El gobierno presiona a Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac a entrar en el mercado sub-prime

Las empresas de patrocinio gubernamental (GSEs), es decir, Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac iniciaron a finales de los 90 un cambio en sus políticas de suscripción de deuda al entrar en el mercado de hipotecas sub-prime. Ya en 1999, un artículo del New York times alertaba sobre las posibles consecuencias de esta decisión por parte de entidades que tenían una garantía gubernamental. El artículo es particularmente perceptivo al indicar que esta decisión implica una variación importante del perfil de riesgo de Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac, la cual podría requerir un rescate gubernamental en caso de que se presentase una contracción económica:

[quote]”Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990’s by reducing down payment requirements,” said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae’s chairman and chief executive officer. ”Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called subprime market.”
Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the subprime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.

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 1980’s.

From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,” said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ”If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.” [1][/quote]

A pesar de esta advertencia, la entrada de Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac al mercado de sub-prime no fue controlada. Por el contrario, fue estimulada por presión del congreso, lo cual contribuyó al crecimiento desmedido del mercado sub-prime. [1]

Las GSEs prometieron al congreso continuar facilitando la provisión de créditos para deudores sub-prime, con lo cual consiguieron el apoyo de muchos miembros del congreso, en particular demócratas, para mantener sus privilegios como empresas semi-gubernamentales. En un reciente artículo del Wall Street Journal que lleva como título “Blame Fannie Mae and Congress For the Credit Mess”, Charles Calomiris y Peter Wallison comentan que esta situación llevó al crecimiento desmedido en la compra de hipotecas sub-prime:

“In order to curry congressional support after their accounting scandals in 2003 and 2004, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac committed to increased financing of “affordable housing.” They became the largest buyers of subprime and Alt-A mortgages between 2004 and 2007, with total GSE exposure eventually exceeding $1 trillion. In doing so, they stimulated the growth of the subpar mortgage market and substantially magnified the costs of its collapse.
It is important to understand that, as GSEs, Fannie and Freddie were viewed in the capital markets as government-backed buyers (a belief that has now been reduced to fact). Thus they were able to borrow as much as they wanted for the purpose of buying mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Their buying patterns and interests were followed closely in the markets. If Fannie and Freddie wanted subprime or Alt-A loans, the mortgage markets would produce them (…)

If they were not making mortgages cheaper and were creating risks for the taxpayers and the economy, what value were they providing? The answer was their affordable-housing mission. So it was that, beginning in 2004, their portfolios of subprime and Alt-A loans and securities began to grow. Subprime and Alt-A originations in the U.S. rose from less than 8% of all mortgages in 2003 to over 20% in 2006. During this period the quality of subprime loans also declined, going from fixed rate, long-term amortizing loans to loans with low down payments and low (but adjustable) initial rates, indicating that originators were scraping the bottom of the barrel to find product for buyers like the GSEs.

The strategy of presenting themselves to Congress as the champions of affordable housing appears to have worked. Fannie and Freddie retained the support of many in Congress, particularly Democrats, and they were allowed to continue unrestrained. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass), for example, now the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, openly described the “arrangement” with the GSEs at a committee hearing on GSE reform in 2003: “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have played a very useful role in helping to make housing more affordable . . . a mission that this Congress has given them in return for some of the arrangements which are of some benefit to them to focus on affordable housing.” The hint to Fannie and Freddie was obvious: Concentrate on affordable housing and, despite your problems, your congressional support is secure.” [2]

El estatus semi-gubernamental de Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac dificulta la competencia y hace imposible una regulación adecuada

Por qué Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac suscribieron riesgos indebidos?, El estatus semi-gubernamental de estas empresas redujo la disciplina de mercado de estas compañías e imposibilitó que la regulación ejercida sobre las mismas fuese efectiva – esto a pesar de que las GSE, al tener una entidad regulatoria (la ‘Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight’ o OFHEO) dedicada a monitorearlas únicamente a ellas, eran de las entidades más reguladas de los EEUU. En particular, la garantía implícita del gobierno a los títulos respaldados por las GSEs, causaron que Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac no tuviesen una fuerte disciplina de control de riesgos. En este sentido, Lawrence Summers, quien fue Secretario del Tesoro en el gobierno de Bill Clinton, escribió recientemente en su blog ‘Creative Capitalism’:

“What went wrong? The illusion that the companies were doing virtuous work made it impossible to build a political case for serious regulation. When there were social failures the companies always blamed their need to perform for the shareholders. When there were business failures it was always the result of their social obligations. Government budget discipline was not appropriate because it was always emphasized that they were “private companies.” But market discipline was nearly nonexistent given the general perception—now validated— that their debt was government backed. Little wonder with gains privatized and losses socialized that the enterprises have gambled their way into financial catastrophe.” [3]

A estos factores podríamos añadir que el estatus semi-gubernamental de las GSE les daba ventajas competitivas importantísimas frente a otras titularizadoras de hipotecas, pues les permitía conseguir fondos a un costo mucho menor que cualquier compañía puramente privada. De esta forma, este estatus era un privilegio que impedía una justa competencia con otras titularizadoras y promovía la concentración de los títulos respaldados por hipotecas (MBS por sus siglas en inglés Mortgage-Backed Securities) en estas dos empresas. De hecho, para el año 2006 más del 60% de los MBS estaba concentrado en las GSE, y el total de las obligaciones garantizadas por las GSE sumaba $4 billones (millones de millones), lo cual era una cantidad mayor a la de todos los bonos corporativos en los EEUU, mayor a la de todos los créditos comerciales de los EEUU, y de casi el doble del total de crédito de consumo en los EEUU. Esta concentración llevó a diversos observadores, incluyendo a Alan Greenspan, a expresar su preocupación por el posible riesgo sistémico asociado a las GSE.

Al mismo tiempo que esto ocurría, varios comentaristas proponían la privatización completa de Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac. Esto requeriría que el gobierno suspendiera las garantías a los inversionistas de las GSE, y eliminar otras ventajas para que otras instituciones como los bancos pudiesen competir con las GSE. De esta manera, proponían reducir la dependencia del mercado de hipotecas de Fannie Mae y Freddie Mac y eliminar el riesgo sistémico asociado. Incluso se llegó a proponer seguir un modelo de camino a la privatización similar al utilizado de manera muy exitosa con la antigua GSE Sallie Mae. En un reporte publicado en la revista Regulation del Instituto Cato del año 2006, Dwight M. Jaffee proponía para las GSE el mismo camino que siguió Sallie Mae:

“Congress successfully applied a user fee (of 35 basis points annually) to all debt issued by a former government-sponsored enterprise, Sallie Mae. It is well worth considering this policy as a tool to control the interest rate risk of F&F. Soon after the imposition of the user fee, Sallie Mae became a proponent of its own privatization. Since its privatization, Sallie Mae has been extremely successful, and it now dominates the market for student loans A key element in the success of Sallie Mae has been its new ability, as a private firm, to originate student loans.

It is certainly possible, and perhaps even likely, that the imposition of user fees on F&F debt issues would also cause the firms to become active proponents of there own privatization. As indicated earlier, a significant share of their current profits arises from the no-cost, implicit Treasury guarantee on their debt. If they had to pay a market price for this guarantee, their profits would shrink substantially. Furthermore, under their GSE charters, F&F are currently prohibited from originating mortgages. It is likely the firms could profit significantly from participating in mortgage originations, which their privatization would allow, following the same path to success as Sallie Mae.

Privatization of F&F is a compelling and complete solution for controlling their interest rate risk. It was given serious consideration in an earlier multi-agency task force that reported to Congress in 1996. The conclusion at the time was that the legal and administrative impediments of privatization were too difficult, as long as F&F did not desire the change. The subsequent and successful privatization of Sallie Mae, however, has provided a roadmap to how such a privatization can be accomplished.” [4]

Sin embargo, estas recomendaciones fueron desoídas. El lobbying de las GSE, la falta de voluntad política, y la promesa de las GSE de seguir facilitando el otorgamiento de créditos a individuos de alto perfil de riesgo, hicieron que el congreso dejara de prestar atención a los riesgos sistémicos asociados. Así, la relación especial de las GSE con el gobierno fue un elemento central en la gestación de la actual crisis hipotecaria. Arnold Kling, del Cato Institute, antiguo miembro de la Reserva Federal y de Freddie Mac, indica que la política de promoción del crédito sub-prime por parte del gobierno y a través de las GSE fue determinante para la actual crisis:

“1. The overall policy of promoting home ownership was carried to excess. By 2006, the demand for housing had boosted prices to unsustainable levels. However, Congress was reluctant to restrain the market. Instead, even though the GSEs were not supposed to purchase high-risk mortgages, under pressure from Congress they bought hundreds of billions of dollars of securities backed by sub-prime loans.

2. Even taking as given the goal of expanding home ownership, the public policy case for subsidizing mortgage finance was weak. Rather than constituting a “positive externality,” the heavy load of mortgage indebtedness posed a major systemic risk.

3. The case for using the GSEs as a vehicle to subsidize mortgage finance was weaker still. As Summers and others have pointed out, the GSE structure serves to privatize profits and socialize losses.

4. Even if one thought that home ownership was worth encouraging, mortgage debt was worth subsidizing, and the GSE structure was viable, allowing the GSEs to assume a dominant role in mortgage finance was a mistake. The larger they grew, the more precarious our financial markets became. It reached the point where the health of the entire financial system appeared to depend on the health of the GSEs.” [5]

El gobierno presiona a los bancos para que relajen sus estándares crediticios

Las presiones para aumentar los créditos riesgosos no se limitaron a las GSE. En este sentido, un estudio reciente conducido por Stan Liebowitz del Independent Institute concluye que en un intento para incrementar la propiedad de viviendas, el gobierno presionó a los bancos para que relajaran sus estándares de crédito:

“[I]n an attempt to increase home ownership, particularly by minorities and the less affluent, virtually every branch of the government undertook an attack on underwriting standards starting in the early 1990s. Regulators, academic specialists, GSEs, and housing activists universally praised the decline in mortgage-underwriting standards as an “innovation” in mortgage lending. This weakening of underwriting standards succeeded in increasing home ownership and also the price of housing, helping to lead to a housing price bubble. The price bubble, along with relaxed lending standards, allowed speculators to purchase homes without putting their own money at risk.” [6]

Entre las acciones que cita Liebowitz como presiones a los bancos para que otorgaran más créditos riesgosos se incluyen las siguientes:

– El Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)

– La regulación de 1991 que requiere que los bancos publiquen los porcentajes de rechazos a aplicaciones de créditos hechas por minorías, seguido por un estudio del Fed de Boston que determinó que los bancos discriminaban en contra de las minorías en su otorgamiento de créditos. Liebowitz comenta que el hecho de que la metodología del estudio tuviese grandes problemas no fue obstáculo para que políticos de toda índole lo tomaran como un indicativo claro de que los reguladores debían promover la extensión de crédito a minorías

– La implementación en 1992 del Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act (FHEFSSA), que obligó a los GSE a incrementar el otorgamiento de créditos a deudores de bajos ingresos. Un entusiasta reporte de Fannie Mae del año 2002 indica que “Spurred in part by the FHEFSSA mandate, Fannie Mae announced a trillion-dollar commitment”. El reporte continúa indicando que el resultado de estas acciones fue la implementación de ‘innovaciones’ en el proceso de otorgamiento de hipotecas. Estas innovaciones corresponden a flexibilizaciones de los estándares de otorgamiento que hacen que los bancos adquieran mayores riesgos.

– La publicación por parte del Fed de Boston de un manual que tenía como objetivo “to be helpful to lenders as they work to close the mortgage gap [higher rejection rate for minorities].For this publication, we have gathered recommendations on ‘best practice’ from lending institutions and consumer groups. With their help, we have developed a comprehensive program for lenders who seek to ensure that all loan applicants are treated fairly and to expand their markets to reach a more diverse customer base.” En el mismo reporte del Boston Fed, se explican las consecuencias de no obedecer estas directrices: “Did You Know? Failure to comply with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act or Regulation B can subject a financial institution to civil liability for actual and punitive damages in individual or class actions. Liability for punitive damages can be as much as $10,000 in individual actions and the lesser of $500,000 or 1 percent of the creditor’s net worth in class actions.” El mismo reporte indica que para cumplir con los objetivos de la regulación, los estándares de otorgamiento de crédito deberían relajarse “Even the most determined lending institution will have difficulty cultivating business from minority customers if its underwriting standards contain arbitrary or unreasonable measures of creditworthiness.” Cuáles son los estándares de otorgamiento que deben ser relajados? El reporte sugiere, entre otras cosas: “Credit History: Lack of credit history should not be seen as a negative factor. Certain cultures encourage people to “pay as you go” and avoid debt. Willingness to pay debt promptly can be determined through review of utility, rent, telephone, insurance, and medical bill payments.”, o, significativamente: “Down Payment and Closing Costs: Accumulating enough savings to cover the various costs associated with a mortgage loan is often a significant barrier to home ownership by lower–income applicants. Lenders may wish to allow gifts, grants, or loans from relatives, nonprofit organizations, or municipal agencies to cover part of these costs. Cash–on–hand could also be an acceptable means of payment if borrowers can document its source and demonstrate that they normally pay their bills in cash.”

Cuál fue el efecto de estas presiones? Como dice Liebowitz “cuando el regulador ladra, los bancos saltan” Los bancos comenzaron a relajar sus estándares de crédito. Countrywide, un originador de hipotecas que era uno de los de mayor contribución al portafolio de Fannie Mae, y una de las primeras bajas de esta crisis financiera (fue absorvido por Bank of America), fue uno de los que se adaptó a las presiones políticas de manera más completa. En un reporte lleno de alabanzas realizado por la fundación Fannie Mae, se dice lo siguiente:

“Countrywide tends to follow the most flexible underwriting criteria permitted under GSE and FHA guidelines. Because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac tend to give their best lenders access to the most flexible underwriting criteria, Countrywide benefits from its status as one of the largest originators of mortgage loans and one of the largest participants in the GSE programs. When necessary—in cases where applicants have no established credit history, for example—Countrywide uses nontraditional credit, a practice now accepted by the GSEs.”

Referencias:

[1] Steven A. Holmes. “Fannie Mae Eases Credit to Aid Mortgage Lending”. The New York Times. September 30, 1999

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DE7DB153EF933A0575AC0A96F958260

[2] Charles W. Calomiris and Peter J. Wallison. “Blame Fannie Mae and Congress for the Credit Mess”. The Wall Street Journal. September 23, 2008
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122212948811465427.html

[3] Lawrence Summers. “Our Creative Mortgage Crisis?”. Creative Capitalism Blog. July 16, 2008
http://creativecapitalism.typepad.com/creative_capitalism/2008/07/our-creative-mo.html.

[4] Dwight M. Jaffe. “Reining in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac”. Regulation. The CATO Institute. Fall, 2006
http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv29n3/v29n3-3.pdf

[5] Arnold Kling. “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: An Exit Strategy for the Taxpayer”. CATO Institute Briefing Paper. September 8, 2008
http://www.cato.org/pubs/bp/bp106.pdf

[6] Stan J. Liebowitz. “Anatomy of a Train Wreck – Causes of the Mortgage Meltdown”. Independent Policy Report. October 3, 2008
http://www.independent.org/pdf/policy_reports/2008-10-03-trainwreck.pdf

Anuncios