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

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  • Joseph Gyourko
  • Joseph Tracy

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph Gyourko & Joseph Tracy, 2013. "Unemloyment and Unobserved Credit Risk in the FHA Single Family Mortgage Insurance Fund," NBER Working Papers 18880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18880
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Andrew Caplin & Anna Cororaton & Joseph Tracy, 2015. "Is the FHA Creating Sustainable Homeownership?," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 43(4), pages 957-992, November.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Fernando Ferreira & Joseph Gyourko & Joseph Tracy, 2012. "Housing busts and household mobility: an update," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 18(Nov), pages 1-15.
    6. Ferreira, Fernando & Gyourko, Joseph & Tracy, Joseph, 2010. "Housing busts and household mobility," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 34-45, July.
    7. 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.
    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. 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.
    10. 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 334-338, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. W. Scott Frame & Kristopher S. Gerardi & Paul S. Willen, 2015. "The Failure of supervisory stress testing: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and OFHEO," Working Papers 15-4, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    2. Anthony A. Defusco & John Mondragon, 2020. "No Job, No Money, No Refi: Frictions to Refinancing in a Recession," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 75(5), pages 2327-2376, October.
    3. Patrick Bayer & Fernando Ferreira & Stephen L. Ross, 2016. "The Vulnerability of Minority Homeowners in the Housing Boom and Bust," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 1-27, February.
    4. Kristopher Gerardi & Kyle F. Herkenhoff & Lee E. Ohanian & Paul S. Willen, 2018. "Can’t Pay or Won’t Pay? Unemployment, Negative Equity, and Strategic Default," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 31(3), pages 1098-1131.
    5. Lisa J. Dettling & Joanne W. Hsu, 2014. "Returning to the Nest: Debt and Parental Co-residence Among Young Adults," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2014-80, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G17 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Financial Forecasting and Simulation
    • R48 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Government Pricing and Policy

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