Fannie, Freddie and Bernanke

The biggest economic news of the week was expected to come from Fed Chief Bernanke, but a surprise announcement from OFHEO had the greatest impact on mortgage markets. Wednesday, OFHEO, the government regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announced that it will remove the limits placed on the portfolio sizes of the two companies as of March 1. This will enable the two companies to make or guarantee more loans. The limits had been instituted to constrain the growth of the companies while they fixed accounting errors. To make significantly more loans, the companies will have to raise additional capital, which will take some time. The regulators also announced that they are considering a reduction in the capital requirements the firms must hold for each loan, and this would accelerate the ramp up in loan volume. This measure follows the recent temporary increase in the conforming loan limits for Fannie and Freddie. The potential for Fannie and Freddie to increase their activity drove down mortgage rates. After rising Monday and Tuesday, the OFHEO news turned mortgage rates around on Wednesday. They continued to decline for the remainder of the week, finishing moderately lower than the prior week. Also on Wednesday, Fed Chief Bernanke presented his semi-annual testimony before Congress. Overall, there were few surprises. Bernanke painted a grimmer picture of the risks to the economy than he had in the past. While he acknowledged that higher inflation is a threat, he expressed greater concern about slower economic growth. He sees housing market activity stabilizing later this year, while adding that home prices may continue to decline into next year. Bernanke also suggested that FHA modernization and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae regulatory changes are “crucial” going forward. Based on Bernanke’s remarks, the market has now built in a .50 basis point reduction by the Fed in the March Meeting also adding to the improvement in rates this week.In the housing sector, the news was mixed. January Existing Home Sales fell by less than expected, but inventories of unsold homes rose by more than forecasted. Median existing home prices fell by 5% from one year ago. Meanwhile, January New Home Sales fell to a 13-year low. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) activity index, which is released every Wednesday, showed a decline in the level of refinancing activity due to the rise in mortgage rates. Mortgage rates have declined since the data was collected, however, meaning that increases may be more likely next week. Article Courtesy of Burnet Home Loans

This entry was posted in Interest Rate News. Bookmark the permalink.