Why Did Banks Give Home Loans to People Who They KNEW Couldn't Pay?

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Washington’s Blog

 

William K. Black - professor of economics and law, and the senior regulator during the S & L crisis - explained
last month before to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission why banks
gave home loans to people who they knew couldn't repay. The whole piece
is a must-read, but here are excerpts from the introduction:

 

The
data demonstrate conclusively that most liar’s loans were fraudulent,
which means that there were millions of fraudulent mortgage loans
because liar’s loans became common (Credit Suisse estimates that they
represented 49% of new originations by 2006). The data also
demonstrate that even minimal underwriting of the loan files was
sufficient to detect the overwhelming majority of such fraudulent
liar’s loans. No honest, rational lender would make large numbers of
liar’s loans. The epidemic of mortgage fraud was so large that it
hyper-inflated the housing bubble, which allowed refinancing to further
extend the life of the bubble (and the depth of the ultimate Great
Recession.

 

 

***

 

In
the cases where there have been even minimal investigations (New
Century, Aurora/Lehman, Citi, WaMu, Countrywide, and IndyMac) senior
lender officials were aware that liar’s loans were typically fraudulent.
The lenders could not make an honest business out of selling
overwhelmingly fraudulent mortgages.

Liar’s
loans were done for the usual reason – they optimized (fictional)
short-term accounting income by creating a “sure thing” (Akerlof &
Romer 1993). A fraudulent lender optimizes short-term fictional
accounting income and longer term (real) losses by following a
four-part recipe:

A. Extreme Growth
B. Making bad loans at a premium yield

C. Extreme leverage

D. Grossly inadequate loss reserves


 

Note
that this same recipe maximizes fictional profits and real losses.
This destroys the lender, but it makes senior officers that control the
lender wealthy. This explains Akerlof & Romer’s title –
Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit.
The failure of the firm is not a failure of the fraud scheme.
(Modern bailouts may even recapitalize the looted bank and leave the
looters in charge of it.)

 

 

The
first two “ingredients” are related. Home lending is a mature,
reasonably competitive industry. A lender cannot grow extremely rapidly
by making good loans. If he tried, he’d have to cut his yield and his
competitors would respond. His income would decline. But he can
guarantee the ability to grow extremely rapidly by being indifferent to
loan quality and charging weaker credit risks, or more naïve borrowers, a
premium yield.

 

In order to become indifferent to loan quality the officers controlling the lender must eviscerate its underwriting.

 

***

 

 

There is no honest reason for a secured lender to seek or permit inflated appraisal values. This is a sure marker of accounting control fraud – a marker that juries easily understand.

 

In other words, banks made loans to borrowers who they knew couldn't
really repay because the heads of the banks could make huge bonuses
based on high volumes and fraudulent appraisals, and they didn't care if
their own companies later failed.

In short, they looted their companies and the economy as a whole.

Professor Black brings us current to where we are today:

 

History demonstrates that if the control frauds get away with their frauds they will strike again.


By
allowing the banks to use their political power to gimmick the
accounting rules to permit them to hide their massive losses on liar’s
loans we have made it far harder to take effective administrative,
civil, and criminal sanctions against the elite frauds that caused the
Great Recession. Hiding the losses also adopts the dishonest Japanese
approach that cripples economic recovery and public integrity.

Prosecuting
the elites control frauds can be done successfully. Create a new
“Top 100” priority list and appoint regulators that will make
supporting the Justice Department a top agency priority. That’s how we
obtained over 1000 priority felony convictions of elite S&L
criminals. No controlling officer of a large, non-prime specialty
lender has been convicted of running a control fraud. Only one has
even been indicted.

 

The FBI has written that any discussion of the crisis that ignores the role of mortgage fraud is “irresponsible.”

 

On a related note, Chris Whalen (co-founder of Institutional Risk Analytics, who has been hailed by Nouriel Roubini as one of the leading independent analysts of the U.S. banking system) told me that the collection of credit default swap payouts might also have played into the banks extending loans to borrowers who couldn't repay:

There
are some really bad incentive structures in this industry. Default
increases servicing fees, etc. So yes, your example is not outlandish.
And the wonder of CDS lets us all bet that the other’s home burns down.
Speculative madness, but consistent for a culture that prizes sales
about all else.

Whalen also notes
that Freddie and Fannie helped to create the epidemic of mortgage
fraud, and - like Black - blasts the government for covering it up:

The
invidious cowards who inhabit Washington are unwilling to restructure
the largest banks and GSEs. The reluctance comes partly from what
truths restructuring will reveal. As a result, these same large zombie
banks and the U.S. economy will continue to shrink under the weight of
bad debt, public and private. Remember that the Dodd-Frank
legislation was not so much about financial reform as protecting the
housing GSEs.

Because President Barack Obama and the leaders of
both political parties are unwilling to address the housing crisis and
the wasting effects on the largest banks, there will be no growth and
no net job creation in the U.S. for the next several years. And because
the Obama White House is content to ignore the crisis facing millions
of American homeowners, who are deep underwater and will eventually
default on their loans, the efforts by the Fed to reflate the U.S.
economy and particularly consumer spending will be futile. As Alan
Meltzer noted to Tom Keene on Bloomberg Radio earlier this year: "This
is not a monetary problem."

***

The
policy of the Fed and Treasury with respect to the large banks is
state socialism writ large, without even the pretense of a greater
public good.

***

The fraud and obfuscation now
underway in Washinton to protect the TBTF banks and GSEs totals into the
trillions of dollars and rises to the level of treason.

***

And
in the case of the zombie banks, the GSEs and the MIs, the fraud is
being actively concealed by Congress, the White House and agencies of
the U.S. government led by the Federal Reserve Board. Is this not
tyranny?