BoNY releases expert reports backing $8.5bl BofA MBS deal

July 14, 2011

Faced with a barrage of investor criticism (see here, here, and here) of its proposed $8.5 billion mortgage-backed securities settlement with Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, the MBS trustee, has released the expert reports underlying the agreement. The reports—in particular the valuation report by Brian Lin, the managing director of RRMS Advisors—provide an extraordinary window into how this deal got done. They may not change anyone’s mind about the fairness of the settlement proposal, but they answer a lot of the questions that challengers of the deal have raised.

Let’s start with the numbers that were on the table when Gibbs & Bruns and its group of 22 major Countrywide MBS investors sat down across from Bank of America and its lawyers from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The outside range of the investor group’s demands was $52.6 billion, according to Lin’s report. At the low end, the investors asked for $27 billion. Bank of America, according to the Lin report, calculated that investors could claim no more than $4 billion.

Lin began his evaluation of the investors’ Countrywide MBS claims by reviewing the presentations that the Gibbs group and BofA made to one another. (His company, RRMS, is a mortgage-backed securities consultant that advises MBS investors, packagers, and issuers. BoNY and its Mayer Brown lawyers selected Lin’s firm to provide an expert opinion after beauty contest interviews with several candidates, which had to have MBS expertise but couldn’t have a significant relationship with Bank of America.) Interestingly, Lin’s report indicates that the valuation methodology employed by both the investors and BofA was almost the same, although the two sides obviously plugged different assumptions into the basic formula.

Here’s how the investors and the bank came to their numbers. As OTC explained earlier this week, the key metric is the value of the investors’ valid claims that Countrywide breached its representations and warranties on the mortgage loans underlying the securities. To determine that number, both the bank and the investor group began with a calculation of how many of the mortgages in the underlying pools would go into default. They next considered what percentage of the value of a defaulted underlying mortgage would be lost to investors—a figure Lin calls the “severity rate.” (If, for instance, a homeowner defaulted on a $100,000 mortgage and the mortgage-holder was later able to sell the mortgaged property for $75,000, the severity rate would be 25 percent.) Two more numbers then come into play: the breach rate, which represents the percentage of mortgages in the pool that breached Countrywide’s assurances to investors; and the success rate, which is the percentage of claims on which investors could successfully demand a bank buyback.

To arrive at its demand of $27 billion to $52.6 billion, the Gibbs & Bruns group asserted that $107.8 billion of the underlying mortgage pool would go into default. The investors applied a severity rate of 66 percent, a breach rate of 60 percent, and a success rate of 50 to 75 percent. (Lin said the latter two rates were too high, based on his “industry knowledge.”) The bank used different figures to reach its $4 billion estimate of investors’ claims, but Lin didn’t spell out BofA’s exact numbers.

In any event, Lin and his team arrived at their own conclusions for default, severity, breach, and success rates, based on the two sides’ presentations and their own expertise. RRMS said 36 percent of the defaulted underlying loans breached Countrywide’s representations and warranties, and investors would prevail on 40 percent of their buy-back claims on those loans. Lin made calculations using two different severity rate models—one estimating that investors would recover only 40 percent of the value of defaulted underlying mortgages; the other estimating a 55 percent recovery. He also offered two different default models.

In the end, Lin arrived at a range of $8.8 billion to $11 billion for investors’ claims. Importantly, he reached those results without knowing that negotiations between BofA, BoNY, and the Gibbs & Bruns group had produced a tentative $8.5 billion settlement agreement. In a second opinion, Lin says the servicing aspects of the proposed settlement “can be viewed as an industry precedent-setting, pro-active approach in regard to establishing a framework to enhance recovery efforts.” (Supporters of the proposed settlement assert that the servicing provisions, which require BofA to hand off responsibility for renegotiating troubled mortgage loans, could be worth as much or more to investors as the cash part of the deal.)

When Mayer Brown submitted BoNY’s petition for court approval of the $8.5 billion settlement proposal, partners Jason Kravitt and Matthew Ingber said that their expert’s valuation didn’t include discounts for BofA’s legal defenses against the investors’ claims. The other three expert reports released Tuesday explain what those legal defenses would have been—and may still be if the proposed settlement isn’t approved.

First off, Mayer Brown obtained an opinion from Capstone that said the trustee could recover no more than $4.8 billion from Countrywide, based on Countrywide’s assets. That’s important because in another expert opinion, Stanford Law School professor Robert Daines said it would be “difficult” for MBS investors to prevail in claims that Bank of America is responsible for Countrywide’s breaches of representations and warranties on the underlying mortgages. (There’s a lot more nuance in Professor Daines’s scholarly 58-page analysis, but the takeaway is that investors can’t be sure they could pierce the corporate veil and hit Bank of America for Countrywide’s failings.)

Finally, New York University School of Law professor Barry Adler opined on the standard for investor breach of contract claims against MBS issuers. Bank of America asserted in negotiations that unless the breaches were material—meaning that Countrywide misrepresented the facts that led to the mortgage’s default—the bank isn’t liable. Investors argued that every breach is material because they wouldn’t have purchased the securities without Countrywide’s representations and warranties about the underlying mortgages. Professor Adler’s 13-page opinion concludes that the law is unsettled but that the bank “appears to [have] a reasonable position.”

Kathy Patrick of Gibbs & Bruns, who represents the investor group that negotiated the deal, told OTC she’s glad the expert reports have come out. “We believe investors will find it very helpful ,” she said. “The trustee’s expert opinions… confirm and support the trustee’s decision to enter into the settlement.”

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