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Press Release

Mortgage Lenders Profit Margin Outlook Hits Survey High on Surging Refinance Demand

September 11, 2019

Reported Refinance Mortgage Demand Expectations Up as Interest Rates Move Lower

Matthew Classick


WASHINGTON, DC – The net profit margin outlook for mortgage lenders hit a survey high, due primarily to strong mortgage demand expectations, particularly in the refinance space, according to Fannie Mae's Q3 2019 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey®.

"Lender profitability sentiment hit a survey high this quarter, despite the movement of credit standards from net easing to net tightening," said Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Doug Duncan. "Lenders attributed their upbeat profitability outlook to consumer demand and operational efficiency. Many lenders pointed to declining interest rates as the engine behind consumer demand, particularly for refinance mortgages. Together, the results suggest that lenders' positive profitability outlook is being driven primarily by business fundamentals, not by lowered credit standards."


Mortgage Spreads Point to Continued Positive Profitability Outlook

The recent widening of the primary/secondary mortgage spread appears to confirm mortgage lenders' reported profitability. Mortgage rates typically do not fully absorb a contemporaneous decline in Treasury rates, due in part to temporary capacity constraints and increased hedging costs for lenders. A wider spread contributes to lender revenues and profits.

Refinance Mortgage Opportunity

For refinance mortgages, across all loan types (GSE-eligible, non-GSE-eligible, and government), the net share of lenders reporting demand growth over the prior three months and next three months continued the upward trend that began in Q1 2019 and which has now reached new survey highs. We currently estimate that approximately 40 percent of outstanding mortgages, or about $4.1 trillion of unpaid principal balance, would likely experience a benefit from refinancing, and we expect the share of refinance originations to grow through the remainder of the year.

Net Tightening for GSE-Eligible and Government Loans

Lenders indicated that credit standards moved to net tightening for GSE-eligible and government loans, with the share of lenders reporting tightening higher than the share reporting easing.

A Mix of Easing and Tightening for Non-GSE-Eligible Loans

Mortgage banks and credit unions continued to indicate a net easing of credit standards over both the prior three months and next three months for non-GSE loans. However, depository institutions indicated a net tightening of credit standards over the prior and next three months. This shift in depository institution appetite for retained mortgage risk is consistent with the soon-to-be-enacted Current Expected Credit Loss (also known as "CECL") accounting standard that will require banks to hold more reserves against expected losses.

The Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey by Fannie Mae polls senior executives of its lending institution customers on a quarterly basis to assess their views and outlook across varied dimensions of the mortgage market. The Fannie Mae third quarter 2019 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey was conducted between July 31, 2019 and August 11, 2019 by PSB in coordination with Fannie Mae. For detailed findings from the third quarter 2019 survey, as well as survey questionnaires and other supporting documents, please visit the Fannie Mae Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey page on Also available on the site are special topic analyses, which focus on findings and analyses of important industry topics.

Opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts, and other views of Fannie Mae's Economic & Strategic Research (ESR) group or survey respondents included in these materials should not be construed as indicating Fannie Mae's business prospects or expected results, are based on a number of assumptions, and are subject to change without notice. How this information affects Fannie Mae will depend on many factors. Although the ESR group bases its opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts, and other views on information it considers reliable, it does not guarantee that the information provided in these materials is accurate, current, or suitable for any particular purpose. Changes in the assumptions or the information underlying these views could produce materially different results. The analyses, opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views published by the ESR group represent the views of that group or survey respondents as of the date indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of Fannie Mae or its management.

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