Forensic Analysis: Unions Amass Armory of Research on Foreclosures of Securitized Mortgages

“We did not service the loan,” Mr. Dale said. “We did not originate the loan, and we were not the financial entity that placed it into foreclosure. Do you understand what a trustee does?”
Editor’s Note: Well, Yes Mr. Dale, we do understand what a trustee does and can do —- nothing. So why are you initiating foreclosures if you say that a trustee doesn’t do that?
Mr. Dale is reading from the end of the enabling documents instead of the first page where it looks like Trustee is really a trustee and that there really is a trust and that the trust holds assets. But by the time you read to the end of the document, the trustee is not a trustee, there is no trust and even if there was, there is nothing in the trust.
It is all an illusion. The “Trustee” is a “contingent agent” for a “conduit” (REMIC) that holds nothing. The enabling document is nothing more than the equivalent of an operating agreement in an LLC.
The “pool of loans” is owned by the investors who, as creditors, purchased mortgage backed derivative securities whose value is derived SOLELY from the promise to pay executed by the homeowners.
March 24, 2010

Unions Make Strides as They Attack Banks

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE and LOUISE STORY

When the city of Los Angeles started looking into its complex financial contracts with banks earlier this year, some council members turned to an unusual corner for financial advice: labor unions.

Turns out that union leaders had amassed an armory of research on derivatives, mortgage foreclosures and even Wall Street pay as part of their effort to hold bankers accountable for the economic pain they helped cause in Los Angeles and across the country.

Unions have criticized Wall Street before. But their attacks have taken on a new shape, both in ferocity and style, over the last 18 months, ever since the federal government doled out billions of dollars in bank bailouts.

Why? Labor leaders say the fortunes of banks and unions are linked more than people realize. Wall Street manages union pension portfolios worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Much of that is invested in financial institutions, giving unions a loud voice as shareholders.

Then there are all the unionized workers whose fates are indirectly shaped by the world of high finance. The jobs of hundreds of thousands of union members, like police officers and teachers, have been threatened by municipal budget cuts, made worse in some cases by exotic investments gone bad.

More abstractly, union leaders are framing their fight against Wall Street as a symbolic one, underscoring America’s large disparities in wealth and wages.

“Many unions see that they need to be responsible for not just members’ needs at the bargaining table, but other hardships in their lives, like foreclosures and high mortgage costs,” said Peter Dreier, a political science professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Unions are holding up many of their own members as victims of the banks’ bad bets, like subprime mortgages, and are providing a steady stream of research in an effort to demystify the exotic financial products that they say are harming dozens of cities. Unions have also helped underwrite Americans for Financial Reform, a prominent group pushing for further bank regulation.

Labor leaders were among the first to call for the resignation of Bank of America’s chief executive, who did retire months later. Unions issued a scathing report on bank bonuses, months before the federal pay czar presented his findings, and they criticized Goldman Sachs’s bonus pool just before the bank said its chief would receive only stock.

This month, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main labor federation, has organized 200 protests nationwide to publicly shame bankers, calling for new taxes on bankers’ bonuses and on speculative short-term financial transactions — in the hope of collecting tens of billions of dollars to finance a job creation program.

“They played Russian roulette with our economy, and while Wall Street cashed in, they left Main Street holding the bag,” Richard L. Trumka, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s president, said last Friday at a rally in Philadelphia. “They gorge themselves in a trough of taxpayers’ dollars, while we struggle to make ends meet.”

Labor is directly at odds with Wall Street on unionization drives and many other matters. Banks and private equity firms own stakes in many businesses that unions would like to unionize, like nursing home chains and food service companies. Labor groups like the Service Employees International Union and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. are pressuring financial companies not to oppose union membership drives.

It is hard to know for certain whether the unions’ efforts have affected decisions made by Wall Street firms. But for cities like Los Angeles, feeling the squeeze of lower tax receipts, the service employees’ pressure campaign seemed to have had an impact.

“They knew more about our own water deal than I knew,” said Richard Alarcón, a Los Angeles councilman, referring to an interest-rate swap between the city’s water system and the Bank of New York Mellon that converted the system’s variable-rate bonds into bonds with a fixed rate. “They also knew the dynamics of swap deals, and they were very helpful.”

As the city faces a deficit of nearly $500 million, the council was unhappy that Los Angeles would have to pay Bank of New York millions of dollars a year.

“Our members don’t like it any more than other Americans when cities have less firefighters, less teachers or less police officers,” said Andy Stern, president of the service employees’ union.

The labor protests against the banks sometimes have murky targets. This month, service employees joined community leaders on the City Hall steps in Oakland, Calif., to denounce Goldman Sachs for arranging interest-rate swaps that have the city paying the bank millions a year.

After that rally, union leaders led a march to a local Citigroup branch. Goldman declined to comment, but a Citigroup representative scoffed.

“We weren’t even involved in those deals,” said Alex Samuelson, a Citigroup spokesman. “We were just a symbolic place to go and rail against Wall Street. You can’t go to a Goldman Sachs branch.”

Many bankers criticize the protests, saying they make lots of noise but often accomplish little. Steve Bartlett, president of the industry’s Financial Services Roundtable, who has been the target of several union-led protests, including one outside his home on a Sunday morning, said, “Protests can be misguided or even damaging to your cause.”

While union leaders say they are championing the concerns of Main Street, their antibank campaign has certainly advanced some of labor’s longtime objectives, like unionizing workers.

For instance, the S.E.I.U. has pressed several banks and private equity firms to agree to allow card check — a process that makes unionization easier — at companies in which they own stakes.

Service employees officials say they urged Goldman Sachs, which owns part of the food service company Aramark, to get Aramark to accept card check and not oppose an organizing drive. In December, the union’s president, Mr. Stern, even met with Goldman’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, about universal health care and other labor-related issues.

Labor unions are using some of their members’ hard-luck stories to frame their battle as one between the haves and the have-nots, and in some cases that tactic is advancing the unions’ traditional goals in contract talks.

In February, for example, the service employees’ union publicized that one of its members cleaned the office of U.S. Bank’s chief in Minneapolis. That janitor, Rosalina Gomez, was facing foreclosure, and the union publicized that U.S. Bank had purchased her home in the foreclosure.

Steve Dale, a spokesman for the bank, said the union was attacking U.S. Bank even though JPMorgan Chase was the bank servicing Ms. Gomez’s mortgage. U.S. Bank, he said, was just the trustee, holding the loan for a mortgage bond.

“We did not service the loan,” Mr. Dale said. “We did not originate the loan, and we were not the financial entity that placed it into foreclosure. Do you understand what a trustee does?”

That aside, when the union threatened to have Ms. Gomez approach U.S. Bank’s chief, Richard K. Davis, at an awards luncheon, the bank rushed to set up a meeting between Ms. Gomez and JPMorgan. Fifty union supporters were at the site of the luncheon to conduct a silent vigil, with several reporters on hand.

Also at that time, the union was in contract negotiations with Ms. Gomez’s employer, the janitorial company that cleans U.S. Bank’s headquarters. Javier Morillo-Alicea, a leader of the union’s Minneapolis local, said its effort to embarrass the bank helped persuade the cleaning company to reach a contract that raised wages and provided better health insurance for the janitors.

“We put a lot of pressure on the bank,” he said, “and that led to a really good contract settlement in a tough economy.”

Option ARMs Come Back into Center Stage: 350,000 Active Option ARMs with over 200,000 in California. 78 Percent of Option ARMs have yet to hit Recast Dates.

Option ARMs Come Back into Center Stage: 350,000 Active Option ARMs with over 200,000 in California. 78 Percent of Option ARMs have yet to hit Recast Dates.

Option ARMs are the gift that keeps on giving this holiday season.  As it turns out, these pesky toxic mortgages are still sitting waiting to hit recast periods.  Like a street vendor taco these things went down nicely and appeared cheap but came with a hefty aftermath.  The last option ARMs were made in 2007 yet they are still causing much pain in the housing market.  Attorney General Jerry Brown has requested data from the top 10 issuers of option ARMs with a deadline date of November 23.  It’ll be interesting to see what is released from the AG’s office.  However, Standard & Poors issued a report on option ARMs last week and found that much of the problems with these loans are still to come.

One of the stunning points found was that 93 percent of option ARM borrowers decided to go with the negative amortization option otherwise known as the “minimum payment” option.  This is something we have established from many fronts and data sets.  The bottom line is the vast majority went with negative amortization and this grew the actual balance owed.  Yet one of the new findings in the report was that 78 percent of all outstanding option ARMs have yet to hit major recast points.  Given that 58 percent of option ARMs are here in California, this is a one state wrecking ball:

In total, some 350,000 option ARMs are still active nationwide.  Over 200,000 of these loans are here in California.  The most risky option as we have established with option ARMs is the negative amortization payment:

Now why was this payment such a poor choice?  Well as the California housing market fell by 50 percent from its peak, the actual balance on many option ARMs was going up.  So not only is the home underwater from the initial starting point, the loan taken out on the home has increased on 90+ percent of these borrowers.  This is like negative equity squared.  So deep are these loans in negative equity territory that not even HAMP can save them.  Oh, and speaking of HAMP, it is turning out to be a colossal failure as expected:

“(NY Times) Capitol Hill aides in regular contact with senior Treasury officials say a consensus has emerged inside the department that the program has proved inadequate, necessitating a new approach. But discussions have yet to reach the point of mapping out new options, the aides say.

“People who work on this on a day-to-day basis are vested enough in it that they think there’s a need to do a course correction rather than a wholesale rethink,” said a Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition he not be named for fear of angering the administration. “But at senior levels, where people are looking at this and thinking ‘Good God,’ there’s a sense that we need to think about doing something more.”

I know many delusional folks in California were thinking that somehow the quiet on the option ARM front had to do with the masterful success of HAMP.  Of course, these loans never qualified for HAMP but that is beside the point.  HAMP is failing because of a simple reason.  Negative equity.  Here in California, we have millions underwater.  Those with option ARMs are not only underwater, they are going to have massive spikes in their monthly payments at a time when the California unemployment rate is the highest in record keeping history.  The problem is Wall Street has sucked up all the taxpayer bailouts and for what?  To keep the crony welfare investment banks ticking?  Trillions of dollars out the door and the real economy is still troubled.  HAMP had the naïve premise that the only problem was high interest rates and the problem with the housing market was toxic mortgages.  Well, the actual problem is thousands of homes are still valued at bubble prices and with stagnant wages for a decade, people can’t afford homes without going massively into debt.  Prime, near prime, and subprime means little when you have no income and that is why even prime defaults are spiking.  The option ARM had such an allure for the gold rush California home speculator because it sidestepped that tiny little caveat of income.  It allowed maximum leverage without the valid income support.  80 percent of option ARMs went stated income.  In other words, people made crap up like saying they made $200,000 when they were pulling $75,000 to qualify for that $600,000 home:

“(CNN) There is another little problem that many option-ARM borrowers seeking refinancing would face: “Upwards of 80% of were stated-income loans,” said Westerback.

These are the so-called “liar loans” in which lenders did not verify that borrowers earned as much money as they said they did. Lenders may not be able to modify mortgages because many of the borrowers’ income could not stand up to the scrutiny. Borrowers may also not want to go through underwriting again because they could be held legally liable for deliberate inaccuracies on their original applications.

Add to those conditions the still fragile economy and high unemployment rates, and you have a recipe for disaster.”

As people chime in about stabilization, California is still hovering near the bottom in terms of prices.  The only reason we have seen prices move slightly up is because the massive jump into foreclosed homes, the home buyer tax credit, Fed buying securities to lower mortgage rates, and all these phony moratoriums that we are now seeing are basically delaying reality for many.  Inventory is artificially low because of the shadow inventory.

People ask for a solution.  Here it is:  We should have (and still should) break up the banks into pieces that are small enough to fail.  Bring back Glass-Steagall with some teeth.  Commercial and investment banking should be put into silos that don’t even come close to one another.  Banks that need to fail should.  After all, the government now backs 90+ percent of all mortgages so why do we even need them?  A quick assessment should have been made from day one on housing.  Those that couldn’t afford their homes should have gotten assistance into rentals.  Here’s a thought.  Why didn’t we create a program where those who had no way of paying on an overpriced home were given a tax break to rent a place in an empty commercial real estate development?  Right there you kill two birds with one stone.  Of course, those on Wall Street and those in our government are two sides of the same coin.  For the past three decades they have systematically neutered our government to the point of it being a bread and circus spectacle.

You think the 200,000 option ARM borrowers in California are sitting in a good spot?  Let us look at negative equity rates for a few metro areas since this is the largest predictor of future foreclosures:

If you look at the Inland Empire and the Phoenix metro area, they virtually reflect one another.  In fact, both areas have negative equity rates of 54% of all mortgage holders.  This is incredible.  Half of all borrowers are underwater in these big regions.  But look at the largest block of mortgages in California clustered in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area.  1.5 million mortgages and 400,000+ are underwater.  You think this is going to bode well for home prices as option ARMs hit their recast dates in stride from 2010 to 2012?  I put in a more normal area of Dallas above and you can see what a normal market looks like.  Even there, you can see that negative equity is still an issue.  But compare that to California and it is another story completely.  What does this mean?  The middle market is certainly going to take major hits once these loans hit their recast dates.  If they don’t qualify for HAMP, then what?  S&P in their report gives an example of a hypothetical $400,000 mortgage:

The payment flat out doubles at the recast date.  Do you think people are going to be able to come up with an extra $1,200 per month with no problems?  You know what the typical mortgage payment for a home bought last month in California totaled?  $1,097.  That is the price of the hypothetical increase in the priciest state in the U.S.  So yes sales are happening but at a much lower end.  How is this going to help those in negative equity on more expensive homes?  Take a look at the raw numbers for the state:

34 percent of all California mortgages are underwater.  You can rest assured that 80+ percent of those option ARMs are underwater.  As the above highlights, those mortgages are still here and they are still toxic.

Option ARMs fall under a bigger umbrella of Alt-A loans.  California has over 700,000 active Alt-A loans.  The bulk of the 200,000+ California option ARMs fall under this category.  But the bulk of these loans are also toxic mortgage waste.  These will go off as well.  These are actually part of the shadow inventory including those who simply stop paying but banks sit back and do absolutely nothing.  Is that really a solution?  Take a look at where the Alt-A loans are in California:

Los Angeles and Orange counties hold the biggest number of Alt-A and option ARM loans.  Do you really think this is a bottom?  It might be for a home in the Inland Empire selling for $100,000 or $150,000 depending on local area dynamics.  But many cities in Los Angeles and Orange County are vastly overpriced.  The above dynamics look similar to how subprime was building up in 2006 and 2007 before the market imploded.  Yet somehow things are now different.

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