Geithner on Freddie & Fannie’s Long-awaited Renovation

U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told  Congress (Tuesday) that the housing finance system cannot continue to operate as it has in the past and called for an end  to the “ambiguity” over the govt’s involvement in finance mortgage co.’s Fannie (FNM) and Freddie (FRE), which have been under govt control since Sept ’08.

According to Geithner, although it is impossible to eliminate GSEs today, it should take months, not years to contemplate and create legislation that could receive broad support. The Obama administration hopes to propose legislation to fix the nation’s housing finance system within months, Geithner said.

In considering reform, the Administration, noted Geithner, will be guided by the view that a stable and wellfunctioning housing finance market should achieve the following objectives:

  • Widely available mortgage credit. Mortgage credit should be available and distributed on an efficient basis to a wide range of borrowers, including those with low and moderate incomes, to support the purchase of homes they can afford. This credit should be available even when markets may be under stress, at rates that are not excessively volatile.
  • Housing affordability. A well-functioning housing market should provide affordable housing options, both ownership and rental, for low- and moderate-income households. The government has a role in promoting the development and occupancy of affordable single- and multi-family residences for these families.
  • Consumer protection. Consumers should have access to mortgage products that are easily understood, such as the 30-year fixed rate mortgage and conventional variable rate mortgages with straightforward terms and pricing. Effective consumer financial protection should keep unfair, abusive or deceptive practices out of the marketplace and help to ensure that consumers have the information they need about the costs, terms, and conditions of their mortgages.
  • Financial stability. The housing finance system should distribute the credit and interest rate risk that results from mortgage lending in an efficient and transparent manner that minimizes risk to the broader financial and economic system and does not generate excess volatility. The mortgage finance system should not contribute to systemic risk or overly increase interconnectedness from the failure of any one institution.
  • The housing finance system could be redesigned in a variety of ways to meet these objectives. However, the Administration believes that any system that achieves these goals should be characterized by:

  • Alignment of incentives. A well functioning mortgage finance system should align incentives for all actors – issuers, originators, brokers, ratings agencies and insurers – so that mortgages are originated and securitized with the goal of long-term viability rather than short term gains.
  • Avoidance of privatized gains funded by public losses. If there is government support provided, such as a guarantee, it should earn an appropriate return for taxpayers and ensure that private sector gains and profits do not come at the expense of public losses. Moreover, if government support is provided, the role and risks assumed must be clear and transparent to all market participants and the American people.
  • Strong regulation. A strong regulatory regime should (i) ensure capital adequacy throughout the mortgage finance chain, (ii) enforce strict underwriting standards and (iii) protect borrowers from unfair, abusive or deceptive practices. Regulators should have the ability and incentive to identify and proactively respond to problems that may develop in the mortgage finance system.
  • Standardization. Standardization of mortgage products improves transparency and efficiency and should provide a sound basis in a reformed system for securitization that increases liquidity, helps to reduce rates for borrowers and promotes financial stability. The market should also have room for innovations to develop new products which can bring benefits for both lenders and borrowers.
  • Support for affordable single- and multifamily-housing. Government support for multifamily housing is important and should continue in a future housing finance system to ensure that consumers have access to affordable rental options. The housing finance system must also support affordable and sustainable ownership options.
  • Diversified investor base and sources of funding. Through securitization and other forms of intermediation, a well functioning mortgage finance system should be able to draw efficiently upon a wide variety of sources of capital and investment both to lower costs and to diversify risk.
  • Accurate and transparent pricing. If government guarantees are provided, they should be priced appropriately to reflect risks across the instruments guaranteed. If there is crosssubsidization in the housing finance system, care must be exercised to insure that it is transparent and fully consistent with the appropriate pricing of the guarantee and at a minimal cost to the American taxpayer.
  • Secondary market liquidity. Today, the US housing finance market is one of the most liquid markets in the world, and benefits from certain innovations like the “to be announced” (or TBA) market. This liquidity has provided a variety of benefits to both borrowers and lenders, including lower borrowing costs, the ability to “lock in” a mortgage rate prior to completing the purchase of a home, flexibility in refinancing, the ability to pre-pay a mortgage at the borrowers’ discretion and risk mitigation. This liquidity also further supports the goal of having well diversified sources of mortgage funding.
  • Clear mandates. Institutions that have government support, charters or mandates should have clear goals and objectives. Affordable housing mandates and specific policy directives should be pursued directly and avoid commingling in general mandates, which are susceptible to distortion. [emphasis added]
  • Full speech can be found here

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