Tag Archives: Finance

Ezra Levant interviews Mark Steyn on Sun TV

Blazing Cat Fur uploaded this new video featuring free speech warriors Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn. It also has funny Canadian commercials!

They talk about Mark Steyn’s new book “After America”.

What was the real cause of the financial crisis?

From the American Spectator.

Excerpt:

I believe that the sine qua nonof the financial crisis was U.S. government housing policy, which led to the creation of 27 million subprime and other risky loans — half of all mortgages in the United States — which were ready to default as soon as the massive 1997-2007 housing bubble began to deflate. If the U.S. government had not chosen this policy path — fostering the growth of a bubble of unprecedented size and an equally unprecedented number of weak and high-risk residential mortgages — the great financial crisis of 2008 would never have occurred.

In this article, I will outline the logical process that I followed in coming to the conclusion that it was the U.S. government’s housing policies — and nothing else — that were responsible for the 2008 financial crisis.

The inquiry has to begin with what everyone agrees was the trigger for the crisis — the so-called mortgage meltdown that occurred in 2007. That was the relatively sudden outbreak of delinquencies and defaults among mortgages, primarily in a few states — California, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida — but to a lesser degree everywhere in the country. No one disputes that the losses on these mortgages and the decline in housing values that resulted from the ensuing foreclosures weakened financial institutions in the U.S. and around the world and were the precipitating cause of the crisis.

[…]Researcher shows that the turning point came in 1992, with the enactment by Congress of what were called “affordable housing goals” for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two firms, which were shareholder-owned, had been chartered by Congress more than 20 years earlier to operate a secondary market in mortgages. The original idea was that they would buy mortgages from banks and other originators (Fannie and Freddie were not permitted to originate mortgages), standardize the mortgage document, resell those mortgages to institutional and other investors, and in that way create a national market for U.S. mortgages.From the beginning, Fannie and Freddie’s congressional charters required them to buy only mortgages that would be acceptable to institutional investors — in other words, prime mortgages. At the time, a prime mortgage was a loan with a 10-20 percent down payment, made to a borrower with a good credit record who had sufficient income to meet his or her debt obligations after the loan was made. Fannie and Freddie operated under these standards until 1992.

The 1992 affordable housing goals required that, of all mortgages Fannie and Freddie bought in any year, at least 30 percent had to be loans made to borrowers who were at or below the median income in the places where they lived. Over succeeding years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) increased this requirement, first to 42 percent in 1995, to 50 percent in 2000, and finally to 55 percent in 2007. It is important to note, accordingly, that this occurred during both Democratic and Republican administrations.

At the 50 percent level, Fannie and Freddie had to acquire at least one goal-eligible loan for every prime loan that they acquired, and since not all subprime loans were goals-eligible Fannie and Freddie were in effect required to buy many more subprime loans than prime loans to meet the goals. As a result of this process, by 2008, Fannie and Freddie held the credit risk of 12 million subprime or otherwise risky loans — almost 40 percent of their single-family book of business.

But this was not by any means the full extent of the problem. HUD took Congress’s enactment of the affordable housing goals as an expression of a congressional policy to reduce underwriting standards so that low-income borrowers would have greater access to mortgage credit. As outlined in my dissent, by tightening the affordable housing goals, HUD put Fannie and Freddie into competition with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), a government agency with an explicit mission to provide credit to low-income borrowers, and with subprime lenders such as Countrywide, that had pledged to reduce underwriting standards in order to make more mortgage credit available to low-income borrowers. Moreover, all these organizations were joined by insured banks and S&Ls, which as noted above were required under the CRA to make mortgage credit available to borrowers who are at or below 80 percent of the median income in the areas where they live.

Of course, it is possible to find borrowers who meet prime loan standards among low-income families, but it is far more difficult to find such loans among these borrowers than among middle-income groups. And when Fannie, Freddie, FHA, subprime lenders like Countrywide, and insured banks and S&Ls are all competing to find loans to borrowers in the low-income category, the inevitable result was a significant deterioration in underwriting standards.

So, for example, while one in 200 mortgages involved a down payment of 3 percent or less in 1990, by 2007 it was one in less than three. Other credit standards had also declined. As a result of this government-induced competition, by 2008 19.2 million out of the total of 27 million subprime and other weak loans in the U.S. financial system could be traced directly or indirectly to U.S. government housing policies.

I’ve read Thomas Sowell’s “The Housing Boom and Bust” and this article is a snapshot of that book. It mentions Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act, the Federal Housing Administration, and so on.

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Thomas Sowell on the root causes of the mortgage lending crisis

Here’s a 33-minute video of Thomas Sowell explaining what caused the current recession.

He blames everybody, but Barney Frank and Chris Dodd most of all.

For those who cannot watch a big long video, here’s an article from Reason magazine.

Here’s a summary from the article:

Now, in The Housing Boom and Bust (Basic Books), Sowell contemplates the greatest expansion of government power in a generation, which was itself occasioned by the greatest economic crisis in as long. A quick but thorough guide to the causes of the crises, Sowell’s book shows how government policies led to a huge increase in highly risky housing loans. As he notes, the immense local variability in housing prices and failed loans reveals that the government mistook a set of local problems for a national one, and then imposed a single troublesome national solution. Sowell argues that while foolish decisions to indulge in complicated investment vehicles affected the specifics of how the financial contagion spread, at its root the housing problem is one of bad mortgages. And those came from bad decisions by government and by borrowers themselves.

And an excerpt:

reason: You parcel out some share of responsibility for the specific way the housing bust broke down to borrowers, lenders, financial markets, and the government. What was the borrowers’ share?

Sowell: There are those who borrowed to buy a place to live and speculators who borrowed to speculate, and did enormously well for a number of years. Then there were people who simply don’t understand complex mortgages, particularly people who never owned a home before and whose educations were limited. But the people I would blame the most in the sense that without their interference other problems would have been within manageable means are the politicians—people in Congress and the president and regulators—who pushed the lenders and the banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into lending and buying mortgages based on people who didn’t meet standards that evolved in the marketplace and which had worked. Those politicians, in addition to that initial mistake, ignored all sorts of warnings from all sorts of sources. As I list in the book, the Economist in London, Fortune, Barron’s, people at the American Enterprise Institute, all over the map, saw that this policy of encouraging homeownership at all costs was leading to trouble.

But the politicians clearly had as their political goal homeownership as “a good thing” and persisted—and for that matter persist to this moment in pushing it. The Federal Housing Administration last I checked was promoting supporting mortgages that have less than 4 percent down payment. We all make mistakes, but politicians have persisted in their mistakes, and in the pointing of fingers in other directions.

“Affordable housing” covers a number of things. There was this sense in Washington that the cost of buying a house had become a nationwide major problem which would require a federal answer as opposed to a local answer. All the data say that was not true. People weren’t paying a higher percent of their income nationwide for housing than they had a decade earlier. In fact, it was a somewhat lower percentage in some areas. Now in some areas, including California—coastal California—people were paying half their family income to put a roof over their head. That in turn was a result of local political people putting all sorts of restrictions on building.

Implicit in the idea of “affordable housing” is the notion that third parties know what people can afford better than those people know themselves. If you spell it out it sounds so absurd you wonder how anyone could have believed it. But for politicians the question is not, is it absurd? The question is whether or not the public will buy it.

reason: How much weight do you place on the notion that Federal Reserve expansionary money and credit policies primed the bubble, and bust, in housing?

Sowell: I find it hard to accept. I’m sure if the interest rates had been at 8 percent the boom would not have gone as far and the bust would not have been as big. I’m not saying monetary policy had no effect. But I am struck by the fact that Federal Reserve policy is nationwide, and in places like Dallas the increase in housing prices was in single digits and the decrease has been in single digits. So while Fed policy undoubtedly aggravated circumstances, it can’t be the fundamental cause because the defaults were so heavily concentrated. 60 percent of all defaults nationwide were in five states, and I suspect if you broke down the data even more you’d find specific regions in those five states very heavily implicated in defaults.

For more on the specific laws that caused the prices of homes to skyrocket in those 5 states, read this article.

Excerpt:

Let us go back to square one to consider the empirical consequences of policies in the housing market. Politicians in Washington set out to solve a national problem that did not exist — a nationwide shortage of “affordable housing” — and have now left us with a problem whose existence is as undeniable as it is painful. When the political crusade for affordable housing took off and built up steam during the 1990s, the share of their incomes that Americans were spending on housing in 1998 was 17 percent, compared to 30 percent in the early 1980s. Even during the housing boom of 2005, the median home took just 22 percent of the median American income.

What created the illusion of a nationwide problem was that, in particular localities around the country, housing prices had skyrocketed to the point where people had to pay half their income to buy a modest-sized home and often resorted to very risky ways of financing the purchase. In Tucson, for example, “roughly 60% of first-time home buyers make no down payment and instead now use 100% financing to get into the market,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Almost invariably, these locally extreme housing prices have been a result of local political crusades in the name of locally attractive slogans about the environment, open space, “smart growth,” or whatever other phrases had political resonance at the particular time and place.

Where housing markets have been more or less left alone — in places like Houston or Dallas, for example — housing did not take even half as big a share of family incomes as did comparable housing in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, where heavily hyped political crusades had led to severe restrictions on building. It was in precisely these extremely high housing-cost enclaves that the kind of people for whom the national housing crusade expressed much concern — minorities, low-income people and families with children — were forced out disproportionately.

Few things blind human beings to the actual consequences of what they are doing like a heady feeling of self-righteousness during a crusade to smite the wicked and rescue the downtrodden. Statistical studies about disparities between blacks and whites in mortgage loan approval rates might be said to have “jump-started” the housing crusades that began in the 1990s. Politicians and the media led this crusade, with many community activists following in their wake, much like scavengers, able to extract large sums of money from banks and other institutions by raising claims of discrimination, whose power to delay government approval of bank mergers and other business decisions made pay-offs to these activists the only prudent course for those accused.

I’m pretty sure that the San Francisco Bay area is run by leftists. And not moderate leftists – radical leftists. And I’m pretty sure that Dallas and Houston are not run by radical leftists. This crisis was local to areas that were dominated by Democrats who were passing all kinds of regulations and restrictions on the real estate market in order to drive up the price of their own properties and keep the “undesirable” minorities out.

I really recommend that everyone buy Thomas Sowell books and read them. I just finished “The Housing Boom and Bust” and am now working on “Economic Facts and Fallacies” and next up is “Intellectuals and Society”.

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Michele Bachmann makes the case for limited government

Michele previews the Tea Party Caucus on Fox Business Network’s America’s Nightly Scoreboard. She also calls for a pro-business growth economy to help spur job creation forward and discusses the impact of SIGTARP.

Here’s another one where she discusses the financial regulation bill which exempts the SEC from transparency measure.

A while back she had called for an audit of the SEC.

Who benefits from the Democrats financial regulation bill?

From the Washington Times.

Excerpt:

The financial reform bill expected to clear Congress this week is chock-full of provisions that have little to do with the financial crisis but cater to the long-standing agendas of labor unions and other Democratic interest groups.

Principal among them is a measure to make it easier for unions, environmental groups and other activist organizations that hold shares to put their representatives on the boards of directors of every corporation in the United States.

[…]Business groups are also rankled that the legislation would impose costly new burdens on airlines, utilities and other non-financial businesses that were victims rather than villains in the crisis, simply because they use financial derivatives to hedge their businesses against risks such as fluctuations in oil prices, interest rates and currencies.

Such hedging practices played no role in the crisis, though they helped many businesses weather the financial turbulence and recession that followed in the aftermath of the Wall Street storm.

Other provisions of the financial legislation, which goes before the full Senate on Thursday for a vote and likely passage, favor Democratic constituencies directly by requiring banks and federal agencies to hire and do more business with them.

The bill would create more than 20 “offices of minority and women inclusion” at the Treasury, Federal Reserve and other government agencies, to ensure they employ more women and minorities and grant more federal contracts to more women- and minority-owned businesses.

CNBC explains more.

Excerpt:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the real ‘black holes’ in the inancial regulation bill before Congress and they both need to be addressed, Robert Pozen, Chairman of MFS Investment Management, told CNBC Monday.”They were too political volatile to handle and are not in the bill,” said Pozen who is a former vice chairman of Fidelity Investments.

The non-partisan libertarian Cato Institute think tank.

Excerpt:

The House and Senate will soon vote on a finalized financial-regulation bill, one that was mostly hammered out in a closed-door conference between the two chambers. Legislators will have a stark, simple choice: support a bill that gives us more of the same flawed banking regulations, or reject it in the hopes that new congressional leadership next year will address the actual causes of the financial crisis.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Sen. Christopher Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, the bill’s primary authors, would fail to end the numerous government distortions of our financial and mortgage markets that led to the crisis. Both have been either architects or supporters of those distortions. One might as well ask the fox to build the henhouse.

Nowhere in the final bill will you see even a pretense of rolling back the endless federal incentives and mandates to extend credit, particularly mortgages, to those who cannot afford to pay their loans back. After all, the popular narrative insists that Wall Street fat cats must be to blame for the credit crisis. Despite the recognition that mortgages were offered to unqualified individuals and families, banks will still be required under the Dodd-Frank bill to meet government-imposed lending quotas

[…]While one can debate the motivations behind Fannie and Freddie’s support for the subprime market, one thing should be clear: Had Fannie and Freddie not been there to buy these loans, most of them would never have been made. And had the taxpayer not been standing behind Fannie and Freddie, they would have been unable to fund such large purchases of subprime mortgages. Yet rather than fix the endless bailout that Fannie and Freddie have become, Congress believes it is more important to expand federal regulation and litigation to lenders that had nothing to do with the crisis.

[…]Washington subsidizes debt, taxes equity, and then acts surprised when everyone becomes extremely leveraged.

Until Washington takes a long, deep look at its own role in causing the financial crisis, we will have little hope for avoiding another one. And the Dodd-Frank legislation, sure to be heralded as strong medicine for perfidious financiers, is actually not even a modest step in the right direction.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not regulated AT ALL by this bill. And that’s because the Democrats love the idea of giving loans to people for homes they can’t afford. The trick is to overload the system and then redistribute wealth in the form of bailouts from the responsible people to the irresponsible people. It’s not a reform bill. It’s a job-killing bill that attacks businesses.

Remember that Democrats forced banks to make these loans in order to avoid discriminating against people who could not afford homes. They rebuffed efforts by the Republicans (including Bush and McCain) to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, because they like the idea of giving people with no resident status, no job, and bad credit homes anyway. That, and the low interest rates, is what cause the mess in the first place. And this “reform” bill did nothing to fix that problem.

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