Research

The Economics of Mortgage Lending Regulations

 

Abstract:

In this dissertation, I consider various aspects of the U.S. residential mortgage lending market in 2005. In particular, I examine how existing regulations may have contributed to the mortgage default crisis that began in early 2007.

The first chapter of the dissertation is titled «The Impact of the Community Reinvestment Act on the Home Mortgage Lending Industry». The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is a federal lending regulation that creates incentives for depository institutions to lend in low- and moderate-income areas. Only a subset of market areas is closely monitored by the regulators. I exploit this CRA enforcement mechanism to identify its effect on the banks' loan approval decisions. I employ a novel nonlinear Bayesian Instrumental Variables method to quantify the above effect while admitting unobserved heterogeneity among mortgage lenders. I find that, other things equal, loans in closely monitored areas have a 21.7 percent higher average chance of being approved. This implies that more than 327,000 extra loans originated in 2005 in California and suggests that banks' responses to the CRA enforcement mechanism sharply contradict the original CRA goals of providing credit in all eligible neighborhoods. Namely, CRA-induced incentives led banks to issue substantially more loans to marginal borrowers in monitored areas.

The second chapter of the dissertation is titled «Race-to-the-Bottom In Home Mortgage Lending». It explores the degree of strategic interactions among mortgage lenders and how these interactions differ depending on the regulatory agency. Conventional economic wisdom suggests that competition among mortgage lenders will result in overall welfare improvements. Recent theoretical research challenges this wisdom. Using the data concerning home mortgage loan applications, I test the "race-to-the-bottom" hypothesis that competition among lenders causes them to relax lending standards. I exploit the recently developed structural methods of estimating static games with incomplete information to identify how lenders form beliefs about the actions of their competitors. I find strong evidence supporting the "race-to-the-bottom" story among all types of mortgage lenders, with the exception of those regulated by the Federal Reserve System. Thus, my results provide a partial explanation for the subprime mortgage collapse of the early 2007.