HOUSING COMMENTARY #1: WHY HAS CONGRESS LEFT HOUSING TO FANNIE MAE AND FREDDIE MAC?
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with their regulator, are doing more to dismantle themselves than Congress can be bothered to do, according to a commentary in the Washington Post Tuesday. On Monday, their regulator, Ed DeMarco of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said that a new company will be formed that will do much of the back-office work of both firms, setting the stage for whatever Congress decides to do next to overhaul the mortgage sector. The two government-sponsored mortgage finance companies are nearing the five-year anniversary of when the feds took them over, a bailout that has cost taxpayers $131 billion so far. They have been vilified, particularly by conservatives, as representing the worst of crony capitalism (fairly) and as being major drivers of the financial crisis (unfairly). For many Republicans, their stated objection to the Dodd-Frank financial reform act was that it didn't do anything to reform Fannie and Freddie. No legislation to overhaul the nation's mortgage finance has passed either the Republican-led House or the Democratic-led Senate. The White House unveiled a plan for what to domore than two years agothat was less a plan than a menu of options from which Congress might choose in sculpting its own approach to reforming the government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs. So what is going on here? How is this an area where seemingly everybody agrees there needs to be an overhaul, yet no actual legislative action has taken place? The answer boils down to this: Too many people benefit from the current system, and too many people have something to lose in any overhaul, according to the commentary. But something will have to change in order to give the U.S. a system of housing finance that doesn't leave taxpayers on the hook for everyone who wants a place to live. Click here to read the full commentary.
HOUSING COMMENTARY #2: HOW TO REPEAT THE MORTGAGE MESS
In September 2008, amid the financial panic and collapse of the housing market, the federal government bailed out and took control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mactwo government-sponsored enterprises that dominated the mortgage market. After four years and $180 billion of taxpayer funds to keep them afloat, they are beginning to make profits from their near monopoly. This week, the head of the federal agency that supervises Fannie and Freddie, Edward DeMarco, outlined a sensible plan that would prepare the companieswhich remain the dominant players in housing financefor either full privatization or government ownership. These are the obvious alternatives, but there is a third idea in the mix, one that is as seductive as it is dangerous: a private system with an explicit government mechanism for future bailouts when they prove necessary, according to a commentary in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The rationale? If there's a problem in housing finance, the government will inevitably step in as it did in 2008. So why not create a government insurance program now, compensating taxpayers for the burdens they will have to shoulder eventually anyway? This argument has been advanced many times since Fannie and Freddie went under, most recently by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank. A system for private housing finance with a government insurance backstop may sound reasonable, even sophisticated. But it is seriously flawed. At the end of this road is bailout nation: a government insurance backstop for every industry. Also, taxpayers never get compensated from insurance funds, and federal insurance encourages careless behavior by those who know that if things go bad, someone will be there with a bailout. Once a fund of any size is created to back a particular industry, the arguments against a bailout virtually disappear. The reality is that sufficient funds are not going to be there. The only way to ensure a stable mortgage market is to get the government out, and keep it out. Click here to read the full commentary (subscription required).
ANALYSIS: STUDENT DEBT IS A DRAG ON ECONOMIC RECOVERY
Roughly 39 million Americans have a total of $966 billion in educational debta sum that has tripled since 2004, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York finds, according to an analysis in the Financial Times Tuesday. It was the only type of borrowing that expanded through the Great Recession, and in 2010 it jumped ahead of car loans, credit card debt and home equity credit to become the largest source of indebtedness behind mortgages. Faced with tighter scrutiny from banks and their own cautious behavior about running up balances, this new generation of borrowers has cut back on spending. They keep their credit cards in their wallets, put off purchasing houses and cars, and delay starting savings accounts for their own children's education. Experts warn that this trend raises the possibility that the explosion in student debt will sap economic growth in the U.S., where consumer spending accounts for around 70 percent of gross domestic product. "Consumers with large student debt burdens may spend less and are more likely to have difficulty securing a mortgage," the U.S. Treasury's Office of Financial Research said in its 2012 annual report. "These factors could significantly depress demand for mortgage credit and dampen consumption." Those fears have been supported by recent studies, such as a Pew Research Center report last month showing that young adults are less likely to own homes, cars and other "big-ticket consumer durables," such as refrigerators and washing machines, than their peers were in 2001. Simply put, more people are paying more money for school. Click here to read the full analysis (subscription required).
HOMEOWNERS ARE INCREASINGLY TURNING TO SHORT SALES OVER FORECLOSURES
The number of American homes that end up in foreclosure has started to decline, a welcome development that partly reflects an improving housing market. But a look at data that tracks distressed home sales reveals another reason why foreclosures are becoming less prevalent: More homeowners are turning to so-called short saleswhere they sell their homes for less than what they owe in mortgage debt and the bank typically eats the difference, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. In the past, short sales were rare. Now they are becoming increasingly common in part because lenders, homeowners and real estate agents have become more experienced at marketing and pricing the properties, and because short sales are considered a more efficient way than foreclosure to sell underwater properties. The shift is helping the housing market pare the backlog of distressed mortgages while cutting the amount of time that vacant homes sit empty. That in turn has helped keep home prices firm at a time when the real estate industry is still recovering from its multiyear slump. Foreclosures accounted for 11.5 percent of total home sales in October, down from 17.3 percent in October 2011 and close to 30 percent during the depths of the recession, according to CoreLogic, a real estate research firm that tracks foreclosure and home-sales data. Over the same period, short sales have climbed to 10.4 percent from 8.1 percent. From an economic perspective, short sales leave everyone better off: Banks and investors see narrower losses, homeowners incur less damage to their credit, and neighboring homes are less likely to be dragged down in value because of the typically higher sale prices and reduced vacancy times. But despite the progress being made in the housing market in general, there are still millions of homeowners who are in some form of pre-foreclosure distressa "shadow inventory" that could hit the market and spell trouble for the housing recovery. Click here to read the full article (subscription required).
U.S. HOUSEHOLD WEALTH AT HIGHEST LEVEL SINCE LATE '07
The net worth of U.S. families rose by $1.17 trillion at the end of 2012 to the highest level since late 2007, as rising home values and gains in stock holdings boosted household balance sheets, the Wall Street Journal reported today. The net worth of U.S. householdsthe value of homes, stocks and other investments minus debts and other liabilitiesrose 1.8 percent to $66.07 trillion from October through December, the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2007, according to a Federal Reserve report released Thursday. The recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.
Household net worth was up 9 percent at the end of 2012 compared with the fourth quarter of 2011, the latest sign that Americans are repairing their balance sheets in the wake of the financial crisis. Stocks have recovered from their sluggish performance in the fourth quarter. Americans also have much more equity in their homes. A measure of owners' equity in household real estate as a percentage of household real estate hit 46.6 percent, the highest since the first quarter of 2008. The Fed report also showed that household debt grew at an annual rate of 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter after contracting in the third quarter. Click here to read the full article (subscription required).
DON’T MISS THE ABI LIVE WEBINAR ON APRIL 5 - "LEGACY LIABILITIES: DEALING WITH ENVIRONMENTAL, PENSION, UNION AND SIMILAR TYPES OF CLAIMS"
A panel of experts has been assembled for a webinar on April 5 from 1-2:15 p.m. ET to discuss environmental and pension liabilities, the statutory schemes under which these liabilities arise and the key players involved. Are non-monetary environmental claims dischargeable? Do post-petition expenditures for environmental cleanup constitute administrative expenses? When can an employer terminate a pension plan in bankruptcy, what is the process and what are the consequences? Learn the answer to these questions and more from the comfort of your own office. Special ABI member rate is available! Register here as this webinar is sure to sell out.
ABI'S ANNUAL SPRING MEETING: CONSUMER PROGRAMMING WITH CROSS-OVER APPEAL
With four session tracks looking at issues geared toward chapter 11 restructurings, financial advisors, professional development and consumer bankruptcy, a number of sessions at ABI's Annual Spring Meeting have cross-over appeal for both consumer and business practitioners. Sessions include:
• The Appellate Process: This distinguished panel will explore recent issues in appellate practice that are of interest to both consumer and business practitioners, including the ability to bypass intermediary appellate courts and take appeals directly to the circuit courts.
• Consumer Class Actions: This panel will explore the potential benefits and pitfalls of class actions by debtors/trustees against creditors in chapter 13 cases, which are highlighted by two recent decisions of the Fifth Circuit. Many of the issues discussed during this panel will be useful in business cases as well.
• The Individual Conundrum - Chapter 7, 11 or 13?: Deciding on the appropriate chapter for a high net worth individual contemplating a bankruptcy filing can be a daunting task. This panel will explore the considerations that guide the practitioner in advising individual clients in making this decision.
To register for the Annual Spring Meeting and to see the full schedule of program tracks and events, please click here.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR APRIL 10 TO TAKE PART IN ABI’S LIVE WEBINAR "STUDENT LOANS: BANKRUPTCY MAY NOT HAVE THE ANSWERS – BUT DOES CONGRESS?"
Do not miss the "Student Loans: Bankruptcy May Not Have the Answers - But Does Congress?" webinar presented by ABI's Consumer Bankruptcy Committee on April 10 from noon-1:15 ET. ABI's panel of experts will provide an overview of the student loan industry, examine the numbers behind and causes of student loan debt, and discuss federal loan programs as well as federal consolidation and forgiveness programs. Faculty on the webinar includes:
Prof. Daniel A. Austin of Northeastern University School of Law (Boston)
Edward "Ted" M. King of Frost Brown Todd LLC (Louisville, Ky.)
Craig Zimmerman of the Law Offices of Craig Zimmerman (Santa Ana, Calif.)
CLE credit will be available for the webinar. This webinar is sure to sell out; register now for the special ABI member rate of $75!
NEW BANKRUPTCY PROFESSIONALS: DON'T MISS THE NUTS AND BOLTS PROGRAM AT ABI'S ANNUAL SPRING MEETING! SPECIAL PRICING IF YOU ARE AN ASM REGISTRANT!
An outstanding faculty of judges and practitioners explains the fundamentals of bankruptcy in a one-day Nuts and Bolts program on April 18 being held in conjunction with ABI's Annual Spring Meeting. Ideal training for junior professionals or those new to this practice area!
The morning session covers concepts all bankruptcy practitioners need to know, and the afternoon session splits into concurrent tracks, focusing on consumer and business issues. The session will include written materials, practice tip sessions with bankruptcy judges, continental breakfast and a reception after the program. Click here to register!
LATEST CASE SUMMARY ON VOLO: IN RE ALABAMA AIRCRAFT INDUSTRIES INC. (3D CIR.)
Summarized by John Eggum of Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff
A transfer of a cause of action to a litigation trust, in accordance with the terms of an asset purchase agreement, can be insulated from attack on appeal pursuant to § 363(m). In this case, the Third Circuit found that invalidating the transfer of the cause of action would invalidate the related sale, since the value of the assets sold would be altered if the cause of action was not transferred in accordance with the terms of the applicable asset purchase agreement. Accordingly, the Third Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot.
There are more than 750 appellate opinions summarized on Volo, and summaries typically appear within 24 hours of the ruling. Click here regularly to view the latest case summaries on ABI’s Volo website.
NEW ON ABI’S BANKRUPTCY BLOG EXCHANGE: WHEN CAN AUTOMATIC STAY BE EXTENDED TO NONDEBTOR THIRD PARTY?
The Bankruptcy Blog Exchange is a free ABI service that tracks 35 bankruptcy-related blogs. A recent post discusses whether the automatic stay can be extended to protect nondebtor third parties by examining the case of In re Brier Creek Corp. Center Assocs. LP (Bankr. E.D.N.C.).
Be sure to check the site several times each day; any time a contributing blog posts a new story, a link to the story will appear on the top. If you have a blog that deals with bankruptcy, or know of a good blog that should be part of the Bankruptcy Exchange, please contact the ABI Web team.
ABI Quick Poll
As a result of the RadLAX decision, the right to credit-bid will likely chill bidding at auctions, as potential purchasers may be dissuaded from participating in the bidding process.
Click here to vote on this week's Quick Poll. Click here to view the results of previous Quick Polls.
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