Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mortgage Settlement and New Investigation

by Calculated Risk on 1/29/2012 11:15:00 AM

Last week President Obama announced a new task force to investigate abuses related to the origination and securitization of mortgages during the housing bubble: "I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis."

Some people have argued that his will derail the proposed mortgage settlement.

Even though Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general will be a co-chair, it sounds like this will be a federal investigation and will be focused on origination and securtization abuses.

Loren Berlin at the HuffPo noted:

Senior officials at the Department of Justice were quick to emphasize that the fate of the settlement talks is unrelated to the new unit. "We have certainly heard criticisms that the settlement would give immunity for all [the mortgage-related misconduct], but that's simply not true ...This [unit] is addressing a very different problem than the servicing settlement," said one official.
I've seen several commentaries that lump servicing and origination abuses together. Obviously the banks wanted broad immunity in any mortgage settlement, and the state attorneys general wanted narrower releases.

According to reports about the mortgage settlement, the banks would be released from claims brought by the states and the federal government for servicing and foreclosure abuses, but injured homeowners could still bring legal action.

And the states (but not the federal government) would release the banks from origination claims. Note: I could have the details wrong, but that is what has been reported.

Since the new task force is a federal investigation, my guess is this is intended to address complaints from some attorneys general about origination and securitization, since the states were being asked to release the banks on origination claims. So this new investigation doesn't sound like it will derail the mortgage servicer settlement - it might even lead to more states joining the settlement (although the banks may not like it).