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Unemloyment and Unobserved Credit Risk in the FHA Single Family Mortgage Insurance Fund

  • Joseph Gyourko
  • Joseph Tracy

Empirical models of mortgage default typically find that the influence of unemployment is negligible compared to other well known risk factors such as high borrower leverage or low borrower FICO scores. This is at odds with theory, which assigns a critical role to unemployment status in the decision to stop payment on a mortgage. We help reconcile this divergence by employing a novel empirical strategy involving simulated unemployment histories to measure the severity of attenuation bias in loan-level estimations of default risk due to a borrower becoming unemployed. Attenuation bias results because individual data on unemployment status is unobserved, requiring that a market-wide unemployment rate be used as a proxy. Attenuation is extreme, with our results suggesting that the use of an aggregate unemployment rate in lieu of actual borrower unemployment status results in default risk from a borrower becoming unemployed being underestimated by a factor of 100 or more. Correcting for this indicates unemployment is more powerful than other well-known factors such as extremely high leverage or extremely low FICO scores in predicting individual borrower default. Our simulated data indicate that adding the unemployment rate as a proxy for the missing borrower-specific unemployment indicator does not improve the accuracy of the estimated model over the specification without the proxy variable included.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18880.

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Date of creation: Mar 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18880
Note: PE
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  1. Fernando Ferreira & Joseph Gyourko & Joseph Tracy, 2008. "Housing busts and household mobility," Staff Reports 350, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  2. Fernando Ferreira & Joseph Gyourko & Joseph Tracy, 2012. "Housing busts and household mobility: an update," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue Nov, pages 1-15.
  3. Moulton, Brent R, 1990. "An Illustration of a Pitfall in Estimating the Effects of Aggregate Variables on Micro Unit," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 72(2), pages 334-38, May.
  4. Andra C. Ghent & Marianna Kudlyak, 2010. "Recourse and residential mortgage default: theory and evidence from U.S. states," Working Paper 09-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
  5. Diego Aragon & Andrew Caplin & Sumit Chopra & John V. Leahy & Yann LeCun & Marco Scoffier & Joseph Tracy, 2010. "Reassessing FHA Risk," NBER Working Papers 15802, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Yongheng Deng & John M. Quigley & Robert Van Order, 2000. "Mortgage Terminations, Heterogeneity and the Exercise of Mortgage Options," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(2), pages 275-308, March.
  7. Andrew Caplin & Anna Cororaton & Joseph Tracy, 2012. "Is the FHA Creating Sustainable Homeownership?," NBER Working Papers 18190, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Kau James B. & Keenan Donald C. & Kim Taewon, 1994. "Default Probabilities for Mortgages," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 278-296, May.
  9. Foote, Christopher L. & Gerardi, Kristopher & Willen, Paul S., 2008. "Negative equity and foreclosure: Theory and evidence," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 234-245, September.
  10. Caplin, Andrew & Freeman, Charles & Tracy, Joseph, 1997. "Collateral Damage: Refinancing Constraints and Regional Recessions," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 29(4), pages 496-516, November.
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