The Servicing Fraud Settlement: the Real Game

posted by Adam Levitin

Warning: This is a long blog post. But if you follow mortgage servicing, I think you’ll find it worth reading. Despite lots and lots of media coverage of the servicing fraud settlement, nobody seems to understand the real story that’s going on. I think that this post will explain a lot.

Let’s start by recapping what we know.  Back in March we started hearing media reports of a proposed penalty for servicers in the $20-$30B range.  Then the American Banker published a 27-page term sheet from the AGs for servicing standards. Next, Huffington Post published a 7-page CFPB powerpoint presentation. Then came the draft C&D orders and then in April, the final C&D orders (which eliminated the ridiculous “single point of contact which need not be a single person” and replaced it with “single point of contact as hereinafter defined” and then failed—quite deliberately—to define it anywhere in the document).

Now there’s another round of activity and conflicting reporting. The American Banker reported that there was a new AG term sheet proposed and that principal reductions were off the table. That turns out to be incorrect, as Shahien Nasiripour reported in the Huffington Post. The new AG term sheet that the American Banker referenced deals only with servicing standards. The American Banker assumed that this mean that principal reductions were off the table because they weren’t referenced in the term sheet. In fact they are still very much in play. They’re just in a second, separate term sheet. So now there are two separate term sheets–one covering servicing standard and another covering monetary issues/principal reductions. (Recall that the original AG term sheet did not cover the monetary issues—that was clearly for a separate document.) We are also hearing news reports that the banks are offering to settle for $5B and won’t go above $10B.

So how do we make sense out of all of this?

The short answer is that the fight is not over a piddling $5B or $10B or even $20B. The banks would buy peace in a second for $20B and servicing reform. So what does that tell us? It indicates that the negotiations are over a substantially bigger figure than $20B. And this explains everything about the banks’ negotiating strategy including the recent attacks on Elizabeth Warren by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and by Congressional Republicans on the CFPB.

Take the time to read this one here…

He may be wrong, but he may be right…