View From Table 9

September 26, 2008

Want to REALLY Fix the Mortgage Crisis? Fix the Homeowners

Okaaay….so you big Wall Street Fat Cats have screwed the pooch (for lack of a better term) by lying and cheating so you could make huge profits and salaries.  Now that you’ve been caught,  rather than fix it you’re flapping around crying for a ‘bail out’ otherwise the World Will End.

But will the ‘bail out’ fix anything except P & L sheets of big investment funds and banks?  Interestingly, more and more I’m hearing that it won’t, because there’s still the fundamental problems out there:

1. The investment vehicle called a mortgage-backed security was sold as highly safe because Americans have a long history of always paying their mortgages, even when they didn’t pay other debt.   Now that, thanks to irresponsible loan origination (because it made tons in the resale market) and gross breach of fiduciary and shareholder responsibility (lying about the quality of mortgages being resold), there’s a trust issue in the market.

2.  Mortgages are being defaulted on (because people can’t afford the loans primarily and investors are walking away from investment properties they are under-water on) because of irresponsible loan origination (because it made tons in the resale market) and gross breach of fiduciary responsibility.

So how would taking these securities off private companies’ ledgers and putting them on the taxpayer’s fix either of the underlying causes?

Think about it.

OK if you’re thinking:  Uhhh…it won’t, than your right. And you’re not alone.  From the WSJ article linked here:

Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag told lawmakers on Wednesday “that loss of trust has sharply increased the cost of raising capital and rolling over debt, which threatens the solvency of all financial institutions.”

But Robert Shapiro, a former Clinton economic advisor and the chairman of the globalization program at NDN, a Washington think tank, said the program outlined by the administration aimed at the wrong target. Rather than buying assets, he says, the government should provide money to people facing foreclosure, which would prevent the assets from going sour in the first place.

“This crisis will continue until the housing market stabilizes and as increasing foreclosures reduce the value of more mortgage-based securities,” Mr. Shapiro said.

Hmmm…. and more. This plan doesn’t actually reward or help those who responsibly made mortgages and held them, rather than repackaging them and selling them:

Much of the focus has been on mortgage-backed securities, not on the so-called whole loans that reside on the books of smaller lenders.

Cynthia Blankenship, chairman of Washington-based trade group Independent Community Bankers of America, said the government’s $700 billion fund won’t help smaller lenders unless it accepts whole real-estate loans, which bankers say is unlikely to happen, at least in the early stages of the program.

Ms. Blankenship, who runs Bank of the West in Irving, Texas, said struggling community banks in such once-hot but now sagging real-estate markets as Florida, California and Arizona would be eager to unload distressed mortgage or commercial real-estate loans. “It’s vitally important because it allows these banks to have some relief, as well as some big banks,” she said. “It’s just a matter of fairness.”

“We will not benefit from any of the programs that the federal government is proposing,” said J. Downey Bridgwater, CEO of Sterling Bancshares Inc., a Houston-based banking company whose $4.9 billion in assets don’t include any toxic mortgage-backed securities. But Mr. Bridgwater said the government’s efforts will “hopefully ease any concerns depositors may have about financial institutions across the country.”

So, it would seem to me this is a bailout for those who took the risks and lied, instead of even for those who are holding their loans and taking a lump where they have to.  Huh.

Now, seeing as how the underlying problem is that people can’t afford their mortgage payments, undermining both the note itself and the security it’s traded within, wouldn’t it make more sense just to funnel that $700 Trillion to the homeowner themselves in the form of either an increase in real wages or an ‘economic stimulus’ package or something like that?

Yeah, I get that it’s rewarding irresponsibility – I’ve gone on the record as saying that I think if you’re dumb enough to borrow more than you can afford, you should lose your house.  The way I see it though, bailing out large investors (who can afford it) is doing the same thing – rewarding them for irresponsibility and, worse, letting them off the hook for gross breach of trust and fiduciary responsibility.

So, if we’re going to bail out anyone, it should really truly be the little guy with the mortgage they can’t afford. Make them do it through the courts who can be sure the money gets funneled, make the banks refinance the loan to a reasonable amount, do all those things you need to do, but fix the problem. Then those securities will stabilize in value, investors can understand their true worth, and the markets go back to some semblance of normal.

(Come to think of it – this is not far off from how FDR pulled us out of the last Great Depression – by putting money in everyday people’s pockets via the WPA and other work programs and putting stricter regulations on both banks and the stock market…..)

What I see coming through Congress now does none of that.

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