FHFA’s $500MM Win

Bloomberg quoted me in Nomura, RBS Defective-Bond Suit Loss Seen Spurring Deals. It reads, in part,

Nomura Holdings Inc. and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc may face $500 million in damages for what a judge called an “enormous” deception in the sale of defective mortgage-backed securities, a ruling that may spur other banks to settle similar claims tied to the 2008 financial crisis.

Nomura and RBS were excoriated in a 361-page opinion by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan, whose ruling followed the first trial of claims that banks sold flawed securities to government-owned mortgage companies. After a three-week trial, Cote said they misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and set a damages formula that may result in the government winning about half its original claim of $1 billion.

“The offering documents did not correctly describe the mortgage loans,” Cote, who heard the case without a jury, wrote Monday. “The magnitude of falsity, conservatively measured, is enormous.”

Before the trial, FHFA had reached $17.9 billion in settlements with other banks, including Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The ruling against Nomura and RBS may encourage other banks to settle mortgage-related suits brought by regulators and private investors rather than face the bad publicity and cost of an adverse judgment, said Robert C. Hockett, a professor at Cornell Law School.

“They look pretty bad,” Hockett said in an interview. “They look like the strategy has blown up in their faces.”

Cote ordered the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which filed the case, to propose how much the banks should pay as a result of her ruling.

*     *     *

Cote rejected the banks’ claim that the housing crash, and not defects in the loans, was responsible for the collapse of the mortgage-backed securities.

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, called Cote’s ruling “incredibly thorough.” The judge included detailed factual rulings that may make it difficult for Nomura and RBS to win on appeal, he said.

Housing Finance Reform at the AALS

The Financial Institutions and Consumer Financial Services Section and the Real Estate Transactions section of the American Association of Law Schools hosted a joint program at the AALS annual meeting on The Future of the Federal Housing Finance System. I moderated the session, along with Cornell’s Bob Hockett.
Former Representative Brad Miller (D-N.C.) keynoted.  Until recently he was a Senior Fellow, at the Center for American Progress and is now a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He was followed by four more great speakers:
The program overview was as follows:
The fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are subject to the vagaries of politics, regulation,public opinion, the economy, and not least of all the numerous cases that were filed in 2013 against various government entities arising from the placement of the two companies into conservatorship. All of these vagaries occur, moreover, against a backdrop of surprising public and political ignorance of the history and functions of the GSEs and their place in the broader American financial and housing economies. This panel will take the long view to identify how the American housing finance market should be structured, given all of these constraints. Invited speakers include academics, government officials and researchers affiliated to think tanks. They will discuss the various bills that have been proposed to reform that market including Corker-Warner and Johnson-Crapo. They will also address regulatory efforts by the Federal Housing Finance Agency to shape the federal housing finance system in the absence of Congressional reform.
During the presentations, I felt a bit of awe for the collective knowledge of the speakers.  The program also emphasized for me how much there always is to learn about a topic as complex as housing finance.
Laurie Goodman was kind enough to let me post her PowerPoint slides from the program. If you are looking for a good overview of the current state of housing finance reform, you will want to take a look at them.
I was a bit depressed by the slide titled, “Why GSE reform is unlikely before 2017:”
1. There is no sense of urgency: GSEs are profitable, current system is functioning.
2. Higher legislative priorities.
3. No easy answers as to what a new housing finance system should look like.
4. Bipartisan action requires compromise, and some believe they have more to lose than to gain by compromising in this arena.
While the slide depressed me, I think it offers a pretty realistic assessment of where we are. I hope Congress and the Obama Administration prove me wrong.

Post-Bubble Foreclosure-Prevention and -Mitigation Options in Your Town?

Bob Hockett has posted Post-Bubble Foreclosure-Prevention and -Mitigation Options in Seattle. I recommend it to those interested in issues beyond Seattle’s borders because it actually covers foreclosure-prevention and mitigation options across the country, although it looks at them with a Seattle focus.

He argues that

There is a potentially bewildering array of means available to at least some underwater homeowners, and these programs are also noteworthy for failing to solve the fundamental problems affecting these mortgages. There are three vitiating weakness share by nearly all of these means . . ..

The first weakness among currently available options is that they do not concentrate upon mortgage principal-reduction, meaning that they do nothing about the underwater status of underwater mortgage loans – which is the principal predictor of default and foreclosure – at all. Instead they rely upon temporary forbearance, term-extension, or interest rate reduction. . . .

The second weakness of the currently available options is that they are voluntary from the creditor’s point of view. That is problematic not because creditors lack in appreciation of their own enlightened self-interest or in desire to do the right thing, but because where there are structural or contractual barriers to principal reduction, as we shall see there are here in abundance, even creditor-benefiting such changes cannot occur on an adequate scale. Creditors are very often unable to do what benefits themselves and homeowners alike, meaning that voluntary programs can be useless.

Finally, the third weakness that the options discussed here suffer is that they do not extend to underwater PLS loans, which, as seen above, constitute the great bulk of troubled mortgage loans; they are in general available only to GSE and bank portfolio loans . . .. (11)

I found the review of “publicly encouraged debt relief” programs useful. (14) They include

  1. HAMP (the federal Home Affordable Modification Program)
  2. HARP (the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program)
  3. Miscellaneous Specialized HAMP Analogues
  4. FHA Short Refinance Program
  5. HAFA(federal Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative)
  6. “Hardest Hit” Fund & Program (Treasury)
  7. HOPE NOW Alliance
  8. The Attorney Generals’ Settlement

Hockett also proposes some innovative approaches that he suggests that Seattle should consider including the use of eminent domain as well as a land bank. Worth the read.