David Dayen | Foreclosure Fraud Settlement: “Making Banks Money”

Foreclosure Fraud Settlement: “Making Banks Money”

I liked that NBC Nightly News used Yves Smith to describe the foreclosure fraud settlement last night. And she’s right that the ultimate penalty here is tiny for the banks compared to the damage done. Moreover, as Felix Salmon explains in a post actually claiming that the settlement is a win-win for everyone (I’ll circle back to that, but why should a punishment be a win-win, exactly?), the banks have a financial opportunity in this deal.

Let’s say I lent you $350,000 to buy a house, and that house is now worth only $250,000. I’m holding that mortgage on my books at par, but if I sold it there’s no way I could get $350,000 for it, or even $250,000. I give you a principal reduction of $40,000, so that you now owe $310,000. That’s good for you — which is why the settlement is a welcome development. And it means that I have to take a $40,000 write-down on my balance sheet. But the mortgage is still being held on my books at $310,000, which is still more than I could have sold it for before the write-down.

In other words, what’s happening here is that the mortgage settlement is at heart largely just encouraging banks to bring their balance sheets closer to reality — which is something they’d have to do sooner or later in any case. Indeed, insofar as principal reductions can increase the value of a mortgage, this deal is actually making banks money, over the long term.

This becomes more magnified when you look at the possibility of the banks using write-downs on private-label MBS loans to “pay” the settlement off, which amounts to someone else’s money.

Rest here…



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