The front-page, above-the-fold story in Friday’s Washington Post (paper edition) was titled, “Settlement Launches Foreclosure Reckoning,” and began:
“The government’s $25 billion settlement Thursday with banks over fraudulent foreclosure practices begins a long-promised reckoning with the financial industry over its role in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, officials said.
“The deal represents the largest industry settlement since an agreement with tobacco companies in 1998 and will force five of the nation’s largest banks to overhaul their mortgage-servicing practices and reduce loan balances for many borrowers who owe more than their houses are worth.
“Officials acknowledged that the final sum will reach only a fraction of homeowners across the country whose homes are collectively worth $750 billion less than what is owed on their mortgages. But they argued that it was a meaningful step in healing the housing market.”
Thanks to the graphics staffers at the Washington Post for the following graphic that helpfully identifies how the $25 billion pie gets divided:
The Washington Times added:
“Under the terms of the settlement, the five largest mortgage servicers - Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC) - will provide $10 billion toward reducing the principal for borrowers who are delinquent or underwater and at risk of default. At least $3 billion will go toward refinancing, and billions more will be directed to state governments and the Federal Housing Authority, according to the Justice Department.”
A website is available where further information can be obtained -- NationalMortgageSettlement.com.
It’s difficult to find anyone that has a kind word about the settlement. Examples from a number of news media:
New York Times
"Economists do not expect a big boost for the economy, in part because the banks have three years to distribute the aid. Some experts questioned whether the accord would do much to stabilize the housing market and its glut of millions of foreclosed homes.
"Critics also pointed to the fact that millions of mortgages owned by the government’s housing finance agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would not be covered under the deal, excluding about half the nation’s mortgages."
Los Angeles Times, Columnist Michael Hiltzik
"I hate a parade. And the parade of rosy self-congratulation staged last week by the creators of the $25-billion mortgage fraud settlement with five big banks is the kind of parade I really hate. (emphasis in the original)
[ . . . ]
"If you don't listen too closely, it sounds as if they're putting up the $25 billion. Not so. The only cold cash the banks are paying is a combined $5 billion, including $1.5 billion to compensate borrowers whose homes were foreclosed on from 2008 through the end of last year, with the rest going to the federal and state governments to pay for regulatory programs."
Wall Street Journal, Editorial
"But the politicians know an election-year windfall when they see it. Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo promised to devote a mere $1.5 billion of the $25 billion to alleged victims of wrongful foreclosures between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011.
"The rest of the loot will serve the political agenda of paying off favored home owners—er, voters—with principal reductions, refinancing programs and foreclosure forbearance. The states and feds will also get nice cash payments. Think of this as one more giant political stimulus package—Congressional approval not required."
Bloomberg View. Their "view" is the settlement "falls short," but was "still worth the wait." The bottom-line for Bloomberg is:
"With this settlement, banks can clear out their backlog of stalled foreclosures. In the short run, that may drive prices down even more, but it will also help the housing market find its natural bottom faster. Only then can home prices, which have fallen by more than a third since 2007, begin to rise again. Borrowers can finally start to rebuild equity.
"Once banks reduce their real-estate inventory, and their balance sheets recover, they’ll be able to loosen up home- lending standards to create new mortgages. If this is the result of a less-than-satisfactory legal settlement, it will have been worth the wait."
ProPublica (Journalism in the Public Interest). Paul Kiel spent most of his article comparing the mortgage settlement to HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program), which, he wrote, was "widely considered a failure." He then added:
"North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper made a rather pointed reference to HAMP: "I think strong, court-ordered enforcement with teeth distinguish this deal from those earlier efforts to help homeowners."
"As we've reported extensively over the past several years, homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure by gaining a loan modification have often been frustrated by banks' errors and delays. In the worst cases, the banks' shoddy mortgage servicing has led to wrongful foreclosures. The errors have sometimes continued even after homeowners got an elusive modification.
"When HAMP was launched, it came with the promise that mortgage servicers would have to abide by clear rules. The handbook laying out these rules now approaches 200 pages. But as we've detailed, enforcement of those rules has been lacking."
Fiscal Times, Liz Peek, Columnist
"The $25 billion deal struck with the nation’s five biggest mortgage servicers is no cause for celebration. At its best, the agreement presents the White House with a politically pleasing sound bite.
"Possibly the worst aspect of the settlement is that its terms might encourage “homeowners to default in the hopes of getting aid,” as described by the New York Times. That will surely gum up a recovery.
[ . . . ]
"The one possible positive of the accord is that foreclosure activity, which took a sharp dive when the robo-signing scandal broke in late 2010, will revive, and begin to clear the market of the “shadow inventory” of homes that are behind in their payments and hanging over any recovery. As harsh as the process is, only until that mountain of available product disappears will supply and demand begin to converge.
"The worst aspect of this agreement is the message that “only fools meet their financial commitments; the non-payers are the truly enlightened,” as bank analyst Dick Bove recently wrote in a note to clients. Mr. Bove is especially horrified that in forcing the banks to renegotiate loans, “the government has taken away the banks’ property rights; rights thought by many to be the basis of capitalism.” Given the damage done to millions of Americans who lost their jobs because of the financial crisis, few may agree that those rights should be protected." (emphasis added)
San Jose Mercury News. Pete Cary writes that "Californians to get up to $18 billion in mortgage relief in settlement with nation's biggest lenders" but adds that "but many say the deal isn't a game changer for the housing market or the economy."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service, posted at LoanSafe.org. Alex Ferraras points out the mortgage settlement "won’t solve the nation’s housing crisis. Far from it."
National Review Online's blog, Exchequer where Kevin Williamson writes:
"Here’s what it does not do: It isn’t going to prevent a lot of foreclosures (and may in fact cause some), it isn’t going to assuage the terror in the mortgage markets, and it probably isn’t going to clean up the system that caused some number of homeowners to be foreclosed on without proper documentation.
"Like the fiasco that was HAMP, this settlement will encourage homeowners to become delinquent on their loans: There’s $10 billion set aside for principal writedowns for delinquent homeowners, but paid-up borrowers only get $3 billion to encourage the refinancing of underwater mortgages. U.S. homeowners are upside-down to the tune of more than $750 billion, with more than a fifth of homeowners underwater. So, even if you think that the federal government ought to be in the business of trying to micromanage mortgage refis, this is four-tenths of 1 percent, assuming maximum utilization.
[ . . . ]
"And one of the biggest problems — the mortgage documentation system — goes largely unaddressed. Basically, the new rules say to fast-and-loose mortgage servicers: “Don’t do that again, and pay $1,500 to $2,000 to everybody you foreclosed on without proper documentation.” Given the complexity of assembling proper documentation and the legal costs involved, $2,000 per offense is a great bargain for the wrongdoers, practically an invitation to keep doing exactly the same thing. Everybody gets worked up about robo-signing, but robo-signing is not the root of the problem, only a symptom of it: The root of the problem is that the underlying system for keeping track of mortgage ownership in an age of securitization and mass default is entirely inadequate to the task. So far as I can tell, the new servicer rules basically say, “Document stuff the right way next time,” but don’t do much to spell out what that looks like and creates incentives not to comply. If the price of fraud is lower than the benefit to be derived from the fraud, then what is the disincentive to fraud?"
Forbes magazine. Staff reporter Daniel Fisher writes:
"Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Politically ambitious state attorneys general target an unpopular industry with lawsuits based on creative legal theories that would stand a tough time in court. Their sheer legal might brings the other side to the negotiating table. Talks grind on. Finally a grand bargain is struck that buys the industry some measure of immunity and sends cash sluicing directions that will help the AGs in their political careers.
"That’s how the great tobacco settlement went down, and it’s looking like the mortgage settlement is headed the same direction. In both cases, the AGs are seizing upon behavior which looks bad and may technically violate the law, but is hard to link directly to consumer injuries."
Cato Institute's blog, Cato @ Liberty. In two posts (February 9 and February 10), the following comments by Mark Calabria are of special interest:
"Out of the $25 billion settlement, guess how much goes to borrowers who “lost” their homes to foreclosure? $1.5 billion. That’s correct, only 6% of the settlement actually could go to the victims it was all supposed to be about. What’s worse is that the settlement does not even require that money to go to parties actually harmed. The money can go to any borrower that had a foreclosure, harmed or not. In fact, as far as I can tell, a borrower could get the money even if he got into the house via fraud, like over-stating his income.
"While coverage has been a little loose on details, it appears that about $3 billion of the settlement is going into the coffers of state governments. You read that right: state governments are looking to get about twice what the actual victims might get. But then that doesn’t sound too far off from the typical class-action: lawyers make out like bandits and victims get peanuts.
"If you’re wondering where the rest of the money is going, it is headed to homeowners who are still in their homes, and hence by defintion not victims of foreclosure abuse. So much for actually helping victims. But then, since the state AGs apparently never bothered to look for any real victims, it should not be too surprisingly that they completely forgot about them when crafting the settlement."
Big Government. Chriss Street wonders whether the mortgage settlement is a bailout for California, commenting:
"When the good people of the other 49 states learn the terms of this bail-out, I believe they also come together. But this time they will be showing their fangs and carrying pitch forks! With only 13% of the GDP of the United States, California gets 72% of the settlement proceeds. Undoubtedly, the five national banks will pass 100% of the cost of this settlement on to all their customers nationally. Consequently, 87% of the increased bank fees will be paid by other states increases to bail-out California’s insolvent budget."
Heritage Foundation's blog, The Foundry. David John writes:
"The new agreement does not fix the housing crisis. As the new Web site of the settlement states, “This is a mortgage servicing settlement that addresses only a portion of the mortgage lending system.” The amount of relief each homeowner or former homeowner receives will be fairly small, and it will depend on individual circumstances and the state of residence. Since the agreement will be executed over a three-year period, so “borrowers will not immediately know if they are eligible for relief.”
"The newly announced agreement is estimated to help about 1 million homeowners who are underwater either through refinancing or by having their loans partially forgiven. While the overall numbers are big, The Washington Post notes, “The effects of this deal are likely to be rather modest. In terms of direct help for consumers, the aggregate impact will be quite minor.”
[ . . . ]
"This agreement represents a real settlement for some real abuses. However, it is easy to get blinded by the media frenzy. Only a small number of homeowners and former homeowners will receive any benefit, and they will not know who they are for some time."
That last comment by David Johns about not getting blinded by the media seems especially appropriate. We hope that after reading the stories at the above links, ACTA members will be able to avoid the b.s. coming from their favorite panjandrum.