Notable quotables on the mortgage mess
The federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's new report on why things went so very, very wrong in the aughts includes testimony from a local loan-officer educator about what happened when lenders disconnected the risk of mortgages from the upfront reward of origination fees:
Under the radar, the lending and the financial services industry had mutated. In the past, lenders had avoided making unsound loans because they would be stuck with them in their loan portfolios. But because of the growth of securitization, it wasn’t even clear anymore who the lender was. The mortgages would be packaged, sliced, repackaged, insured, and sold as incomprehensibly complicated debt securities to an assortment of hungry investors. Now even the worst loans could find a buyer.
More loan sales meant higher profits for everyone in the chain. Business boomed for Christopher Cruise, a Maryland-based corporate educator who trained loan officers for companies that were expanding mortgage originations. He crisscrossed the nation, coaching about 10,000 loan originators a year in auditoriums and classrooms. His clients included many of the largest lenders—Countrywide, Ameriquest, and Ditech among them. Most of their new hires were young, with no mortgage experience, fresh out of school and with previous jobs “flipping burgers,” he told the FCIC. Given the right training, however, the best of them could “easily” earn millions.
“I was a sales and marketing trainer in terms of helping people to know how to sell these products to, in some cases, frankly unsophisticated and unsuspecting borrowers,” he said. He taught them the new playbook: “You had no incentive whatsoever to be concerned about the quality of the loan, whether it was suitable for the borrower or whether the loan performed. In fact, you were in a way encouraged not to worry about those macro issues.” He added, “I knew that the risk was being shunted off. I knew that we could be writing crap. But in the end it was like a game of musical chairs. Volume might go down but we were not going to be hurt.”
Two more excerpts from the report designed to make your blood boil:
On the subject of financial types gone wild:
On Wall Street, where many of these loans were packaged into securities and sold to investors around the globe, a new term was coined: IBGYBG, “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.” It referred to deals that brought in big fees up front while risking much larger losses in the future. And, for a long time, IBGYBG worked at every level.
On the subject of warnings to government regulators:
Ruhi Maker, a lawyer who worked on foreclosure cases at the Empire Justice Center in Rochester, New York, told Fed Governors [Ben] Bernanke, Susan Bies, and Roger Ferguson in October 2004 that she suspected that some investment banks—she specified Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers—were producing such bad loans that the very survival of the firms was put in question. “We repeatedly see false appraisals and false income,” she told the Fed officials, who were gathered at the public hearing period of a Consumer Advisory Council meeting. She urged the Fed to prod the Securities and Exchange Commission to examine the quality of the firms’ due diligence; otherwise, she said, serious questions could arise about whether they could be forced to buy back bad loans that they had made or securitized.
Maker told the board that she feared an “enormous economic impact” could result from a confluence of financial events: flat or declining incomes, a housing bubble, and fraudulent loans with overstated values.
In an interview with the FCIC, Maker said that Fed officials seemed impervious to what the consumer advocates were saying. The Fed governors politely listened and said little, she recalled. “They had their economic models, and their economic models did not see this coming,” she said. “We kept getting back, ‘This is all anecdotal.’”
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