Friday, August 31, 2012

Washington Policies Spawned the Toxic Mortgages and Assets That Brought Us the Financial Crisis


Lecture to Ethics Class
Carey School of Business, Johns Hopkins University
Legg-Mason Building, Baltimore East Harbor Campus
Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland


August 27, 2012


By Robert Stowe England


It’s nearly four years since the advent of financial crisis. Yet, for most Americans, a thick fog still shrouds its origins

Finding the answer to what went wrong is what compelled me to write Black Box Casino. In the end, it was a detective story where even a list of important actors could run into the hundreds.

At the center of origins of the crisis is a single industry – the mortgage industry.

As senior writer for Mortgage Banking magazine since 1988, I have reported on the vast changes sweeping through the industry for more than two decades.

The mortgage industry in 2008 was nothing like it was when I started covering it.

Twenty years ago the mortgage industry was disciplined by the free market. It was flexible and innovative. New loan products would appear and market players would experiment with flexible underwriting standards. Risky products were priced to cover expected losses. When players miscalculated, they were soon out of business.

Over time, however, the virtues of the mortgage market slowly failed and the market became an engine of toxic mortgages.

By the summer of 07 the entire private sector side of securitization had collapsed under the weight of bad mortgages. No investors would buy the securities that funded these mortgages, so no new lending could occur.

One year later in September 08 the government-sponsored enterprise or GSE side of the market – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – failed and had to be nationalized. So far, their failure has caused the taxpayers $187 billion.

Fannie and Freddie, once the benchmarks for prime credit, had become tarnished brands.

The decline in reputation was so severe, an executive from Freddie Mac confided to me a few years ago, “Our reputation ranks somewhere just above or just below the Ebola virus.”
Never has a market so large – at $11 trillion in ’08 one of the largest securities market in the world at the time – failed so thoroughly and spectacularly.

The failure of the mortgage industry is the underlying event that created trillions in toxic assets spread around the globe that set the stage for the financial crisis.

The extent of risky lending and shady accounting practices were hidden because so much activity had moved into black boxes – which are financial institutions or instruments that lack transparency.

Watching the once virtuous mortgage market collapse was a shock. It was also alarming to see the mortgage market crash mushroom into the financial crisis.

In the debate over who and what caused the crisis, it is important to understand the difference between fundamental causes that created the conditions for the crisis and the proximate causes that lit the match to the gunpowder that blew up of the financial system.

I think there is fairly widespread agreement that the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy is the explosion that brought us the crisis.

Using war military history a metaphor, Lehman’s failure’s role in the financial crisis is equivalent to the role of the 1914 assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo to World War I.

Root causes

We need to go back to root causes to understand why the mortgage market failed. When we do that, we find that Fannie and Freddie were the key contributors to the fundamental transformation of the mortgage market from a sound one to an unsound one.

They were the central players in a large infrastructure of housing policies put together in Washington in the mid-1990s that set the mortgage market on the road to ruin.

Congress is the ultimate responsible party for the failure of Fannie and Freddie because Congress enacted a misguided law in 1992 to set up the rules and regulations that would govern the two GSEs. That law is called the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act. It is often shortened to the GSE Act.

Despite its name, the law’s provisions did not assure safety and soundness – indeed, they paradoxically worked to guarantee the institutions would fail in time.

The chief Congressional author of the plan was House Banking Committee Chairman Henry Gonzalez. This maverick Texan, who liked to boast he was one of the few in Congress who refused campaign contributions from PACs, secretly handed over the writing of the law to an informal alliance of housing activists, such as ACORN, and Jim Johnson, chairman of Fannie Mae. The agreements hammered out between the activists and Johnson – craftes to serve their own self-interests and not the public interest – were introduced as Gonzalez’s own bill and became law.

Virtually every provision in the GSE Act created moral hazard. In retrospect, the law seemed to have been set up to benefit politicians and reward executives at Fannie and Freddie first and foremost, and generate funds for community and housing advocates secondarily.

Safety and soundness provisions were weak. For example, capital standards were extremely low. Fannie and Freddie only had to hold less than half a percent capital (0.45) to back up the guarantees to pay principal and interest on their securities should any of them fail. That’s a staggering 200 to 1 leverage. As billions in loans have failed, it is the taxpayer that pays the investors in those securities.

The GSE Act gave a green light to Fannie and Freddie to build up portfolios that served no useful public purpose but which enriched shareholders and executives at the two companies. Again, capital standards at 2.5 percent were weak for these securities and loans.

The GSE Act established a regulatory agency to oversee Fannie and Freddie – the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight or OFHEO. Unlike other banking regulators, OFHEO was not an independent agency, but housed within the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs or HUD. You can blame the first Bush Administration’s Treasury Secretary Jim Brady. His Treasury Department had called for legislation to better regulate the GSEs but implausibly proposed a safety and soundness regulator captive to HUD.

Under the GSE Act, Fannie and Freddie did not have to audit their financial statements or make periodic public disclosures in filings with the SEC – assuring they would be black boxes where hidden risks could accumulate.

This lack of transparency allowed top executives to manipulate earnings to increase their compensation. Franklin Raines and Fannie, Leland Brendsel at Freddie did so with gusto, creating huge scandals at both companies. And, yet, they paid no penalty for their accounting control fraud.

The law also gave HUD the authority to set affordable housing goals that were really closer to mandates for Fannie and Freddie. The goals could be raised without regard for safety and soundness. OFHEO also had very limited authority to require Fannie and Freddie to raise their capital standards or reduce their assets to improve their safety and soundness if they took on too much risk.

Affordable housing goals were a political bonanza for members of Congress. Year after year, they could call for them to be raised higher and higher and were rewarded with lavish praise in the media. With no regulator to put on the brakes, the goals were raised higher and higher and the two companies adopted underwriting standards that went lower and lower. This process was so impossible to stop politically that it continued until Fannie and Freddie failed.

The affordable housing goal for low and moderate-income households, which was 30 percent in 1992, rose to 57 percent in 2008. A separate goal for low income only was raised from 11 percent to 27 percent over the same period.

The quest to achieve these goals – and in the process to further enrich its senior managers – led Fannie and Freddie to offer subprime and other highly risky loans such as interest only and loans that could be made without relying on the borrowers income or assets – in short, the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. Rather than publicly reveal this risky activity, however, the two companies concealed it, lying to public and to investors.

The risk appetite of Fannie and Freddie also boosted the market for riskier private label mortgage-backed securities. Their former regulator, Jim Lockhart, has said that Fannie and Freddie could not have met their affordable housing goals without buying the private label securities they loaded onto their balance sheet. In 2004, for example, the GSEs bought 45 percent of all subprime private label securities issued.

By mid-08, Fannie and Freddie held $2 trillion of $4.8 trillion in risky mortgages outstanding in the market. Most observers in the market, however, still believe their loans were prime. Another $900 billion from FHA, VA and other programs brought the government-related total for risky loans then outstanding to $2.9 trillion – greater than the $1.9 trillion represented by the even riskier private label mortgage-backed securities market.

Thus, the government share of risky mortgages was 60 percent versus 40 percent for those backed by private sector guarantees.

It’s no surprise then that the largest toll to taxpayers so far is to cover losses at Fannie and Freddie – far, far more than losses incurred in any of the other bailouts.

Private Sector

While Fannie and Freddie drove the trend to riskier and riskier mortgages in the 1990s and early 2000s, beginning around 03 and 04, the private sector took the lead.

Private label had gained a dominant share of mortgage securitization by 05 – not by doing more jumbo prime lending but by greatly expanding subprime and greatly weakening lending standards in the Alternative A or low documentation business.

Indeed the $1.8 trillion in risky mortgages in the private label side were of poorer credit quality than many, if not most of the risky loans in the government sector.

What went wrong?

Part of this derives from a decision by key players to go for market share at exactly the wrong time. The leader of the pack was Angelo Mozilo, chairman and co-founder of Countrywide, who set out to dramatically increase market share in 2003. At the time, the mortgage company’s share was 11 percent. Mozilo wanted to raise it to what anyone would deem to be an impossible dream – 30 percent by 2010.

Countrywide was able to reach a nearly 17 percent share of originations by 07 but at a great cost. The company was on the verge of failing. It was first rescued from collapse in August 07 and then acquired by Bank of America at the height of the crisis.

Mozilo and many other mortgage bankers, surprised perhaps at the degree to which investors were willing to fund subprime and Alt-A mortgages in the midst of the growing housing bubble, were able to pursue market share schemes and competitive strategies that would embarrass a novice riverboat gambler.

Fannie and Freddie responded to private label’s growing market share by jumping deeply into the adjustable rate mortgage or ARM market in 2004, becoming one of the nation’s biggest predatory lenders with atrocious products such as 2/28 ARMs for wage earners with both low FICOs and stated or no incomes.

The private sector, nor surprisingly got the short end of the stick when Fannie and Freddie decided to move lower into subprime credit scores to take market share. That’s because having an implicit government guarantee gave them a pricing advantage and they could undercut the private sector in whatever market they chose to enter.

Why didn’t the private market correct? Why didn’t investors in private label pull back?

The answer is that Wall Street found a way to short-circuit a market correction and keep the securitization party going by rolling unwanted BBB tranches of subprime securities into AAA subprime collateralized debt obligations or CDOs.

In my book I recount how Kyle Bass, a hedge fund manager from Texas who invested in subprime, inadvertently learned about Wall Street’s role when he attended a friend’s wedding in a small Mediterranean resort town in Spain. There he was introduced to someone from a major investment bank who clued him in on what Bass later called “the greatest bait and switch of all time.”

The investment banker told Bass that American institutional investors had stopped buying the BBB or non-investment grade tranches of private label subprime mortgage securities beginning in ’03 and the people who put these deals together were looking for a way to keep the party going.

The solution: Wall Street firms, such as Credit Suisse, began to create CDOs to acquire the unwanted BBB tranches and thereby turn 91 percent of them into AAA-rated CDOs. This was justified as sound financial engineering under the idea that geographic diversification of the loans would prevent sufficient losses to hit cash flow to the AAAs. The deals were structured to withstand high levels of defaults, up to 20 percent or more in regional markets, before losses would hit AAA tranches.

American investors were not particularly attracted to the CDO AAA’s, knowing full well they were BBB subprime securities disguised as AAAs.

The guy from the big investment bank at the wedding in Spain told Kyle Bass that it was foreign investors with dollar surpluses who needed dollar-denominated investments that were easy marks for selling the AAA subprime CDOs, including banks and investors in Asia and Europe. For these investors, the higher coupon on these triple A’s seemed irresistible and they snapped them up.

Wall Street would never have been able to engage in this financial alchemy without a key decision made by Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, representing the major central banks of the world.

Thanks to agreement among central bankers in Basel, Switzerland, it was recommended that private label mortgage securities be given the same low 1.6 percent capital requirement as Fannie and Freddie securities. That idea emerged in a Basel white paper in 1999, and was adopted by U.S. banking regulators and went into effect in ’02. Moody’s Investor’s Service strenuously objected to the idea in a letter to the Basel Committee in 2000, warning if it were adopted, it would create moral hazard.

What Moody’s realized then was that the new capital rules meant credit rating agencies would determine bank capital requirements as they handed out their credit ratings. Since the agencies had to rate each and every deal and not a broad class of investments, they would face intense pressure to give AAA ratings from the securities issuers who were paying to rate the deal, Moody’s warned.

We all now know Moody’s was right and the Basel Committee made an epic fail decision when it ignored Moody’s advice.

As the subprime CDO market took off in 05, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup expanded their business at the worst time and ended up holding more toxic CDO assets than any of the others by 07.  All the other major Wall Street firms, however, were also holding significant amounts toxic assets: Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Lehman and Bear Stearns.

Shadow Banking

Meanwhile another great secular trend – shadow banking – made the global markets more vulnerable to panics from the sudden disclosure of large hidden accumulations of toxic assets. Shadow banking is the part of the economy where securitization replaces lending and overnight lending replaces deposits – all in a bid to escape the prudential regulation of banks.

Indeed the growth of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac greatly expanded shadow banking and they were the largest institutions in this segment.

A vast increase in overnight or repo lending at very low interest rates, used to acquire high-yielding assets, like subprime mortgages and CDOs, put the global financial system at risk. Trillions of dollars turned over every night.

Two hedge funds at Bear Stearns, relying heavily on overnight funding, used those funds to invest heavily in subprime mortgage securities and CDOs to maximize returns for investors. The collapse of the two funds in June 07 dramatically exposed the vulnerabilities of the shadow banking system.

Yet, the regulators failed to grasp the significance of what the failure of the Bear Sterns funds revealed about the broader financial system.

Less than two months later, in August ’07, the entire world of private label mortgage securities collapsed – and with it the entire market for all asset-backed securities and all asset-backed CDOs.

Synthetic CDOs magnified the extent of the impact of the crash of CDOs by greatly increasing the size of bets made on subprime mortgage securities.

Synthetic CDOs were made possible by creating a super senior tranche made up entirely of credit default swap contracts. Credit default swaps are private insurance contracts and unregulated. The Wall Street firms that arranged the CDOs guaranteed the timely payment of principal and interest on one side of the credit default swap contracts, with savvy hedge fund investors snapping up the other side of the contract, standing to benefit when subprime mortgage securities cratered.

Wall Street firms were able to put together synthetic CDOs because they could buy insurance protection via credit default swaps from AIG and others to cover their guarantees. The synthetic CDO was even more perverse than the cash CDO because it creating opposing interests betting for and against the deal.

Some investors did not understand the idea of opposing interests and assumed deals were put together to be good investments. Even at AIG, sophisticated financial market participants were slow to begin to ask whether or not their insurance against subprime loans might encourage CDO managers to deliberately create a pool of bad assets that would fail.

Some underwriters for these deals worked with the parties betting against them to identify what assets should go into the deal. This is how Goldman Sachs got into trouble in the Abacus deal that became the focus of a day-long hearing. Hedge fund manager John Paulson made $15 billion in 07 betting against subprime securities. These were zero-sum bets where other parties had to lose $15 billion.

It was really hedge funds, not Wall Street firms, that drove the process of adverse selection. Many of the funds sponsored CDOs so they could bet against subprime MBS referenced in the credit default swaps in the deal. As doubts rose about the CDOs and investors refused to buy the BBB tranches, Wall Street firms reached a gentleman’s agreement to buy one another’s BBB tranches to keep the CDO mania going. That was revealed in the final report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

To make matters worse, Wall Street banks also held on to the super senior tranches when they could no longer obtain back-up insurance because they were deemed to be super safe.

A single Chicago hedge fund, Magnetar, sponsored $50 billion in CDOs that failed spectacularly. They made big gains betting against the deals they sponsored while publicly claiming to be neutral on the housing market.

The demand for weaker subprime credits had a perverse effect. To generate the BBB-rate subprime mortgage securities that went into the CDO, about ten times as many AAA and AA subprime securities had to be created. This was not too difficult, as Fannie and Freddie continued to be the biggest buyers of AAAs.

To meet the overall demand by CDOs for subprime private MBS, mortgage lenders began to expand and search out high volumes of subprime and risky mortgages – many of them to borrowers with dreadful credit ratings and little or no income.

In an outcome a James Bond villain would love, hedge funds and Wall Street were facilitating a flow of funds into the mortgage industry in search of bad credits.

While securitization was supposed to distribute risk widely and thus improve the safety and soundness of the global financial system, it instead did the opposite. It dramatically weakened the financial system.

Wall Street firms and some major banks ended up holding concentrations of toxic assets – something they typically avoided in the past.

While losses were spread across the globe, the losses were greatly magnified through the use of credit default swaps.

The overall level of bets in the credit default system hit $45 trillion in 2008 against actual underlying debt assets of $25 trillion, meaning that there were $20 trillion in naked credit default swaps made by people who held no interest in the underlying asset. These were pure casino bets. We don’t really know how much of that $20 trillion was bet on subprime – since the banking regulators did not track these assets for non-depository institutions, including most of the big Wall Street firms.

What if the subprime CDO market had never existed – would it have prevented the financial crisis of 2008?

If Wall Street had not developed the subprime CDO and the subprime originations had remained at the ’02 level, there would have been $1.12 trillion less in private label mortgage backed securities and, of course, none of the $700 billion in subprime CDOs. Without synthetic CDOs, the huge credit default swap casino bets would not have been made. At minimum, the crisis would have been greatly contained.

The hand of Fannie and Freddie should also be recognized in the CDO market. As the largest buyers of subprime MBS, they helped generate the raw material for the CDOs. Without them, the CDO market would have been smaller.

If Fannie and Freddie had limited themselves to buying sound prime loans and securities, there bubble would have burst sooner. And, after the bubble burst, housing prices would likely have seen lower price declines that the 30 plus percent level we have seen, which topped the declines in the Great Depression.

That would be the case because there would have been fewer bad mortgages likely to fail and, thus, less houses would have come on the market. With less supply of foreclosed homes, the hit to private label MBS would have been less pronounced. Ditto to the hit to the financial system and the economy.

Thus, there are two key fundamental factors in the mortgage market that fueled the housing bubble and set the stage for the crisis: Fannie and Freddie’s lending spree driven by lowering underwriting standards, combined with the creation and frenzied growth of toxic subprime CDO market. These excesses created so many bad loans that when the bubble burst, the subsequent hard landing was far worse than it would have been if the bubble had been fueled only by low interest rates, as it was in other countries.

Bear Stearns

As 2008 began, news of rising delinquencies and defaults rocked the financial world. Bear Stearns became the first major victim of the fears about the level of toxic assets on balance sheets. Alan Schwartz, former Bear Stearns CEO, has acknowledged this point as a cause in their demise.

The panic that was building around fears about toxic assets hidden on Bear Stearns balance sheet was aggravated by a regulatory change that had left markets more vulnerable to panics. In 07 the Securities and Exchange Commission did away with the uptick rule, which had been in place since 1938. This rule disallowed short selling of securities except on an uptick or small increase in the price of a security.

In particular, the end of the uptick rule made it easier for market manipulators to engage in naked short selling on a vast scale and conduct bear raids that could crash their target completely over a short period of time. A naked short sale is when some sells a security they do not own or have not borrowed – it is illegal.

Like a cloud of locusts over a cash crop ready for harvest, naked short sellers struck Bear Stearns with a swift devastating strike. It all began on March 11, 08, when an unidentified parties made a combined $1.7 million bet through put options that Bear Stearns would collapse within 10 days. It was a stunning bet that no one would make without “knowing something” the rest of us did not know.

Immediately false rumors were widely circulated on Wall Street that Bear Stearns was out of cash even though they had $18 billion on hand. Panicky investment funds began to pull out their brokerage accounts from Bear and overnight lenders refused to roll over cash from repos. In only few short days, Bear Stearns was down to $2 billion in cash and on the verge of collapse.

During the same period, unknown parties placed sell orders for more than millions of shares of Bear Stearns they did not own or borrow and failed to deliver when the settlement date arrived. This activity is consider fraud and is illegal.

Bear Stearns had a share price of $62 before the bear run. But in a matter of days, out of options, the company agreed to be sold to JPMorgan Chase for $2 a share or $236 million, less than the value of its corporate headquarters. Meanwhile, the parties who had placed the $1.7 million bet pocketed $271 million – more than the initial sale price of Bears Stearns to JPMorgan Chase.

While the collapse of Bears Stearns should have been a wake-up call to Chris Cox at the SEC and Hank Paulson at Treasury, no one took steps to prevent naked short selling from bringing down other investment banks – as many in the market now expected. The feds, as Paulson recounts in his book On The Brink, began to prepare for a potential rescue of Lehman or, failing that, a plan to limit the damage.

Only six months later in September 2008, naked short sellers struck again. They sold tens of millions of shares of Lehman Brothers they did not own or borrow. In a matter of days they forced the company into bankruptcy, precipitating the financial crisis of 2008.

The regulators could have forestalled Lehman by earlier temporarily banning short sales on key financial firms – something they did after Lehman to stop a run on Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs – or reinstating the uptick rule on an emergency basis.

Having failed, thus, to take the steps that could have prevented the crisis, could they have still forestalled Lehman’s bankruptcy at the 11th hour?

That is often viewed as the most important question surrounding the crisis.

First, let me briefly explain what authorities were trying to do before the collapse. Under Treasury’s lead, federal officials were working over the summer to break Lehman into a good bank and bad bank. The good bank would be sold to a willing buyer looking to pick up Lehman’s best assets for a deep discount. While Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book Too Big To Fail she some light on this, and Paulson’s book shed more light, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s final report filled in a lot of still missing pieces.

Paulson wanted a consortium of big banks to buy Lehman’s bad assets and place them into a special purpose vehicle like the Maiden Lane entity set up for Bear Stearns’s bad assets in March.

Indeed, Paulson called together the heads of the major banks at the New York Fed in September – that scene was recreated in the HBO special Too Big To Fail. People like Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and John Mack engaged in marathon round-the-clock negotiations. They reached agreement to fund the purchase of the bad assets and place them in a new Maiden Lane vehicle. In principle, after much bickering, they agreed to share amongst them an estimated $10 billion in losses to remove the bad assets from Lehman’s books.

A private sector solution without a government bailout was about to be consummated. The only thing unsettled at this point was whether or not there was a buyer for the good assets.

After Bank of America backed out at the last minute, Barclays Bank, headquartered in the United Kingdom, agreed to buy the good assets at Lehman.

There was one hitch from Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. He said that Barclays could not guarantee Lehman’s assets from the time the deal was struck until the time Barclays board could meet and agree on the deal, which could be 30 to 60 days. Another entity would have to take on that exposure.

The most likely candidate to take on the temporary risk was the Federal Reserve. Bernanke, in testimony, claimed the Fed could not engage in loans or guarantees at Lehman because the value of the assets at Lehman were insufficient to cover the Fed’s exposure.

Neither Bernanke nor Paulson have ever revealed what options they were considering when they let Lehman go bankrupt – nor have any of the books or films made on the subject. They did not say if they considered the option of having the Fed guarantee the trades. It was seem only natural that they did consider a Fed guarantee and possibly other options, such as a Treasury intervention to guarantee the trades.

Fed historian Allan Meltzer claimed the Fed had the authority to guarantee the trades and its failure to do so constitutes the biggest mistake the Fed has made in its entire history. In think future historians are likely to come to this same conclusion.

One should also lay more blame at the feet of Lehman’s chairman Dick Fuld, for failing to move in a timely manner to find a company to buy Lehman when it was still possible in the spring or early summer of 08.

As one observer put it, “They kept sending an ambulance and Dick Fuld refused to get in it.”

So what is the bottom line here? No major actor in the crisis who broke the law or engaged in reckless market manipulation and made fortunes in the process has been brought to justice. Recently a number of investigations by SEC and the Department of Justice have ended without any charges or even a settlement.

Further, those who made colossal policy blunders in Washington or foolish business decisions on Wall Street have issued no mea culpas and have shown no contrition.

The only enforcement bright spot is that the SEC is proceeding with its investigation of fraud by the top executives at Fannie (Daniel Mudd) and Freddie (Richard Syron). Their cause has been immeasurably strengthened because acting director Ed DeMarco at the Federal Housing Finance Agency ordered Fannie and Freddie to cooperate fully with the investigation. It’s not inconceivable that upcoming trials in these causes could lead to some actual convictions.

The nation faces the difficult task of reviving the mortgage market – that is the most important thing that needs to be addressed right now. On that front, surprisingly, there are some noteworthy developments, albeit tentative ones.

Timothy Geithner’s Treasury Department has demonstrated a good understanding of how housing, mortgage and financial markets work. Their white paper in early 2011 declared that a future vibrant mortgage and housing market should rely primarily on the private sector. They’ve recently moved to limit the potential for Fannie and Freddie by seizing all their profits going forward and forcing them to reduce their portfolios down to $250 billion each, a ¾ reduction from their peak levels.

Yet, thanks to Dodd-Frank, bank regulators are in the process of imposing severe restrictions that will significantly limit the availability of mortgage finance and further delay a full housing recovery. This moves increase, not decrease the need for Fannie, Freddie and the FHA.

In Congress, important work has been done under the guidance of Representative Scott Garrett, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises. Legislation has come out of that committee that gives the Federal Housing Finance Agency the power to set underwriting and securitization standards that could help spark a revival of private label securitization.

Ed DeMarco has also steadfastly refused to allow principal reductions for Fannie and Freddie, a move that would have increased taxpayer losses and reduced investor appetite for a revived mortgage securities market.

The recent federal and state attorneys national mortgage settlement, however, is seen by mortgage investors as a setback to their property rights and might both reduce the available of mortgage funding and the cost of that funding in the future.

Finally, rules affecting mortgage brokers has limited the revival in this part of the market that will be needed to expand the mortgage origination capacity of the industry and to make it competitive again.

Thus, we’re still a long way from a revival in the mortgage market. That, in turn, will inhibit the pace of the ongoing recovery in the housing market.


END

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wilbur Ross on European Opportunities



Wilbur Ross is interviewed on CNBC's Squawk Box August 14, 2012

Rough transcript of interview:

Joe Kernen: Restructuring legend Wilbur Ross is here and goes all over the place in search of opportunity, back from a fresh trip to Greece, joins us for the next two hours. Wilbur, it's been probably, has it been six months since I've seen you?

Wilbur Ross: A few months, maybe three or four.

Joe Kernen: Three or four months, and it's great at this point in time just to hear where you are on things like housing and europe and everything else. In looking at some of the things you said in the preinterview, we were hoping maybe the continent was improving a little. In your view as far as Greece goes we don't know how bad it actually is?

Wilbur Ross: I think the continent in general is improving quite a bit. the french gdp figures that were just released for the second quarter were not bad at all. germany was a little bit better than expected, and those are two very big engines. greece is obviously very small, less than 2% of europe, but my take of it, from a trip there, it's really worse than i had felt that it was. greece? greece. what'd you see? makeshift mosques being put up in the streets in athens by some of these illegal immigrants. there are apparently half a million albanian muslims who are illegal immigrants there, and they naturally want to practice their faith, so they're kind of constructing mosques in the street. you were prowling around in athens or what? looking for a deal? i don't like to call it prowling. looking for a deal, did you pick anything up? no. because the falling knife has not finished falling? hasn't started falling. they announced they were going to do privatization. they were going to take private 32 pieces of real estate, of which 28 they're going to lease back. that's not really the privatization. that gives you a little pop in the front, and now for years and years, you pay rent. is this all business? i mean were you going to which island? i went to a friend of mine has a little island. has an island? yes, yes. number of the shipowners have islands. there's a lot of islands. he doesn't own roads or anything, does he? no. the other thing that i noticed is that some of the local politicians are starting to play the ethnic card on germany. there's obviously a lot of resentment in greece to what happened in world war ii and some of the local p politicians are piling in it's not just the eu, it's the germans being mean. are they using the nazi word? has it gone that bad yesterday? i haven't heard the nazi word but my greek isn't that good, so i don't know. you don't know, so that's interesting. so it's actually getting personal between greece and germany at this point. at least some of the local politicians. i haven't heard it from the national politicians and the other part, there's almost a feeling of resignation both among the sort of people on the street and the wealthy people that eventually greece doesn't stay in the eu. is that your bet now, now that you've been there on the ground? i've been in favor of greece going out. frankly, both from the greek point of view and from the eu point of view. from the eu point of view, i think there are enough firewalls that have been built up particularly now that mario draghi is now really acting like the lender of last resort but i don't think it would be that traumatic anymore. most of the indebtedness of greece is official debt, no longer private debt so you don't have the domino problem. we'll come back to us because you said positive things initially about france looking backwards. looking forwards i bet you're worried with 75% of the wealth tax in hollande and the moves he's making. even worse with the 75% on the high bracket people he did away with one of the good reforms that sarkozy put in, namely sarkozy to encourage people to work more than 35 hours, said your overtime would be tax free. he repealed that. well that's a middle class tax increase. it's the last thing france.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Belski: Stocks on Verge of 'Great Bull Run'



Aug. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets, talks about the outlook for the U.S. stock market and investment strategy. Belski speaks with Tom Keene, Scarlet Fu and Sara Eisen on Bloomberg Television's "Surveillance." (Source: Bloomberg)