Three Federal Reserve regional bank presidents called for phasing out the Fed’s monthly purchases of $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities as the housing recovery shows signs of gaining momentum.
Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher said today buying mortgage bonds risks disrupting the market, while Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser said, “it’s not good for the bank to be holding lots of mortgage paper.” Jeffrey Lacker of Richmond said to reporters yesterday the Fed should “get out of the credit allocation business.”
The Federal Open Market Committee said May 1 it will keep up its monthly purchases of mortgage bonds and $45 billion in Treasuries, and is ready to increase or reduce the pace in response to changes in the outlook for inflation and the labor market. Plosser, Lacker and Fisher don’t hold a policy vote this year.
The central bank’s so-called quantitative easing has pushed mortgage rates close to record lows, fueling demand in some housing markets as buyers compete for a tight supply of properties. While values remain well below their peak, 133 of the 150 metropolitan areas tracked by the National Association of Realtors had price increases in the first quarter from a year earlier. Areas such as San Francisco, Atlanta, Phoenix and Reno, Nevada, saw jumps of at least 30 percent.
“When refinancing activity eventually shifts down, the Fed could soon be buying up to 100 percent of MBS issuance if the current purchase program continues,” Fisher said today in a speech in Houston. “Buying such a high share of gross issuance in any security is not only excessive, but also potentially disruptive to the proper functioning of the MBS market.”
Lacker said yesterday the central bank should reinvest the principal from its mortgage bond holdings into Treasuries. “That would be a really reasonable step to contemplate at this point given the strength in the housing market right now,” he said to reporters in Baltimore.
Starts of new U.S. homes fell more than forecast in April to a five-month low, indicating a pause in the industry’s progress as builders slowed work on apartments. Building permits surged to an almost five-year high.
Housing starts slumped 16.5 percent, the most since February 2011, to an 853,000 annualized rate after a revised 1.02 million pace in March, the Commerce Department reported today in Washington. The median estimate of 81 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 970,000 rate.
Plosser said today in a Bloomberg Television interview he “would like to see us get out of mortgage-backed securities.”