U.S. Home Prices at Least Affordable Level Since Q3 2008 (Home prices rising faster than wages in 64 percent of local markets)

Yesterday, I discussed how the median price YoY on existing home sales is almost 2 times average hourly earnings growth, a sign of the growing housing affordability problem in the US.


Of course, housing affordability varies across the country. According to Attom’s Home Affordability Study, the west coast (California, Oregon and Washington) is unaffordable for many households. Florida also is losing affordability compared to historical affordability.


Annual growth in median home prices outpaced average wage growth in 275 of the 432 counties analyzed in the report (64 percent), including Los Angeles County, California; Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona; San Diego County, California; Orange County, California; and Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Median home prices not affordable for average wage earners in 75 percent of local markets

An average wage earner would not qualify to buy a median-priced home in 326 of the 432 counties (75 percent) analyzed in the report based on a 3 percent down payment and a maximum front-end debt-to-income ratio of 28 percent.

Counties where an average wage earner could not afford to buy a median-priced home in Q2 2018 included Los Angeles County, California; Cook County (Chicago), Illinois; Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona; San Diego County, California; and Orange County, California.

Rather than try to increase the supply of housing (both owner-occupied and rental), the Federal government will push to ease credit standards (now called “widening the credit b box”). While not as “wide” as the housing bubble years of 2004-2007,  each indicator has been gradually easing to meet higher home prices.





Don’t Forget About the GSEs (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) And Their Government Guarantee

I am speaking today at an American Action Forum event in Washington DC at noon entitled “The Future Of Housing Finance Reform.” Also speaking will be affordable housing guru Laurie Goodman from The Urban Institute with Politico’s Lorraine Woellert moderating.

Meghan Milloy of the American Action Forum penned a nice editorial in advance of the event entitled “Don’t Forget About the GSEs.” Here is a taste:

“It’s been ten years since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs) went into government conservatorship following the height of the financial crisis. After that much time and a number of new policy challenges in the interim, it might be easy to forget about the GSEs and the financial risks they still pose. This would be a mistake. Fannie and Freddie remain actively dangerous systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs), and their policies have started to slip back to where they were before the crisis.”

The problem stems from the government guarantee, whether explicit or implicit. All the proposals flying around Washington DC all carry a government guarantee in one form or another. And with FHFA Director Mel Watt’s term ending in January, it is time to do something.

In short, I will be recommending returning Fannie and Freddie into the market in a privatized form (releasing them from conservatorship). But without a government guarantee or affordable housing goals. And with a twist.

Ed DeMarco, the previous FHFA Director, attempted to move Fannie and Freddie towards privatization (or shut down) by introducing credit risk sharing notes where mortgage default risk is transferred from Fannie and Freddie to private market investors. But that has been slow moving.

Here is my suggestion.

We adopt the Options Clearing Corp (OCC) model. The OCC clears all listed US equity and index options and is owned by the options exchanges. But the OCC is capitalized by the clearing members (banks and broker/dealers), who also post risk-based margin on behalf of their customers. Default risk is mutualized among the members. While a few large firms dominate the risk (e.g., BAML, Goldman, Morgan Stanley), these same large members are posting the largest amount of risk-based margin and default-fund capital. Mutualizing the risk of the GSEs is the key, just as is mutualizing the risk of the members of a central counterparty. I think the OCC model could work well for the GSEs and the lenders. No guarantee and no affordable housing goals.

Wasn’t that simple?


FHFA Proposed Rule On Enterprise Capital (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, 2.5% Of Total Assets); Is It Enough?

Mel Watt and the FHFA (the regulatory body, not a funk band) have issued a proposed rule on how much capital Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should have to protect taxpayers from losses.

“The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA or the Agency) is proposing a new regulatory capital framework for the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) (collectively, the Enterprises), which includes a new framework for risk-based capital requirements and two alternatives for an updated minimum leverage capital requirement.

The risk-based framework would provide a granular assessment of credit risk specific to different mortgage loan categories, as well as market risk, operational risk, and going concern buffer components. The proposed rule would maintain the statutory definitions of core capital and total capital.”

The proposed rule is 368 pages long and it is recommending a base 2.5% capital rule. That is a 40x leverage ratio!

§ 1240.50 Minimum leverage capital requirement: 2.5 percent alternative.
Each Enterprise shall maintain at all times core capital in an amount at least equal to 2.5 percent of total assets and off-balance sheet guarantees related to securitization activities, or such higher amount as the Director may require pursuant to part 1225 of this chapter.

§ 1240.51 Minimum leverage capital requirement: Bifurcated alternative.
Each Enterprise shall maintain at all times core capital in an amount at least equal to 4% of non-trust assets and 1.5% of trust assets, or such higher amount as the Director may require pursuant to part 1225 of this chapter.

Given that unemployment rates are near decade lows and home prices are above where they were at the peak of the housing bubble, now is a good time to have this discussion.


Is 2.5% capital big enough? [Of course, capital buffers are only part of the story].


Clearly, Mel Watt wants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to stay alive.