Another Blow For America's Banks (And Bank Of America) After California Kills Robosigning Settlement
Anyone exiting the third quarter with a Bank of America (or Wells, or JPMorgan, or Citi) short on their books will be delighted to learn that the "other" mortgage fraud scandal, not the putback litigation which is sure to cost Bank of America billions in incremental legal fees now that that particular settlement appears to be challenged and banks even across the Atlantic are joining in the legal free for all, but the "Linda Green" robosigning affair, which various conflicted attorneys general had held a tenuous grasp over with a settlement in process, has just blown out wide into the open once again, after California joined New York AG Schneiderman in pulling out of the talks, and leaving Iowa Atty. Gen. Tom Miller with a completely lost cause. We expect all other states to promptly follow New York and California's examples. The net impact is quite adverse for all mortgage lenders, as this development will merely snarl the traditional foreclosure process for even longer, and while beneficial to borrowers, it will put even less cash into the depleted coffers of the banks that so desperately need it. Since few if any will actively pursue distressed, or any, housing sales, it will not only hinder further balance sheet repair of the banking sector, but will keep a lid on any potential housing market improvement, which as BCG confirmed a few days ago, is the most critical missing link to any economic recovery. Without it the hands of the Fed chairman are tied even more, and leave him (and the middle class) with just one, nuclear as it may be, option.
California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris will no longer take part in a national foreclosure probe of some of the nation's biggest banks, which are accused of pervasive misconduct in dealing with troubled homeowners.
Harris removed herself from talks by a coalition of state attorneys general and federal agencies investigating abusive foreclosure practices because the nation's five largest mortgage servicers were not offering California homeowners relief commensurate to what people in the state had suffered, Harris told The Times on Friday.
The big banks were also demanding to be granted overly broad immunity from legal claims that could potentially derail further investigations into Wall Street's role in the mortgage meltdown, Harris said.
“It has been a process of negotiating and sitting at a table in good faith, but ultimately I have decided that we have to go our own course and take an independent path. And that decision is because we need to bring relief to Californians that is equal to the pain California experienced, and what is being negotiated now is insufficient," Harris told The Times in an interview.
Harris delivered the news in a letter sent Friday to Iowa Atty. Gen. Tom Miller, who has been leading the 50-state coalition.
What is left open to interpretation is whether this is an open attack by the very much insolvent state of California against the Obama administration which has actively been pushing for precisely this settlement, which would be highly beneficial to banks, and quite damaging to the legal system, and specifically the perception of how easily it can be trampled if one is a TBTF bank.
The removal of California from the discussions is a major blow to fraying efforts by the coalition, which has been trying to strike a settlement deal with the big banks for months. The move by Harris to reject the settlement talks is also a key departure from efforts by the Obama administration, which has been pushing for a fast resolution to the so-called robo-signing scandal that erupted last year.
Chris Whalen chimes in:
“This whole concept of a settlement on foreclosure abuse is probably dead,” said Christopher Whalen, the founder of Institutional Risk Analytics. “Nobody in their right mind is going to opt into a settlement right now.”
And with California no longer on the side of Miller, the state is sure to enjoin the active pursuit of a far more comprehensive resolution to the robosigning fiasco, which will inevitably result in far greater pain for the banks.
New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman, who was originally part of the 50-state negotiations, has launched a wide-ranging investigation into Wall Street's role in the mortgage meltdown -– focusing on the efforts to bundle low-quality mortgages into sophisticated bonds.
Schneiderman has been highly critical of the proposed 50-state settlement and expressed concern that his counterparts in other states may let the banks off too lightly and provide immunity from other efforts to bring them to account for misdeeds. Schneiderman has also won support from attorneys general in Delaware, Nevada, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Minnesota, some of whom have launched their own investigations.
A spokesman for Schneiderman, Danny Kanner, welcomed Harris's move.
“Attorney General Schneiderman looks forward to his continued work with Attorney General Harris and his other state and federal counterparts to ensure those responsible for the mortgage crisis are held accountable and homeowners who are suffering receive meaningful relief,” said Kanner.
Bottom line: America's TBTF banks, which increasingly are looking like they just may be NTBTF, had a horrendous Q3. It appears that Q4 will not be any better. And as Bullard indicated yesterday, all it takes for the Fed to "act" is for "further economic weakness to develop - read another step down in the stock market." California's decision just made it certain that further "weakness" will develop. And on the day that the New York Fed first published its Operation Twist POMO schedule, it is already time to start thinking about what form the next new and improved form of quantitative easing will take...