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On June 11, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) issued its 2018 Report to Congress, which, in part, provides information regarding FHFA's oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs) and describes FHFA actions as conservator the GSEs.
Most notably, in his letter to Congress introducing the report, FHFA Director Mark Calabria urged Congress to act on housing finance reform, noting that the conservatorship over the GSEs was “established as a short-term measure to address instability” during the financial crisis and now is of “unprecedented duration and scope.” Calabria encouraged Congress to work with the FHFA and the Administration to enact housing finance reform to ensure the GSEs are “well-capitalized, well-regulated, and well-managed to withstand any future downturn in the economy.” Additionally, Calabria requested that Congress provide FHFA with chartering authority similar to that of the OCC to increase competition in the secondary mortgage market. (As previously covered by InfoBytes here and here, Calabria and the Administration have encouraged housing finance reform that would end the GSE conservatorships and increase private sector participation in the mortgage market.) Lastly, Calabria argued for strengthening FHFA’s powers, similar to that of other federal financial safety and soundness regulators, including by granting the agency the authority to oversee third parties that do business with the GSEs, such as nonbank mortgage servicers.
On June 3, the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) officially launched the Uniform Mortgage-Backed Security (UMBS), a common security through which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage-backed securities will be issued. FHFA Deputy Director Robert Fishman noted that the new UMBS will bring “additional liquidity and efficiency to the market.” Moreover, “[b]y addressing structural issues and trading disparities, the UMBS will benefit taxpayers and the nation's housing finance system.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in March 2018, FHFA announced the UMBS, stating that it would replace all current offerings of mortgage-backed securities that occur in the to-be-announced (TBA) forward market. The FHFA also indicated that the UMBS would be issued using the Common Securitization Platform (CSP) through the Enterprises’ joint venture, Common Securitization Solutions (CSS).
On April 15, Mark Calabria was sworn in as the new Director of the FHFA and stressed the importance of mortgage finance reform in his first remarks in the role. Calabria warned that the current mortgage finance system remains “vulnerable,” noting that “[a]fter years of strong house price growth, too many remain locked out of housing, while others are dangerously leveraged. We must not let this opportunity for reform pass.” Calabria also acknowledged the March memo released by the White House, outlining the Administration’s plan for federal housing finance reform (covered by InfoBytes here) which, among other things, directs the Secretary of the Treasury to develop a plan to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Calabria stated that he looks forward to working with the Administration on such reforms.
On March 15, five federal agencies—the FDIC, FHFA, Federal Reserve Board, OCC, and Farm Credit Administration (collectively, the “Agencies”)—adopted an interim final rule amending the agencies’ regulations that require swap dealers and security-based swap dealers under the Agencies’ respective jurisdictions to exchange margin with their counterparties for swaps that are not centrally cleared (Swap Margins Rule). The interim final rule seeks to address the situation where the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union without a negotiated agreement and entities located in the U.K. transfer existing swap portfolios that face counterparties located in the E.U. over to affiliates located in the U.S. or the E.U. Specifically, the interim final rule provides that certain swaps under this situation will not lose their “legacy” status—will not trigger the application of the Swap Margin Rule—if carried out in accordance with the conditions of the rule. The interim final rule is effective immediately and the Agencies are accepting comments for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On February 28, the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) issued a final rule that requires government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) to harmonize programs, policies, and practices affecting the cash flows of To-Be-Announced (TBA)-eligible mortgage-backed securities (MBS). The final rule—which codifies requirements that take effect May 6—takes into account commenter feedback by, among other things, making explicit the consequences of misalignment and directing the GSEs to lower the maximum mortgage note rate eligible for MBS inclusion. The final rule applies to both the GSEs’ current offerings of TBA MBS, as well as to the new uniform MBS, which the GSEs will start issuing June 3 (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
On February 20, FHFA published a final rule setting capital requirements for Federal Home Loan Banks (FHL Banks). The final rule carries over without material change most of the existing Federal Housing Finance Board regulations, but substantively revises certain portions of the regulations. Specifically, the final rule, among other things, (i) removes the requirement that FHL Banks calculate credit risk capital charges and unsecured credit limits based on ratings issued by a Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization (NRSRO), and instead requires FHL Banks to use their own internal rating methodology; (ii) revises the percentages used in the tables to calculate the credit risk capital charges for advances and non-mortgage assets; and (iii) revises the table numbers to align with the Federal Register’s new formatting standards. The rule is effective on January 1, 2020.
On February 1, Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Mike Crapo (R-ID) released an outline for a sweeping legislative overhaul of the U.S. housing finance system. Most notably, the plan would end the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) conservatorships, making the GSEs private guarantors while also allowing other nonbank private guarantors to enter the market. Highlights of the proposal include:
- Guarantors. The GSEs would be private companies, competing against other nonbanks for mortgages, subject to a percentage cap. The multifamily arms of the GSEs would be sold and operated as independent guarantors. Consistent with current GSE policy, the eligible mortgages would, among other things, be subject to loan limits set by FHFA and would be required to have an LTV of no more than 80 percent unless the borrower obtains private mortgage insurance.
- Regulation of Guarantors. FHFA, structured as a bi-partisan board of directors, would charter, regulate, and supervise all private guarantors, including the former GSEs. FHFA would be required to create prudential standards that include (i) leverage requirements; (ii) if appropriate, risk-based capital requirements; (iii) liquidity requirements; (iv) overall risk management requirements; (v) resolution plan requirements; (vi) concentration limits; and (vii) stress tests. Guarantors would be allowed to fail.
- Ginnie Mae. Ginnie Mae would operate the mortgage securitization platform and a mortgage insurance fund. Additionally, Ginnie Mae would provide a catastrophic government guarantee to cover tail-end risk, backed by the full-faith and credit of the U.S.
- Transition. In addition to a cap on the percent of all outstanding eligible mortgages, the legislation would require guarantors to be fully capitalized within an unspecified number of years after enactment.
- Affordable housing. Current housing goals and duty-to-serve requirements would be eliminated and replaced with a “Market Access Fund,” which is intended to address the homeownership and rental needs of underserved and low-income communities.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, on January 29, Chairman Crapo released the Senate Banking Committee’s agenda, which also prioritizes housing finance reform.
On January 25, top Democratic Congressional leaders, Maxine Waters and Sherrod Brown, wrote to acting Director of the FHFA, Joseph Otting, requesting that he clarify and expand on his reported remarks concerning the administration’s plan to move Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, “GSEs”) out of conservatorship. Specifically, Otting reportedly told FHFA employees that he would soon announce a plan to move the GSEs out from under government control and that he was given a “clear mission” outlined by Treasury and the White House of “what they want to accomplish” with the agency. Waters and Brown expressed concern about Otting’s ability to lead the agency independently based on these comments, as well as a recent filing of the agency with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stating that the agency would no longer defend the constitutionality of the FHFA’s structure. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Waters and Brown also requested that Otting submit by February 1 a copy of the “mission that Treasury and the White House have outlined.” In response, Otting stated that he appreciated the Democratic leaders’ interest in housing finance, outlined the statutory duties of the FHFA, and welcomed input as they “begin the journey of evaluating the Enterprises and developing a framework for ending conservatorship.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June 2018, the White House announced a government reorganization plan titled, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.” The plan covers a wide-range of government reorganization proposals, including a proposal to end the conservatorship of the GSEs and fully privatize the companies.
On January 14, acting Director of the FHFA, Joseph Otting, filed a supplemental brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stating the agency will no longer defend the constitutionality of the FHFA’s structure in the upcoming en banc rehearing. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in July 2018, the 5th Circuit concluded that the FHFA’s single-director structure violates Article II of the Constitution because the director is too insulated from removal by the president. In August, while the agency was still under the leadership of Mel Watt, it petitioned the court for an en banc rehearing, challenging the constitutionality holding. Now, according to the supplemental brief, the FHFA states it “will not defend the constitutionality of [the Housing Economic Recovery Act’s] for-cause removal provision and agrees with the analysis in [the relevant portion] of Treasury’s Supplemental Brief that the provision infringes on the President’s control of executive authority.” The en banc rehearing, which will address the constitutionality issue as well as the plaintiff’s other statutory claims in the case, is scheduled for January 23.
On January 16, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, in consultation with the FHFA, issued additional temporary guidance on selling policies that may be impacted during the government shutdown.
Freddie Mac Bulletin 2019-3 provides revisions to temporary guidance previously announced in Bulletin 2019-1 (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), and notifies sellers of temporary changes to certain Guide requirements to further assist impacted borrowers. Due to the length of the shutdown, Freddie Mac has added a minimum reserves requirement in order to offset the risk associated with a borrower’s interruption of income. Sellers must document the greater of two months reserves or the minimum reserves as required by the Loan Product Advisory and the Guide, for impacted mortgages with application received dates of January 16, 2019 or after. In addition, Freddie Mac will allow flexibility in circumstances where a seller is unable to meet the 10-day pre-closing verification of income and employment requirements for impacted mortgages regardless of the application received date. Freddie Mac also directs sellers of government funded, guaranteed, or insured mortgages sold to Freddie Mac to review government agency requirements.
Fannie Mae Lender Letter LL-2019-2 also provides additional temporary guidance on selling policies that may be impacted during the continued shutdown, and builds upon guidance issued last December. (See LL-2018-06 covered by InfoBytes here.) The additional guidance imposes a minimum liquid financial reserves requirement to offset risk and is applicable to loans with application dates on or after January 16, 2019. The new reserves requirement does not apply to high LTV refinances. Finally, Fannie Mae will provide additional flexibility with regard to verbal verification of employment and paystub age requirements.
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