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Obama Bluffs on ReFi?

Reposted from Bruce Krasting’s blog with his permission.

In his State of the Union speech, the President said:

Millions of innocent Americans have seen their home values decline. And while government can’t fix the problem on its own, responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief.

And that’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low rates.  No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that  it won’t add to the deficit and will give those banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.

I found this interesting, and can’t wait to see the legislation that the Prez is going to offer up.

I have written four articles on the topic of a Mega ReFi (here, here, here and here). The first one was back in August. At first I thought there might be something behind all this talk. Now, five months later, I think it’s all gas. We’re not going to see any big ReFi plan until after the next election. These are the issues as I see it:

The Administration has been trying to come up with programs that would aid underwater homeowners. This problem is, by far, the biggest domestic drag on the economy. So it makes sense that the Obama team is looking for ways to deal with it. There is one enormous impediment that they face in achieving this lofty objective. They don’t have the money to fill this very big bucket. If they tried to pass a bill that would raise the odd $200-300 billion needed, they’d fall flat on their face.

The Administration’s thinking has been that underwater borrowers should get the benefit of today’s lower interest rates, and it should not matter if the borrowers are underwater by 25% or more. The White House would like the unrealized losses to be rolled over at a low enough interest rate to let those borrowers dig their way out of the negative equity hole in five or ten years.

To achieve all this, the President’s men leaned hard on the one guy who had to sign off on the plan. The President had to ask the permission of Edward DeMarco, the Acting Director of FHFA. DeMarco is ultimately responsible for what happens with our dear friends, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

I have followed DeMarco’s words since he was appointed Acting Director. He repeats the same thing every time he has a chance to describe the goal of his job:

As FHFA has noted on numerous occasions, with taxpayers providing the capital supporting the Enterprises’ operations, this “preserve and conserve” mandate directs us to minimize losses on behalf of taxpayers.

In my opinion DeMarco has lived up to that. He has taken steps that have reduced the risks and the ultimate costs that the taxpayers face with Fannie and Freddie (F/F) . It’s for that same reason that he has not allowed F/F to be the agencies of the Administration’s economic plans.

These plans would force F/F to reduce interest rates on outstanding mortgages. As some of those mortgages are in inventory at F/F, the ReFi will result in additional losses. More importantly, the ReFi’s will require a waiver of many existing representations, and warranties of existing borrowers. In the end, there would have been a cost to all of this. The plan was for F/F to absorb the costs over time, and therefore kick the can down the road. (Why the President said there would be no cost)

DeMarco has nixed those plans. I’m amazed by this. DeMarco has been beaten up by the likes of Elijal Cummings (the new wanna-be Barney Frank of housing, ….only in America…) 



The President can send powerful forces wherever he likes.

He has very tough guys available to do the really hard jobs when needed.


But even the President can’t bend Ed DeMarco. The reason, I believe, is that Mr. DeMarco has “protection”.

A year ago,  the Administration tried to junk DeMarco. It wanted its own guy in charge of the old Agencies. It wanted Ed out of the way so that they could conduct economic policy (quietly) using F/F’s $6 trillion of power.


I thought the appointment was a shoo-in at the time. That was not the case. The appointment was squashed by one of the strongest hands in D.C.  – Senator Richard Shelby (R. Al) put his thumbs down. Without Shelby’s support in the Senate, no appointment was going through. So DeMarco kept his job, and the Administration’s plans got checked by powerful forces. The question is, “Is this check mate?”

The legislation that the President promised in his SOTU address can’t be a rehash of what was previously tried with Fannie and Freddie. That door is closed, at least until the next election. Therefore, I anticipate that the President will attempt to use the other big D.C. player in the mortgage business, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). This entity could, in theory, be used to achieve Obama’s objectives. It could guarantee the payment of the new mortgages that would be required. In the process, it would transfer risk (both credit and interest rate) from F/F to FHA. That would make DeMarco happy.

While this plan is a possibility, it will never happen. The FHA is already in financial jeopardy (link). It needs a capital injection into its reserve fund for the existing book of business ($1T).


FHA would need a very big slug of additional capital to handle the ReFis that the President wants. (There are approximately 10mm homeowners, all underwater who would be eligible.) There is no way in hell that the FHA could get that much money this year. To do so would require the blessings of Senator Shelby. He has already tipped his hand; he won’t back off in 2012.

I think we will see some legislation on this from the WH. It will get talked about on TV, but it’s dead on arrival. The President will claim that he tried, and he will blame Republicans for the failed effort. I wonder if the upcoming failed effort is not a “planned failure”. One that has been put “out there” purely for the political theater that will come with it.

President Clinton abused used F/F. He wanted the Agencies to be an engine of his social objectives. Bush also abused used F/F. He wanted F/F to be an economic engine while the country was at war. Obama also would like to use abuse F/F. He’s trying to trump what the last two Presidents did. He wants F/F to be the vehicle (and the loss generator) for a big ReFi plan, and he wants to use the Agencies to push his social agenda. I’m amazed that after all of the history with the Agencies that this Administration is repeating the sins mistakes of the past.

Bully for Ed DeMarco for standing up on behalf of the folks that will foot this bill, the poor taxpayers.


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