Saturday, September 13, 2008

Blast from the past: subprime nostalgia number two

I found another great pre-mortgage crisis article about the heady times leading up to the crash, with the added bonus of a Countrywide quote. BusinessWeek had the following to say about Fannie and Freddie back in 2002:

And mortgage lenders are willing to oblige, even in the case of buyers who might not have qualified before. The average downpayment has dropped to only 5% to 10% over the past decade rather than the 10% to 20% it was in the past, according to Doug Perry, a first vice-president at mortgage lender Countrywide Home Loans Inc. Under the right conditions, Countrywide is even willing to lend homebuyers 103% of the value of their new home to cover their closing costs, too.

In part, the aggressive tactics of mortgage lenders have been made possible by the automated underwriting systems developed in recent years by the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). These two government-created companies buy 70% of new mortgages in the U.S. and repackage them as mortgage-backed securities, which they then sell to investors.

The new underwriting systems being used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are analogous to the credit-scoring systems used by banks, allow for higher loan-to-income ratios than in the past to encourage home buying. That's good for borrowers, but the relaxed ratios could pose serious problems in the future.

There's something satisfying about seeing someone pin down so accurately the cause of great turmoil before the fact.

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