Two-thirds of the way through the 1st quarter, and we find ourselves in Irish-American Heritage Month, which, happily for Chicago, contains St. Patrick's Day. This day was originally a religious holiday to honor St. Patrick, who introduced Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century, St. Patrick's Day has evolved into a celebration for all things Irish. Congress apparently put aside partisan squabbling long enough to proclaim March as Irish-American Heritage Month in 1995. And why shouldn't they? Per the Census Bureau there are about 35 million U.S. residents who claimed Irish ancestry in 2010 - more than seven times the population of Ireland itself (4.58 million). Irish was the nation's second most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only German. The percent of New York state residents who were of Irish ancestry in 2010 is 13% compared to about 11% for the nation as a whole. Lastly, $56k is the median income for households headed by an Irish-American, higher than the $50k nationwide average.

Catch the wave - just don't ask me about any warehouse banks supporting this program. Per the MBA, HARP is starting to take hold in the applications figures.  According to Michael Fratantoni with the MBA, more than 20% of refinance applications last week were for HARP loans - one would deduce primarily from large depository servicers. Does that narrow things down?

If you don't like RESPA kickbacks, and who does, you might want to sign on to this Petition. The purpose is to extend the time line that the regulators can go after people and companies for illegal kickbacks.

I received some good feedback yesterday on Echo Boomer's home ownership goals, or lack thereof. Boris K. wrote: "With regard to the Gen Y homeownership priorities discussion, is it so terrible for these people to rent?  The absence of the 'homeownership as the American dream' myth propagated for decades by politicians, the NAR and other special interests may have spared us the housing bubble and the resulting recession. I think it's a shame that the real American dream, i.e. freedom and liberty, has been supplanted by a decades-long homeownership PR campaign by politicians and other housing industry special interests to falsely identify a material desire like homeownership as the 'American dream'."

Ray W. wrote, "I'm not sure I agree with the Baby Boomers being the first generation to consider home ownership the principal component of the American Dream. I'm pretty sure the vast majority of the boomers parents (WWII Greatest Generation) that followed the new interstate systems out to the burbs to make those little Boomers in their own new homes were an earlier generation who valued home ownership as a principal component of the dream even if they also had other priorities (careers & education) and more balanced investments than most boomers. Arguably, the earlier generation of the 1920's in which many of the thrifts and savings & loans was also very much focused on home ownership as integral part of their American Dream. Home ownership & jobs (aka, a better life) have been among the primary drivers of most of the immigration patterns out of Europe with the exception of the earliest immigrants who strove for religions and political freedom as their overarching motivation."

Regarding HUD's charge of discrimination against BofA under the Fair Housing Act (three borrowers who said they were required to provide personal medical information and documentation regarding their disability and proof of the continuance of the Social Security payments in order to qualify for a home mortgage loan), I received, "So - we are held accountable by the GSA's to confirm that income sources will have sufficient continuance, and then HUD wants to litigate for damages when we do so? Temporary Disability is not considered adequate income for qualifying, based on my 33 years as a loan originator. So when a loan is denied on that basis, our reward for protecting the interests of potential investors is to be sued by parties representing the interests of the applicant. Didn't Kurt Vonnegut write a book about this?"

And Cheryl S. observes, "I found it quite interesting that Bank of America is involved in a lawsuit of alleged discrimination regarding disabled borrowers.  I have processed residential mortgage loans for more than 20 years and have been required to provide this very type of documentation. The Social Security Administration will only document that a person is receiving a benefit, same with any pension or insurance disability payments; neither will they state, in writing, that the income is expected to last at least 3 years.  In order to meet the agency's underwriting guideline that the income is expected to continue for at least 3 years, it has become common practice to request a physician's statement. The physician's statement is not always a simple request, as many are leery to state anything in writing as well. I believe any disabled borrower that has applied for an agency mortgage loan has been asked to provide a physician's statement or other documentation regarding their disability in order for that income to be considered in the loan qualification process. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be watching this one very closely. It will be interesting as to how this plays out."

Fannie has lots of other things to watch - like losing $2.4 billion in the 4th quarter and asking the federal government for nearly $4.6 billion in aid to cover its deficit. Folks keeping track should know that the -$2.4 billion includes a dividend payment to the government of $2.6 billion - glad to see someone making some coin - but taxpayers have spent more than $150 billion to prop up Fannie and Freddie. Fannie has received more than $116 billion so far from the Treasury Department, the most expensive bailout of a single company. "Fannie's bailout money totaled roughly $16.4 billion in 2011 after accounting for dividend payments. That's up from about $7.3 billion in 2010 but down from about $32.5 billion in 2009." But here is the classic. Fannie officials say losses have increased in recent quarters for two reasons: some homeowners are paying less interest after refinancing at historically low mortgage rates; others are defaulting on their mortgages.

As we all know, agency loans must go through the UCDP. I received this note; "Loans delivered to the Agencies have to have the appraisals delivered through the Uniform Collateral Data Portal (UCDP).  The portal site appears to be overwhelmed by volume (how does that happen?  Didn't someone try to figure out potential volumes and test against it?).  The UCDP portal has become very blocked in the last week or so.  The problems are prevalent around that clock and on several days the site has been largely inaccessible for the majority of the day.  Right now the portal is accepting appraisals with minor data errors.  Supposedly they're going to tighten up on March 19 and require perfect data after that.  Appraisals will be turned back and resubmissions are going to be costly.  Everyone better have a solution to ensure the appraisal data elements are correct.  Can you imagine what's going to happen to the portal when HARP 2.0 volume takes off?" So wrote G Brad Harvey with Triserve Appraisal Management. (If you want to get in touch with Mr. Harvey, write to him at

Turning to the markets, Europe has been relatively quiet and so we find our markets back to being driven by U.S. news. Wednesday prices worsened on somewhat better than expected economic news but primarily comments from Chairman Bernanke's testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. He noted growth in the economy and positive developments in the labor market. "The decline in the unemployment rate over the past year has been somewhat more rapid than might have been expected, given that the economy appears to have been growing during that time frame at or below its longer-term trend." The Fed's Beige Book, showing reports from the various Fed districts, echoed his comments. There is, and will be, a lot of jawboning about QE3 - but the economy seems to be bumping along at a slightly better pace. By the end of the day MBS prices ended lower/worse by nearly .5 and the 10-yr was up to 1.98%.  View this morning's MBS Prices.