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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Foreclosure-Gate: The Investigations and some comments on other issues

by Calculated Risk on 10/19/2010 08:42:00 PM

From Zachary Goldfarb at the WaPo: Task force probing whether banks broke federal laws during home seizures

Goldfarb writes that the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force is looking into whether the mortgage servicers misled federal housing agencies, and also "into whether the submission of flawed paperwork during the foreclosure process violated mail or wire fraud laws". There will be a meeting tomorrow (Wednesday), followed by a briefing by "HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and the task force executive director, Robb Adkins".

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs ... said the administration is strongly supporting a parallel probe by every state's attorney general. Foreclosure law is largely the domain of state courts.
And from David Streitfeld at the NY Times: States Continue Foreclosure Inquiries
“There has been an attempt by some of the major servicers to indicate there are no problems,” said Patrick Madigan, Iowa’s assistant attorney general. “We’re not at the end of this process. We’re at the beginning.”
My comment: I fully support these investigations, but I've downplayed "foreclosure-gate" because I thought the impact on housing and the economy would be minor - depending of course on the length of the foreclosure delays. Many other people disagree with my view - and please remember I'm not always right.

It is important to separate out two other issues. The first is MERS (the "Mortgage Electronic Registration System"). There are many interesting issues with MERS - and plenty of litigation - but my feeling is that the defects are curable, and these issues will have little impact on the economy. Since I think the impact will be minor, once again I've mostly been ignoring these issues.

The third issue is repurchase requests based on Reps and Warranties for mortgages. This is an important story for the banks. I've been mentioning the increasing push-backs from the GSEs (Fannie and Freddie). That isn't a new story. The important development today was that several major bond investors are pressuring BofA to repurchase defective mortgages. Although I've been following this story, I haven't mentioned it - and some people think I've been "behind the curve". Could be.

The key questions are how many loans will eventually be pushed-back and how long it will take. Usually this process takes a long time and involves analyzing numerous loan files for defects. And these weren't GSE loans for a reason - the loans had significant risk layering (stated income, option ARMs, high LTV, and high debt-to-income ratios etc.) and these risk factors were fully disclosed to the investors. I expect this to be a slow process and be a drag on bank earnings for some time, but not be another major event like the collapse of Lehman. Once again I think the impact on the economy will be minor (my focus is on housing and the economy).