Friday, May 7, 2010

“Hot Air” McCain is Still Full of Hot Air

In arguing for his amendment to the Senate’s financial regulatory reform bill to end any federal relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain claims that not ending government support for Fannie and Freddie is the equivalent of “declaring war on terrorism, without going after Al Queda.”

One might suggest that McCain’s true agenda—turning over the nation’s mortgage finance system to the large commercial banks—is as specious as running for President with Sarah Palin as your Vice-President.

During his failed presidential campaign against Barack Obama, Senator John McCain (R-Ari) tried to make a campaign issue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There was little doubt that the mortgage giants invested heavily in Wall Street created private mortgage backed securities and lost billions leading to a federal Takeover, but McCain’s early record on this matter—when he was Chairman of a Senate subcommittee and the Republicans controlling the Senate—was limited to a single floor statement, no legislation introduced, nor any hearings held.

In seeking to link Obama to something to which he had no connection, McCain claimed a record of Fannie and Freddie opposition which existed only in his own mind, as I pointed out in my blog and to national audiences when—surrounded on his campaign staff by a half dozen ex-Fannie and Freddie lobbyists—McCain hypocritically and falsely hypothesized a non-existent Obama-GSE relationship, claiming it was evidence of the future President’s bad judgment.

Just as Emperor McCain had no clothes on then, he’s covered by a bare fig leaf now.

McCain’s amendment, while discussing viability of the GSEs, puts in place new rules which insure the demise of the two institutions which even in their current hobbled status are providing 75% of all US mortgage finance.

The McCain proposal is a giveaway of the nation’s mortgage finance system to the large commercial banks and their allies that would occur from the business death of Fannie and Freddie.

The Administration and House Democrats want to work on producing a successor mortgage finance system before restructuring what now is in place. But McCain and his friends are going for a kill shot now.

National mortgage finance requires constancy and is not well served by a McCain mortgage finance system controlled by unreliable large commercial banks and their subsidiaries (which right now refuse to much lending for mortgages or small business).

McCain’s legisative explanation refers to the tired rhetoric that his bank beneficiaries are “private sector,” conveniently ignoring that all receive federally subsidized deposit insurance and a boat load of federal TARP funds, initiated by the Bush Administration and continued under President Obama.

McCain’s amendment should be defeated and the Congress’ necessary work on federal financial regulatory reform should not be held hostage to “Senator McBank.”

Maloni, 5-7-2010


mam1959mam said...

Bill - I am greatly disappointed at both Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the GSE's.

I find it laughable now that the GSE's were squabbling intensely with OFHEO over management of earnings accounting matters, which in hindsight, now seem incredibly insignificant. The GSE's - the only two publicly listed companies exempted from SEC accounting rules - have been grossly insolvent for quite some time. OFHEO was out to lunch, and so were the GSE's and so were the politicians. We are all paying for it.

Yes, I understand your desire to have a "consistent" national federal mortgage market. But it cannot be at the costs we are currently incurring. And by "we" I mean the taxpayer. Unlike with many of the commercial bank TARP recipients, who have paid back TARP funds and will likely continue to do so, taxpayers will never receive a return from their investment in the GSE's. There are billions and billions that have been spent, and it won't end, not for quite some time. We could end up with a 400 billion dollar bill (easy), and yet the toxic securities the GSE's hold may not yet be worked out or sold. Someone is going to have to bite the bullet - yes - it is the case that the GSE's are sustaining the mortgage market now - but at what price? Asset price to income ratios are grossly out of whack, and asset prices need to come down. An argument can be made that they are enabling the problem the problem, Japan style. Let the housing market work, and get prices down to where there is a consistent 3 to 1 (or less) asset to income ratio - that is when real purchases can be made with "real loans".

And the GSE's cannot continue to buy or support loans to people who cannot make 30 year commitments - they need to get smaller, and serve only quality credit risks, politics or not. At some point the numbers really do matter over the politics - and we have reached that point some time ago. Ok, fine, I see a place for the GSE's, but they better be much smaller, lean, and efficient, and in the business of underwriting quality, 30 year instruments with real equity and sound credit risks. That is not a profitable business, but if one really believes that the GSE's serve an important social component, then that is where they must be.

Anonymous said...

Bill & readers, here is a recent entry from Barry Ritholtz's blog The Big Picture. He still has no takers on his offer last year of $100k to anyone able to prove empirically the crisis was caused by either CRA or Fannie/Freddie. I've divided it into 2 pieces due to your comment space limita.Enjoy.

Give Me Rewrite May 10, 2010

My approach to everything I have written, studied and analyzed in this space is pretty straight forward: Start with the data and evidence and go forward from there. Figure out what the “Truth” is; try to get as close to the objective reality beneath the noise in order to make intelligent investing decisions for myself and my clients.

There are others who do not share this objective. Their goals are either political (winning the next election) or ideological (having their belief system become dominant). Truth is irrelevant to these people.

Not surprisingly, these folks — many of whom contributed to the crisis in a mighty way — are desperately trying to duck responsibility for what happened. Those who helped cause the crisis are engaged in an ongoing effort to rewrite its history.

Their goal? Exonerate their own bad behavior, throw off any responsibility for the collapse, blame anything but their own ideology and horrific decision making. They want to keep pushing their tired political agendas, despite the damage they may have caused.

When writing Bailout Nation, I tried to steer clear of partisan finger pointing. I kept the focus on what actually occurred, what could be proven mathematically. I blamed Democrats and Republicans — not equally, but in proportion to their actions, and what they did. Unsupported theories, tenuous connection, loose affiliations were not part of the analysis.

To be blameworthy, every legislative change, each regulatory failure, any corporate action had to manifest themselves in actual mathematical proof. This led me to ascertain the following 30 year sequence:

-Free market absolutism becomes the dominant intellectual thought.
-Deregulation of markets, investment houses, and banks becomes a broad goal: This led to Glass Steagall repeal, unfettering of Derivatives, Investing house leverage exemptions, and a new breed of unregulated non bank lenders.
-Legislative actions reduce or eliminate much of the regulatory oversight; SEC funding is weakened.
-Rates come down to absurd levels.
-Bond managers madly scramble for yield.
-Derivatives, non-bank lending, leverage, bank size, compensation levels all run away from prior levels.
-Wall Street securitizes whatever it can to satisfy the demand for higher yields.
-”Lend to securitize” nonbank mortgage writers sell enormous amounts of subprime loans to Wall Street for this purpose.
-To meet this huge demand, non bank lenders collapse lending standards (banks eventually follow), leading to a credit bubble.
-The Fed approves of this “innovation,” ignores risks.
-Housing booms . . . then busts
-Credit freezes, the markets collapse, a new recession begins.

You will note that the CRA is not part of this sequence. I could find no evidence that they were a cause or even a minor factor. If they were, the housing bubbles would not have been in California or S. Florida or Las Vegas or Arizona — Harlem and South Philly and parts of Chicago and Washington DC would have been the focus of RE bubbles.

Nor do I blame Fannie and Freddie. Now understand, there is no love lost between myself and the GSEs. For years, I have called them “Phoney and Fraudy.” Since George Bush and Hank Paulson nationalized them, I have accused the government of using these two as a backdoor bailout for banks — a hidden PPIP/TARP used to buy all the garbage mortgages that banks are desperate to get off their balance sheets. Longtime readers will recall we very publicly shorted Fannie based upon their fraudulent practices and horrific balance sheet when FNM’s stock was in the $40s (it soon after collapsed).

Anonymous said...

second half of Ritholtz piece...

But even I cannot reconcile reality with the movement to place all of the world’s troubles at the feet of the GSEs. Not, at least, according to the data.

That lack of evidence, however, doesn’t stop ideologues from trying. Consider this attempt at rewriting the causes of the credit crisis by Kevin Hassett:

“The worst financial crisis in generations was set off by a massive government effort, led by the two mortgage giants, to make loans to homebuyers no matter whether they could make the payments. Lenders were willing to lend money to just about all comers, no matter how low their income. Why? Because the lenders knew Fannie and Freddie would purchase the loans from them for a high price before bundling them into securities to sell to investors.”

Now, this makes for a fascinating narrative that plays into a number of different ideological beliefs. It exonerates the radical free market deregulators, it ignores what the private sector did, and it somehow ignores the fact that Congress was controlled by a very conservative GOP from 1994 to 2006 — the prime period of time covered leading up to and including the beginning of the crisis.

But worse than all of that, the data supporting Hassett’s position simply isn’t there.

Over the past 2 years, I have repeatedly asked the people who push this narrative to provide some evidence for their positions. I have offered a $100,000 if they could prove their case.

Specifically, I have requested some data or evidence that DISPROVED the following facts:

-The origination of subprime loans came primarily from non bank lenders not covered by the CRA;

-The majority of the underwriting, at least for the first few years of the boom, were by these same non-bank lenders

-When the big banks began chasing subprime, it was due to the profit motive, not any mandate from the President (a Republican) or the the Congress (Republican controlled) or the GSEs they oversaw.

-Prior to 2005, nearly all of these sub-prime loans were bought by Wall Street — NOT Fannie & Freddie

-In fact, prior to 2005, the GSEs were not permitted to purchase non-conforming mortgages.

-After 2005, Fannie & Freddie changed their own rules to start buying these non-conforming mortgages — in order to maintain market share and compete with Wall Street for profits.

-The change in FNM/FRE conforming mortgage purchases in 2005 was not due to any legislation or marching orders from the President (a Republican) or the the Congress (Republican controlled). It was the profit motive that led them to this action.

These are data supported facts I pounded on in BN.

Of course, folks like Hassett hate this factual history, as it conflicts with their goals and politics. Rather than produce evidence, they create story lines unsupported by facts. But Monkeys love a good narrative, and so they give that to them.

However, as an investor, I demand evidence, data and facts. The blame Fannie & Freddie crowd have managed to remain blissfully data free. They have steadfastly ignored all calls for proof.

Its way past the time to call out their intellectual dishonesty. If you cannot show any data, if you cannot prove what you are alleging with actual facts, you need to be called out for what it is you actually are: Proponents of a failed philosophy.

Bill Maloni said...

Forgive me for being slow in responding to "comments."

I merely will say that I believe
that Fannie abnd Freddie--which screwed up royally with their 2007 subprime purchases--played into the hands of a massively successful effort to demonize each company.

I see nothing which would allow for their political resurrection, even positive earnings (which I believe are on the horizon).

That doesn't mean whatever successor mortgage finance arrangement eventually clears Congress won't maintain a similar secondary mortgage market structure and function.

It should since it works and because today--and who knows how long into the future--the large banks will go nowhere near the mortgage market unless their activites are riskless, meaning totally protected by the federal government.

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