Five Questions Facing the GSEs’ Common Securitization Platform

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Next year is shaping up to be a pivotal one for the future of the Common Securitization Platform and the issuance of the single security by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator for Fannie and Freddie, proposed a new, combined securitization platform for the government-sponsored enterprises in February 2012. More than four years later, Freddie Mac has begun the process of moving onto the platform, and next year the FHFA will likely release a timeline for Fannie Mae to do the same.

The platform is being developed by Common Securitization Solutions, a private joint venture between Fannie and Freddie. When Fannie moves onto the platform, the GSEs will begin issuing the so-called “single security,” a mortgage-backed security that includes loans from both with pricing similar to Fannie’s current security.

For lenders, a combined platform and security could indirectly improve the prices their loans fetch on the secondary market. That’s because, if all goes according to plan, the modernized platform and single security would attract more investors to the MBS market. The CSP has also been proposed as the potential foundation for rebooting private-label securitizations, which have been moribund since the financial crisis nearly a decade ago.

The plan is part of an effort to address pricing discrepancies in the secondary market. Freddie MBS currently trade at a discount to Fannie’s. Freddie compensates investors for this, which cuts into its revenue.

While the platform and security have been nearly half a decade in the making, the next year should give the industry an idea of where the finish line will be. But other questions remain, including whether investors really will take to the new security and how policy changes could influence the project. Here’s a rundown of the big issues facing the common securitization platform.

How long will it take to transition to the platform and the single security?

Freddie began using the CSP in late November for data acceptance, issuance support and bond administration activities, representing the first stage, or Release 1, of the platform. This involved moving Freddie’s existing single-class securities onto the platform — the transition did not involve resecuritizations or real estate mortgage investment conduits.

“Our existing securities and our participation certificates are being issued on the platform,” Steve Clinton, senior vice president of Freddie’s strategic initiatives division, said. “So far we’ve not experienced any significant problems with the launch. We’re only a month in and things are going well.”

FHFA Director Mel Watt called the implementation “a significant milestone.”

Release 2 will involve the transition to the single security and Fannie’s move onto the CSP. Accomplishing this won’t be easy, Clinton said.

“The next phase is challenging because you’re going to more complex securities and more parties,” Clinton said. “Getting the joint venture, Fannie and Freddie all aligned is a challenge.”

According to the FHFA’s annual “scorecard,” the GSEs were supposed to have released timelines for the rest of the CSP implementation by the end of 2016. That did not happen, in part because regulators asked Fannie and Freddie to postpone releasing a timeline until the first quarter of 2017, Fannie Mae’s senior vice president of capital markets, Renee Schultz, said.

“Industry participants, once they know a date, are going to make investments in their own platforms, and as soon as they start to do that work, it costs them,” Schultz said. “You don’t want to put a date out there and then find it slipping.”

The technology that will “comingle securities and structure transactions” when the GSEs begin to issue the single security “isn’t ready yet,” Schultz said. In the meantime, she said, Fannie is monitoring Freddie’s testing of the platform to gain insight as it makes preparations for its own transition.

Some observers remain circumspect about the likelihood of any major development with the CSP in the year ahead.

“Nothing is going to happen with the CSP in 2017,” said Laurie Goodman, co-director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

She acknowledged that Freddie’s move to the platform occurred “pretty much on schedule,” but she questioned the importance of that milestone: “Freddie is on for back-office purposes,” she said.

She noted that “there is somewhat more incentive” for Freddie to move forward than there is for Fannie, since pricing would improve only for the former’s securities.

While there’s no timeline yet, the 2018 goal remains, said Michael Fratantoni, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s chief economist and senior vice president of research and industry technology.

“They’re still confident of 2018 as a launch date,” said Fratantoni, who is part of an industry advisory group for the CSP implementation.

If the timeline is released next year, a 2018 launch date would be more likely. Fannie and Freddie have committed to giving market participants a minimum of 12 months’ preparation before the single security goes live. So if no timeline is released in the year ahead, then 2018 will not happen.

How will investors respond to the single security?

Market participants may not need to be so concerned about investor receptiveness to the CSP, if Ginnie Mae’s experience is any indication.

Since 1983, Ginnie Mae has issued the Ginnie Mae II securities, which can have single- or multiple-issuer pools unlike their Ginnie Mae I MBS counterparts. As a result, the underlying loans for Ginnie Mae II MBS can come from different sources, including the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Department of Agriculture.

“The market has already demonstrated an appetite for that approach,” said Ed DeMarco, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute and the former acting director of the FHFA.

And in recent years, the Ginnie Mae II security has become increasingly more popular than the Ginnie Mae I security, according to Fratantoni, making up as much as 95% of Ginnie’s issuance.

“I give credit to the folks at Ginnie Mae,” Fratantoni said. “They were giving the market assurance and incentive, and the market moved there.”

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