Sunday, May 14, 2017

A lie here, a tall tale there…….

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

GSE Good News from Mel Watt;  
Comey’s Firing Fails Smell Test

Yay Mel Watt; MW for FHFA Director???

I know, I know, he already has the job, but in my view—and I don’t know if Watt applied the pressure up or someone at Treasury pushed it down—Watt’s testimony before a hostile Senate Banking Committee was as close to a “GSE Profile in Courage” as we’ve had in many moons.

Lots of us on the political fringes can blog, talk and support “Fannie Mae recap and release,” but we don’t have the influence or the FHFA Director’s pulpit.

It took Mel Watt (and I suspect those above him in this Admin) to suggest a logical and different approach in a substantive way and—to my twisted sense of justice--shove the need and rationale for the mortgage finance system’s greater good right up the orifices of some arrogant doubting Senators (pick your party).

He called for “recap” and was a little light on “relief,” but it still sounded real good.

Former Congressman Watt walked into the SBC “Valley of Death” hearing room and simply testified—in effect--“Hear me, I’m the biggest, baddest regulatory Mother %$#@&% in this valley.”

(Paraphrasing, Watt said), “It is better to let Fannie and Freddie keep some of their quarterly earnings as capital protection against future losses then to lend them more money if those losses occur—as some of you Senators suggest--since the latter could send an unwanted signal, threatening the financial markets quite broadly.”

The Senators heard him, loud and clear.

There is little chance that Watt’s daring and audacious position did not reflect—right now--exactly where the Treasury Department is on the matter and, maybe, President Trump himself.

Bold and accurate, Watt took no crap from Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and pushed back at the most antagonistic of the anti-GSE committee members.

See excerpt of Paul Muolo’s Inside Mortgage Finance Watt Senate hearing article, below.

By Paul Muolo
Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt has a law degree and is a former member of Congress. Anyone who has followed him over the years, especially during his time at the FHFA, knows that when he speaks, it’s in measured tones and he’s quite careful about what he says. If you watched his testimony before a Senate panel this week, you can read in between the lines and come to the conclusion that his message boiled down to this: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will not take another government draw, at least not while I’m in charge…
In the second to last paragraph of his prepared remarks, Watt did a masterful job of setting the table, knowing full well that what he’s suggesting by allowing Fannie and Freddie to build capital once again would ruffle more than a few feathers: “It would, therefore, be a serious misconception for members of this Committee, or for anyone else, to consider any actions FHFA may take as conservator to avoid additional draws of taxpayer support either as interference with the prerogatives of Congress, as an effort to influence the outcome of housing finance reform, or as a step toward recap and release…” 

I certainly hope that Mr. Watt’s performance vis-à-vis Sen. Corker reflects a second GSE story which appeared earlier last week in Rocky Top Politics (see link below).

Anyone looking for more information on Corker’s reported questionable financial adventures can find that information in the Rocky Top archives on the same page.


Comey: We now know that when this White House says something isn’t— IT generally “IS”

This Pittsburgh puppy ain’t consuming the latest White House “dog food” offered up by the Trump kennel managers, explaining why President Trump suddenly fired FBI Director James Comey.

That pooch fare just doesn’t taste/smell right and violates my limited canine taste of how this POTUS operates.

When the surprising, “He fired the FBI Director” announcement first popped, I contacted a friend who works with the FBI on serious matters, asking him about Comey’s “in the Bureau” reputation.

He told me that Comey, across the board, did well as an organizational leader and he (my friend) knew of no internal complaints, implying no hint of internecine Director-hostility on anything representing the grand unhappiness scale the WH spinners suggested.

That doesn’t mean DJT liked Comey personally and I could see where this Prez might not. But what I can’t see is President Trump worried about 1) drooping federal employee morale or 2) injustice shown toward Hillary Clinton.

After all, to name a few Trump appointees who have produced that negative workplace impact, the President named Scott Pruitt, a wingnut anti-environmentalist to head EPA, upsetting those employees; chose Betsy DeVos, a public school opponent to run the Department of Education, upsetting those employees; picked former MoC Dr. Tom Price, an Obamacare opponent and anti-medical care spending zealot (not counting his controversial stock trades while a House Member) to oversee the Department of Health and Human Services, upsetting HHS employees.

Does anyone really believe that the thousands of employees at those three federal operations mentioned above are content with and in rapture over their new bosses, who seem to oppose their very agency missions and core assignments?

Maloni and Comey

Last year--as many Democrats were--I was PO’d at James Comey, when I thought he engaged in ugly partisan politics, with his unnecessary announcement of the non-indictment of Hillary Clinton, just days before the 2016 presidential election.

But, I figured he’s an R and wanted to help Trump win. While it sucked—given my belief about appointed senior government execs—it didn’t shock me.

So, following the Trump win, Comey goes about his FBI business. Had I been asked, I would have said Comey was doing a decent job, since he seemed to be angering D’s and R’s alike, which never is a bad standard.

Wham! Then last week, Trump drops the unemployment hammer on Comey.

After the fact, Trump called Comey a show boater!!?? (I guess it takes one to know one.)

Did Comey attract too much of the media glare which the insatiable Trump wanted?

Now I’m left trying to figure out what really happened…since the WH seldom tells the truth.

Instead, Spicer adopt Kim Jong-un North Korean type media visions, suggesting our POTUS is driven only by the purest of motives after deeply considering all the reasonable alternatives.

No thanks, I prefer to follow my instincts and sechel (Yiddish for brains or smarts).

The President, bored with his day job and the slings and arrows of the presidency, gets the DoJ—in the person of newbie Deputy Attorney General  Rod Rosenstein, who still is trying to locate the Department’s men’s rooms—to author a memo suggesting Comey bungled last year investigation into “Hillary Clinton.”

That memo’s talking points are given to all of the rightwing media and they begin chattering in the same vein about what Rosenstein found and what the President had to do (reportedly pissing off Rosenstein, who saw himself being set up and blamed for the justification to fire Comey).

A desperate Administration then exhumes Kellyanne “Conwoman”-- brushes from her outfit the dead leaves and dirt, the smell of embalming fluid, slaps some makeup on her, twice, since she does day and nighttime CNN interviews with Tapper and Cooper--where she claims Trump fired Comey because Rosenstein said the latter’s investigation  was unfair to Hillary Clinton. (OK, she unconvincingly did her piece, get the coffin and fluids ready and return her.)

Comey was “Unfair to Hillary,” the person who Trump spent every day last year battering, demeaning, calling for her imprisonment, and more. Really, Kellyanne, really??

The other White House explanation of the dismissal is that Comey would not pledge fealty to the President.

Sounds better. But is this the Middle Ages, i.e., “Your orange Liege-ness, I promise to…?”

But the Pres keeps chirping/tweeting and changes the storyline. Ooops.


How about this for a real reason?

I say, Comey’s Russian investigation was getting embarrassingly close to the POTUS, his family business interests, and allies. He felt hassled and upset.

DAG Rosenstein and AG Jeff Sessions (wasn’t the AG supposed to recuse himself from all Russian DoJ matters??) provide grist for dumping Comey, the FBI "engineer" driving this inquiry train?

In my explanation fantasy, the POTUS yells, “Hey, works for me. After all I am the President; just put in my letter that he told me three times I wasn’t under investigation, three times, so I can point to it. Despite the fact, clearly, that it was just stupid and illegal of me to ask and him to answer”

A spineless and compliant Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell--whose questionably credentialed spouse is holding down another cabinet sceretarial spot--quickly announces the obvious, he will not support an Independent Counsel or Special Prosecutor, after Trump’s reincarnation of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” which this year DJT performed on a Tuesday.

House Speaker Paul Ryan—the proven lightweight lemming ewe, who can’t leave tracks in wet mud--lines up with McConnell insisting the two congressional investigations, which very few people believe can accomplish much, will handle the Russian investigation.

“Move along folks, nothing to see here.”

Reportedly Steve Bannon is working on a new Trump tweet. (But will it fit on a baseball hat?)

“You better ignore my many foibles, innumerable conflicts, family soap operas, and love me, or I will smite you! “Donald J. Trump, President.

We’ll see just how the American public accepts this presidential high handedness and Trump ego-mania.

Which family owned golf course will the taxpayers send DJT to next to soothe the Prez’s frazzled nerves??

After the healthcare debacle, again, in the House, I would think the American public would be so upset and see through this Comey charade that the White House will find itself in more political trouble, even with Hill Republicans and conservative media.

We’ll see.

Maloni, 5-14-2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

This and That!

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

GSEs and Healthcare; the latter not a POTUS Win

Every week, I talk or otherwise interact (lots of emails and texts) with dozens of people focused on the GSE issues.

But while some homogenization exists, most of those with whom I deal seem to care more about the GSE preferred or common stock price and don’t, surprisingly, focus on the nation’s mortgage finance delivery system, and who/what would control it if dramatically altered, i.e. as most of the Hill proposals would.

To me more than any stock price bump--more likely drop, given the financial and social peril if it is delivered into the wrong hands—governing control is the crucial part of the lengthy and intractable imbroglio. 

Personally, I don’t know any of the mega hedge fund GSE mavens, but do know several people who years ago—way before 2008—invested in the GSEs and have watched their hopes crumble of catching financial lightning in a bottle with their early Fannie and Freddie investments. I feel for them.

Their increasingly rueful stories appears on many of the GSE blogs where they can offer up their frustration and unhappiness.

I welcome and enjoy discourse with both groups. Indeed the major investors need to be acknowledged because they have driven—and paid for--all of the primary lawsuits which keep the future of the GSEs alive, operationally. My thanks to them for those actions.

I worry less about the GSE stock trading multiples and more about the nature of the future mortgage system model which survives the producing end of the public policy meat grinder, because I think one begets the other.

If policy makers ever agree on the one, then you realize the second.

Secure the GSE System, Price Comes Later

Fannie and Freddie stock prices, despite their $20 billion per annum product—never trade on economic returns, market share, etc. the stuff that moves other publicly traded stock, but whims and whiffs of GSE political or legal developments (not many of the latter, lately).

IMO because of the legal/political uncertainty, GSE preferred and common shares are bouncing political footballs (sorry my legalistic friends) as we’ve seen in so many cases decided in the “Lamberth” vein.

Yes, the GSE preferred stock is a “contract,” which bears distinction from the common shares and the common—depending on a positive resolution of the GSEs current value—could have value of several times current prices.

Yes, the courts still may offer a better hope than any congressional exercise, since this Congress is not made up of honest brokers nor people who have displayed deep understanding of how mortgages are originated, financed, or the best way to deliver those to their constituents, most of whom want ease, access, and fairness when they shop for a mortgage loan.

I contend, if policy makers just focused only on--“What is the best, fairest, most easily employed, transparent, mortgage finance delivery system for all Americans,who qualify for mortgage loans?"--the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac model and experience, hands down, is superior to all conventional loan competitors.

Especially so, if those congressional policymakers realized that the “all Americans” are their constituents or better yet, their constituents will know if their Senator or Member of Congress whiffs on their interests but embraces the promises of the big bank crowd.

Look to Tim Howard's Proposal

More aggressively, I would argue, that all of the “Inside the Beltway” think tank, aerie faeirie replacement schemes, being touted by the industry groups and special financial interests, pall when compared to the Tim Howard “remake them as utilities” idea which he has logically constructed and capitalized, which appears on his blog.

The latter idea preserves the best of the GSEs but adds proscribed limits on what critics claim are Fannie and Freddie shortcomings, i.e. profits and scope of business activity.
Washington skeptics, please re-read that last sentence and think about it.

And the Howard proposal would not disrupt the current regulatory regime, which already has sanitized the GSE operational mode and did away with the single biggest element of the pre-2008 financial debacle, i.e., authority to buy/securitize subprime mortgage products.

(Please note that the bank financial regulators have not banned their regulated institutions—the likely beneficiaries if the GSEs were disassembled--from selling those products.)

Bad Guys Secretly Creeping into Fed Posts

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned the dozens of anti-GSE types lurking in the DC policy area still with their long knives out and still desirous of damaging the two.

The Washington Post’s Sunday editorial (excerpt below) suggests why my concerns have foundation.

“WHAT DID President Trump really mean when he vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington? Did he mean to break up the endemic conflicts of interest among lobbyists, industry and public servants? Certainly Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric implied that he would discourage the mingling of political power and influence. On taking office, Mr. Trump’s executive order on ethics toughened the rules on government officials when they leave, barring them for five years from lobbying on topics they worked on in government.

In the same executive order, Mr. Trump also attempted to prevent conflicts of interest when officials join the government. Specifically, under Mr.Trumps order, officials must pledge that, for two years from taking office, they will not participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to former employers or clients. Also, if they were lobbyists in two years before taking office, they must promise to stay away from any specific issue they lobbied on, a ban that should also last for the first two years in government.

Now come reports the Trump White House is issuing secret waivers to the president’s own ethics rules, allowing incoming officials to work on issues they handled before becoming public servants. The New York Times reports that in the Obama years, there were waivers issued under narrow circumstances, but the waivers and explanations were made public. The Trump administration is no longer disclosing and no longer explaining.

How many waivers have been issued? No one seems to know, but the president is appointing former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who are in many cases working on policies affecting the same industries they served before, according to a survey conducted by the Times in collaboration with ProPublica. For example, they reported, a top White House energy adviser is handling the same issues that were of concern as a lobbyist for major energy-industry clients.

Last Week’s House Healthcare Vote 

I don’t care what anyone thinks about the current Obamacare health system, which hardly was coming apart as critics suggested, but how could anyone find anything ennobling about how the House--on a pure party line vote, with some in the GOP voting “no”--passed a bill on which they had few details, no objective cost estimates, no measurement of Americans served or exposed to losing their insurgence,  far more expensive coverage,  no easily understood protection for those citizens with pre-existing conditions, sketchy policy tax breaks for the wealthy, and a bill that most American major medical groups opposed?

(List of opponents.*)

·         American Medical Association
·         American Hospital Association & Federation of American Hospitals
·         American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
·         American Health Care Association (AHCA)
·         America’s Essential Hospitals
·         America’s Hospitals and Health Systems
·         American Public Health Association
·         National Disability Rights Network
·         National Partnership Women and Families
·         National Physicians Alliance
·         American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
·         National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
·         Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum
·         National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare
·         National Center for Transgender Equality
·         Catholic Health Association of the United States
·         American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
·         National Education Association
·         American Federation for Suicide Prevention
·         Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
·         HIV Medicine Association
·         Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
·         MomsRising
·         Children’s Defense Fund
·         Families USA
·         Consumers Union
·         Sister Simone Campbell
·         NETWORK Advocates for Catholic Social Justice
·         Young Invincibles
·         Planned Parenthood

*List from the office of Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md).

IMO, that vote all was about a rightwing House voting against the former Black President’s signature legislative achievement to the detriment of millions of lower income, elderly and poor Americans who need that system, with its working state exchanges????

Wait until those people wake up and find out what the POTUS and GOP did to them.

That tortured legislative exercise was produced so our intellectually uninquisitive, non-reading, incapable of identifying with family hardship President--who didn’t know what was in the healthcare bill  voted down before and didn’t know the details of what passed last week—could chortle over a pyric/ersatz victory that it and he are “great!”

His “win” which likely came at the expense of millions of the least able and the oldest of us all, whom he promised to help prosper.

I expect his insurance industry allies are happy but many of the American people can’t be.

Maybe DJT can go, again, to Pennsylvania or West Virginia and brag how he helped all of those residents with this slash and burn healthcare legislation.

Sorry DJT, not leadership. 

Best line, I read, describing the Trump/Ryan healthcare bill--crucial details of which were not available to the undemanding House R’s when they voted overwhelmingly for it last Thursday—was penned by Ross Douthat in New York Times:

Thursday’s House vote for the American Health Care Act, a misbegotten Obamacare quasi-replacement with the favorable ratings of diphtheria and the strong support of almost nobody on the right who cares about health policy, will necessarily be the undoing of the congressional G.O.P.”

Yay Douthat: the ‘”favorable ratings of diphtheria,” what super descriptive prose!

I wouldn’t be shocked if diphtheria’s favorability ratings are close to those of the current Congress.

Maloni, 5-8-2017

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

GSE Arrow Points Down

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

One Man’s Opinion; GSEs get Skunked;
GOP Politics Buries Recap and Release,
If R&R has a’s Faint and Ebbing

I don’t know about Steve Mnuchin’s pre-Treasury relationships with major GSE advocates, investors, and Trump allies like Bruce Berkowitz, Bill Ackman, Carl Icahn, John Paulson, Gary Cohn, etc. etc. But those close collegial campaign-contributor ties were offered up by many as the reason Mnuchin and Trump would save the GSEs from the Obama Admin calumny and return the mortgage giants to active function.

See/read “Nooch” in November, 2016.

No, the soon-to-be Treasury Secretary didn’t endorse recap and relief, specifically, but most knowledgeable observers realized he had executive authority to end the “earnings sweep” and give the GSEs a new capital base from which the other wishes he expressed easily could follow.

But I think Mnuchin’s Maria Bartiromo interview torpedoing GSE “recap and release,” shows you how quickly Washington politics can curdle and compromise principles and principals—not to mention shrink their gonads.

GSE supporters may not realize it, but we just got assailed with what, in my youth, we called an “orange goozie mae-mae,” i.e. something bad and penetratingly uncomfortable.

Mnuchin (see above link), before he got buried in his Treasury job, was quite adamant about how he was going to get the GSEs out of government control and back operationally as private owned institutions supporting the nation’s need for fair and equitable mortgage financing.

I know that kind of talk just pissed off many in the GOP congressional world. I am certain—once they mutually realized that Mnuchin would need these guys down the road for many votes--the Secretary was told his preferred executive GSE-tango wasn’t on the Hill's dance card.

So, over the last few weeks, he’s seemed to back off, first on his timing, from as soon as possible to sometime later this year, and now on his approach. (I’m sure the $20 Billion the GSEs ship Treasury annually got his attention, too.)

Mnuchin: “I didn’t say recap and release” (No, Mr. Secretary but you sure implied it or some other form of quick substantive relief.)

With all of Mnuchin’s current unrealistic silly talk about bipartisan compromise—which does not exist when GSEs are the subject-- the Secretary, instead of acting boldly on some available regulatory action, which would make good on his word, now suggests he will lend his support to some soggy scheme which can't/won’t look like Mnuchin’s original announced goal of keeping the GSEs alive and entrepreneurially working in the nation’s mortgage finance system.

Scared investors, seeking something on which they can hang their GSE investment hooks, appear instead to be scrambling away from GSE stocks, although at the end of the day—because the “GSE preferred” may be inviolable contracts—those owners might get a few bucks on their investment. But, that’s only some $30 Billion tops of what some felt would be legal settlements and rewards of more than three or four times that figure.

And, with this Justice Department, a Treasury still in need of revenue, and the cowardly courts, full price on preferred might even be an unreachable dream, because this is Washington where everything is negotiable and part of a “deal.”

And yes, the courts still could produce some GSE plaintiffs’ victory but the record to date cannot offer any confidence of that, in fact just the opposite.

Nooch—who may be a wonderful individual--is showing why Washington DC, often, is the city where courage and integrity go to die.

Stevens/MBA Unload on Recap and Release

At an MBA event, predictably MBS President David Stevens unloaded on suggestions that Fannie and Freddie should be recapitalized and released.

The MBA  put out its own Task Force recommendations to create several guarantors—with the federal government insuring those single and multifamily securities—which I challenged in my last blog.

I took issue with a veteran industry reporter who covered the Stevens/MBA story and who suggested that only major GSE investors supported the GSE R&R revitalization. I objected and shared with the reporter the following opinion of that position and the source.

You should be questioning DS (motives) not those who seek recap and release.

I am one of those R&R supporters and am not a major investor (personal Maloni comment about stock ownership) but believe the GSE arrangement is more honest, more efficient, more pro-consumer, and more easily accessed by all mortgage professionals than any alternative replacement plans I've seen.

Do any of those Urban Institute proposed gaudy replacement schemes, with their uncertain costs and financial relationships, appeal to your sense of value and efficiency.

Plus, at day's end, the big financial behemoths will control whatever is the MBA's new arrangement, with Uncle Sam standing behind it and them.

Since the current financial regulators won't stop them, who acts as governor against the next bank driven mortgage excess, unless it's the GSEs? You saw the PLS debacle, which was worse than anything F&F may have done. Plus, you can't ignore that the GSE regulation has been tightened significantly in the past nine years.

BTW, if the government succeeds in keeping all of the GSE income, no matter its rationale, will the next group of investors be so sanguine about putting their billions into mortgage finance, all of that "private capital" David (Stevens) brags his plan will draw, which--again--is designed for his largest members?

Look David Stevens and the MBA have an association mission and are free to publish what they want and endorse what they wish, while I am equally free to say I don’t buy their task force proposal rationale.

Simply stated, I believe a not very intrusive fix of the status quo—for how Americans finance their mortgages and who qualifies for available mortgage credit--is a better repair than most ideas coming out from the MBA, GOP, and urban think tanks.

They and other GSE opponents--seeking massive legislative change--have no way of knowing if their multifaceted stratagems ever can come together, effectively, and deliver to consumers better, more efficient, and more available mortgage financing.

Yet they want to dismantle/obliterate what we have and what works. Sounds like spoilers, not progress makers.

Likely, especially when Washington is involved in massive statutory mortgage reform, you have partisan, industry, income and racial/social operational kinks and twists—invariably flavored with some Member/Senators special interest needs—that invariably screws up, delays, adds cost, excess regulation (or no regulation as seems to be today’s congressional theme) and looks nothing like that the advocates start from—but “pays off” enough somebodies so the omnibus package can slither forward.

That’s why I was confident in what I said to the reporter above. Because, with the GSEs you have a near 50 year working mortgage model which produces huge amounts of desirable mortgage credit.

Its success can be and has been observed.

There is a better way. It’s easier to fix any remaining flaws in a GSE-centric model than to blow it up and pretend you’ll get an improvement by starting all over.

Congressional creations just don’t work that way, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.

That’s another reason—because the GSEs are working—the pressure is off Mnuchin and this Admin . Trump can doddle and rack up another $20 Billion annually in GSE revenue to cover swollen federal budget red ink, sorely needed if those Trump tax giveaways ever become law.

With capital running to zero in 2018, if either Fannie/Freddie show any losses, Treasury and the White House will finesse and play it down—because the GSEs still will be producing lots of mortgage finance and the public won’t care/know—while Mnuchin declares he is working still on a "bipartisan compromise" to reform the mortgage finance system.

In other words, “Move along folks, nothing to see here!”

Maloni, 5-3-2017