Bank of America has managed to step into the kimchee several times over the past couple of months, an achievement that only warms the hearts of crisis communications professionals. First came the abortive settlement of $10 billion or so in put-back claims by some large investors. The State of New York and anyone else paying attention intervened. Settlement is now mostly muerto in political terms, although the big investors are still paying the big lawyers to soldier on in hope of forcing a settlement on all parties. Only in New York are such things possible.
We hear on almost a weekly basis that mortgage interest rates in the US are at all-time lows. The annual percentage rates in mortgage advertisements seem near an historic nadir. The Fed has even begun to purchase long-dated mortgage backed securities (MBS) in an effort to push rates even lower and, hopefully, spur more refinancing activity.
In a Washington Post report this week, the Obama Administration was said to have decided to adopt a proposal to continue a major government presence in financing mortgages. The Treasury subsequently denied this report in a statement posted by Deputy Secretary Neal S. Wolin:
For the past several years, my firm has been arguing that restructuring is the only way to solve the problems facing the largest US banks — the top four institutions that exercise a de facto cartel over the US housing market. After years of earning what seemed to be supra normal returns from the “gain on sale” world of US mortgage originations, the large service banks are now drowning in the same sea of risk that once made them seem so profitable.
Some disclosures: I review the new book, “Reckless Endangerment: How outsized ambition, greed, and corruption led to economic Armageddon”, by Gretchen Morgenson and Josh Rosner, not because both authors are my friends. They are. Nor do I review this book because it concisely summarizes the confluence of public policy and private avarice we all know as the subprime mortgage crisis. It does, and more.
About a year ago, Arianna Huffington called my friend and colleague Dennis Santiago and asked if my firm could provide a list of “good banks” for an effort she was planning. Along with Rob Johnson from the Roosevelt Institute, Huffington conceived of something called “Move your Money,” which sought to get consumers to move their business from large banks to smaller community institutions.