FHA’s Underwater Problem – Is the Worst Over?

FHA recently released another updated Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (“HECM”) loan level data file, this time showing all FHA-insured reverse mortgages originated through November 2011. Once again, prepayment rates declined to new lows: the annual prepayment rate for seasoned HECMs is about 4.7%, compared to the historical average of 6.8%. We have adjusted our HECM “Prepayment By Borrower Age” table accordingly.

Beginning with the prior release (January 2011), FHA added new fields to their data set. This new data enables us to get a sharper picture of the economic state of the HECM program. These include data showing the amount borrowed for each loan, and the year it was drawn. As we explained last April, a good approximation of each loan balance can be calculated by rolling forward the draws, plus estimated accrued interest, MIP, and servicing fees.

Using this same methodology, and applying the data from the most recent FHA dataset, we rolled forward the approximately 580,000 HECM loans currently outstanding. We estimate the total outstanding balance of all HECM loans to be approximately $87.6 billion as of November 2011. This estimate is consistent with FHA’s most recent FY 2011 report.

The dataset also contains the estimated property value at origination for each loan, as well as the mortgaged property’s location: Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), State, Zip Code, etc. Once again, for about 92% of the loans in the file, we were able to link these data fields to publicly available data showing historical price levels by MSA, and thereby estimate each loan’s current underlying property value. For the remaining 8%, we used state level home price data. Comparing these property values to the rolled balances, we can estimate the current state of the HECM program with respect to crossover losses.

Our analysis shows the following: approximately 108,000 HECM loans (or 19% of outstanding) are underwater by a total of $4.3 billion, an increase of nearly $1 billion over 10 months. However, those numbers simply compare loan balance to property value; a more accurate measure haircuts the property value to reflect the cost of property disposition. As a practical matter, only the net property value (home price minus the property disposition cost), is available to pay off the HECM loan. Unfortunately, property disposition costs grow significantly as the mortgage balance approaches the crossover point; a haircut of 10% or even 15% is not unreasonable. If the loan is in default or foreclosure, the cost can be much higher. Applying a 10% haircut to property values raises the number of HECMs effectively “crossed over” to 160,000 loans (28% of outstanding), underwater by $6.4 billion, and a 15% haircut to 196,000 loans (34% of outstanding) underwater by $7.9 billion.

Not surprisingly, HECM loans originated from 2005 through 2008 comprise substantially all of these underwater loans. In the 10% haircut scenario, they account for about 88% of the underwater loans. The 2006 and 2007 vintages alone account for nearly 60% of the problem loans.

Because of the 2005-2008 vintages, these numbers will get worse before they get better. The underwater numbers are simply a snapshot as of November 2011, in other words, how much FHA could lose if all the loans paid off at that cutoff date. But these loans are paying off slowly, and will take several years to pay off completely. During those years, accreting loan balances and borrower advances, especially if combined with slow prepayments and a struggling housing market, will make the problem worse. This fact is reflected in FHA’s estimate of a Loan Loss Liability of $10.013 billion (for HECMs originated through FY 2011) in their most recent Annual Management Report. (FHA made upward revisions to their loss estimates for HECMs originated through FY 2008, from their $8.7 billion estimate at the end of FY 2010, $4.8 billion estimate at the end of FY 2009 and $1.5 billion the year before.) We also estimate, based on the FHA dataset, that FHA has already experienced anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion in realized losses from underwater HECMs that have paid off.

Last April we put the HECM program’s net economic value since inception at -$7.3 billion. With declining home prices, (down about 3% in the 12 months ended November 2011), slow prepayments, and accreting loan balances, one might expect FHA’s HECM bottom line to get much worse. But with several months of new loan production of improved HECM products, the overall outlook for FHA’s HECM insurance portfolio avoided further deterioration. With each new loan, FHA is collecting MIP at a higher rate on loans with lower Loan-to-Value ratios. As we noted in our previous blog, FHA reduced its estimate of future losses on its HECM portfolio. Combining FHA’s estimates of what will happen with our estimates of what has happened, the program’s net economic value since inception now stands at about -$5.4 billion. We think FHA’s current projections are a bit optimistic, but even using their old numbers, the program’s economic value held steady.

The details of the HECM program’s bottom line: probably a little over $5.3 billion in MIP collected to date (in present value terms), minus at least $0.7 billion in realized losses, minus the $7.9 billion in projected negative net present value (“NPV”), which includes nearly all of the $4.3 – $7.9 billion baked-in crossover loss we estimate, minus another $2.1 billion in projected losses for HECMs originated in FY 2009 – 2011. In sum, about $5.4 billion negative NPV for the program since its inception, with the vast majority of the damage coming from the 2005 – 2008 HECM loan cohorts. Even if FHA’s assumptions are too rosy by $2 billion, the program is still holding the bottom line in unfavorable economic conditions.

$5.3 Billion   MIP collected
-$0.7 Billion   Realized losses
-$7.9 Billion   1990-2008 originations: projected net loss
-$2.1 Billion   2009-2011 originations: projected net loss
-$5.4 Billion   HECM program Net Present Value 1990-2011

In our last blog on this topic, we note that unlike the forward mortgage industry, the reverse mortgage industry has already undergone the painful process of reform, including reducing loan-to-value ratios (principal limits) and weaning itself off Fannie Mae. Barring another housing catastrophe, the worst may be over. If so, the current position of the HECM will improve each year, as FHA’s HECM risk profile reflects an increasing percentage of the new, more conservative standard HECM loans and HECM Savers.

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