Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sometimes you have to hold your nose

Reporter Jim Puzzanghera  of the LA Times asked me today whether I would restore conforming loan limits in certain high cost areas to their pre-October 1 729,250 level.  He wrote:

Although he'd like to see more data, Green thinks it's probably a smart move to increase the loan limits. And he agreed that the move was unlikely to hurt the FHA's finances. 
"My gut answer is, I'd probably raise it back right now," Green said. "The downside of not raising it is potentially pretty bad."
I really dislike the idea of subsidizing mortgages that only households earning more than $200,000 per year can afford.  At the same time, however, Nick Timiraos last week wrote:

Potentially more revealing is this data point from California, which has a higher share of markets affected by the declines: applications for purchase loans with balances between $625,500 and $729,750 were down by 25% from September and by 33% from one year ago. By contrast, overall purchase-loan applications in California were down by just 12% and 3%, respectively.
Housing is still very weak and many borrowers are underwater.  I wanted to see if lowering loan limits would lead the private sector to step in--I am not seeing any evidence that it is.  Beyond the data cited in the Timiraos story, flow of funds data show that private lending in other sectors of the economy remains moribund.

Maybe it is worth waiting for another month of data before the old limits are restored.  But it is not worth worsening things in the market to make a point.