The economic news in March got off on a strong note with the release of payroll employment data showing a hike of 916,000, a seven-month high. This coincided with the first anniversary of the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The Cares Act forbearance program was launched at the end of March 2020 and was originally designed to last for one year. More recently, the program was extended for six months, but borrowers need to recertify their status as economically impacted by Covid every three months from the 1-year anniversary data.
So naturally the end of March was a time in which many borrowers had to recertify. This was a natural time for households to reassess their financial positions, setting the stage for the possibility that they could begin repaying their mortgage obligations. In fact, they did, and we saw a sizable drop in the number of loans in Covid-related forbearance in April, particularly for Ginnie Mae programs:
The economic fundamental driving this decline is the improvement in the labor market, and a distinct correlation can be seen between declining forbearances and unemployment:
A bit more analysis is in order here. The forbearance data come from loans in agency pools, so there is always the possibility that the number of loans in forbearance decreases because some of those loans were bought out of pools by servicers. To check this, we looked at the disposition of loans in forbearance at the beginning of March that remained in pools at the beginning of April but were not in forbearance. For FHA programs the number was 111,153 loans compared to the one-month decline in the number of loans in forbearance of 125,202. For VA the similar statistic is 27,247 compared with a 26,810 decline in the number of loans in forbearance. It seems clear that improving labor market fundamentals are the primary driver of the decline in the number of loans in forbearance in these programs.
To test the idea that the 12-month renewal period played an important role in this process, below we look at the loan age of those mortgages that left forbearance but stayed in pools in April. For FHA programs, the number with loan age of one month was 79,212 or 71% of the total, while for VA it was 17,863 or 66%. The next important date will be June before the program is scheduled to end at the end of September.
As can be seen from the above table, the vast majority of the number of loans that were recorded as in forbearance in March but not in April did not exit due to buyouts. The data do not precisely add up because other outcomes are possible, including FHA – conventional refis or sales of homes, for which we have no tracking mechanism. But the close match between cures and the declines in forbearance across programs is evidence that the main impetus is improving fundamentals.
 In this blog, we only analyze Covid-related forbearance