The biggest banks involved in mortgage fraud have agreed to a $26 billion settlement along with 49 states attorneys general. Oklahoma is the only hold out because the state’s Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, did not believe that the banks should face any penalty. The agreement will “help borrowers owing more than their houses are worth, with roughly one million expected to have their mortgage debt reduced by lenders or able to refinance their homes at lower rates. Another 750,000 people who lost their homes to foreclosure from September 2008 to the end of 2011 will receive checks for about $2,000. The aid is to be distributed over three years.”
Yves Smith at naked capitalism notes that while the final terms of the agreement have not been released but some of the details have been leaked:
1. The total for the top five servicers is now touted as $26 billion (annoyingly, the FT is calling it “nearly $40 billion”), but of that, roughly $17 billion is credits for principal modifications, which as we pointed out earlier, can and almost assuredly will come largely from mortgages owned by investors. $3 billion is for refis, and only $5 billion will be in the form of hard cash payments, including $1500 to $2000 per borrower foreclosed on between September 2008 and December 2011.
Banks will be required to modify second liens that sit behind firsts “at least” pari passu, which in practice will mean at most pari passu. So this guarantees banks will also focus on borrowers where they do not have second lien exposure, and this also makes the settlement less helpful to struggling homeowners, since borrowers with both second and first liens default at much higher rates than those without second mortgages. Per the Journal:
“It’s not new money. It’s all soft dollars to the banks,” said Paul Miller, a bank analyst at FBR Capital Markets.
The Times is also subdued:
Despite the billions earmarked in the accord, the aid will help a relatively small portion of the millions of borrowers who are delinquent and facing foreclosure. The success could depend in part on how effectively the program is carried out because earlier efforts by Washington aimed at troubled borrowers helped far fewer than had been expected.
2. Schneiderman’s MERS suit survives, and he can add more banks as defendants. It isn’t clear what became of the Biden and Coakley MERS suits, but Biden sounded pretty adamant in past media presentations on preserving that.
3. Nevada’s and Arizona’s suits against Countrywide for violating its past consent decree on mortgage servicing has, in a new Orwellianism, been “folded into” the settlement.
4. The five big players in the settlement have already set aside reserves sufficient for this deal.
Yves goes on to enumerate the top 12 reasons why this settlement really stinks. These are her top 5:
1. We’ve now set a price for forgeries and fabricating documents. It’s $2000 per loan. This is a rounding error compared to the chain of title problem these systematic practices were designed to circumvent. The cost is also trivial in comparison to the average loan, which is roughly $180k, so the settlement represents about 1% of loan balances. It is less than the price of the title insurance that banks failed to get when they transferred the loans to the trust. It is a fraction of the cost of the legal expenses when foreclosures are challenged. It’s a great deal for the banks because no one is at any of the servicers going to jail for forgery and the banks have set the upper bound of the cost of riding roughshod over 300 years of real estate law.
2. That $26 billion is actually $5 billion of bank money and the rest is your money. The mortgage principal writedowns are guaranteed to come almost entirely from securitized loans, which means from investors, which in turn means taxpayers via Fannie and Freddie, pension funds, insurers, and 401 (k)s. Refis of performing loans also reduce income to those very same investors.
3. That $5 billion divided among the big banks wouldn’t even represent a significant quarterly hit. Freddie and Fannie putbacks to the major banks have been running at that level each quarter.
4. That $20 billion actually makes bank second liens sounder, so this deal is a stealth bailout that strengthens bank balance sheets at the expense of the broader public.
5. The enforcement is a joke. The first layer of supervision is the banks reporting on themselves. The framework is similar to that of the OCC consent decrees implemented last year, which Adam Levitin and yours truly, among others, decried as regulatory theater.
She goes on to explain how there are no constraints on servicers cheating to reduce their losses and will face no consequences when caught as in the past. With the law suits against Countrywide somehow “folded into the deal”, Bank of America, who is by far the worst offender in the chain of title disaster, gets a “special gift”: “that failing to comply with a consent degree has no consequences but will merely be rolled into a new consent degree which will also fail to be enforced”. As David Dayen at FDL News Desk explains:
As far as the release goes, AG offices that signed onto the lawsuit claimed it was narrowly crafted to only affected foreclosure fraud, robo-signing and servicing (which I don’t feel is all that narrow, but I’m trying to just-the-facts this – ed). The lawsuit that New York AG Eric Schneiderman filed last Friday, suing MERS and three banks for their use of MERS, was preserved fully. There was a last-minute request by the banks to dissolve that lawsuit, but it was not successful. In addition, Schneiderman reserves the right to sue other servicers for their use of MERS along the same lines as the current lawsuit. [..]
Other lawsuits, like Delaware AG Beau Biden’s lawsuit against MERS, Missouri AG Chris Koster’s criminal indictments against DocX, and Nevada AG Catherine Cortez Masto’s suit against LPS and its employees would be able to go forward as well because the banks are not a party to them. However, it’s unclear whether any of those AGs will be able to work their way up the chain to indict bank officers for the same conduct; the likely answer, I assume, would be no. In California, Kamala Harris preserved the right for state officials and large pension funds to sue under the state’s False Claims Act over mortgage backed securities that later fell in value.
The status of Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley’s suit against five banks for foreclosure fraud is unknown. In all likelihood, the Nevada/Arizona suit against Bank of America for failing to follow their responsibilities in the Countrywide settlement will be folded into the deal.
In that settlement, BofA promised to deliver $8.5 billion in relief for Countrywide borrowers who fell victim to deceptive practices in the mortgage process. In reality, only $236 million was ever spent. Weak settlement terms allowed BofA to take credit merely for offering loan modifications to borrowers. And the Nevada suit alleged that BofA immediately started abusing borrowers who tried to get relief under the deal. But that suit is now gone.
As to the role of new Federal task force, if it were to be taken seriously this settlement should have not been completes until the task force’s investigation was finished. A good investigation takes charges that are easy to prove to help get the more evidence for the more difficult ones. By letting the banks walk. As Yves sees it, and she is correct, the investigations in Nevada and Missouri led to criminal charges and arrests that might have led to deals to catch the criminals “higher up the food chain.” There is plenty of evidence of bankruptcy-related filings, such as inflated and bogus fees, and even substantial, completely made up charges that has been ignored that could have led to a bigger settlement and prosecutions. By cutting a deal on robosigning the deeper chain of title problem has now been covered up making it even more difficult to address the on going fraud at high levels, the banks themselves.
So the bottom line is the banks have three years to hand out $5 billion in cash to about one million homeowners that will amount to about $2000 each for the loss of their homes through fraud. They will suffer no other consequences and there will be no further means to prosecute them, even if there is clear evidence of complicity in fraud related to robosigning. There is still the issue of 10 million underwater homeowners with $700 billion in negative equity that will continue to drag on the housing market and the economy for years to come. It would seem the Obama administration has once again screwed the vast majority of Americans to protect the Banks and Wall St. and his supporters are cheering this as another reason to reelect him. I see no reason for the Republicans to worry about another four years of Obama.
Up Date: If you’re one of the victims of the banking ghouls, you might not want to visit the new website for “The National Mortgage Settlement” The picture alone might make you want to do something you’d regret. The site details the agreement. David Dayen gives a brief synopsis of some of the gorier detail:
$750 million in a payment to the federal government;
$4.5 billion in direct payments to the states, of which $1.5 billion will go to those $2,000 checks to borrowers, and $2.75 billion to state foreclosure prevention services like legal aid, mandatory mediation and other programs. So the hard money comes to $5.25 billion.
$20 billion in “direct consumer relief”;
$3 billion to help current underwater borrowers refinance, and $17 billion in “credits” for principal reductions. HUD estimates that the dollar value of this will come to $32.3 billion in the end, as we’ve discussed. HUD Secretary Donovan has alternately said that a “substantial” amount of this money will come from MBS investor loans, and also that the large majority would come out of bank-owned loans. Also second liens have to be reduced along with firsts at least pari passu (on equal terms).
In addition, officials are touting the nationwide servicing standards that will be ushered in with this deal. Left out of this is the fact that the CFPB now has control over the servicing market, and can regulate national standards all by themselves.
The site mentions what the settlement doesn’t cover:
Release any criminal liability or grant any criminal immunity.
Release any private claims by individuals or any class action claims.
Release claims related to the securitization of mortgage backed securities that were at the heart of the financial crisis.
Release claims against Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems or MERSCORP.
Release any claims by a state that chooses not to sign the settlement.
End state attorneys general investigations of Wall Street related to financial fraud or the financial crisis.
We still don’t have any specific answers to the letter that Nevada AG Masto sent to the settlement negotiators. What Davyen finds really annoying is that the specific details haven’t been released to the public who really deserves to know how badly they are being screwed.
I may have a separate article later as more specifics trickle down