The Biggest Loser

When Ally Bank and Bank of America settled with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac several weeks ago on repurchase request claims made by the GSEs, there was speculation in the trade press that these settlements might pave the way for other big banks subject to similar repurchase requests from Uncle Freddie and Auntie Fannie to pay up. There was also talk (including by this blog's bloviator) that the settlement terms looked a wee bit generous to the banks. Well, Bank of America and Ally may have decided to "fold 'em," but Wells Fargo has decided to tell the GSEs that they can continue to "hold 'em." What's more, the creator of Stagecoach Island told the press that it doesn't think those settlements by its competitors were as generous as some of us might have thought. Wells Fargo said Wednesday that it won't follow Bank of America in reaching settlements with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac on disputed mortgages sold to the mortgage financing giants. Wells Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins said the settlements reached by its competitors may not be as generous as some perceived them to be. You can see the logic in Wells Fargo's "hang tough" attitude when you realize that the GSEs' demands for loan repurchases fell for the second consecutive quarter, and that all repurchase claims against Wells Fargo, including those from private investors and private mortgage insurers, are now down from an original face value of $3 billion to half that amount. Heck, if stiff-arming worked so well all the time for everyone, nobody would repurchase a dollar's worth of loans from the GSEs. If I were standing in Wells Fargo's shoes, I, too, might not think that the generous terms offered BofA were generous enough. I guess the next step is up to the GSEs. Do they want to press forward aggressively with lawsuits against Wells Fargo, on the basis that if it continues to thumb its nose at its beloved Uncle and Aunt, no member of the family will ever again give them an ounce of respect when they make a repurchase demand? Or, perhaps, do they want to "rethink" their outstanding repurchase requests and make Wells an even better offer than they made Ally or BofA, an offer even a hard case like Wells wouldn't refuse? 20% of remaining face? 10%? Throw in a snuggy with a picture of Franklin Raines on it? After all, when your only business is buying and securitizing loans, you don't want to terminally alienate the nation's top mortgage loan originator any more than you can afford to terminally alienate any of the other top six originators (including Bank of America and Ally) who, combined, originate over two-thirds of the mortgage loans in this country (such has been the consolidation in the mortgage loan business since the subprime meltdown). There's no doubt that by making all these repurchase demands against the big banks, the GSEs have fundamentally changed the quality of loan originations by the major loan originators. I mean, look at Citigroup. Three years after bad home loans helped trigger the recession and six weeks after the government cashed in the last of its $45 billion Citigroup investment, the New York-based bank is still selling mortgages that violate quality standards, according to an internal Freddie Mac review obtained by Bloomberg. Fifteen percent of the performing loans Citigroup sold to the government-owned mortgage-finance company in the second half of 2009 and the first half of 2010 had such flaws as missing appraisals or insurance documents or income miscalculations, according to the review of 375 mortgages. The target for defects should be about 5 percent, said Tim Rood, a former executive with Freddie's sister agency, Fannie Mae, and now managing director at Washington-based advisory firm Collingwood Group LLC. So, the GSEs have proved their point, and maybe it's time to put all this nastiness behind us, link arms, and mosey on down the highway, to a land where the taxpayer picks up Fannie's and Freddie's ultimate tab, which will include not only unrecovered losses on bum loans that weren't repurchased by big banks, but $160 million in legal fees for former officers of Fannie and Freddie who are accused by the government of making massive mistakes, if not engaging in outright wrongdoing. Unlike big banks, however, the taxpayer doesn't get a steep discount on his or her tax bill when it comes due each April merely by "hanging tough." It's an interesting staring game going on, and, thus far, it appears to some of us that the GSEs are blinking. The ultimate loser of the game won't be Fannie or Freddie, however. To find that loser, all you have to do is to look in the mirror.

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