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Mortgage Investors Push for Principal Writedowns

Mortgage principal â€" to cut or not to cut â€" has grabbed a fair share of the media spotlight in recent weeks. A number of experts and analysts are plugging principal[IMAGE]

reduction as a practicable means of ensuring payments keep coming in and homeowners don't redefault on their modified loan.

A new study by Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business puts the numbers and calculations to the test, and the report's author, Sanjiv R. Das, concluded that ""lenders should forgive, not forsake, mortgages.""

Das' paper states that trimming the principal is ""not a favored recipe"" among lenders and is often prohibited by agreements with investors. But one such group of prominent mortgage loan stakeholders isn't standing in the way of principal forgiveness â€" in fact, they are lobbying Congress to enact legislation to address the problem of underwater mortgages by reducing the homeowner's debt.

The Mortgage Investors Coalition represents holders of some $100 billion in mortgage securities and includes such name as Fortress Investment Group, ICP Capital, and HBK Capital Management. According to a report from _Reuters_, the organization pitched a proposal to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank last week that focuses on principal writedowns for second liens.


During the housing boom, when it seemed property values could only go up, homeowners enhanced their wealth (but increased their debt) by taking out secondary home equity lines of credit. These second liens are now impeding some modifications, and according to research from ""Amherst Securities"":http://amherstsecurities.com cited by _Reuters_, they are attached to more than half the mortgages in private mortgage-backed securities (MBS).

Micah Green, an attorney representing the Mortgage Investors Coalition, told _the news agency_ that the investors are prepared to consider a principal reduction plan where losses are shared, rather than completely wiped out in exchange for an incentive payment, as the Treasury has outlined in its ""second lien program"":http://www.financialstability.gov/docs/042809SecondLienFactSheet.pdf under the Making Home Affordable plan.

As _Reuters_ explained, under the coalition plan, investors would forgive principal to 96.5 percent of homes' value, clearing a path for borrowers to refinance into a federally backed mortgage.

Green, of the Washington law firm ""Patton Boggs LLP"":http://www.pattonboggs.com, told ""_Reuters_ that he believed this softened position on second liens could help break the impasse keeping large servicers from forgiving principal. He called the proposal ""a natural evolution"" for the government's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Investors want it because they, like homeowners, are in bad loans, Green explained to the news service.

Recent ""analysis from the credit ratings agency DBRS"":http://dsnews.comarticles/ratings-agency-says-rising-redefaults-will-prompt-more-principal-reductions-2010-01-26 shows that mortgage restructurings employing principal writedowns increased to 13 percent of all modifications in the third quarter of last year, up from 10 percent in the second quarter and 3 percent in the first.

But while speculation has grown that the administration may be preparing to make principal reduction a centerpiece of HAMP, officials have repeatedly stated that no such alterations to the program are in play.

""There is a growing sense of concern among policymakers that the lack of homeowner equity is really getting in the way of providing a solution to homeowners,"" Green told _Reuters_.

About Author: Carrie Bay

Carrie Bay is a freelance writer for DS News and its sister publication MReport. She served as online editor for DSNews.com from 2008 through 2011. Prior to joining DS News and the Five Star organization, she managed public relations, marketing, and media relations initiatives for several B2B companies in the financial services, technology, and telecommunications industries. She also wrote for retail and nonprofit organizations upon graduating from Texas A&M University with degrees in journalism and English.

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