WaMu Brokerage Closes, Florida, FHA Rules, Mortgage Prices

Does $5 billion buy you the right to shutter Washington Mutual’s broker business? You bet it does. It buys you the right to tell Washington Mutual to eliminate the business channel by May 31st (loans must lock by tomorrow, and most loans must fund by June 13th). WaMu announced yesterday to their employees that they are closing down their wholesale loan division, with yet-to-be-determined cuts in retail. Rumors had swirled about their wholesale business channel for quite some time, but this announcement came as a surprise to many wholesale reps. Supposedly closing wholesale was a stipulation from a private equity firm that was giving them $5 billion (Too risky? The investor didn’t like the servicing performance? It doesn’t fit their business model?). A rumored $5-7 billion capital infusion for WaMu follows other investors injecting capital into banks and brokerages, including Countrywide, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, and UBS. The new capital for WaMu would be provided by a group led by private-equity firm TPG Inc., based in Texas, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

How is Florida holding up – are they still doing lots of FHA loans? Mostly known for retirees (I saw one bumper sticker once that said, “Florida: God’s Waiting Room”), Florida is often near the top in FHA production by state. By the way, if an agent needs to see the old FHA limits, check out “FHA Connection”, which reportedly has the old loan limits. If you select the “HECM loan limits” in the county search you can view the “old” loan limits, as HECM’s have not changed as yet.

Reportedly an e-mail was recently sent to the FHA as to how a local mortgage company was doing FHA loans without the mini eagle. They responded that it was OK to be paid on these loans through another company as a consulting fee. According to the FHA rules, a borrower can select their own broker. FHA currently views this as an acceptable reason to allow the payment. NL’s Compliance Officer recently discussed this with a representative of the HUD RESPA office. They are aware of the discrepancy and admit that the form is not exactly correct and that they will address it with FHA. They would not make a comment as to when we will hear the final word or whether the RESPA violation will be permitted to continue.

Mortgage prices are roughly unchanged this morning, and aside from the WaMu news there is little news. We will have the release of the minutes of the March 18th FOMC meeting, along with February’s pending home sales (expected to have decreased -1% following January’s unchanged). Analysts will mostly be focusing on the FOMC minutes for a better sense of what motivated the Fed’s 75 basis point reduction a few weeks ago and what the near-term future might hold for cuts. FNMA’s trading desk reported that for the super-sized conventional jumbos, “the portfolio improved its whole loan pricing to 1.5 points behind conventional conforming for par/premium coupons and 1.875 points behind conventional conforming for discounts.”