February 5, 2015

Mortgage Shopping

By David Reiss

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued a report on Consumers’ Mortgage Shopping Experience:  A First Look at Results from the National Survey of Mortgage Borrowers. The CFPB’s key findings include

a. Almost half of consumers who take out a mortgage for home purchase fail to shop prior to application; that is, they seriously consider only a single lender or mortgage broker before choosing where to apply. The tendency to shop is somewhat higher among first-time homebuyers.

b. The primary source of information relied on by mortgage borrowers is their lender or broker, followed by a real estate agent. Fewer consumers obtain information from outside sources, such as websites, financial and housing counselors, or personal acquaintances (such as friends, relatives, or coworkers).

c. Most consumers report being “very familiar” with the types of mortgages, available interest rates, and the process of taking out a mortgage. Those who are unfamiliar with the mortgage process are less likely to shop and more likely to rely on real estate agents or personal acquaintances.

d. A sizeable share of borrowers report that factors not directly related to mortgage cost, including the lender or broker’s reputation and geographic proximity, are very important in their decision making. Borrowers who express such preferences are much less likely to shop. (10)

I had discussed the CFPB’s new mortgage shopping tool previously. It has been getting bad press from the lending industry which has been calling for its demise. Seems to me the industry is overreacting. Given the lack of comparison shopping that borrowers engage in, a tool that provides them with interest rate comparisons (even if it does not yet have an Annual Percentage Rate comparisons) seems to be a good thing. The tool is in beta, so it is likely to give more and more information over time. My bottom line:  more info is better than less.

February 5, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

February 4, 2015

The GSE Litigation Footnote Everyone Is Talking About

By David Reiss

Judge Pratt (S.D.Iowa) ruled against the plaintiffs in the GSE shareholderr litigation, Continental Western Insurance Company v. The FHFA et al. (4:14-cv-00042, Feb. 3, 2015). The Judge’s order is mostly an analysis of why this case should be dismissed because of the doctrine of issue preclusion, which bars “‘successive litigation of an issue of fact or law actually litigated and resolved in a valid court determination essential to the prior judgment . . .'” (6, quoting Supreme Court precedent). The relevant prior judgment was Judge Lamberth’s (D.D.C.) opinion in a similar case that was decided last October.

While Judge Pratt did not reach the merits because he dismissed the case, he stated in a footnote

The Court notes that even if it were to reach the merits of Continental Western’s claims, including the allegedly new claims, it would agree with the well-reasoned opinion of the very able Judge Lamberth in Perry Capital that the case must be dismissed. Specifically the Court agrees that: (1) FHFA and Treasury did not act outside the power granted to them by HERA (see Perry Capital, 2014 WL 4829559 at *8–12); (2) HERA bars Continental Western’s claims under the APA (see id. at *7); (3) Continental Western’s claims for monetary damages based on a breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against FHFA must be dismissed because they are not ripe and because Continental Western’s shares of the GSEs do not contractually guarantee them a right to dividends (see id. at *15–19); and (4) Continental Western’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty by FHFA is barred by HERA because it is a derivative claim and HERA grants all shareholder rights, including the right to bring a derivative suit, to FHFA (see id. at *13–15). The Court shares in Judge Lamberth’s observation that “[i]t is understandable for the Third Amendment, which sweeps nearly all GSE profits to Treasury, to raise eyebrows, or even engender a feeling of discomfort.” Perry Capital, 2014 WL 4829559 at *24. But it is not the role of this Court to wade into the merits or motives of FHFA and Treasury’s actions—rather the Court is limited to reviewing those actions on their face and determining if they were permissible under the authority granted by HERA. (19, n.6)

As I have noted before, this is not a surprising result. What remains surprising is how so many analysts refuse to see how these cases might be decided this way.

This is not to say that the plaintiffs’ cases are dead in the water. Appeals courts may reach a different result from those of the trial courts. But so many of those writing on this topic refuse to see any result other than a win for plaintiffs. Time for a reality check.

February 4, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

February 4, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

February 3, 2015

Reiss on Financial Crisis Litigation

By David Reiss

Law360 quoted me in Feds’ Moody’s Probe Marks Closing Of Financial Crisis Book (behind a paywall). It opens,

A reported investigation into Moody’s Investors Service’s ratings of residential mortgage-backed securities during the housing bubble era could be the beginning of the last chapter in the U.S. Department of Justice’s big financial crisis cases, attorneys say.

Federal prosecutors are reportedly making their way through the ratings agencies for their alleged wrongdoings prior to the financial crisis after wringing out more than $100 billion from banks and mortgage servicers for their roles in inflating the housing bubble. But the passage of time, the waning days of the Obama administration and the few remaining rich targets likely means that the financial industry and prosecutors will soon put financial crisis-era enforcement actions behind them, said Jim Keneally, a partner at Harris O’Brien St. Laurent & Chaudhry LLP.

“I do look at this as sort of the tail end of things,” he said.

With the ink not yet dry on a rumored $1.375 billion settlement between the Justice Department, state attorneys general and Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, prosecutors have already reportedly turned their attention to the ratings practices at S&P’s largest rival, Moody’s, in the period leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The federal government and attorneys general in 19 states and Washington, D.C., had launched several suits since the financial crisis accusing S&P of assigning overly rosy ratings to mortgage-backed securities and other bond deals that ended up imploding amid a wave of defaults, causing a cascade of investor losses that amounted to billions of dollars.

Although S&P originally elected to fight the government, it ultimately elected to settle. The coming $1.375 billion settlement arrives on top of an earlier $77 million settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts over similar claims.

Moody’s is reportedly next in line, with Justice Department investigators reportedly having had several meetings with officials from the ratings agency that looked into whether the Moody’s Corp. unit had softened its ratings of subprime RMBS in order to win business as the housing bubble inflated.

Both the Justice Department and Moody’s declined to comment for this story.

The pursuit of Moody’s as the S&P case wraps up follows a pattern that the Justice Department set with big bank settlements for the financial crisis.

“You would expect that they would sweep through, so to speak,” said Thomas O. Gorman, a partner with Dorsey & Whitney LLP.

After reaching a $13 billion deal with JPMorgan Chase & Co. in November 2014, the Justice Department quickly turned its attention to Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., which reached their own multibillion-dollar settlements last summer.

Now prosecutors are in talks with Morgan Stanley about another large settlement, according to multiple reports.

All of those deals follow the $25 billion national mortgage settlement from 2012 that targeted banks’ pre-crisis mortgage servicing practices.

Time may be catching up with the Justice Department more than six years following the height of the crisis, even after the Justice Department began employing novel uses of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act, a 1989 law passed following the savings and loan crisis, Keneally said.

Using FIRREA extended the statute of limitations on financial crisis-era cases, allowing for prosecutors to develop their cases and take a systematic approach. Even that statute may have run its course, as it pertains to the crisis.

“The passage of time is such that you have evidence that no longer exists,” Keneally said.

Politics may also play a role as the financial crisis recedes from memory and the next holder of the presidency potentially looks to move forward, he said.

“We’re getting to the end of the Obama administration,” Keneally said. “I think it’s going to be hard for any administration to ramp things up again.”

And that has some wondering whether the Obama administration and the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder followed the correct path.

“The Justice Department and the states’ attorneys general collected far more in their penalties and settlements than anyone could have imagined before the financial crisis,” said Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss.

Those large settlements may give investors and top management pause when it comes to questionable activity. However, because no traders or other top banking personnel went to prison, questions remain about what deterrent effect those settlements will have on individuals.

“Big institutions are now probably deterred from some of this behavior, but are individuals who work on these institutions deterred?” Reiss said.

February 3, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

February 2, 2015

The Secret to Financial Well-Being?

By David Reiss

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued a report, Financial Well-Being:  The Goal of Financial Education. I have been somewhat critical of the CFPB’s approach to financial literacy education, but I think that this report sets forth a pretty reasonable baseline for future research. It states,

A growing consensus is emerging that the ultimate measure of success for financial literacy efforts should be improvement in individual financial well-being. But financial well-being has never been explicitly defined, nor is there a standard way to measure it. Overall, the literature paints a picture of nuanced, complex interactions between financial knowledge, understanding, and actions taken. However, rigorously identified links between these factors and financial outcomes have yet to be established.

Our project provides a conceptual framework for defining and measuring success in financial education by delivering a proposed definition of financial well-being, and insight into the factors that contribute to it. This framework is grounded in the existing literature, expert opinion, and the experiences and voice of the consumer garnered through in-depth, one-on-one interviews with working-age and older consumers. (4-5)

The CFPB proposes a definition of financial well-being “as a state of being” where people

  • Have control over day-to-day, month-to-month finances;
  • Have the capacity to absorb a financial shock;
  • Are on track to meet your financial goals; and
  • Have the financial freedom to make the choices that allow you to enjoy life.

Because individuals value different things, traditional measures such as income or net worth, while important, do not necessarily or fully capture this last aspect of financial well-being. (5)

 This all seems reasonable to me in the abstract, although I am not sure how you would measure success across a large group of people given the very different ways that people would respond to the prongs of that definition. I would also note that events beyond the control of a financially literate person (illness, structural unemployment etc.) could devastate that person’s financial well-being, much as upright Job was devastated by the tests he had to endure.  Notwithstanding these concerns, I am looking forward to see how the CFPB uses its definition to develop its research agenda and to design its policies.

February 2, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments