By Joy Wiltermuth
A lot will hinge on Freddie, Fannie privatization plan
Housing bonds that help make U.S. multifamily dwellings more planet-friendly aren't yet seeing the kind of love they probably deserve, according to Cantor Fitzgerald.
U.S. housing giants Fannie Mae (FNMA), Freddie Mac (FMCC) and Ginnie Mae have encouraged landlords to take out loans to help retrofit older apartment properties in ways that save energy and water and lead to lower utility bills.
Landlords can qualify for lower interest-rate loans and additional proceeds to fund green improvements through Fannie () and Freddie ( ) lenders, while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers reduced mortgage insurance premiums to Ginnie borrowers, another big cost savings.
As a result, some $200 billion of green apartment loans and bonds have been created via the housing agency programs in the past decade as of 2018, according to public filings.
But as Cantor analysts suggest, that figure only scratches the surface of what is possible when considering the three housing agencies currently control a combined $690 billion multifamily loan book of business.
Darrell Wheeler, head of securitized strategy at Cantor Fitzgerald, estimates that only about 20% of the federally backed housing agencies' multifamily portfolio has been underwritten to greener standards.
But by greening the entire portfolio, Wheeler sees landlords saving roughly $20 billion annually on utilities, while tenants could save another 20% to 40% on top of that.
"There appears to be a lot of good coming out of these programs," Wheeler said in an interview with MarketWatch. But there has yet to be a flow-through of those benefits, in terms of better bond pricing or demand from ESG investors for the green agency bonds, he said.
Freddie Mac reported that its green program was expected to save 3.6 billion gallons of water last year at properties it helped finance, while Fannie Mae said tenants alone would likely save $72 million annually on utilities.
To qualify for Freddie's and Fannie's programs, a borrowing landlord must show a pathway to saving a minimum 30% in water and waste consumption at a property, with at least 15% of that total coming from reduced energy use.
The hitch? Despite the benefits, green bonds sold by the housing agencies have been achieving roughly the same pricing as regular ones without the eco-benefits. "They don't really price any differently," Wheeler said of the green bonds.
That means that, while borrowers benefit from lower loan coupons, the housing agencies have yet to see lower costs when they pool green housing loans into bonds.
The housing agencies, themselves, don't make property loans, but they do buy debt from lenders that fit their criteria and package them into bonds with government backing.
Government guarantees give the housing bonds a haven appeal akin to U.S. Treasury securities, which often provides the agencies a pricing advantage over private lenders.
The 10-year Treasury note's yieldtumbled to a near-three-year low () on Tuesday of 1.469%, after weak U.S. manufacturing data stoked fears of a looming U.S. recession and against the backdrop of a more than 300-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average ( ) .
Because Freddie, Fannie and Ginnie finance affordable housing, they also have taken a lead in reducing the carbon footprint of an important swath of the nation's multifamily properties.
Low-income communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events, in part because many affordable rental properties have been located in flood-prone areas, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress, (/) a policy institute with a liberal viewpoint.
Without a clearer pricing advantage on green bonds, there are no guarantees that the U.S. housing agencies will continue prioritizing planet-friendly housing finance.
The Trump administration is expected to unveil soon its plans to privatize Freddie and Fannie, which a decade ago were taken into conservatorship in the wake of the global financial crisis. More details are expected on the privatization front () in early September, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Wheeler said a lot about Freddie and Fannie's green initiatives could hinge on what the privatization plan looks like. "It's the wild card," he said.
-Joy Wiltermuth; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 04, 2019 14:51 ET (18:51 GMT)
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