Investors have been remarkably passive as banks and servicers have taken advantage of them. We’ve heard numerous reports of servicer fee abuses that amount to stealing from investors (remember, if you overcharge a stressed borrower and that borrower loses his home, the money in the end comes out of pension funds and 401 (k)s when the excessive fees are deducted from the proceeds of the sale of the home). Investors can even see suspicious patterns in investor reports. We’ve also pointed out that they are guaranteed even more pain, since $175 billion of losses that have already recorded on loans in MBS pools have not yet been allocated to the related bonds.
But the fees to manage bond funds are pretty thin, and fixed income investors are generally a risk averse lot, and are not well set up to litigate. But the biggest obstacle to them Doing Something is that they don’t want to rile the banks. They think they need them for information and transaction execution.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that investors have sat on the sidelines during the mortgage settlement and “fix the housing market” debates, even as becomes clearer and clearer that the solution envisaged is to take from investors to make the banks whole. Remember, the major banks have very large second lien portfolios that should be written down. The banks claim the second loans, almost entirely home equity lines of credit, are current, but that is often an accounting fiction. The banks are often engaging in negative amortization (as in taking any trivial amount and deeming it to be acceptable and adding any shortfall to what should be a proper minimum payment to principal) and allowing customers to borrow in order to make their payments. MBS investors have told me that realistic marks on Bank of America’s second lien portfolio would exceed the market value of its equity, and would also take a big cut out of the equity bases of Citi, JP Morgan, and Wells.
So the plan, which was messaged in an interview with William Dudley in the Financial Times in early January and is embodied in the mortgage settlement plan, is to write down first liens and leave seconds largely intact (there have been some indications that seconds might get a modest ding in the case of a principal mod on the first, but that is backwards. The second should be WIPED OUT before anything modification is made to the first mortgage). Any principal mods on the first lien that leaves the second in place amounts to a transfer from retirement plans to banks. Pensions are being raided to avoid exposing the insolvency of the big banks.
We are, rather late in the game, getting some plaintive bleats from investors as they are being led to slaughter. Reader Deontos sent us a statement from the Association of Mortgage Investors:
The state Attorneys General, federal agencies, and certain mortgage servicers have worked for approximately one year on developing a solution to address our national foreclosure crisis. The time now may be nearing for a settlement of claims of alleged wrongdoing by servicers. AMI and mortgage investors have neither been involved in the negotiations nor are aware of the ultimate settlement terms. In anticipation of a possible settlement, however, AMI cautions these negotiators not to rush into a settlement, but rather work to get a properly constructed settlement that helps distressed homeowners with the right solutions. “Investors in mortgage trusts, such as unions and pensions, do not service these loans and certainly did not create these woes for borrowers. The use of mortgage trust money (from pensions funds, unions and charities) to settle the investigation is tantamount to a bank bail-out. We expect that principal modifications of private mortgages made to satisfy any kind of settlement will involve only mortgages held by the settling parties and that the criteria for all additional principal modifications be firmly established,” explained Chris Katopis, AMI’s Executive Director.
AMI would only support such a resulting settlement, if any, if appropriately designed to address such alleged wrongdoing while not implicating innocent parties. AMI is on-record as supporting long-term, effective, sustainable solutions to the housing foreclosure crisis. It is generally supportive of a settlement if it ensures that responsible borrowers are treated fairly throughout the foreclosure process; while at the same time providing clarity as to investor rights and servicer responsibilities. The settlement should be designed in a way that ensures that investors, who were not involved in the alleged activities and, who likewise were not a participant in any negotiations, do not bear the cost of the settlement. Specifically, mortgage servicers should not receive credit for modifying mortgages held by third parties, which are often pension plans, 401K plans, endowments and “Main Street” mutual funds. To do otherwise, will damage the RMBS markets further and limit the ability of average Americans to obtain credit for homes for generations to come.
Erm, the fact that you weren’t given a seat at the table means the power that be thought you were dispensable.
More amusingly, a Bloomberg report reveals what most insiders know full well, that industry associations that supposedly represent the buy side and the sell side, like the American Securitization Forum and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, really take care only of the sell side, meaning Wall Street. SIFMA’s Asset Management Group, which represents investors, wanted to issue a statement objecting to the use of investor funds to settle bank misdeeds, but it was squelched by management:
Wall Street’s biggest lobbying group is split over a proposed settlement of state and federal foreclosure probes, after a committee of money managers signaled it opposes terms letting banks push some costs onto bondholders.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s Asset Management Group planned to release a statement last week urging government negotiators to protect innocent investors, amid reports that banks will get credit for lowering the balances of mortgages packaged into bonds, three people familiar with the matter said. Sifma’s leadership said no. The panel’s members oversee $20 trillion and include BlackRock (BLK) Inc. and Pacific Investment Management Co.
Sifma elected not to issue the statement “because the settlement surrounds potential legal issues involving the commercial interests of many of our members,” said Cheryl Crispen, a spokeswoman for the group in New York. “Sifma generally does not intervene in such matters and remains focused on matters of policy and advocacy.”
What bullshit. This is a “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” statement.
Needless to say, as the propagandizing gets louder, a few lonely voices are decrying the settlement. For instance, Daily Kos had a refreshing piece, “Stop the Delusional Celebration: Victims of Foreclosure Fraud Have Little to Celebrate.” Dave Dayen gets to an aspect of the settlement that I have not had time to cover, namely, that the enforcement is a joke. A story by Loren Berlin and D.M. Levine at Huffington Post remind us “Robo-Signing Settlement Might Not Provide Homeowners With Needed Help.” The short form of their story: the deal looks to be targeting mods to not that deeply underwater borrowers. Addressing a related Administration PR effort, Alan White at Credit Slips, in The Permanent Foreclosure Crisis and Obama’s Refinancing Obsession says, in no uncertain terms, that refis won’t solve the mortgage mess.
There is a possible saving grace here. I am told by a principal that if this settlement goes through, the odds are 100% that it will be challenged on Constitutional grounds, as a violation. Taking from the first lienholders to save the second lienholders to keep otherwise insolvent banks from going under amounts to a transfer from private parties to the government, as in it saves the FDIC from needing an emergency injection from Congress, as it did in the savings and loan crisis. So as much as I’d rather see this deal scuttled, it would terribly amusing to see Obama tidy’s efforts to generate pretend to help homeowners while really helping the banks sidetracked by litigation. The courts have stymied bank efforts to get away with their heist, and they may prove to be their bane yet again.