Unstructured Finance

One more try at the Great Refi

By Matthew Goldstein

Don’t be surprised if President Obama includes a line or two in his State of Union address this evening about the need for a plan to allow millions of struggling homeowners whose mortgages are packaged into so-called private label mortgage-backed securities to get a chance to either refinance their loans or restructure them.

The Washington Post is reporting today that mortgage refinancing may be one of the laundry list of items Obama will talk about tonight. And for several months now, investors in private mortgage-securities–deals issued by Wall Street banks and financial firms and not guaranteed by Fannie or Freddie–have been quietly bracing for the Obama administration to move forward with a new refinancing effort.

Up until now, the federal government’s main attempts at trying to help homeowners take advantage of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to keep pushing interest rates to zero has been to prod banks and mortgage servicers to refinance home loans held in so-called agency debt guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie. But programs like HAMP and HARP have provided little relief to the millions of homeowners whose loans are held in private label securities.

In other words, the Fed’s efforts to buy up agency mortgage debt to keep rates low has done little to provide relief to borrowers whose loans are packed in private mortgage securities and they owe more money on their loans than their homes are worth. These borrowers have not been able to take advantage of record low mortgage rates, even as many of the private label bonds their loans are bundled into have soured in value.

As my colleagues  Samuel Forgione and Katya Wachtel have pointed out that’s been good news for investors in private mortgage bonds, including hedge funds, especially mortgage funds, but not so much for the actual borrowers.

Essential reading: Sandy damage leads to tax trouble, and more

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* After the hurricane, a mound of tax math. Charles DeLafuentie – The New York Times. People who lost their homes or suffered extensive property damage in Hurricane Sandy may qualify for some help from the Internal Revenue Service, but with the usual caveats: the tax code isn’t simple, and not everybody will qualify. Link 

* A doubly trying tax season for same-sex couples. Peter Applebome – The New York Times. For same-sex couples across the United States, an offshoot of being married is a dizzying set of complications in computing taxes. Link  

* McCain says ‘maybe’ to new taxes to avert sequestration. Ed O’Keefe – The Washington Post. Republican Sen. John McCain said Sunday that he is willing to consider supporting new tax revenue as part of a plan to avert $85 billion in looming budget cuts, as the White House pushed back against Republican lawmakers who say President Barack Obama is solely responsible for the spending reductions. Link  

Essential reading: Higher payroll tax pinches those with the least to spare, and more

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Higher payroll tax pinches those with the least to spare. Nelson Schwartz – The New York Times. At street level, the pain from the expiration of a two-percentage-point break in Social Security taxes in 2011 and 2012 is plain to see. Link

* Tax holiday ends, consumer scrimp. Neil Shah – The Wall Street Journal. Surveys show the majority of Americans who are aware of the tax increase say they plan to cut spending, and consumer confidence has wavered. Link

* Obama’s pre-Superbowl attack on carried interest puts PEGCC on offensive. Hillary Canada – The Wall Street Journal. Following a prime-time attack on carried interest by President Barack Obama, the private equity industry’s lobby group appears to be girding up for a fight regarding carried interest. Link


Some important tax and accounting events in the week ahead:

 Monday, Feb. 11 – Tuesday, Feb. 12

International Bar Association Taxation Section/Chartered Institute of Taxation European Branch conference on the taxation of offshore income of financial institutions, transfer pricing, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and other topics. London.

Wednesday, Feb. 13

Practicing Law Institute Webcast on FATCA. 1 p.m. ET.

The International Tax Institute seminar on FATCA. 12:15 p.m. – 2 p.m. ET, Grand Hyatt New York. New York.

Wednesday, Feb. 13 – Thursday, Feb. 14

Experts from the U.S. Treasury and Congress, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations, and the tax departments of major global corporations address the Tax Council Policy Institute program on the taxation of intangibles. Washington.

Essential reading: Pharmaceutical makers lower their taxes, and more

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

 * A new Rx for tax bills. Jonathan Rockoff – The Wall Street Journal. Drug makers are taking new steps to lower their taxes significantly, in a boon to their bottom lines. Efforts typically involve shifting revenue overseas where it can be taxed at a lower rate than in the U.S. Link 

* White House and business split over tax. Stephanie Kirchgaessner – The Financial Times. Tensions between the White House and business community have risen after President Barack Obama proposed tax hikes on oil and gas companies, as well as on hedge fund executives, in a short-term fix to avoid $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts. Link  

* An oil tax could be one of the least painful ways to trim the deficit. Brad Plumer – The Washington Post. A tax on oil consumption could be one of the least harmful ways to trim the budget deficit. Link  

Essential reading: Obama repeats call to end tax break for corporate jets, and more

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources. 

* Obama repeats call to end tax break for corporate jets. Bart Jansen – USA Today. President Obama wants to stave off massive federal spending cuts scheduled March 1, but one of his suggestions to close tax breaks on corporate jets has upset that industry and Republican congressional leaders. Link  

* States look to pay repair tab. Kris Maher – The Wall Street Journal. Taxpayers and motorists across the country could be billed for fixes to a fraying infrastructure, as the nation’s governors float ideas to raise revenue for repairs that include boosting gasoline and state sales taxes and tying vehicle-registration fees to mileage. Link

Wall Streeters find life really is greener on the other side

Ex Wall Streeters talk about the better life working at a startup

Here’s a post from UF contributor and intrepid Wall Street reporter Lauren T. LaCapra, who is on assignment:

By Lauren Tara LaCapra

“One last question,” the moderator asked the panel of former Wall Streeters now working for fast-growing tech startups. “Would any of you go back to banking?”

One by one the five panelists, some of whom work for hot shops like FourSquare and Spotify, each shook their heads: “No…no…no.”

Essential reading: Waiting on the phone for the IRS, and more

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

 * Tactics for getting the IRS on the phone. Ann Carrns – The New York Times. Millions of people call the IRS each year. Last tax season, the average wait time to speak to a live representative was 17 minutes, up from 12 minutes in 2011, the Government Accountability Office found. Link

 * James Tobin’s big idea is back, again. David Cottle – The Wall Street Journal. The European Commission wants to press ahead with an EU-wide tax on secondary-market bond, equity and derivatives transactions, which it called for in 2011. However, at present it seems that only 11 out of 17 euro-zone countries intend to apply the tax. Link 

 * Accountant-advisers tackle tax-time crunch. Thomas Coyle – The Wall Street Journal. For the growing ranks of those who also offer investment and financial planning, it poses a special challenge: While you’re scrambling to keep up with the demands of tax-filing season – typically putting in late nights and weekends – how do you meet your clients’ other needs? Link

Essential reading: Democrats target corporate tax breaks, and more

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

 * Democrats target corporate tax breaks. James Politi – The Financial Times. Senate Democrats want to slash corporate tax breaks in search of new revenue, as an alternative to $1.2 trillion in impending across-the-board spending cuts, digging in against Republicans who are opposed to higher taxes and stoking calls for a revival of bipartisan deficit talks. Link

 * ‘Tobin tax’ push causes dismay. Chris Flood – The Financial Times. The European Commission appears determined to press ahead with a Europe-wide financial transaction tax in spite of warnings that it threatens the existence of Europe’s 1 trillion euro ($1.37 trillion) money market funds industry. Link 

 * Accounting group hits back at politicians. Adam Jones – The Financial Times. Politicians are unfairly demonising accountants over tax avoidance, according to the head of the UK’s leading accounting institute. The hit back comes after tax experts from the four biggest accounting firms were accused of undermining “the public good” in parliament last week. Link

Essential reading: Early payouts of dividends, bonuses spur a windfall, and more

 Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

 * Early payouts of dividends, bonuses spur a windfall. Josh Mitchell – The Wall Street Journal. Many Americans got a happy financial surprise at the end of last year, as companies pulled forward payouts of dividends and bonuses to beat anticipated January tax increases. Link  

* Exelon to take $270 million charge in tax dispute. Julie Wernau – The Chicago Tribune. The IRS is claiming that ComEd used a financial arrangement called sale-in, lease-out (SILO) in which a tax-exempt entity sells an asset to a private company and leases the asset back, a tax shelter mechanism the IRS decided in 2005 is abusive. Link