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  • International Bank Settles RMBS Claims with FHFA for $5.5 Billion

    Securities

    On July 12, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), announced a $5.5 billion settlement with an international bank. The settlement resolves FHFA’s claims, lodged in a federal lawsuit in the District of Connecticut, that the bank violated federal and state securities laws in relation to residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) trusts purchased by the GSEs between 2005 and 2007. The settlement covers all RMBS “issued, sponsored, sold, or underwritten by . . . [d]efendant between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2008,” which is intended to include all securities for which FHFA brought claims against the bank in the District of Connecticut action. Under the terms of the agreement, the bank will pay $4.525 billion of the settlement amount to Freddie Mac, and approximately $975 million to Fannie Mae.

    Securities Federal Issues Settlement RMBS Freddie Mac Fannie Mae FHFA Litigation

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  • Industry Groups Submit Comments on FHFA’s Proposed Evaluation Guidance for “Duty to Serve” Provisions

    Lending

    As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) published a final rule last December implementing certain “Duty to Serve” provisions of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Among other things, the rule requires that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Enterprises) adopt formal plans to improve the availability of mortgage financing in a “safe and sound manner” for residential properties that serve “very low-, low-, and moderate-income families” in three specified underserved markets: manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural markets. The FHFA also published a Proposed Evaluation Guidance to outline the following: (i) FHFA's expectations regarding the development of such Underserved Markets Plans, and (ii) the process by which FHFA will evaluate annually Fannie’s and Freddie’s achievements under their Plans. The deadline to submit comments was June 7.

    Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Letter. In its June 7 comment letter, the MBA stated that it commends efforts undertaken by the FHFA to develop a framework of requirements for the Enterprises to follow when preparing their Underserved Market Plans, as well as an evaluation system to rate implementation progress. Particularly, the MBA noted that, based on its data, the U.S. “will see 15.9 million additional households formed over the decade ending in 2024 . . . [which] will increase the need for all types of housing, including already limited affordable housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income borrowers.” Furthermore, “manufactured home financing, affordable housing preservation, and additional rural housing opportunities can play a key role in providing both first-time home-buying opportunities and affordable rental options for consumers in these underserved markets.” With respect to the Proposed Evaluation Guidance, the MBA stressed the importance of flexibility so adjustments can be made for “unanticipated obstacles or opportunities caused by significant changes in market conditions that arise.”

    Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) Letter. Also on June 7, CRL issued a comment letter to the Proposed Guidance in which it offered recommendations concerning “public input and transparency, assessing the contents of the plants to ensure meaningful objectives, and the evaluation and scoring process.” Specifically, CRL noted that while the Enterprises have taken measures such as reinstating lower down payment programs and creating pilot programs to address the underserved markets, it believes a “robust duty to serve process will further access credit initiatives by promoting and incentivizing responsible and sustainable lending to lower wealth households.” However, the CRL also raised several issues over the Proposed Evaluation Guidance, specifically in terms of the proposed scoring system. Under current FHFA guidance, Enterprises’ plans are scored on three factors: progress, impact, and effort/implementation. Conversely, under the proposed scoring system, failure only occurs due to a lack of progress because the impact and effort criteria are assessed only after the Enterprise receives a pass/fail determination. In reaction, CRL raised the following concerns: (i) “What guards against Enterprises putting only low impact objectives in the plan?” (ii) “What incentives do Enterprises have to score highly (above minimally passing)?” and (iii) “What guards against only proposing easily achievable objectives?” In addition to scoring methodology changes, CRL recommended that the FHFA implement a more rigorous loan product and loan purchase evaluation process and increase transparency.

    Lending Mortgages FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Stress Test Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Affordable Housing

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  • Fannie, Freddie to Allow Electronically Recorded Mortgage Copies

    FinTech

    On May 10, Fannie Mae announced it would begin accepting copies of electronically recorded mortgages rather than original wet-signed documents. This follows a prior September 2016 announcement from Freddie Mac, which changed its policy on the electronic recording of paper closing documents.

    Fannie Mae. As set forth in Section A2-5.2-01 of its Servicing Guide, Fannie Mae says that electronic records may be delivered and retained as part of an electronic transaction by the seller/servicer to the servicer, document custodian or Fannie Mae, or by a third party, as long as the methods are compatible with all involved parties. Additionally, the electronic records must be in compliance with the requirements and standards set forth in ESIGN and, when applicable, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, as “adopted by the state in which the subject property secures by the mortgage loan associated with the electronic record is located.”

    Freddie Mac. A bulletin released last September updated Sections 1401.14 and 15 of Freddie Mac’s Servicing Guide by removing the requirement that a seller/servicer retain the original paper security instrument signed by the borrower if an electronic copy of the original security instrument is electronically recorded at the recorder’s office, provided the following conditions are met:

    • The seller securely stores along with the other eMortgage documents either (i) “the electronically recorded copy of the original security instrument,” or (ii) “the recorder’s office other form of recording confirmation with the recording information thereon”; and
    • Storage of the original security instrument signed by the borrower is not required by applicable law.

    According to Freddie Mac, “Removing this requirement addresses one of the barriers for eMortgage adoption in the industry, permitting more [m]ortgage file documents to be [e]lectronic and reducing some storage costs for [s]eller/[s]ervicers.”

    Fintech Electronic Signatures Fannie Mae Freddie Mac ESIGN

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  • FHFA Director Testifies Before Senate Banking Committee, Provides Overview of Housing Finance System and Prospects for Reform

    Federal Issues

    On May 11, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing at which FHFA Director Mel Watt fielded questions from lawmakers about the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) and prospects for housing finance reform. In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) noted that Fannie and Freddie have been in conservatorship for close to nine years, and stated that “a housing finance system dependent on two government sponsored enterprises in perpetual conservatorship is not a sustainable solution.” According to Sen. Crapo, because approximately 70 percent of mortgages are backed by the federal government, “if the housing market experiences a downturn, taxpayers could again be on the hook for billions of dollars.” Ultimately, the Chairman set forth his position that housing finance reform should be considered the “most significant piece of unfinished business following the financial crisis.” 

    Meanwhile, FHFA Director Watt testified that, under his leadership, FHFA has “responsibly balanced” and met its “multiple statutory mandates to manage the Enterprises’ day-to-day operations.” He also identified some of the key changes and reforms that have taken place during the conservatorships, including: (i) requiring the Enterprises to emphasize sound underwriting practices in their purchase guidelines; (ii) reducing the Enterprises’ retained portfolios by over sixty percent since 2009; and (iii) developing effective loss mitigation programs, which include aligning the Enterprises’ loss mitigation standards and developing updated loan modification and streamlined refinance products to follow the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Home Affordable Refinance Program.

    Director Watt also acknowledged that “FHFA knows probably better than anyone that these conservatorships are not sustainable” and urged Congress to act on several issues related to housing finance reform, including:

    • developing a transition process to a new housing finance system to avoid disruption to the housing finance market;
    • determining whether the federal government should provide taxpayer backing for the conservatorship, and if so, in what form;
    • addressing the role the Enterprises might play in the reformed housing finance system and what statutory changes to their organizational structures, purposes, ownership and operations will be needed to ensure that they play their assigned roles effectively; and
    • identifying what regulatory and supervisory structure and authorities will be needed in a reformed system, and who will have responsibility to exercise those authorities.

    Furthermore, Director Watt noted that under the provisions of the Enterprises’ Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, on January 1, 2018 the $1.2 billion buffer protecting the Enterprises against having to make additional draws of taxpayer support in the event of an operating loss in any quarter would be reduced to zero, at which time “neither Enterprise will have the ability to weather any loss it experiences in any quarter without drawing further on taxpayer support.” Director Watt warned that such a situation could erode investor confidence and “stifle liquidity in ways that could increase the cost of mortgage credit to borrowers.” Accordingly, the Director argued that the Enterprises “need some kind of [capital] buffer to shield against short-term operating losses” that could “result in an additional draw of taxpayer support and reduce the fixed dollar commitment Treasury has made to support the Enterprises.”

    Reaction of Industry Organizations. In a statement issued shortly after the hearing, Camden R. Fine, President and CEO of Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), expressed support for Director Watt after his testimony, agreeing about the need for Fannie and Freddie “to retain their earnings and to start rebuilding their capital buffers.” Meanwhile, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) financial policy expert John Berlau was critical of what he called “an unfair, ongoing government policy of confiscating all Fannie/Freddie shareholder profits.” According to Mr. Berlau, the Enterprises’ “perilous financial state is the direct result of the Obama administration’s 2012‘Third Amendment’ policy, which confiscates all of Fannie and Freddie’s profits for the US Treasury.” He argued that curtailing this policy would allow the Enterprises to “retain some earnings and build capital to spare taxpayers another bailout.”

    Federal Issues FHFA Senate Banking Committee Fannie Mae Freddie Mac ICBA Treasury Department

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  • FHFA Director Appeared Before the Senate Banking Committee on May 11; Discussed Fannie/Freddie, Proposed "Underserved Markets Plans"

    Federal Issues

    On May 11, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs met in open session at 10:00 a.m. to discuss “The Status of the Housing Finance System After Nine Years of Conservatorship.” Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mel Watt was the only witness scheduled to testify.

    The hearing comes after Fannie Mae (Fannie) and Freddie Mac (Freddie) published their first quarter financial reports. On May 2, Freddie announced $2.2 billion in net income in the first quarter—all of which Freddie expects to distribute to the Treasury, bringing the total to $108.2 billion in dividends. (See also Q1 2017 Supplement.) Notably, the $2.2 billion figure was down from its fourth quarter net income of $4.8 billion. Similarly, on May 5, Fannie reported net income of $2.8 billion in the first three months of 2017, money that will be sent to Treasury, which brings its total payments to $162.7 billion. The net income was a significant decline from the $5 billion it reported for the fourth quarter of 2016.

    Fannie and Freddie also recently released their respective “Underserved Markets Plans” for public comment. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FHFA published a final rule in the December 18 Federal Register implementing certain Duty to Serve provisions of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Among other things, these provisions require Fannie and Freddie to each adopt a formal “Underserved Markets Plan” to improve the availability of mortgage financing for residential properties that serve “very low-, low-, and moderate-income families” in three specified underserved markets: manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural markets. The Plans can be accessed through the following links:

    As explained on the FHFA’s DTS Underserved Markets Plan page, the activities and objectives in each of these Plans may be subject to change based on factors including public input, FHFA comments, compliance with the Enterprises' Charter Acts, safety and soundness considerations, and market or economic conditions. To this end, “views of interested stakeholders are sought on whether the proposed Plans would effectively serve the underserved markets if carried out as proposed, or if there are modifications that each Enterprise should consider making to its proposed Plan to better serve these underserved markets.”  The period during which the Enterprises are receiving public input on the proposed Plans will end on July 10. 

    Pursuant to the same new rule, FHFA has also published a Proposed Evaluation Guidance to provide: (i) FHFA's expectations regarding the development of the Underserved Markets Plans, and (ii) the process by which FHFA will evaluate Fannie’s and Freddie’s achievements under their Plans each year.  The deadline for public input on FHFA’s Proposed Evaluation Guidance is June 7.

    Federal Issues FHFA Congress Senate Banking Committee Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Treasury Department

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  • Fannie and Freddie Open Records Act of 2017 Passes House, Forwarded on to the Senate

    Federal Issues

    On April 27, the House passed (by a vote of 425 to 0), the Fannie and Freddie Open Records Act of 2017 (H.R. 1694). The proposed measure—sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)—would subject Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the transparency requirements applicable to federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for the duration of the time the enterprises remain under FHFA conservatorship. Pursuant to FOIA, the public has presumptive access to agency records unless the material falls within any of FOIA’s nine categories of exception. Having passed in the House, the bill was subsequently forwarded on to the Senate, where it has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary committee. An April 24 Committee Report on the bill provides some explanatory background on the issue addressed by the bill and the bill’s intentions.

    Federal Issues Fannie Mae Freddie Mac FOIA House Oversight Committee

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  • FHFA Releases Credit Risk Transfer Progress Report; Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Transfer $49 Billion in Risk to Investors

    Lending

    On March 27, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released its Credit Risk Transfer Progress Report, presenting a comprehensive overview of the status and volume of credit risk transfer transactions to the private sector for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) through year-end 2016 in both the single-family and multifamily market. As outlined in the progress report, since the beginning of the Enterprises’ Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer Programs in 2013 through December 2016, the Enterprises have transferred $49 billion in credit risk to private investors, amounting to about 3.4 percent of $1.4 trillion in unpaid principal balance. In 2016, the Enterprises transferred about $18 billion worth of credit risk. Transfers include “credit risk transfers via debt issuances, insurance/reinsurance transactions, senior‐subordinate securitizations, and a variety of lender collateralized recourse transactions.” The Multifamily Credit Risk Transfer Program also plays a role in the Freddie Mac business model where “virtually all credit risk is transferred to investors through subordinated bonds structured to absorb credit risk.” Freddie Mac issued bonds on $57 billion of multi-family production in 2016, and Fannie Mae transferred approximately $9.4 billion of loans to the reinsurance industry. The report also examines the role of primary mortgage insurance in credit risk transfer transactions and the Enterprises’ debt issuances.

    Lending FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac

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  • FHFA Includes New Classifications for Reporting Adverse Examination Findings; Amends FOIA Regulations

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On March 14, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (“FHFA”) issued an Advisory Bulletin establishing classifications of adverse examination findings for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Home Loan Banks (“FHLBs”), and the FHLB’s Office of Finance (AB 2017-01). Effective for the 2017 examination cycle, the bulletin establishes three designated “classifications,” which can be used by examination staff to communicate adverse examination findings more effectively. The three classifications are meant both to identify priorities for remediation and also to guide FHFA in the development of supervisory strategies. These supervisory strategies include: (i) Matters Requiring Attention—both high-priority critical supervisory matters that pose substantial risk to safety and soundness and deficiencies that, if not corrected, have the potential to escalate and negatively affect a regulated entity or the Office of Finance; (ii) Recommendations—advisory suggestions regarding changes to a policy, procedure, practice, or control; and (iii) Violations—non-compliance with laws, regulations, or orders that requires action by a regulated entity or the Office of Finance to correct, if possible.

    On March 15, FHFA issued an interim final rule, amending its FOIA regulations (12 CFR Part 1202) in an effort to bring its internal policies into accord with guidelines established through the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 (Pub. L. No. 114-185) and the “OPEN FOIA Act of 2009” (Pub. L. No. 111-83, 123 Stat. 2142, 2184 (2009)). The new FOIA rules – which are effective as of March 15—require agencies to, among other things, provide a minimum of 90 days (rather than 30 days) for requesters to file an administrative appeal; and provide notification to requesters about the availability of dispute resolution services.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FHFA FOIA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac FHLB

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  • Fannie, Freddie and FHLBs Ordered to Report Results of Annual Stress Tests

    Federal Issues

    On March 3, FHFA Director Melvin Watt issued orders directing FHFA regulated government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs)—Fannie Mae (Order No. 2017-OR-FNMA-01), Freddie Mac (Order No. 2017-OR-FHLMC-01), and the 11 Federal Home Loan Banks collectively (Order No. 2017-OR-B-01)—to report the results of their stress tests so that the financial regulators may determine whether the GSEs “have the capital necessary to absorb losses as a result of adverse economic conditions.” The orders were issued pursuant to the requirement under the Dodd-Frank Act that covered financial institutions with total consolidated assets of more than $10 billion conduct an annual stress test to determine whether they have sufficient capital to support operations in adverse economic conditions. Accompanying each order was a copy of the “2017 Report Cycle Dodd-Frank Stress Tests Summary Instructions and Guidance.”

    On April 14, the FHFA order was officially published in the Federal Register.

    Federal Issues Lending Mortgages Fannie Mae Freddie Mac FHLB Stress Test Dodd-Frank FHFA

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  • D.C. Circuit: Investors Can’t Challenge Agreement Distributing Fannie/Freddie Net Worth to Treasury

    Courts

    On February 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that stockholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Companies) could not challenge dividend-allocating terms that FHFA negotiated on behalf of the Companies because the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) strictly limits judicial review of actions authorized thereunder. Perry Capital LLC v. Mnuchin, No. 14-5243, 2017 WL 677589 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 21, 2017).

    In 2008, Fannie and Freddie were placed into conservatorship with FHFA, which then entered into a stock purchase agreement with Treasury to obtain emergency capital for Fannie and Freddie. In exchange, Treasury received preferred shares of stock from Fannie and Freddie that provided for a quarterly dividend of 10 percent of the total funds drawn from Treasury. After Fannie and Freddie began routinely borrowing from Treasury to pay the dividends, FHFA and Treasury amended the stock purchase agreement in 2012 so that repayment would be based on the Companies’ profits rather than mandatory dividends. The stockholder-plaintiffs in this action sought to challenge the 2012 amendment–in particular, arguing that the 2012 amendment exceeded the authority granted to FHFA under HERA and constituted “arbitrary and capricious conduct” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. One class of stockholders also argued that the amendment constituted a breach of fiduciary duty and certain terms and covenants of the Companies’ stock certificates. The district court had dismissed both complaints on the motions of FHFA and Treasury.

    The D.C. Circuit opinion noted that Section 4617(f) of HERA expressly states that “no court may take any action to restrain or affect the exercise of powers or functions of the Agency as a conservator or a receiver.” The court interpreted this language to prohibit any court from “wielding [its] equitable relief to second-guess either the dividend-allocating terms . . . or FHFA’s business judgment.” And although an exception to this bar on judicial review has been recognized where an agency is found to have exceeded or violated its statutory powers or functions, the court determined that FHFA’s actions were within its statutory powers or functions.

    Although the majority of the stockholders’ claims were rejected, the stockholders’ contract-based claims regarding liquidation preferences and dividend rights were remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

    Courts Banking Fannie Mae FHFA Freddie Mac HERA Treasury Department

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