The Sub-prime mortgage crisis  

Sub-prime mortgage

According to Stan Liebowitz, the Ashbel Smith professor of Economics in the Business School at the University of Texas at Dallas, the sub-prime mortgage crisis was caused by political correctness and social engineering.

Summary

Do-gooders have long complained that banks discriminated against minorities and the poor when granting mortgages. They persuaded Congress to amended the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act so that data could be collected to prove this. A subsequent study of this data was used to prove discrimination so that bank regulators required banks to lend money to these under privileged groups. The Democratic Party, led at the time by President Bill Clinton threatened to prosecute banks who didn't comply with the regulators demands.

It seems to have escaped the attention of these regulators that the real reason loans were turned down was the fact that the financial standing of the applicants didn't stand up to scrutiny. Or if it did then they seemed to have not wanted to incur the wrath of the PC Brigade by sticking to commonsense.

Now that these poor people are having their houses repossessed and being made homeless, predictably the PC Brigade are blaming everyone but themselves. When will these mindless do-gooders realise that things are as they are in the world for a very good reason and stop meddling!!

Twice Conservatives tried to get this madness stopped (2003 & 2005) and twice their Bills were outvoted by the Democrats, led by Barak Obama - who incidentally was a young lawyer at ACORN when the original cry of discrimination went up!

Watch an 11 min video summary of how the crisis developed here

So that you can make up your own mind, I have reproduced his article below and below that, a New York Times article in 1999.

THE REAL SCANDAL - HOW FEDS INVITED THE MORTGAGE MESS
By STAN LIEBOWITZ

Perhaps the greatest scandal of the mortgage crisis is that it is a direct result of an intentional loosening of underwriting standards - done in the name of ending discrimination, despite warnings that it could lead to wide-scale defaults. At the crisis' core are loans that were made with virtually nonexistent underwriting standards - no verification of income or assets; little consideration of the applicant's ability to make payments; no down payment.

Most people instinctively understand that such loans are likely to be unsound. But how did the heavily-regulated banking industry end up able to engage in such foolishness? From the current hand-wringing, you'd think that the banks came up with the idea of looser underwriting standards on their own, with regulators just asleep on the job. In fact, it was the regulators who relaxed these standards - at the behest of community groups and "progressive" political forces.

In the 1980s, groups such as the activists at ACORN began pushing charges of "redlining" - claims that banks discriminated against minorities in mortgage lending. In 1989, sympathetic members of Congress got the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act amended to force banks to collect racial data on mortgage applicants; this allowed various studies to be ginned up that seemed to validate the original accusation. In fact, minority mortgage applications were rejected more frequently than other applications - but the overwhelming reason wasn't racial discrimination, but simply that minorities tend to have weaker finances. Yet a "landmark" 1992 study from the Boston Fed concluded that mortgage-lending discrimination was systemic.

That study was tremendously flawed - a colleague and I later showed that the data it had used contained thousands of egregious typos, such as loans with negative interest rates. Our study found no evidence of discrimination. Yet the political agenda triumphed - with the president of the Boston Fed saying no new studies were needed, and the US comptroller of the currency seconding the motion. No sooner had the ink dried on its discrimination study than the Boston Fed, clearly speaking for the entire Fed, produced a manual for mortgage lenders stating that: "discrimination may be observed when a lender's underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants."

Some of these "outdated" criteria included the size of the mortgage payment relative to income, credit history, savings history and income verification. Instead, the Boston Fed ruled that participation in a credit-counseling program should be taken as evidence of an applicant's ability to manage debt. Sound crazy? You bet. Those "outdated" standards existed to limit defaults. But bank regulators required the loosened underwriting standards, with approval by politicians and the chattering class. A 1995 strengthening of the Community Reinvestment Act required banks to find ways to provide mortgages to their poorer communities. It also let community activists intervene at yearly bank reviews, shaking the banks down for large pots of money. Banks that got poor reviews were punished; some saw their merger plans frustrated; others faced direct legal challenges by the Justice Department.

Flexible lending programs expanded even though they had higher default rates than loans with traditional standards. On the Web, you can still find CRA loans available via ACORN with "100 percent financing . . . no credit scores . . . undocumented income . . . even if you don't report it on your tax returns." Credit counseling is required, of course. Ironically, an enthusiastic Fannie Mae Foundation report singled out one paragon of nondiscriminatory lending, which worked with community activists and followed "the most flexible underwriting criteria permitted."

That lender's $1 billion commitment to low-income loans in 1992 had grown to $80 billion by 1999 and $600 billion by early 2003. Who was that virtuous lender? Why - Countrywide, the nation's largest mortgage lender, recently in the headlines as it hurtled toward bankruptcy. In an earlier newspaper story extolling the virtues of relaxed underwriting standards, Countrywide's chief executive bragged that, to approve minority applications that would otherwise be rejected "lenders have had to stretch the rules a bit." He's not bragging now.

For years, rising house prices hid the default problems since quick refinances were possible. But now that house prices have stopped rising, we can clearly see the damage caused by relaxed lending standards. This damage was quite predictable: "After the warm and fuzzy glow of 'flexible underwriting standards' has worn off, we may discover that they are nothing more than standards that lead to bad loans . . . these policies will have done a disservice to their putative beneficiaries if . . . they are dispossessed from their homes." I wrote that, with Ted Day, in a 1998 academic article. Sadly, we were spitting into the wind.

These days, everyone claims to favor strong lending standards. What about all those self-righteous newspapers, politicians and regulators who were intent on loosening lending standards? As you might expect, they are now self-righteously blaming those, such as Countrywide, who did what they were told.

Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending

By STEVEN A. HOLMES Published: September 30, 1999

In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.

The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets -- including the New York metropolitan region -- will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

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. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates -- anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

''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.''

Under Fannie Mae's pilot program, consumers who qualify can secure a mortgage with an interest rate one percentage point above that of a conventional, 30-year fixed rate mortgage of less than $240,000 -- a rate that currently averages about 7.76 per cent. If the borrower makes his or her monthly payments on time for two years, the one percentage point premium is dropped.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, does not lend money directly to consumers. Instead, it purchases loans that banks make on what is called the secondary market. By expanding the type of loans that it will buy, Fannie Mae is hoping to spur banks to make more loans to people with less-than-stellar credit ratings.

Fannie Mae officials stress that the new mortgages will be extended to all potential borrowers who can qualify for a mortgage. But they add that the move is intended in part to increase the number of minority and low income home owners who tend to have worse credit ratings than non-Hispanic whites.

Home ownership has, in fact, exploded among minorities during the economic boom of the 1990's. The number of mortgages extended to Hispanic applicants jumped by 87.2 per cent from 1993 to 1998, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. During that same period the number of African Americans who got mortgages to buy a home increased by 71.9 per cent and the number of Asian Americans by 46.3 per cent.

In contrast, the number of non-Hispanic whites who received loans for homes increased by 31.2 per cent.

Despite these gains, home ownership rates for minorities continue to lag behind non-Hispanic whites, in part because blacks and Hispanics in particular tend to have on average worse credit ratings.

In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed that by the year 2001, 50 percent of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's portfolio be made up of loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. Last year, 44 percent of the loans Fannie Mae purchased were from these groups.

The change in policy also comes at the same time that HUD is investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the automated underwriting systems used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine the credit-worthiness of credit applicants.

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