Pensioners Will Feel the Pinch from Illegal Mortgages and Foreclosures

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Editor’s Comment:

There are many people whose opinion produces the resistance of government to rip up the banks that got us into this economic mess. They all say government is too big, that we already have too much regulation and that Obama is the cause of the recession. Their opinions are based largely on the fact that they perceive the borrowers as deadbeats and government assistance as another “handout.” 

But when it comes down to it, it’s easy to make a decision based upn ideology if the consequences are not falling on you. Read any news source and you will see that the pension funds are taking a huge hit as a rsult of illegal bank activities and fraudulent practices leaving the victims and our economy in a lurch.

The article below is about public pensions where the pension funds and the governmental units took a monumental hit when the banks sucked the life out of our economy. TRANSLATION: IF YOU DEPEND UPON PENSION INCOME YOU ARE LIKELY TO FIND OUT YOU ARE SCREWED. And even if you don’t depend upon pension income, you are likely to be taxed for the shortfall that is now sitting in the pockets of Wall Street Bankers.

Think about it. If the Banks were hit hard like they were in Iceland andother places (and where by the way they still exist and make money) then your pension fund would not have the loss that requires either more taxes or less benefits. And going after the banks doesn’t take a dime out of pulic funds which should (but doesn’t) make responsible people advocating austerity measures rejoice. They still say they don’t like the obvious plan of getting restitution from thieves because the theives are paying them and feeding them talking points. And some of us are listening. Are you?

Public Pensions Faulted for Bets on Rosy Returns

By: Mary Williams Walsh and Danny Hakim

Few investors are more bullish these days than public pension funds. While Americans are typically earning less than 1 percent interest on their savings accounts and watching their 401(k) balances yo-yo along with the stock market, most public pension funds are still betting they will earn annual returns of 7 to 8 percent over the long haul, a practice that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently called “indefensible.”

Now public pension funds across the country are facing a painful reckoning. Their projections look increasingly out of touch in today’s low-interest environment, and pressure is mounting to be more realistic. But lowering their investment assumptions, even slightly, means turning for more cash to local taxpayers — who pay part of the cost of public pensions through property and other taxes.

In New York, the city’s chief actuary, Robert North, has proposed lowering the assumed rate of return for the city’s five pension funds to 7 percent from 8 percent, which would be one of the sharpest reductions by a public pension fund in the United States. But that change would mean finding an additional $1.9 billion for the pension system every year, a huge amount for a city already depositing more than a tenth of its budget — $7.3 billion a year — into the funds.

But to many observers, even 7 percent is too high in today’s market conditions.

“The actuary is supposedly going to lower the assumed reinvestment rate from an absolutely hysterical, laughable 8 percent to a totally indefensible 7 or 7.5 percent,” Mr. Bloomberg said during a trip to Albany in late February. “If I can give you one piece of financial advice: If somebody offers you a guaranteed 7 percent on your money for the rest of your life, you take it and just make sure the guy’s name is not Madoff.” Public retirement systems from Alaska to Maine are running into the same dilemma as they struggle to lower their assumed rates of return in light of very low interest rates and unpredictable stock prices.

They are facing opposition from public-sector unions, which fear that increased pension costs to taxpayers will further feed the push to cut retirement benefits for public workers. In New York, the Legislature this year cut pensions for public workers who are hired in the future, and around the country governors and mayors are citing high pension costs as a reason for requiring workers to contribute more, or work longer, to earn retirement benefits.

In addition to lowering the projected rate of return, Mr. North has also recommended that the New York City trustees acknowledge that city workers are living longer and reporting more disabilities — changes that would cost the city an additional $2.8 billion in pension contributions this year. Mr. North has called for the city to soften the blow to the budget by pushing much of the increased pension cost into the future, by spreading the increased liability out over 22 years. Ailing pension systems have been among the factors that have recently driven struggling cities into Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Such bankruptcies are rare, but economists warn that more are likely in the coming years. Faulty assumptions can mask problems, and municipal pension funds are often so big that if they run into a crisis their home cities cannot afford to bail them out. The typical public pension plan assumes its investments will earn average annual returns of 8 percent over the long term, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Actual experience since 2000 has been much less, 5.7 percent over the last 10 years, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. (New York State announced last week that it had earned 5.96 percent last year, compared with the 7.5 percent it had projected.)

Worse, many economists say, is that states and cities have special accounting rules that have been criticized for greatly understating pension costs. Governments do not just use their investment assumptions to project future asset growth. They also use them to measure what they will owe retirees in the future in today’s dollars, something companies have not been permitted to do since 1993.

As a result, companies now use an average interest rate of 4.8 percent to calculate their pension costs in today’s dollars, according to Milliman, an actuarial firm.

In New York City, the proposed 7 percent rate faces resistance from union trustees who sit on the funds’ boards. The trustees have the power to make the change; their decision must also be approved by the State Legislature.

“The continued risk here is that even 7 is too high,” said Edmund J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a research group for fiscal issues.

And Jeremy Gold, an actuary and economist who has been an outspoken critic of public pension disclosures, said, “If you’re using 7 percent in a 3 percent world, then you’re still continuing to borrow from the pension fund.” The city’s union leaders disagree. Harry Nespoli, the chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group for the city’s public employee unions, said that lowering the rate to 7 percent was unnecessary.

“They don’t have to turn around and lower it a whole point,” he said.

When asked if his union was more bullish on the markets than the city’s actuary, Mr. Nespoli said, “All we can do is what the actuary is doing. He’s guessing. We’re guessing.”

Vermont has lowered its rate by 2 percentage points, but for only one year. The state recently adopted an unusual new approach calling for a sharp initial reduction in its investment assumptions, followed by gradual yearly increases. Vermont has also required public workers to pay more into the pension system.

Union leaders see hidden agendas behind the rising calls for lower pension assumptions. When Rhode Island’s state treasurer, Gina M. Raimondo, persuaded her state’s pension board to lower its rate to 7.5 percent last year, from 8.25 percent, the president of a firemen’s union accused her of “cooking the books.”

Lowering the rate to 7.5 percent meant Rhode Island’s taxpayers would have to contribute an additional $300 million to the fund in the first year, and more after that. Lawmakers were convinced that the state could not afford that, and instead reduced public pension benefits, including the yearly cost-of-living adjustments that retirees now receive. State officials expect the unions to sue over the benefits cuts.

When the mayor of San Jose, Calif., Chuck Reed, warned that the city’s reliance on 7.5 percent returns was too risky, three public employees’ unions filed a complaint against him and the city with the Securities and Exchange Commission. They told the regulators that San Jose had not included such warnings in its bond prospectus, and asked the regulators to look into whether the omission amounted to securities fraud. A spokesman for the mayor said the complaint was without merit. In Sacramento this year, Alan Milligan, the actuary for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or Calpers, recommended that the trustees lower their assumption to 7.25 percent from 7.75 percent. Last year, the trustees rejected Mr. Milligan’s previous proposal, to lower the rate to 7.5 percent.

This time, one trustee, Dan Dunmoyer, asked the actuary if he had calculated the probability that the pension fund could even hit those targets.

Yes, Mr. Milligan said: There was a 50-50 chance of getting 7.5 percent returns, on average, over the next two decades. The odds of hitting a 7.25 percent target were a little better, he added, 54 to 46.

Mr. Dunmoyer, who represents the insurance industry on the board, sounded shocked. “To me, as a fiduciary, you want to have more than a 50 percent chance of success.”

If Calpers kept setting high targets and missing them, “the impact on the counties won’t be bigger numbers,” he said. “It will be bankruptcy.”

In the end, a majority decided it was worth the risk, and voted against Mr. Dunmoyer, lowering the rate to 7.5 percent.


Bondholders Get It Now and Are Firing Servicers

Thanks to Gator Bradshaw

Editor’s Comment: Like I said, the investors and the homeowners have a lot of interests in common. When they finally get together and compare notes, they find a giant donut hole where assets or money were supposed to be. The amount of theft or undisclosed fees and profits staggers the imagination. It would take 200 like Bernie Madoff to even get close.

Watch these lawsuits and the news reports. As the investors start firing the servicers (who probably don’t have any authority now anyway) and start hiring new servicers they will be performing due diligence. As they trace the paperwork and discover the incurable gaps in title, ownership, credit and money trails, you will find them changing the narrative considerably from blame the borrower to how can we work with borrowers to minimize our losses?

And wait until they figure out that millions of foreclosed homes are NOT being held for the investors in inventory and hundreds of thousands of homes “sold” have toxic titles where the proceeds of sale were not given tot he investors either. I’m no psychic but I’ll bet those investors will be surprised and pretty damned angry.

see subprimeshakeout.blogspot.com

see bondholders-considering-plan-to-tell.html

With lawsuits against servicers grinding a slow path through the court system, investors are looking to make an end-run around the intransigent banks who are refusing to service mortgages in accordance with bondholder wishes. Their solution to break through the gridlock surrounding so-called “toxic” mortgage-backed securities? Use the mechanisms in their pooling and servicing agreements (PSAs)–the agreements that govern the creation, maintenance and payment streams of mortgage-backed securities–to remove conflicted servicers from their roles and insert friendly institutions willing to service the loans consistent with the best interests of the investors.

According to one group of prominent investors (hereinafter the “Securitization Syndicate”), who asked to remain anonymous because the plan is still in the works, investors with large holdings in mortgage-backed securities are beginning to join forces to petition securitization Trustees to relieve Master Servicers from their posts. Under the terms of most PSAs (which tend to vary little from trust to trust), the Master Servicer is required to service loans in such a way as to maximize investor returns. However, due to recognized conflicts of interest (such as significant holdings in junior mortgages and an interest in accumulating fees from delinquent loans), servicers instead have frequently breached these obligations and refused to liquidate or modify loans that borrowers are incapable of repaying.

The problem is that, under the terms of most PSAs, the only party with the power to do anything about a breach of an obligation by a Master Servicer is the Trustee. Trustees are generally large financial institutions that are paid a fee to oversee the flow of money through the securitization waterfall and to carry out certain administrative tasks. Though the Trustee may remove a Master Servicer, because the Trustee was designed to play a fairly passive role, it is not required to enforce servicer breaches on its own initiative.

Instead, bondholders must petition the Trustee to take action. In this regard, most PSAs require that at least 25% of the Voting Rights (evidenced by beneficial ownership of 25% of the bonds) give notice to the Trustee of a breach by the Master Servicer before triggering any obligations by the Trustee. Only when the Trustee fails to remedy the breach within 60 days after such a petition may the bondholders bring legal action on behalf of the Trust.

However, most PSAs also provide the following: “The Holders of Certificates entitled to at least 51% of the Voting Rights may at any time remove the Trustee and appoint a successor trustee.” (quoted from the representative PSA for Countrywide Alternative Loan Trust 2005-35CB) Anticipating that the Trustee will not take action against the Master Servicer, and reluctant to engage in yet another protracted legal battle to enforce servicers’ obligations, the Securitization Syndicate is shooting for a more ambitious goal: amass a 51% interest in one securitization so that they may remove the Trustee, appoint a friendly successor, and get that successor to fire the Master Servicer.

Sound difficult? It will be. Most prudent investors seek to diversify their holdings so that they do not hold too high a percentage in any one securitization, let alone any one asset class. Finding a few investors with large enough holdings in one particular securitization to obtain 51% could be a challenge. Finding institutional investors willing to take on large financial institutions with which they have longstanding relationships–and risk being portrayed as opposed to politically popular loan modifications–may be even harder.

Yet, according to one member of the Securitization Syndicate, “all it takes is one. What do you think will happen if we tell a Trustee or a Master Servicer, ‘you’re fired’? What will happen the next time we notify a Trustee that we’ve caught a servicer breaching its obligations? I think you’ll find they begin to sit up and take notice.”

I would tend to agree with this assessment. Many large banks earn significant fees from serving as the Trustee or Master Servicer of securitizations, and would not want to lose those revenues. Further, while many institutional investors may be reluctant to go out on a limb an take on a major bank, just one reported instance of this plan being successful will likely create a chain reaction. Soon, many bondholders will be open to joining forces and taking on Servicers and Trustees who aren’t honoring their fiduciary duties.

With Treasury officials admitting last month to the failure of their efforts to cajole servicers into modifying loans or working with borrowers to allow short-sales (the sale of the property for an amount less than the amount owed on the mortgage), maybe it’s time that institutional investors take matters into their own hands. Large funds such as CalPERS, whose investment portfolio took a hit of over $56 billion in the last fiscal year, should be eager to find a way to cut their losses and rid their books of their large holdings in mortgage-backed securities.

This can only be done with the cooperation of servicers, who have the sole power to modify a loan, foreclose, or allow a short sale, and who have generally been responsible for dragging their feet and keeping these loans in stasis. When servicers refuse to service loans in the best interests of the ultimate owners, which they’re contractually-obligated to do, they should be shown the door just like anyone else that fails to perform their basic job functions. The question is whether any of these institutional investors will have the courage to break ranks and stand up to banks that have demonstrated unparalleled influence in Washington and on Wall Street.

Donald W. Bradshaw Esq.
Law Office of Donald W. Bradshaw
303 SE 17th Street #309-218
Ocala, Florida 34471
Phone: (352) 484-1145
Fax: (352) 484-1117
gator.bradshaw@yahoo.com

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