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John Campbell, Andreas Fuster, David Lucca, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, and James Vickery
Because mortgages make up the majority of household debt in most developed countries, mortgage design has important implications for macroeconomic policy and household welfare. As one example, most U.S. mortgages have fixed interest rates—if interest rates fall, existing borrowers need to refinance to lower their interest payments. In practice, households are often slow to refinance, or may not be able to do so. As a result, the transmission of U.S. monetary policy is dampened relative to countries like the United Kingdom where mortgage rates on most loans adjust automatically with short-term interest rates. In this post, we discuss some of the key takeaways from a recent conference where policymakers, academics, practitioners, and other experts convened to discuss mortgage design and consider possible mortgage market innovations.
Alejandro Justiniano, Giorgio Primiceri, and Andrea Tambalotti
There is no consensus among economists as to what drove the rise of U.S. house prices and household debt in the period leading up to the recent financial crisis. In this post, we argue that the fundamental factor behind that boom was an increase in the supply of mortgage credit, which was brought about by securitization and shadow banking, along with a surge in capital inflows from abroad. This argument is based on the interpretation of four macroeconomic developments between 2000 and 2006 provided by a general equilibrium model of housing and credit.
Since the onset of the housing crisis, a focus of policymakers has been to help underwater homeowners lower their monthly mortgage payments by refinancing, principally through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). This enables households to commit more money to consumption, debt reduction, and saving. Lower monthly payments also decrease the risk of mortgage defaults, allowing homeowners to stay in their homes and reducing expected losses for mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which remain under conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Stanching the flow of defaults also helps to firm up the housing market and, therefore, the economy as a whole. In this post, we examine some simple adjustments to HARP that would help to continue the program’s recent success and provide additional support to the housing market recovery—an undertaking that has added significance with the recent increase in mortgage rates, which could hamper refinancing activity moving forward.
Since the onset of the subprime crisis, many places across the United States have been affected by high levels of negative equity (meaning that borrowers owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth), an associated flood of foreclosures, and loss of local wealth. In mid-2012, a community advisory firm, Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) approached the government of San Bernardino County, California (a region with particularly high levels of negative equity) and pitched the idea of using eminent domain to seize privately securitized mortgage loans in order to restructure or refinance them. The MRP proposal was largely based on a plan by Cornell University law professor Robert Hockett. In late January, this controversial plan
was abandoned by San Bernardino County, yet it remains under consideration in other counties. While a lot of the debate surrounding the plan has centered
on value judgments and legal issues, in this post we look at available data in
order to get an idea of the landscape of loans that could have been affected by
such a program in San Bernardino County.
Improving the ability of homeowners to take advantage of prevailing low mortgage rates by refinancing has remained an active topic of discussion. In a speech in January, New York Fed President Bill Dudley advocated for efforts “to see refinancing made more broadly available on a streamlined basis and with moderate fees to all prime conforming borrowers who are current on their payments.” In an earlier post, we argued that such a refinancing program would not represent a zero sum game between borrowers and investors; rather, it would yield net macroeconomic benefits.
Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klaauw
Today’s release of the 2012Q2 Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit indicates a continuation of the downward trend in household debt, which followed a long period of substantial increases. As of June 30, 2012, total outstanding household debt was down nearly $1.3 trillion since its peak in the third quarter of 2008. In the Liberty Street Economics blog’s inaugural post, we used the FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel to decompose this change in household indebtedness. Leading up to the crisis, households increased their cash holdings available for consumption by extracting equity from their homes, using home equity lines of credit and cash-out refinances, and by increasing their nonmortgage balances, such as credit card and auto loan balances. When the Great Recession struck, consumers reversed this behavior and began reducing rather than increasing these obligations. We demonstrated that although some of the reduction in household debt was due to charge-offs (the removal of obligations from consumers’ credit reports because of defaults), much of the debt reduction seen at the overall level was attributable to deleveraging: households actively borrowing less and paying down existing liabilities. In this post and accompanying interactive charts, we update our analysis, using the newly available 2010 and 2011 FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel data to determine whether those trends have continued.
The recent financial crisis—the worst in eighty years—had its origins in the enormous increase and subsequent collapse in housing prices during the 2000s. While the housing bubble has been the subject of intense public debate and research, no single answer has emerged to explain why prices rose so fast and fell so precipitously. In this post, we present new findings from our recent New York Fed study that uses unique data to suggest that real estate “investors”—borrowers who use financial leverage in the form of mortgage credit to purchase multiple residential properties—played a previously unrecognized, but very important, role. These investors likely helped push prices up during 2004-06; but when prices turned down in early 2006, they defaulted in large numbers and thereby contributed importantly to the intensity of the housing cycle’s downward leg.
With unemployment very high, income loss is now the primary reason for mortgage default. Unemployed homeowners face tough choices. Those with equity in their house may attempt to sell it quickly. Alternatively, to keep their house while seeking a new job, they might deplete their savings, apply for a loan modification, or use other credit. Those with negative equity—who owe more on the mortgage than the property’s current value—have fewer choices, because selling the house won’t pay off the mortgage. All too often the home enters foreclosure and becomes costly for the family and the community. In this post, we examine how states may be able to offer special bridge loans to help jobless homeowners pay their mortgages and help protect neighborhoods and housing markets. Such initiatives could complement existing programs by helping many distressed homeowners before they miss any payments.
The fraction of mortgage borrowers who choose an adjustable-rate loan has fallen significantly over the past five years or so. Although the fraction edged up slightly in 2010, it remains close to historic lows, with less than 10 percent of mortgage originations since 2009 featuring an adjustable interest rate. What explains the striking decline? And what are its implications for borrowers and policymakers?
Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.
The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, and Donald Morgan, all economists in the Bank’s Research Group.
The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.
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