Zelman & Associates invites readers to join them for an informative conference call to discuss their outlook on the housing market and mortgage environment TODAY, Monday, March 3rd at 2:00 pm EST. Ivy Zelman and her team deliver unique and data-intensive research across housing and have been consistently recognized for their industry-leading analysis. Join Zelman on their upcoming call to gain an insightful view on what is happening in housing and the implications for the mortgage landscape, including a discussion of demographics, the outlook for new construction, home prices and much more, as well as learn how to receive their research free of charge. Notably, with the mortgage market's shift to purchase dominance, Zelman's focus on homebuilding and related sectors provides a valuable perspective for lenders. The conference call can be accessed by dialing 1-877-234-0285 with the passcode 139842. The presentation for today's call can be accessed by clicking here.

In Maryland, the mortgage bankers spread the word to about joining its panel presentation on "Getting the Pulse on Compliance" on Thursday, March 6th at the GBBR Office in Timonium, MD from 3-5PM.  Moderated by Judy Blank of Apex Home Loans, she will be joined by Laurie Bennington of 1st Mariner Mortgage, Margie Corwin of Gordon Feinblatt, and Ari Karen of Offit Kurman to discuss topics related to the implementation of QM, CFPB enforcement and liability, Surprises and Nuances, and Futurescape of compliance."  Register here.

Saturday's commentary had a quote, "Every day, excess capacity is being wrung out of the system, and every day will bring us closer to a balance of supply and demand in the mortgage industry." I received this note: "In a fair and balance world (that comment) is absolutely correct. But when the government intervenes to develop a disparately imbalanced system that favors the larger well capitalized institutions over the smaller industry competition, it is not market forces causing the wringing out of capacity, but is instead the government."

Bitcoins are a little (or a lot) farther removed from being able to be used to pay for mortgages, or anything, now. The exchange in Tokyo filed for bankruptcy.

Here's a note echoing a lot of thinking out there: "Hi Rob, if one considers the recent headache/concerns from the government regulators regarding the rapidly-increasing size of the big non-bank servicers, combined with seeming to be a bit of a drag on Fortress's PE portfolio of late, would it be reading too much between the lines to think that Fortress might be getting close to exiting its Nationstar Mortgage investment? If that happened, would we see the most likely scenario being something along the lines of them dividing the company into pieces and selling them off to other players?" I can definitely see that happening IF there is an alternative that earns more of a return for the venture capital funds. And it might mean the individual portions thrive. As long as the expected return is greater than the perceived risk, they'll stick around. I am certainly hearing of funds slicing and dicing, based on their interest in certain portions of a business - Wall Street has a sizeable reputation doing exactly that: taking a company and splitting it up if the corresponding portions are worth more than the original entity. Here is more on Fortress.

Speaking of "worth", last week Freddie Mac reported $8.6 billion in net income for the fourth quarter and a $48.7 billion profit for 2013. The mortgage company is poised to send $10.4 billion to the Treasury Department this month. Freddie Mac CEO Donald Layton warned observers, however, not to expect the firm's income to remain on this path. "These levels of income are not sustainable. Several legacy items were very strongly favorable in 2013, but it is our expectation that the peak of recoveries from the recession has now been passed," Layton said. But still...remind me why Congress would want to dish off the gravy train?

A quick note about appraisals and ECOA: "We've heard from many lenders and AMCs with concerns about compliance with the new ECOA Valuations Rule that took effect on January 18th.  The industry has focused on the "when" of sending those appraisals to borrowers, but we've seen several companies make a critical mistake on the "HOW" of that mandate.  If the lender or AMC is sending the report electronically, they have to get some acknowledgements from the borrower before they send the appraisal for download. We've just published a white paper that describes this pretty succinctly, and we have a tool to automate that process for any lender or AMC at only 50 cents a throw.  Here's the link to the white paper anyone can download for free that gives a good overview of the regulations and how to comply."

Turning to recent investor & lenders...

Spring is one of the hottest times for home purchasing and remodeling/renovation. The FHA 203(k) renovation mortgage is a great program for the purchase market and a fantastic opportunity to increase Realtor business.  Freedom Mortgage can show you how to help Realtors sell more homes utilizing the FHA 203(k) program.  Freedom's Renovation Lending Division is a highly trained and experienced group that specializes in the 203(k) program; providing personalized, in-depth training and support in all phases of renovation lending.     Correspondent DE lenders have the "Freedom to Choose" their draw processing option with the MVP program.  To find out more about how to enter this lucrative market and offer a sound program to serve your Realtor base, contact Freedom's Renovation Lending Division at renovation@freedommortgage.com.

Provident Funding will be allowing decreases to the current uniform broker compensation level as of March 1st and will be accepting change requests until the end of business on February 27th.  Brokers who wish to decrease their uniform comp level should open a case to the branch and request their new lower comp level, specify which state the change applies to, and stipulate a March 1st effective date.

Glen Corso, National MI's General Counsel, published an article recently titled "New GSE Requirements for Private MI's" on National Mortgage News blog and he explained the benefit the new Master Policies will provide to lenders.

Guaranteed Rate has announced that three firms recently joined the company (via asset purchases): Arizona's Sun State Home Loans, Nationwide Direct Mortgage in California, and Arbor Mortgage in Michigan. The three firms have more than 50 employees combined and represent more than $500 million in annual loan production volume.

Redwood Trust has made a number of underwriting updates, including raising the maximum LTV/CLTV for all ARM and 15-year amortized products from 75 to 80% and allowing second home purchases, rate/term refinances, and cash-out refinances of co-ops.  With regard to risk assessment, borrowers who do not meet the three trade line requirement will be considered eligible if they have six months additional reserves and the loan has a DTI below 35, LTV below 65%, or FICO above740; and first-time homebuyers' payment shock may not exceed 250% when deposits and gifts are verified with the borrower.  The additional LTV requirements for multiple financed properties have been removed, and condo projects with less than 10 units will be permitted provided that they are typical for the area and the appraisal shows similar comparables.  Hobby farms will also be permitted if the property has between 10 and 20 acres, does not have any income-producing attributes, and has a land to value ratio of 35% or below.

FirstBank Mortgage Partners rolled out a scholarship program for its borrowers.

Fifth Third has improved its float down pricing adjustment from -.625 to -.500 for standard lock options of 15-75 days and will be requiring an upfront fee for all extended locks, effective immediately.

Effective immediately for both new applications and those in the pipeline, Fifth Third is requiring that all individual condo transactions in Special Flood Hazard Areas be covered by a master flood insurance policy that is maintained by the HOA.  The coverage must protect the interest of the individual borrowers holding titles as well as the common areas of the project.  For attached units, the master flood insurance policy should be at least 80% of the replacement cost or the maximum insurance available from the NFIP standard of $250k per unit, while the components coverage should equal 100% of the insurable value of all contents owned in common by HOA members.  Detached projects may follow the guidelines for 1-4 unit properties.

The U.S. economy continues to gradually move forward. Hey, if it went too fast, rates would shoot up, and who wants that? Friday we learned that consumer's confidence in the U.S. improved in February from a month earlier as more consumers grew optimistic about the outlook for the economy. Pending home sales were essentially unchanged in January, according to the National Association of Realtors. And Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at a revised 2.4% rate in 4Q2013, compared with the 3.2% preliminary rate released a month ago.  GDP grew at a 4.1% rate in 3Q2013. The ISM Chicago business barometer was up slightly in February.

This week offers up a full menu of freshly baked economic releases. Today will be Personal Income and Consumption/Spending, Construction Spending, along with a series of Personal Consumption Expenditure numbers. Tomorrow is ISM; Wednesday will be the usual ADP numbers ahead of unemployment Friday. On Thursday are Jobless Claims, a Challenger Job Cuts figure, and Factory Orders. On Friday we'll have the trade balance figures which will be outshined by all the employment data: unemployment rate, nonfarm payrolls, and hourly earnings. On a relative basis, Friday the 10-yr closed at a yield of 2.66% and in the early going today we're at 2.60% (MBS prices appear better by .250 to .375) due to tension in Ukraine causing a flight to quality.

Spend about 60 seconds learning about the newest refi plan - it's a classic. Hey, no gnarly closing costs!