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Genworth provided funds to academic study on conforming loan limits

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When academics at George Washington University released their study supporting a drop in the conforming loan limits, they failed to disclose Genworth Mortgage Insurance Corp. (GNW) funded and provided the data on the project. Genworth maintains it created no conflict in doing so and said the practice of private funding for public research is fairly common. Furthermore, HousingWire is told the omission of the Genworth disclosure was actually an unintentional oversight. The study was conducted by Robert Van Order and Anthony Yezer, professors of finance and economics at GWU. After publishing said article, multiple sources told HousingWire that Genworth and an unnamed group approached several researchers with the idea for the study and what it should find. Congress raised the conforming loans limits in 2008 to allow Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration to insure, guarantee and buy more loans at a time when private funding froze during the financial crisis. Without an extension, the maximum mortgage amount will drop to $625,500 from $729,750 in high-cost areas. But since the crisis, the FHA saw its mortgage insurance market share grow from roughly 5% to more than 30% in 2010. Van Order and Yezer found that if Congress elects to lower the conforming loan limits Oct. 1, the FHA could still reach its intended demographic of low- to middle-income borrowers. "Our policy recommendation was that over time the FHA should revert to its previous role," Van Order and Yezer said in their note. "This will lead to a reduction in its market share." And market share may be something Genworth is attempting to claw back even as it continues to struggle under several state capital requirements. According to Genworth's first quarter financial statement, the company continued to exceed the maximum risk-to-capital requirement for writing new business in North Carolina. But the state continued to grant it a two-year waiver as of March 31. Genworth is also cleared to write new mortgage insurance under waivers from 10 other states. Business continues in another 34 states that do not have maximum risk requirements. A Genworth spokesman told HousingWire the company provided data to the GWU professors. "Because of the expense of acquiring this data, Genworth regularly is asked to share this kind of data and analysis with regulators, media, think tanks and even critics, among others," the spokesman said. "The professors who analyzed this data are independent, and are in full control of their research conclusions and recommendations. Genworth Financial provided a small contribution to the university, in accordance with the guidelines of the institution, but no compensation was provided to the authors themselves." As the regulators and the industry continue to clash in the wake of the housing crash, research studies have come under greater scrutiny – specifically from academics. A recent report released by Charles Calomiris, a professor at Columbia Business School, Eric Higgins, a professor of finance at Kansas State University, and Joseph Mason, a finance professor at Louisiana State University found that if negotiations between the 50 state attorneys general and major mortgage servicers resulted in a settlement too harsh for banks, it would wreak havoc on a still fragile financial market. However, the study was funded by the financial market. "This is how a lot of academic research happens," said one source familiar with the Genworth-GWU study. Van Order and Yezer were not immediately available for comment, but a spokesperson for GWU agreed with the Genworth statement. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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