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Obamany Refinance plan: Change you can believe in.

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

James Pethokoukis is one of the few people holding Romney’s feet to the fire. He has a great article today on Romney’s housing plan.

First, this exchange from CNBC’s Kudlow Report last night:

Romney: Again, let’s look at the numbers. Let’s see what kind of tax there is. If you’re talking about refinancing trillions of dollars of debt and the government is now going to be taking over responsibility for those mortgages, that would be a real problem. But let’s look at the details. Clearly, if there is a way of providing a break to homeowners to get lower interest rates, that is something which has always been part of the refinance story. If it can be done in a way that doesn’t add additional government obligation, that’s one thing. If instead it adds trillions of dollars in new debt to the federal balance sheet, that’s a very different thing. What about the investors who own the mortgage-backed securities who have to be repriced lower? They’re going to take a bath, pension funds are going the take a bath. In the speech, he put in one or two sentences about it. Let’s see what it shows. You have apparently more information about it than I do. I want to see what the plan shows, but clearly, you can’t go in and say we’re going to wipe out all the people who invested in mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. A lot of those are banks. Banks in some cases are in trouble already. You don’t want them to have to find themselves in even more distress.

Now, Romney could have said something like, “The way to boost housing is to boost the economy and speed up the foreclosure process so the market can clear.” But he didn’t say that. He said this: “Clearly, if there is a way of providing a break to homeowners to get lower interest rates, that is something which has always been part of the refinance story. If it can be done in a way that doesn’t add additional government obligation, that’s one thing.”

As James notes, Romney doesn’t criticisze the idea of a housing refinance plan at all, just the way Obama does it. Here’s Romney’s plan.

a) Every homeowner with a GSE mortgage can refinance his or her mortgage with a new mortgage at a current fixed rate of 4% or less, with the rate subject to change up or down with the price of Agency pass-through Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS). For borrowers with an FHA or VA mortgage, rates would be higher, but these borrowers should be included in any large-scale refinancing program.

b) The homeowner must be current on his or her mortgage or become so for at least three months.

c) NO other qualification or application is required, other than intention to accept the new rate (that is, no appraisal, no income verification, no tax returns, etc.).

As Pethokoukis notes: “Hey, that sounds a lot like the Obama plan, except with the GSE limitation.” Obama will give “every responsible homeowner” a refi. Romney only wants to give it to people backed by Fannie and Freddie. Makes all those attack ads about Newt and Freddie seem hypocritical doesn’t it?

Another way of saying it would be so say Romney’s plan is Obama lite. They both think that Government should refinance people’s houses that they bought because of bad government policy. It’s government intervention because the last government intervention didn’t work out so well.

The main problem is that refinancing a house only helps marginally and if anything postpones the inevitable to a later date. It’s basic premise is to prop up house prices. The banks are not going to write down current asset prices for the house as long as it is being refinanced. The principle remains, it’s just the interest rate that changes. This keeps banks balance sheet artificially high, which keeps stock prices high. Politicians seem to think that if stocks are high, the economy is doing good. As if the last 3 years haven’t been proof of that error.

As noted in a NYT article from 2010, refinance plans only kick the can down the road.

Some experts argue the program has impeded economic recovery by delaying a wrenching yet cleansing process through which borrowers give up unaffordable homes and banks fully reckon with their disastrous bets on real estate, enabling money to flow more freely through the financial system.

“The choice we appear to be making is trying to modify our way out of this, which has the effect of lengthening the crisis,” said Kevin Katari, managing member of Watershed Asset Management, a San Francisco-based hedge fund. “We have simply slowed the foreclosure pipeline, with people staying in houses they are ultimately not going to be able to afford anyway.”

Mr. Katari contends that banks have been using temporary loan modifications under the Obama plan as justification to avoid an honest accounting of the mortgage losses still on their books. Only after banks are forced to acknowledge losses and the real estate market absorbs a now pent-up surge of foreclosed properties will housing prices drop to levels at which enough Americans can afford to buy, he argues.

We’ve seen Obama’s refi plan fail. Now Romney is saying “Hey I can do it too! Look at me I’m electable.” Give me a break. Don’t expect to see any mention of Obamany Refi in the conservative media. That would hurt Romney too much. Of course, never expect to see anything that hurts Obama in the MSM.

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