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eTN Executive Talk: Fannie Mae VP speaks the truth

Written by editor

Formerly called the Federal National Mortgage Association or FNMA, Fannie Mae was established in 1938. Its initial goal was to stimulate the housing industry following the Great Depression.

Formerly called the Federal National Mortgage Association or FNMA, Fannie Mae was established in 1938. Its initial goal was to stimulate the housing industry following the Great Depression. It also created the first secondary market for residential mortgage loans. In 1968, Fannie Mae became a private, stockholder-owner, government-regulated corporation whose shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Fannie Mae kept low-cost capital flowing to mortgagees across the nation and does not lend directly to homebuyers; it instead do business with lenders to ensure they don’t run out of mortgage funds. Fannie Mae provides large builders and real estate companies master commitments in the amounts of $25 million and more for funds for up to 12 months in advance.

As the market has seen recently, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac experienced trouble. In the last weeks, the government decided to put Fannie Mae in conservatorship to provide the association liquidity at a time of unprecedented stress. More importantly, the government addressed its issues on capital, treasury and Fannie’s regulator, Federal Housing Finance Agency which agreed to set up a preferred stock purchase agreement to fund up to $100 billion of each above-mentioned entity, according to Kenneth Bacon, executive vice president of Housing and Community Development for Fannie Mae.

“As we have experienced a lot of losses, an investor with debt in a mortgage-backed securities, would feel confident about capital available and the staying power of our agency. The second step they took was create a new secured lending facility not only for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but also for the Federal Home Loan Bank System, because the government was concerned that if the agency goes out to issue debt, and the debt markets overflows, we cannot access funding anymore,” said Bacon, explaining that due to these events, Fannie Mae now has sources of capital, assured liquidity, and the promise from the government to buy up their mortgage-backed securities, from time to time, if the agency would price them right in the marketplace.

Since the government put up the funds, it has now decided to have managerial control over Fannie Mae. To the investor, this means the agency is very much in business, said Bacon. “We would like to see our portfolio grow this year. More importantly, how the market has reacted, tightening its spread on our debt is the key. We were able to save $7 billion of debt with the issuance, over-subscribed to $9 billion — the biggest offerings we’ve ever done. Initial indications say this is working,” said Fannie Mae’s VP.

According to the mortgage bankers association, the delinquency rates with single-family homes stand at 64 percent of all loans outstanding at the end of June 2008, up 129 points up from last year. Loans on foreclosures this year reached 2.75 percent, double of last year’s rate. Fannie Mae’s single-family foreclosure rate was lower at 1.36 percent at the end of the second quarter, but rates are still double the rate of last year. “Clearly, the market is in trouble. We initially expected to see prices decline 7 to 9 percent, but after some follow-up, we see the upper-ended range climb to 15 to 19 percent. If it did, it is still critical that credit might freeze up. More needs to be done with liquidity and that Fannie’s underwriting is done right. We also see that the era of ‘no-money down or little money down on mortgages’ is over. Also putting layers of risks on single-family loans, when they had a second loan, or adjustable rate mortgage or interest only, and so many things consumers did not understand, are a thing of the past,” said Bacon.

He added they will spend more time on weeding out fraud.

It is equally important to shed light likewise on the rental market, a huge market which had a multifamily debt outstanding at $850 billion at the end of 2007. Its dominant player was the commercial mortgage backed securities (CMBS) with $36 billion in multi-family mortgages financed. Fannie Mae expects the amount to be less than $2 billion this year.

“This market has fallen off the face of the earth because with delinquency rates on multifamily loans of CMBS about 120 basis points; the delinquency on Fannie Mae’s portfolio $170 billion business is only 11 basis points. While overall volume is up, since Fannie and Freddie have dominated this market, our volume is up. This year, we did $22 billion on multifamily financing on the first half of the year. Other players like Wachovia, Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo or PNC, delivered $18 billion of that $20 billion – they considered it to be a good business model; they have recourse on the loan and shared the risk with us. Since there were enough commercial mortgage market blow-ups, people adjusted the system to avoid that from happening,” said Bacon addressing the fact that since many had been burnt by the commercial mortgage problem in the past, they were prepared for this event. Whereas the single-family market, people relaxed their underwriting because people have no memory of 1990 when similar events took place. The reason why delinquency rates have been so low is because the average loan-to-value was 67 percent on new originations; debt service coverage ratios are north of 120. “And the way we underwrite at Fannie Mae, we don’t look at rent but past collections. We’ve very conservative as our programs started from the ashes of the 1980s, keeping the portfolio running,” he said.

Assessing the current market, Bacon thinks multifamily market vacancy’s below 7 percent. “We feel good about the market, thinking that the US population is still increasing birth rates and immigration. Fannie Mae sees a demographic profile moving into rental status more and more in the next two years. We will also see a lot of older people sell their homes and accept to move in independent-living facility which has less maintenance and less wear and tear issues for them as they get older,” he added.

What concerns Fannie Mae the most are the “questionable” job growth at times like these, more “acts of God” such as hurricanes, recession, and the rates of transaction (the great divide between buyers and sellers due to capitalization rates which had been extremely low between 6-7 percent which were unsustainable). “We’re beginning to see the reverse into the mean, that is cap rates edging lower than debt rates, making a huge difference between buyer’s and seller’s perspectives of values sometimes reaching 15 percent difference in price due to the gap. There’s lot of equity capital out there, for all the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) booming countries, that investors would rather go for overseas equity better than what the US can offer. That is why investors think twice,” he said.

It is sort of surreal to see high delinquency in people’s houses. “But when you look at offices and apartments, it is not as bad. In essence, multi-family homes are performing well but we expect to see a smaller market where people look at a common ground for cap rates. With the credit crunch, we would see cap rates outside of New York running up to 6 to 6.5 percent at the end of the year,” said Bacon.

There is a real reason to be concerned about the state of the American credit market. “But I believe, if you dissect the market, all the statements/generalizations are not quite true. We have single family markets that are bad, but some segments are doing alright in some parts of the country. Long-term fundamentals in terms of population growth are in place. There are lot of positives out there including the government deciding to act on our issues in a forceful and clear way. Hence, I believe there will be strong liquidity to come in the housing mortgages through Fannie Mae,” he said.

In closing, the Fannie Mae VP said, “I hope this ignites the attitude that we saw after 9/11, because at the end of the day, markets move by people’s emotions. If people are gloomy and negative, markets are never going to get better. Hopefully, people rekindle their optimism in the true characteristic of the American market and lead people to step back in and start doing transactions.”