November 19, 2012

Bailout for FHA?

By Bruce Krasting 


So two days ago the WSJ runs the story that the FHA is soon to be in default due to a shortfall in its reserve fund. Sure enough, it’s now official:  

The government’s finances are creating a three-ring-circus of events. I’m thinking to myself, “Where’s the tent?” 
Just a quick thought on the timing of FHA’s bad news. This was “known” two months ago (or more). The leak, and the announcement, came a comfortable two weeks past election day. If you believe that’s just a coincidence, well, I guess I have nothing to say.
The FHA says the shortfall in the books comes to a modest $16.3Bn. As bailouts go, that’s chump change. It’s small beer today, but next quarter there will be another shortfall as the “book” of nutty mortgage’s works its way through (and steam rolls) the FHA. The losses being booked today (and next month) result from mortgage guarantees made back in the dark days of 2008 -09. These loans were programed to make losses. The chickens are coming home to
die roost. I think FHA will need a line of credit for at least $50Bn.
Given that we are already on the brink of warfare in Washington over a bunch of money issues, the timing for FHA to go into the red is terrible. The Republicans must be peeing in their pants with glee over this affair. After all, FHA, is a child of the Democratic Senate. In the end, elder statesmen and learned stewards like Chuck Schumer (D-NY) were supposed to be keeping an eye out for FHA. Oh, well.  
If you have an worries about FHA, and its ability to keep grinding out those ultra cheap 97.5% LTV mortgages, let me assure you that this will not be a problem at all. You can keep buying those high flying builder stocks, and maybe even buy a home of your own. The bottom of the RE market was a year ago already, right?  
The problems at FHA are going to be swept under the carpet. In an ironic twist of history, Tim Geithner will put a pen to the FHA bailout before the end of the year. It will be his last act as Treasury Secretary. Our boy Tim came in bailing, he is going out bailing. He is, and always will be, the Bailout King.
Here’s how it will work:
- Geithner will use his own bank, The Federal Financing Bank (FFB). This bank is owned by the US Treasury, and Geithner is the  the Chairman of the Board.
- No Congressional legislation is required for Geithner/FFB to make loans to, or guaranteed by, government agencies. Geithner doesn’t even have to take a call from a Senate Republican. Tim has the only signature required.
- FHA will get a $50Bn line of credit from FFB. It will immediately draw $20Bn in order to replenish the reserve accounts. FFB will book the advance as a loan. FHA will book it as a subordinated capital note, and therefore treat it as tier one equity. Of course this is all accounting rubbish. Just what’s necessary to maintain the charade.
- Speaking of charades and accounting rubbish, the loan from FFB will not be reflected in America’s debt profile. The FHA loans are not part of the Debt Subject to Limit. That’s just the rules of this game. Loans to Solyndra were guaranteed by DOE, so the money Treasury borrowed to make the bad loans to Soly never showed up on the books. Talk about a neat trick!
- Treasury will issue a few more notes to the public to come up with the cash that FHA needs to honor its guarantees. That’s not a problem at all. Maybe Bernanke will buy some of the paper, just to keep a necessary balance.
- With Ben B Zirping, the Vig for the FHA will come in at a very low rate. The FHA will borrow $30-40Bn and not pay a dime over 3/4 percent. Can you say “magic?
 The foregoing is well more than a guess on my part. There is a road map for this type of problem. The FDIC was down to nickels back in 1991. It got a line of credit from the FFB for $30Bn. Later the FDIC line was increased to $100Bn. When the SHTF in 2009 the line went to a cool half trillion. When it comes to providing credit to government agencies that have outstanding guarantees to the public, the FFB is the way to go when in need of some cheap/fast cash.
About The Author - Bruce Krasting had worked on Wall Street for 25 years--"For 25 years I woke up thinking, "What am I going to do today to make some money in the market". I don't do that any longer. But I miss it." Nowadays, Bruce blogs about his take on financial events at Bruce Krasting(EconMatters author archive here.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

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