qualify for loans in a skyrocketing market. To check this out, we calculate the change in the distribution of loans between FHA and the GSE programs by original loan sizes:
Intuitively, larger loans comprise a greater share of the distribution of purchase loans in both programs between January 2020 and July 2021.
Over this period, FHA lost a bit over 5% in market share to the GSE’s in this category. The change in share by loan size bucket and the contribution of each of these to the total loss in share is given below:
In fact, it turns out that about three quarters of the loss in FHA’s purchase market share comes from losses in loan sizes less than $250,000. Further analysis is needed to look at the fundamental and structural factors that are behind this result.
 In this case we view the total as FHA + GSE
As we accumulate more data at a fine local level, the opportunities to evaluate policies derived from insights into lender, borrower and supervisor behavior grow massively. Our recent post looking at the potential impact of FHFA’s new rate mod policy is our most recent example of the application of digital tools in the policy space, but as noted previously, the new policy framework is designed to focus on wealth creation and housing sustainability at the local level.
To look at this issue, we need to have data at hand that tells us which local areas have a preponderance of low-income borrowers on which we can overlay the HMDA data set, which reports census tract level indicators related to the policy issue at hand.
It turns out that the income data can be found in the American Community Survey (ACS). A key facet of this survey is information regarding the share of every census tract where low and moderate income (LMI) people comprise less than or equal to 51% of the total population. This data is available through the HUD Exchange.
With that, we now have a robust tool for analysis. An immediate challenge in this regard is to come up with specific queries out of the myriad of possibilities that demonstrate their power. Below finds a chart that provides a big-picture view of lender behavior in LMI neighborhoods broken down between banks and nonbanks. Specifically, we look at the trend in purchases from third-party originators of both FHA and conventional loans:
The new FHFA Acting Director Sandra Thompson has lost no time in implementing new policies designed to support homeownership with the aim of creating greater wealth equality. This is the basis of the New Housing Policy we described in a recent post. At first, this involved extending foreclosure moratoriums for distressed families until the end of the year. Then recently, the GSE regulator announced a change in its modification policy to broaden the eligibility for rate mods to any qualifying household that were previously only available to those with a mortgage greater than or equal to 80% of the current home valuation (Current LTV>=80). This program is designed to allow as many credit-worthy borrowers to stay in their homes as possible.
The LTV limit is significant because the surge in house prices we have witnessed over the past year has meant that a relatively small share of loans should have Current LTVs greater than or equal to 80. Our loan-level data set allows us to examine this question by looking at over 25 million GSE loans. Below finds a snapshot of the total combined June books of the GSEs broken down in this manner:
We received the first loan-level performance data for the GSE’s a few months ago, so it’s about time to see what tentative observations can be drawn from this new data set. As a popular theme for this blog is the bank/nonbank share this seems a good place to start. In general, we have noticed that nonbank DQ’s tend to be higher than those for banks, and that this distinction is correlated with the relatively more generous credit terms available in the nonbank sector. Below find a table that demonstrates this for 2018 and 2019 vintage mortgages:
This can be summarized: