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Obama Revamps Home Loan Aid Program

Yet, to date, fewer than 170,000 borrowers have been moved from "trial" to "permanent" modifications through HAMP.

The administration pointed out that it's been doing a lot behind the scenes as well. For instance, mortgage rates are at record lows, largely due to the government's purchase of over $1.4 trillion worth of mortgage debt, its unlimited support of Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) and the Federal Reserve's continued policy of 0% to 0.25% interest rates. It noted that over 4 million homeowners have refinanced into cheaper mortgages, saving $7 billion annually.

Yet Collins Stewart analyst Todd Hagerman indicated in a note on Friday that much of those workouts and savings have happened organically. He points out that not only are big lenders dealing with mortgage issues by restructuring troubled debt, but that regional lenders, like Zions (ZION), BB&T (BBT) and KeyCorp (KEY), have all been doing the same with worrisome commercial exposure.

"A performing, collateralized loan with documented cash flow provides added incentive to simply renew or extend the loan," Hagerman wrote.

The banking industry's mindset has effectively shifted from "batten down the hatches" to biting the bullet. At one point, lenders were pushing out bad borrowers, writing off loans en masse, and rushing to raise depleted capital. Now they seem to recognize the scale of the problem and, with more adequate financing, have taken steps to work out loans instead. The Obama administration's HAMP workout may be a step behind, but may speed up the process nonetheless.

-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York.

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