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Tag Archives: Federal Reserve Bank

Round Two: Countrywide/Bank of America now attacks those from whom it purchased loans. See my earlier post: “Round One: Bank of America under attack for selling lousy mortgages to investors Pimco Bonds and Black Rock”

First off, many kudos to Joe Nocera of the NY Times, the source of much of the info and inspiration in this post in his 11/27/2010 article:

"Liar Loans" a/k/a "stated income" loans were the forte of Countrywide, which may come to represent the dirtiest of all the subrime lenders. However, other companies also made stated income loans, in all fairness, and stated income loans have been around in one form or another since the 1980s.

However, Countrywide went around looking to purchase the "stated income" loans made by other companies, banks and lenders.

To help you understand this "behind the scense" squabbling between the banks and government, I quote from Stephanie Strom’s November 27, 2010, NY Times article:

"Take, for instance, that litigation between Countrywide and the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation (Ginnie Mae). For some time now, the mortgage insurer has refused to pay claims on thousands of stated-income loans it insured, on the unsuprising grounds that the loans were fraudulent at their inception and thus violated the terms under which the company insured them. In December, Bank of America (Countrywide) filed suit on behalf of its Countrywide unit, arguing, in effect that it doesn’t matter whether the loans were fraudulent. Since the insurer never asked for income verification – and accepted the fact they were stated income loans – it has to pay up. (Nearly a year later the litigation is just getting started.)

Now contrast that stance with Countrywide’s (B of A’s) effort to force smaller mortgage originators to buy back loans it had purchased. In these cases Countywide makes the exact opposite argument: because the loans were made fraudulently, the smaller companies have an obligation to buy them back. [ ]

Thus, when it serves Countrywide’s purposes (now owned by B of A) to argue that everyone knew the loans were fraudulent, it happily makes that case. But when it is better served by arguing that it is shocked – shocked! – to discover gambling in the casino, it makes that opposing argument wtih similar ease. Isn’t that the dictionary definition of hypocrisy?"

See "The Give and Take of Liar Loans", by Joe Nocera, NY Times Saturday, November 27, 2010.


Many Kudos to Joe Nocera – a nicely written article!

Round One: Bank of America under attack for selling lousy mortgages to investors Pimco Bonds and Black Rock

Investors are mad, hopping mad, and Bank of America (and others) are in the crosshairs. Between 2004 and 2008 B of A assembled some $2 trillion in mortgage securities, and sold many of them off to investors, including Pimco and Black Rock, large money management companies.

These angry investors want to shove the cruddy mortgages down Bank of America’s throat.

This Nelson D. Schwartz October 20, 2010 NY Times Article is telling:


"But while the human toll of the foreclosure crisis has grabbed the headlines, the fight over how these loans were created in the first place could last much longer and ultimately cost the banks much, much more. And it is setting the stage for a huge battle between mortgage holders like the government (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae), hedge funds and other institutional investors on one side and teh big banks on the other. ‘It’s very serious said Glenn Schorr, an analyst with Nomura Securities. ‘The numbers are all over the map’ If the Fed and the investors succeed, it could cost Bank of America billions of dollars. On Wall STreet and in bank boardrooms,the question of whether investors can force banks to buy back, or "put back" bad mortgages to the banks that sold them is dominating the debate and worrying analysts, money managers and banking executives."

"The danger posed by angry – or opportunistic – investors ‘putting-back’ mortgages to the banks is hardly limited to Bank of America. Other giants like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase face similar claims, and [on approximately October 14, 2010] JPMorgan set aside $1.3 billion just for the legal costs, including put-backs"

Fed and FDIC Testimony on Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Legislation: Lessons Learned

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke praised the new Dodd-Frank financial regulation legislation and offered a frank appraisal of his mistakes since 2006 in September 2, 2010 testimony before the Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

It should be noted that September 15, 2008 (just next week) marks the two-year anniversary of the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers. NY Times columnist Sewell Chan notes that the Lehman failure was the “nadir”, or lowest, moment of the financial crisis.

“The Dodd-Frank legislation gives the Federal Reserve Bank oversight over the largest financial institutions, including those that are not banks (such as American International Group, or “AIG” – JHM). It gave the Fed a prominent role in the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a body of regulators with the power to seize and break up a systemically important company if it threatens economic stability. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would manage that [breakup] process, known as resolution.” writes Mr. Chan.

Mr. Bernanke recounted his errors, indicating that he was wrong in 2007 when declaring that the subprime mortgage crisis could be contained and would not infect nor destabilize other parts of the financial system. Mr. Bernanke denied allegations that the Federal Reserve bank was at least partly responsible for the housing price bubble by keeping interest rates too low during the 2002-2004 period. An implication of Mr. Chan’s summary of Mr. Bernanke’s testimony before Congress appears to be that Mr. Bernanke now believes that trying try to identify a “bubble” in the economy early enough is part of the Fed’s charter. If such a “bubble” could be identified early enough to justify Fed action, the Fed could decide to increase interest rates so as to slow down the growth of the bubble.

Here is the link to the interesting NY Times, September 3, 2010 article.

Ideas for Action: Few of us have the resources and knowledge available to Mr. Bernanke. However, starting to keep a family budget, carefully monitoring your spending, and creating a savings plan for both retirement and “rainy days” are among the prudent steps that we all can take to keep financial problems from becoming too big to handle.

Economy slowing down again, and Federal Reserve Bank is running out of traditional stimulus options says UCSC Economics Professor Carl E. Walsh

The economy is slowing down again despite interest rates being lower than ever: What is the government going to do next? Here is the answer, by NY Times Reporter Sewell Chan:

“The challenges the Federal (Reserve Bank) faces aren’t going to get any easier in the coming months,” said Carl E. Walsh, a professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “The choices ahead are only getting worse as the economy seems to be slowing down.” Professor Walsh was quoted in the New York Times Thursday, August 12, 2010 edition, Section B1

Sewell Chan’s August 12, 2010 NY Times article introduces us to a new term, “Quantative Easing”, and says that after lowering short term interest rates, about the only thing that the Federal Reserve can do is to pursue a policy of “Quantitative Easing”. According to Mr. Chan, Quantitative Easing is a controversial and uncertain central bank tactic. There is little modern historical precedent by which Quantitative Easing can be studied and analyzed by economists to predict results.

Mr. Chan explains that because short term interest rates are already close to zero, that now the Federal Reserve Bank’s last and final option is more “Quantative Easing”. Will it work?

What is “Quantative Easing”? Simply put, it is the printing of additional money to purchase financial assets in the market place, by using government money to buy instruments held by investors. The instruments purchased by the Government Treasury in “Quantitative Easing” are things such as (a) mortgage backed securities (b) buying/cashing out debts owed by the government such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac obligations/bonds and (c) buying Treasury Securities like government bonds.

How does “Quantative Easing” seek to help the economy? My understanding is that Quantitative Easing intentionally creates some inflation as it increases the money supply, and thus with more money rolling around, there is an incentive to invest it by lending it to others. People and investors who now have this freshly borrowed cash then go on spending sprees, and it is these sprees which are supposed to stimulate economic growth by more lending to people who buy things with the newly borrowed proceeds.

In short, more people buying things with borrowed money increases demand for goods and services and such. Increased demand keeps prices for goods and services higher, which is supposed to offset the deflation of prices of goods and services that is occurring in this recession. (See following blog post describing why deflation is “bad”)

Shortly put, deflation is supposed to be “bad” during a recovery from economic recession because deflation will result in a further economic slowdown as people conserve their cash and do not spend it in order to wait for lower prices on everything from TVs to cars to houses to ocean cruises.

This would be a “Second Wave” of “Quantitative Easing” as the Federal Reserve Bank already took a first “Quantitative Easing” step between January 2009 and March 2010 by printing money in the amount of $1.725 trillion (that is 1,000,000,000,000!) dollars to purchase $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities (essentially buying mortgages from private investors), $175 billion in debts owed by government-controlled entities like Fannie Mae (more mortgages) and $300 billion in Treasury securities.

Here are the pros and cons:

Pros of “Quantitative Easing” to buy mortgages and investment instruments held by private investors when lowering interest rates doesn’t seem to be getting the job done to stimulate the economy: Sewell Chan of the NY Times writes that the Federal Reserve Bank’s Chairman Ben Bernanke is an astute student of the Great Depression and that Mr. Bernanke has long argued that the central bank (The Federal Reserve Bank) has the additional tool of Quantitative Easing which should be somewhat readily used to avoid deflation in prices, as deflation will slow, stop or reverse a recovery as people look at cash as an investment in and of itself instead of spending the cash. For example, if you know that the $500 TV set will reduce to $475 in six months (a mere 5.0% deflation in price) then you are more inclined to wait six months to purchase. If you know that your $300,000 home you are looking at buying will decrease 5.0% in one year to $285,000 then you will keep in renting one additional year and will not buy the home, thus stagnating the housing market.

Cons of “Quantitative Easing” More conservative voices (according to the NY Times Swell Chan) propose that the Federal Reserve Bank should not go out into the marketplace to buy mortgages, and that the most aggressive steps taken should be to lower short term interest rates (please note that short term interest rates are almost zero!)

Problem #1: Those economists wary of “Quantitative Easing” say that in a “perfect storm” of circumstances, Quantitative Easing can lead to 1970s style “stagflation” as the government floods the economy with too much available money when it buys out the debt obligations of (a) mortgage backed securities (b) debts owed by government entities to investors such as Fannie Mae bonds and (c) Treasury securities, in an atmosphere when the economy is operating at a reduced level, because there is a surplus or bumper crop of money floating around, but not so much to buy.

Problem #2: According to economists skeptical of “Quantitative Easing” say that further purchases of mortgages, government debts and treasury bills by the Federal Reserve will undermine faith in the US dollar as an accepted stable world currency and the safety of the US Treasury bill as keeping ahead of inflation because it fosters “perceptions of monetizing indebtedness,” according to Mr. Chan’s analysis of economist Kevin M. Warsh, in that it looks like it is the printing of money to pay off the public debt. “On a very simple level [with Quantitative Easing], the Federal Reserve Bank is printing money so the Treasury can spend more than it’s collecting in tax revenues…these are highly unusual circumstances, so no one is too worried about it [right now]. But it is always a temptation to use the central bank to finance government expenditures.”

Mr. Chan writes that economist Kevin M. Warsh notes that the Federal Reserve already has purchased 2.3 trillion worth of debt which includes vast sums of Treasury Bills, perhaps too much. The Treasury Bills are essentially a large share of the national debt. (Note that the Chinese probably now hold the remaining balance. That is a none too funny note for another day). Mr. Warsh notes that the Federal Reserve Bank’s institutional credibility is at stake, if it threatens the currency’s stability to pursue domestic growth.

Problem #3: Economists wary of Quantitative Easing relate that economists “don’t have a lot of good historical episodes in modern economies to know exactly what the effects of quantitative easing are.” Mr. Chan quotes Professor Walsh.