“A day of reckoning may soon be coming.” Yves Smith

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Editor’s Comment:  

Yes it is a mouthful. But it boils down to this — Barclay’s Bank in cooperation with others manipulated the actual LIBOR rates which in turn effects other rates around the world. If you take this information and apply it to any loan that supposedly was reset on the basis of interest rates, you come up with the inevitable conclusion that the resets during the period of the manipulation were probably wrong.

So if a mortgage rate went from 3% to 4% on the basis of a change in interest rates tied to the note, then the proper rate charged to the homeowner was either higher or lower than what was actually charged. If the rate changed was directly  tied to LIBOR that is the end of the argument. If the reset was based upon some other index you will find that those rates were influenced by LIBOR rates. 

In a nutshell what this means is that most notices of default and foreclosures were based upon the wrong figures. In many cases the borrower was being charged too much and the loan balance was being overstated. This effects not only the notice of default but the amount required from the borrower for redemption and the amount of the credit bid allowed (presuming that the bidder was indeed the creditor which it seems is never the case in this country). 

The bottom line is that even if all the other defects in the origination of the loan, the foreclosure of the loan, and the auction of the loan are accepted as true, the remaining defect deals with the real thing — money. Procedurally I have an issue with those who file these defensive positions in a motion to dismiss. I think a simple denial of the foreclosers allegations or implied allegations coupled with affirmative defenses is the proper thing to do, even though it puts the burden of proof as to LIBOR and other rates on the borrower. But the truth be told, the Judges are putting the burden of persuasion on the borrowers anyway. 

Yves Smith has hit on something of huge importance. 

Yes, Virginia, the Real Action in the Libor Scandal Was in the Derivatives

As the Libor scandal has given an outlet for long-simmering anger against wanker bankers in the UK, there have been some efforts in the media to puzzle out who might have won or lost from the manipulations, as well as arguments that they were as “victimless” or helped people (as in reporting an artificially low Libor during the crisis led to lower interest rate resets on adjustable rate loans pegged to Libor; what’s not to like about that?)

What we have so far is a lot of drunk under the streetlight behavior: people trying to relate the scandal to the part that is most visible and easy to understand, meaning the loan market that keys off Libor. As much as that’s a really big number ($10 trillion), it is trivial compared to the relevant derivatives. From the FSA letter to Barclays:

The Eurodollar futures contract traded on the CME in Chicago (which is the largest interest rate futures contract by volume in the world) has US dollar LIBOR as its reference rate. The value of volume of that contract traded in 2011 was over 564 trillion US dollars.

This is only one blooming exchange contract, albeit a monster of a contract. There are loads of OTC contracts in addition to that:

Interest rate derivative contracts typically contain payment terms that refer to benchmark rates. LIBOR and EURIBOR are by far the most prevalent benchmark rates used in euro, US dollar and sterling OTC interest rate derivatives contracts and exchange traded interest rate contracts.

Devil’s advocates have also argued that while Barclays submitted improper Libor rates, there’s no evidence they influenced the rates. I read the FSA document quite differently.

Recall that (so far) we have two phases of activity: one from 2005 to 2007, in which derivatives traders at Barclays would lean on the Submitters on a regular basis to place bids that would help improve the profits of positions they had on, and a later phase, during the crisis, where Barclays felt its peers were submitting lowball figures to the daily fixings and it was getting bad press for being an outlier, and it went to posting what it though were competitive, as in artificially low, data.

The earlier period looks to be far more damaging, and the regulators may have gotten only the tip of the iceberg. Readers have told me this sort of manipulation dates from at least 2001; the Economist quotes an insider saying it goes back 15 years. And with so few banks in the end influencing the rate, it isn’t hard to imagine the gaming worked. If you have 16 banks on the panel, as you did in late 2008, the top and bottom 25% of the bids are eliminated and the ones left are averaged. So it’s the average of 8 that remained that would determine the rate.

First, the FSA document suggests that it has only partial information, and it quotes e-mails and some isolated instant messages. A lot, presumably most, of the communication was verbal. But even with what the FSA presented, the traders were often and aggressively working with the submitters to influence their bids, and the FSA found in the overwhelming majority of the time the submitters cooperated. The directions were often quite specific, to hit a certain number, even to submit a figure that would be so high or so low as to get Barclays’ data point excluded from the daily calculation. The enthusiasm and frequency with which the traders were pushing the submitters, as well as the reaction in the market, suggests these efforts were having an impact:

Other individuals with no apparent vested interest in the strategy commented on the EURIBOR rates on 19 March 2007. Trader D stated in an instant message to an external trader “look at the games in EURIBOR today […] I am sure a few names made a killing”. A trader at a hedge fund communicated with Trader E, also on 19 March 2007, stating “it’s becoming dangerous to trade in 3m imms […], especially when Barclays sets the 3m very low […] it does draw attention to you guys. It doesn’t look very professional”

But how could this be? Barclays was only one of a number of banks putting in daily Libor prices.

First, the FSA account notes that Barclays was sometimes working with other banks. It would seem likely that this was more frequent than the paper trail thus far would suggest. Someone working with other banks to rig rates would probably be a bit more circumspect than in internal communications. The fact that the traders would sometimes try to have a rate put in that was intended to be knocked out of the final calculation suggests a collusive strategy.

Second, the derivative traders weren’t working just with the submitters. The report indicates that on at least on occasion, they got the cash desk to cooperate with the manipulation. And again, if the derivative traders sometimes worked with traders in other banks, they might have gotten those cash desks to play along with their scheme.

Third, their objectives for rate moving were to achieve single or a few basis points. Some examples:

Trader B explained “I really need a very very low 3m fixing on Monday – preferably we get kicked out. We have about 80 yards [billion] fixing for the desk and each 0.1 [one basis point] lower in the fix is a huge help for us.

..the Submitter responded positively on 10 November 2006, “of course we will put in a low fixing” and on 13 November indicated they would make a submission lower than the Brokers thought EURIBOR would set that day, “no problem. I had not forgotten. The brokers are going for 3.372, we will put in 36 for our contribution”

As the Economist points out:

The sums involved might have been huge. Barclays was a leading trader of these sorts of derivatives, and even relatively small moves in the final value of LIBOR could have resulted in daily profits or losses worth millions of dollars. In 2007, for instance, the loss (or gain) that Barclays stood to make from normal moves in interest rates over any given day was £20m ($40m at the time). In settlements with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in Britain and America’s Department of Justice, Barclays accepted that its traders had manipulated rates on hundreds of occasions.

And the idea that one party’s loss from the manipulation was another’s gain is irrelevant to those on the losing side:

….banks will be sued only by those who have lost, and will be unable to claim back the unjust gains made by some of their other customers. Lawyers acting for corporations or other banks say their clients are also considering whether they can walk away from contracts with banks such as long-term derivatives priced off LIBOR.

I expect the firms involved to face a locust swarm of litigation. Lawyers may accomplish what regulators and politicians refused to do: strip the banks of ill gotten gains and bring their preening CEOs and “producers” down a few notches. A day of reckoning may finally be coming.


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Obama Considers Ban on Foreclosures

the obligation created when the debtor entered the transaction may well be satisfied in whole or in part by the U.S. Taxpayer, insurers, or counterparties in credit default swaps. Wall Street attempts to frame the argument as giving a free house to the unworthy homeowner. The TRUE argument is what to do with all the excess undisclosed profits that paid the obligations of the homeowners many times over.


If the foreclosures were done in the name of entities that never advanced any money toward the funding of the loan, directly or indirectly, then all of the sales are improper, all of them create defective title and all of them will produce a torrent of unmarketable transactions in the coming years as buyers and lenders discover they cannot get title insurance.
Editor’s Note: Obama’s incremental approach is maddening but it seems that he is “getting it” step by step. First reported by Bloomberg news. this article from the NY Times summarizes the progress.
The problem remains that the administration is not addressing the issue of clear title and legal authority. Mr. Frey from Greenwich Financial highlights the point in his lawsuit against Bank of America accusing them of negotiating loans that the servicer does not own. This problem is not going away, and is getting worse with each new foreclosure sale at the steps of courthouses across the country.

If the foreclosures were done in the name of entities that never advanced any money toward the funding of the loan, directly or indirectly, then all of the sales are improper, all of them create defective title and all of them will produce a torrent of unmarketable transactions in the coming years as buyers and lenders discover they cannot get title insurance.
If money is being paid to servicers who lack authority to collect, then the debtor (borrower/homeowner) is in financial double jeopardy when the real creditor makes a claim. What will happen when Greenwich Financial or some other holder of mortgage backed securities makes their claim for repayment of the money they forked over allegedly to fund mortgages? What will happen when Greenwich Financial realizes that only a fraction of the money they paid went to fund mortgages and that the rest went to fees, profits, commissions and kickbacks? And where are the other investors, who incidentally are the only real creditors in this scenario?
An inconvenient and inescapable truth is that the servicers, whose fees rise as the loan becomes troubled and progresses from performing to delinquent, to default, to foreclosure and sale, are still getting paid on non-performing loans. If the loans are non-performing, where is the money coming from? It can only be coming from the payments made under performing loans, which directs our attention to the essential defect in the securitization of residential mortgage loans: the simplest of terms in every note that require the payments be allocated to the interest and principal on the note is being breached regularly and universally. This is the unethical and illegal result of cross collateralization and over-collateralization.
Wall Street blithely assumed they could disregard the terms of the note (use of proceeds) and mortgage when they securitized these “assets.” And there is the nub of the problem. The transaction starts out simple — money advanced by investors to fund mortgage loans to homeowners (debtors). But in order to make virtually ALL the money turn into fees and profits for Wall Street, the participants in the securitization chain ignored basic contract law, property law, lending laws, rules and regulations. The result was a tangle of claims from intermediaries who have no legal nor equitable interest in the revenue stream, principal or interest derived from those loans — all at the expense of the only two real parties to the transaction, to wit: the investor (creditor) and the homeowner (debtor).
A ban on foreclosures pending mandatory modification procedures is an imperfect step, but definitely in the right direction. It’s going to be a big pill to swallow when we finally come to terms with the fact that the parties at mediation or discussing modification only include one side (the debtor). It means coming to accept that all that TARP money went to the brokers instead of the principals. It means unraveling the now secret AIG documents that would show where the money went. It means performing an audit to determine where the money should be allocated.
And all of THAT means the obligation created when the debtor entered the transaction may well be satisfied in whole or in part by the U.S. Taxpayer, insurers, or counterparties in credit default swaps. Wall Street attempts to frame the argument as giving a free house to the unworthy homeowner.

The TRUE argument is what to do with all the excess undisclosed profits that paid the obligations of the homeowners many times over. Federal and State laws generally agree — failure to disclose the real parties and the real fees paid to all the participants in the transaction results in a liability to the homeowner for those undisclosed fees. The real answer is NOT to give more money to the intermediaries who never advanced a dime to fund these loans but rather, how to claw back the money and put the investors and the homeowners back in the position they were in before this huge fraud began.
Existing laws seem to address all of this in both lending and the issuance of securities. It’s payback time. The only question is whether anyone with the power to do so, will enforce the laws as they are already written. As of this writing, complaints to the FTC, OTC, FDIC, FED etc. produce nothing but an acknowledgment of receipt. The power is there. Where is the will?
February 26, 2010

U.S. Weighs Requiring Lenders to Consider Changes Before Foreclosures

The Obama administration, under intense pressure to help millions of people in danger of losing their homes, is considering a ban on foreclosures unless they have first been examined for potential modification, according to a set of draft proposals.

That would raise the stakes from the current practice, which strongly encourages lenders to evaluate defaulting borrowers for a modification but does not make it mandatory.

Meg Reilly, a Treasury Department spokeswoman, said Thursday that the proposed foreclosure ban was “one of the many ideas under consideration in the administration’s ongoing housing stabilization efforts.” The proposal was first reported by Bloomberg News.

Laurie Goodman, a senior managing director at the Amherst Securities Group who has been highly critical of the government’s modification program, said even if the proposal came to pass, it would not be “a major change. We think there is a large public relations element to this.”

The government could use some favorable public relations for its modification program, which has been deemed disappointing.

Begun a year ago, the program was meant to help as many as four million homeowners but has fallen considerably short of those goals. The Treasury Department has said 116,297 loans have been permanently modified and more than 800,000 more are in trial programs.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said its members were already doing what the administration was considering.

“Lenders generally go to foreclosure as a measure of last resort, after all other options, including loan modification, are exhausted,” said John Mechem, the trade group’s vice president for public affairs.

Any enhancements the government made to the modification program would be unlikely to stem many foreclosures, said Howard Glaser, a prominent housing consultant.

The modification program was designed for people who had subprime loans, he said, not for borrowers with high-quality loans who are unemployed. Tweaking the interest rate for an unemployed family does not provide enough help.

The Mortgage Bankers Association announced this week their own plan for reducing foreclosures: Lenders and loan servicers would reduce unemployed borrowers’ payments for up to nine months while they looked for new jobs.

The banking group said the servicers would need special loans from the Treasury to pay for the program. The administration has not commented publicly on the proposal.

“The real strategy in Washington now is to pray for an improving economy so these issues will resolve themselves,” Mr. Glaser said. “At the end of the day, a strong jobs market will prevent the generation of new foreclosures.”

There was some positive news in that regard last week, when the mortgage bankers said the number of borrowers entering default unexpectedly declined in the fourth quarter. But on Thursday, the government reported that home prices sank 1.6 percent in December, a fresh sign that the real estate market is nowhere near healed.

You Are Not the Bad Guy

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON KINDLE!
THE PHONE RINGS. YOUR NERVES ARE JANGLED. YOU KNOW YOU ARE “LATE” IN YOUR PAYMENTS. PROBABLY ANOTHER COLLECTION CALL. FEAR COURSES THROUGH YOUR VEINS LIKE ACID TOGETHER WITH A RISING TIDE OF EMBARRASSMENT.

SO HERE IS WHAT I HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THAT.

First of all if you look up the collections firm, mortgage servicer, or other party you will find dozens of entries on most firms about behavior that easily crosses the line from legal to illegal. Second of all they might have the wrong person (see article below). Third of all they probably have the wrong information even if they have the right information. So don’t be so scared of them.
Fourth — and this probably ought to be first — in a culture created by endless ads and product placement, where our consciousness has been switched from savings and prudence to credit and spending, where 30% interest is not usury, where $35 fees apply to $2 overdrafts, I challenge the core notion that the debt is or ever was valid. In plain language I know what the law says, but I also know what is right and wrong.
It is YOU who are the victim and it is THEM who are the predators and tricksters. I know the media, politicians and pundits say otherwise. They are wrong. So the point of this blog is to get you to give up the myth that this was somehow mostly your fault and see yourself as one of tens of millions of victims who seek justice. The laws say you have rights  — like usury where most states have a legal limit of interest which if violated invalidates the debt and entitles the debtor to treble damages. Yes there are exceptions but not these creditors and collectors do not qualify under the exceptions. They only win in collection or foreclosure if you don’t fight it out with them.

In most cases (actually nearly all cases) the creditor does not have the resources to do anything other than maintain a phone bank with people who have a script in front of them containing key words and phrases designed to scare the crap out of you. The credit card companies, the mortgage pretender lenders and servicers lack resources to sue everyone at once.

As you have seen on these pages there are a number of offensive and defensive strategies that can put the “collector” in hot water with fines and payment of damages to you for using improper tactics, withholding information (like the fact that your mortgage was paid several times over but they still want YOU to pay it again). Use the Debt validation Letter, the Qualified  Written request, complaints to FTC, FED, OTC etc. Send letters to consumer protection divisions of your state attorney general. report them to the economic crimes division of local police, sheriff and U.S. Attorney’s office. GO ON THE OFFENSIVE.

THE WALK AWAY STRATEGY: There are many reports of lawyers and other advisers suggesting that you simply walk away from the mountain of debt, move to another residence (the rent is bound to be far less expensive than the old carrying charges on the inflated value of the old house), and start over. They recommend that you maintain your phone number by switching services and that you pull the plug. So the collector only gets voice mail and confirmation that this is still your phone number. They recommend that you get a new unlisted number even under another person’s name if that is possible. And then start the march toward saving money, getting prepaid credit and debit cards and re-establishing a high credit score. It’s a lot less expensive than bankruptcy. After the statute of limitations has run they have no right to go after you even if it was a valid debt. This is the advice given by others. Livinglies has no comment.
November 29, 2009
About New York

Hello, Collections? The Worm Has Turned

The phone rang. A woman from a law firm representing a collection agency wanted to know if Mark Hoyte was Mark Hoyte, and he said he was. They were calling to collect $919 on a Sears-Citi card.

Mr. Hoyte said he never had that credit card.

Then the woman wanted to know if his Social Security number ended in 92, and Mr. Hoyte said no, it ended in 33.

“She says to me, ‘Your date of birth is in 1972,’ ” Mr. Hoyte, 46, recalled in an interview.

Clearly, they had the wrong Mark Hoyte. But that did not stop the lawyers at Pressler & Pressler from suing him. They swore out a complaint and sent a summons to Mr. Hoyte, ordering him to be in court last Monday.

Then things took a rare turn.

Every day of the year, 1,000 cases on average are added to the civil court dockets in New York City over credit card debt — a high-volume, low-accuracy moment of reckoning. The suits are usually brought by collection companies that purchase the debt for pennies on the dollar from card issuers and then work with a cadre of law firms that specialize in collection work.

Conducting a digital dragnet, they troll through commercial databases searching for debtors. Because of the vast sloppiness and fraud involved, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has shut down two of the collection firms and is suing 35 law firms tied to the business.

A person who blows off a civil court summons — even if wrongly identified — faces a default judgment and frozen bank accounts. But to date, there have been few penalties against collectors for dragging the wrong people into court.

Until Mr. Hoyte turned up last week in Brooklyn.

After trying to settle the case in the hallway — the 11th floor of 141 Livingston Street is an open bazaar of haggling — the collections lawyer realized he had the wrong man. He got Mr. Hoyte to sign an agreement that would end the case against him, but not against the Mark Hoyte who actually owed the $919.

In front of the judge, the lawyer, T. Andy Wang, announced that the parties had reached a stipulation dismissing this Mr. Hoyte from the suit.

Not so fast, said the judge, Noach Dear.

“Why didn’t you check these things out before you take out a summons and a complaint?” Judge Dear asked. “Why don’t you check out who you’re going after?”

Mr. Wang said that Pressler & Pressler used an online database called AnyWho to hunt for debtors.

“So you just shoot in the dark against names; if there’s 16 Mark Hoytes, you go after without exactly knowing who, what, when and where?” Judge Dear asked.

Mr. Wang replied, “That’s why the plaintiff is making an application to discontinue.”

The judge turned to Mr. Hoyte, who works as a building superintendent, and asked him how much a day of lost pay would cost. Mr. Hoyte said $115.

“Do you think that’s fair?” Judge Dear asked Mr. Wang. “That he should lose a day’s pay?”

“My personal opinion,” Mr. Wang said, “would not be relevant to the application being sought.”

The judge said he was prepared to dismiss the case and wanted Mr. Hoyte compensated for lost wages.

“Your honor,” Mr. Wang said, “I’m personally not willing to compensate him.”

No, the judge said; he meant that the law firm, Pressler & Pressler — one of the biggest in the collection industry — should pay the $115. He would hold a sanctions hearing, a formal process of penalizing the law firm for suing the wrong man.

Under questioning by the judge, Mr. Hoyte recounted being called about the debt, providing his Social Security number and date of birth, and being summoned to court anyhow.

The collections lawyer then began to interrogate Mr. Hoyte.

“You claim you told Pressler & Pressler it wasn’t you,” Mr. Wang said to Mr. Hoyte. “Did you send them proof, as in a copy of your Social Security number with only the last four digits visible?”

“No,” Mr. Hoyte said. “They didn’t ask for it.”

“But you didn’t send any written proof of the claim that it was not you?” Mr. Wang said.

“I told them on the phone it’s not me,” Mr. Hoyte said.

Mr. Wang appeared outraged.

“So without any written proof that it’s not you, you would expect someone just, you know, to go on say-so?” he demanded. “Is that correct?”

Alice had reached Wonderland: The lawyer who had sued the wrong man was blaming the wrong man for getting sued.

Judge Dear cut off the questioning. He told Mr. Wang and Mr. Hoyte to come back to court in January.

“If, somehow, counsel, you decide that you’re going to compensate him for his time off,” Judge Dear said, “I will reconsider sanctions.”

E-mail: dwyer@nytimes.com

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