FHFA chief: Coronavirus-related delinquencies could outnumber subprime

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WASHINGTON — Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria said Wednesday that a coronavirus-induced financial crisis could possibly give rise to more delinquencies and foreclosures than the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis.

In an interview with CNBC, Calabria said that in certain segments of the market, defaults could rise, but he emphasized that it really depends on how long it will take to get the economy going again.

Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria
“The truth is, the subprime really didn’t go away as much as it went into FHA, so you have a lot of FHA borrowers who I think are vulnerable,” FHFA Director Mark Calabria says.

“If this only goes on two or three months, we see a pop back in the economy, people are hired back to their old jobs by and large, then I think that this will be something that the industry can get through without too much stress,” he said. “But if this is something that goes on for six months or more, then I think you’re going to continue to see a lot of stress.”

Calabria said that there will likely be much more visible stress in the Ginnie Mae and Federal Housing Administration segments than in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac segments.

“The truth is, the subprime really didn’t go away as much as it went into FHA, so you have a lot of FHA borrowers who I think are vulnerable,” he said. “With the credit quality of their borrowers, they’re going to be the first canary in the coal mine, if you will, in terms of what the broader implications are going to be.”

However, the good news is that most of the lenders that the FHFA has been in contact with have reported that the majority of forbearance inquiries that they have been receiving have come from borrowers who have never been delinquent and have strong credit scores, Calabria said.

Earlier in March, the FHFA directed Fannie and Freddie to suspend all foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days for homeowners with mortgages backed by the government-sponsored enterprises.

The stimulus package signed by President Trump on March 27 also included provisions on mortgage forbearance that will allow borrowers with single-family, federally backed mortgages to request loan forbearance for 180 days due to coronavirus-related challenges. Borrowers also have the option to request that initial period be extended by 180 days.

The FHFA has estimated initially that for April, about 300,000 borrowers will be granted loan forbearance, just more than 1% of Fannie and Freddie’s book of business, Calabria said.

“We are thinking that closer to May we’ll see that, for Fannie and Freddie’s book, closer to a million, so probably by May a little more than 2 million,” he said. “This is between 3% and 5% of the market, so I really do want to emphasize we’re not seeing the worst-case scenarios of 25% to 40% take-up.”

However, Calabria said he does not believe the coronavirus crisis will significantly alter Fannie and Freddie’s path out of conservatorship, other than possibly delaying the end goal.

“I think this maybe puts off exit of conservatorship by a couple of months, but the delay is really quite modest in my opinion, unless of course we’re all trying to figure out how long this event goes on,” he said. “But if we’re through this in a couple of months, then I still expect initial equity raises by Fannie and Freddie in 2021.”

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Delinquencies Coronavirus Foreclosures FHFA Mark Calabria GSE reform Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Housing finance reform