A Replay of 2008 in the Works

Amongst the constant placement of article promoted and paid for by the banks that celebrate our supposed recovery from the mortgage meltdown is a new spate of articles that say otherwise. Rather than recovering we have merely papered over the problem allowing the banks to do it again. And worse, I would add, is the continuation of a general policy and perception that foreclosures are the way out of the mess created by the banks.


I know this stuff is dense and filled with financial concepts that can only be understood by those of us who have direct knowledge, experience, training and certification in securities and securitization of debt, but the lay articles at least give you a sense of what is truly happening. The above linked article by an investment banker, warning of the continuing moral and financial hazards, states it plainly.

A decade ago, the high-yield investment du jour pushed by Wall Street was mortgage-backed securities — home mortgages that had been packaged up and sold as “safe” investments all over the world. Nowadays bankers and traders are pushing another form of supposedly “safe” investment, the “collateralized loan obligation,” or C.L.O.

C.L.O.s are nothing more than a package of risky corporate loans made to companies with less than stellar credit. The big Wall Street banks make these loans to their corporate clients and then seek to move them off their balance sheets as quickly as possible, in the same way that a decade ago they packaged up and offloaded risky mortgage securities.

What is missing from all analyses of “repackaging” or “securitization” is that the failure of government to regulate this practice opens the door to extreme moral hazards enabling the banks to create financial weapons of mass destruction.

One backdoor risk is exacerbated by a tactic of some all-too-clever hedge fund managers. They buy a little of the debt of risky companies at a discount, and then buy a much larger amount of insurance on that debt — so-called “credit default swaps” — to theoretically hedge their risk. These wiseguys then do everything they can to force the company into a bankruptcy filing, which contractually triggers the insurance payoff on the debt. Since the insurance payment exceeds by far the overall cost of the discounted debt, the hedge fund profits handsomely.

The problem, of course, is that the bankruptcy filing can send the company and its creditors, including investors in C.L.O.s, into a downward spiral, hurting everyone but the architect of the scheme [e.s.]That’s what happened to Windstream, an Arkansas-based telecom company that was sent into bankruptcy protection in February. These “empty creditors,” as Henry Hu, a professor of law at the University of Texas has dubbed them, are rewarded for pushing companies into an otherwise unnecessary bankruptcy. That’s not the way the markets are supposed to work.

Sound familiar? It’s still happening with residential loans. The legal and policy question is whether it is good for the economy or good for society to have people profit off of a bad loan — especially when the the loan was intentionally made bad so it would fail? The architects of the scheme are the major investment banks. They never lose because they never actually take a risk. They know the loans will fail and manage to get investors to sell them credit default swaps and other disguised sale products so that the investors lose, but not the bank. Then the investors pass on the debt (risk of loss) to still more investors who are buying “minibonds” (coined by Lehman Brothers).

The end result is that the “borrower” is just a pawn. Instead of a traditional loan model, we have something far more sinister: the product sold by borrowers is their signature and from that signature the bank and hedge fund players make $10-$20 for each dollar that is described as a loan. The actual debt is disbursed to dozens if not hundreds of investors who have no direct right, title or interest to enforce the debt, note or mortgage.

And yet the debt, note and mortgage is allowed to be enforced by courts who don’t care about anything except that the loan once existed and even if it no longer exists the courts want to see it enforced.

Adding insult to injury, remote vehicles commissioned by the conduit players get still more “profit” by selling property that was foreclosed in the name of an entity that either doesn’t exist or has no interest in the debt, note  or mortgage and is so thinly capitalized that it cannot answer to even awards of costs and fees for unsuccessful attempts to enforce fabricated documents. The proceeds of sale go not to any named claimant but to a party claiming the proceeds as “recovery” of advances that were never funded by the “Master Servicer.”

This is insane. It has always been insane. I’m a capitalist, a former investment banker, commercial banker, and attorney who represented financial institutions. Generically speaking securitization is the bedrock of capitalism. But like a car driven into a crowd of people it can become a vehicle of terror.

As it is currently practiced, securitization of debt is constantly undermining our financial system and our society because it is not balanced by any assumption of risk.

The problem is laziness and billions of dollars in “donations” or “contributions” from the bank that enabled the banks to thwart reasonable regulation of mortgage backed securities to make sure they are at least backed by mortgages in a meaningful way and to make sure they are regulated securities. As it stands, MBS are not backed by the assets referenced in the offering documents. That means they are not MBS. And that means the exemption for MBS contracts does not apply and they should be regulated as securities.

And one more thing. The banks are going to hate this. The issuance of notes and mortgages by homeowners or corporate borrowers is not a traditional loan contract. It is an essential part of a securitization scheme. Without it, the scheme can’t exist. So notes and mortgages should be treated as securities. The definition of a security requires this categorization. The purchase of the debt, note or mortgage is no longer a purchase of a loan receivable. It is a passive vehicle for passive income generated by trading.


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