Why Is the White House Against Freezing Foreclosures in the Face of Rampant Fraud?
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At first, there was a deafening silence from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on the foreclosure front. It was as if they: 1) didn’t read the news; or 2) were afraid someone would notice afresh their incompetence in dealing with the ongoing housing crisis and deteriorating economy, while convincing everyone that the bank bailouts and subsidizations were good for us.
Last week, while Senator Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others in Congress were dispensing irate pre-election sound-bites, attorneys general across the country were gearing up for investigations. Banks were reluctantly announcing foreclosure moratoriums because it’s quarterly earnings season and uncertainty is bad for stock prices, and Geithner was defending TARP and mixing it up with China over the dollar. Meanwhile, the Fed was gearing up to buy more Treasuries, like some kind of rapacious alien that eats its progeny, because no one else wants our debt.
But that changed when Geithner came out of hiding yesterday with a stance. (Bernanke is still in hiding, but will support Geithner’s view soon.) Unsurprisingly, Geithner chose to side with the likes of conservatives and CNBC. Thus, his response to Charlie Rose when asked whether he supported banks in declaring a foreclosure moratorium was: “No, I wouldn’t say it that way.”
Why? Geithner’s logic follows the typical blame-the-little-guy-for-taking-on-too-much-debt-to-buy-a-house-he-couldn’t-afford pattern, coupled with old-style fear-mongering: if you wait and analyze what’s really going on, it might be bad for the housing recovery. And, what housing recovery is that? The one in which 25-30 percent of homes being sold are REOs (bank owned real-estate, a.k.a. foreclosed properties). On a trading floor, that’d be considered "churning," not new value.
The free-market, let the banks do what they do mentality was what allowed them to create a $14 trillion mountain of securities backed by precarious mortgages to begin with. Don’t look at what they’re doing, that might hurt the boom. Don’t ask them for anything in return for bailouts -- that might clog the system. Don’t stop them from churning foreclosed properties -- that might stop the recovery.
But the real reason for Geithner’s reluctance about a foreclosure moratorium is that he’s scared stiff about those securities – because even if he won’t admit it, he knows that the bailout wasn’t just about TARP and Bernanke isn’t just an economic savior.
The government owns or is backing trillions of dollars worth of assets predicated on the same or similar suspicious loans that defaulted during the 2008 crisis period, which they did nothing to stop (or force banks to restructure).
Instead, the Fed now owns nearly $1.5 trillion of toxic assets that have no bid (meaning no one but the Fed wants them). They would have less of a bid if there was even more uncertainty about the loans that fill them. The Treasury is directly backing $400 billion of government-sponsored entity (GSE) securities, and is indirectly backing another $6.8 trillion. If foreclosed homes couldn’t be sold because of fraudulent paperwork or had to wait for more detailed inspections, you can imagine how difficult selling assets stuffed with faulty loans might be. If it’s tough to find a title for a foreclosed home, think how tough it is to back the related loan out of a pyramid of securities sitting on top of it.
See, the loan that might be analyzed in a foreclosure situation could be part of a chain connecting the underlying home to 20 or 50 different securitized assets, all depending on it for either the interest payments the loan was supposed to provide, or the value of the foreclosure property if those payments stopped (in Wall Street speak, the "recovery value"). If a foreclosed property isn’t selling, it’s not recovering any money back to any asset waiting for it. Think what that can do to the value of toxic assets living at the Fed and the Treasury Department. Kill it.