It was just a matter of time before wholesale debt-forgiveness became the primary source of wealth in the US. The time is now. The NYT reports that "big banks are going to borrowers who are not even in default and cutting their debt or easing the mortgage terms, sometimes with no questions asked. Two of the nation’s biggest lenders, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, are quietly modifying loans for tens of thousands of borrowers who have not asked for help but whom the banks deem to be at special risk." To be deemed in "special risk" one needs to simply have an Option ARM mortgage, and be underwater, even if still current on mortgage payments. End result: an up to 50% cut in the actual mortgage obligation. To wit: "Ms. Giosmas, who lives in Miami, was not in default on her $300,000 loan. She did not understand why she would receive this gift — although she wasted no time in taking it. Before Chase shaved $150,000 off her mortgage, Ms. Giosmas owed much more on her place than it was worth. It was a fate she shared with a quarter of all homeowners with mortgages across the nation. Being underwater, as it is called, can prevent these owners from moving and taking new jobs, and places the households at greater risk of foreclosure." Whether this is a strategic step by the banks who wish to avoid tens if not hundreds of billions in fraudclosure and putback related legal costs, charges and reserves is for now unclear, although all signs point to yes. Next up: everyone in America stops paying their mortgage, or demands a 50% haircut on existing debt, now that the example has been made. And in the meantime, banks will somehow continue to keep the mortgages, which they have now cut by up to half, at par on their books following some brand new, thoroughly senseless announcement by the FASB which says banks can mark anything to whatever price they chose in perpetuity. Because otherwise, the TBTF lenders will suddenly find themselves in a massive deficiency on their Tier 1 capital, also known as completely insolvent.
“I used to say every day, ‘Why doesn’t anyone get rewarded for doing the right thing and paying their bills on time?’ ” said Ms. Giosmas, who is an acupuncturist and real estate investor. “And I got rewarded.”
Option ARM loans like Ms. Giosmas’s gave borrowers the option of skipping the principal payment and some of the interest payment for an introductory period of several years. The unpaid balances would be added to the body of the loan.
Bank of America and Chase inherited their portfolios of option ARMs when they bought troubled lenders during the housing crash.
Chase, which declined to comment on its program, got $50 billion in option ARM loans when it bought Washington Mutual in 2008. The lender, which said last fall that it had dealt with 22,000 option ARM loans with an unpaid principal balance of $8 billion, still has $33 billion of them in its portfolio.
Bank of America acquired a portfolio of 550,000 option ARMs from its purchase of Countrywide Financial in 2008. The lender said more than 200,000 had been converted to more stable mortgages.
More details on the example that prompted the NYT article:
Ms. Giosmas bought her two-bedroom, two-bath apartment north of downtown Miami for $359,000 in early 2006, according to real estate records. She made a large down payment, but because each month she paid less than was necessary to pay off the loan, her debt swelled to about $300,000.
Meanwhile, the value of the apartment nosedived. By the time Ms. Giosmas got the letter from Chase, the condominium was worth less than half what she paid. “I would not have defaulted,” she said. “But they don’t know that.”
The letter, which Ms. Giosmas remembers as brief and “totally vague,” said Chase was cutting her principal by $150,000 while raising her interest rate to about 5 percent. Her payments would stay roughly the same.
A few months ago, Ms. Giosmas sold the place for $170,000, making a small profit. Having a loan that her lender considered toxic, she said, “turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”
And so America is now well en route to another spike in class warfare tensions, as has been the default case for the past two years between those who act in a prudent financial way, and everyone else, who are now getting bail outs from the same banks that were bailed out by those stupid enough to pay US taxes in the first place:
The banks say cutting mortgage balances would be unfair to borrowers who remain current as well as impractical because so many loans are securitized into pools owned by investors. Bank of America’s chief executive, Brian T. Moynihan, told the attorneys general in April that cutting principal for current borrowers would send the wrong message to all those who have struggled to pay their bills. His counterpart at Chase, Jamie Dimon, bluntly said it was “off the table.”
Having an option ARM loan, however, apparently qualifies the borrower for special help. The loans, with their low initial payments and “teaser” interest rates, were immediately popular with buyers who could not afford or did not want to pay the soaring prices on houses. The problem was, eventually the rate would reset or the loan balance would have to be paid in full. “Nightmare Mortgages” they were called in a 2006 BusinessWeek cover piece.
Lastly, to all those who were predicting an Option ARM housing market collapse once loans go from Adjustable rate to fixed, the banks now have an answer. And it is wholesale mortgage debt reduction.
Option ARMs were never quite as bad as predicted, partly because the crisis pushed down interest rates so far that the resets were relatively mild. Many owners did default on them, but others, like Ms. Giosmas, were quite happy to pay less for years than they would have under a conventional loan. She used option ARMs on her investment properties too.
“They saved me,” she said. “Why would I want to pay a lot more every month? I’d rather have it in my pocket.”
Not surprisingly, this will be the same rhetorical question posed next by everyone who still has a mortgage, and not only by those, roughly 28% of all, who are underwater on their mortgage. Which means that wholesale mortgage reduction for everyone in America is next on the docket. Which also means that the "rent" component of personal income is about to surge from the current $50 billion annualized to well into the triple-digits, or about 1-2% of GDP, just enough to offset recession yet again.
And that's how you create wealth in the modern, centrally-planned USSA.