Bank of America announced today that it made 9,500 mortgage modifications permanent in January under the Obama administration's Making Home Affordable Program (HAMP). That's approximately three-times the bank's total of 3,200 prior to that. I have documented the struggles of the HAMP program, and this news does indicate that more troubled homeowners are successfully bringing their temporary modifications permanent at BoA. Should we be impressed with this news? Maybe, but only a little.

The first thing I would point out is that BoA really should be doing better. According to the most recent HAMP monthly report (.pdf), the bank alone accounts for nearly one-quarter of the trial modifications offered, and nearly one-third of the total pool of 60+ delinquent mortgages. And that makes sense: a few years back BoA acquired mortgage giant Countrywide. Given its enormous market share, it should be leading the way.

Yet, as of December, compared to some other big banks, it hasn't been. Over that period, the ratio of its permanent modifications to its total 60+ delinquent mortgages has been just 0.3%. JPMorgan, while still struggling, was nearly six-times better at 1.7%. Other big names like Citi and Wells Fargo were both over 2%. GMAC was at a whopping 14%. So while BoA's improvement might seem good, even if there were no additional loans added to its 60+ share over the month (and I'm sure there were), its ratio would still only rise to 1.2% -- remaining well below all of those major competitors.

Of course, the big question with all of these modifications also still persists: will they really be permanent? Just because the modifications have received permanent status doesn't mean the mortgages will perform. Re-defaults will likely be a major problem for many of these altered loans going forward. We won't know the true success of HAMP for several years, once we've seen the actual success rate of the modifications made.

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