A few posts ago, I linked to Nouriel Roubini's blog, commenting on how I vibe with his strategic thinking. Well, he just posted a piece on the subprime plan that I completely disagree with. I had planned to stay away from this topic, but since I already implicitly endorsed him, I might as well clear the air. I have a lot of respect for his prescience and foresight in calling the real estate bust (because he agreed with me:-), but...
I thoroughly disagree with the good Doctor on this subprime thing. Most of my points have been covered by others in the comments on his blog and others, but a major one seems to be continuously missed by all, including our current administration - This was never a subprime problem. It was a bad underwriting problem. These defaults that you see in subprime, are now manifesting in Alt-A, prime and everything in between. Not just housing either - consumer finance, auto, boats, credit cards, you name it. Consumer asset prices are trending down. The government, following its logic, will have to open this program up to borrowers of all credit ratings of all loan amounts. That's right. That doctor with the 1 million dollar house may be part of the plan as well. If one forecloses on a house now, they will get significantly more than if they foreclosed on a house two years from now or probably 5 years from now. "They" includes the homeowner and the mortgagor. So, yes, this will end up in less valuable securities for the investor and a worse outcome for the homeowner. If a workout is in the best interest of the servicer/investor, they will pursue it out of selfish interest (greed), and do not need government intervention to coerce them.
If the government really wishes to get involved, they should go after those who were victimized through being fraudulently induced into applying for mortgages and home sales that weren't in their best interest. Make the perpetrators of that fraud make the victim whole, which takes no government funding (many of the perpetrators themselves may need funding, though). Fraud was prevalent in the boom, but unilateral fraud on the part of the vendor is where the government should focus its resources. The market should be allowed to sort out the rest.
For more on the ill thought out consequences of this plan: "I hate to say it, but this thing is going to be ugly, and we are a good 2-3 years from even thinking about the bottom. We finally started reaching critical mass with 'subprime' foreclosures, but we haven't even begun to hit the alt-a and a-paper sham loans. They are starting to pop up, but they will take longer. Most alt-a and a-paper borrowers were doing 5, 7, and even 10 year ARM loans." See the overly optmistic post for the rest of this post.