Some housing calls from New York

Preeminent housing watchers made some interesting calls on the first day of the Mortgage Bankers Association secondary market conference.

The first was Lewis Ranieri, one of the first developer of mortgage-backed securities. He expects home prices to bottom out by the third quarter at the latest.

“Many, myself included, think we are at a bottom,” Ranieri said in his opening remarks. “If not now, the second quarter or third quarter could be the bottom.”

Ranieri isn’t alone. Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute, told a Senate subcommittee recently that he expects prices to bottom out in 2012 but not before another 3% reduction.

Zillow estimates also show home prices bottoming out by the end of the year but not before another 0.7% drop.

Many, though, including Ranieri are still concerned with the millions of homes still lost somewhere in the foreclosure or delinquency inventory (roughly 4 million if you ask the MBA or up to 9 million if ask Raneiri).

Then there’s Laurie Goodman, influential analyst with Amherst Securities. Her call was a bit different and a less rosy.

In her presentation Monday, she laid out why we shouldn’t wait until after the November elections for GSE reform. We should wait longer.

She said it would 2014 at the earliest, considering such overhauling legislation rarely gets passed in the year following a major election. Then, once whatever Congress decides is enacted, it would take another two years “to work out the rules.” For instance, if a catastrophic fund is needed, it could take a while to figure out how to fund it, then how to price the risk of using it.

She said because of so many different proposals, it would be very difficult to bring everyone together for the entities that would replace Fannie and Freddie.

“I would actually bet against anything happening in 2014,” Goodman.

By then, Fannie and Freddie may already be turning profits, though taxpayers should not expect their bailouts to be repaid in full.

Richard Dorfman, head of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, gave one of the biggest reasons why such a radical change everyone is waiting for may not be so severe.

He was teaching about changes to the secondary market at the Work Bank in Paris recently, and there were roughly 25 central banks there from around the world. And they were all buying U.S. mortgage bonds. A representative from Egypt didn’t seem to be paying attention, and Dorfman asked him what he could do to be more informative.

“Nothing, I’m afraid,” the representative said. “Without a government guarantee, I won’t make a bid.”

No wonder there won’t be a proposal from the white house “any time soon.”

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