Tuesday, October 09, 2007

One For the Moral Hazard Brigade

by Tanta on 10/09/2007 01:45:00 PM

Here's a classic example of why some of us are simply beyond disgusted with the mortgage industry. It comes from an American Banker (not online) article on FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair's recent proposal to a mortgage banking conference that servicers use their ability to modify loans to "freeze" endangered subprime ARMs at the start rate.

The day before the interview, Ms. Bair had done some jawboning in a speech at a New York mortgage investor conference sponsored by Clayton Holdings Inc. Her proposal is "a clear, categorical move that can be applied on a wholesale basis by servicers," she told nearly 100 professionals at the conference. "I don't think servicers have the time or the resources to go through these case by case, renegotiate, [and] restructure every single one."

Moreover, "if the industry doesn't do it themselves, either Congress is going to do it for them, or a bankruptcy judge is going to do it for them," she said, a reference to legislative proposals to allow bankruptcy courts to modify mortgages. "I'm trying to make one suggestion at least for a certain category of loans where I perceive these to be more sympathetic borrowers, and show policy makers that the industry is working to find a solution."

But questions from the audience revealed a reluctance in some corners to cut subprime homeowners much slack.

"The behavior of a subprime borrower, the reason they became subprime, is because they get themselves into [a] credit issue," one audience member told Ms. Bair. "If you, in turn, fix a liability that they have, they will max out their credit card. There will be another event that they will put themselves in trouble, in default. You're just going to postpone" the inevitable and, "in a declining housing market, just make things worse."
See, this is how it all started:

Dude with "credit issues" wanders into a branch of Subprime R Us, wanting a loan to buy a house. Loan officer looks at the fact that Dude has a history of getting into credit messes, and says, "there will just be another event you will put you in default. By buying a house and adding to your living expenses, you are just going to end up inevitably in foreclosure. Loan application denied."

Oh, it didn't happen that way? OK, so Dude got the purchase money loan. Then the credit card bills started racking up, just like the loan officer didn't predict would happen.

Dude goes back to Subprime R Us, wanting a cash-out refi to consolidate debt. Loan officer looks at the fact that Dude has a history of getting into credit messes, and says, "there will just be another event you will put you in default. By fixing a liability that you have by giving you a cash-out, I would just allow you to max out your credit card again. It would just be postponing inevitable default. Loan application denied."

Oh, it didn't happen that way? OK, so Dude got the cash-out refi. Then the combination of the expensive mortgage and the credit card bills started racking up, just like the loan officer didn't predict would happen.

Dude calls up mortgage servicer, because Subprime R Us has apparently filed for bankruptcy and does not answer phone calls. Dude asks for a workout of loan terms. Servicer says . . . sorry. We only make loans to people we know will default when home prices are rising. Now that home prices are falling, the fact that we "know" that you will just max your credit cards out later is relevant. The fact that it used to be irrelevant is immaterial.

You listen to these people and you get the impression that subprime loans are kind of like the Messiah: an immaculate conception and a virgin birth. No lender was apparently involved the first time; the borrowers just made these loans to themselves. Now that reality has intervened to show how stupid some of these lending practices are, it's time to remember that we "know" what subprime borrowers will do if you lower their monthly payments.

Yeah, sure we "know" that. That's why you find so many mortgage servicers advocating outlawing subprime mortgage lending, on the grounds that they know it never works out.