Asian Review of Financial Research Vol.26 No.2 pp.153-182
Conforming Mortgage Loans : Some Issues and Policy Recommendations
Key Words : Conforming Mortgage Loans,Housing Finance,Bullet Loans,Credit Standards,Asymmetric Information,Quantity Restriction
Korea Housing Finance Corporation (KHFC) introduced conforming mortgage loan (CML), which is standardized to be compatible with securitization. It is similar to the conforming loan in the U.S. The U.S. government is directly and indirectly involved in the home mortgage market. Its direct involvement is through the granting of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, as well as loans granted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Rural Housing Service of the Department of Agriculture. The government' indirect involvement is made possible through the securitization. The mortgage loans offered by private firms, on the other hand, are referred to as conventional mortgage loans. Some conventional mortgage loans have to conform to the requirements in order to be purchased by the Fannie Mae and the Freddie Mac. Most of these conforming loans are securitized by those public entities. By buying mortgage loans, these two governmentsponsored enterprises (GSEs) create liquidity for lenders, freeing up capital so they can make more loans, thereby offering better support to the credit market. The access to funding from the capital markets on fairly generous terms by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has historically generated a steady demand for conforming loans, and in the process allowed lenders to offer somewhat more favorable terms on these home mortgages. In many respects, CML in Korea and the conforming loan in the U.S. are quite similar. For instance, the private mortgage loans that satisfy the requirements set by KHFC are purchased by the corporation. CML also allows lenders to provide home mortgage loans on very favorable terms. KHFC requires the following specific conditions for CML. Borrowers should have credit grades no worse than 8th grade assigned by the certified credit bureaus. Loan-to-value and debt-to-income ratios should not violate the guidelines set by Korea's financial watchdog, called the Financial Services Commission. Also, the loan size cannot exceed 500 million Korean Won, and the length of maturity ranges from five to thirty-five years. Both fixed and floating rate loans are accepted. In addition, there is no restriction on repayment method, and even bullet loans are qualified for CML. As soon as it was introduced in March 2012, due to these borrower-friendly terms, CML became instantly popular in the Korean residential mortgage loan market. Mainly its low interest rate and flexible repayment scheme attracted many. The low interest rate relies predominantly on the risk mitigation measure provided by KHFC since CMLs are sold by commercial banks with the presumption that they would be securitized through the issuance of MBS with credit guarantee by KHFC that is again backed by the government. The government guarantee of CMLs can be understood as a necessary incentive to induce mortgage borrowers to switch their existing loans to long-term fixed rate loans with amortization from short-term bullet loans. And yet, CML has some structural flaws that require immediate policy attention. Contrary to initial intention, bullet loans still comprise a significant portion of CML portfolio. In addition, the credit standard is set at a very low level in terms of the borrowers' credit scores and repayment ability. Moreover, servicing companies are free to set their own level of servicing fees, which create ample chances for disputes to erupt between servicers and borrowers in anytime soon. These problems may result in significant financial burden on KHFC when they are entangled with the problem of information asymmetry prevalent in the mortgage market. In response to these potential challenges, we make the following four policy recommendations. First of all, bullet loans should be completely eliminated from CML portfolio. Second, credit standards should be significantly tightened immediately. Third, KHFC should restructure the loan management system to reclaim the right to determine the level of servicing fees lenders can charge. Finally, transparency on CML should be enhanced through disclosure of wider range of information and tighter monitoring by the financial supervisor and the National Assembly. According to the news reports in early 2013, a policy measure was taken to impose a ceiling on the amount of CML each bank can sell. Banks seemed to have responded to the measure by raising the loan interest rates. If the banks chose to increase the loan interest rate, one possible outcome is adverse selection. Safer borrowers whose risk levels fall within the given risk bracket may be unwilling to borrow at a higher interest rate than what their credit standing; as a result, the mix of borrowers within the pool becomes riskier. The second possibility is that an increase in the loan interest rate could worsen the likelihood for moral hazard problem. That is, those borrowers within the pool who have some latitude in their investment decisions may choose riskier projects at a higher loan interest rate. If the banks are exposed to the default risks, they will not raise the loan interest rates, because higher interest rates could mean lower expected profit for the banks. Since the banks are not responsible for the defaults, they are willing to raise the rates. Therefore, the quantity restriction should be avoided since it can only aggravate either adverse selection or moral hazard or both problems by those banks.