FRAUD: The Significance of the Game Changing FHFA Lawsuits

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FHFA ACCUSES BANKS OF FRAUD: THEY KNEW THEY WERE LYING

“FHFA has refrained from sugar coating the banks’ alleged conduct as mere inadvertence, negligence, or recklessness, as many plaintiffs have done thus far.  Instead, it has come right out and accused certain banks of out-and-out fraud.  In particular, FHFA has levied fraud claims against Countrywide (and BofA as successor-in-interest), Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan (including EMC, WaMu and Long Beach), Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch (including First Franklin as sponsor), and Morgan Stanley (including Credit Suisse as co-lead underwriter).  Besides showing that FHFA means business, these claims demonstrate that the agency has carefully reviewed the evidence before it and only wielded the sword of fraud against those banks that it felt actually were aware of their misrepresentations.”

It is no stretch to say that Friday, September 2 was the most significant day for mortgage crisis litigation since the onset of the crisis in 2007.  That Friday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, sued almost all of the world’s largest banks in 17 separate lawsuits, covering mortgage backed securities with original principal balances of roughly $200 billion.  Unless you’ve been hiking in the Andes over the last two weeks, you have probably heard about these suits in the mainstream media.  But here at the Subprime Shakeout, I like to dig a bit deeper.  The following is my take on the most interesting aspects of these voluminous complaints (all available here) from a mortgage litigation perspective.

Throwing the Book at U.S. Banks

The first thing that jumps out to me is the tenacity and aggressiveness with which FHFA presents its cases.  In my last post (Number 1 development), I noted that FHFA had just sued UBS over $4.5 billion in MBS.  While I noted that this signaled a shift in Washington’s “too-big-to-fail” attitude towards banks, my biggest question was whether the agency would show the same tenacity in going after major U.S. banks.  Well, it’s safe to say the agency has shown the same tenacity and then some.

FHFA has refrained from sugar coating the banks’ alleged conduct as mere inadvertence, negligence, or recklessness, as many plaintiffs have done thus far.  Instead, it has come right out and accused certain banks of out-and-out fraud.  In particular, FHFA has levied fraud claims against Countrywide (and BofA as successor-in-interest), Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan (including EMC, WaMu and Long Beach), Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch (including First Franklin as sponsor), and Morgan Stanley (including Credit Suisse as co-lead underwriter).  Besides showing that FHFA means business, these claims demonstrate that the agency has carefully reviewed the evidence before it and only wielded the sword of fraud against those banks that it felt actually were aware of their misrepresentations.

Further, FHFA has essentially used every bit of evidence at its disposal to paint an exhaustive picture of reckless lending and misleading conduct by the banks.  To support its claims, FHFA has drawn from such diverse sources as its own loan reviews, investigations by the SEC, congressional testimony, and the evidence presented in other lawsuits (including the bond insurer suits that were also brought by Quinn Emanuel).  Finally, where appropriate, FHFA has included successor-in-interest claims against banks such as Bank of America (as successor to Countrywide but, interestingly, not to Merrill Lynch) and J.P. Morgan (as successor to Bear Stearns and WaMu), which acquired potential liability based on its acquisition of other lenders or issuers and which have tried and may in the future try to avoid accepting those liabilities.    In short, FHFA has thrown the book at many of the nation’s largest banks.

FHFA has also taken the virtually unprecedented step of issuing a second press release after the filing of its lawsuits, in which it responds to the “media coverage” the suits have garnered.  In particular, FHFA seeks to dispel the notion that the sophistication of the investor has any bearing on the outcome of securities law claims – something that spokespersons for defendant banks have frequently argued in public statements about MBS lawsuits.  I tend to agree that this factor is not something that courts should or will take into account under the express language of the securities laws.

The agency’s press release also responds to suggestions that these suits will destabilize banks and disrupt economic recovery.  To this, FHFA responds, “the long-term stability and resilience of the nation’s financial system depends on investors being able to trust that the securities sold in this country adhere to applicable laws. We cannot overlook compliance with such requirements during periods of economic difficulty as they form the foundation for our nation’s financial system.”  Amen.

This response to the destabilization argument mirrors statements made by Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), both in a letter urging these suits before they were filed and in a conference call praising the suits after their filing.  In particular, Miller has said that failing to pursue these claims would be “tantamount to another bailout” and akin to an “indirect subsidy” to the banking industry.  I agree with these statements – of paramount importance in restarting the U.S. housing market is restoring investor confidence, and this means respecting contract rights and the rule of law.   If investors are stuck with a bill for which they did not bargain, they will be reluctant to invest in U.S. housing securities in the future, increasing the costs of homeownership for prospective homeowners and/or taxpayers.

You can find my recent analysis of Rep. Miller’s initial letter to FHFA here under Challenge No. 3.  The letter, which was sent in response to the proposed BofA/BoNY settlement of Countrywide put-back claims, appears to have had some influence.

Are Securities Claims the New Put-Backs?

The second thing that jumps out to me about these suits is that FHFA has entirely eschewed put-backs, or contractual claims, in favor of securities law, blue sky law, and tort claims.  This continues a trend that began with the FHLB lawsuits and continued through the recent filing by AIG of its $10 billion lawsuit against BofA/Countrywide of plaintiffs focusing on securities law claims when available.  Why are plaintiffs such as FHFA increasingly turning to securities law claims when put-backs would seem to benefit from more concrete evidence of liability?

One reason may be the procedural hurdles that investors face when pursuing rep and warranty put-backs or repurchases.  In general, they must have 25% of the voting rights for each deal on which they want to take action.  If they don’t have those rights on their own, they must band together with other bondholders to reach critical mass.  They must then petition the Trustee to take action.  If the Trustee refuses to help, the investor may then present repurchase demands on individual loans to the originator or issuer, but must provide that party with sufficient time to cure the defect or repurchase each loan before taking action.  Only if the investor overcomes these steps and the breaching party fails to cure or repurchase will the investor finally have standing to sue.

All of those steps notwithstanding, I have long argued that put-back claims are strong and valuable because once you overcome the initial procedural hurdles, it is a fairly straightforward task to prove whether an individual loan met or breached the proper underwriting guidelines and representations.  Recent statistical sampling rulings have also provided investors with a shortcut to establishing liability – instead of having to go loan-by-loan to prove that each challenged loan breached reps and warranties, investors may now use a statistically significant sample to establish the breach rate in an entire pool.

So, what led FHFA to abandon the put-back route in favor of filing securities law claims?  For one, the agency may not have 25% of the voting rights in all or even a majority of the deals in which it holds an interest.  And due to the unique status of the agency as conservator and the complex politics surrounding these lawsuits, it may not have wanted to band together with private investors to pursue its claims.

Another reason may be that the FHFA has had trouble obtaining loan files, as has been the case for many investors.  These files are usually necessary before even starting down the procedural path outlined above, and servicers have thus far been reluctant to turn these files over to investors.  But this is even less likely to be the limiting factor for FHFA.  With subpoena power that extends above and beyond that of the ordinary investor, the government agency may go directly to the servicers and demand these critical documents.  This they’ve already done, having sent 64 subpoenas to various market participants over a year ago.  While it’s not clear how much cooperation FHFA has received in this regard, the numerous references in its complaints to loan level reviews suggest that the agency has obtained a large number of loan files.  In fact, FHFA has stated that these lawsuits were the product of the subpoenas, so they must have uncovered a fair amount of valuable information.

Thus, the most likely reason for this shift in strategy is the advantage offered by the federal securities laws in terms of the available remedies.  With the put-back remedy, monetary damages are not available.  Instead, most Pooling and Servicing Agreements (PSAs) stipulate that the sole remedy for an incurable breach of reps and warranties is the repurchase or substitution of that defective loan.  Thus, any money shelled out by offending banks would flow into the Trust waterfall, to be divided amongst the bondholders based on seniority, rather than directly into the coffers of FHFA (and taxpayers).  Further, a plaintiff can only receive this remedy on the portion of loans it proves to be defective.  Thus, it cannot recover its losses on defaulted loans for which no defect can be shown.

In contrast, the securities law remedy provides the opportunity for a much broader recovery – and one that goes exclusively to the plaintiff (thus removing any potential freerider problems).  Should FHFA be able to prove that there was a material misrepresentation in a particular oral statement, offering document, or registration statement issued in connection with a Trust, it may be able to recover all of its losses on securities from that Trust.  Since a misrepresentation as to one Trust was likely repeated as to all of an issuers’ MBS offerings, that one misrepresentation can entitle FHFA to recover all of its losses on all certificates issued by that particular issuer.

The defendant may, however, reduce those damages by the amount of any loss that it can prove was caused by some factor other than its misrepresentation, but the burden of proof for this loss causation defense is on the defendant.  It is much more difficult for the defendant to prove that a loss was caused by some factor apart from its misrepresentation than to argue that the plaintiff hasn’t adequately proved causation, as it can with most tort claims.

Finally, any recovery is paid directly to the bondholder and not into the credit waterfall, meaning that it is not shared with other investors and not impacted by the class of certificate held by that bondholder.  This aspect alone makes these claims far more attractive for the party funding the litigation.  Though FHFA has not said exactly how much of the $200 billion in original principal balance of these notes it is seeking in its suits, one broker-dealer’s analysis has reached a best case scenario for FHFA of $60 billion flowing directly into its pockets.

There are other reasons, of course, that FHFA may have chosen this strategy.  Though the remedy appears to be the most important factor, securities law claims are also attractive because they may not require the plaintiff to present an in-depth review of loan-level information.  Such evidence would certainly bolster FHFA’s claims of misrepresentations with respect to loan-level representations in the offering materials (for example, as to LTV, owner occupancy or underwriting guidelines), but other claims may not require such proof.  For example, FHFA may be able to make out its claim that the ratings provided in the prospectus were misrepresented simply by showing that the issuer provided rating agencies with false data or did not provide rating agencies with its due diligence reports showing problems with the loans.  One state law judge has already bought this argument in an early securities law suit by the FHLB of Pittsburgh.  Being able to make out these claims without loan-level data reduces the plaintiff’s burden significantly.

Finally, keep in mind that simply because FHFA did not allege put-back claims does not foreclose it from doing so down the road.  Much as Ambac amended its complaint to include fraud claims against JP Morgan and EMC, FHFA could amend its claims later to include causes of action for contractual breach.  FHFA’s initial complaints were apparently filed at this time to ensure that they fell within the shorter statute of limitations for securities law and tort claims.  Contractual claims tend to have a longer statute of limitations and can be brought down the road without fear of them being time-barred (see interesting Subprime Shakeout guest post on statute of limitations concerns.

Predictions

Since everyone is eager to hear how all this will play out, I will leave you with a few predictions.  First, as I’ve predicted in the past, the involvement of the U.S. Government in mortgage litigation will certainly embolden other private litigants to file suit, both by providing political cover and by providing plaintiffs with a roadmap to recovery.  It also may spark shareholder suits based on the drop in stock prices suffered by many of these banks after statements in the media downplaying their mortgage exposure.

Second, as to these particular suits, many of the defendants likely will seek to escape the harsh glare of the litigation spotlight by settling quickly, especially if they have relatively little at stake (the one exception may be GE, which has stated that it will vigorously oppose the suit, though this may be little more than posturing).  The FHFA, in turn, is likely also eager to get some of these suits settled quickly, both so that it can show that the suits have merit with benchmark settlements and also so that it does not have to fight legal battles on 18 fronts simultaneously.  It will likely be willing to offer defendants a substantial discount against potential damages if they come to the table in short order.

Meanwhile, the banks with larger liability and a more precarious capital situation will be forced to fight these suits and hope to win some early battles to reduce the cost of settlement.  Due to the plaintiff-friendly nature of these claims, I doubt many will succeed in winning motions to dismiss that dispose entirely of any case, but they may obtain favorable evidentiary rulings or dismissals on successor-in-interest claims.  Still, they may not be able to settle quickly because the price tag, even with a substantial discount, will be too high.

On the other hand, trial on these cases would be a publicity nightmare for the big banks, not to mention putting them at risk a massive financial wallop from the jury (fraud claims carry with them the potential for punitive damages).  Thus, these cases will likely end up settling at some point down the road.  Whether that’s one year or four years from now is hard to say, but from what I’ve seen in mortgage litigation, I’d err on the side of assuming a longer time horizon for the largest banks with the most at stake.

Article taken from The Subprime Shakeout – www.subprimeshakeout.com
URL to article: the-government-giveth-and-it-taketh-away-the-significance-of-the-game-changing-fhfa-lawsuits.html

SPECTRE OF FRAUD OF ALL TYPES HAUNTING BOFA, CITI, CHASE, WELLS ET AL

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New York AG Schneiderman Comes out Swinging at BofA, BoNY
Posted By igradman On August 5, 2011 (4:28 pm) In Attorneys General

This is big.  Though we’ve seen leading indicators over the last few weeks that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman might get involved in the proposed Bank of America settlement over Countrywide bonds, few expected a response that might dynamite the entire deal.  But that’s exactly what yesterday’s filing before Judge Kapnick could do.

Stating that he has both a common law and a statutory interest “in protecting the economic health and well-being of all investors who reside or transact business within the State of New York,” Schneiderman’s petition to intervene takes a stance that’s more aggressive than that of any of the other investor groups asking for a seat at the table.

Rather than simply requesting a chance to conduct discovery or questioning the methodology that was used to arrive at the settlement, the AG’s petition seeks to intervene to assert counterclaims against Bank of New York Mellon for persistent fraud, securities fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.

Did you say F-f-f-fraud?  That’s right.  The elephant in the room during the putback debates of the last three years has been the specter of fraud.  Sure, mortgage bonds are performing abysmally and the underlying loans appears largely defective when investors are able to peek under the hood, but did the banks really knowingly mislead investors or willfully obstruct their efforts to remedy these problems?  Schneiderman thinks so.  He accuses BoNY of violating:

Executive Law § 63(12)’s prohibition on persistent fraud or illegality in the conduct of business: the Trustee failed to safeguard the mortgage files entrusted to its care under the Governing Agreements, failed to take any steps to notify affected parties despite its knowledge of violations of representations and warranties, and did so repeatedly across 530 Trusts. (Petition to Intervene at 9)

By calling out BoNY for failing to enforce investors’ repurchase rights or help investors enforce those rights themselves, the AG has turned a spotlight on the most notoriously uncooperative of the four major RMBS Trustees.  Of course, all of the Trustees have engaged in this type of heel-dragging obstructionism to some degree, but many have softened their stance.

since investors started getting more aggressive in threatening legal action against them.  BoNY, in addition to remaining resolute in refusing to aid investors, has now gone further in trying to negotiate a sweetheart deal for Bank of America without allowing all affected investors a chance to participate.  This has drawn the ire of the nation’s most outspoken financial cop.

And lest you think that the NYAG focuses all of his vitriol on BoNY, Schneiderman says that BofA may also be on the hook for its conduct, both before and after the issuance of the relevant securities.  The Petition to Intervene states that:

Countrywide and BoA face liability for persistent illegality in:
(1) repeatedly breaching representations and warranties concerning loan quality;
(2) repeatedly failing to provide complete mortgage files as it was required to do under the Governing Agreements; and
(3) repeatedly acting pursuant to self-interest, rather than
investors’ interests, in servicing, in violation of the Governing Agreements. (Petition to Intervene at 9)

Though Countrywide may have been the culprit for breaching reps and warranties in originating these loans, the failure to provide loan files and the failure to service properly post-origination almost certainly implicates the nation’s largest bank.  And lest any doubts remain in that regard, the AG’s Petition also provides, “given that BoA negotiated the settlement with BNYM despite BNYM’s obvious conflicts of interest, BoA may be liable for aiding and abetting BNYM’s breach of fiduciary duty.” (Petition at 7) So much for Bank of America’s characterization of these problems as simply “pay[ing] for the things that Countrywide did.

As they say on late night infomercials, “but wait, there’s more!”  In a step that is perhaps even more controversial than accusing Countrywide’s favorite Trustee of fraud, the AG has blown the cover off of the issue of improper transfer of mortgage loans into RMBS Trusts.  This has truly been the third rail of RMBS problems, which few plaintiffs have dared touch, and yet the AG has now seized it with a vice grip.

In the AG’s Verified Pleading in Intervention (hereinafter referred to as the “Pleading,” and well worth reading), Schneiderman pulls no punches in calling the participating banks to task over improper mortgage transfers.  First, he notes that the Trustee had a duty to ensure proper transfer of loans from Countrywide to the Trust.  (Pleading ¶23).  Next, he states that, “the ultimate failure of Countrywide to transfer complete mortgage loan documentation to the Trusts hampered the Trusts’ ability to foreclose on delinquent mortgages, thereby impairing the value of the notes secured by those mortgages. These circumstances apparently triggered widespread fraud, including BoA’s fabrication of missing documentation.”  (Id.)  Now that’s calling a spade a spade, in probably the most concise summary of the robosigning crisis that I’ve seen.

The AG goes on to note that, since BoNY issued numerous “exception reports” detailing loan documentation deficiencies, it knew of these problems and yet failed to notify investors that the loans underlying their investments and their rights to foreclose were impaired.  In so doing, the Trustee failed to comply with the “prudent man” standard to which it is subject under New York law.  (Pleading ¶¶28-29)

The AG raises all of this in an effort to show that BoNY was operating under serious conflicts of interest, calling into question the fairness of the proposed settlement.  Namely, while the Trustee had a duty to negotiate the settlement in the best interests of investors, it could not do so because it stood to receive “direct financial benefits” from the deal in the form of indemnification against claims of misconduct.  (Petition ¶¶15-16) And though Countrywide had already agreed to indemnify the Trustee against many such claims, Schneiderman states that, “Countrywide has inadequate resources” to provide such indemnification, leading BoNY to seek and obtain a side-letter agreement from BofA expressly guaranteeing the indemnification obligations of Countrywide and expanding that indemnity to cover BoNY’s conduct in negotiating and implementing the settlement.  (Petition ¶16)  That can’t be good for BofA’s arguments that it is not Countrywide’s successor-in-interest.

I applaud the NYAG for having the courage to call this conflict as he sees it, and not allowing this deal to derail his separate investigations or succumbing to the political pressure to water down his allegations or bypass “third rail” issues.  Whether Judge Kapnick will ultimately permit the AG to intervene is another question, but at the very least, this filing raises some uncomfortable issues for the banks involved and provides the investors seeking to challenge the deal with some much-needed backup.  In addition, Schneiderman has taken pressure off of the investors who have not yet opted to challenge the accord, by purporting to represent their interests and speak on their behalf.  In that regard, he notes that, “[m]any of these investors have not intervened in this litigation and, indeed, may not even be aware of it.” (Pleading ¶12).

As for the investors who are speaking up, many could take a lesson from the no-nonsense language Schneiderman uses in challenging the settlement.  Rather than dancing around the issue of the fairness of the deal and politely asking for more information, the AG has reached a firm conclusion based on the information the Trustee has already made available: “THE PROPOSED SETTLEMENT IS UNFAIR AND INADEQUATE.” (Pleading at II.A)  Tell us how you really feel.

[Author’s Note: Though the proposed BofA settlement is certainly a landmark legal proceeding, there is plenty going on in the world of RMBS litigation aside from this case. While I have been repeatedly waylaid in my efforts to turn to these issues by successive major developments in the BofA case, I promise a roundup of recent RMBS legal action in the near future.  Stay tuned…]

Article taken from The Subprime Shakeout – http://www.subprimeshakeout.com

 

NO END IN SIGHT: MINNESOTA SHUTS DOWN COMPLETELY

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EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s frustrating. Many of us did the math and came up with the only possible conclusion. State and local governments would default, starting now, in increasing numbers. They default on essential, social and other services leaving he citizens without any government at all. We wanted it to stop before it came to this. But for reasons that defy rational thinking, very few people are willing to connect the current economic crisis with the fall of the housing market, despite the fact that the housing industry has been a bell-weather for the economy for many decades.

If the housing crisis was a slump caused by the common economic factors of demand (over-exuberance) and supply (over-building) fueled by negligent lending practices we could say with some assurance that it will simply play out and we will recover. But we are not recovering and things are getting worse — all because the Wall Street banks are not being held to task for committing the largest fraud in world  history and because the fraud is continuing in the form of bogus foreclosures with bogus auction sales, depriving middle America of the last vestige of economic power in what is hailed as a free-market economy.

States don’t have a chance of recovery. Their status is that they were robbed of their treasury by investments in bogus mortgages bonds, pillaged by the illusion of a housing boom in which they made commitments that could not be sustained because the housing market was doomed, and deprived of revenue from employed workers, small business success, and tax and fee evasions, amounting to billions of dollars in each state. Arizona lost a minimum of $3 billion according to government experts there and yet they are gridlocked on whether to collect the taxes, fees and fines together with the damages caused to the state budget by the Great Securitization illusion.

None of this needs to happen, although we have gone so far kicking the can down the road that some of the damage is irreparable. States could recover in an instant if they applied their resources to the enforcement of taxes, fees, fines and damages using existing law. Their budgets, while damaged, could be restored to normal levels in a normal recession.

But this is not normal recession and there is no free economy. Wall Street banks grabbed control of our government at the Federal, State and local level using a scheme so complex that they could claim anything they wanted to claim — including using state non-judicial and judicial proceedings to effectuate t he largest illegal land grab in history. This will go down in history as not only the largest fraud ever committed, and the largest ceding of power to the business sector, but the largest for all time to come as well. There won’t be another one like this for 500 years.

People ask me why the law isn’t being applied. Even the most unsophisticated consumer understands that if they tried to use a straw-man at the closing of a transaction without disclosing what they were doing the other party to the transaction (the banks in this case) would cry foul, refuse to complete the transaction and probably refer the matter for criminal prosecution. Yet if the perpetrator is a bank, the rules are suspended, the law is not applied, and the continuing devastation of our society continues.

The Banks have the ear of government. They say that no matter how badly they acted, they should not be brought down because if they are, the entire financial system will collapse. Not true. The entire financial system consists of both huge entities crossing international borders and at least 7,000 large and small community banks and credit unions with the exact same access to electronic services, ATM convenience and every other aspect of commercial banking.

The sky is falling because the Banks are getting away with it and they continue to suck the life-blood out of our economy, changing our society forever, if we let them. Those public servants who fear their jobs will disappear if they take action are mistaken. They are dealing with a group of people without conscience and without any regard for the nation’s vital economic and security interests. They will use their tactics of undermining the narrative and preventing the application of basic law to achieve their aims. It is up to borrowers, collectively, to correct the damages because government won’t do it, even if it means, like in Minnesota, that they waive their claims against the perpetrators of this fraud.

This is why I have sponsoring a group that is forming a cooperative that will save America using conventional means to inform consumers that they have remedies, that opposing the banks is a a deeply moral act of advanced citizenship. And through this Cooperative, members will be able to meet those who are offering help, assistance and services to defeat the final corruption of our society starting with the corruption of title.

Is your title safe? The answer is no. Is the economy safe? The answer is no. Are we secure from unreasonable search and seizure? No. Are we protected by due process. No- not if the banks are the ones taking our liberties and privileges away despite a constitution that, once upon a time, promissed a country that would be governed by a nation of laws, not men.

No End in Sight as Minnesotans Grapple With State Shutdown

By

ST. PAUL — The state of Minnesota screeched to a stop on Friday.

State parks were barricaded, and campers, Boy Scout troops and everyone else were sent on their way.

Heading into a holiday weekend in a state that savors its summers outdoors, licenses for fishing, hunting, trapping, boats and ATVs were unavailable for purchase. And all around the State Capitol — the place where all the troubles began — the streets were eerily empty and official buildings locked, plastered with hand-taped signs that offered a gentle explanation: “This building is closed until further notice due to the current state government service interruption.”

Right up to the midnight deadline on Thursday, Minnesotans, who have been known to boast of their professional, efficient government, had held out hope that the state’s divided leadership could reach a deal on how to solve a looming budget deficit. But in the end, the fundamentally different fiscal approaches of the Republicans and the Democrats here did not change, and Minnesota began its broadest shutdown of services in state history with no end in sight.

“Now we’re just waiting and hoping this will be short-lived,” said Mark Crawford, the manager at Lake Maria State Park who on Thursday had to inform scores of campers that they needed to pack up and leave and then, on Friday, became one of 22,000 state employees out of work without pay. “We’ll have to change our lifestyle for a little bit,” said Mr. Crawford, who is 60 and has worked in the parks for 35 years.

Since 2002, there have been six such shutdowns around the nation, including one in 2005 in Minnesota. Some lasted a few hours, others for days. But this time, the two sides appear far apart, the anger is palpable, and no one is confident of a quick resolution. By Friday evening, a spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, said no negotiations had been scheduled for the holiday weekend.

“There’s a lot of concern about whether this is going to be for a weekend or whether it will stretch into August,” said Liz Kuoppala, the executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, which, along with a long list of other groups (on behalf of people with H.I.V., battered women, mentally ill Minnesotans) pleaded on Friday before a retired State Supreme Court justice who has been designated to consider exceptions to the state financing freeze. “Part of the hardest part for people in the homeless shelters and elsewhere,” she said, “is not knowing what’s going to happen and what’s going to be paid for and what’s not.”

In a way, the standstill here may have begun last November, when the voters turned power in St. Paul upside down and picked leaders whose ideas about budgets, even during the campaign, could not have been more different from one another.

Republicans, who took control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in almost four decades, called for reining in spending as a way to pull the state’s budget, facing a $5 billion deficit, into control. But Mr. Dayton, who became the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years, called for collecting more in income taxes from the very highest earners to spare cuts in services to Minnesota’s most vulnerable residents.

As the state’s new budget year approached, the opposing sides had negotiated privately, day after day, under a polite “cone of silence,” in which no one shared a peep about what the other side was asking for.

All vows of silence — and politeness — had vanished by Friday after talks fell apart and Minnesota found itself the only state in the nation closing down. At least 45 states had agreed to spending plans by Friday, officials at the National Conference of State Legislatures said, and the handful of states still finishing their work did not appear at risk of shutdown.

The entire episode left some Minnesotans baffled, posing questions to anyone they came across on Friday. Were highway rest stops open? (No.) Were courts open? (Yes.) Was the Minnesota Zoo open? (No.) Was the local swimming pool open? (Yes; only state functions were affected.)

Even as the state found itself with no approved budget, certain state services deemed essential never stopped. State police patrol and prison operations went on, as did payments to the state’s schools and payments for food stamps, welfare benefits and some programs for the disabled.

Other social services programs, though, including assistance for child care and some services for the blind, had received no such exemption as of Friday, officials said. Nor did the state’s lottery, racetracks, or about 100 road construction projects that were already under way around Minnesota. Torn-up patches, marked only by lonely orange cones, were common sights on Friday.

But even within state agencies, officials found themselves sorting through what must keep going and what ought not. Most prison guards stayed put, for instance, but the state Department of Corrections said it was ending family and volunteers’ visits and yoga classes for prisoners and — if the shutdown lasts long enough for service to lapse — prisoners will see no more cable television.

For many here, though, the largest question was how Minnesota’s leaders might ever reach some accord.

For all the talk of compromise and suggestions by Republicans at one point on Thursday that a deal might be close, it appeared by Friday that the central philosophical divide — between holding the line on spending and raising taxes to maintain services for those most in need — had never really been crossed. Each group retreated to its own side.

“This is a night of deep sorrow for me because I don’t want to see this shutdown occur,” Mr. Dayton told reporters shortly before the midnight deadline on Thursday. “But I think there are basic principles and the well-being of millions of people in Minnesota that would be damaged not just for the next week or whatever long it takes, but the next two years and beyond with these kind of permanent cuts in personal care attendants and home health services and college tuition increases.”

That evening, hundreds of protesters demanding a solution to the impasse gathered outside the Capitol, and Republican lawmakers, describing themselves as discouraged and disheartened, held what some described as a “sit-in” in their chambers urging the governor to call a special session so some state services might be kept running temporarily.

“We’re talking about runaway spending that we can’t afford,” Kurt Zellers, the Republican House speaker, said. “And we will not saddle our children and grandchildren with mounds of debts with promises for funding levels that will not be there in the future.”

David Maki-Waller, 41 and a resident of Northfield, was also thinking of his children on Friday, but of a more immediate problem: how to keep the four of them (15, 11 and 8-year-old twins) entertained over the long weekend now that the family’s reservation to camp at Frontenac State Park — secured months ago — had been canceled along with everyone else’s.

“They’ve been asking me for a Plan B,” Mr. Maki-Waller said. “What are we going to do this weekend? I don’t know. Everyone wanted to go camping.”

Lori Moore contributed reporting from New York.

FDIC SUES LPS AND CORELOGIC ON APPRAISAL FRAUD

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LINK BETWEEN APPRAISAL FRAUD AND HIDDEN 2D TIER YIELD SPREAD PREMIUM

EDITOR’S NOTE: Now the FDIC gets it too. THE WORSE THE LOAN THE MORE MONEY THEY MADE. In the convoluted logic of the mortgage mess the investment banks profits skyrocketed as they increased the likelihood that the the loan would fail. Going into the subprime market was only one way it was done. The same facts apply across the board. A loan destined to fail was far more likely to carry an inflated nominal rate of interest, albeit knowing that the payments would not be made at earliest time possible. Since these loans could not be closed with borrowers unless the initial payment (teaser etc.) was low enough that the borrower could be convinced they could afford it, and the borrowers were relying on the mortgage broker and the fact that a lender would not take the risk unless there was merit to the deal, they relied upon the lender’s appraisal and apparent confirmation of appraisal of the property. By increasing the “value”of the property they were able to close larger loans. By closing larger loans, they were able to move more money faster.

The higher nominal rate of interest was something everyone except the borrower and investor knew would never be paid. The principal was also skewed based upon a higher rate of principal payments based upon an unsustainable appraisal (which of course also increased the size of the loan and therefore the principal and interest payments). The life of the loan and the effect on the actual rate of interest moved many loans into usury territory. And before you tell me that banks are exempt in many states from usury laws, let me say that in many states they are not and even if they banks ARE exempt the originators of nearly all securitized loans either were not banks at all or were banks acting as mortgage brokers — i.e., not actually underwriting the loan nor funding it.

The net effect of this, from a TILA standpoint, is that the APR was misstated in the Good Faith Estimate (GFE) given to each borrower which did not reflect the reality of the actual loan life (obviously ending when the payments reset to a level that exceeded the borrower’s income), the inflated appraisal and the actual terms of compensation being received by intermediaries who were not disclosed to the borrower or the investors. RESCISSION is therefore most probably an available remedy even in old loans as a result of this. ANd the amount that would be required for tender back to the “Lender” (originator) would be reduced by the amount of the appraisal fraud and other causes of action attendant to this fraud.

The plot thickens: by using crappy loans and getting what on paper looked like high interest rates (nominal rates), the banks were able to create the illusion that the DOLLAR amount of return that the investor was expecting was satisfied by the loans “in the portfolio” which we now know never made into the “portfolio” or “pool.” Thus by jacking up at least part of the portfolio nominal rates the banks were able to REDUCE THE PRINCIPAL of the so-called “loan,” which we now know was a sham. This reduction in the amount of principal actually funded produced a spread between the amount of money advanced by the investors and the amount of money actually funded, which the investors knew nothing about.

This spread was caused by the difference between the rates that the investors were expecting (yield) and the rates that the borrowers were supposed to pay (yield), which is why I identified a second yield spread premium (YSP2) years ago. This premium taken by the banks was in the form of profit on sale of loans that were neither sold nor even transferred but nobody knew that back then, although I suspected it based upon the inability of the banks to produce documentation on any performing loan. The only time they came up with documentation was when the loan was in foreclosure and it was in litigation and it was close a hearing in which they had to either putup or shut up. Many simply shut up and moved on to more low hanging fruit. 

FDIC Sues LPS and CoreLogic Over Appraisal Fraud; Shows Investors Leaving Money on the Table

Posted By igradman On May 30, 2011 (10:43 pm)

In another sign that the Federal Government is turning its focus towards prosecuting the securitization players who may have contributed to the Mortgage Crisis, the FDIC filed separate lawsuits against LSI Appraisal (available here) and CoreLogic (available here) earlier this month.  In the suits, both filed in the Central District of California, the FDIC, as Receiver for Washington Mutual Bank (“WAMU”), accuses vendors with whom WAMU contracted to provide appraisal services with gross negligence, breach of reps and warranties, and other breaches of contract for providing defective and/or inflated appraisals.  The FDIC seeks at least $154 million from LSI (and its parent companies, including Lender Processing Services and Fidelity, based on alter ego liability) and at least $129 million from CoreLogic (and its parent companies, including First American Financial, based on alter ego liability).

As we’ve been discussing on The Subprime Shakeout this past month, the U.S. Government has stepped up its efforts to pursue claims against originators, underwriters and other participants in mortgage securitization over irresponsible lending and underwriting practices that led to the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression.  This has included the DOJ suing Deutsche Bank over reckless lending and submitting improper loans to the FHA and the SEC subpoenaing records from Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase over so-called “double dipping” schemes.  The FDIC’s lawsuit is just the latest sign that much more litigation is on the horizon, as it focuses on yet another aspect of the Crisis that is ripe for investigation–appraisal fraud.

Granted, those familiar with the loan repurchase or putback process have long recognized that inflated or otherwise improper appraisals are a major category of rep and warranty violations that are found in subprime and Alt-A loans originated between 2005 and 2007.  In fact, David Grais, in his lawsuits on behalf of the Federal Home Loan Banks of San Francisco and Seattle, focused the majority of his allegations against mortgage securitizers on inflated appraisals (ironically, the data Grais used in his complaints was compiled by CoreLogic, which is now one of the subjects of the FDIC’s suits).

Grais likely zeroed in on appraisals in those cases because he was able to evaluate their propriety after the fact using publicly available data, as he had not yet acquired access to the underlying loan files that would have provided more concrete evidence of underwriting deficiences.  But, appraisals have been historically a bit squishy and subjective–even using retroactive appraisal tools–and absent evidence of a scheme to inflate a series of comparable properties, it can be difficult to convince a judge or jury that an appraisal that’s, say, 10% higher than you would expect was actually a negligent or defective assessment of value.

The reason that the FDIC/WAMU is likely focusing on this aspect of the underwriting process is because it’s one of the few avenues available to WAMU to recover its losses.  Namely, the FDIC is suing over losses associated with loans that it holds on its books, not loans that it sold into securitization.  Though the latter would be a much larger set of loans, WAMU no longer holds any ownership interest in those loans, and would not suffer losses on that pool unless and until it (or its new owner, JPMorgan) were forced to repurchase a significant portion of those loans (read: a basis for more lawsuits down the road).

Which brings me to the most interesting aspect of these cases.  As I mentioned, the FDIC is only suing these appraisal vendors over the limited number of loans that WAMU still holds on its books.  In the case against LSI, the FDIC only reviewed 292 appraisals and is seeking damages with respect to 220 of those (75.3%), for which it claims it found “multiple egregious violations of USPAP and applicable industry standards” (LSI Complaint p. 12).   Only 10 out of 292 (3.4%) were found to be fully compliant.  Yet, the FDIC notes earlier in that complaint that LSI “provided or approved more than 386,000 appraisals for residential loans that WaMu originated or purchased” (LSI Complaint p. 11).

In the case against CoreLogic, the FDIC says that it reviewed 259 appraisals out of the more than 260,000 that had been provided (CoreLogic Complaint pp. 11-12).  Out of those, it found only seven that were fully compliant (2.7%), while 194 (74.9%) contained multiple egregious violations (CoreLogic Complaint p. 12).  And it was the 194 egregiously defective appraisals that the FDIC alleges caused over $129 million in damages.

Can you see where I’m going with this?  If you assume that the rest of the appraisals looked very similar to those sampled by the FDIC, there’s a ton of potential liability left on the table.

Just for fun, let’s just do some rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations to provide a framework for estimating that potential liability.  I will warn you that these numbers are going to be eye-popping, but before you get too excited or jump down my throat, please recognize that, as statisticians will no doubt tell you, there are many reasons why the samples cited in the FDIC’s complaints may not be representative of the overall population.  For example, the FDIC may have taken an adverse sample or the average size of the loans WAMU held on its balance sheet may have been significantly greater than the average size of the loans WAMU securitized, meaning they produced higher than average loss severities (and were also more prone to material appraisal inflation). Thus, do not take these numbers as gospel, but merely as an indication of the ballpark size of this potential problem.

With that proviso, let’s project out some of the numbers in the complaints.  In the LSI/LPS case, the FDIC alleges that 75% of the appraisals it sampled contained multiple egregious violations of appraisal standards.  If we project that number to the total population of 386,000 loans for which LSI/LPS provided appraisal services, that’s 289,500 faulty appraisals.  The FDIC also claims it suffered $154 million in losses on the 220 loans with egregiously deficient appraisals, for an average loss severity of $700,000.  Multiply 289,500 faulty appraisals by $700,000 in losses per loan and you get a potential liability to LSI/LPS (on just the loans it handled for WAMU) of $202 billion.  Even if we cut the percentage of deficient appraisals in half to account for the FDIC’s potential adverse sampling and cut the loss severity in half to account for the fact that the average loss severity was likely much smaller (WAMU may have retained the biggest loans that it could not sell into securitizations), that’s still an outstanding liability of over $50 billion for LSI/LPS.

Do the same math for the CoreLogic case and you get similar results.  The FDIC found 74.9% of the loans sampled had egregious appraisal violations, meaning that at least 194,740 of the loans that CoreLogic handled for WAMU may contain similar violations.  Since the 194 egregious loans accounted for $129 million in losses according to the Complaint, that’s an average loss severity of $664,948.  Using these numbers, CoreLogic thus faces potential liabilities of $129 billion.  Even using our very conservative discounting methodology, that’s still over $32 billion in potential liability.

This means that somewhere out there, there are pension funds, mutual funds, insurance funds and other institutional investors who collectively have claims of anywhere from $82 billion to $331 billion against these two vendors of appraisal services with respect to WAMU-originated or securitized loans.  For how many other banks did LSI and CoreLogic provide similar services?  And how many other appraisal service vendors provided similar services during this time and likely conformed to what appear to have been industry practices of inflating appraisals?  The potential liability floating out there on just this appraisal issue alone is astounding, if the FDIC’s numbers are to be believed.

The point of this exercise is not to say that the FDIC necessarily got its numbers right, or even to say that WAMU wasn’t complicit in the industry practice of inflating appraisals.  My point is that these suits reveal additional evidence that investors are sitting on massive amounts of potential claims, about which they’re doing next to nothing.  Where are the men and women of action amongst institutional money managers (and for that matter, who is John Galt?)?  Are they simply passive by nature, and too afraid of getting sued to even peek out from behind the rock? Maybe this is why investors don’t want to reveal their holdings in MBS – they’re afraid that if unions or other organized groups of pensioners realized that their institutional money managers held WAMU MBS and were doing nothing about it, they would sue these managers and/or never run their money through them again.

The better choice, of course, would be to join the Investor Syndicate or one of the other bondholder groups that are primed for action, and then actually support their efforts to go after the participants in the largest Ponzi scheme in history (an upcoming article on TSS will focus on the challenges that these groups have faced in getting their members actually motivated to do something).  It seems that these managers should be focused on trying to recover the funds their investments lost for their constituents, rather than just acting to protect their own anonymity and their jobs.  If suits like those brought by the FDIC don’t cause institutional money managers to sit up and take notice, we have no other choice but to believe these individuals are highly conflicted and incapable of acting as the fiduciaries they’re supposed to be.  Of all the conflicts of interest that have been revealed in the fallout of the Mortgage Crisis, this last conflict would be the most devastating, because it would mean that the securitization participants who were instrumental in causing this crisis, and who were themselves wildly conflicted, will largely be let off the hook by those they harmed the most.

Article taken from The Subprime Shakeout – http://www.subprimeshakeout.com
URL to article: http://www.subprimeshakeout.com/2011/05/fdic-sues-lps-and-corelogic-over-appraisal-fraud-shows-investors-leaving-money-on-the-table.html


Jake Naumer
Resolution Advisors
3187 Morgan Ford
St Louis Missouri 63116
314 961 7600
Fax Voice Mail 314 754 9086

Discovery Tips from Abby

Discovery Tips – A summary and reminder!!

In the discovery for each link in the securitization chain there must be: a note, a purchase and sale agreement; a transfer receipt; a delivery receipt; a bond if the notes are endorsed in blank; a receipt of funds for the purchase of the note; and a disbursement of funds for the acquisition of the note.

In the very simple RMBS model, there has to be transfers from the originator to the sponsor, from the sponsor to the depositor, from the depositor to the Trustee of the Trust, and from the Trustee to the Master Document Custodian for the Trust. The MDC would have all of the documents referred to above.

SEC Charges Goldman Sachs With Fraud: Complaint Reveals Discovery Tips

see comp-pr2010-59 SEC Complaint V GS Fraud

“The Commission seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits, prejudgment interest and civil penalties from both defendants.” Editor’s Note: Here is where the rubber meets the road. This same pool of illegal fraudulent profit is also subject to being defined as an undisclosed yield spread premium due to the borrowers. Some enterprising class action lawyer has some low hanging fruit here — the class is already defined for you by the SEC — all those homeowners subject to loan documents that were pledged or transferred into a pool which was received or incorporated by reference into this Abacus vehicle)

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Litigation Release No. 21489 / April 16, 2010

Securities and Exchange Commission v. Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Fabrice Tourre, 10 Civ. 3229 (BJ) (S.D.N.Y. filed April 16, 2010)

The SEC Charges Goldman Sachs With Fraud In Connection With The Structuring And Marketing of A Synthetic CDO

The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed securities fraud charges against Goldman, Sachs & Co. (“GS&Co”) and a GS&Co employee, Fabrice Tourre (“Tourre”), for making material misstatements and omissions in connection with a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (“CDO”) GS&Co structured and marketed to investors. This synthetic CDO, ABACUS 2007-AC1, was tied to the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) and was structured and marketed in early 2007 when the United States housing market and the securities referencing it were beginning to show signs of distress. Synthetic CDOs like ABACUS 2007-AC1 contributed to the recent financial crisis by magnifying losses associated with the downturn in the United States housing market.

According to the Commission’s complaint, the marketing materials for ABACUS 2007-AC1 — including the term sheet, flip book and offering memorandum for the CDO — all represented that the reference portfolio of RMBS underlying the CDO was selected by ACA Management LLC (“ACA”), a third party with expertise in analyzing credit risk in RMBS. Undisclosed in the marketing materials and unbeknownst to investors, a large hedge fund, Paulson & Co. Inc. (“Paulson”) [Editor’s Note: Brad Keiser in his forensic analyses has reported that Paulson may have been a principal in OneWest which took over Indymac and may have ties with former Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson, former GS CEO], with economic interests directly adverse to investors in the ABACUS 2007-AC1 CDO played a significant role in the portfolio selection process. After participating in the selection of the reference portfolio, Paulson effectively shorted the RMBS portfolio it helped select by entering into credit default swaps (“CDS”) with GS&Co to buy protection on specific layers of the ABACUS 2007-AC1 capital structure. Given its financial short interest, Paulson had an economic incentive to choose RMBS that it expected to experience credit events in the near future. GS&Co did not disclose Paulson’s adverse economic interest or its role in the portfolio selection process in the term sheet, flip book, offering memorandum or other marketing materials.
The Commission alleges that Tourre was principally responsible for ABACUS 2007-AC1. According to the Commission’s complaint, Tourre devised the transaction, prepared the marketing materials and communicated directly with investors. Tourre is alleged to have known of Paulson’s undisclosed short interest and its role in the collateral selection process. He is also alleged to have misled ACA into believing that Paulson invested approximately $200 million in the equity of ABACUS 2007-AC1 (a long position) and, accordingly, that Paulson’s interests in the collateral section process were aligned with ACA’s when in reality Paulson’s interests were sharply conflicting. The deal closed on April 26, 2007. Paulson paid GS&Co approximately $15 million for structuring and marketing ABACUS 2007-AC1. By October 24, 2007, 83% of the RMBS in the ABACUS 2007-AC1 portfolio had been downgraded and 17% was on negative watch. By January 29, 2008, 99% of the portfolio had allegedly been downgraded. Investors in the liabilities of ABACUS 2007-AC1 are alleged to have lost over $1 billion. Paulson’s opposite CDS positions yielded a profit of approximately $1 billion.

The Commission’s complaint, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, charges GS&Co and Tourre with violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. §77q(a), Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. §78j(b) and Exchange Act Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. §240.10b-5. The Commission seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits, prejudgment interest and civil penalties from both defendants.

The Commission’s investigation is continuing into the practices of investment banks and others that purchased and securitized pools of subprime mortgages and the resecuritized CDO market with a focus on products structured and marketed in late 2006 and early 2007 as the U.S. housing market was beginning to show signs of distress.

If the Bank of England wants this information, how can this court deem it irrelevant?

SEE ALSO BOE PAPER ON ABS DISCLOSURE condocmar10

If the Bank of England wants this information, how can this court deem it irrelevant? NOTE: BOE defines investors as note-holders.
information on the remaining life, balance and prepayments on a loan; data on the current valuation and loan-to-value ratios on underlying property and collateral; and interest rate details, like the current rate and reset levels. In addition, the central bank said it wants to see loan performance information like the number and value of payments in arrears and details on bankruptcy, default or foreclosure actions.
Editor’s Note: As Gretchen Morgenstern points out in her NY Times article below, the Bank of England is paving the way to transparent disclosures in mortgage backed securities. This in turn is a guide to discovery in American litigation. It is also a guide for questions in a Qualified Written Request and the content of a forensic analysis.
What we are all dealing with here is asymmetry of information, which is another way of saying that one side has information and the other side doesn’t. The use of the phrase is generally confined to situations where the unequal access to information is intentional in order to force the party with less information to rely upon the party with greater information. The party with greater information is always the seller. The party with less information is the buyer. The phrase is most often used much like “moral hazard” is used as a substitute for lying and cheating.
Quoting from the Bank of England’s “consultative paper”: ” [NOTE THAT THE BANK OF ENGLAND ASSUMES ASYMMETRY OF INFORMATION AND, SEE BELOW, THAT THE INVESTORS ARE CONSIDERED “NOTE-HOLDERS” WITHOUT ANY CAVEATS.] THE BANK IS SEEKING TO ENFORCE RULES THAT WOULD REQUIRE DISCLOSURE OF
borrower details (unique loan identifiers); nominal loan amounts; accrued interest; loan maturity dates; loan interest rates; and other reporting line items that are relevant to the underlying loan portfolio (ie borrower location, loan to value ratios, payment rates, industry code). The initial loan portfolio information reporting requirements would be consistent with the ABS loan-level reporting requirements detailed in paragraph 42 in this consultative document. Data would need to be regularly updated, it is suggested on a weekly basis, given the possibility of unexpected loan repayments.
42 The Bank has considered the loan-level data fields which
it considers would be most relevant for residential mortgage- backed securities (RMBS) and covered bonds and sets out a high-level indication of some of those fields in the list below:
• Portfolio, subportfolio, loan and borrower unique identifiers.
• Loan information (remaining life, balance, prepayments).
• Property and collateral (current valuation, loan to value ratio
and type of valuation). Interest rate information (current reference rate, current rate/margin, reset interval).
• Performance information (performing/delinquent, number and value of payments in arrears, arrangement, litigation or
bankruptcy in process, default or foreclosure, date of default,
sale price, profit/loss on sale, total recoveries).
• Credit bureau score information (bankruptcy or IVA flags,
bureau scores and dates, other relevant indicators (eg in respect of fraudulent activity)).

The Bank is also considering making it an eligibility requirement that each issuer provides a summary of the key features of the transaction structure in a standardised format.
This summary would include:
• Clear diagrams of the deal structure.
Description of which classes of notes hold the voting rights and what proportion of noteholders are required to pass a resolution.
• Description of all the triggers in the transaction and the consequences of them being breached.
• What defines an event of default.
• Diagramatic cash-flow waterfalls, making clear the priority
of payments of principal and interest, including how these
can change in consequence to any trigger breaches.
52 The Bank is also considering making it an eligibility
requirement that cash-flow models be made available that
accurately reflect the legal structure of an asset-backed security.
The Bank believes that for each transaction a cash-flow model
verified by the issuer/arranger should be available publicly.
Currently, it can be unclear as to how a transaction would
behave in different scenarios, including events of default or
other trigger events. The availability of cash-flow models, that
accurately reflect the underlying legal structure of the
transaction, would enable accurate modelling and stress
testing of securities under various assumptions.

March 19, 2010, NY Times

Pools That Need Some Sun

By GRETCHEN MORGENSON

LAST week, the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco sued a throng of Wall Street companies that sold the agency $5.4 billion in residential mortgage-backed securities during the height of the mortgage melee. The suit, filed March 15 in state court in California, seeks the return of the $5.4 billion as well as broader financial damages.

The case also provides interesting details on what the Federal Home Loan Bank said were misrepresentations made by those companies about the loans underlying the securities it bought.

It is not surprising, given the complexity of the instruments at the heart of this credit crisis, that it will require court battles for us to learn how so many of these loans could have gone so bad. The recent examiner’s report on the Lehman Brothers failure is a fine example of the in-depth investigation required to get to the bottom of this debacle.

The defendants in the Federal Home Loan Bank case were among the biggest sellers of mortgage-backed securities back in the day; among those named are Deutsche Bank; Bear Stearns; Countrywide Securities, a division of Countrywide Financial; Credit Suisse Securities; and Merrill Lynch. The securities at the heart of the lawsuit were sold from mid-2004 into 2008 — a period that certainly encompasses those giddy, anything-goes years in the home loan business.

None of the banks would comment on the litigation.

In the complaint, the Federal Home Loan Bank recites a list of what it calls untrue or misleading statements about the mortgages in 33 securitization trusts it bought. The alleged inaccuracies involve disclosures of the mortgages’ loan-to-value ratios (a measure of a loan’s size compared with the underlying property’s value), as well as the occupancy status of the properties securing the loans. Mortgages are considered less risky if they are written against primary residences; loans on second homes or investment properties are deemed to be more of a gamble.

Finally, the complaint said, the sellers of the securities made inaccurate claims about how closely the loan originators adhered to their underwriting guidelines. For example, the Federal Home Loan Bank asserts that the companies selling these securities failed to disclose that the originators made frequent exceptions to their own lending standards.

DAVID J. GRAIS, a partner at Grais & Ellsworth, represents the plaintiff. He said the Federal Home Loan Bank is not alleging that the firms intended to mislead investors. Rather, the case is trying to determine if the firms conformed to state laws requiring accurate disclosure to investors.

“Did they or did they not correspond with the real world at the time of the sale of these securities? That is the question,” Mr. Grais said.

Time will tell which side will prevail in this suit. But in the meantime, the accusations illustrate a significant unsolved problem with securitization: a lack of transparency regarding the loans that are bundled into mortgage securities. Until sunlight shines on these loan pools, the securitization market, a hugely important financing mechanism that augments bank lending, will remain frozen and unworkable.

It goes without saying that after swallowing billions in losses in such securities, investors no longer trust what sellers say is inside them. Investors need detailed information about these loans, and that data needs to be publicly available and updated regularly.

“The goose that lays the golden eggs for Wall Street is in the information gaps created by financial innovation,” said Richard Field, managing director at TYI, which develops transparency, trading and risk management information systems. “Naturally, Wall Street opposes closing these gaps.”

But the elimination of such information gaps is necessary, Mr. Field said, if investors are to return to the securitization market and if global regulators can be expected to prevent future crises.

While United States policy makers have done little to resolve this problem, the Bank of England, Britain’s central bank, is forging ahead on it. In a “consultative paper” this month, the central bank argued for significantly increased disclosure in asset-backed securities, including mortgage pools.

The central bank is interested in this debate because it accepts such securities in exchange for providing liquidity to the banking system.

“It is the bank’s view that more comprehensive and consistent information, in a format which is easier to use, is required to allow the effective risk management of securities,” the report stated. One recommendation is to include far more data than available now.

Among the data on its wish list: information on the remaining life, balance and prepayments on a loan; data on the current valuation and loan-to-value ratios on underlying property and collateral; and interest rate details, like the current rate and reset levels. In addition, the central bank said it wants to see loan performance information like the number and value of payments in arrears and details on bankruptcy, default or foreclosure actions.

The Bank of England recommended that investor reports be provided on “at least a monthly basis” and said it was considering making such reports an eligibility requirement for securities it accepts in its transactions.

The American Securitization Forum, the advocacy group for the securitization industry, has been working for two years on disclosure recommendations it sees as necessary to restart this market. But its ideas do not go as far as the Bank of England’s.

A group of United States mortgage investors is also agitating for increased disclosures. In a soon-to-be-published working paper, the Association of Mortgage Investors outlined ways to increase transparency in these instruments.

Among its suggestions: reduce the reliance on credit rating agencies by providing detailed data on loans well before a deal is brought to market, perhaps two weeks in advance. That would allow investors to analyze the loans thoroughly, then decide whether they want to buy in.

THE investors are also urging that loan-level data offered by issuers, underwriters or loan servicers be “accompanied by an auditor attestation” verifying it has been properly aggregated and calculated. In other words, trust but verify.

Confidence in the securitization market has been crushed by the credit mess. Only greater transparency will lure investors back into these securities pools. The sooner that happens, the better.

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