Tags: Samuelson | Fed | mortgage | credit

WaPo's Samuelson: Unintended Fallout of Federal Policies Create a Housing Bottleneck

By    |   Tuesday, 20 August 2013 07:44 AM

Low interest rates have not created a stronger housing recovery because the government's carrot-and-stick approach to U.S. banks has squelched their ability to boost mortgage lending, according to Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.

"[Federal Reserve] Chairman Ben Bernanke often complains of overly tight mortgage credit standards. But some of the toughness turns out to be the unintended side effects of other government policies designed to punish banks for the financial crisis," Samuelson wrote in his column.

Housing's uptick has been muted because pent-up demand is being squelched, he maintained. As proof, he cited estimates that construction of new units remains less than 1 million on an annual basis, while Moody's Analytics concluded the underlying demand is 1.7 million units.

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Foreclosures have slowed down, housing affordability is high and lenders appear not to bear much risk because government entities (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mack, Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Affairs Department) are offering guarantees against default.

But appearances are deceiving, Samuelson said.

Originating lenders, such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, can still be forced to absorb default costs. Banks have repurchased or negotiated settlements on $95 billion in Fannie and Freddie mortgages since the 2008 financial crisis.

The result is that banks have adopted a common strategy, according to Samuelson — they lend only to financially impeccable borrowers who are unlikely to default.

Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, said, "Every time a lender is publicly sued or flogged makes it less likely they'll loosen their standards."

Cecala estimated about half the U.S. population would have trouble qualifying for a mortgage under present high credit score requirements.

The national average of all-cash real estate sales is currently about 30 percent — three times the average amount of a normal market — which is an indicator of tight credit, Samuelson said.

U.S housing starts and permits rose slightly less than economists had predicted in July, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 896,000 units. Reuters reported the figures could mean that higher mortgage rates could be crimping the housing market's recent momentum.

Last month, groundbreaking for single-family homes, the largest segment of the market, declined 2.2 percent to a 591,000-unit pace, the lowest level since last November, Reuters reported. However, starts for multi-family homes jumped 26 percent to a 305,000-unit rate, reversing the prior month's decline.

Mortgage rates have jumped in anticipation that the Fed will taper its monthly bond purchases as early as September, Reuters said.

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Low interest rates have not created a stronger housing recovery because the government's carrot-and-stick approach to U.S. banks has squelched their ability to boost mortgage lending, according to Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.
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Tuesday, 20 August 2013 07:44 AM
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