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Why are Mortgage Rates Up, While the Fed Rate was Reduced to ~0%?

img_2262By:  Alejandro E. Jordan, Esq.

The current COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis is having a critical impact on the Mortgage Industry, which could potentially make the 2008 financial crisis pale in comparison.

This short read will break down for you, in an easy to read format, exactly what the Mortgage Industry is up against and how servicers are being impacted by the current environment.  It will also cover how the Fed, who is trying to help, is only making things worse due to unintended consequences.

Perhaps most importantly, we will cover steps that the Fed should take to help minimize the damage done by this crisis.

Fed Reduces Rate

This past week, due to accelerated prepayments and the uncertainty of repayment, the value of servicing was slashed in half from 1% to 0.5%. This drastic decrease in value prompted margin calls for the many Servicers who financed their acquisition of servicing. Additionally, the decreased value of a Lender’s servicing portfolio reduces the Lender’s overall net worth. Since the amount a Lender can lend is based on a multiple of their net worth, the decrease in value of their servicing portfolio asset, along with the cash paid for margin calls, reduces their capacity to lend.

Unintended Consequences

The Fed’s desire to bring mortgage rates down isn’t just damaging servicing portfolios because of prepayments, it’s also wreaking chaos in Lenders’ ability to hedge their risk. Let’s look at what happens when a borrower locks in their mortgage rate with a Mortgage Lender. Mortgage rates are based on the trading of Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS). As Mortgage Backed Securities rise in price, interest rates improve and move lower. A locked rate on a mortgage is nothing more than a Lender promising to hold an interest rate, for a period of time, or until the transaction closes. The Lender is at risk for any MBS price changes in the marketplace between the time they agreed to grant the lock and the time that the loan closes.

If rates were to rise because MBS prices declined, the Lender would be obligated to buy down the borrower’s mortgage rate to the level they were promised. And since the Lender doesn’t want to be in a position of gambling, they hedge their locked loans by shorting Mortgage Backed Securities. Therefore, should MBS drop in price, causing rates to rise, the Lender’s cost to buy down the borrower’s rate is offset by the Lender’s gains of their short positions in MBS.

Now think about what happens when MBS prices rise or improve, causing mortgage rates to decline. On paper, the Lender should be able to close the mortgage loan at a better price than promised to the borrower, giving the Lender additional profits. However, the Lender’s losses on their short position negate any additional profits from the improvement in MBS pricing. This hedging system works well to deliver the borrower what was promised, while removing market risk from the Lender.

But in an effort to reduce mortgage rates, the Fed has been purchasing an incredible amount of Mortgage Backed Securities, causing their price to rise dramatically and swiftly. This, in turn, causes the Lenders’ hedged short positions of MBS to show huge losses. These losses appear to be offset, on paper, by the potential market gains on the loans that the lender hopes to close in the future. But the Broker Dealer will not wait on the possibility of future loans closing and demands an immediate margin call. The recent amount that these Lenders are paying in margin calls is staggering. They run in the tens of millions of dollars. All this on top of the aforementioned stresses that Lenders are having to endure. So, while the Fed believes they are stimulating lending, their actions are resulting in the exact opposite. The market for Government Loans, Jumbo Loans, and loans that don’t fit ideal parameters, have all but dried up. And many Lenders have no choice but to slow their intake of transactions by throttling mortgage rates higher and by reducing the term that they are willing to guarantee a rate lock.

Furthering the Fed’s unintended consequences was the announcement to cut interest rates on the Fed Funds Rate by 1% to virtually zero. Because the Fed’s communication failed to educate the general public that the Fed Funds Rate is very different than mortgage rates, it prompted borrowers in process to break their locks and try to jump ship to a lower rate. This dramatically increased hedging losses from loans that didn’t end up closing.

What Needs to Be Done Now

Fortunately, there are many smart people in the Mortgage Industry who are doing everything they can to navigate through these perilous times. But the Fed and our Government needs to stop making it more difficult. The Fed must temporarily slow MBS purchases to allow pipelines to clear. Lawmakers need to allow for first payment defaults, due to forbearance, to be saleable. And finally, the Fed must more clearly communicate that Mortgage Rates and the Fed Funds Rate are not the same.

We have faith that the effects of the Coronavirus will subside and that things will become more normalized in the upcoming months.

Source:  Mortgage Crisis and Fed Unintended Consequences, by Barry Habib and Dan Habib

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