The Housing Chronicles Blog: FHA incurring larger loan losses, may require bailout

Friday, September 4, 2009

FHA incurring larger loan losses, may require bailout

As previously warned about on this blog back in May ("The Next Housing Bust, Courtesy of the FHA"), with FHA loans now accounting for 23% of all loans -- up from 2.7% in 2006 -- the bill is coming due through increasing levels of defaults. But since FHA is such an important leg propping up the housing market, a future bailout or rising insurance premiums paid by borrowers may be in the offing. From a Wall Street Journal story:

The Federal Housing Administration, hit by increasing mortgage-related losses, is in danger of seeing its reserves fall below the level demanded by Congress, according to government officials, in a development that could raise concerns about whether the agency needs a taxpayer bailout.

The rising losses at the FHA, part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, come as the agency has rapidly increased its role in guaranteeing loans in an attempt to stabilize the housing market.

It isn't clear how the rising losses may affect home buyers. Options for the agency could include politically unpalatable choices, such as asking for taxpayer funds to boost reserves or increasing the premiums borrowers pay for the insurance offered by the agency...

In the past two years, the number of loans insured by the FHA has soared and its market share reached 23% in the second quarter, up from 2.7% in 2006, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. FHA-backed loans outstanding totaled $429 billion in fiscal 2008, a number projected to hit $627 billion this year.

Rising defaults have eaten through the FHA's cushion. Some 7.8% of FHA loans at the end of the second quarter were 90 days late or more, or in foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, a figure roughly equal to the national average for all loans. That is up from 5.4% a year ago...

Some economists say the FHA's lending has been crucial to preventing a deeper bust in property. Thomas Lawler, an independent housing economist, said "the alternative could have been a complete meltdown of housing finance" that would have ultimately led to much larger losses. Critics have said the FHA, which has never had a chief risk officer, isn't able to manage such a large portfolio in an unstable market.

Policymakers have used the FHA to stabilize the housing market by pushing it to offer credit with far easier terms than that offered by most private lenders. For example, it will back loans with down payments as low as 3.5%...

Last year, the agency ended a program that allowed sellers to fund down payments. While that program accounts for around 11% of the FHA's loan book, it has generated 22% all loans that are seriously delinquent or in foreclosure.

In 2005, the FHA loosened its maximum loan-to-value limit on cash-out refinancing to 95%, from 85%. The agency moved that limit back to 85% earlier this year.

While most private lenders have raised lending standards and now require minimum 20% down payments, the share of borrowers who are able to make down payments of less than 10% hasn't changed in the last two years...

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