Sunday, October 19, 2008
Not Good Being John and Sarah
--In the latest Maloni blog, I hope to start a regular occurrence, a “guest segment,” where a knowledgeable financial services individual shares his or her views in the blog for the readers.
--See our first contribution from a long time friend and colleague, following my pithy contribution!
Bad week for the GOP. “Flush, swirl, swirl, down, down.”
It’s the sound of the McCain-Palin campaign going down the commode.
Senator McCain tried—again--to play Fannie Mae “whack-a Mole” on Barack Obama’s head, in their final debate. McCain resorted to that chestnut three times in three debates. Add Governor Palin’s same tactic in her one debate with Joe Biden and you have four times the GOP ticket, on national TV, tried to con the American public and blame Fannie and Freddie for our nation’s most serious economic problems.
That either makes the Republicans egregious liars or candidates unwilling or unable to understand and explain the real causes of some of these problems.
John McCain and Sarah Palin apparently haven’t read my recent blog, suggesting McCain is a “fraud” for trying to assume alpha dog leadership of the “GSE whistle blowers?” Does he think his name is Sununu, Hagel, Shelby, or even Richard Baker, whose real anti-GSE personas, he’s trying to claim as his own?
And what is Governor Sarah smoking?
Her response to the Alaska Legislature’s “Trooper Gate” report, which detailed her and husband Todd’s part in trying to get her brother-in-law fired from his State Police job, was, “I’m very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing…any hint of any kind of unethical activity there.”
The report very clearly says that she violated the state ethics laws! Were the words too big for her?
I guess in the “I’ll get back ta ya.” wink, wink Palin world, the state investigator’s words mean something else.
My Almost Nobel
Congratulations to Princeton University professor and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman for winning this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics. Krugman just barely edged me out. No Swede told me that I was in the running, but I knew I was.
Notably, just before Krugman’s award was announced—while I was measuring my office drapes at the Nobel Institute--I added two of Krugman’s NYT articles, to the fabulous “index” in my last blog, which contained a variety of high quality works blowing large holes in many of the McCain and Bush distortions about Fannie and Freddie being the cause of the subprime mortgage problems and the broader economic collapse. It must have gotten Krugman over the top.
Good work, Paul, A kronar for your thoughts, or 10 million to be exact.
Just to repeat the obvious, “subprime mortgages securities”—named because Fannie and Freddie only originated “prime” quality mortgages”—were created exclusively by Wall Street outside the GSE systems, employing a direct mortgage broker to investment bank network which delivered loans for packaging and resale throughout the world.
Private label subprime securities (PLS) did not come through or from the more traditional Fannie and Freddie automated underwriting systems.
The financial services companies and hedge funds, chasing high yields in 2006 and 2007, bought hundreds of billions of PLS securities and/or dealt in their derivatives distillations, making huge financial mistakes. Fannie and Freddie were guilty of those same PLS and Alt A mortgage purchases.
These self-inflicted mortal wounds have taken their corporate toll, at Bear Stearns, Indy Mac, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia, Countrywide, WAMU, Lehman Brothers, and AIG and on and on. Fannie and Freddie still exist in some more dead than alive “zombie state.”
I expect that others soon will make that trip to capitalism’s Boot Hill.
All of these businesses made the same egregious error. They bought the poisonous PLS subprime garbage or similar low quality mortgage backed securities. The poorly underwritten mortgage loans backing the bonds went bad so completely and quickly, that the private guarantors could pay not their debts and/or ineffectively bought sophisticated hedges upon other sophisticated hedges, with the results not changing.
A bunch of “smart financial services people” outsmarted themselves and the nation is paying for it.
If you must have someone or something to blame, you might ask how did all of these financial services companies and hundreds more--each of which was regulated by one of the following federal regulators SEC, Fed, Comptroller, OFHEO, or the OTS—avoid having their primary regulator flag, stop or slow down their financial stupidity, before they had no option but to go belly up?
Rather than own up to that, it’s easier for McCain and fellow travelers, including our very unpopular President George W. Bush, to prevaricate and blame for the fault two “cutesy pootsie great headlines named companies,” than to tell the truth about disengaged or neglectful federal financial regulators, playing their GOP parts as lovers of laissez faire business practices.
Let’s Use the GSEs!
There were other notable developments this past week, as the nation lurched from bailout crisis to bailout crisis and as most people saw their 401 (K) shrink to 101 (B) size. These included non-choreographed but complementary—and possibly prescient-- statements by banker Lew Ranieri, economist Susan Woodward and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), of House Financial Services Committee fame.
Their common theme was “don’t forget Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the heretofore Maloni-designated “dead”), when the real work starts.
Frank and Woodward (she in a Washington Post op-ed) reminded Treasury not to ignore Fannie and Freddie when it took on its Herculean new task of cleaning out the Aegean mortgage stables.
Ranieri, the “father of mortgage backed securities” and a delightful and very smart individual who has been in the mortgage business for 30 years, said the following to an audience at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Research.
"The biggest and most necessary challenge will be rebuilding Fannie and Freddie. We are not going to have a market unless we have a deep, stable institution or institutions willing to take appropriate risk and carry it into the future….A properly reconfigured Fannie and Freddie is the most important thing we can do."
Speaking of which, with all of the focus on the new $750 Billion initiative and everybody wondering how it’s going to get done and who is going to do it and will it be enough, etc. etc, has anyone seen the US Treasury put one emergency dollar into Fannie? Has Treasury paid any of Fannie’s creditors or sent checks to those holding GSE MBS? Did Treasury step up and meet a Fannie payroll?
The answer to all of these is “No,” because Fannie seems to have their own money and continues to meet all of its financial obligations.
Did anyone look at Fannie’s Second Quarter business report and notice that the company paid federal taxes? You only do that when you make money, not lose it.
Those “Second Quarter” losses, which caused the Admin and the Hill to go to the racks, were accounting losses, based on the same accounting rules which regulators now seem to be relaxing.
If Fannie’s “Third Quarter” report—due out in a few weeks--shows that they paid federal taxes for the last three months, some of the bright Senators and Congressmen, who rolled over when Paulson “at the last minute” asked for “emergency” authority to nationalize the GSEs, just might want to ask, “What in the Hell just happened” and on what basis did Fannie stop being a viable company, since it had and still has positive capital?
For those who just don’t understand how the mortgage market really works, let me state that our markets require a dedicated mortgage investor, so lenders readily can sell their originations and not have to hold mortgage loans on their books.
The Congress and the new Administration either will awake to this commercial reality and either create a new one or set; utilize the remnants of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or as my friend writes below, the country better learn to like adjustable rate mortgages, because that’s all the banks will make.
In the wake of this current real estate meltdown who wants top hold mortgage debt or MBS, unless that is your exclusive and unquestioned market role?
I first met Gwenn Hibbs 25 years ago, when I went to work at the old Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the savings and loan industry regulator, and she was a staff attorney. The Bank Board, under the late Jay Janis and his very able assistant Rita Fair, had a covey of super bright young lawyers, many of whom I’ve been fortunate enough to stay associated with over the years.
Gwenn was part of that group of smart financial regulatory lawyers who worked extremely hard in the nation’s last financial services crisis, when the thrift industry imploded. In addition to her technical legal skills, I remember that Gwenn once wrote every lyric for a dozen lawyer sung songs for a Bank Board holiday party.
When I first could, I hired Gwenn to work with me at Fannie Mae, as my legislative counsel.
I told people that Gwenn, as a lawyer, “could do more with two commas than most attorneys could do with 10 words.” She retired from Fannie before I did and, since, has worked with kids in need, taught music and instruments (she’s an accomplished musician), helped write a family book with her sister, trained many dogs, and can freeze you with one look, when you cross her.
Gwenn Hibbs: Bait and Switch
Houston, we have a problem. Since July, the Hank Paulson Sleight-of-Hand Magic Show has swallowed the other branches of government. Working with the FHFA, and the enormous new powers of the TARP, he’s already started a process to disappear the GSE underpinnings of the housing sector. As a nice bonus, the same Wall Street companies who sold $1.5 trillion in subprime neutron bombs to investors will live to play another day, and their shareholders will be sleeping soundly for a long time to come.
September 7, Hank Speaks: The GSEs, albeit solvent and exceeding statutory capital requirements, will be “rescued” into conservatorship -- supposedly to remove systemic risk, address moral hazard, and restore solvency and investor confidence. Hank also says that we must bury the “flawed” GSE business model of thin capital, mixing private profit incentives with a public purpose. Way too risky. No more shareholder dividends, no more lobbying and no more talking to anyone else in government without permission.
Also for the greater good – but clearly harming capital, solvency and investor confidence -- Hank announced that the GSEs would shun turning a profit, increase support for housing, lower guarantee fees, and go on a starvation diet after the election. Translation: Shareholders lose their shirts and employees may lose their pensions; asset sales and reorganization could occur without any further congressional oversight; but America recaptures Free Market Discipline.
Fast forward to September 16: ”ginormous” Paradigm Shift alert.
The new rules: highly leveraged buccaneer firms on the verge of bankruptcy (well, except Lehman Brothers, don’t ask) are allowed to socialize their losses at taxpayer expense. Oh, and we don’t need to send another message on that whole "you need more capital/moral hazard" thing, do we?
September 16: AIG gulps down an initial loan of some $80 billion; it uses the bailout pot to lobby against stricter regulation and throw itself $400,000 parties.
October 3: Congress allots $700 billion to rescue every Tom, Dick and Harry Hedge Fund who ever made a bad subprime loan or underwrote toxic MBS. Mysteriously, Lockhart refuses to say if Fan and Fred will be allowed to sell assets through TARP
October 15: Hank announces a new, improved TARP plan never mentioned to Congress – inject equity in ailing banks, guarantee interbank loans, and guarantee all non-interest bearing deposits. Any firm that participates can continue to pay dividends, and overpay executives as they please. The common shareholders will live to see share values rise again in the near future. Pundits say the real all-in cost will be $2 trillion.
What we learned in school today: Our regulatory regime at every level failed to appreciate the risk of subprime securitization, and didn't require enough capital from anyone. But if no one had enough capital to survive the Wild West of subprime profiteering, how come we're only blaming Fannie Mae? Because what's good for Wall Street is good for America. A GSE-free market means much higher profits for Wall Street with lower risk -- say goodbye to 30-yr. FRMs and learn to love ARMs.