Late-2000s Financial Crisis - Background - Subprime Lending

Subprime Lending

During a period of intense competition between mortgage lenders for revenue and market share, and when the supply of creditworthy borrowers was limited, mortgage lenders relaxed underwriting standards and originated riskier mortgages to less creditworthy borrowers. In the view of some analysts, the relatively conservative Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) policed mortgage originators and maintained relatively high underwriting standards prior to 2003. However, as market power shifted from securitizers to originators and as intense competition from private securitizers undermined GSE power, mortgage standards declined and risky loans proliferated. The worst loans were originated in 2004–2007, the years of the most intense competition between securitizers and the lowest market share for the GSEs.

As well as easy credit conditions, there is evidence that competitive pressures contributed to an increase in the amount of subprime lending during the years preceding the crisis. Major U.S. investment banks and government sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae played an important role in the expansion of lending, with GSEs eventually relaxing their standards to try to catch up with the private banks. A contrarian view is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac led the way to relaxed underwriting standards, starting in 1995, by advocating the use of easy-to-qualify automated underwriting and appraisal systems, by designing the no-downpayment products issued by lenders, by the promotion of thousands of small mortgage brokers, and by their close relationship to subprime loan aggregators such as Countrywide.

Depending on how “subprime” mortgages are defined, they remained below 10% of all mortgage originations until 2004, when they spiked to nearly 20% and remained there through the 2005–2006 peak of the United States housing bubble.

Some scholars, like American Enterprise Institute fellow Peter J. Wallison, believe that the roots of the crisis can be traced directly to affordable housing policies initiated by HUD in the 1990s and to massive risky loan purchases by government sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Based upon information in the SEC's December 2011 securities fraud case against 6 ex-executives of Fannie and Freddie, Peter Wallison and Edward Pinto have estimated that, in 2008, Fannie and Freddie held 13 million substandard loans totaling over $2 trillion.

The majority report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (written by the 6 Democratic appointees without Republican participation), studies by Federal Reserve economists, and the work of several independent scholars dispute Wallison's assertions. They note that GSE loans performed better than loans securitized by private investment banks, and performed better than some loans originated by institutions that held loans in their own portfolios. Paul Krugman has even claimed that the GSE never purchased subprime loans – a claim that is widely disputed.

On September 30, 1999, The New York Times reported that the Clinton Administration pushed for more lending to low and moderate income borrowers, while the mortgage industry sought guarantees for sub-prime loans:

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits. In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers... In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s.

In 2001, the independent research company, Graham Fisher & Company, stated that HUD’s 1995 “National Homeownership Strategy: Partners in the American Dream,” a 100-page affordable housing advocacy document, promoted “the relaxation of credit standards.”

In the early and mid-2000s (decade), the Bush administration called numerous times for investigation into the safety and soundness of the GSEs and their swelling portfolio of subprime mortgages. On September 10, 2003, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing at the urging of the administration to assess safety and soundness issues and to review a recent report by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) that had uncovered accounting discrepancies within the two entities. The hearings never resulted in new legislation or formal investigation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as many of the committee members refused to accept the report and instead rebuked OFHEO for their attempt at regulation. Some believe this was an early warning to the systemic risk that the growing market in subprime mortgages posed to the U.S. financial system that went unheeded.

A 2000 United States Department of the Treasury study of lending trends for 305 cities from 1993 to 1998 showed that $467 billion of mortgage lending was made by Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)-covered lenders into low and mid level income (LMI) borrowers and neighborhoods, representing 10% of all U.S. mortgage lending during the period. The majority of these were prime loans. Sub-prime loans made by CRA-covered institutions constituted a 3% market share of LMI loans in 1998, but in the run-up to the crisis, fully 25% of all sub-prime lending occurred at CRA-covered institutions and another 25% of sub-prime loans had some connection with CRA. In addition, an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2009, however, concluded that the CRA was not responsible for the mortgage loan crisis, pointing out that CRA rules have been in place since 1995 whereas the poor lending emerged only a decade later. Furthermore, most sub-prime loans were not made to the LMI borrowers targeted by the CRA, especially in the years 2005–2006 leading up to the crisis. Nor did it find any evidence that lending under the CRA rules increased delinquency rates or that the CRA indirectly influenced independent mortgage lenders to ramp up sub-prime lending.

To other analysts the delay between CRA rule changes (in 1995) and the explosion of subprime lending is not surprising, and does not exonerate the CRA. They contend that there were two, connected causes to the crisis: the relaxation of underwriting standards in 1995 and the ultra-low interest rates initiated by the Federal Reserve after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Both causes had to be in place before the crisis could take place. Critics also point out that publicly announced CRA loan commitments were massive, totaling $4.5 trillion in the years between 1994 and 2007. They also argue that the Federal Reserve’s classification of CRA loans as “prime” is based on the faulty and self-serving assumption: that high-interest-rate loans (3 percentage points over average) equal “subprime” loans.

Economist Paul Krugman argued in January 2010 that the simultaneous growth of the residential and commercial real estate pricing bubbles and the global nature of the crisis undermines the case made by those who argue that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, CRA, or predatory lending were primary causes of the crisis. In other words, bubbles in both markets developed even though only the residential market was affected by these potential causes. In his Dissent to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Peter J. Wallison wrote: "It is not true that every bubble—even a large bubble—has the potential to cause a financial crisis when it deflates." Wallison notes that other developed countries had "large bubbles during the 1997–2007 period" but "the losses associated with mortgage delinquencies and defaults when these bubbles deflated were far lower than the losses suffered in the United States when the 1997–2007 deflated." According to Wallison, the reason the U.S. residential housing bubble (as opposed to other types of bubbles) led to financial crisis was that it was supported by a huge number of substandard loans – generally with low or no downpayments.

Others have pointed out that there were not enough of these loans made to cause a crisis of this magnitude. In an article in Portfolio Magazine, Michael Lewis spoke with one trader who noted that "There weren’t enough Americans with credit taking out to satisfy investors' appetite for the end product." Essentially, investment banks and hedge funds used financial innovation to enable large wagers to be made, far beyond the actual value of the underlying mortgage loans, using derivatives called credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations and synthetic CDOs.

As of March 2011 the FDIC has had to pay out $9 billion to cover losses on bad loans at 165 failed financial institutions. The Congressional Budget Office estimated, in June 2011, that the bailout to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exceeds $300 billion (calculated by adding the fair value deficits of the entities to the direct bailout funds at the time).

Read more about this topic:  Late-2000s Financial Crisis, Background

Other articles related to "subprime, lending, subprime lending":

Government Policies And The Subprime Mortgage Crisis - Government "affordable Homeownership" Policies - Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) - HUD Mandates For Affordable Housing
... This resulted in the agencies purchasing subprime securities ... Until relatively recently, "subprime" was praised by at least some members of the U.S ... Edward Gramlich, a former Governor of the Federal Reserve Board, distinguished predatory lending from subprime lending "In understanding the problem, it is particularly important to distinguish predatory ...
Subprime Crisis Background Information - Subprime Lending
... Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has defined subprime borrowers and lending "The term subprime refers to the credit characteristics of individual borrowers ... Subprime borrowers typically have weakened credit histories that include payment delinquencies, and possibly more severe problems such as charge-offs, judgments, and bankruptcies ... Subprime loans are loans to borrowers displaying one or more of these characteristics at the time of origination or purchase ...
Subprime Mortgage Crisis - Causes - Role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
... The GSEs participated in the expansion of subprime and other risky mortgages, but they followed rather than led Wall Street and other lenders into subprime lending ... Critics claim that HUD encouraged Fannie and Freddie to loosen lending standards, and that the two GSEs had a major role in creating the subprime mortgage crisis ... For example, some analysts estimate that Fannie's market share of subprime mortgage-backed securities issued dropped from a peak of 44% in 2003 to 22% in 2005, before rising to 33% in 2007 ...

Famous quotes containing the word lending:

    And lending it one mental fillip the more, the fact that all these people were inwardly attacked by well-nigh resistless decay, and that most of them were feverish.
    Thomas Mann (1875–1955)