On Monday, after word leaked that Bank of America and MBIA had resolved their epic five-year, multidimensional litigation against one another, investors in both companies judged the deal. Shares in MBIA, whose structured finance arm had been widely considered to be on the brink of a regulatory takeover, closed 45 percent higher at $14.29, adding about a billion dollars to the market capitalization of the insurer’s holding company. Bank of America’s shares went up as well. They didn’t rise as dramatically as MBIA’s, closing up 5 percent at $12.88. But that added $6.9 billion to BofA’s market cap – three times as much as the $1.6 billion in cash that the bank agreed to pay to MBIA as part of the settlement.
Reporting on the implications of the bond insurer Syncora’s $375 million settlement with Bank of America has been a Rashomon experience: Everyone I talked to had something different to say about what drove Tuesday’s settlement and what it means for MBIA, which has been litigating its own mortgage-backed securities breach-of-contract claims in parallel with Syncora. So if you were expecting a clear-cut answer on whether the Syncora settlement is good or bad for MBIA, you’re going to be disappointed. Syncora and MBIA were both litigating put-back claims against Countrywide and BofA before New York State Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten, who has delivered important simultaneous rulings for the bond insurers. But the similarities between Syncora and MBIA end in Bransten’s courtroom. When it comes to negotiations with BofA, they’re in very different postures.
Bank of America really, really does not want CEO Brian Moynihan to sit for a deposition in bond insurer MBIA’s breach-of-contract case against Countrywide and BofA.
The megabillion-dollar game of chicken between Bank of America and the bond insurer MBIA just got even more perilous. On Monday MBIA filed a notice that it is cross-appealing the ruling by Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten. MBIA wants reconsideration of Bransten’s finding that the bond insurer is not entitled to summary judgment on its claims that Countrywide breached representations and warranties on the mortgage-backed securities MBIA agreed to insure. You might think MBIA’s decision to appeal is a surprise, given the many routes to recovery Bransten gave MBIA on its insurance fraud claims against Countrywide. But as always in the incredibly complex litigation between Bank of America and MBIA, there are many layers to every move by either side.
Tuesday’s parallel rulings by Manhattan State Supreme Justice Eileen Bransten in MBIA and Syncora suits against Countrywide were a big win for the bond insurers. The judge concluded that MBIA and Syncora need only show that Countrywide materially misled them at the time they agreed to write insurance on Countrywide mortgage-backed notes, not that the alleged misrepresentations led directly to MBS defaults and subsequent insurance payouts. Bransten is considered a leading judge on MBS issues, so her grant of summary judgment on the insurance fraud and contract issues should be a boon to all of the monolines engaged in do-or-die litigation with MBS issuers.
There’s a cautionary note to MBIA deep in Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten‘s long-awaited, 27-page loss-causation decision in MBIA’s mortgage-backed securities case against Countrywide. The bond insurer, Bransten warned, must prove that it was damaged as a “direct result” of Countrywide’s allegedly material misrepresentations about the MBS certificates MBIA agreed to insure. “As has been aptly pointed out by Countrywide, this will not be an easy task,” the judge wrote.
The folks who follow every development in the mega-billions poker match between Bank of America and the bond insurer MBIA have last week been buzzing even more loudly than usual about the prospect of a global deal. Tuesday’s settlement between MBIA and Morgan Stanley leaves BofA as the most important remaining member of the dwindling bank group challenging MBIA’s 2009 restructuring. There’s a de facto deadline of Dec. 30 for settlements in that case, since that’s the day New York’s top financial regulator, Benjamin Lawsky of the Department of Financial Services, has to file a key response to the banks’ allegations. Both Lawsky and MBIA execs have been very clear: they want resolution. So the pressure is on BofA to make a deal.
Last month, as U.S. banks began reporting their third-quarter financials, I noted that the banks had beefed up their disclosure of potential liability for mortgage-backed securities activity. Morgan Stanley revealed that it had received a demand letter from Gibbs & Bruns, the firm that represents the big funds that negotiated the proposed $8.5 billion MBS breach-of-contract settlement with Bank of America. Goldman upped its reported MBS exposure to $15.8 billion, from a mere $485 million in the second quarter. The new emphasis on disclosure, I said, was partly the result of more claims, but also partly due to pressure from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to improve MBS disclosures.
Last week a rumor made the rounds of hedge funds that trade in Bank of America and MBIA shares: The bank had reputedly agreed to settle the bond insurer’s mortgage-backed securities fraud and put-back claims for $5 billion. The rumor turned out to be false, or at least premature, since no settlement is in the offing at the moment. But the size of the rumored deal gives you a sense of the magnitude of the litigation between the banks that packaged and sold mortgage-backed securities and the bond insurers that wrote policies protecting MBS investors. We are talking about billions of dollars — perhaps tens of billions — at stake in suits by MBIA, Syncora, Ambac, and Financial Guaranty against Countrywide, Credit Suisse, GMAC, Morgan Stanley, and other MBS defendants.