Biden’s team explores ways to oust Fannie-Freddie regulator, Mark Calabria (replace with Wharton’s Susan Wachter?)

President-elect Joe Biden’s team has held preliminary talks on how it could oust Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s regulator (Mark Calabria), a move that would let the new administration fill a post that’s crucial to the mortgage market and its goal of boosting affordable housing.

One candidate the transition team is considering as a potential Calabria replacement is Susan Wachter, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said the people who asked not to be named in discussing private conversations.

Well, there are only so many options to increase affordable housing that are in the realm of reason: 1) increase loan-to-value ratios on purchase (insured mortgages) and 2) lower the credit score required. Fannie and Freddie already have a sizeable affordable housing mission. so short of shutting down Fannie and Freddie, and expanding the FHA (aka, SUPER HUD), Fannie and Freddie may be cajoled into expanding their affordable housing mission.

After the housing market crash (and ensuring financial crisis), lenders and government insurance companies reduced the mortgage originations by low credit score borrowers. Yet home prices started to grow again despite the lack of originations by low credit score borrowers. In fact, the FHFA purchase only home price index YoY is almost back to the housing bubble peak of 2005.

Something is missing from the above chart. Jay Brinkmann (former Chief Economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association) and Alex Pollock (R Street) disagree about what is missing from the chart. I think that the omitted variable is The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet (purchase of Treasuries and Agency Mortgage-backed Securities).

Home price growth corresponds to changes in The Fed’s balance sheet, particularly in surges in the balance sheet (QE3, Covid).

It’s also an historic imbalance of housing supply and demand, exacerbated by low interest rates helped by The Federal Reserve’s policies.

Granted, the demand is driven by historically low interest rates, but it’s also driven by demographics, as a large number of Millennials are reaching prime home buying age. (Thanks to Rick Sharga!)

Wharton’s Susan Wachter is likely the replacement for Cato’s Mark Calabria to be the US housing finance Mandarin.

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