Today, The New York Times ran a story headlined Concerns Are Growing About FHA’s Stability. Hmmm…that’s interesting. Especially since a major chunk of the loans funding the fledgling housing recovery is coming from FHA.
Caution: This is a long post. BUT, if you stick with it, it’s not just food for thought. There are some practical tips, so power on!
Back when sub-prime collapsed, we were hanging out with a lot of the top dogs in the mortgage business and the mantra was “FHA is the new sub-prime!” Wow. Be careful what you wish for.
So the mortgage industry re-tooled. It took some time, but eventually the industry got good at FHA and went out and sold it silly. Only 3% down! Cheap rates! Go! Go! Go! And there’s NOTHING wrong with that. It’s their job. Just like it was when the private sector made cheap and easy money available. Wonder if the evil mortgage brokers will get blamed if FHA goes down? But we digress….
What? Me Worry?
The NY Times article says that FHA Commissioner David H. Stevens “assured” lawmakers that FHA would NOT need a bailout and was “taking steps” to manage its risks.
Two things. First, let’s take a trip down memory lane. For old times’ sake, we cracked open The Real Estate Archives and found a Wall Street Journal article dated 6/7/08 in which they reported that Freddie Mac’s then CEO Richard Syron said Freddie’s financial results for 2008 will be better than last year’s. This was part of a conference call to investors where he assured stockholders, “We are quite confident that the positive changes will offset the negative.” What fire?
A month later, a 7/8/08 CNBC.com article quoted James Lockhart, the Director of OFHEO (not a cookie – Office of Fair Housing Enterprise Oversight – you know, the folks that watch your Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). CNBC interviewed Lockhart and he said, “Both of these companies [Fannie and Freddie] are adequately capitalized.”
Just in case you didn’t believe Mr. Lockhart, MarketWatch reported on 7/10/08 (2 days later for those keeping track) that then Treasury Secretary Mr. Henry Paulson “moved swiftly…to defend Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from critics who have called them insolvent” while testilying to the House Finance Committee.
Sorry, we know this is a blog post, not an encyclopedia, but there’s so much good stuff here.
On 7/22/09 (yes, that would be 12 days later), the Associated Press ran a headline “Congressional Analysts Peg Cost of Propping Up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as high as $25 Billion”. That’s a lot of money, but as we’ll soon find out, if it was ONLY $25 billion, it would be cause to party (not that we need much of an excuse). 😉
In an interesting aside, the same AP article said Republican Senator Jim Bunning (KY) criticized Republican administration official Henry Paulson (yep, the same Henry Paulson) for “trying to ‘ram down’ his proposal to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Bunning said ‘smacks of socialism'”. We tossed this side note in just in case you thought the Obama Administration were the only ones being called Socialists.
Anyway, back to Fannie and Freddie….
On July 27, 2009 (we were in Belize that day…it was fun), CNN Money reported “Efforts to use the troubled mortgage finance firms to fix housing market problems are likely to push the taxpayer bill for Fannie & Freddie above $100 billion.” That’s slightly more than the originally projected $25 billion, in case you were getting dizzy.
The same CNN Money article went on to say that Fannie has actually received $34.2 billion and Freddie $51.7 billion. Also, considerably more than $25 billion, but who’s counting?
Okay, so that was a long trip down memory lane. But the points are:
a) when the head guys say “don’t worry”, worry – or at least take a peak behind the curtain;
b) the politicians will pay almost ANY price to save housing. Why? Because voters live in houses. This pressure, like it or not, helps protect real estate values;
c) history provides perspectives you don’t get if you only live in the current headlines. That’s why The Real Estate Guys keep archives.
That concludes “thing #1”. Wait! Don’t quit yet. Thing #2 will be much shorter!
Thing #2: When the head FHA guys says, “We’re taking steps to manage risks”, it could mean tighter money: things like stiffer guidelines, lower limits – you know, the things that slow down a recovery.
For example, the FHA’s very popular Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) – the only insured reverse mortgage – has been widely reported as getting a “haircut”. That means lower loan limits. We’ll talk more about that on another day, but it makes you wonder what else FHA might do to “manage” its risks. We’ll be watching….
So, what’s the takeway from today’s post?
Track what happens with FHA. Like an over extended teenage shopper, who runs up one credit card and then moves onto the next, our policymakers have run up the tab on Fannie, Freddie, and now possibly FHA. When all the cards are maxed, they call Mom and Dad. In this metaphor, that’s you – the American taxpayer. But you don’t have any money either, so they’ll get it by taking out new credit cards (in your name) from the Chinese or whoever has money, and then pledge the fruits of your future labors (and those of children and grandchildren) to make the payments.
We’re not saying Uncle Sam and his minions shouldn’t help housing, nor are we saying they should. But it’s safe to say they will. And when they do, HOW they do it will affect the values of YOUR properties, the interest rates and availability of YOUR loans, the jobs and salaries available to YOUR tenants, the size of YOUR taxes, and the value of YOUR dollar.
In all of this change, are many problems and many opportunities. But don’t worry! Work. Study. Learn. Watch. And when you see the opportunity, take action while others hesitate.
And keep listening to The Real Estate Guys – we’ll help keep you thinking!