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"Liar Loans" Live Up To Expectations

Housing-Market / US Housing May 30, 2008 - 01:25 AM GMT

By: Sara_Klein

Housing-Market Investors who purchased soured mortgages securities are forcing lenders to repurchase the original loans based on a provision that required lenders to take back loans that defaulted unusually fast if mistakes were made or fraud was committed during the underwriting process.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Countrywide estimated that its liability for such claims rose to nearly $1 billion as of March 31, 2008. Countrywide took a first-quarter charge of $133 million for claims that have already been paid. The loan disputes allege bogus appraisals, inflated borrower incomes, and other misrepresentations made at the time the loans were originated. Demands from loan buyers include Fannie Mae, who claimed in a recent conference call that it was attempting to review every loan that defaults and force lenders to buy back loans that failed to meet promised standards.

The bond insurers including Ambac and MBIA which guaranteed investment-grade securities backed by home-equity loans and lines of credit are also getting in the game of scrutinizing the quality of loans in the original pools and taking action where necessary. Even GE, through its subprime mortgage subsidiary WMC Mortgage, is being sued by PMI Group who alleges that WMC misrepresented the quality of loans it included in a pool of subprime loans that were insured by PMI.
Offering further proof that the incidence of misrepresentation was not merely a subprime problem, S&P cut or downgraded its ratings on $34 Billion of Alt-A securities yesterday. Ratings on 1,326 classes of bonds created in the first half of 2007 were reduced. Another 567 similar bonds with AAA ratings were placed on review. A total of 14% of the bond issuance from the period was either cut or placed under review. Late payments of at least 90 days and defaults among Alt-A loans underlying the bonds issued last year rose to 6.64% as of April 2008, up 65% since January of 2008.

Clearly the situation is getting worse rather quickly. Alt-A loans were made to borrowers who provided little-to-no documentation of income or assets but had respectable credit scores. Among skeptics they were deemed "liar loans", as it gave borrowers ample opportunity to fabricate their income and assets in order to receive loans to purchase houses they otherwise could not afford. Investors in the securities must've assumed that either borrowers were telling the truth or home prices would never decline. Loans were offloaded by the originators to investors who were more than willing to purchase diversified pools of these loans as they were given AAA ratings by the ratings firms.

Investors are now facing the double whammy of misrepresentations of the borrower's financial condition coupled with declining home prices across the nation. As a consequence, default rates on the loans are surging beyond original estimates when the securities were structured, leaving investors with losses. The ratings agencies are, of course, late to the downgrade party as the securities are already being pummeled in the market. Pissed off investors are now attempting to recoup losses by forcing the originators to repurchase the loans because the quality of the loans was misrepresented.

The top four Alt-A lenders in early 2007 were Indymac, Countrywide, GMAC, and Washington Mutual. Clearly these once celebrated lenders have suffered a considerable drubbing. Yet, bottom-fishers have emerged, betting that their fortunes will turn. Given the continuing parade of lousy housing news, I remain a skeptic. Furthermore, I'm disappointed that I never took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a $25 million home using my imaginary bars of gold as a stated asset.

By Sara Klein

http://mockthemarket.blogspot .com is a financial commentary blog devoted to serious financial market commentary with a humorous bent.  The blog was founded on the fundamental belief that the absurdities imbedded in financial market news are often overlooked by the press.  The author, Sara Klein, is a former trader with significant experience both in the money markets and equity derivatives markets.  She holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

© 2008 Sara Klein, All Rights Reserved

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