We are drifting toward nationalizing housing finance. And as long as the government can borrow at the Treasury rate it can buy up and refinance the country's stock of mortgages without paying a dime in the long run. The largest risk-arb operation in history--and since the government can mobilize the entire risk-bearing capacity of America, a very low-risk one
According to the Federal Reserve, long-term mortgage rates are near 5.2 percent so the Hubbard-Meyer proposal is to finance them at rates well below current market rates with long-term Treasury rates are near 2.5 percent. How much of this difference represents the expected return premium that Brad hints at versus the expected losses from default, which the government will inherent? I’m not sure but Kwak offers us the following:
One question is whether the loans will be sustainable. Hubbard and Mayer say that 1.9% is more than enough because the ordinary spread is 1.6%. But these are not ordinary times, and even if the plan does help turn around the economy, we are probably looking at 1-2 more years of rising unemployment and resulting defaults. Furthermore, conforming mortgages rates are already down to 5.2% (thanks in part to the Fed talking rates down), so Fannie and Freddie could face the problem of getting stuck with riskier mortgages while the private sector keeps the better ones.
While this discussion does not answer the question, it does suggest that default risk today is higher that the historical spreads that Hubbard and Mayer are relying upon.