Recession or no recession? That was last week's $64,000 question, and it appears we are listing toward the former. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acknowledged as much, stating that “it now appears likely that real gross domestic product (GDP) will not grow much, if at all, over the first half of 2008 and could even contract slightly.”
Friday's labor report added gravitas to the Fed chairman's sentiments. Government figures showed the economy lost jobs for a third straight month in March, pushing unemployment up to 5.1%. The elimination of 80,000 jobs was the most since March 2003, when the labor market was still struggling to recover from the 2001 recession. Some professional soothsayers are now portending a 5.5% unemployment rate by year's end (of course, many of these soothsayers are no more accurate than a random coin flip).
Meanwhile, Fannie Mae – the quasi-government agency that buys and securitizes mortgages – continues to up the ante, setting new rules on what mortgages it will buy. On that front, Fannie Mae will no longer purchase loans made to borrowers with credit scores below 580, nor will it purchase loans that have been more than 60 days past due within the year.
Fannie Mae is also correlating fees to credit scores. (It already correlates interest rates to them.) The good news is that fees will drop for borrowers with credit scores of 720 and above. The bad news is that fees double to 1.5% of the loan amount for borrowers with credit scores between 660 and 680. For borrowers with credit scores below 660, fees are even higher.
Higher fees, interest rates, and a non-existent subprime market are making FHA-insured loans a viable alternative for many borrowers with marginal credit. Yes, there is an upfront fee of 1.5% of the loan amount, which can be rolled into the mortgage, and there's a monthly fee too, but FHA doesn't charge a higher premium to borrowers with low credit scores.
Eric P. Egeland