It’s Down to Banks vs Society

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We are trying to rescue the creditors and restart the world that is dominated by the creditors. We have to rescue the debtors instead before we are going to see the end of this process. — Economist Steve Keen

Bankers Are Willing to Let Society Crash In Order to Make More Money

Editor’s Comment: 

I was reminded last night of a comment from a former bond trader and mortgage bundler that the conference calls are gleeful about the collapse of economies and societies around the world. Wall Street will profit greatly on both the down side and then later when asset prices go so low that housing falls under distressed housing programs and 125% loans become available in bulk. They think this is all just swell. I don’t.

The obvious intent on the part of the mega banks and servicers is to bring everything down with a crash using every means possible. When you look at the offers state and federal government programs have offered for the banks to modify, when you see the amount of money poured into these banks by our federal government in order to prop them up, you cannot conclude otherwise: they want our society to end up closed down not only by foreclosure but in any other way possible. They withhold credit from everyone except the insider’s club.

So now it is up to us. Either we take the banks apart or they will take us apart. I had a recent look at many modification proposals. In the batch I saw, the average offer from the homeowner was to accept a loan 20%-30% higher than fair market value and 50%-75% higher than foreclosure is producing. It seems we are addicted to the belief that this can’t be true because no reasonable person would act like that. But the answer is that the system is rigged so that the intermediaries (the megabanks) control what the investors and homeowners see and hear, they make far more money on foreclosures than they do on modifications, and they make far money on all the “bets” about the failure of the loan by foreclosing and not modifying.

The reason for the unreasonable behavior, as it appears, is that it is perfectly reasonable in a lending environment turned on its head — where the object was to either fund a loan that was sure to fail, or keep a string attached that would declare it as part of a failed “pool” that would trigger insurance and swaps payments.Steve Keen: Why 2012 Is Shaping Up To Be A Particularly Ugly Year

At the high level, our global economic plight is quite simple to understand says noted Australian deflationist Steve Keen.

Banks began lending money at a faster rate than the global economy grew, and we’re now at the turning point where we simply have run out of new borrowers for the ever-growing debt the system has become addicted to.

Once borrowers start eschewing rather than seeking debt, asset prices begin to fall — which in turn makes these same people want to liquidate their holdings, which puts further downward pressure on asset prices:

The reason that we have this trauma for the asset markets is because of this whole relationship that rising debt has to the level of asset market. If you think about the best example is the demand for housing, where does it come from? It comes from new mortgages. Therefore, if you want to sustain he current price level of houses, you have to have a constant flow of new mortgages. If you want the prices to rise, you need the flow of mortgages to also be rising.

Therefore, there is a correlation between accelerating and rising asset markets. That correlation applies very directly to housing. You look at the 20-year period of the market relationship from 1990 to now; the correlation of accelerating mortgage debt with changing house prices is 0.8. It is a very high correlation.

Now, that means that when there is a period where private debt is accelerating you are generally going to see rising asset markets, which of course is what we had up to 2000 for the stock market and of course 2006 for the housing market. Now that we have decelerating debt — so debt is slowing down more rapidly at this time rather than accelerating — that is going to mean falling asset markets.

Because we have such a huge overhang of debt, that process of debt decelerating downwards is more likely to rule most of the time. We will therefore find the asset markets traumatizing on the way down — which of course encourages people to get out of debt. Therefore, it is a positive feedback process on the way up and it is a positive feedback process on the way down.

He sees all of the major countries of the world grappling with deflation now, and in many cases, focusing their efforts in exactly the wrong direction to address the root cause:

Europe is imploding under its own volition and I think the Euro is probably going to collapse at some stage or contract to being a Northern Euro rather than the whole of Euro. We will probably see every government of Europe be overthrown and quite possibly have a return to fascist governments. It came very close to that in Greece with fascists getting five percent of the vote up from zero. So political turmoil in Europe and that seems to be Europe’s fate.

I can see England going into a credit crunch year, because if you think America’s debt is scary, you have not seen England’s level of debt. America has a maximum ratio of private debt to GDP adjusted over 300%; England’s is 450%. America’s financial sector debt was 120% of GDP, England’s is 250%. It is the hot money capital of the western world.

And now that we are finally seeing decelerating debt over there plus the government running on an austerity program at the same time, which means there are two factors pulling on demand out of that economy at once. I think there will be a credit crunch in England, so that is going to take place as well.

America is still caught in the deleveraging process. It tried to get out, it seemed to be working for a short while, and the government stimulus seemed to certainly help. Now, that they are going back to reducing that stimulus, they are pulling up the one thing that was keeping the demand up in the American economy and it is heading back down again. We are now seeing the assets market crashing once more. That should cause a return to decelerating debt — for a while you were accelerating very rapidly and that’s what gave you a boost in employment —  so you are falling back down again.

Australia is running out of steam because it got through the financial crisis by literally kicking the can down the road by restarting the housing bubble with a policy I call the first-time vendors boost. Where they gave first time buyers a larger amount of money from the government and they handed over times five or ten to the people they bought the house off from the leverage they got from the banking sector. Therefore, that finally ran out for them.

China got through the crisis with an enormous stimulus package. I think in that case it is increasing the money supply by 28% in one year. That is setting off a huge property bubble, which from what I have heard from colleagues of mine is also ending.

Therefore, it is a particularly ugly year for the global economy and as you say, we are still trying to get business back to usual. We are trying to rescue the creditors and restart the world that is dominated by the creditors. We have to rescue the debtors instead before we are going to see the end of this process.

In order to successfully emerge on the other side of this this painful period with a more sustainable system, he believes the moral hazard of bailing out the banks is going to have end:

[The banks] have to suffer and suffer badly. They will have to suffer in such a way that in a decade they will be scared in order to never behave in this way again. You have to reduce the financial sector to about one third of its current size and we have to also ultimately set up financial institutions and financial instruments in such a way that it is no longer desirable from a public point of view to borrow and gamble in rising assets processes.

The real mistake we made was to let this gambling happen as it has so many times in the past, however, we let it go on for far longer than we have ever let it go on for before. Therefore, we have a far greater financial parasite and a far greater crisis.

And he offers an unconventional proposal for how this can be achieved:

I think the mistake [central banks] are going to make is to continue honoring debts that should never have been created in the first place. We really know that that the subprime lending was totally irresponsible lending. When it comes to saying “who is responsible for bad debt?” you have to really blame the lender rather than the borrower, because lenders have far greater resources to work out whether or not the borrower can actually afford the debt they are putting out there.

They were creating debt just because it was a way of getting fees, short-term profit, and they then sold the debt onto unsuspecting members of the public as well and securitized their way out of trouble. They ended up giving the hot potato to the public. So, you should not be honoring that debt, you should be abolishing it. But of course they have actually packaged a lot of that debt and sold it to the public as well, you cannot just abolish it, because you then would penalize people who actually thought they were being responsible in saving and buying assets.

Therefore, I am talking in favor of what I call a modern debt jubilee or quantitative easing for the public, where the central banks would create ‘central bank money’ (we cannot destroy or abolish the debt, which would also destroy the incomes of the people who own the bonds the banks have sold). We have to create the state money and give it to the public, but on condition that if you have any debt you have to pay your debt down — no choice. Therefore, if you have debt, you can reduce the debt level, but if you do not have debt, you get a cash injection.

Of course, this would then feed into the financial sector would have to reduce the value of the debts that it currently owns, which means income from debt instruments would also fall. So, people who had bought bonds for their retirement and so on would find that their income would go down, but on the other hand, they would be compensated by a cash injection.

The one part of the system that would be reduced in size is the financial sector itself. That is the part we have to reduce and we have to make smaller.  That is the one that I am putting forward and I think there is a very little chance of implementing it in America for the next few years not all my home country [Australia] because we still think we are doing brilliantly and all that. But, I think at some stage in Europe, and possibly in a very short time frame, that idea might be considered.

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Fine Print: The Real Story on the “$25 Billion” Multistate Settlement

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One of the things I heard from a high ranking official in state government is that only a tiny fraction of the “settlement” is translating into actual dollars from the banks to anyone. In Arizona the $1.3 billion is subject to an “earn-down” as it was described to me and the net amount turned out to be $97 million and then on the website for the attorney general of the state, the $97 million became $47 million.

So I brought up my calculator and discovered that out of the “settlement” the banks were paying themselves around $1.2 billion out of the $1.3 billion (some say it is $1.6 billion, but the net left for the state remains unchanged at $97 million) and that some of the balance of the money is “unaccounted for.” By the way this has NOTHING to do with the Arizona Department of Housing, which is as close to non-political as you can get in any government.

So in plain language, the banks are taking money from their left pocket and putting int heir right pocket and saying it was a deal. This sounds a lot like the fake claims of securitization and assignment of debt on housing, student loans, credit cards, auto loans etc. In the end, no money will move except a tiny percentage because since the banks are simply paying themselves out of their own money how bad can the accounting be for them?

In Arizona, the legislature decided, as per the terms of the “settlement” to take the money and use it as part of general operating funds leaving distressed homeowners with nothing. So now there is something of an uproar in Arizona. Here is a $1.3 billion settlement that could have reversed a downward economic spiral for the state that will be felt for decades, and we end up with only 7% of that figure and then at least half, if not all of that is being taken for uses other than homeowner relief that is essential for economic recovery.

My guess is that they will say they are stopping the move to use the homeowner relief funds for perks to corporate donors and then quietly go out and do it anyway. What is your guess?

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By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

State officials agreed Tuesday to delay the transfer of $50 million of disputed mortgage settlement funds, at least for the time being.

Assistant Attorney General David Weinzweig made the offer during a hearing where challengers were hoping to get a court order blocking the move while its legality is being decided by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain. Attorney Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, who represents those opposed to the transfer, readily agreed.

“You don’t want to rush the judge,” said Hogan, whose clients are people he believes would be helped by the funds.

“You want him to take his time on important questions like this,” Hogan said. “And so it’s reasonable to agree not to transfer the funds for a certain period of time to give the judge the opportunity to do that.”

The move sets the stage for a hearing in August on the merits of the issue.

Weinzweig told Brain he believes the transfer, ordered by state lawmakers earlier this year, is legal. Anyway, he said, Hogan’s clients have no legal standing to challenge what the Legislature did.

The fight surrounds a $26 billion nationwide settlement with five major lenders who were accused of mortgage fraud.

Arizona’s share is about $1.6 billion, with virtually all of that earmarked for direct aid to those who are “under water” on their mortgages — owing more than their property is worth — or have already been forced out of their homes.

But the deal also provided $97 million directly to the state Attorney General’s Office. The terms of that pact said the cash was supposed to help others with mortgage problems as well as investigate and prosecute fraud.

Lawmakers, however, seized on language which also said the money can be used to compensate the state for the effects of the lenders’ actions. They said the result of the mortgage crisis was lower state revenues, giving them permission to take $50 million from the settlement to balance the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Hogan’s suit is based on his contention that the settlement terms put the entire $97 million in trust and makes Attorney General Tom Horne, who was authorized by state law to sign the deal, responsible for ensuring the cash is properly spent.

Horne urged lawmakers not to take the funds. But once the budget deal was done, he went along and took the position that, regardless of whether the cash could have been better spent elsewhere, the transfer demand is legal.

Whatever Brain rules is likely to be appealed.

The challenge was brought on behalf of two people who would benefit by the state having more money to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. The lawsuit said both are currently “at risk” of losing their homes.

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State Programs with Real Money Going Unused

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Millions for Principal Reduction and Moving Expenses and No Applicants

Editor’s Comment: 

I had the pleasure of listening last night to Michael Trailor, the Director of the Arizona Department of Housing. It was like a breath of fresh air. He was a home builder for decades and when the market crashed he went into this obscure post of this obscure state agency that turns out to have its counterparts in many if not all states. Each of these agencies has received money and authority to help homeowners and they are willing to pay down principal reductions, buy the loans and then modify and pay for moving expenses in short sales and other events.

Trailor is a plain-speaking non-politician who tells it like it is. His agency has programs based upon the premise that principal reduction is the only thing that works and he has working relationships with some small banks where his agency literally pays the principal down while the Bank shares in that loss. The small banks see the sense in it. He can’t get cooperation from the big banks and servicers.

In the meeting at Darrell Blomberg’s Tuesday Strategist presentation (every week at Macayo’s restaurant in downtown Phoenix), we heard straight talk and we heard about a number of programs that I had advocated before Trailor became director. My suggestions fell on deaf ears. Trailor’s programs are of the same variety and creativity with the objective of saving the Arizona economy from destruction.

He reported that three states got together under the same program to make the offer of sharing the reduction of principal because the banks said that Arizona was not big enough on its own to motivate the banks to participate in the program. So he got three states — Arizona, California and Nevada. The banks did the old familiar two-step with him and his counterparts in the other states and essentially refused to pparticipate. Every borrower knows that two-step by heart.

I made some suggestions for programs that could be introduced in bankruptcy court, where the power of the Banks is much less. Right now if they don’t want to modify the loan, they can’t be forced. If they don’t want to SELL the loan and then modify it as the beneficiary or mortgagee, the mega bank can and does say no (while the small bank can and does say yes).

That’s right. His agency said they would buy the loan from the bank for 100 cents on the dollar, and then modify the loan the principal and payments to something the borrower could afford and that would not lead to future foreclosures (the fate of practically all modifications). The mega banks killed the idea. Don’t you wonder why banks would contrary to the interest of a ‘lender” who can minimize their losses with government money that has already been allocated but is not yet spent?

This is exactly what I predicted back in 2008. The small banks agree because it is the smart thing to do and THEY are actually owed the money. The mega banks refuse to go along with the deal because hanging on the now invisible and non-existent trunk of an existing debt-tree are hundreds of branches of swaps, insurance and credit enhancements upon which Wall Street has made and is continuing to make billions of dollars in “trading profits” at the expense of the investors and to the detriment of the homeowners.

In other words, they sold the loan multiple times — up to 40 times as I read the data. So hanging on your $200,000 loan could be as much as $8 MILLION in derivatives, swaps etc. That could mean $8 million in claims on the proceeds of sale of the obligation or note or satisfaction of the note or obligation.

Here is my suggestion for those homeowners’ attorneys that have started a bankruptcy proceeding. Where the so-called creditor has sent out a notice of sale and has filed a motion to lift the automatic stay, apply for assistance from the Arizona Department of Housing or whatever the equivalent is in your state. If the agency agrees to assist in refinancing or buying the loan so the homeowner can stay and pay, then the bank would need to explain the basis on which they are responding negatively. After all they are being offered 100 cents on the dollar — why isn’t that enough?

Make sure you notify the Trustee and Court of the pending application made to the agency and don’t use it in a silly fashion promising things that the agency will not corroborate.

I believe that Trailor’s agency and his counterparts would respond with some program that would essentially be an offer to the supposed creditor — provided that the true creditor steps forward and can prove that they are the actual party to whom the money from the homeowner’s obligation is owed. Darrell and I are starting talks with Trailor’s agency to get specific programs that will work in bankruptcy court and maybe other situations.

Once the Notice of Sale is sent,  the “creditor” has committed itself to selling. How can they turn around and say no when they are being offered the full amount? In that court, once the “lender” has committed to selling the property they can hardly say they don’t want to sell the loan — especially if they are receiving 100 cents on the dollar. The offer would be accepted by the Trustee, I am fairly certain, and the Judge since there really is no choice.

Now here is where the fun begins. The Judge would agree as would the U.S. Trustee that only the party to whom the money is owed can get the money. Some of you might recall my frequent diatribes about who can submit a credit bid — only the actual creditor to whom the original loan is now owed or an authorized representative who submits the bid on behalf of THAT creditor.

So assuming the Trustee and Judge agree that the “creditor” who filed the Motion to Lift Stay MUST sell the loan or release it upon receiving full payment, then they are stuck with coming up with the real creditor, which is going to be impossible in many cases, difficult in virtually all other cases. Trailor is sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars to help homeowners and he can’t use it because nobody will play ball under circumstances that he “naively” thought would be a no-brainer.

For those versed in bankruptcy you know the rest. The “lender” must admit that it is not the lender, that is has no authority to represent the creditor, that it doesn’t know who the creditor is or even if one still exists. The mortgage can be attacked as not being a perfected lien on the property and the obligation is wiped out or reduced by the  final order entered in the bankruptcy court.

Now the banks and servicers are going to fight this one tooth and nail because while the loan might be $200,000, there is an average of around $4 million in derivatives and exotic credit enhancements hanging on this loan. If it is paid off, then all accounts must settle. There are going to be gains and losses, but the net effect might well be that the bank “Sold” the loan 20 times. And the best part of it is that you don’t need t prove the theft. If will simply emerge from the failure of the “lender” to conform with the order of the court approving the deal. 

This is a classic case of the scam used in the “The Producers” which has been done on Broadway and movies. You sell 10,000% of a show you know MUST fail. They select “Springtime for Hitler” right after World War II and expect it to crash. After all it is musical comedy. But the show is a spectacular success. So whereas the news of the show’s closing would have sent investors to their accountants to write it off for tax purposes, now they were all clamoring for an accounting for their share of the profits. Since the producers had sold the show 100 times over it was impossible to pay the investors and they went to jail.

THAT is the problem here. It is only if the show closes with a foreclosure that the investors will not ask for the accounting. If the show succeeds (the loan is paid off) then all the investors will want their share of the payments that are due — unless they had the misfortune of taking the wrong side of a “bet” that the loan would fail. Not many investors did that. But the investment banks that sold the show (the loan) many times over used those bets as a way of selling the show over and over again.

If I’m lying I’m dying. That is what is happening and when people realize that as homeowners they are sitting on leverage worth 20 times their loan and they use it against the banks and servicers, they will get some very nice results. Agencies like Arizona’s Department of Housing can save the day like the cavalry just by making the offer and getting a judge to enforce it and watch in merriment how the “lenders” insist that they don’t want the payment and they can’t be forced to take it. That is what happens  when you turn the conventional and reasonable lending model on its head.

So now the banks and servicers must come up with a whole new set of fabricated, forged and fraudulent documents in which the investors assigned their interest in the obligation or note or mortgage to some other entity that is now the “creditor” — but the question that will be asked by every Trustee and Judge in bankruptcy court “who paid for this, how much did they pay, and how do we know a transaction actually happened.” That is the problem with a VIRTUAL TRANSACTION. At some point, like every PONZI scheme, the house of cards falls down.

Check with Arizona Department of Housing

Of course if you are not in Arizona check with the equivalent agency in your state. Chances are they have hundreds of millions of dollars and no place to spend it for homeowners because the banks won’t agree to no-brainer solutions that any bank can and does accept if they were playing the “Securitization game.” Don’t expect the agency to march into court and save the day. The agency is not going to litigate your case for you. But they probably will give you plenty of support and encouragement and offers of real money to end this nightmare of foreclosures. You must do the work, fill out applications and get the process underway before you can go to the court with a motion that says we have a settlement vehicle pending with a state agency and you can prove it is true.

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How the Servicers and Investment Banks Cheat Investors and Homeowners

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Master Servicers and Subservicers Maintain Fictitious Obligations

Editor’s Comment: 

This article really is about why discovery and access to the information held by the Master Servicer and subservicer, investment bank and Trustee for the REMIC (“Trust”) is so important. Without an actual accounting, you could be paying on a debt that does not exist or has been extinguished in bankruptcy because it was unsecured. In fact, if it was extinguished in bankruptcy, giving them the house or payment might even be improper. Pressing on the points made in this article in order to get full rights in discovery (interrogatories, admissions and production) will yield the most beneficial results.

Michael Olenick (creator of FindtheFraud) on Naked Capitalism gets a lot of things right in the article below. The most right is that servicers are lying and cheating investors in addition to cheating homeowners.

The subservicer is the one the public knows. They are the ones that collect payments from the “borrower” who is the homeowner. In reality, they have no right to collect anything from the homeowner because they were appointed as servicer by a party who is not a creditor and has no authority to act as agent for the creditor. They COULD have had that authority if the securitization chain was real, but it isn’t.

Then you have the Master Servicers who are and should be called the Master of Ceremonies. But the Master Servicer is basically a controlled entity of the investment bank, which is why everyone is so pissed — these banks are making money and getting credit while the rest of us can’t operate businesses, can’t get a job, and can’t get credit for small and medium sized businesses.

Cheating at the subservicer level, even if they were authorized to take payments, starts with the fees they charge against the account, especially if it becomes (delinquent” or in “default” or “Nonperforming.” At the same time they are telling the investors that the loan is a performing loan and they are making payments somewhere in the direction of the investors (we don’t actually know how much of that payment actually gets received by investors), they are also declaring defaults and initiating a foreclosure.

What they are not reporting is that they don’t have the paperwork on the loan, and that the value of the portfolio is either simply over-stated, which is bad enough, or that the portfolio is worthless, which of course is worse. Meanwhile the pension fund managers do not realize that they are sitting on assets that may well have a negative value and if they don’t handle the situation properly, they might be assessed for the negative value.

It gets even worse. Since the money and the loans were not handled, paid or otherwise organized in the manner provided in the pooling and servicing agreement and prospectus, the SPV (“Trust”) does not exist and has no assets in it — but it might have some teeth that could bite the hand that fed the banks. If the REMIC was not created and the trust was not created or funded, then the investors who in fact DID put up money are in a common law general partnership. And since the Credit Default Swaps were traded using the name of  entities that identified groups of investors, the investors might be hit with an assessment to cover a loss that the “pool” can’t cover because they only have a general partnership created under common law. Their intention to enter into a deal where there was (a) preferential tax status (REMIC) and (b) limited liability would both fall apart. And that is exactly what happened.

The flip side is that the credit default swaps, insurance, credit enhancements, and so forth could have and in most cases did produce a surplus, which the banks claimed as solely their own, but which in fact should have at least been allocated to the investors up to the point of the liability to them (i.e., the money taken from them by the investment bank).

AND THAT is why borrowers should be very interested in having the investors get their money back from the trading, wheeling and dealing made with the use of the investors’ money. Think about it. The investors gave up their money for funding mortgages and yours was one of the mortgages funded. But the vehicle that was used was not a simple  one. The money taken from the investors was owed by the REMIC in whose name the trading in the secret derivative market occurred.

Now think a little bit more. If the investors get their rightful share of the money made from the swaps and insurance and credit enhancements, then the liability is satisfied — i.e., the investor got their money back with interest just like they were expecting.

But, and here is the big one, if the investor did get paid (as many have been under the table or as part of more complex deals) then the obligation to them has been satisfied in full. That would mean by definition that the obligation from anyone else on repayment to the investor was extinguished or transferred to another party. Since the money was funded from investor to homeowner, the homeowner therefore does not owe the investor any money (not any more, anyway, because the investor has been paid in full). The only valid transfer would be FROM the REMIC partnership not TO it. But the fabricated, forged and fraudulent documents are all about transferring the loan TO the REMIC that was never formed and never funded.

It is possible that another party may be a successor to the homeowner’s obligation to the investor. But there are prerequisites to that happening. First of all we know that the obligation of the homeowner to the investor was not secured because there was no agreement or written instrument of any kind in which the investor and the borrower both signed and which set forth terms that were disclosed to both parties and were the subject of an agreement, much less a mortgage naming the investor. That is why the MERS trick was played with stating the servicer as the investor. That implies agency (which doesn’t really exist).

Second we know that the SWAPS and the insurance were specifically written with expressly worded such that AIG, MBIA etc. each waived their right to get payment from the borrower homeowner even though they were paying the bill.

Third we know that most payments were made by SWAPS, insurance and the Federal Reserve deals, in which the Fed also did not want to get involved in enforcing debts against homeowners and that is why the Federal Reserve has never been named as the creditor even though they in fact, would be the creditor because they have paid 100 cents on the dollar to the investment bank who did NOT allocate that money to the investors.

Since they did not allocate that money to the investors, as servicers (subservicer and Master Servicer), they also did not allocate the payment against the homeowner borrower’s debt. If they did that, they would be admitting what we already know — that the debt from homeowner to investor has been extinguished, which means that all those other credit swaps, insurance and enhancements that are STILL IN PLAY, would collapse. That is what is happening in our own cities, towns, counties and states and what is happening in Europe. It is only by keeping what is now only a virtual debt alive in appearance that the banks continue to make money on the Swaps and other exotic instruments. But it is like a tree without the main trunk. We have only branches left. Eventually in must fall, like any other Ponzi scheme or House of Cards.

So by cheating the investors, and thus cheating the borrowers, they also cheated the Federal Reserve, the taxpayers and European banks based upon a debt that once existed but has long since been extinguished. If you waded through the above (you might need to read it more than once), then you can see that your  feeling, deep down inside that you owe this money, is wrong. You can see that the perception that the obligation was tied to a perfected mortgage lien on the property was equally wrong. And that we now have $700 trillion in nominal value of derivatives that has at least one-third in need of mark-down to zero. The admission of this inescapable point would immediately produce the result that Simon Johnson and others so desperately want for economic reasons and that the rest of us want for political reasons — the break-up of banks that are broken. Only then will the market begin to function as a more or less free trading market.

How Servicers Lie to Mortgage Investors About Losses

By Michael Olenick

A post last week reviewed a botched foreclosure for a mortgage loan in Ace Securities Home Equity Loan Trust 2007-HE4 dismissed with prejudice, meaning that the foreclosure cannot be refilled; a total loss for investors. Next, we reviewed why the trust has not yet recorded the loss despite the six month old verdict.

As an experiment, I gave my six year-old daughter four quarters. She just learned how to add coins so this pleased her. Then I told her I would take some number of quarters back, and asked her how many I should take. Her first response was one – smart kid – then she changed her mind to two, because we’d each have two and that’s the most “fair.” Having mastered the notion of loss mitigation and fairness, and because it’s not nice to torture six year-old children with experiments in economics, I allowed her to keep all four.

When presented with a similar question – whether to take a partial loss via a short-sale or principal reduction, or whether to take a larger loss through foreclosure – the servicers of ACE2007-HE4 repeatedly opt for the larger losses. While the dismissal with prejudice for the Guerrero house is an unusual, the enormous write-off it comes with through failure to mitigate a breach – to keep overall damages as low as possible – is common. When we look more closely at the trust, we see the servicer again and again, either through self-dealing or laziness, taking actions that increase losses to investors. And this occurs even though the contract that created the securitization, a pooling and servicing agreement, requires the servicer to service the loans in the best interest of the investors.

Let’s examine some recent loss statistics from ACE2007-HE4. In May, 2012 there were 15 houses written-off, with an average loss severity of 77%. Exactly one was below 50% and one, in Gary, IN, was 145%; the ACE investors lent $65,100 to a borrower with a FICO score of 568 then predictably managed to lose $94,096. In April, there were 23 homes lost, with an average loss severity of 82%, three below 50%, though one at 132%, money lent to a borrower with an original FICO score of 588.

Of course, those are the loans with finished foreclosures. There are 65 loans where borrowers missed at least four consecutive payments in the last year with yet there is no active foreclosure. Among those are a loan for $593,600 in Allendale, NJ, where the borrower has not made a payment in about four years, though they have been in and out of foreclosure a few times during that period. It’s not just the judicial foreclosure states; a $350,001 loan in Compton, CA also hasn’t made a payment in over a year and there is no pending foreclosure.

There is every reason to think the losses will be higher for these zombie borrowers than on the recent foreclosures. First, every month a borrower does not pay the servicer pays the trust anyway, though the servicer is then reimbursed the next month, mainly from payments of other borrowers still paying. This depletes the good loans in the trust, so that the trust will eventually run out of money leaving investors holding an empty bag. And on top of that, when the foreclosure eventually occurs, the servicer also reimburses himself for all sorts of fees, late fees, the regular servicing fee, broker price opinions, etc. Longer times in foreclosure mean more fees to servicers. Second, the odds are decent that the servicers are holding off on foreclosing on these homes because the losses are expected to be particularly high. Why would servicers delay in these cases? Perhaps because they own a portfolio of second mortgages. More sales of real estate that wipe out second liens would make it harder for them to justify the marks on those loans that they are reporting to investors and regulators. Revealing how depressed certain real estate markets were if shadow inventory were released would have the same effect.

These loans will eventually end up either modified or foreclosed upon, but either way there will be substantial losses to the trust that have not been accounted for. Of course, this assumes that the codes and status fields are accurate; in the case of the Guerreros’ loan the write-off – with legal fees for the fancy lawyers who can’t figure out why assignments are needed to the trust – is likely to be enormous. How much? Nobody except Ocwen knows, and they’re not saying.

Knowing that an estimated loss of 77%, is if anything an optimistic figure, even before we get to the unreported losses on the Guerrero loan, it seems difficult to understand why Ocwen wouldn’t first try loss mitigation that results in a lower loss severity. If they wrote-off half the principal of the loan, and decreased interest payments to nothing, they’d come out ahead.

Servicers give lip service to the notion that foreclosure is an option of last resort but, only when recognizing losses, do their words seem to sync with their behavior. But it’s all about the incentives: servicers get paid to foreclose and they heap fees on zombie borrowers, but even with all sorts of HAMP incentives, they don’t feel they get paid enough to do the work to do modifications. Servicers are reimbursed for the principal and interest they advance, the over-priced “forced placed insurance” that costs much more and pays out much less than regular insurance, “inspections” that sometimes involve goons kicking in doors before a person can answer, high-priced lawyers who can’t figure out why an assignment is needed to bind a property to a trust, and a plethora of other garbage fees. They’re like a frat-boy with dad’s credit-card, and a determination to make the best of it while dad is still solvent.

Despite the Obama campaign promise to bring transparency to government and financial markets, the investors in trusts remain largely unknown, so we’re not sure who bears the brunt of the cost of Ocwen’s incompetence in loss mitigation (to be fair Ocwen is not atypical; most servicers are atrocious). But, ACE2007-HE4 has a few unique attributes allowing us to guess who is affected.

ACE2007-HE4 is named in a lawsuit filed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which has sued ACE, trustee Deutsche Bank, and a few others citing material misrepresentations in the prospectus of this trust. As pointed out in the prior article, both the Guerreros’ first and second loans were bundled into the same trust – so there were definitely problems – though the FHFA does not seem to address that in their lawsuit.

With respect to ACE2007-HE4, the FHFA highlights an investigation by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which found that Deutsche Bank “‘continued to refer customers to its prospectus materials to the erroneous [delinquency] data’”even after it ‘became aware that the static pool information underreported historical delinquency rates.”

The verbiage within the July 16, 2010 FINRA action is more succinct: “… investors in these 16 subsequent RMBS securitizations were, and continue to be, unaware that some of the static pool information .. contains inaccurate historical data which underreported delinquencies.” FINRA allowed Deutsche Bank to pay a $7.5 million fine without either admitting or denying the findings, and agreed never to bring another action “based on the same factual findings described herein.”

Despite the finding and the fine, FINRA apparently forgot to order Deutsche Bank to knock off the conduct, and since FINRA did not reserve the right to circle back for a compliance check maybe Deutsche Bank has the right to produce loss reports showing whatever they wish to.

It is unlikely that Deutsche Bank had trouble paying their $7.5 million fine since the trust included an interest swap agreement that worked out pretty well for them. Note that these swap agreements were a common feature of post 2004 RMBS. Originators used to retain the equity tranche, which was unrated. When a deal worked out, that was nicely profitable because the equity tranche would get the benefit of loss cushions (overcollateralization and excess spread). Deal packagers got clever and devised so-called “net interest margin” bonds which allowed investors to get the benefit of the entire excess spread for a loan pool. The swaps were structured to provide a minimum amount of excess spread under the most likely scenarios. But no one anticipated 0% interest rates.

From May, 2007, when the trust was issued, to Oct., 2007, neither party paid one another. In Nov., 2007, Deutsche Bank paid the trust $175,759.04. Over the next 53 months that the swap agreement remained in effect the trust paid Deutsche Bank $65,122,194.92, a net profit of $64,946,435.88. Given that Deutsche traders were handing out t-shirts reading “I’m Short Your House” when this trust was created, I can see why they’d bet against steep interest rates over the next five years, as the Federal Reserve moved to mitigate the economic fallout of their mischievousness with low interest rates.

In any event, getting back to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the FHFA does not disclose which), one of the GSEs purchased $224,129,000 of tranche A1 at par; they paid full freight for this fiasco. Since this trust is structured so that losses are born equally by all A-level tranches once the mezzanine level tranches are destroyed by losses, which they have been, to find the party taking the inflated losses you just need to look in the nearest mirror. Fannie and Freddie are, of course, wards of the state so it is the American taxpayer that gets to pay out the windfall to the Germans. In this we’re like Greece, albeit with lousier beaches and the ability to print more money.

If the mess with the FHFA and FINRA were not enough, ACE2007-HE4 is also an element in the second 2007 Markit index, ABX.HE.AAA.07-2, a basket of tranches of subprime trusts that – taken as a whole – show the overall health of all similar securities. This is akin to being one of the Dow-Jones companies, where a company has its own stock price but that price also affects an overall index that people place bets on. Tranche A-2D, the lowest A-tranche, is one of the twenty trusts in the index. Since ACE2007-HE4 is structured so that all A-tranches wither and die together once the mezzanine level tranches are destroyed it has the potential to weigh in on the rest of the index. Therefore, the reporting mess – already known to both the FHFA and FINRA – stands to be greatly magnified.

The problems with this trust are numerous, and at every turn, the parties that could have intervened to ameliorate the situation failed to take adequate measures.

First there is the botched securitization, where a first and second lien ended up in the same trust. Then, there is failure to engage in loss mitigation, with the result that refusing to accept the Guerrero’s short-sale offers or pleas for a modification, resulting in a more than 100% loss. Next, there is defective record-keeping related to that deficiency and others like it. And the bad practices ensnarled Fannie /Freddie when they purchased almost a quarter billion dollars of exposure to these loans. Then there’s the mismanaged prosecution by FINRA, where they did not require ongoing compliance, monitoring, or increasing fines for non-compliance. There’s the muffed FHFA lawsuit, where the FHFA did not notice either the depth of the fraud, namely two loans for the same property in the same trust, and that the reporting fraud they cited continues. I’m not sure if the swap agreement was botched, but you’d think FINRA and the FHFA would and should do almost anything to dissolve it while it was paying out massive checks every month. Finally, returning full circle, there’s the fouled up foreclosure that the borrowers fought only because negotiations failed that resulted in a the trust taking a total loss on the mortgage plus paying serious legal fees.

It is an understatement to say this does not inspire confidence in any public official, except Judge Williams, the only government official with the common sense to lose patience with scoundrels. We’d almost be better off without regulators than with the batch we’ve seen at work.

US taxpayers would have received more benefit by burning dollar bills in the Capitol’s furnace to heat the building than we received from bailing out Fannie, Freddie, Deutsche Bank, Ocwen, and the various other smaller leaches attached to the udder of public funds. We could and should have allowed the “free market” they worship to work its magic, sending them to their doom years ago. That would have left investors in a world-o-hurt but, in hindsight, that’s where they’re ending up anyway with no money left to fix the fallout. It is long past time public policy makers did something substantive to rein in these charlatans.

My six year-old daughter understands the concept of limiting losses to the minimum, and apportionment of those losses in the name of fairness. Maybe Tim Geithner should take a lesson from her about this “unfortunate” series of events, quoting Judge Williams, before wasting any more money that my daughter will eventually have to repay.

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