The Hope Now Alliance, a coalition of 25 of the largest mortgage servicers in the country, released a progress report on Monday on its operations to date. The Alliance came in to being last fall at the urging of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to expedite resolution of the growing number of mortgage loans in default or faced with potentially catastrophic rate resets.

One piece of very good news in the report was the status of rate resets. Referring to a program called "Fast Track" which was announced in December that is particularly geared to expedite modifications for loans facing reset; the report said that "Interest rates have declined dramatically in the last two months. Most "Fast Track" preset rates now are not much higher than post-reset rates. Thus, because of declining rates many homeowners are receiving new rates that are not much different [than their old rates.]"

For example, the drop in the LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Overnight Rate) of 200-250 basis points since the end of Dec. has reduced the average payment shock on subprime loans. The average subprime ARM reset is 5.76 plus the 6-month LIBOR which is currently 3 percent; thus the current subprime ARM reset is occurring at an average of 8.76 percent. This contrasts with an average reset of 11.25 in December. These resets are expected to decline further in the coming months.

The Alliance announced that, since it began operations in July, 2007 it has been responsible for a total of 1,035,000 loan workouts which include 758,000 repayment plans and 278,000 loan modifications. A modification occurs any time any term of the original loan contract is permanently altered - through a reduction in rate, forgiveness of a portion of the principal, or change in the maturity date. A repayment plan allows the borrower to become current and catch up on missed payments without any substantial or permanent alteration of the loan terms.

Of the 1 million plus loan workouts, 638,000 of the loans involved were subprime and of those 443,000 were repayment plans, 195,000 were modifications.

The number of modifications as opposed to repayment plans has been rising steadily. In the third quarter of 2007 19 percent of all workouts were modifications; in the fourth quarter it was 35 percent and in January 50 percent of the workouts were modifications - 45,320 modifications vs. 48,155 repayment plans. Loan modifications rose 16 percent in January over the previous months.

Delinquency rates are still rising. Prime loans that are 60 days or more in default rose from 1.5 percent of outstanding mortgages to 1.7 between December 2007 and July 2008 while subprime loans increased from 13.5 percent to 14.1 percent during the same time period.

Data for the report came from 18 servicers covering almost 2/3 of industry.

Here is the summary data from New HOPE for the third and fourth quarter of last year and 2008 year to date.

Loan Modifications:  July 2007 - January 31, 2008

  Q3 2007 Q4 2007 Jan. 2008 Total
Repayment Plans 319,793 331,746 106,136 757,675
  Prime 119,808 136,567 57,892 314,357
  Subprime 199,985 195,179 48,155 443,319
Modifications 75,646 141,437 60,714 277,797
  Prime 30,084 37,174 15,394 82,652
  Subprime 45,562 104,263 45,320 195,145
Total 395,439 473,183 166,850 1,035,472
  Prime 149,892 173,741 73,376 397,009
  Subprime 245,547 299,442 93,475 638,464

Foreclosure Sales:  July 2007 - January 31, 2008

  Q3 2007 Q4 2007 Jan. 2008 Total
Completed Foreclosure Sales 136,102 146,959 67,195 350,256
  Prime 53,706 54,882 27,665 136,253
  Subprime 82,396 92,077 39,530 214,003

In a comment on the report, Jonathan L. Kempner, President and Chief Executive Office of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) stated:

"The latest HOPE NOW numbers demonstrate the sheer volume of borrowers who are being helped by servicers across the country. It's imperative to remember that lenders have every incentive to work with borrowers to help them avoid foreclosure wherever and whenever possible. MBA continues to urge all borrowers to respond to their lenders' outreach efforts or to call the HOPE Hotline."

In related news, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke called on Tuesday for even more assistance for those homeowners in danger of falling into foreclosure.
Speaking before a banking group in Florida the Chairman said that even with the current efforts on the part of the government and the mortgage industry to help homeowners, the pace of foreclosures and delinquencies are likely to rise for a while longer.

"This situation calls for a vigorous response," Mr. Bernanke said. Reducing the rate of preventable foreclosures would promote economic stability for households, neighborhoods and the nation as a whole. Although lenders and servicers have scaled up their efforts and adopted a wider variety of loss-mitigation techniques, more can, and should be, done."

The Fed Chair made what is sure to be a controversial suggestion; that the holders of mortgage loans reduce the principal balance of the loans. With little or no equity in their homes, he said, a borrower does not have much financial incentive to keep the house.

With low or negative equity in their home, a stressed borrower has less ability - because there is no home equity to tap - and less financial incentive to try to remain in the home, he said. He stressed that such more permanent changes in the loans might have more impact that temporary solutions such as rate freezes or repayment plans and might provide greater recovery to lenders in the long term.