NO Reason to Modify: Banks Foreclosed to Collect 100 cents on the Dollar from the Government

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Editor’s Comment:

The math is simple which is why we are now offering as part of a forensic loan specific analysis, a HAMP analysis and proposal along with the worksheets that back it up. If they foreclose, then they get all the money due on the mortgage even if they would only get 30% of that (see previous article) in foreclosure. This is really simple folks. If you had two “buyers” who would you sell to — the one offering $300,000 or the one offering $100,000?

The servicers and master servicers have only one major incentive in play because our elected officials have let it stay in play — the paper representing mortgage bonds and loans which undoubtedly are riddled with misrepresentations and bad data, is worth 100% if the government gets it but only 30% if anyone else gets it. This is welfare for the largest banks that stole from the citizens and are being allowed to keep the money and gamble more with our future. This isn’t about deficits or budgets. This is about fraud and restitution.

The victims of fraud — all of them including financial institutions (if they are innocent, which is another story) should receive full restitution and if the net balance due on any one loan is proportionately reduced by receipts of payments from the servicer, the proceeds of insurance, credit default swaps and credit enhancements (and of course restructuring into even more exotic pools that are never reported, thus rendering even the “trust” to be non-existent), a fair deal can be reached because the principal will have been reduced.

Foreclosure Fraud 101 – How (not) to Fraudclose on a Default When There is No Default in Order to Steal $$$ from the Govt (FDIC)

By ZeroHedge.com

This little gem comes over from Mark Stopa…

Take a look at this Final Judgment, where a borrower prevailed over BB&T at trial. Yes, the bank was sleazier than the skuz on the bottom of my shoes, declaring this borrower in default when there was no default. But take a close look at WHY the bank did so. As the Final Judgment reflects, the bank was financially motivated to declare a default because it knew the government was going to pay the mortgage in the event of default.

As if that’s not disgusting enough, what makes it even worse was that BB&T did not even loan the money – a prior bank did. Yet as a result of a deal with the FDIC, BB&T was in the position of pocketing millions of dollars from our government merely by declaring this borrower in default. This should piss off everybody in America – a bank that didn’t loan money wrongly declares a default so it can collect millions from our government. Where is the outrage?

Don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it – read the findings of Judge Levens in this Final Judgment.

From the judgment…

The evidence adduced at trial and considered by the court demonstrated that Plaintiff breached it duties of good faith and fair dealing in its contractual relationship with Defendants. The evidence also demonstrated that Plaintiff was motivated to behave in such as manner as a direct result of the PSA; that is, Plaintiff stood to profit by declaring a fraudulent default under the subject loan, collecting from the FDIC under the PSA for such default, and then enforcing the subject loan against Defendants, and retaining the property until such time as a real estate turnaround occurred in hopes to dispose of the property at the peak of the market. In fact, Mr. Bruni testified that Plaintiff may have already applied to the FDIC for a loss share payment on this loan. And Defendants’ expert, Jim Howard, explained that it was possible Plaintiff could have already applied for and received a payment from the FDIC on this loan, perhaps in an amount as high as $1,800,000.00. Notably, Plaintiff nowhere credited such potential payment from the FDIC against the amounts sought in the instant litigation; thereby giving the impression that Plaintiff might be “double dipping”, and possibly “triple dipping” if market conditions favorably change and the property likewise increases in value.

DISCUSSION

The evidence was clear that there was a long and unblemished record of good faith timely monthly payments by Defendants. The evidence is also clear that, both on legal and equitable grounds, a bona fide default never occurred, and the resulting loan acceleration and lawsuit were improvidently initiated by Plaintiff for purposes of trying to maximize collection simultaneously from the future sale of the property after favorable stabilization occurred. The evidence is clear that Plaintiff committed significant wrongdoing and breached the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing of a financial institution, such that the instant cause of action should be denied in its entirety.

Sounds like the plaintiff committed much more than “significant wrongdoing” but I guess when you’re the bank it isn’t a crime.

Now do you understand why there are so many “DEADBEATS” that do not pay their bills?


Arizona Supreme Court Hogan Case Holds that Note is Not required to Start Foreclosure

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the trustee owes the trustor a fiduciary duty, and may be held liable for conducting a trustee’s sale when the trustor is not in default. See Patton v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n of Phoenix, 118 Ariz. 473, 476, 578 P.2d 152, 155 (1978).” Hogan Court

Editor’s Comment: Here is another example of lawyers arguing out of a lack of understanding of the securitization process and trying to compress an elephant into a rabbit hole. They lost, unsurprisingly.

If you loaned money to someone, you want the money repaid. You DON’T want to be told that because you don’t have the note you can never enforce the loan repayment. You CAN start enforcement and you must prove why you don’t have the note in a credible way so that the court has footprints leading right up to the point that you don’t have the note. But the point is that you can start without the note. 

The Supreme Court apparently understood this very well and they didn’t address the real issue because nobody brought it up. The issue before them was whether someone without the note could initiate the foreclosure process. Nobody mentioned whether the same party could submit a credit bid at the auction which is what I have been pounding upon for months on end now.

Apparently, right or wrong, the feeling of the courts is that there is a very light burden on the right to initiate a foreclosure whether it is judicial or non-judicial. It is very close to the burden of the party moving to lift stay in a bankruptcy procedure. Practically any colorable right gives the party enough to get the stay — because the theory goes — whether it is a lift stay or starting the ball rolling on a foreclosure there is plenty the borrower can do to  oppose the enforcement procedure. I don’t agree with either standard or burden of proof in the case of securitized mortgages but it is about time we got real about what gets traction in the courtroom and what doesn’t.

In the Hogan case the Court makes a pretty big deal out of the fact that Hogan didn’t allege that WAMU and Deutsch were not entitled to enforce the note. From the court’s perspective, they were saying to the AG and the borrowers, “look, you are admitting the debt and admitting this is the creditor, what do you want from us, a free pass?”

This is why you need real people with real knowledge and real reports that back up and give credibility to deny the debt, deny the default, deny that WAMU and/or Deutsch are creditors, plead payment and force WAMU and Deutsch to come forward with pleadings and proof. Instead WAMU and Deutsch skated by AGAIN because nobody followed the money. They followed the document trail which led them down that rabbit hole I was referencing above.

In order to deny everything without be frivolous, you need to have concrete reasons why you think the debt does not exist, the debt does not exist between the borrower and these pretender lenders, the debt was paid in full, and deny that the loan was NOT secured (i.e. that the mortgage lien was NOT perfected when filed).

For anyone to do that without feeling foolish you must UNDERSTAND how the securitization model AS PRACTICED turned the entire lending model on its head. Then everything makes sense, which is why I wrote the second volume which you can get by pressing the appropriate links shown above. But it isn’t just the book that will get you there. You need to give rise to material, relevant issues of fact that are in dispute. For that you need a credible report from a credible expert with real credentials and real experience and training.

I follow the money. In fact the new book has a section called “Show Me the Money”. To “believe” is taken from an ancient  language that means “to be willing”. I want you to believe that the debt that the “enforcers” doesn’t exist and never did. I want you to believe that the declarations contained in the note, mortgage (deed of trust), substitution of trustee etc. are all lies. But you can’t believe that unless you are willing to consider the the idea it might be true. That I might be right.

At every “Securitized” closing table there were two deals taking place — one perfectly real and the other perfectly unreal, fake and totally obfuscated. The deal everyone is litigating is the second one,  starting with the documents at closing and moving up the chain of securitization. Do you really think that some court is going to declare that everyone gets a free house because some i wasn’t dotted or t crossed on the back of the wrong piece of paper when you admit the debt, the default and the amount due?

It is the first deal that is real because THAT is the one with the money exchanging hands. The declarations contained in the note, mortgage and other documents all refer to money exchanging hands between the named payee and secured party on one side and the borrower on the other. The deal in those documents never happened. The REAL DEAL was that money from investor lenders was poured down a pipe through which the loans were funded. The parties at the closing table with the borrower had nothing to do with funding; acquiring, transferring the receivable, the obligation, note or the mortgage or deed of trust.

Every time you chase them down the rabbit hole of the document trail you miss the point. The REAL DEAL had no documents and couldn’t possibly be secured. And if you read the wording from the Hogan decision below you can see how even they would have considered the matter differently if the simple allegation been made that the borrower denied that WAMU and Deutsch had any right to enforce the note either as principals or as agents. They were not the creditor. But Hogan and its ilk are not over — yet.

There is still a matter to be determined as to whether the party who initiated the foreclosure is in fact a creditor under the statute and can therefore submit a credit bid in lieu of cash. THAT is where the rubber meets the road — where the cash is supposed to exchange hands. And THAT is where nearly all the foreclosures across the country fail. The failure of consideration means the sale did not take place. If the borrower was there or someone for him was there and bid a token amount of money it could be argued in many states that the other bid being ineligible as a credit bid, the only winning bidder is the one who offered cash.

————————————————————

Hogan argues that a deed of trust, like a mortgage, “may be enforced only by, or in behalf of, a person who is entitled to enforce the obligation the mortgage secures.” Restatement (Third) of Prop.: Mortgages § 5.4(c) (1997); see Hill v. Favour, 52 Ariz. 561, 568-69, 84 P.2d 575, 578 (1938).

-6-
We agree. (e.s.) But Hogan has not alleged that WaMu and Deutsche Bank are not entitled to enforce the underlying note; rather, he alleges that they have the burden of demonstrating their rights before a non-judicial foreclosure may proceed. Nothing in the non-judicial foreclosure statutes, however, imposes such an obligation. See Mansour v. Cal-Western Reconveyance Corp., 618 F. Supp. 2d 1178, 1181 (D. Ariz. 2009) (citing A.R.S. § 33-807 and observing that “Arizona’s [non-]judicial foreclosure statutes . . . do not require presentation of the original note before commencing foreclosure proceedings”); In re Weisband, 427 B.R. 13, 22 (Bankr. D. Ariz. 2010) (stating that non-judicial foreclosures may be conducted under Arizona’s deed of trust statutes without presentation of the original note).

———————AND SPEAKING OF  DEUTSCH BANK: READ THIS AS GRIST FOR THE ABOVE ANALYSIS——-

Disavowal by-DEUTSCHE-BANK-NATIONAL-TRUST-COMPANY-AS-TRUSTEE-NOTICE-TO-CERTIFICATE-HOLDERSForeclosure-Practice-Notice-10-25[1]

Pandemic Lying Admission: Deutsch Bank Up and Down the Fake Securitization Chain

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Editor’s Comment:

One problem with securitization in practice even under the academic model is the effect on potential enforcement of the obligation, even assuming that the “lender” is properly identified in the closing documents with the buyer of the loan product and the closing papers of the buyer of the mortgage bonds (and we’ll assume that the mortgage bonds are real and valid, as well as having been issued by a fully funded REMIC in which loans were properly assigned and transferred —- an assumption, as we have seen that is not true in the real world). Take this quote from the glossary at the back of this book and which in turn was taken from established authoritative sources used by bankers, securities firms and accountants:

cross guarantees and credit default swaps, synthetic collateralized asset obligations and other exotic equity and debt instruments, each of which promises the holder an incomplete interest in the original security instrument and the revenue flow starting with the alleged borrower and ending with various parties who receive said revenue, including but not limited to parties who are obligated to make payments for shortfalls of revenues.

Real Property Lawyers spot the problem immediately.

First question is when do these cross guarantees, CDS, Insurance, and other exotic instruments arise. If they are in existence at the time of the closing with the borrower homeowner then the note and mortgage are not properly drafted as to terms of repayment nor identity of the lender/creditor. This renders the note either unenforceable or requiring the admission of parole evidence in any action to either enforce against the borrower or enforce the cross obligations of the new cross creditors who supposedly are receiving not just rights to the receivable but to the actual note and the actual mortgage.

Hence even a truthful statement that the “Trustee” beings this foreclosure on behalf of the “trust” as creditor (assuming a Trust existed by law and that the Trustee, and beneficiaries and terms were clear) would be insufficient if any of these “credit enhancements” and other synthetic or exotic vehicles were in place. The Trustee on the Deed of Sale would be required to get an accounting from each of the entities that are parties or counterparties whose interest is effected by the foreclosure and who would be entitled to part of the receivable generated either by the foreclosure itself or the payment by counterparties who “bet wrong” on the mortgage pool.

The second question is whether some or any or all of these instruments came into existence or were actualized by a required transaction AFTER the closing with the homeowner borrower. It would seem that while the original note and mortgage (or Deed of Trust) might not be affected directly by these instruments, the enforcement mechanism would still be subject to the same issues as raised above when they were fully actualized and in existence at the time of the closing with the homeowner borrower.

Deutsch Bank was a central player in most of the securitized mortgages in a variety of ways including the exotic instruments referred to above. If there was any doubt about whether there existed pandemic lying and cheating, it was removed when the U.S. Attorney Civil Frauds Unit obtained admissions and a judgment for Deutsch to pay over $200 million resulting from intentional misrepresentations contained in various documents used with numerous entities and people up and down the fictitious securitization chain. Similar claims are brought against Citi (which settled so far for $215 million in February, 2012) Flagstar Bank FSB (which settled so far for $133 million in February 2012, and Allied Home Mortgage Corp, which is still pending. Even the most casual reader can see that the entire securitization model was distorted by fraud from one end (the investor lender) to the other (the homeowner borrower) and back again (the parties and counterparties in insurance, bailouts, credit default swaps, cross guarantees that violated the terms of every promissory note etc.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Recovers $202.3 Million From Deutsche Bank And Mortgageit In Civil Fraud Case Alleging Reckless Mortgage Lending Practices And False Certifications To HUD

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                  Thursday May 10, 2012

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Stuart F. Delery, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Helen Kanovsky, General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), and David A. Montoya, Inspector General of HUD, announced today that the United States has settled a civil fraud lawsuit against DEUTSCHE BANK AG, DB STRUCTURED PRODUCTS, INC., DEUTSCHE BANK SECURITIES, INC. (collectively “DEUTSCHE BANK” or the “DEUTSCHE BANK defendants”) and MORTGAGEIT, INC. (“MORTGAGEIT”). The Government’s lawsuit, filed May 3, 2011, sought damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act for repeated false certifications to HUD in connection with the residential mortgage origination practices of MORTGAGEIT, a wholly-owned subsidiary of DEUTSCHE BANK AG since 2007. The suit alleges approximately a decade of misconduct in connection with MORTGAGEIT’s participation in the Federal Housing Administration’s (“FHA’s”) Direct Endorsement Lender Program (“DEL program”), which delegates authority to participating private lenders to endorse mortgages for FHA insurance. Among other things, the suit accused the defendants of having submitted false certifications to HUD, including false certifications that MORTGAGEIT was originating mortgages in compliance with HUD rules when in fact it was not. In the settlement announced today, MORTGAGEIT and DEUTSCHE BANK admitted, acknowledged, and accepted responsibility for certain conduct alleged in the Complaint, including that, contrary to the representations in MORTGAGEIT’s annual certifications, MORTGAGEIT did not conform to all applicable HUD-FHA regulations. MORTGAGEIT also admitted that it submitted certifications to HUD stating that certain loans were eligible for FHA mortgage insurance when in fact they were not; that FHA insured certain loans endorsed by MORTGAGEIT that were not eligible for FHA mortgage insurance; and that HUD consequently incurred losses when some of those MORTGAGEIT loans defaulted. The defendants also agreed to pay $202.3 million to the United States to resolve the Government’s claims for damages and penalties under the False Claims Act. The settlement was approved today by United States District Judge Lewis Kaplan.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “MORTGAGEIT and DEUTSCHE BANK treated FHA insurance as free Government money to backstop lending practices that did not follow the rules. Participation in the Direct Endorsement Lender program comes with requirements that are not mere technicalities to be circumvented through subterfuge as these defendants did repeatedly over the course of a decade. Their failure to meet these requirements caused substantial losses to the Government – losses that could have and should have been avoided. In addition to their admissions of responsibility, Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT have agreed to pay damages in an amount that will significantly compensate HUD for the losses it incurred as a result of the defendants’ actions.”

Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery stated: “This is an important settlement for the United States, both in terms of obtaining substantial reimbursement for the FHA insurance fund for wrongfully incurred claims, and in obtaining the defendants’ acceptance of their role in the losses they caused to the taxpayers.”

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Making sure that victims of federal crimes are treated with compassion, fairness and respect.

www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/may12/deutschebankmortgageitsettlement.html                  1/45/16/12                  USDOJ: US Attorney’s Office – Southern District of New York

HUD General Counsel Helen Kanovsky stated: “This case demonstrates that HUD has the ability to identify fraud patterns and work with our partners at the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Offices to pursue appropriate remedies. HUD would like to commend the work of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in achieving this settlement, which is a substantial recovery for the FHA mortgage insurance fund. We look forward to continuing our joint efforts with the Department of Justice and the SDNY to combat mortgage fraud. The mortgage industry should take notice that we will not sit silently by if we detect abuses in our programs.”

HUD Inspector General David A. Montoya stated: “We expect every Direct Endorsement Lender to adhere to the highest level of integrity and accountability. When the combined efforts and attention of the Department of Justice, HUD, and HUD OIG are focused upon those who fail to exercise such integrity in connection with HUD programs, the end result will be both unpleasant and costly to the offending party.”

The following allegations are based on the Complaint and Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) filed in Manhattan federal court by the Government in this case:

Between 1999 and 2009, MORTGAGEIT was a participant in the DEL program, a federal program administered by the FHA. As a Direct Endorsement Lender, MORTGAGEIT had the authority to originate, underwrite, and endorse mortgages for FHA insurance. If a Direct Endorsement Lender approves a mortgage loan for FHA insurance and the loan later defaults, the holder of the loan may submit an insurance claim to HUD for the costs associated with the defaulted loan, which HUD must then pay. Under the DEL program, neither the FHA nor HUD reviews a loan before it is endorsed for FHA insurance. Direct Endorsement Lenders are therefore required to follow program rules designed to ensure that they are properly underwriting and endorsing mortgages for FHA insurance and maintaining a quality control program that can prevent and correct any deficiencies in their underwriting. These requirements include maintaining a quality control program, pursuant to which the lender must fully review all loans that go into default within the first six payments, known as “early payment defaults.” Early payment defaults may be signs of problems in the underwriting process, and by reviewing early payment defaults, Direct Endorsement Lenders are able to monitor those problems, correct them, and report them to HUD. MORTGAGEIT failed to comply with these basic requirements.

As the Complaint further alleges, MORTGAGEIT was also required to execute certifications for every mortgage loan that it endorsed for FHA insurance. Since 1999, MORTGAGEIT has endorsed more than 39,000 mortgages for FHA insurance, and FHA paid insurance claims on more than 3,200 mortgages, totaling more than $368 million, for mortgages endorsed for FHA insurance by MORTGAGEIT, including more than $58 million resulting from loans that defaulted after DEUTSCHE BANK AG acquired MORTGAGEIT in 2007.

As alleged in the Complaint, a portion of those losses was caused by the false statements that the defendants made to HUD to obtain FHA insurance on individual loans. Although MORTGAGEIT had certified that each of these loans was eligible for FHA insurance, it repeatedly submitted certifications that were knowingly or recklessly false. MORTGAGEIT failed to perform basic due diligence and repeatedly endorsed mortgage loans that were not eligible for FHA insurance.

The Complaint also alleges that MORTGAGEIT separately certified to HUD, on an annual basis, that it was in compliance with the rules governing its eligibility in the DEL program, including that it conduct a full review of all early payment defaults, as early payment defaults are indicators of mortgage fraud. Contrary to its certifications to HUD, MORTGAGEIT failed to implement a compliant quality control program, and failed to review all early payment defaults as required. In addition, the Complaint alleges that, after DEUTSCHE BANK acquired MORTGAGEIT in January 2007, DEUTSCHE BANK managed the quality control functions of the Direct Endorsement Lender business, and had its employees sign and submit MORTGAGEIT’s Direct Endorsement Lender annual certifications to HUD. Furthermore, by the end of 2007, MORTGAGEIT was not reviewing any early payment defaults on closed FHA-insured loans. Between 1999 and 2009, the FHA paid more than $92 million in FHA insurance claims for loans that defaulted within the first six payments.

***

Pursuant to the settlement, MORTGAGEIT and the DEUTSCHE BANK defendants will pay the United States $202.3 million within 30 days of the settlement.

As part of the settlement, the defendants admitted, acknowledged, and accepted responsibility for certain misconduct. Specifically,

MORTGAGEIT admitted, acknowledged, and accepted responsibility for the following:

www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/may12/deutschebankmortgageitsettlement.html                  2/4

5/16/12                  USDOJ: US Attorney’s Office – Southern District of New York

MORTGAGEIT failed to conform fully to HUD-FHA rules requiring Direct Endorsement Lenders to maintain a compliant quality control program;

MORTGAGEIT failed to conduct a full review of all early payment defaults on loans endorsed for FHA insurance;

Contrary to the representations in MORTGAGEIT’s annual certifications, MORTGAGEIT did not conform to all applicable HUD-FHA regulations;

MORTGAGEIT endorsed for FHA mortgage insurance certain loans that did not meet all underwriting requirements contained in HUD’s handbooks and mortgagee letters, and therefore were not eligible for FHA mortgage insurance under the DEL program; and;

MORTGAGEIT submitted to HUD-FHA certifications stating that certain loans were eligible for FHA mortgage insurance when in fact they were not; FHA insured certain loans endorsed by MORTGAGEIT that were not eligible for FHA mortgage insurance; and HUD consequently incurred losses when some of those MORTGAGEIT loans defaulted.

The DEUTSCHE BANK defendants admitted, acknowledged, and accepted responsibility for the fact that after MORTGAGEIT became a wholly-owned, indirect subsidiary of DB Structured Products, Inc and Deutsche Bank AG in January 2007:

The DEUTSCHE BANK defendants were in a position to know that the operations of MORTGAGEIT did not conform fully to all of HUD-FHA’s regulations, policies, and handbooks;

One or more of the annual certifications was signed by an individual who was also an officer of certain of the DEUTSCHE BANK defendants; and;

Contrary to the representations in MORTGAGEIT’s annual certifications, MORTGAGEIT did not conform to all applicable HUD-FHA regulations.

***

The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Frauds Unit. Mr. Bharara established the Civil Frauds Unit in March 2010 to bring renewed focus and additional resources to combating financial fraud, including mortgage fraud.

To date, the Office’s Civil Frauds Unit has brought four civil fraud lawsuits against major lenders under the False Claims Act alleging reckless residential mortgage lending.

Three of the four cases have settled, and today’s settlement represents the third, and largest, settlement. On February 15, 2012, the Government settled its civil fraud lawsuit against CITIMORTGAGE, INC. for $158.3 million. On February 24, 2012, the Government settled its civil fraud suit against FLAGSTAR BANK, F.S.B. for $132.8 million. The Government’s lawsuit against ALLIED HOME MORTGAGE CORP. and two of its officers remains pending. With today’s settlement, the Government has achieved settlements totaling $493.4 million in the last three months. In each settlement, the defendants have admitted and accepted responsibility for certain conduct alleged in the Government’s Complaint.

The Office’s Civil Frauds Unit is handling all three cases as part of its continuing investigation of reckless lending practices.

The Civil Frauds Unit works in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, on which Mr. Bharara serves as a Co-Chair of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Working Group. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

Mr. Bharara thanked HUD and HUD-OIG for their extraordinary assistance in this case. He also expressed his appreciation for the support of the Commercial Litigation Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division in Washington, D.C.

www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/may12/deutschebankmortgageitsettlement.html                  3/4

5/16/12                  USDOJ: US Attorney’s Office – Southern District of New York

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lara K. Eshkenazi, Pierre G. Armand, and Christopher B. Harwood are in charge of the case.

Everything Built on Myth Eventually Fails

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Editor’s Comment:

The good news is that the myth of Jamie Dimon’s infallaibility is at least called into question. Perhaps better news is that, as pointed out by Simon Johnson’s article below, the mega banks are not only Too Big to Fail, they are Too Big to Manage, which leads to the question, of why it has taken this long for Congress and the Obama administration to conclude that these Banks are Too Big to Regulate. So the answer, now introduced by Senator Brown, is to make the banks smaller and  put caps on them as to what they can and cannot do with their risk management.

But the real question that will come to fore is whether lawmakers in Dimon’s pocket will start feeling a bit squeamish about doing whatever Dimon asks. He is now becoming a political and financial liability. The $2.3 billion loss (and still counting) that has been reported seems to be traced to the improper trading in credit default swaps, an old enemy of ours from the mortgage battle that continues to rage throughout the land.  The problem is that the JPM people came to believe in their own myth which is sometimes referred to as sucking on your own exhaust. They obviously felt that their “risk management” was impregnable because in the end Jamie would save the day.

This time, Jamie can’t turn to investors to dump the loss on, thus drying up liquidity all over the world. This time he can’t go to government for a bailout, and this time the traction to bring the mega banks under control is getting larger. The last vote received only 33 votes from the Senate floor, indicating that Dimon and the wall Street lobby had control of 2/3 of the senate. So let ius bask in the possibility that this is the the beginning of the end for the mega banks, whose balance sheets, business practices and public announcements have all been based upon lies and half truths.

This time the regulators are being forced by public opinion to actually peak under the hood and see what is going on there. And what they will find is that the assets booked on the balance sheet of Dimon’s monolith are largely fictitious. This time the regulators must look at what assets were presented to the Federal Reserve window in exchange for interest free loans. The narrative is shifting from the “free house” myth to the reality of free money. And that will lead to the question of who is the creditor in each of the transactions in which a mortgage loan is said to exist.

Those mortgage loans are thought to exist because of a number of incorrect presumptions. One of them is that the obligation remains unpaid and is secured. Neither is true. Some loans might still have a balance due but even they have had their balances reduced by the receipt of insurance proceeds and the payoff from credit default swaps and other credit enhancements, not to speak of the taxpayer bailout.

This money was diverted from investor lenders who were entitled to that money because their contracts and the representations inducing them to purchase bogus mortgage bonds, stated that the investment was investment grade (Triple A) and because they thought they were insured several times over. It is true that the insurance was several layers thick and it is equally true that the insurance payoff covered most if not all the balances of all the mortgages that were funded between 1996 and the present. The investor lenders should have received at least enough of that money to make them whole — i.e., all principal and interest as promissed.

Instead the Banks did the unthinkable and that is what is about to come to light. They kept the money for themselves and then claimed the loss of investors on the toxic loans and tranches that were created in pools of money and mortgages — pools that in fact never came into existence, leaving the investors with a loose partnership with other investors, no manager, and no accounting. Every creditor is entitled to payment in full — ONCE, not multiple times unless they have separate contracts (bets) with parties other than the borrower. In this case, with the money received by the investment banks diverted from the investors, the creditors thought they had a loss when in fact they had a claim against deep pocket mega banks to receive their share of the proceeds of insurance, CDS payoffs and taxpayer bailouts.

What the banks were banking on was the stupidity of government regulators and the stupidity of the American public. But it wasn’t stupidity. it was ignorance of the intentional flipping of mortgage lending onto its head, resulting in loan portfolios whose main characteristic was that they would fail. And fail they did because the investment banks “declared” through the Master servicer that they had failed regardless of whether people were making payments on their mortgage loans or not. But the only parties with an actual receivable wherein they were expecting to be paid in real money were the investor lenders.

Had the investor lenders received the money that was taken by their agents, they would have been required to reduce the balances due from borrowers. Any other position would negate their claim to status as a REMIC. But the banks and servicers take the position that there exists an entitlement to get paid in full on the loan AND to take the house because the payment didn’t come from the borrower.

This reduction in the balance owed from borrowers would in and of itself have resulted in the equivalent of “principal reduction” which in many cases was to zero and quite possibly resulting in a claim against the participants in the securitization chain for all of the ill-gotten gains. remember that the Truth In Lending Law states unequivocally that the undisclosed profits and compensation of ANYONE involved in the origination of the loan must be paid, with interest to the borrower. Crazy you say? Is it any crazier than the banks getting $15 million for a $300,000 loan. Somebody needs to win here and I see no reason why it should be the megabanks who created, incited, encouraged and covered up outright fraud on investor lenders and homeowner borrowers.

Making Banks Small Enough And Simple Enough To Fail

By Simon Johnson

Almost exactly two years ago, at the height of the Senate debate on financial reform, a serious attempt was made to impose a binding size constraint on our largest banks. That effort – sometimes referred to as the Brown-Kaufman amendment – received the support of 33 senators and failed on the floor of the Senate. (Here is some of my Economix coverage from the time.)

On Wednesday, Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair and Efficient Banking Act, or SAFE, which would force the largest four banks in the country to shrink. (Details of this proposal, similar in name to the original Brown-Kaufman plan, are in this briefing memo for a Senate banking subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, available through Politico; see also these press release materials).

His proposal, while not likely to immediately become law, is garnering support from across the political spectrum – and more support than essentially the same ideas received two years ago.  This week’s debacle at JP Morgan only strengthens the case for this kind of legislative action in the near future.

The proposition is simple: Too-big-to-fail banks should be made smaller, and preferably small enough to fail without causing global panic. This idea had been gathering momentum since the fall of 2008 and, while the Brown-Kaufman amendment originated on the Democratic side, support was beginning to appear across the aisle. But big banks and the Treasury Department both opposed it, parliamentary maneuvers ensured there was little real debate. (For a compelling account of how the financial lobby works, both in general and in this instance, look for an upcoming book by Jeff Connaughton, former chief of staff to former Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware.)

The issue has not gone away. And while the financial sector has pushed back with some success against various components of the Dodd-Frank reform legislation, the idea of breaking up very large banks has gained momentum.

In particular, informed sentiment has shifted against continuing to allow very large banks to operate in their current highly leveraged form, with a great deal of debt and very little equity.  There is increasing recognition of the massive and unfair costs that these structures impose on the rest of the economy.  The implicit subsidies provided to “too big to fail” companies allow them to boost compensation over the cycle by hundreds of millions of dollars.  But the costs imposed on the rest of us are in the trillions of dollars.  This is a monstrously unfair and inefficient system – and sensible public figures are increasingly pointing this out (including Jamie Dimon, however inadvertently).

American Banker, a leading trade publication, recently posted a slide show, “Who Wants to Break Up the Big Banks?” Its gallery included people from across the political spectrum, with a great deal of financial sector and public policy experience, along with quotations that appear to support either Senator Brown’s approach or a similar shift in philosophy with regard to big banks in the United States. (The slide show is available only to subscribers.)

According to American Banker, we now have in the “break up the banks” corner (in order of appearance in that feature): Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Sheila Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Tom Hoenig, a board member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; Jon Huntsman, former Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Utah; Senator Brown; Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England; Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont; and Camden Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America. (I am also on the American Banker list).

Anat Admati of Stanford and her colleagues have led the push for much higher capital requirements – emphasizing the particular dangers around allowing our largest banks to operate in their current highly leveraged fashion. This position has also been gaining support in the policy and media mainstream, most recently in the form of a powerful Bloomberg View editorial.

(You can follow her work and related discussion on this Web site; on twitter she is @anatadmati.)

Senator Brown’s legislation reflects also the idea that banks should fund themselves more with equity and less with debt. Professor Admati and I submitted a letter of support, together with 11 colleagues whose expertise spans almost all dimensions of how the financial sector really operates.

We particularly stress the appeal of having a binding “leverage ratio” for the largest banks. This would require them to have at least 10 percent equity relative to their total assets, using a simple measure of assets not adjusted for any of the complicated “risk weights” that banks can game.

We also agree with the SAFE Banking Act that to limit the risk and potential cost to taxpayers, caps on the size of an individual bank’s liabilities relative to the economy can also serve a useful role (and the same kind of rule should apply to non-bank financial institutions).

Under the proposed law, no bank-holding company could have more than $1.3 trillion in total liabilities (i.e., that would be the maximum size). This would affect our largest banks, which are $2 trillion or more in total size, but in no way undermine their global competitiveness. This is a moderate and entirely reasonable proposal.

No one is suggesting that making JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo smaller would be sufficient to ensure financial stability.

But this idea continues to gain traction, as a measure complementary to further strengthening and simplifying capital requirements and generally in support of other efforts to make it easier to handle the failure of financial institutions.

Watch for the SAFE Banking Act to gain further support over time.

Now It’s the Servicers Betting Against Homeowners

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Editor’s Analysis:

Start with some premises that were speculation but are now known to be true. First, banks and servicers need as many properties in foreclosure as possible. There are many reasons. The banks want it because it covers up the outright bold lies they told investors to get them to “buy” non-existent mortgage bonds most of which involved either no paper certificate at all or they were simply not worth the paper they were written on. Second, the bankers (management) could make a killing depressing Market prices and then relieving the pressure when they wanted prices to go up. Third, servicers make far more money in fees as long as they are “servicing” a loan in default because their fees are higher on loans in distress. Fourth in many cases the servicers actually get to “own” the property if the foreclosure sale occurs.

The tactic used now is that if you miss a mortgage payment or even if you don’t, the servicer can say they were required to obtain insurance on their own because you didn’t. This is forced place insurance and nearly all of it is a bold-faced lie. Now the servicer adds to your mortgage payment the cost of forced place insurance even if they paid nothing. If you are on the edge, the cost of forced placed insurance (many times 3-4 times normal rates) is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The result? Many homes that were otherwise current in their payments end up in foreclosure.

This can be stopped. On challenge, most servicers back off of forced place insurance claims, but getting them to stop the foreclosure is more difficult — usually because by the time the homeowner challenges the forced place insurance some scheduled payments have been missed. But upon further challenge it can usually be shown that the scheduled payments were in fact made by the servicer to the creditor, meaning that the declaration of a default and notice of sale were bogus — just like everything else in this mess.

Servicers incentivized to bet against homeowners, may hurt housing

by Tara Steele

Insurance policies are not often pointed to as the problem with housing, but one news outlet says homeowners are being pushed off of the foreclosure cliff by force-place insurance.

Force-placed insurance’s impact on housing

“Force-placed” insurance, or property insurance the bank takes out for homeowners who miss an insurance payment has recently come under fire by Bloomberg News Editors1 who say the policies cover less and cost more, and will likely end up putting homeowners into foreclosure regardless of the force-placed insurance policies.

Deeper analysis of the forced-place policies revealed that the loss ratio is much lower than expected, in other words, the percentage of premiums paid out on claims is severely low, paying out $0.20 cents on the dollar, when the average $0.55 cents on the dollar payout of most other types of policies. The implication is that the insurance companies are charging extremely high premiums, and when the policies actually pay out, they barely cover the bank’s losses.

Bloomberg reports that banks not only receive commissions on the forced-place policies, they make even more money by re-insuring them, so the bank takes out a policy to protect the property but is making a more lucrative bet that the policy will never pay out. Fannie Mae has already instructed servicers of Fannie-backed loans to reduce the cost of insurance premiums, but Bloomberg implies that these directives are weak and more can be done.

Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is looking into forced-place insurance, Bloomberg urges the CFPB to require all servicers to pick up the homeowner’s lapsed policy when possible, otherwise seek bids for lower cost options, and notes that Freddie mac should demand its servicers to get competitive bids on insurance policies.

The crux of the forced issue

The CFPB should investigate the commissions made by banks on these policies, says Bloomberg, as they are a major incentive to put homeowners into policies they cannot possibly afford. “Many homeowners who experience coverage gaps have severe financial problems that lead them to stop paying their insurance bills,” notes Bloomberg. “They are already at great risk of foreclosure. Banks and insurers shouldn’t be allowed to add to the likelihood of default by artificially inflating the cost of insurance.”

White Paper: Many Causes of Foreclosure Crisis

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Editor’s Comment:

I attended Darrell Blomberg’s Foreclosure Strategists’ meeting last night where Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne defended the relatively small size of the foreclosure settlement compared with the tobacco settlement. To be fair, it should be noted that the multi-state settlement relates only to issues brought by the attorneys general. True they did very little investigation but the settlement sets the guidelines for settling with individual homeowners without waiving anything except that the AG won’t bring the lawsuits to court. Anyone else can and will. It wasn’t a real settlement. But the effect was what the Banks wanted. They want you to think the game is over and move on. The game is far from over, it isn’t a game and I won’t stop until I get those homes back that were ripped from the arms of homeowners who never knew what hit them.

So this is the first full business day after AG Horne promised me he would get back to me on the question of whether the AG would bring criminal actions for racketeering and corruption against the banks and servicers for conducting sham auctions in which “credit bids” were used instead of cash to allow the banks to acquire title. These credit bids came from non-creditors and were used as the basis for issuing deeds on foreclosure, each of which carry a presumption of authenticity.  But the deeds based on credit bids from non-creditors represent outright theft and a ratification of a corrupt title system that was doing just fine before the banks started claiming the loans were securitized.

Those credit bids and the deeds issued upon foreclosure were sham transactions — just as the transactions originated with borrowers were based upon the lies and false pretenses of the acting lenders who were paid for their acting services. By pretending that the loan came from these thinly capitalised sham companies (all closed with no forwarding address), the banks and servicers started the lie that the loan was sold up the tree of securitization. Each transaction we are told was a sale of the loan, but none of them actually involved any money exchanging hands. So much for, “value received.”

The purpose of these loans was to create a process that would cover up the theft of the investor money that the investment bank received in exchange for “mortgage bonds” based upon non-existent transactions and the title equivalent of wild deeds.

So the answer to the question is that borrowers did not make bad decisions. They were tricked into these loans. Had there been full disclosure as required by TILA, the borrowers would never have closed on the papers presented to them. Had there been full disclosure to the investors, they never would have parted with a nickel. No money, no lender, no borrower no transactions. And practically barring lawyers from being hired by borrowers was the first clue that these deals were upside down and bogus. No, they didn’t make bad decisions. There was an asymmetry of information that the banks used to leverage against the borrowers who knew nothing and who understood nothing.  

“Just sign everywhere we marked for your signature” was the closing agent’s way of saying, “You are now totally screwed.” If you ask the wrong question you get the wrong answer. “Moral hazard” in this context is not a term anyone knowledgeable uses in connection with the borrowers. It is a term used to express the context in which unscrupulous Bankers acted without conscience and with reckless disregard to the public, violating every applicable law, rule and regulation in the process.

Why Did So Many People Make So Many Ex Post Bad Decisions? The Causes of the Foreclosure Crisis

Public Policy Discussion Paper No. 12-2


by Christopher L. Foote, Kristopher S. Gerardi, and Paul S. Willen

This paper presents 12 facts about the mortgage market. The authors argue that the facts refute the popular story that the crisis resulted from financial industry insiders deceiving uninformed mortgage borrowers and investors. Instead, they argue that borrowers and investors made decisions that were rational and logical given their ex post overly optimistic beliefs about house prices. The authors then show that neither institutional features of the mortgage market nor financial innovations are any more likely to explain those distorted beliefs than they are to explain the Dutch tulip bubble 400 years ago. Economists should acknowledge the limits of our understanding of asset price bubbles and design policies accordingly.

To ready the entire paper please go to this link: www.bostonfed.org/economic/ppdp/2012/ppdp1202.htm

Whose Risk Is It Anyway?

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Editor’s Comment:

Now that securities analysts are looking at investments the way I was trained to see them, it is now possible to see the way the mortgage bond market should have operated, why it didn’t operate according to industry standards and why it is continuing to drain the economies of the U.S. Economy and the economies and societies of the western world.

There are two general types of risk in any investment. The first type is return of principal and the second type is the rate of return. The rate of return is the amount of money paid to the investor in addition to the principal. In today’s markets the two main contenders for investment money are equities (stocks) and liabilities (bonds). The price of an investment depends upon risk more than anything else: “is this price worth the risk that I will get my money back along with the targeted rate of return (interest in the case of bonds).

The inescapable rule has always been and always will be that if an issuer is seeking investment capital they must pay higher and higher interest rates for every degree of increased risk. If the risk is return of capital they are junk bonds. If the risk is that the rate of return (interest) on bonds may vary from the stated or targeted return, that too will increase the cost of capital to those issuers seeking investment capital.

My conclusion is that mortgage bonds have so destabilised the markets and confidence in the bond markets, that they are difficult to evaluate using common sense industry standards. Sure enough we see here that the slightest move away from the bonds with the absolute lowest risk of return of principal results in huge jumps in the cost of capital. And if the issuer of that bond is downgraded to a higher risk, their bonds will take a beating. Each beating amounts to a reduction in the open Market price paid for the bond — which means that the investor who bought at or near par value is now considered likely to receive less of his principal back and most probably will take a “haircut” on both principal and interest.

The obvious solution is to remove mortgage bonds from the bond Market through whatever means are necessary and to show the world that such bogus bonds will not be tolerated in the U.S. Or anywhere else. Yet we continue to kick the can down the road. Not only have we failed to give recognition to what world bankers have understood for four years — that mortgage bonds are worthless — we compound the problem by having government entities sell these “securities” under circumstances that ought to land any issuer or broker in jail.

The U.S. Government and the U.S. treasury have become co-conspirators in the largest economic crime in human history and to add insult to injury they think we are all too stupid to see it. Francois Hollander as the new president of France stands as living testimony that the people will neither be apathetic nor stupid on the issue of the Banks and finance. As leader of the socialist party, the election if this marginalised candidate sent Sarkozy packing for Hollande’s arrival on May 16, 2012, which is less time than the ordinary eviction takes in the United States.

Pretending the mortgage bonds have value is hurting us. Failing to get restitution to the victims of this fraud is hurting us even worse because it is retarding our efforts at economic recovery. And the failure of all three branches of government to assure that this fraud will end, that stolen property and money will be returned, and that criminal perpetrators will go to jail is perpetuating a widening income inequality that often presages social upheaval. If we keep going like this, the United States of America might become a confederation of regions. China will become the next bully on the block and we will all be learning mandarin whether we want to or not.

How to Play the Bond Market Now

Many pros are bracing for higher interest rates but are willing to shoulder some risk of defaults

By MICHAEL A. POLLOCK

Bond investors, pick your poison.

Interest rates are pitifully low for old standbys like Treasurys and highly rated corporate bonds. But the risk factor increases so rapidly the more one tries to reach for higher returns that it is hard these days to know how to allocate fixed-income dollars. Before investing, one has to carefully weigh and compare risks including rising rates, possible defaults, currency swings and liquidity.

To get the best balance of risk and return, the answer may be mixing various types of taxable and municipal bonds for maximum diversification.

In the current climate, many pros also suggest that investors say yes to moderate credit risk but limit their exposure to an eventual rise in rates.

Here’s how to strike a good balance between risk and reward in today’s bond market:

Know the two basic types of bond risk and how those risks compare

Many people mistakenly believe bonds are entirely safe. Actually, bondholders continually face two major threats to the value of their investments: interest-rate risk and credit risk.

The first stems from expectations that stronger economic activity will fan inflation, eroding returns on securities that pay fixed rates of interest—as most bonds do. Such worries can spark selling. And as prices fall, that pushes up yields, which move the opposite way. You might not be affected if you hold individual bonds and don’t sell before maturity, although rising yields do entail an opportunity cost: You’re stuck with low rates while newer securities would offer better returns. But if you own a bond fund, the risk is greater: Funds don’t have a final maturity and lose value as long as rates are rising.

The other key concern, credit risk, results from fears that a bond issuer can’t make interest payments or repay principal at maturity. The trade-off is higher-risk issuers have to pay higher interest to lure bond buyers, boosting investors’ income if the bond doesn’t go bad.

Robert Hall, a fixed-income fund manager at Boston-based MFS Investment Management, is among those who say it makes sense now to base bond-investment decisions more on credit risk than on rate risk.

Most bond professionals believe rates are going to climb eventually. But “trying to anticipate rates has been a losing game,” says Mr. Hall. During the economic recovery so far, U.S. rates have remained near historic lows because of strong global demand for lower-risk investments and central-bank actions to keep rates low in order to spark growth.

Assessing an issuer’s credit risk is an easier exercise, by comparison. “You can get your hands around credit risk” by scrutinizing an issuer’s financial reports, Mr. Hall says.

Some investors have been taking more credit risk this year. According to fund tracker Morningstar Inc., MORN -0.66% high-yield funds—which hold below-investment-grade, or “junk,” bonds—attracted nearly $15 billion through March. Tax-exempt and emerging-markets funds, where credit risk also plays a big role, saw good inflows, too.

To temper rate risk, climb lower on the corporate credit ladder.

Corporate bonds are rated according to perceived default risk. And the more default risk a bond carries, the less it tends to trade in sync with U.S. Treasurys. That means a portfolio of lower-rated bonds isn’t as vulnerable to any broad rise in rates.

Currently, 10-year investment-grade corporate bonds yield around 3%, or about one percentage point over 10-year Treasurys. That yield premium doesn’t adequately compensate for the principal loss they could suffer if rates were to spike, says Mr. Hall of MFS.

He arrives at this conclusion by doing some basic bond math. This involves computing a bond’s so-called duration, or interest-rate sensitivity, which is determined by its yield and time left until maturation. For a highly rated 10-year corporate bond, the sensitivity measure is about 7. If you multiply 7 by a hypothetical percentage-point increase in yields, you get the amount by which the bond’s price is likely to fall in response.

So, for the 10-year corporate in question, if rates rose by one percentage point, the impact would be a 7% decline in the value of your investment before any interest is paid.

But if you move lower on the ratings ladder to double B, the top tier for high-yield, below-investment-grade bonds, you’ll get around 6% to 7% in yield and a rate sensitivity around 4. If yields rose one percentage point, such bonds might still have a positive return after interest.

Another reason to own lower-rated corporate issues is that default risk has been falling, says Sabur Moini, a high-yield bond manager at Payden & Rygel, Los Angeles. As more investors have warmed to lower-rated bonds, their issuers “have done a very good job at reducing debt, keeping costs low and building up cash balances,” he says.

Mix in some municipals for possible tax savings.

Last year, muni prices plummeted as investors fled the sector amid fears of surging defaults by financially strapped local governments. Now, although prices have recovered somewhat, munis still offer very good value, says Dan Genter, who heads RNC Genter Capital Management in Los Angeles.

The interest that munis pay is exempt from federal income tax, and generally also from state tax in the state of issuance, so munis historically have yielded only about three-fourths as much as taxable Treasurys. But in an unusual situation, munis now yield about the same as Treasurys. That makes them cheap—not only to people in the top tax bracket, but to everyone, says Mr. Genter.

At around 2.5%, the current yield of top-quality, intermediate-maturity munis is the after-tax equivalent of nearly 4% on a taxable bond for an investor with a 33% marginal federal tax rate. The after-tax equivalent could be higher if federal tax rates increase next year, as scheduled under current law.

As muni investors have been focusing more on credit risk, the market has been trading less in sync with Treasurys. That means munis other than those with long maturities could offer some protection against any broad rise in Treasury yields, says John Miller, co-head of global fixed income at Chicago-based Nuveen Asset Management.

Illustrating the divergence, Nuveen All-American Municipal Bond returned 5.1% in the first four months of 2012, even after Treasury rates blipped higher in March. In contrast, the iShares Barclays 7-10 Year Treasury IEF -0.02% ETF returned just 0.6%, according to Morningstar.

Own emerging-markets bonds for yield and diversification.

Bonds of emerging-markets nations such as Brazil and Malaysia have yields five percentage points or more above those of government bonds in developed countries. And owning such bonds essentially means you are lending money to governments that are in a stronger position to repay it than governments of many developed countries, says Robert Stewart, a managing director and emerging-markets specialist at J.P. Morgan Funds in London.

The chief downside to these bonds is their volatility. These nations may have stronger growth prospects and smaller debt burdens than the U.S., for example. But at times of financial uncertainty, investors tend to rush back to the perceived safety of U.S. Treasurys.

Last September, as Europe’s financial woes prompted a flight to safety, the average emerging-markets bond fund tracked by Morningstar posted a negative 7.5% return for the month.

The answer for many investors is to add a modest helping of emerging-markets bonds to your plate—perhaps around 5% to 10% of your overall bond allocation, says Mr. Stewart.

Volatility-averse investors should choose a fund that invests mostly in U.S. dollar-denominated bonds because in uncertain times, bonds denominated in local currencies may be hurt more by flight to safety than those issued in U.S. dollars.

For instance, about 90% of the bonds owned by TCW Emerging Markets Income are denominated in dollars. The fund, which yields 6.5%, has large holdings of bonds issued in Brazil, Mexico and Russia.

To simplify things, consider funds with a diverse mix of securities.

Because institutional players dominate the credit markets, people with less money to invest who want credit exposure are usually better off owning mutual funds than individual bonds. Funds offer much better liquidity than individual corporate bonds, meaning that it is easier to buy and sell a position.

You could get moderate credit exposure through a fund in Morningstar’s multisector bond-fund grouping. Such funds invest in a mix of U.S. government, corporate and high-yield securities and periodically adjust holdings based on market conditions and manager expectations. Multisector funds also may have some holdings of non-U.S. bonds.

Among strongly performing multisector funds, Loomis Sayles Bond recently had about 60% of its holdings in corporate debt securities for an average portfolio credit rating of double-B and a moderate interest-rate sensitivity of 5.5. The fund also had about a third of its portfolio in non-U.S. securities. Over the 10 years through April, it ranks in the top 6% of Morningstar’s multisector group, with an average annual total return of 10%.

Michael Collins, who oversees multisector fund strategies at Prudential Investments, believes it is unclear whether U.S. rates will rise significantly in the near future. Still, in the funds he helps manage, Mr. Collins has been loading up on high-yield bonds because of the cushion they can provide against rising rates. Says Mr. Collins, “High-quality bonds don’t pay much, and you potentially have a lot of downside there.”

Colorado Moves Forward with Legislation to Prevent Fraudulent Foreclosures

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Editor’s Comment: 

Once upon a time it was a simple thing. If you sued someone, you had to say why, plead facts that supported the relief you wanted, and then demand the relief. Today it is considered nearly revolutionary to require foreclosers to prove the loan, prove the facts supporting foreclosures, using real evidence and not suppositions. As Colorado moves closer to Nevada’s law there is ample reason to hope that foreclosures will plummet there too. Isn’t it odd though that mediated settlements are not rising substantially either? 

We can only assume that there is something the Banks and servicers are not telling the pensioners who rely upon funds that were heavily invested in the bogus mortgage bonds. Could it be that if the pensioners collectively and the homeowners collectively got together and compared notes they would discover the problem: that when their fund manager put up the money for loans, there were no loans? Or that the investment bank removed 20%–40% of the funds and converted them to fees and profits leaving only a fraction of the money of the pensioners to fund mortgages?

Pensioners and homeowners have more in common than they might realize. In fact they might even be the same person.  Someone whose pension funds are going down because of losses on mortgage bonds in their pension fund and someone who is losing their house in foreclosure because of the decrease in pension income and trickery used by the Banks in securing their signature in bogus loan deals. Many pensioners are going to hear soon that the benefits they were expecting must be reduced because of chicanery on Wall Street. Some of those same people are angry at the thought of providing relief to homeowners who were also tricked into these bogus loan deals. Now that you see the effect, are still sure that borrowers in distress are deadbeats?

Foreclosure: Initiative 84 changes language, pushes for signatures

By Kelsey Whipple

Initiative 84, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require lenders to prove ownership of property before foreclosing on it, has passed another hurdle in its move toward legalization. On Friday, proponents and opponents met before the state title board to discuss its language, which made it through relatively unchanged. The next step, however, might prove the hardest.

Before the potential amendment makes it to a statewide ballot, the Colorado Progressive Coalition, the body heading up its support, must collect a minimum of 87,000 signatures — which could cost $200,000 or more, CPC economic justice director Corrine Fowler says. Now that the effort’s language has been cemented, the coalition is gathering volunteers and paid representatives to launch its signature drive.

Initiative 84, which was created after House Bill 1156, a similar foreclosure measure, died in committee before making it to the floor, seeks to reverse 2006 legislation that changed the standards for legally processing Colorado foreclosures. Since that year, it has been legal for lawyers to sign a “statement of qualified holder,” which indicates ownership without a pattern of proof, and it is no longer mandatory to show a paperwork chain.

If approved, the amendment would require financial institutions to verify ownership of any property through a county note or a certified copy presented during the court stage of a foreclosure.

So far, the language has come under fire from a handful of financial institutions, and while both sides made arguments regarding the initiative’s appropriateness on Friday, most were rejected because they did not apply to title board proceedings. In the meantime, the board denied efforts to stage a rehearing to slow down the initiative.

Fowler says the CPC is satisfied with the slight change in wording, which now reads, “An amendment to the Colorado Constitution changing the existing evidentiary requirements for foreclosure of real property and in connection there with requiring the evidence be filed to sufficiently establish a party’s right to enforce a valid recorded security interest prior to the foreclosure of any real property.”

The central change here is that now sufficient evidence is required, rather than “complete” evidence. The difference could become a significant one at court in the future.

“Special interests like the Colorado Bankers Association won’t be able to come back and change it in future years,” Fowler told Westword. “This is going to affect the bottom line of the lawyers and the bankers, and we know that and don’t take this lightly. We believe that the foreclosure crisis is the biggest issue our national economy is facing.”


Reuters: Ex-Credit Suisse Manager Pleads Guilty in Subprime Bond Probe

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Editor’s Comment: So SOMEONE is going to jail for up to five years. But the meat of this lies between the lines.
First, it was a conspiracy charge. You can’t run a PONZI scheme the size of the Madoff scheme without channels that are sending “marks” to you to “invest.” The securitization scam is several hundred times the size of the Madoff scam, and that means there were literally thousands of traders and managers who knew that they were acting improperly — illegally, that is.
Second, Higgs told a Federal Judge that his criminal behavior consisted of manipulation and inflation of the cash bond position markings in his tradings book (called ABNI), in order to hide the losses. Most people will never know what that means. It simply means that the trades were kept out of the system where losses would be easily apparent.
There are numerous reports that the book was kept literally in pencil on paper, so they could change the contents or destroy the book if that became necessary. This is why tracking the the actual money trail becomes challenging but it can be done through what one of our senior analysts calls “reverse engineering. IN other words, take the money going into the system and see where it went or where the trail ends. This will give you sufficient clues to determine whether payments in part or in whole were made to REMICS upon whose behalf foreclosures are being filed. In most cases, the figures are wrong, the debt to the investor has been paid in whole or in part, and there is no default. That is why we do the loan level accounting for those readers who are willing to fight about it.
Sadly, this guy seems like the fall guy for what was ordered by his managers. HIs statement that he fooled Credit Suisse management rings hollow when you compare the facts and the the history of the business. It simply isn’t possible for these events to occur without senior management knowing what was going on. Their mantra is plausible deniability. Soon you will see other people, like Higgs, who “flip” and testify against the large Banks upon which they depended for employment at rates of compensation that were too high — unless you factor in the hush money.

Ex-Credit Suisse manager pleads guilty in subprime probe

NEW YORK |

(Reuters) – A former London-based Credit Suisse trader pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge on Wednesday, and he is cooperating with a U.S. government investigation on writedowns of subprime mortgage derivatives at the height of the financial crisis.

David Higgs told a federal judge in New York that while he was a managing director in the investment banking division of Credit Suisse in 2007 and 2008, he and others manipulated and inflated the cash bond position markings of a trading book, called ABNI, in order to hide losses.

“As a result of my actions, senior management of Credit Suisse was given the false impression that the ABNI book was profitable and caused Credit Suisse to report false year-end numbers for 2007 in their books and records,” Higgs said in court. “I did this because I wanted to remain in good favor with my boss, Kareem Seregeldin, and enhance my job performance.”

Higgs said Seregeldin and others he did not identify had known about the manipulation and assisted in it.

Higgs faces a maximum possible prison sentence of up to 5 years on the charge of conspiracy to commit falsification of books and records and to commit wire fraud. He was released on a $500,000 bond and will be allowed to return to his home in Britain while the investigation continues.

(Reporting By Grant McCool; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Bank Auditors on Hot Seat Over Mortgage Accounting

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EDITOR’S ANALYSIS: Seems boring, doesn’t it. All those numbers and columns. But here is actually where the rubber meets the road because the difference between what the banks  SAID they were doing and what ACTUALLY happened with the money is the like night and day. And the auditors should have caught it. But they didn’t because like the ratings firms they were paid not to see what was right in front of them.

Like the ratings firms, if they had REALLY done their job there would have been no money from investors, there would have been no crazy guaranteed to fail loans to hapless homeowners who didn’t understand the traditional loan papers, much less ones designed for use in securitization. The absence of loans receivable would have been one clue that the banks were not taking losses on defaulted loans. It would have also alerted the auditors that a pile of liability was mounting because the the profits and fees for “selling” (“trading”) on investor money were outsized by any standards compared to prior deals. They would have questioned whether those were indeed profits and fees, or just money owed to the investors.

I could give a long list. The point is that the actual financial health of the Banks was misrepresented to shareholders, to the public, to people trading in the stocks of these Banks, to investors buying the bogus mortgage bonds and other ‘bonds” “securing” other types of consumer debt. It also is the final nail in the coffin as to disclosures that should have been made to borrowers as to who they were doing business with and whether the firm was acceptable to them.

For one thing, borrowers, in a transparent world, would have been told, pursuant to the requirements of the Federal Truth in Lending Act, something like “we have no interest in whether or not you pay on this obligation. In fact, we are being paid a fee and making profits based upon your signature and we are using your identity to sell securities to investors all over the world. The amount we are making on your particular loan is 300% of the actual loan amount. Your loan is $200,000.

“The fees, commissions and trading profits that are assured upon your signature are $600,000 and if you do not make payments, we will get even more from insurance, credit default swaps, over-collateralization, cross collateralization, and other credit enhancements.

“No underwriting committee and thus no underwriting procedures exist for granting loans. The sole basis for granting and funding a loan is whether the initial payment conforms with standards set by Goldman Sachs. The value of your property has not been determined. The appraiser has been given instructions as to the contract amount and is further instructed to certify a value $20,000 higher than the amount needed to close the transaction.

“No confirmation of property values, income or viability of the loan has been undertaken by anyone. The party to whom you have promised to pay this obligation did not loan you the money, and is not empowered to issue a satisfaction of mortgage since the obligation is actually owned by a third party, whose name is Goldman Sachs. The investors who advanced funds from which your loan was funded have already taken a substantial loss because Goldman Sachs has diverted money that was intended to fund loans and instead re-categorized them as trading profits. Please sign below to acknowledge that you have received full disclosure, and you may have your loan.”

Ok, we all know THAT didn’t happen. So what does that mean for borrowers? Besides the obvious question mark it puts after the words “amount due” it also raises the issue of whether the auditing firms, in addition to facing liability to investors and shareholders, might have liability to borrowers who were mislead by the financial practices of the investment banks and therefore about the viability of their loan, and the accounting for payments made on account of the obligation owed to the creditors (investors).

Proper accounting would have required that payments received and passed around like a whiskey bottle should have been credited to the borrowers’ obligations and correspondingly reduced those obligations as well as reducing the obligation owed to the investors because — they received PAYMENT.

The Banks take the position that since they stole the money fair and square from the investors that the investors obligation should not be reduced by the amount the banks received for the investors but not distributed to them. I disagree. And if the auditors had done their job, the borrowers would have learned the true balance due, if any, under the obligation that arose when their obligation began (and possibly ended) at their closing.

Audit Flaws Revealed, at Long Last

By

With hindsight, we now know that auditors in 2007 should have been looking carefully at bank books.

They should have drilled into allowances for loan losses, and they should have been especially alert for signs that the banks were playing games when they sold loans. Auditors should have carefully reviewed how the banks were valuing their mortgage-backed securities and loans that they planned to sell.

It won’t surprise you to learn that in at least one case, the auditor seems to have done a pretty poor job.

What may be surprising is that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board figured that out at the time, and was harshly critical of Deloitte & Touche, one of the Big Four audit firms, for not doing the work to check assumptions in those areas and for being overly reliant on whatever the bank’s management said was proper.

Those comments were made after the board’s inspectors reviewed Deloitte’s audit of a bank’s 2006 results, as part of the annual inspection of the firm. The inspection of 61 Deloitte audits concluded in November 2007.

Had the auditor taken the criticism to heart, it might have gone back in and checked more thoroughly.

But it did not.

The bank was not named in the report, even in the previously confidential part released this week.

I thought it might have been Washington Mutual, a Deloitte client that collapsed in September 2008, but Deloitte says that was not the case.

Deloitte, in its response to the board, stated that at the bank, “the audit procedures performed, the conclusions reached and the related documentation were appropriate in the circumstances.”

In other words, Deloitte concluded the board simply did not understand what it was talking about.

All that became public in early 2008, when the censored version of the board’s report became public. But it was little remarked on at the time. Now we have seen the rest of the report, and it is even more critical.

The report said its inspections indicated “a firm culture that allows, or tolerates, audit approaches that do not consistently emphasize the need for an appropriate level of critical analysis and collection of objective evidence, and that rely largely on management representations.”

Deloitte responded by denying almost everything. It did not like the “second guessing” shown by the regulators. It said “we strongly take exception” to the observation about its culture, which it said was simply wrong.

In any case, the firm concluded, “there were only a limited number of instances,” not nearly enough to justify questioning Deloitte’s quality controls.

The board inspectors found problems in 27 of the 61 Deloitte audits.

The Sarbanes-Oxley law that established the board included provisions to protect the public images of audit firms. If a board inspection found problems with the quality control systems, that was to be kept confidential unless the firm did not move to fix the problems over the following year. Then the release could be delayed while the firm tried to persuade the board to keep the information private. If that effort failed, the firm could appeal to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Only then could the report be made public. So in this case, it took 41 months from the issuance of the report — more than three years — for Deloitte’s clients to learn of the problem.

The board also has the authority to file enforcement actions against auditors, but those, too, are private until the S.E.C. rules on an appeal. It is as if charges of robbery had to be kept confidential until all appeals had been completed. There is no way to know if the accounting board has taken action against anyone. An auditor that the board deems to be in violation of rules may keep working for years while secret proceedings continue.

Firms have every incentive to stall, and then to say that whatever is being criticized happened years ago.

Deloitte’s current chief executive, Joe Echevarria, tried to sound cooperative in his response this week, and was careful to point out he was new on the job. A Deloitte spokesman said that Barry Salzberg, the chief executive when Deloitte sent the response letter in 2008, was traveling in Asia and unavailable for comment.

Mr. Echevarria emphasized in an interview that the firm was investing in training, and spoke of a desire to be the leader in audit quality.

Until 2002, audit firms were basically unregulated. The board was established in response to the WorldCom and Enron scandals, but all the secrecy has made it hard for outside observers to know how well it is doing. The fact that its inspectors zeroed in on mortgage issues when they did is impressive.

In theory, the board can put a firm out of business, but since the demise of Arthur Andersen reduced the Big Five to what some call the Final Four, there is general agreement that going to three would be unacceptable. So while the board can credibly threaten to close down a small firm that does a dozen or two audits each year, no such threat would be credible for Deloitte or one of the other three major accounting firms.

Contempt for regulators is nothing new in the auditing world. Back in 1999 and 2000, Arthur Levitt, then the chairman of the S.E.C., tried to impose some limited rules to increase the independence of the auditors from the companies whose books they audit. The firms fought back, arguing the S.E.C. had no such authority, and in the end Mr. Levitt got only part of what he was seeking.

In private conversations I had then, chief executives of some firms were resentful of any effort to regulate them. How dare some government bureaucrats question their judgment?

By protesting that it was unfair to criticize Deloitte’s culture, the firm may have spoken volumes about that culture.

In a culture that investors might prefer, a Deloitte partner whose audit failed to pass muster with the board might find that his career prospects had worsened, as others who did better audits were promoted. Imagine if the partner responsible for the audit of that bank had seen his career suffer, or even end.

But the letter makes it appear that Deloitte’s culture was one that pulled together and provided backing for a partner criticized by a picky regulator. Would the culture provide similar backing for a partner who angered a client’s management by forcing changes in financial statements that the company did not like?The secrecy mandated by Congress preserved Deloitte’s reputation for years. Now it may be unfairly raising doubts about other firms. Did others have audit failure rates approaching Deloitte’s 44 percent? Is Deloitte the only one of the Big Four to have failed to fix problems? We don’t know. The accounting oversight board last week said it might require that audit firms disclose the names of partners in charge of each audit. The firms hate the idea, warning it could unfairly damage the reputation of individual auditors who would suffer “guilt by association” if their clients got into trouble. Secrecy about who does the work seems to be a way of life at the Big Four. Deloitte’s letters to the board dismissing its concerns were not signed by anyone other than the firm as a whole. I’d love to know which executives signed off on assuring the board there was no need to look again at that bank’s books, and to ask them if they still held that opinion.Only Congress could change the law to require that full inspection reports be released and to make enforcement actions public when formal charges are filed. But the board could at least require that letters responding to board inspections be signed by real people, and that they carry statements saying the firm’s chief executive had approved the response.

FED POLICY FAVORS MEGA BANKS AND IS ANTICOMPETITIVE ADDING TO TRAIN WRECK

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see 60 MINUTES: TITLE PROBLEMS ARISING FROM SECURITIZATION A \”TRAIN WRECK\”

EDITOR’S COMMENT: With 7,000 community banks and credit unions, an electronic funds transfer infrastructure enabling even the smallest bank to provide wide access ATM, internet and other conveniences, you would think that the best insurance we have against financial collapse is to make certain that the small and medium sized banks make it through this crisis — especially since they didn’t cause the problem.

But just as MasterCard and Visa adopted policies that created preferred treatment to the megabanks and forced the smaller banks to pay for the same infrastructure that was being used against them in the “free market”, the FED has adopted policies that are window dressing meant to show fairness and neutrality when in fact the FED policies are squarely in the corner of mega banks who consistently use their power and influence over the payment networks and the federal reserve to raise barriers to entry just high enough to prevent meaningful competition.

So hundreds of banks were given access to the Fed Window, but unlike their megabank counterparts, they had to come up with REAL COLLATERAL instead of bogus mortgage bonds. This policy made absolutely certain that the small banks would not start lending ahead of the mega banks and start taking back market share. It also made certain that the small banks would not start growing at the expense of the megabank share of the market which is now placed somewhere around 70%.

Thus the very same people and institutions and caused the mess we are in, and who have created a title conflagration that might never be solved as long as we continue to keep ourselves blinded by the myth and spin coming from Wall Street and government, THOSE are the people who are essentially MAKING POLICY contrary to their lip service of preserving, maintaining and promoting a free market. In a free market, the small and medium sized banks would have been given a better chance to step up to the plate and take back market share after the horrible behavior of those who have dominated the marketplace for thirty years. In a free market, the resolution of the mortgage bond issue, derivatives, and synthetic collateralized debt obligation instruments like credit default swaps, would have been achieved without causing any pain to anyone other than the people who created the problem. Instead the pain is still spreading to all the citizens of our country and around the world.

Fed Help Kept Banks Afloat, Until It Didn’t

By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and JO CRAVEN McGINTY

WASHINGTON — During the frenetic months of the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve stretched the limits of its legal authority by lending money to more than 100 banks that subsequently failed.

The loans through the so-called discount window transformed a little-used program for banks that run low on cash into a source of long-term financing for troubled institutions, some of which borrowed regularly from the Fed for more than a year.

The central bank took little risk in making the loans, protecting itself by demanding large amounts of collateral. But propping up failing banks can increase the eventual cleanup costs for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation because it keeps struggling banks afloat, allowing them to get even deeper in debt. It also can clog the arteries of the financial system, tying up money in banks that are no longer making new loans.

County Bank, the largest bank in Merced County, California, took a $4.8 million loan from the discount window in March 2008 after announcing the first annual loss in its 30-year history, news that prompted depositors to withdraw $52 million.

By the fall of 2008, the bank was borrowing regularly from the Fed, taking more than two dozen loans in amounts that peaked above $60 million. It continued borrowing until the day it failed, taking a final loan for $55 million on Friday, Feb. 6, 2009.

Thomas Hawker, the former chief executive, said that the loans helped keep the bank in business, providing needed cash as deposits dwindled. But he said that it was clear in retrospect that County Bank was dead on its feet the whole time, thanks to its once-lucrative focus on financing construction of new homes in the Central Valley of California.

“I think in most cases it is a lifeline that kind of provides a bridge to survival,” said Mr. Hawker, who left the bank in 2008. “In the case here, Merced County was ground zero for everything that could possibly have gone wrong with the economy.”

The discount window is a basic feature of the central bank’s original design, intended to mitigate bank runs and other cash squeezes. But access to it historically has been limited to healthy banks with short-term problems.

Those limits moved from custom to law in 1991, when Congress formally restricted the Fed’s ability to help failing banks. A Congressional investigation found that more than 300 banks that failed between 1985 and 1991 owed money to the Fed at the time of their failure. Critics said the Fed’s lending had increased the cost of those failures.

The central bank was chastened for a generation but in 2007, facing a new banking crisis, the Fed once again started to broaden access to the discount window. It reduced the cost of borrowing and started offering loans for longer terms of up to 30 days.

More than one thousand banks have taken advantage. A review of federal data, including records the Fed released last week, shows that at least 111 of those banks subsequently failed. Eight owed the Fed money on the day they failed, including Washington Mutual, the largest failed bank in American history.

The Fed has said that it complied fully with the law in all of its emergency loans, and that its actions, including lending from the discount window, were intended to limit the impact of the crisis.

Charles Calomiris, a finance professor at Columbia University who has studied discount window lending during previous crises, said the Fed had not released enough information for the public to determine whether some of the recipients were propped up inappropriately and should have been allowed to fail more quickly.

“Do we know whether the Fed did that? No, we don’t,” he said. “But the Fed has become more politicized than at any point in its history, and I do worry very much that a lot of Fed discount window lending may just be part of a political calculation.”

In some cases the Fed’s lending had clear benefits, whether or not the loans meant going beyond the mandate.

The F.D.I.C. almost always seizes banks on Friday evenings, so the new owners have two days before reopening. In some cases the Fed kept banks alive until the next Friday. The Bank of Clark County in Vancouver, Wash., took its first discount window loan on Monday, Jan. 12, 2009. It borrowed $8 million Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then $14 million on Thursday and Friday. Then the F.D.I.C. closed its doors.

In other cases, the Fed stopped lending to banks as the extent of their financial problems became clear. Alton Gilbert, a former official at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis who wrote a widely cited study of the Fed’s discount window lending in the 1980s, said that few banks failed with Fed loans on their books during the recent crisis. The central bank often suspended lending several months before they failed.

Still, some experts said additional scrutiny was warranted for a subset of banks that received sustained support even though they faced clear problems.

The most frequent visitors at the window were three subsidiaries of FBOP, a bank holding company based in Oak Park, Ill.

Park National Bank in Chicago borrowed regularly from April 2008 until the day of its failure in October 2009, taking 129 loans in amounts that peaked at $345 million — the longest period of sustained support for any bank that failed during the crisis. Park used some of the money to finance the acquisition of assets from other banks, expanding its own balance sheet and potentially increasing the cost of its eventual failure. Bloomberg News first reported the details of the Fed’s discount window lending to the company.

Two other failed banks owned by FBOP also took more than 100 loans from the discount window, California National Bank of Los Angeles and Pacific National Bank of San Francisco, although both stopped borrowing several months before failing.

Marvin Goodfriend, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, said that such lending placed the Fed in the inappropriate position of deciding the fate of individual banks, choices that he said should be made by elected officials.

“What I think is the lesson from this is that the Congress needs to clarify the boundaries of independent Fed credit policy,” Professor Goodfriend said. “There should be a mechanism so that the Fed doesn’t have to make these decisions on behalf of taxpayers.”

U.S. TREASURY IS THE CREDITOR AND CO-CONSPIRATOR

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GOVERNMENT IS PAID TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY

EDITOR’S COMMENT: The U.S. Treasury is reported to own $4.6 TRILLION in mortgage bonds, which would make it the creditor in millions of homes that (a) have already been “foreclosed” (b) are in “foreclosure” or (c) going to be foreclosed. Yet not once in any court action is the U.S. Treasury named as the creditor or having any interest in any mortgage. They paid 100 cents on the dollar  to save the big powers on Wall Street (ignoring the smaller players who had played fair and square) and now they are going to test the market by starting to sell these mortgage bonds back into the marketplace.

[PRACTICE SUGGESTION: UNDER FREEDOM OF INFORMATION OR SUBPOENA, GET THE DETAILS AND DOCUMENTATION OF THE DEALS IN WHICH THE U.S. TREASURY ACQUIRED THOSE “ASSETS”]

So if you want to know why the government’s programs have been so anemic in confronting the fraudulent, illicit and  immoral behavior of Wall Street and the pretender lenders out there foreclosing on homes they never financed, you don’t have to look any further than the $4.6 TRILLION that the government says it is holding in mortgage-backed bonds that are backed by fatally defective and fraudulent mortgages and notes.

If the government were to tell the truth the way Elizabeth Warren says should be done, then the government would have to admit that (a) under the best case scenario they spent 100 cents when the speculative value was only 2-3 cents and (b) there is something fundamentally wrong with the mortgage backed bonds and the underlying fatally defective, fraudulent mortgages and notes. THAT WOULD AMOUNT TO ADMISSION THAT THE TAXPAYERS GIFTED $4.6 TRILLION TO WALL STREET.

To put this into perspective: 7 million homes have been fraudulently sold at auction on credit bids submitted by non-creditors. Not one penny was paid at these auctions nor any money before that because the bidder never lent any money nor did they purchase the receivable. The bidder was paid as a stand-in for the undisclosed and potentially unknowable creditor just like the “loan originator” was paid to stand in as the lender.

Applying the $4.6 TRILLION from the U.S. Treasury to cover losses to investors and homeowners caused by fraudulent appraisals, fraudulent ratings, and deceptive lending practices, (instead of giving the money to Wall Street) would have allowed an average of $657,142 to be applied on each so-called mortgage transaction providing more than enough to provide substantial relief to investors, and correcting the bogus loans to fair market value levels, thus leaving the investors where they intended to be and the homeowners where they intended to be. Oops!

Instead, the U.S. Treasury maintains the illusion of authenticity of the mortgage bonds and the mortgages, obscures the identity of creditors in foreclosures, and continues to indirectly prop up balance sheets of mega institutions on Wall Street. The true value of the Citi group is not $129 Billion as reported but more like a negative figure. Let it fall, and do what is right for investors and homeowners and the economy is largely fixed. Continue with current policy and our credibility in world markets will continue to erode. I’m not the only one who figured this out. Central Bankers and world economists understand this perfectly well.

It’s not too late. Don’t sell the bonds. Use them to make things right with investors and homeowners and go after the assets of the mega banks including the off-shore money that management took in the tier 2 yield spread premium that nobody wants to talk about. There management cheated not only investors and borrowers, but stockholders as well.

BBC: US Treasury to sell $142bn of mortgage assets

US house for sale The US housing market is still fragile

The US Treasury has said it will start selling off $142bn (£87bn) worth of mortgage-backed securities that it bought during the financial crisis.

It said it would look to sell up to $10bn worth every month and expected to generate a profit of between $15bn and $20bn from the sales.

The money will help to reduce the government’s high budget deficit.

The Treasury bought the securities in 2008 and 2009 as part of its attempts to combat the financial crisis.

“We’re continuing to wind down the emergency programmes that were put in place in 2008 and 2009 to help restore market stability, and the sale of these securities is consistent with that effort,” said assistant treasury secretary for financial markets Mary Miller.

“We will exit this investment at a gradual and orderly pace to maximise the recovery of taxpayer dollars and help protect the process of repair of the housing market.”

The government stepped in to buy the mortgage-backed securities when investors began lose confidence in the instruments when the housing market slumped during the financial crisis.

The housing market is still fragile in the US, with figures released on Monday showing a fall in existing home sales in February of 9.6% compared with the previous month.

Budgetary Cracks Crawling Across the Continent and Abroad

EDITORIAL NOTE: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY

These budgetary cracks throughout our system were caused primarily by one thing — the Wall Street securitization scheme that was fake from the start. The result was the illusion of growing towns — with growth that could be sustained — growing population — when the population wasn’t growing — and governments losing money by starting projects to accommodate the projections of new demographics while at the same time headed off a revenue cliff because tax revenues were about to plummet. Add to that the direct losses to pension systems and operating accounts of state and local governments from the purchase of worthless mortgage bonds and you have the prescription for disaster that is playing out before our eyes.

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY: County and City Attorneys could be charging Wall Street players with crimes and civil damages. That is where the money is — that is where THEIR MONEY is sitting. The banks are not lending because they are already in play  planning to use the money on their next BIG TRADE. The reason is simple — by deregulating the finance industry we have turned the country into a place where paper is fabricated, forged, created, sold and traded and not much else happens compared to a few decades ago. Nearly 50% of what they are counting as our gross domestic product is euphemistically referred to as “financial services”.

Financial service to whom? With unemployment at dangerously high levels and small business start-ups (and expansion) at an all time low, where is the upsurge in employment going to come from? Where is the spending going to come from? Nowhere. But Wall Street will continue “trading” paper as though it were wroth something until the referees get back on the court — people who understand the game and can call foul. Right now we need the whistle blowing about every 2 seconds. Maybe we could get that down to once per month — but not until we, the people, commit to taking charge like our constitution says.
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Broke Town, U.S.A.

By ROGER LOWENSTEIN

Vallejo, a city about 25 miles north of San Francisco, offers a sneak preview of what could be the latest version of economic disaster. When the foreclosure wave hit, local tax revenue evaporated. The city managers couldn’t make their budget and eliminated financing for the local museum, the symphony and the senior center. The city begged the public-employee unions for pay cuts — all to no avail. In May 2008, Vallejo filed for bankruptcy. The filing drew little national attention; most people were too busy watching banks fail to worry about cities. But while the banks have largely recovered, Vallejo is still in bankruptcy. The police force has shrunk from 153 officers to 92. Calls for any but the most serious crimes go unanswered. Residents who complain about prostitutes or vandals are told to fill out a form. Three of the city’s firehouses were closed. Last summer, a fire ravaged a house in one of the city’s better neighborhoods; one of the firetrucks came from another town, 15 miles away. Is this America’s future?

Cities across America are facing dire financial distress. Meredith Whitney, a banking analyst turned independent adviser who correctly predicted the banking meltdown, has issued an Armageddon-like prediction of mass municipal defaults. Others — notably Newt Gingrich — have suggested that state governments as well as cities should be allowed to file for bankruptcy. Congress held a hearing to examine the idea.

These forecasts of apocalypse have touched a nerve. Americans, still reeling from the devastating impact of the mortgage debacle, are fearful that the next economic disaster is only a matter of time. To anyone reading the headlines of budget deficits and staggering pension liabilities, it takes little imagination to conclude that the next big one will be government itself. The problems of cities are everywhere. The city council of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, has enlisted a big New York law firm to explore bankruptcy as a means of restructuring a crushing debt. Central Falls, R.I., is in receivership. Hamtramck, Mich., a small city within Detroit’s borders, says it could run out of money next month. Hamtramck has only 90 employees, yet it is saddled with the pensions and health care obligations of 252 retirees. Detroit itself is at risk. Large deficits will mean closing about half of the city’s schools and will push high-school class sizes to 60 students.

These and other struggling locales do not begin to approach Whitney’s forecast of hundreds of billions in municipal defaults this year. (It would take defaults by 40 cities with as much debt as Detroit to reach even $100 billion.) Some industry experts accuse Whitney of exaggerating the crisis and of worsening the cities’ problems by frightening away investors. Whitney’s theory is that states, whose finances are also in desperate shape, will cut off local aid to preserve their own budgets; cities that have been subsisting on government transfers would become fiscal orphans and, in a financial sense, unworkable. She has not elaborated on her thesis beyond a few well-chosen television appearances. (She declined to talk to me.) But in the two months following Whitney’s warning, investors unloaded about $25 billion in shares of mutual funds that invest in municipal bonds. The selling spree sent the prices of these munis, typically among the most reliable investments, into a free fall.

If muni bonds were to default (causing investors permanent harm, as distinct from the temporary discomfort of price fluctuations), ordinary Americans would lose big. Munis are bonds issued by state and local governments, as well as agencies like hospitals, with the interest going to bondholders tax-free. Their relative safety, plus the tax break, has made them a favorite among individual investors, who own about two-thirds of the total, either directly or via mutual funds.

But what if the burden of municipal woes falls elsewhere than on bondholders? Yes, cities and states have creditors. They also have citizens who rely on their services and who pay the taxes, and they have public employees who are dependent on stable public-sector jobs and often-ample benefits. Whitney isn’t wrong about a crisis in local government; the crisis is here. The question is, will it be articulated in terms of bond defaults or larger kindergarten classes — or no kindergarten classes at all? The efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere to squash organized labor suggest that politicians are no longer so willing to protect public employees. Teachers and nurses are likely to suffer well in advance of investors.

The United States has nearly $3 trillion in municipal bonds outstanding. Though some are backed by specific projects like airports and toll roads, most are general-obligation bonds; local taxes are used to pay the interest on those bonds before other expenses. Unlike a corporation, whose revenue can disappear, cities do not go away — or at least, most of them don’t. Detroit is in trouble because of its shrinking population, as are any number of towns in the former steel region of Western Pennsylvania. Many former industrial cities are burdened with governments that are out of proportion to their shrunken tax bases. Local budgets were stretched even before the recession; now, diminished tax receipts have threatened their ability to balance budgets. Bondholders in those municipalities have reason to sweat.

For areas with a stable economy, however, solvency is largely a matter of political will. Historically, far fewer than 1 percent of municipal bonds fail, and most that do tend to be issued for quasi public projects rather than cities. Typical is a monorail that links Las Vegas casinos — and that defaulted for lack of riders. In 2008, a record 166 issues defaulted, but the great majority were Florida land developments; essentially, builders used the tax code to finance sewers and water lines and then walked away when the mortgage bubble burst. The issues were small; defaults in 2008 totaled $8.5 billion. Last year, defaults fell to $2.8 billion.

Chastened by their failure to foresee the mortgage bust, the credit agencies have downgraded munis as the cities’ troubles have accelerated. But the agencies that evaluate muni bonds are paid to worry about bondholders, not about kindergartners or local fire departments; consequently, they are not alarmed. Moody’s says it expects defaults to rise in 2011. But the agencies do not predict a default epidemic. “Munis are not like subprime bonds,” Eric Friedland, a managing director at Fitch Ratings, said.

Government entities do seem less exposed to the sort of chain-reaction panic that undid banks. Lehman Brothers needed financing every day; when confidence disappeared, Lehman disappeared, too. Cities are generally not dependent on short-term financing. (A sizable exception involves some $80 billion in variable credit lines expiring over the next six months — which could force some governments to scramble.)

Another factor that tilts against default is that states and cities carry much less debt relative to the size of their economies than do troubled national governments like those of Greece or Spain (or the United States, for that matter). And muni debts generally come due in a steady stream — not all at once. Robert Kurtter, a managing director at Moody’s, says, “State and local governments really don’t have a crushing debt problem.”

Which is not to say they don’t have a problem. For most of the past decade, local government was a growth business. Avid consumption and the real estate boom spurred an abundance of sales- and property-tax receipts; with dollars flowing in, governments got used to spending more and borrowing more. Then, in the recession, tax revenues dried up, while demands for services kept rising. For the last few years, both cities and states have faced severe, recurring budget gaps.

As part of the 2009 stimulus package, Washington gave the states $150 billion. The states became dependent on a higher level of federal aid — 35 percent of their budgets, compared with about 25 percent before. But the stimulus is ending, and the states will have to cut.

Determining who will suffer from budget cuts is a political and a legal calculation. The cities’ problem is that annual spending is greater than revenue; that imbalance does not entitle them to walk away from bond payments. Moreover, states and cities devote less than 10 percent of their revenue to annual debt service. In other words, they have ways of balancing budgets without defaulting. Lately, governments have been taking a chain saw to ordinary spending. The cuts sometimes reflect a retreat from what was once conceived as the essential mission of government. Education is being hit hard. Arizona is seeking a federal waiver to remove 280,000 adults from Medicaid rolls. Massachusetts is stripping out funds for homeless shelters. New Jersey has canceled a commuter-rail tunnel under the Hudson River. If the government doesn’t build a rail tunnel, who will?

States are also cutting aid to cities — much as Whitney forecast — aggravating the loss of local tax revenues. Camden, N.J., which has one of the highest crime rates in the country, has dismissed nearly half its police force. Michigan cities have seen aid diminish by $4 billion. In San Diego, where the city has cut other spending to pay for spiraling pension costs, residents have formed 56 “maintenance assessment districts” to take care of parks and patch up sidewalks. When the city failed to pass a hospitality tax, local hotels banded together and agreed to charge a 2 percent visitors’ fee. Scott Lewis, who writes about politics for the Web site Voice of San Diego, says, “I think the city is dissolving.”

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker, the new governor, declared that the state was “broke.” He does not mean that Madison intends to default on its obligations to debt holders; he means that public employees will have to increase contributions toward their benefits in an amount equal to 7 percent of their pay. For some employees, the cuts will mean real hardship. Public institutions like schools are also likely to suffer. Though elected officials prefer not to mention it, taxpayers will also have to ante up. Illinois sharply raised its income tax; Arizona voted for a sales-tax increase. Both of those states had markedly low tax rates to begin with, but Illinois’s case should be troubling to bondholders. Even after raising taxes, the state is planning to borrow about $12 billion to cover pensions and past-due bills — pushing both benefit costs and current expenses into the future.

The deficit problems have, at times, seemed to blend with the issue of pensions into a single, giant mess. As E. J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute observes, “This is a conflating of different things.” States and cities have to put money aside to pay for future pensions, and the portion of that obligation that is “unfunded” represents a huge liability — from $1 trillion to $3.5 trillion, depending on your assumptions about future pension-fund investment returns. This underfunding won’t be felt in a big bang but as a continuous burden for years to come.

Nonetheless, because governments are required to make catch-up payments to those funds, the pension problem is worsening the current budget squeeze. In some cities, the pressure is suffocating. In Miami, according to Fitch, the pension-fund obligation eats up 25 percent of the city budget. In Philadelphia, which has neglected to make payments, the pension fund could be exhausted as early as 2015, says Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School at Northwestern. Rob Dubow, the city’s finance director, insists that “we’ll make contributions to make sure that doesn’t happen.” The city has budgeted a huge $460 million contribution next year. “The real story” of the pension debacle, Dubow says, “is that it will leave less money for police and fire and sanitation.”

For a long while, government budget-cutting obeyed a distinctive political calculus: pensions were considered untouchable, so jobs were eliminated instead. Now, governments are going after pensions. Many states have taken the easy step of reducing benefits for new employees. Benefits for existing workers were considered inviolable. But some, like New Mexico and Mississippi, are dunning employees for higher contributions, and Wisconsin may follow. Minnesota and Colorado have watered down pension cost-of-living increases; both have been sued.

Whether such efforts will significantly ease the states’ burdens may depend on the courts. In Illinois, where the pension underfunding is among the most egregious, the state constitution says that “benefits shall not be diminished.” This language has long been interpreted to mean that when a public employee is promised a pension that increases with each year of service, the rate of accrual can never be changed. Sidley Austin, a law firm in Chicago hired by a pro-business civic group, has circulated a memo arguing that the clause refers only to benefits already earned — not to the rate of accrual in the future. That interpretation, if acted on by the Legislature, would shatter previous notions of pension protections. Sidley also makes the even-more-explosive argument that if Illinois’s pension funds dried up, the state could not be forced to contribute more. Let pensioners go hungry.

That is unlikely. Even in Illinois, pensions will be paid. Failure to do so would embroil the government in court for years. That may be the hope of ideologues, who envision that the courts — or possibly even a bankruptcy filing — could be used to alter employee contracts. In the 1930s, progressives persuaded Congress to let cities declare bankruptcy to escape the clutches of creditors. Now, conservatives want Congress to authorize states to file for bankruptcy. “Some people on the right see it as a chance to whack the public unions,” says David Skeel, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has written in favor of state bankruptcy. It’s not hard to fathom why Gingrich, who as speaker of the House in the 1990s briefly shut down the U.S. government, would favor default by the states.

But the fantasy of using bankruptcy to suspend government runs up against a hard truth: even in bankruptcy, cities and states don’t disappear — nor do their obligations. Orange County, Calif., which entered bankruptcy in the mid-1990s after its treasurer ran up massive losses in derivatives, ultimately paid every cent it owed. “Among the reasons so few [cities] choose to go this option is, it’s not clear what they gain,” Kurtter of Moody’s says.

Another reason is that cities are creatures of their states, which fear a negative impact on their own credit. Connecticut prevented Bridgeport from declaring bankruptcy in the ’90s, and Michigan is stopping Hamtramck now. In Pennsylvania, about 20 municipalities are operating under a program to nurse insolvent cities back to health. The program has helped Pittsburgh, despite its woefully underfunded pension plan, to slowly improve its credit.

Harrisburg is a different story. A former mayor wanted to create a destination city with a series of ambitious projects, including a Wild West museum. He also approved an expensive plan to refurbish an incinerator so that it could become a moneymaker — a project that has buried Harrisburg under a mountain of debt. There are other Harrisburgs, cities undone by foolhardy projects, but these cases are particular, not systemic.

Vallejo, which ran out of money when the economy imploded, is more representative. A blue-collar city of 110,000, it had been hurting since a naval base closed in the 1990s. In 2007, the Wal-Mart left town. Then, with the recession, property taxes crashed from $29 million to $20 million. Vallejo cut back on street repairs and vehicle maintenance and reduced its staff by a third. The city sought pay cuts from the police and fire unions, whose members’ pay and benefits accounted for about 80 percent of the budget; the unions offered to defer pay raises. The council considered, but rejected, the idea of putting a tax increase to a referendum. Rob Stout, the outgoing finance director, who noted that the police chief is retiring on a $200,000 pension, says the general attitude was one of resistance to footing the bill.

Vallejo was a failure of political will. It is also an example of why bankruptcies for cities don’t work. All the constituencies who might have hoped to avoid hardship are being walloped anyway. Labor costs are being cut (though not pensions) and holders of $54 million in city bonds will suffer losses — how much won’t be known for years. Even Marc Levinson, a partner with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which represents the city, calls the bankruptcy a waste of money and time. “It’s better to cut a deal than go through the pain we have in Vallejo,” he says. Pain is coming regardless. In some cities, bondholders will be burned. But America’s failing governments may be one of those crises whose full impact is not registered in the muni market, or in any market. Until voters can agree on what government services they want and will pay for, it is possible that bondholders will bank the profits while taxpayers, employees and citizens share the losses.

Roger Lowenstein (elrogl@gmail.com) is a contributing writer and the author of “While America Aged” and, most recently, “The End of Wall Street.”

Editor: Vera Titunik (v.titunik-MagGroup@nytimes.com)

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS UNDERWATER: TIME TO CORRECT PRINCIPAL BALANCES

COMBO Title and Securitization Search, Report, Documents, Analysis & Commentary COMBO Title and Securitization Search, Report, Documents, Analysis & Commentary

We now have a growing group of unlikely bedfellows — investors, homeowners and local governments who were all duped and whose claims are being treated as though each one was unique when in fact the entire plan was a highly organized crime. Add the Federal government to that group who has also demanded “buy-back” of fake mortgages and fake mortgage bonds, although it is highly probable that the government was complicit, certainly in the BUSH administration when the Government and the Fed started all these bailout programs whose total seems to exceed the total of ALL credit that was extended in the original transactions!?!

MY QUESTION IS WHETHER DIMON IS RIGHT: DOES HE LIVE IN A COMPLETELY RISK-FREE ENVIRONMENT OR ARE WE GOING TO APPLY THE LAW TO HIM? GOD HELP US IF HIS ASSUMPTION IS CORRECT.

THE MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION IS WHETHER WE ARE FINALLY GOING TO MAKE THE OBVIOUS CORRECTION OF AN OBVIOUS LIE ABOUT THE VALUE OF THE PROPERTIES AND THE ELABORATELY CONSTRUCTED ILLUSION OF “GROWTH” ? IT ISN’T “PRINCIPAL REDUCTION” TO CUT IT DOWN TO THE REAL FIGURE THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN USED — IT’S PRINCIPAL CORRECTION.

STATES, COUNTIES, CITIES, TOWNS, INVESTORS AND HOMEOWNERS CAN ONLY GET OUT FROM UNDER THE ILLUSION OF DEBT BY ACKNOWLEDGING THE OBVIOUS — IT ISN’T REALLY THERE IF YOU APPLY THE LAW. IT’S ONLY THERE IF YOU APPLY UNBOUNDED POWER.

EDITOR’S COMMENT: Time for local government to start seeking debt relief and doing those securitization reports and research. Whether they received money from the banks or not, officials in local government are being forced to face the reality that they are presiding over the collapse of our social system for lack of money.

They are in debt — and the amount of debt so vastly exceeds their ability to pay or any prospect to pay that defaults are inevitable — including strategic defaults and bankruptcies where the debt is modified downward. In other words, they are in the same boat as the homeowners.

Actually they are worse off because Wall Street had the nerve to sell local governments triple-A rated mortgage bonds that were worthless, putting them both in the same boat as homeowners and the same boat as other investors.

And if you dig deeper you will connect the dots — the appraisal fraud and other misleading information led these municipalities, towns and counties into planning and for phenomenal growth in demand for services over wider geographical areas, each local government believing that their revenue stream and population would grow at a rate that was both unprecedented and unsupported by any economic fundamentals. They are now stuck with debt to pay for services, they won’t deliver, roads they won’t build, and buildings that are being abandoned or sold.

In plain language, the argument that the crisis grew from greedy homeowners must also be extended to greedy politicians who intentionally bankrupted their cities and towns in the misguided attempt to make a fast buck. Few people will argue whether people are greedy, whether they are homeowners or politicians, but the argument that they would intentionally put themselves in a position of drowning in debt is absurd. There is only one reason this all happened — Wall Street sales machine went to work selling people on “concept” and funding it with other people’s money to create a vast illusion for which we are all paying whether we  participated or not.

The astonishing reversal of fortune for virtually all Americans (except a select few who continue to lie about what they did and when they knew what they were doing) and all their societal structures, governments and government services (police, fore, medical, education etc) is in stark contrast to the massive profits and bonuses that continue to be reported and paid on Wall Street. The entire country has been tilted past the tipping point, so that everything of value went from the the nation as a whole to Wall Street.

In a NY Times Magazine article on Jamie Dimon he continues the BIG LIE strategy that Moynihan over at BofA is using: we had didn’t realize the extent of the lying on stated income loans. He’s staying on message because it is working. As a group, most of us still want to believe and do believe that our system will not break down, but it IS breaking down. The process is already underway. Dimon’s current lie is intended to distract us from considering that the lie was created by him and his officers and employees. The lie works because you must take the time away from your job-hunting and ask yourself how all those applications were filled with bad information without anyone knowing about it. “Due diligence,” a term coined on Wall Street for inspecting the chicken before you buy it, is NEVER overlooked.

Countrywide, Chase, Citi, Goldman and others lied about the quality of the loans and the values of the real property and the documentation of the loans, notes and mortgages because they could. They controlled the entire apparatus. The sheer size made it look “institutionalinstead of organized crime. Of course they knew, but they were acting in a totally risk-free environment because they were using other people’s money — investors to whom they lied with the same lies that were told to borrowers — we have reviewed the application, verified the data, verified the value of the property, and the loan meets with underwriting standards. The loan is approved. Or in the case of local government, the bond is approved, the underwriting and selling of it shall begin.

We now have a growing group of unlikely bedfellows — investors, homeowners and local governments who were all duped and whose claims are being treated as though each one was unique when in fact the entire plan was a highly organized crime. Add the Federal government to that group who has also demanded “buy-back” of fake mortgages and fake mortgage bonds, although it is highly probable that the government was complicit, certainly in the BUSH administration when the Government and the Fed started all these bailout programs whose total seems to exceed the total of ALL credit that was extended in the original transactions!?!

MY QUESTION IS WHETHER DIMON IS RIGHT: DOES HE LIVE IN A COMPLETELY RISK-FREE ENVIRONMENT OR ARE WE GOING TO APPLY THE LAW TO HIM? GOD HELP US IF HIS ASSUMPTION IS CORRECT.

THE MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION IS WHETHER WE ARE FINALLY GOING TO MAKE THE OBVIOUS CORRECTION OF AN OBVIOUS LIE ABOUT THE VALUE OF THE PROPERTIES AND THE ELABORATELY CONSTRUCTED ILLUSION OF “GROWTH” ? IT ISN’T PRINCIPAL REDUCTION TO CUT IT DOWN TO THE REAL FIGURE THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN USED — IT’S PRINCIPAL CORRECTION.

STATES, COUNTIES, CITIES, TOWNS, INVESTORS AND HOMEOWNERS CAN ONLY GET OUT FROM UNDER THE ILLUSION OF DEBT BY ACKNOWLEDGING THE OBVIOUS — IT ISN’T REALLY THERE IF YOU APPLY THE LAW. IT’S ONLY THERE IF YOU APPLY UNBOUNDED POWER.

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Mounting State Debts Stoke Fears of a Looming Crisis

By MICHAEL COOPER and MARY WILLIAMS WALSH

The State of Illinois is still paying off billions in bills that it got from schools and social service providers last year. Arizona recently stopped paying for certain organ transplants for people in its Medicaid program. States are releasing prisoners early, more to cut expenses than to reward good behavior. And in Newark, the city laid off 13 percent of its police officers last week.

While next year could be even worse, there are bigger, longer-term risks, financial analysts say. Their fear is that even when the economy recovers, the shortfalls will not disappear, because many state and local governments have so much debt — several trillion dollars’ worth, with much of it off the books and largely hidden from view — that it could overwhelm them in the next few years.

“It seems to me that crying wolf is probably a good thing to do at this point,” said Felix Rohatyn, the financier who helped save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.

Some of the same people who warned of the looming subprime crisis two years ago are ringing alarm bells again. Their message: Not just small towns or dying Rust Belt cities, but also large states like Illinois and California are increasingly at risk.

Municipal bankruptcies or defaults have been extremely rare — no state has defaulted since the Great Depression, and only a handful of cities have declared bankruptcy or are considering doing so.

But the finances of some state and local governments are so distressed that some analysts say they are reminded of the run-up to the subprime mortgage meltdown or of the debt crisis hitting nations in Europe.

Analysts fear that at some point — no one knows when — investors could balk at lending to the weakest states, setting off a crisis that could spread to the stronger ones, much as the turmoil in Europe has spread from country to country.

Mr. Rohatyn warned that while municipal bankruptcies were rare, they appeared increasingly possible. And the imbalances are so large in some places that the federal government will probably have to step in at some point, he said, even if that seems unlikely in the current political climate.

“I don’t like to play the scared rabbit, but I just don’t see where the end of this is,” he added.

Resorting to Fiscal Tricks

As the downturn has ground on, some of the worst-hit cities and states have resorted to fiscal sleight of hand to stay afloat, helping them close yawning budget gaps each year, but often at great future cost.

Few workers with neglected 401(k) retirement accounts would risk taking out second mortgages to invest in stocks, gambling that the investment gains would be enough to build bigger nest eggs and repay the loans.

But that is just what Illinois, which has been failing to make the required annual payments to its pension funds for years, is doing. It borrowed $10 billion in 2003 and used the money to invest in its pension funds. The recession sent their investment returns below their target, but the state must repay the bonds, with interest. The solution? Illinois sold an additional $3.5 billion worth of pension bonds this year and is planning to borrow $3.7 billion more for its pension funds.

It is the long-term problems of a handful of states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York, that financial analysts worry about most, fearing that their problems might precipitate a crisis that could hurt other states by driving up their borrowing costs.

But it is the short-term budget woes that nearly all states are facing that are preoccupying elected officials.

Illinois is not the only state behind on its bills. Many states, including New York, have delayed payments to vendors and local governments because they had too little cash on hand to make them. California paid vendors with i.o.u.’s last year. A handful of other states, worried about their cash flow, delayed paying tax refunds last spring.

Now, just as the downturn has driven up demand for state assistance, many states are cutting back.

The demand for food stamps has been rising significantly in Idaho, but tight budgets led the state to close nearly a third of the field offices of the state’s Department of Health and Welfare, which take applications for them. As states have cut aid to cities, many have resorted to previously unthinkable cuts, laying off police officers and closing firehouses.

Those cuts in aid to cities and counties, which are expected to continue, are one reason some analysts say cities are at greater risk of bankruptcy or are being placed under outside oversight.

Next year is unlikely to bring better news. States and cities typically face their biggest deficits after recessions officially end, as rainy-day funds are depleted and easy measures are exhausted.

This time is expected to be no different. The federal stimulus money increased the federal share of state budgets to over a third last year, from just over a quarter in 2008, according to a report issued last week by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers. That money is set to run out next summer. Tax collections, meanwhile, are not expected to return to their pre-recession levels for another year or two, given that the housing market and broader economy remain weak and that unemployment remains high.

Scott D. Pattison, the budget association’s director, said that for states, next year could be “the worst year of this four- or five-year downturn period.”

And few expect the federal government to offer more direct aid to states, at least in the short term. Many members of the new Republican majority in the House campaigned against the stimulus, and Washington is debating the recommendations of a debt-reduction commission.

So some states are essentially borrowing to pay their operating costs, adding new debts that are not always clearly disclosed.

Arizona, hobbled by the bursting housing bubble, turned to a real estate deal for relief, essentially selling off several state buildings — including the tower where the governor has her office — for a $735 million upfront payment. But leasing back the buildings over the next 20 years will ultimately cost taxpayers an extra $400 million in interest.

Many governments are delaying payments to their pension funds, which will eventually need to be made, along with the high interest — usually around 8 percent — that the funds are expected to earn each year.

New York balanced its budget this year by shortchanging its pension fund. And in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie deferred paying the $3.1 billion that was due to the pension funds this year.

It is these growing hidden debts that make many analysts nervous. States and municipalities currently have around $2.8 trillion worth of outstanding bonds, but that number is dwarfed by the debts that many are carrying off their books.

State and local pensions — another form of promised debt, guaranteed in some states by their constitutions — face hidden shortfalls of as much as $3.5 trillion by some calculations. And the health benefits that state and large local governments have promised their retirees going forward could cost more than $530 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office.

“Most financial crises happen in unpredictable ways, and they hit you when you’re not looking,” said Jerome H. Powell, a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center who was an under secretary of the Treasury for finance during the bailout of the savings and loan industry in the early 1990s. “This one isn’t like that. You can see it coming. It would be sinful not to do something about this while there’s a chance.”

So far, investors have bought states’ bonds eagerly, on the widespread understanding that states and cities almost never default. But in recent weeks the demand has diminished sharply. Last month, mutual funds that invest in municipal bonds reported a big sell-off — a bigger one-week sell-off, in fact, than they had when the financial markets melted down in 2008. And hedge funds are already seeking out ways to place bets against the debts of some states, with the help of their investment banks.

Of course, not all states are in as dire straits as Illinois or California. And the credit-rating agencies say that the risk of default is small. States and cities typically make a priority of repaying their bond holders, even before paying for essential services. Standard & Poor’s issued a report this month saying that the crises that states and municipalities were facing were “more about tough decisions than potential defaults.”

Change in Ratings

The credit ratings of a number of local governments have improved this year, not because their finances have strengthened somewhat, but because the ratings agencies have changed the way they analyze governments.

The new higher ratings, which lower the cost of borrowing, emphasize the fact that municipal defaults have been much rarer than corporate defaults.

This October, Moody’s issued a report explaining why it now rates all 50 states, even Illinois, as better credit risks than a vast majority of American non-financial companies.

One reason: the belief that the federal government is more likely to bail out a teetering state than a bankrupt company.

“The federal government has broadly channeled cash to all state governments during recent recessions and provided support to individual states following natural disasters,” Moody’s explained, adding that there was no way of being sure how Washington would respond to a bond default by a state, since it had not happened since the 1930s.

But some analysts fear the ratings are too sanguine, recalling that the ratings agencies also dismissed the possibility that a subprime crisis was brewing. While most agree that defaults are unlikely, they fear that as states struggle with their growing debts, investors could decide not to buy the debt of the weakest state or local governments.

That would force a crisis, since states cannot operate if they cannot borrow. Such a crisis could then spread to healthier states, making it more expensive for them to borrow, if Europe is an example.

Meredith Whitney, a bank analyst who was among the first to warn of the impact the subprime mortgage meltdown would have on banks, is warning that she sees similar problems with state and local government finances.

“The state situation reminded me so much of the banks, pre-crisis,” she said this fall on CNBC.

There are eerie similarities between the subprime debt crisis and the looming municipal debt woes. Among them:

¶Just as housing was once considered a sure bet — prices would never fall all across the country at the same time, conventional wisdom suggested — municipal bonds have long been considered an investment safe enough for grandmothers, because states could always raise taxes to pay their bondholders. Now that proposition is being tested. Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, considered bankruptcy this year because it faced $68 million in debt payments related to a failed incinerator, which is more than the city’s entire annual budget. But officials there have resisted raising taxes.

¶Much of the debt of states and cities is hidden, since it is off the books, just as the amount of mortgage-related debt turned out to be underestimated. States and municipalities often understate their pension liabilities, in part by using accounting methods that would not be allowed in the private sector. Joshua D. Rauh, an associate professor of finance at Northwestern University, and Robert Novy-Marx, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Rochester, calculated that the true unfunded liability for state and local pension plans is roughly $3.5 trillion.

¶The states and many cities still carry good ratings, and those issuing warnings are dismissed as alarmists, reminding some analysts of the lead up to the subprime crisis.

Now states are bracing for more painful cuts, more layoffs, more tax increases, more battles with public employee unions, more requests to bail out cities. And in the long term, as cities and states try to keep up on their debts, the very nature of government could change as they have less money left over to pay for the services they have long provided.

Richard Ravitch, the lieutenant governor of New York, is among those warning that states are on an unsustainable path, and that their disclosures of pension and health care obligations are often misleading. And he worries how long it can last.

“They didn’t do it with bad motives,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of them didn’t understand what they were doing. They did it because it was easier than taxing people or cutting benefits. We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we can’t do that anymore. I don’t know where that is, but I know we’re close.”

Mortgage Securities It Holds Pose Sticky Problem for Fed

STICKIER THAN THEY THINK: These are not the only mortgage securities they hold and they all amount to ownership of the risk on every loan they purchased. The purchase of course was accomplished in one of many ways — direct and indirect.
But when you come down to it, between the GSE’s (which are now departments of the Federal Government), TARP, and the outright purchase by the Fed, SOMEONE received 100 cents on the dollar for every loan, whether in default or otherwise.
Add in insurance, credit default swaps and credit “enhancements” (i.e., commingling of money contrary to the explicit terms of the borrowers’ promissory notes) like over-collateralization and cross collateralization, it would be a fair statement to say that everyone of the mortgages CLAIMED to be in pools that were subject to various securitization instruments, have been paid in whole or in part.
THAT IS WHAT I MEAN BY THIRD PARTY PAYMENTS. The legal issue is who got the money and why? The practical impact is that if those payments were related to individual mortgages, which indeed they must have been, then they were received into what should have been an escrow account and allocated to each loan.
Now add the fact that very nearly NONE of the loans were in fact the subject of an actual assignment, recorded instrument, endorsement or delivery while they were performing and before the cutoff date in the securitization enabling documentation, and you really have an interesting conclusion: the loans never made it into the pool, which makes securitization a giant Ponzi scheme that paid investors long enough out of their own money to lend credibility to the scheme.
But it is also true that borrowers made payments and where those went, and in what amounts is a clouded mystery because every lawsuit I know of that has asked for the accounting is stalled. So with nothing in the pools, nothing in the mortgage bonds, and the CDO’s based upon the mortgage bonds, and the credit default swaps referencing the mortgage bonds, and the synthetic CDOs consisting of CDS instruments referring to the mortgage bonds, they were all worthless from beginning to end. In short, the government bought nothing from bankers who had already made a ton of money, most of it parked off-shore.
The real reason the government can’t sell these securities is that nobody will pay for them. Any due diligence down to the loan level will reveal that the loans were never subject to legally required execution, delivery and recording of transfer or assignment documents, together with indorsements etc. In some cases, this is correctable — at considerable legal expense. In most cases, they are not correctable. The bottom line is really simple: the obligation was created, the note was extinguished, and the security instrument became unenforceable, and separated from the note. The illusion that it is otherwise is what is keeping us in stagnation, preventing a solution.
July 22, 2010

Mortgage Securities It Holds Pose Sticky Problem for Fed

By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve provided most of the money for new mortgages in the United States last year, effectively lending more than $1 trillion to American homeowners.

Now the legacy of that extraordinary intervention is hanging over the central bank as it faces growing demands for an encore to help revive the flagging economy.

While officials and economists generally regard the program as successful in supporting the housing market, it has left the Fed holding a vast pile of mortgage securities — basically i.o.u.’s from homeowners — that it does not want and cannot sell.

Holding the securities could cost the Fed a lot of money and hamper its ability to fight inflation, while selling the securities could drain needed money from the still-weak economy.

Fed officials have expressed confidence that they can finesse the dilemma by gradually selling the securities as the economy starts to recover. But they are not eager to expand the challenge they face by beginning a new round of asset-buying, one tool the Fed could use to try to stimulate growth.

“In my view, any judgment to expand the balance sheet further should be subject to strict scrutiny,” Kevin M. Warsh, a Fed governor, said in a speech last month in Atlanta. He warned that new purchases could undermine the Fed’s “most valuable asset”: its credibility.

Some Democrats want the Fed to pump more money into the economy to help reduce unemployment, one of the central bank’s basic responsibilities. In testimony before Congress this week, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said that the Fed retained that option, but did not now plan to expand on the steps it had already taken.

In part, Bernanke and other Fed officials say they believe that new asset purchases would be less effective now that private investors have returned to the market.

The Fed became one of the world’s largest mortgage investors because no one else was interested. During the fall 2008 financial crisis, investors stopped buying the mortgage securities issued by the housing finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two companies buy mortgages made by banks and other lenders, providing money for new rounds of lending, then package those loans into securities for sale to investors, replenishing their own coffers.

Two days before Thanksgiving 2008, the Fed announced that it would buy $500 billion in securities issued by the two companies. By the time the program wound down in March 2010, it had spent more than twice that amount. The central bank now owns mortgage securities with a face value of $1.1 trillion.

A wide range of economists say the Fed’s program — so big that purchases outstripped the issuance of new securities in some months — helped to preserve the availability of mortgage loans and helped to hold interest rates near record lows. Rates that exceeded 6 percent in late 2008 remain below 5 percent today.

But the Fed now must deal with the cleanup.

The central bank could hold the securities until the borrowers repaid or refinanced their loans. Brian P. Sack, an executive at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, estimated in March that borrowers would repay $200 billion by the end of 2011. And in the meantime, the Fed is collecting regular interest payments.

  • HOW IS THIS MONEY REACHING THE FED? WHO IS GETTING PAID FOR HANDLING IT?

    WHY IS NOT THE FED’S INTEREST RECORDED IN THE PROPERTY RECORDS OF THE COUNTY IN WHICH THE PROPERTY IS LOCATED (ANSWER — BECAUSE THEY DON’T HOLD THE SECURITY, JUST THE RECEIVABLE, CALLED “SPLITTING NOTE FROM MORTGAGE”).

  • IF THE FED OWNS THESE LOANS WHY DON’T THEY SHOW UP AS A PARTY IN FORECLOSURES?

  • WHO IS THE TRUSTEE ON DEEDS OF TRUST?

  • WHO ARE THE BENEFICIARIES?

  • WHO ARE THE MORTGAGEES ON MORTGAGE DEEDS?

“We’ve been earning a fairly high income from our holdings and remitting that to the Treasury,” Mr. Bernanke told Congress on Wednesday.

But holding the securities could make it harder to control inflation as the economic recovery gains strength, said Vincent Reinhart, the former head of the Fed’s monetary policy division, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Fed bought the securities by pumping new money into the economy, stimulating growth. It could be difficult to reverse that effect without draining the money from the economy by selling the securities, Mr. Reinhart said.

“They created reserves, and those reserves ultimately can be inflationary,” Mr. Reinhart said. “The chief risk of keeping the balance sheet big and raising rates is that you might not be able to raise rates successfully” because the impact would be mitigated by the effect of the extra money still sloshing around the system.

Holding the securities also could cost the Fed a lot of money.

The Fed paid some of the highest prices on record for mortgage securities, basically accepting very low rates of interest on its investments. As the economy recovers and interest rates rise, the Fed will need to accept increasingly large discounts to make the securities attractive to other investors.

David Zervos, head of global fixed-income strategy at the investment bank Jefferies & Company, estimates that the value of the portfolio will drop almost $50 billion each time interest rates increase by one percentage point.

Selling the securities at a loss would reduce the Fed’s ability to transfer profits to the Treasury Department. Large enough losses could reduce the amount of capital held by the Fed, although it can always create more money.

But perhaps the greatest risk is that investors will begin to doubt the Fed’s willingness to raise interest rates, knowing that each increase will damage its own balance sheet.

“It compromises their integrity and their inflation-fighting mandate, because fighting inflation would be a direct detriment to their portfolio,” Mr. Zervos said.

The Fed could avoid these problems by selling the securities now, before interest rates start to rise. But doing so would reverse the benefits of the original program, draining money from the economy while it still is weak. It would also fly in the face of the demands for the Fed to do more for the economy.

A fire sale also could damage the banking industry by driving down the value of the comparable mortgage securities that banks hold in large quantities.

So far the Federal Open Market Committee, comprising the board of governors and a rotating selection of presidents from the regional reserve banks, has chosen to wait.

The approach favored by most of the committee, according to the minutes of its June meeting, is to start raising interest rates before beginning to sell the securities. By waiting “until the economic recovery was well established,” the minutes said, the Fed would limit the impact of the asset sales on the broader market.

WORLD HUNGER PROVIDES PROOF OF FINANCIAL DERIVATIVES INFLATING PRICES

One of the hardest things for people to get their minds around is how borrowers were defrauded. The nagging question keeps coming to mind “But you DID sign the loan and take the money, didn’t you?” Yes you did, but you did it because of a representation and virtual guarantee from several parties at the closing table who knew the appraisal was a lie, that you were believing it, that you relied on it, and that you never would have done a deal where the real appraised fair market value was far less than the amount of the loan.

So then the question becomes “How can you be sure the appraisal was inflated? Were all appraisals inflated? How do you know that?” Answers: Read on, YES, Read On, in that order.

I start with the proposition that the only legitimate factors that cause changes in housing prices (up or down) are changes in supply and demand, rising costs or labor and materials and related services. Anything else is a manipulation UNLESS it is thoroughly disclosed in language that a normal reasonable person would understand. Even if such disclosure is made and the deal goes through BOTH parties would be defrauding someone by definition, to wit: they are agreeing that the stated price or value of the property is inflated but they are doing the deal anyway.

How could anyone inflate the price of a house without everyone knowing it? ANSWER: By inflating the entire market in that geographical area. Note that during the securitization era, ONLY the places that were targeted had sharply rising prices, sometimes from one month to the next. Other places, like Seneca Falls, NY (highlighted in NY Times article) were not not affected by either the boom or bust except indirectly where they are dealing with decreased services from the state and county resulting from budget deficits resulting from an expectation of rising revenues based upon the apparent rise in tax appraised value.

How does one inflate values of any commodity or property in the entire relevant marketplace? ANSWER: By creating false liquidity (i.e, availability of money) and by speculation pushing up the “value” of the derivatives and other hedge products which in turn raises the value of the actual commodity, or in our case, the actual house. Since the cost of the money decreases, despite government attempts to raise interest rates, and speculation is allowed without supervision, the speculators control the market on the way up and on the way down. They win on both sides because they are controlling the events. That is not a free market. That is a privately controlled market.

So the reason I am sure that false appraisals were the rule, not just the norm are as follows:

  1. There was no abnormal trends or changes in demand, supply, or costs — except that supply actually outpaced demand by a factor of at least 200%. Thus prices should have probably dropped as developers increased competition for buyers. There is no observable reason for prices to rise, much less at the pace seen in the period 2002-2007. By all public accounts it will be at least 2030 before the current inventory of houses are sold. This level of overbuilding is unprecedented and cannot be tied to an expectation of increased demand but rather an expectation that the seller controlled the transaction and collectively with loan brokers, originators, aggregators, and investment bankers would do anything to close the deal even if it meant having the borrower sign for a loan that called for NO PAYMENTS.
  2. 8,000 certified licensed appraisers signed a petition to Congress in 2005 complaining they were being coerced into justifying the deal rather than actually estimating fair market value. They feared they would be blacklisted from all the deals because an honest appraisal would have slowed down sales of homes and sales of financial products to borrowers.
  3. This was a complete reversal of practices existing before the securitization era. The value of the collateral was the Lender’s only guarantee of repayment. hence the tendency was to minimize the estimate of fair market value. Once the risk of repayment was eliminated “lenders” (i.e., mortgage brokers and originators) were under pressure to close loan transactions dollar volumes. The easiest way of doing that was to increase the value of the properties. The more this practice took hold of meeting the contract terms  which were always disclosed to the appraiser (contrary to prior practice) the easier it became, since the “comparables” used by the appraisers were produced by the same practice, incentives and pressures. As the mortgage bonds were sold in increasing dollar volumes, the pressure to place investment dollars increased exponentially. Incentives for mortgage brokers and originators to close deals at any level of risk or terms increased proportionately. Marketing and selling of loan products became big business, with large fees and apparently no risk as the managers of such companies perceived it. The upward pressure to increase the size of loans directly resulted in an upward pressure on sale prices and the perception of “value” in the marketplace. A snowball effect was thus created producing a spike in housing prices that is completely unprecedented in the history of housing since the 1870’s when such measurements began to  be recorded. No other boom or bust cycle in any part of the country had ever experienced spikes of this magnitude.
  4. Starting 3-4 loan products in the 1970’s, the number of possible loan products has skyrocketed to over 400 different kinds of loans — a bewildering array that increases asymmetry of information — causing the buyer to depend and rely upon the more sophisticated side (“lender”) for information about the loan product they were steered into.
  5. The number of loan originating companies masquerading as actual lenders went from 1 (Household Finance, now HSBC) to hundreds during the entire securitization period (circa 1990-2008) and then back down again as most of them went out of business, liquidated, or went bankrupt. New business start-ups would not  have flooded the market but for the virtual certainty of high fees without regard to whether the product worked or not (i.e., whether the loan was repaid or not).
  6. The amount of money attributable to derivatives that increased availability of loans increased from zero in 1983 to more than $30 trillion in 2007 — twice the Gross National Product of this country.
  7. I see no reason for price increases other than the flood of money into certain marketplaces, which in turn gave some color of verification of an appraisal that was plainly wrong, inflated, and where fees for such appraisals increased geometrically.

Yes they were virtually all inflated. That was the requirement. Just as the rating agencies falsely inflated the value and risk of the mortgage bonds that were used to attract the $30 trillion in capital used to flood the marketplace, the appraisers likewise inflated the appraisals of the value and thus the risk to the borrowers AND investors. The proof is simply in the present situation where prices have fallen by as much as 80%. This is further corroborated by the price levels before the flood of money into the marketplace. The final verification is that median income was flat during this period. Most economists and housing experts agree that ultimately median income is the main determinant in housing prices.

How do I know this is true? It is the only workable explanation that is being offered, even including comments, reports and statements issued by the financial services industry.

For an example of how this has worked against the poorest, starving people of the world, see the following, which demonstrates that the Wall Street process, if unregulated, leads to bizarre social and financial consequences.

//

Johann Hari: How Goldman gambled on starvation

Speculators set up a casino where the chips were the stomachs of millions. What does it say about our system that we can so casually inflict so much pain?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Is Your Bank In Trouble?
Free list Of Banks Doomed To Fail.The Banks and Brokers X List.

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By now, you probably think your opinion of Goldman Sachs and its swarm of Wall Street allies has rock-bottomed at raw loathing. You’re wrong. There’s more. It turns out that the most destructive of all their recent acts has barely been discussed at all. Here’s the rest. This is the story of how some of the richest people in the world – Goldman, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and more – have caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world.

It starts with an apparent mystery. At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, calls it “a silent mass murder”, entirely due to “man-made actions.”

Earlier this year I was in Ethiopia, one of the worst-hit countries, and people there remember the food crisis as if they had been struck by a tsunami. “My children stopped growing,” a woman my age called Abiba Getaneh, told me. “I felt like battery acid had been poured into my stomach as I starved. I took my two daughters out of school and got into debt. If it had gone on much longer, I think my baby would have died.”

Most of the explanations we were given at the time have turned out to be false. It didn’t happen because supply fell: the International Grain Council says global production of wheat actually increased during that period, for example. It isn’t because demand grew either: as Professor Jayati Ghosh of the Centre for Economic Studies in New Delhi has shown, demand actually fell by 3 per cent. Other factors – like the rise of biofuels, and the spike in the oil price – made a contribution, but they aren’t enough on their own to explain such a violent shift.

To understand the biggest cause, you have to plough through some concepts that will make your head ache – but not half as much as they made the poor world’s stomachs ache.

For over a century, farmers in wealthy countries have been able to engage in a process where they protect themselves against risk. Farmer Giles can agree in January to sell his crop to a trader in August at a fixed price. If he has a great summer, he’ll lose some cash, but if there’s a lousy summer or the global price collapses, he’ll do well from the deal. When this process was tightly regulated and only companies with a direct interest in the field could get involved, it worked.

Then, through the 1990s, Goldman Sachs and others lobbied hard and the regulations were abolished. Suddenly, these contracts were turned into “derivatives” that could be bought and sold among traders who had nothing to do with agriculture. A market in “food speculation” was born.

So Farmer Giles still agrees to sell his crop in advance to a trader for £10,000. But now, that contract can be sold on to speculators, who treat the contract itself as an object of potential wealth. Goldman Sachs can buy it and sell it on for £20,000 to Deutsche Bank, who sell it on for £30,000 to Merrill Lynch – and on and on until it seems to bear almost no relationship to Farmer Giles’s crop at all.

If this seems mystifying, it is. John Lanchester, in his superb guide to the world of finance, Whoops! Why Everybody Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, explains: “Finance, like other forms of human behaviour, underwent a change in the 20th century, a shift equivalent to the emergence of modernism in the arts – a break with common sense, a turn towards self-referentiality and abstraction and notions that couldn’t be explained in workaday English.” Poetry found its break with realism when T S Eliot wrote “The Wasteland”. Finance found its Wasteland moment in the 1970s, when it began to be dominated by complex financial instruments that even the people selling them didn’t fully understand.

So what has this got to do with the bread on Abiba’s plate? Until deregulation, the price for food was set by the forces of supply and demand for food itself. (This was already deeply imperfect: it left a billion people hungry.) But after deregulation, it was no longer just a market in food. It became, at the same time, a market in food contracts based on theoretical future crops – and the speculators drove the price through the roof.

Here’s how it happened. In 2006, financial speculators like Goldmans pulled out of the collapsing US real estate market. They reckoned food prices would stay steady or rise while the rest of the economy tanked, so they switched their funds there. Suddenly, the world’s frightened investors stampeded on to this ground.

So while the supply and demand of food stayed pretty much the same, the supply and demand for derivatives based on food massively rose – which meant the all-rolled-into-one price shot up, and the starvation began. The bubble only burst in March 2008 when the situation got so bad in the US that the speculators had to slash their spending to cover their losses back home.

When I asked Merrill Lynch’s spokesman to comment on the charge of causing mass hunger, he said: “Huh. I didn’t know about that.” He later emailed to say: “I am going to decline comment.” Deutsche Bank also refused to comment. Goldman Sachs were more detailed, saying they sold their index in early 2007 and pointing out that “serious analyses … have concluded index funds did not cause a bubble in commodity futures prices”, offering as evidence a statement by the OECD.

How do we know this is wrong? As Professor Ghosh points out, some vital crops are not traded on the futures markets, including millet, cassava, and potatoes. Their price rose a little during this period – but only a fraction as much as the ones affected by speculation. Her research shows that speculation was “the main cause” of the rise.

So it has come to this. The world’s wealthiest speculators set up a casino where the chips were the stomachs of hundreds of millions of innocent people. They gambled on increasing starvation, and won. Their Wasteland moment created a real wasteland. What does it say about our political and economic system that we can so casually inflict so much pain?

If we don’t re-regulate, it is only a matter of time before this all happens again. How many people would it kill next time? The moves to restore the pre-1990s rules on commodities trading have been stunningly sluggish. In the US, the House has passed some regulation, but there are fears that the Senate – drenched in speculator-donations – may dilute it into meaninglessness. The EU is lagging far behind even this, while in Britain, where most of this “trade” takes place, advocacy groups are worried that David Cameron’s government will block reform entirely to please his own friends and donors in the City.

Only one force can stop another speculation-starvation-bubble. The decent people in developed countries need to shout louder than the lobbyists from Goldman Sachs. The World Development Movement is launching a week of pressure this summer as crucial decisions on this are taken: text WDM to 82055 to find out what you can do.

The last time I spoke to her, Abiba said: “We can’t go through that another time. Please – make sure they never, never do that to us again.”

Goldman-AIG Conflict Reveals Inside Story on Housing Scheme

See NY Times Morgenstern Article on Goldman/AIG COnflict

See GRAPHICAL TIMELINE OF GOLDMAN\’S STRATEGIC \”DEFAULTS\”

Understandably this is a lot to take in so I invite you to pick up a copy of the New York Times, or go to the links above and study this article. First, I have excerpted what I think is important. second you have the whole article.

“Negotiating with Goldman to void the A.I.G. insurance was especially difficult, Federal Reserve Board documents show, because the firm did not own the underlying bonds. As a result, Goldman had little incentive to compromise.”THE MAIN POINT TO KEEP IN MIND, AS IT IS EXPRESSLY STATED IN THE ARTICLE, IS THAT THE INVESTMENT BANKS did not own THE mortgage bonds, THE OBLIGATIONS FROM HOMEOWNERS, THE NOTES SIGNED BY HOMEOWNERS OR THE MORTGAGE DEEDS OR DEEDS OF TRUST. THEY OWNED NOTHING BUT THEY WERE “TRADING” ANYWAY, SCREWING BOTH THE INVESTORS WHO ACTUALLY ADVANCED THE FUNDS FOR THIS SCHEME AND THE HOOMEOWNER WHO ADVANCED THE COLALTERAL OF THEIR HOMES.

This is important because it was the investment banks that initiated the securitization chains. The scheme started with them and was launched with the use of investor money unwittingly advanced into a pool of capital that would be used mostly to fund fees, profits, insurance proceeds, insurance premiums all for the benefit and paid to the investment banks and not the investors.

These were Fees and Relationships that were never disclosed to the homeowner despite very clear laws (Truth in Lending, Deceptive Lending) requiring full Transparency and Disclosure. It is quite clear that undisclosed fees, profits, kickbacks etc. are due back to the homeowner who signed the “loan” papers. I believe there are competing or complimentary claims from both the investors and the borowers against all that bailout and insurance money.

DEFAULT WAS UNNECESSARY: “if mortgage bonds were downgraded, if they were deemed to have lost value, or if A.I.G.’s own credit rating was downgraded. If all of those things happened, A.I.G. would have to make even larger payments.”The principal points you should come away with doubles down on prior comments (including yesterday’s post) about the manipulation or world finance and thus world politics. Until the financial oligopoly is broken apart like it was 100 years ago, we will continue to see nothing but worsening conditions in housing and the economy in general.

The actions of Goldman Sachs clearly show their intent and knowledge that they could cause a collapse and a government bailout. They did it because they could and they are still doing it.

We are now supposed to be lulled by the crisis in the Euro, which is chasing people in the U.S. dollar. Just browse the internet and you will bind blogs like www.baselinescenario.com and hundreds of others that will tell you and show you that this continues to be a banker’s dream scenario. Everytime there is a crisis or a boom the bankers make money on the movement of huge sums of capital. And now, they are controlling the crises and the booms. what could be better?

While the flood of money into the dollar is good for those who worry about inflation, it also guarantees that the housing market will, in real dollars, be down another 10-15% over the next year.

EXCERPTS:

Well before the federal government bailed out A.I.G. in September 2008, Goldman’s demands for billions of dollars from the insurer helped put it in a precarious financial position by bleeding much-needed cash. That ultimately provoked the government to step in.

The S.E.C. wants to know whether any of the demands improperly distressed the mortgage market, according to people briefed on the matter who requested anonymity because the inquiry was intended to be confidential.

$11 billion in taxpayer money that went to Société Générale, a French bank that traded with A.I.G., was subsequently transferred to Goldman under a deal the two banks had struck.

February 7, 2010

Testy Conflict With Goldman Helped Push A.I.G. to Edge

Billions of dollars were at stake when 21 executives of Goldman Sachs and the American International Group convened a conference call on Jan. 28, 2008, to try to resolve a rancorous dispute that had been escalating for months.

A.I.G. had long insured complex mortgage securities owned by Goldman and other firms against possible defaults. With the housing crisis deepening, A.I.G., once the world’s biggest insurer, had already paid Goldman $2 billion to cover losses the bank said it might suffer.

A.I.G. executives wanted some of its money back, insisting that Goldman — like a homeowner overestimating the damages in a storm to get a bigger insurance payment — had inflated the potential losses. Goldman countered that it was owed even more, while also resisting consulting with third parties to help estimate a value for the securities.

After more than an hour of debate, the two sides on the call signed off with nothing settled, according to internal A.I.G. documents and an audio recording reviewed by The New York Times.

Behind-the-scenes disputes over huge sums are common in banking, but the standoff between A.I.G. and Goldman would become one of the most momentous in Wall Street history. Well before the federal government bailed out A.I.G. in September 2008, Goldman’s demands for billions of dollars from the insurer helped put it in a precarious financial position by bleeding much-needed cash. That ultimately provoked the government to step in.

With taxpayer assistance to A.I.G. currently totaling $180 billion, regulatory and Congressional scrutiny of Goldman’s role in the insurer’s downfall is increasing. The Securities and Exchange Commission is examining the payment demands that a number of firms — most prominently Goldman — made during 2007 and 2008 as the mortgage market imploded.

The S.E.C. wants to know whether any of the demands improperly distressed the mortgage market, according to people briefed on the matter who requested anonymity because the inquiry was intended to be confidential.

In just the year before the A.I.G. bailout, Goldman collected more than $7 billion from A.I.G. And Goldman received billions more after the rescue. Though other banks also benefited, Goldman received more taxpayer money, $12.9 billion, than any other firm.

In addition, according to two people with knowledge of the positions, a portion of the $11 billion in taxpayer money that went to Société Générale, a French bank that traded with A.I.G., was subsequently transferred to Goldman under a deal the two banks had struck.

Goldman stood to gain from the housing market’s implosion because in late 2006, the firm had begun to make huge trades that would pay off if the mortgage market soured. The further mortgage securities’ prices fell, the greater were Goldman’s profits.

In its dispute with A.I.G., Goldman invariably argued that the securities in dispute were worth less than A.I.G. estimated — and in many cases, less than the prices at which other dealers valued the securities.

The pricing dispute, and Goldman’s bets that the housing market would decline, has left some questioning whether Goldman had other reasons for lowballing the value of the securities that A.I.G. had insured, said Bill Brown, a law professor at Duke University who is a former employee of both Goldman and A.I.G.

The dispute between the two companies, he said, “was the tip of the iceberg of this whole crisis.”

“It’s not just who was right and who was wrong,” Mr. Brown said. “I also want to know their motivations. There could have been an incentive for Goldman to say, ‘A.I.G., you owe me more money.’ ”

Goldman is proud of its reputation for aggressively protecting itself and its shareholders from losses as it did in the dispute with A.I.G.

In March 2009, David A. Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, discussed his firm’s dispute with A.I.G. in a conference call with reporters. “We believed that the value of these positions was lower than they believed,” he said.

Asked by a reporter whether his bank’s persistent payment demands had contributed to A.I.G.’s woes, Mr. Viniar said that Goldman had done nothing wrong and that the firm was merely seeking to enforce its insurance policy with A.I.G. “I don’t think there is any guilt whatsoever,” he concluded.

Lucas van Praag, a Goldman spokesman, reiterated that position. “We requested the collateral we were entitled to under the terms of our agreements,” he said in a written statement, “and the idea that A.I.G. collapsed because of our marks is ridiculous.”

Still, documents show there were unusual aspects to the deals with Goldman. The bank resisted, for example, letting third parties value the securities as its contracts with A.I.G. required. And Goldman based some payment demands on lower-rated bonds that A.I.G.’s insurance did not even cover.

A November 2008 analysis by BlackRock, a leading asset management firm, noted that Goldman’s valuations of the securities that A.I.G. insured were “consistently lower than third-party prices.”

To be sure, many now agree that A.I.G. was reckless during the mortgage mania. The firm, once the world’s largest insurer, had written far more insurance than it could have possibly paid if a national mortgage debacle occurred — as, in fact, it did.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the relationship between Goldman and A.I.G. was that without the insurer to provide credit insurance, the investment bank could not have generated some of its enormous profits betting against the mortgage market. And when that market went south, A.I.G. became its biggest casualty — and Goldman became one of the biggest beneficiaries.

Longstanding Ties

For decades, A.I.G. and Goldman had a deep and mutually beneficial relationship, and at one point in the 1990s, they even considered merging. At around the same time, in 1998, A.I.G. entered a lucrative new business: insuring the least risky portions of corporate loans or other assets that were bundled into securities.

A.I.G.’s financial products unit, led by Joseph J. Cassano, was behind the expansion. To reduce its own risks in the transactions, the company structured deals so that it would not have to make early payments to clients when securities began to sour. That changed around 2003, however, when A.I.G. began insuring portions of subprime mortgage deals. A lawyer for Mr. Cassano said his client would not comment for this article. A.I.G. also declined to comment.

Alan Frost, a managing director in Mr. Cassano’s unit, negotiated scores of mortgage deals around Wall Street that included a complicated sequence of events for when an insurance payment on a distressed asset came due.

The terms, described by several A.I.G. trading partners, stated that A.I.G. would post payments under two or three circumstances: if mortgage bonds were downgraded, if they were deemed to have lost value, or if A.I.G.’s own credit rating was downgraded. If all of those things happened, A.I.G. would have to make even larger payments.

Mr. Frost referred questions to his lawyer, who declined to comment.

Traders loved Mr. Frost’s deals because they would pay out quickly if anything went wrong. Mr. Frost cut many of his deals with two Goldman traders, Jonathan Egol and Ram Sundaram, who had negative views of the housing market. They had made A.I.G. a central part of some of their trading strategies.

Mr. Egol structured a group of deals — known as Abacus — so that Goldman could benefit from a housing collapse. Many of them were actually packages of A.I.G. insurance written against mortgage bonds, indicating that Mr. Egol and Goldman believed that A.I.G. would have to make large payments if the housing market ran aground. About $5.5 billion of Mr. Egol’s deals still sat on A.I.G.’s books when the insurer was bailed out.

“Al probably did not know it, but he was working with the bears of Goldman,” a former Goldman salesman, who requested anonymity so he would not jeopardize his business relationships, said of Mr. Frost. “He was signing A.I.G. up to insure trades made by people with really very negative views” of the housing market.

Mr. Sundaram’s trades represented another large part of Goldman’s business with A.I.G. According to five former Goldman employees, Mr. Sundaram used financing from other banks like Société Générale and Calyon to purchase less risky mortgage securities from competitors like Merrill Lynch and then insure the assets with A.I.G. — helping fatten the mortgage pipeline that would prove so harmful to Wall Street, investors and taxpayers. In October 2008, just after A.I.G. collapsed, Goldman made Mr. Sundaram a partner.

Through Société Générale, Goldman was also able to buy more insurance on mortgage securities from A.I.G., according to a former A.I.G. executive with direct knowledge of the deals. A spokesman for Société Générale declined to comment.

It is unclear how much Goldman bought through the French bank, but A.I.G. documents show that Goldman was involved in pricing half of Société Générale’s $18.6 billion in trades with A.I.G. and that the insurer’s executives believed that Goldman pressed Société Générale to also demand payments.

Goldman’s Tough Terms

In addition to insuring Mr. Sundaram’s and Mr. Egol’s trades with A.I.G., Goldman also negotiated aggressively with A.I.G. — often requiring the insurer to make payments when the value of mortgage bonds fell by just 4 percent. Most other banks dealing with A.I.G. did not receive payments until losses exceeded 8 percent, the insurer’s records show.

Several former Goldman partners said it was not surprising that Goldman sought such tough terms, given the firm’s longstanding focus on risk management.

By July 2007, when Goldman demanded its first payment from A.I.G. — $1.8 billion — the investment bank had already taken trading positions that would pay out if the mortgage market weakened, according to seven former Goldman employees.

Still, Goldman’s initial call surprised A.I.G. officials, according to three A.I.G. employees with direct knowledge of the situation. The insurer put up $450 million on Aug. 10, 2007, to appease Goldman, but A.I.G. remained resistant in the following months and, according to internal messages, was convinced that Goldman was also pushing other trading partners to ask A.I.G. for payments.

On Nov. 1, 2007, for example, an e-mail message from Mr. Cassano, the head of A.I.G. Financial Products, to Elias Habayeb, an A.I.G. accounting executive, said that a payment demand from Société Générale had been “spurred by GS calling them.”

Mr. Habayeb, who testified before Congress last month that the payment demands were a major contributor to A.I.G.’s downfall, declined to be interviewed and referred questions to A.I.G. The insurer also declined to comment for this article. Mr. van Praag, the Goldman spokesman, said Goldman did not push other firms to demand payments from A.I.G.

Later that month, Mr. Cassano noted in another e-mail message that Goldman’s demands for payment were becoming problematic. “The overhang of the margin call from the perceived righteous Goldman Sachs has impacted everyone’s judgment,” he wrote to five employees in his division.

By the end of November 2007, Goldman was holding $2 billion in cash from A.I.G. when the insurer notified Goldman that it was disputing the firm’s calculations and seeking a return of $1.56 billion. Goldman refused, the documents show.

In many of these deals, Goldman was trading for other parties and taking a fee. As the mortgage market declined, Goldman paid some of these parties while waiting for A.I.G. to meet its demands, the Goldman spokesman said. But one reason those parties were owed money on the deals was that Goldman had marked down the securities.

Adding to the pressure on A.I.G., Mr. Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, advised the insurer in the fall of 2007 that because the two companies shared the same auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, A.I.G. should accept Goldman’s valuations, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. Goldman declined to comment on this exchange.

Pricewaterhouse had supported A.I.G.’s approach to valuing the securities throughout 2007, documents show. But at the end of 2007, the auditor began demanding that A.I.G. provide greater disclosure on the risks in the credit insurance it had written. Pricewaterhouse was expressing concern about the dispute.

The insurer disclosed in year-end regulatory filings that its auditor had found a “material weakness” in financial reporting related to valuations of the insurance, a troubling sign for investors.

A spokesman for Pricewaterhouse said the company would not comment on client matters.

Insiders at A.I.G. bridled at Goldman’s insistence that they accept the investment bank’s valuations. “Would we call bond issuers and ask them what the valuation of their bonds was and take that?” asked Robert Lewis, A.I.G.’s chief risk officer, in a message in January 2008. “What am I missing here, so I don’t waste everybody’s time?”

When A.I.G. asked Goldman to submit the dispute to a panel of independent firms, Goldman resisted, internal e-mail messages show. In a March 7, 2008, phone call, Mr. Cassano discussed surveying other dealers to gauge prices with Michael Sherwood, Goldman’s vice chairman. At that time, Goldman calculated that A.I.G. owed it $4.6 billion, on top of the $2 billion already paid. A.I.G. contended it only owed an additional $1.2 billion.

Mr. Sherwood said he did not want to ask other firms to value the securities because “it would be ‘embarrassing’ if we brought the market into our disagreement,” according to an e-mail message from Mr. Cassano that described the call.

The Goldman spokesman disputed this account, saying instead that Goldman was willing to consult third parties but could not agree with A.I.G. on the methodology.

Trouble Grows at A.I.G.

By the spring of 2008, A.I.G.’s dispute with Goldman was just one of its many woes. Mr. Cassano was pushed out in March and the company’s defenses against the growing demand for payments faltered. By the end of August 2008, A.I.G. had posted $19.7 billion in cash to its trading partners, including Goldman, according to financial filings.

Over that summer, A.I.G. had tried, unsuccessfully, to cancel its insurance contracts with the trading partners. But Goldman, according to interviews with former A.I.G. executives, would allow that only if it also got to keep the $7 billion it had already received from A.I.G. Goldman wanted to keep the initial insurance payouts and the securities in order to profit from any future rebound.

In addition to offering to cancel its own contracts, Goldman offered to buy all of the insurance A.I.G. had written for several other banks at severely distressed prices, according to three people briefed on the discussions.

Negotiating with Goldman to void the A.I.G. insurance was especially difficult, Federal Reserve Board documents show, because the firm did not own the underlying bonds. As a result, Goldman had little incentive to compromise.

On Aug. 18, 2008, Goldman’s equity research department published an in-depth report on A.I.G. The analysts advised the firm’s clients to avoid the stock because of a “downward spiral which is likely to ensue as more actual cash losses emanate” from the insurer’s financial products unit.

On the matter of whether A.I.G. could unwind its troublesome insurance on mortgage securities at a discount, the Goldman report noted that if a trading partner “is not in a position of weakness, why would it accept anything less than the full amount of protection for which it had paid?”

A.I.G. shares fell 6 percent the day the report was published. Three weeks later, the United States government agreed to pour billions of dollars in taxpayer money into the insurer to keep it from collapsing.

The government would soon settle the yearlong dispute between Goldman and A.I.G., with Goldman receiving full value for its bets. The federal bailout locked in the paper losses of those deals for A.I.G. The prices on many of those securities have since rebounded.

Alan Feuer contributed reporting.

Payback TimeMany See the VAT Option as a Cure for Deficits

The value added tax (VAT) has been around for decades in other countries. It is predicated on the  idea that ALL people should share in the cost of government. The way it works (see below) is that the government picks up 10% (for example) of each stepof the production and sales process. It is normally reserved for hard goods instead of services.

I think that is is the only good idea around topay down the deficit IF it is applied to Wall Street. In addition to raising money it would force all intermediaries to report every transaction and their profit on it. It would force them todeclare the profit (VAT) and pay the income taxes from the fees and profits.

Let’s look at the way this would work in the derivative market. Better yet let’s look at the derivative market over the last 10 years. Maybe you’ll fee outrage when you read this somewhat over simplified version of the way things REALLY work. 

  1. Mortgage Bonds are sold  to investors by a “seller.” Who gets the selling fee? How much was it? Where did it go? Even under current rules most of this money went untaxed for income tax because by playing the shell game cleverly you can create a question of tax jurisdiction and end up paying no tax and  not even reporting it.
  2. The Seller of the mortgage bonds (and a percentage interest in the underlying notes and mortgages) received a stack of certificates from the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV/Trust)at a cost of  less than what the certificates were sold for. The great thing for the seller is that the Selling Agent is allowed to “sell forward” to investors, thus knowing exactly6 what his profit is going to be when he takes the stack of bond certificates. The VAT tax would apply here and perhaps result, heaven forbid, in a double tax of VAT and income taxes. Criminal law enforcement could beeefed up on the VAT so that the intermediary parties in the securitization chain have nowhere to hide — if the government does its job in enforcement which would mean training special VAT agents who can understand the workings of securities transfers on Wall Street and can enforce the jurisdicitional issue thaty has been the favorite tool of investment banks working both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific.
  3. The SPV has received an assignment (of dubious legality) from an aggregator pool. It is paying a huge premium over the true value fhe pool, and thus, so are the investors who buy the bonds. In the presence of a government doing its job to enforce tax liability —VAT and Income Tax — the fraud of the entire mortgage meltdown wouldhave been exposed, the government would have taken possession of the investment banks running these pools, and taxpayers would have received in their coffers huge amounts of money paid in taxes from this yield spread premium. But alas,Wall Street continues to get its way and this is considered no a profit or a fee but instead it is either not shown at all as this yield spread profit from sale of ggregator to SPV or it is actually shown as an expense. On an average basis the YSP on the sale from aggregator to SPV was about 80% of the mortgage funding amount. This is where the toxicity of the mortgages and notes was hidden.
  4. And then you continue down the line with the usual undisclosed YSP between mortgage broker and”lender” (actually a straw man through whom the transaction passes etc.

If you put pencil to paper you’ll see that Wall Street didn’t  just dodge responsibility for the mess they created, they dodged the taxes too. If the government was enforcing our existing tax laws through this process, the entire stimulus and other lines of credit from the Federal government would have been paid by the culprits who did this to us.

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December 11, 2009 Payback TimeMany See the VAT Option as a Cure for Deficits By CATHERINE RAMPELL Runaway federal deficits have thrust a politically unsavory savior into the spotlight: a nationwide tax on goods and services. Members of Congress, like their constituents, are squeamish about such ideas, instead suggesting spending cuts or higher taxes on the rich. But with a lack of political will to do the former, and a practical ceiling to how much revenue can be milked from the latter, economists across the political spectrum say a consumption tax may be inevitable once the economy fully recovers. “We have to start paying our bills eventually,” said Charles E. McLure, a tax economist who worked in the Reagan administration. “This strikes me as the best and most obvious way of doing it.” The favored route of economists is known as a value-added tax, which is a tax on goods and services that is collected at every step along the production chain, from raw material to a consumer’s shopping bag. Similar to a sales tax, it generally results in consumers paying more for the things they buy. The revenues could be used to pay for health care or other social programs, or just to pay down existing debt. Like universal health care, every other industrialized country in the world already has a value-added tax (as do about 100 emerging countries). And also like universal health care, this once-taboo policy option has recently been invoked, at times begrudgingly, by many prominent Washingtonians, including the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi; John Podesta, who was co-chairman of President Obama’s transition team; and two former Federal Reserve chairmen, Alan Greenspan and Paul A. Volcker Introducing such a tax would probably require an overhaul of the entire federal tax code, no small order, and something the government last did in 1986. At the time the goal was to simplify the tax system, to raise money more efficiently and with fewer headaches for taxpayers. Since then, federal spending has ballooned, while the government’s ability to raise taxes has become increasingly inefficient. Consider the page length of the tax code and tax regulations, which has expanded by more than 70 percent, according to Thomson Reuters Tax and Accounting. (There are more words crammed onto each page, too.) The tax system is now a compendium of lobbied-for ifs, ands and buts. As the tax code has been embellished and then Swiss-cheesed, the portion of Americans footing the nation’s income tax bill has shrunk. “There are many more deductions and credits, which can often encourage inefficient behavior such as tax shelters,” said Leonard E. Burman, a public affairs professor at Syracuse University, about the changes to the tax system since the 1986 reform. “The ideal tax system has a broad base — few deductions or exemptions — and low rates.” Most of the rest of the industrialized world — including, most recently, Australia — has already taken this lesson to heart by imposing value-added taxes. Unlike income taxes, which are often front-loaded on the rich, then subsequently diluted, a value-added tax is paid by almost everybody. That broad base is one of its major advantages, and why the International Monetary Fund frequently recommends it to countries that need to raise money quickly. What is good for economic purposes, however, can be bad politics, especially since Mr. Obama pledged not to raise taxes on the bottom 95 percent of Americans. (And many Republicans have pledged not to raise taxes on the bottom 100 percent of Americans.) The value-added tax is also the darling of many economists for its bounce-a-quarter-off-its-abs efficiency. Its administrative costs to the government are generally low. It is also considered less of a drag on the economy over the long run than raising income taxes, which discourage people from saving money and thereby making capital available to businesses. To understand why a value-added tax is considered so efficient, you have to understand how it usually works. Imagine the production of a new dress, in three steps: ¶A fabric store sells a tailor enough silk to make one dress, at a total price of $10 before taxes; ¶The tailor sews a dress and sells it to Macy’s for $30 before taxes; ¶Macy’s then sells the dress to a shopper for $50, before taxes. Let’s say the value-added tax is 10 percent. The government will collect some tax revenue in each step of the production process, from roll of fabric to cocktail-party scene-stealer, but each business in the chain gets credit for the tax already paid by other suppliers. When selling the cloth to the tailor, the fabric store adds a tax of 10 percent, or $1 on the $10 of supplies the tailor purchases. The tailor pays the fabric store $11, and the store remits $1 to the government. When the tailor sells his dress to Macy’s, he calculates the value-added tax as $3, or 10 percent of his $30 pretax price. Macy’s pays the tailor $33. But instead of sending the full $3 to the government, the tailor gets to subtract the $1 of taxes he had already paid to the fabric store. So he sends $2 to the government. When Macy’s sells the dress to a shopper, it adds another 10 percent, so the shopper pays $55, or $50 plus $5 in tax. That would be in addition to any state or local sales taxes consumers have to pay, depending on the locale. Macy’s checks to see how much the previous companies in the supply chain — the fabric store and the tailor — have already paid the government in value-added taxes, and subtracts that from the $5. Macy’s ends up remitting just $2 to the government. The government receives $5 total, or 10 percent of the final purchase price, but from three different businesses. Although more complicated, value-added taxes are considered better than equivalent sales taxes — where the tax is levied only when the consumer buys a product — for two main reasons. First, if a single business evades the value-added tax, the government does not lose a large portion of money, because it will collect taxes at other stages of production. Since companies usually get credit for taxes already paid by their suppliers, companies will pressure other businesses in the production chain to prove they paid their taxes. That means the system is somewhat self-policing. To some foes of big government, though, the efficiency of the tax is also its fatal flaw. Conservatives worry that it enables the government to raise money with such little effort that it will encourage Washington to spend even more. On the other hand, liberals are wary of value-added taxes because they are regressive. Poor people spend a higher portion of their income buying things than the rich, meaning lower-income people would be disproportionately hurt. That is why countries often make other major changes to their tax code at the same time. In Australia, the government imposed a value-added tax in the middle of an overhaul of the system in 2000, which included making the income tax system more progressive. “Many countries with VATs have income taxes that start out at higher income thresholds,” said James Poterba, an economics professor at M.I.T. Combining a broad-based VAT with a steeply progressive income tax, he said, avoids affecting the poor too much. But just as the income tax has been hollowed out by countless loopholes, so could a value-added tax. Many European countries, for example, have counteracted the regressive qualities of the tax by exempting broad categories of goods, like groceries and children’s clothing. This always creates problems, economists say. Companies are tempted to mislabel their products so they can avoid the tax. “What really is the difference between prepared food versus nonprepared food?” said Alan J. Auerbach, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “You start having to split hairs, and that can become quite complicated.” Besides cheating the government of revenue, this sort of behavior also distorts what people choose to buy, causing a drag on economic development, Mr. Auerbach said. Moreover, in some industries — like financial services — it is difficult to evaluate how much value is added because of the way they make their money. The solution in many places, like New Zealand, is to exempt the financial services industry. But that might not go over well in a country whose federal debt has recently swelled precisely because of a major banking crisis. Such political hurdles, along with a still-tentative economic recovery, make a consumption tax — or a tax increase of any kind — unlikely in the immediate future. But with economists like Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard predicting that federal tax revenues will need to rise by 20 to 30 percent in the next few years, politicians may hold their noses and decide this tax is the least worst option. “Of course, we want to take down the health care cost, that’s one part of it,” Ms. Pelosi told Charlie Rose of PBS. “But in the scheme of things, I think it’s fair to look at a value-added tax as well.” Kitty Bennett contributed reporting.

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