Category Archives: Real estate

Matt Stoller: Why Is Alan Greenspan’s Lawyer, Scott Alvarez, Still Controlling the Federal Reserve? (AIG Bailout Trial)

Yves here. This important post explains why Scott Alvarez, the general counsel of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, needs to be fired. His responses to the plaintiffs’ questions at the AIG bailout trial weren’t simply evasive; they reveal a deep, almost visceral, dedication to defending the very policies that nearly destroyed the world economy as well as a salvage operation that favored financial firms over the real economy. We have embedded the transcripts from the first three days of the AIG bailout trial, which cover Alvarez’s performance on the stand, at the end of this post.

Alvarez was brought to the Fed by Alan Greenspan. As a staff lawyer, he helped implement bank deregulation policies such as ending supervision of primary dealers in 1992, refusing to regulate derivatives in 1996 (I recall gasping out loud when I first read about the Fed’s hands off policy), and implementing the rules that shot holes through Glass Stegall before it was formally repealed in 1999. Among those measures was giving a commercial bank, Credit Suisse, waivers to take a 44% stake one of the biggest investment banks, First Boston, in 1988 and assume control in 1990.

Alvarez also has a poor record as far as representing broad public interest in his tenure as General Counsel, which started in 2004. The Fed did an even worse job than the bank-cronyistic Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in enforcing Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, a law that put restrictions on high-cost mortgage lenders. The Fed was also one of the two major moving forces behind the disastrous Independent Foreclosure Review, an exercise that promised borrowers who were foreclosed on in 2009 and 2010. The result instead was a fee orgy by the supposedly independent consultants, capricious and inadequate payments to former homeowners, and virtually no disclosure of what was unearthed during the reviews.

Yellen has said she wants to make financial stability as important a priority of the Fed as monetary policy. That means, among other things, being willing to regulate banks. Scott Alvarez is too deeply invested in an out-of-date world view to carry that vision forward. If Yellen intends to live up to her word, Alvarez has to go.

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How Oil and Gas Leases for Fracking Rip Off Homeowners

Yves here. This post by Steven Horn about that shows the typical terms of an oil and gas rights lease for American Energy Partners buries the lead, in that Steve needs to give the context of how the lease came to be public before he turns to explaining how the lease rips off the party who signs it. Among other things, it requires the homeowner to have any mortgage made subordinate to the royalty agreement, something no lender will agree to. If the homeowner can’t get the subordination (a given), no royalties will be paid! As you’ll see, there are other “heads I win, tails you lose” terms in these agreement.

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Invitation Homes Tenant Abuse Shows Incompetence as Well as Malfeasance

Readers may recall that we’ve been writing regularly about the single family home land grab by private equity firms. Blackstone has been far and away the biggest, though its Invitation Homes business. Readers and many institutional investors have been skeptical of PE landlords’ claims that they can manage single family homes cost effectively; it’s hard enough for mom and pop landlords, who often have some relevant maintenance skills, like plumbing or construction, to make a go of it.

But as reports come in from abused tenants, Blackstone looks not only venal in its efforts to shift costs on to tenants, but positively incompetent.

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Bill Black Discusses “Too Big to Jail” on Bill Moyers

Bill Black gives one of his best recaps ever of the “too big to jail” syndrome on Bill Moyers. For readers who missed the story, Black gave critical testimony in a Federal prosecution of small fry mortgage fraudsters. He helped persuaded the jury that in fact no fraud took place because the banks were willing to underwrite any predatory, poorly underwritten loan in the runup to the crisis. Black savages the posture of the Department of Justice in this case and in general.

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Wolf Richter: ‘Wealth Effect’ Kicks in – Luxury Homes Are Hot, Rest of Housing Market Gets Hosed

Home sales have been declining since last fall and in some cases steeply, with memories of bidding wars early last year triggering wistful sighs. The sales decline continued into the summer, and indications are that they’re dragging into September as well. But the median sale price continued to rise, if at a slower rate, and in many areas has moved out of reach for the median-income household.

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Bill Black: Time to End Ethnic Profiling in Prosecuting Mortgage Fraud

I am returning to my series of articles about the pathologies that have caused the Department of Justice (DOJ) to suffer a strategic failure in prosecuting the banksters that led the three fraud epidemics that caused the financial crisis and the Great Recession.  I have been inspired by Tom Frank’s column in Salon covering our successful defense of a mortgage fraud case in Sacramento.  This column addresses the single most offensive thing I learned in the course of that case.  Under U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner’s leadership the Eastern District of California has begun targeting immigrants of Russian descent for mortgage fraud prosecutions.

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Hidden Bomb in Single-Family Rental Securitizations: Trigger Risk

Yield-hungry investors have been snapping up single family rental securitizations, with recent deals heavily oversubscribed. Buyers have been comforted by raging agency reviews that give the top tranches AAA grades, based on loss cushions that these scorekeepers treat as generous (a dissenting view comes from Standard & Poors, which stated that the “operational infancy” of these rental securitizations made them ineligible for a triple A rating).

However, investors appear to be overlooking a risk component that can deliver large-scale losses. We’ll call it trigger risk.

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Pending Suit Against Countrywide’s Angelo Mozilo: Yet More Politically-Driven Selective Enforcement

Let’s be clear: we are fans of going after bank execs who bear significant responsibility for damage to borrowers and the economy, rather than just the footsoldiers. We also prefer criminal prosecutions. But in this era when the elites just don’t think of white collar crime as criminal, at least if performed by people who have big titles are large institutions, we have to highlight whatever progress we do see on the “get tough with the bad guys” front.

One deserving target is Angelo Mozilo, head of Countrywide, the biggest and most efficient subprime originator.

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Wolf Richter: Fannie Mae Sledgehammers Housing Forecasts

You’d think the housing market is in fine shape, based on the sizzling optimism of the National Association of Home Builders, which just released its Housing Market Index. It rose to 55 in August – above 50 means more builders view conditions as good than poor – the third month in a row of gains, and the highest level since January.

Think again.

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Elites Finally Starting to Get that Inequality is Messing Up Growth

Even though there has been a big uptick in news stories on rising economic inequality, and more chatter among economists about the idea that high levels of inequality are associated with lower growth, much of the messaging has come from the Democrats desperate to use the one dog whistle that might rally their badly abused base. Even though inequality has risen under Obama, thanks to policies that favored rescuing banks and enriching the medical-industrial complex over helping ordinary citizens, the Democrats are all too willing to rely on their perceived lesser-evilism relative to the Republicans. After all, it was only Romney’s billionaire warts that kept Obama from what would otherwise have been a well-deserved 2012 defeat.

But while the Administration has been pushing inequality as a useful campaign theme (the signal was inviting Thomas Piketty to meet with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew), in parallel, it also appears that some of the expressions of concern about inequality among the policy classes are genuine.

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Bill Black: AG Holder – “The U.S. Announces the Indictment of Citigroup’s Senior Officers for Fraud”

Yves here. I’m serving an extra heaping of contempt on the latest giveaway bank settlement, this one with Citigroup for a headline figure of $7 billion which is really $4.5 billion in cash and the rest in various chits. We’re turning the mike over to Bill Black, who excoriates Attorney General Eric Holder.

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