SEC KNEW ABOUT SUBPRIME ACCOUNTING FRAUD A DECADE AGO

by Elizabeth MacDonald FoxBusiness

The Securities and Exchange  Commission is missing a bigger fraud while it chases the banks. Even though it knew about this massive, plain old fashioned accounting fraud back in 1998.
Instead, the market cops are probing simpler disclosure cases that could charge bank and Wall Street with not telling investors about their conflicts of interest in selling securities they knew were damaged while making bets against those same securities behind the scenes, via credit default swaps.
Those probes have gotten headlines, but there aren’t too many signs that this will lead to anything close to massive settlements or fines.

For instance, the SEC doesn’t appear to be investigating how banks frontloaded their profits via channel stuffing — securitizing loans and shoving paper securitizations onto investors, while booking those revenues immediately, even though the mortgage payments underlying those paper daisy chains were coming in the door years, even decades, later. Those moves helped lead to $2.4 trillion in writedowns worldwide.
The agency said it  believed banks were committing subprime securitization accounting frauds back in 1998 and claimed to be ‘probing’ them.
I had written about these SEC probes into potential frauds while covering corporate accounting abuses at The Wall Street Journal. The rules essentially let banks frontload into their revenue the sale of subprime mortgages or other loans that they then packaged and sold off as securities, even though the payments on those underlying loans were coming in the door over the next seven, 10, 20, or 30 years.
Estimating those revenues based on the value of future mortgage payments involved plenty of guesswork.

Securitization: Free Market Became a Free For All
The total amount of overall mortgage-backed securities generated by Wall Street virtually tripled between 1996 and 2007, to $7.3 trillion. Subprime mortgage securitizations increased from 54% in 2001, to 75% in 2006. Back in 1998, the SEC had warned a dozen top accounting firms that they must do a  better job policing how subprime lenders book profits from loans that are repackaged as securities and sold on the secondary market. The SEC “is becoming increasingly concerned” over the way lenders use what are called “gain on sale” accounting rules when they securitize these loans, Jane B. Adams, the SEC’s deputy chief accountant, said in a letter sent to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the nation’s chief accounting rule makers.
At that time, subprime lenders had come under fire from consumer groups and Congress, who said banks were using aggressive accounting to frontload profits from securitizing subprime loans. Subprime auto lender Mercury Finance collapsed after a spectacular accounting fraud and shareholder suits, New Century Financial was tanking as well for the same reason.

SEC Knew About Subprime Fraud More than a Decade Ago
The SEC more than a decade ago believed that subprime lenders were abusing the accounting rules.
When lenders repackage consumer loans as asset-backed securities, they must book the fair value of profits or losses from the deals. But regulators said lenders were overvaluing the loan assets they kept on their books in order to inflate current profits. Others delayed booking assets in order to increase future earnings. Lenders were also using poor default and prepayment rate assumptions to overestimate the fair value of their securitizations.
Counting future revenue was perfectly legal under too lax rules.
But without it many lenders that are in an objective sense doing quite well would look as if they were headed for bankruptcy.
At that time, the SEC’s eyebrows were raised when Dan Phillips, chief executive officer of FirstPlus Financial Group, a Dallas subprime home equity lenders, had said the poor accounting actually levitated profits at lenders.
“The reality is that companies like us wouldn’t be here without gain on sale,” he said, adding, “a lot of people abuse it.”
But this much larger accounting trick, one that has exacerbated the ties that blind between company and auditor, is more difficult to nail down because it involves wading through a lot of math, a calculus that Wall Street stretched it until it snapped.

Impenetrably Absurd Accounting
These were the most idiotic accounting rules known to man, rules manufactured by a quiescent Financial Accounting Standards Board [FASB] that let bank executives make up profits out of thin air.
It resulted in a folie à deux between Wall Street and complicit accounting firms that swallowed whole guesstimates pulled out of the atmosphere.
Their accounting gamesmanship set alight the most massive off-balance sheet bubble of all, a rule that helped tear the stock market off its moorings.
The rules helped five Wall Street firms – Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros., Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch – earn an estimated $312 billion based on fictitious profits during the bubble years.

Who Used the Rule?
Banks and investment firms including Citigroup, Bank of America and Merrill all used this “legit” rule.
Countrywide Financial made widespread use of this accounting chicanery (see below). So did Washington Mutual. So did IndyMac Bancorp. So did FirstPlus Financial Group, and as noted Mercury Finance Co. and New Century Financial Corp.
Brought to the cliff’s edge, these banks were either bailed out, taken over or went through bankruptcies.
Many banks sold those securitized loans to Enron-style off-balance sheet trusts, otherwise called “structured investment vehicles” (SIVs), again booking profits immediately (Citigroup invented the SIV in 1988).
So, presto-change-o, banks got to dump loans off their books, making their leverage ratios look a whole lot nicer, so in turn they could borrow more.
At the same time, the banks got to record immediate profits, even though those no-income, no-doc loans supporting those paper securities and paper gains were bellyflopping right and left.
The writedowns were then buried in obscure line items called “impairment charges,” and were then masked by new profits from issuing new loans or by refinancings.

Rulemakers Fight Back
The FASB has been fighting to restrict this and other types of accounting games, but the banks have been battling back with an army of lobbyists.
The FASB, which sets the rules for publicly traded companies, is still trying to hang tough and is trying to force all sorts of off-balance sheet borrowings back onto bank balance sheets.
But these “gain on sale” rules, along with the “fair value” or what are called “marked to market” rules, have either been watered down or have enough loopholes in them, escape hatches that were written into the rules by the accountants themselves, so that auditors can make a clean get away.
As the market turned down, banks got the FASB to back down on mark-to-market accounting, which had forced them to more immediately value these assets and take quarterly profit hits if those assets soured – even though they were booking immediate profits from this “gain on sale” rule on the way up.
Also, the FASB has clung fast to the Puritanism of their rulemaking by arguing a sale is a sale is a sale, so companies can immediately book the entire value of a sale of a loan turned into a bond, even though the cash from the underlying mortgage has yet to come in the door.

Old-Fashioned ‘Channel Stuffing’
This sanctioned “gain on sale” accounting is really old-fashioned “channel stuffing.”
The move lets companies pad their revenue and profit numbers by stuffing lots of goods and inventory (mortgages and subprime securities) into the system without actually getting the money in the door, and booking those channel-stuffed goods as actual sales in order to cook ever higher their earnings.
Sort of like what Sunbeam did with its barbecue grills in the ’90s.

Intergalactic Bank Justice League
Cleaning up the accounting rules is an easier fix instead of a new, belabored, top-heavy “Systemic Risk Council” of the heads of federal financial regulatory agencies, as Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn) envisions in financial regulatory reform.
An intergalactic Marvel Justice League of bank regulators can do nothing in the face of chicanery allowed in the rules.

Planes on a Tarmac
What happened was, banks and investment firms like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch who couldn’t sell these subprime bonds, or “collateralized debt obligations,” as well as other loan assets into these SIVs got caught out when the markets turned, stuck with this junk on their balance sheets like planes on a tarmac in a blizzard.
Bank of America saw its fourth-quarter 2007 profits plunge 95% largely due to SIV investments. SunTrust Banks’ earnings were nearly wiped out, a 98% drop in the same quarter, because of its SIVs.
Great Britain’s Northern Rock ran into huge problems in 2007 stemming from SIVs, and was later nationalized by the British government in February 2008.
Even the mortgage lending arm of tax preparer H&R Block used the move. Block sold its loans to off-balance-sheet vehicles so it could book gains about a month earlier than it otherwise would. Weee!
The company had $75 million of these items on its books at the end of its fiscal 2003 year. All totally within the rules.

Leverage Culture
The rampant fakery helped fuel a leverage culture that got a lot of homes put in hock.
Banks, for instance, started advertising home equity loans as “equity access,” or ways to “Live Richly” or as Fleet Bank once touted, “The smartest place to borrow? Your place.”
In fact, Washington Mutual and IndyMac got so excited by the gain on sale rules, they went so far as to count in profits futuristic gains even if they had only an “interest rate” commitment from a borrower, and not a final mortgage loan.
Talk about counting chickens before they hatch.

Closer Look at Wamu
Look at Wamu’s profits in just one year during the runup to the bubble. Such gains more than tripled in 2001 at Wamu, to just shy of $1 billion, or 22% of its pretax earnings before extraordinary items, up from $262 million, or 9%, in 2000.
But in 2001, Washington Mutual took $1.7 billion in charges, $1.1 billion of it in the final, fourth quarter, to reflect bleaker prospects for the revenue stream of all those servicing rights.
It papered over the hit with a nearly identical $1.8 billion gain on securitizations and portfolio sales.

Closer Look at Countrywide
The accounting fakery let Countrywide Financial Corp., the mortgage issuer now owned by Bank of America, triple its profit in 2003 to $2.4 billion on $8.5 billion in revenue.
At the height of the bubble, Countrywide booked $6.1 billion in gains from the sale of loans and securities. But this wasn’t cold, hard cash. No, this was potential future profits from servicing mortgage portfolios, meaning collecting monthly payments and late penalties.

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Borrower Bailout?: Goldman Sachs Conveyor Belt

 Via: Livinglies

Borrower Bailout?: Goldman Sachs Conveyor Belt

  • If you have a GSAMP securitized loan you might want to pay particular attention here. In fact, if you ever had a securitized loan of any kind you should be very interested.
  • Hudson Mezzanine: The use of the word “mezzanine” is like the use of the word “Trust.” There is no mezzanine and there is no trust in the legal sense. It is merely meant to convey the fact that a conduit was being used to front multiple transactions — any one of which could be later moved around because the reference to the conduit entity does not specifically incorporate the exhibits to the conduit.
  • The real legal issue here is who owns the profit from these deals? The profit is derived from insurance. The cost of insurance was funded from the securitized chain starting with the sale of securities to investors for money that was pooled.
  • That pool was used in part to fund mortgages and insurance bets that those mortgages would fail. 93% of the sub-prime mortgages rated Triple AAA got marked down to junk level even if they did not fail, and insurance paid off because of the markdown. That means money was paid based upon loans executed by borrowers, whether they were or are default or not.
  • If enough of the pool consisted of sub-prime mortgages, the the entire pool was marked down and insurance paid off. So whether you have a sub-prime mortgage or a conventional mortgage, whether you are up to date or in default, there is HIGH PROBABILITY that a payment has been made from insurance which should be allocated to your loan, whether foreclosed or not.
  • The rest of the proceeds of investments by investors went as fees and profits to middlemen. If you accept the notion that the entire securitization chain was a single transaction in which fraud was the principal ingredient on both ends (homeowners and ivnestors), then BOTH the homeowner borrowers and the investors have a claim to that money.
  • Homeowners have a claim for undisclosed compensation under the Truth in Lending Act and Investors have a claim under the Securities laws.  (That is where these investor lawsuits and settlements come from).
  • What nobody has done YET is file a claim for borrowers. The probable reason for this is that the securities transactions giving rise to these profits seem remote from the loan transaction. But if they arose BECAUSE of the execution of the loan documents by the borrower, then lending laws apply, along with REG Z from the Federal reserve. The payoff to borrowers is huge, potentially involving treble damages, interest, court costs and attorney fees.
  • Under common law fraud and just plain common sense, there is no legal basis for allowing the perpetrator of a fraud to keep the benefits arising out of the the fraud. So who gets the money?
April 26, 2010

Mortgage Deals Under Scrutiny as Goldman Faces Senators

By LOUISE STORY

WASHINGTON — The legal storm buffeting Goldman Sachs continued to rage Tuesday just ahead of what is expected to be a contentious Senate hearing at which bank executives plan to defend their actions during the housing crisis.

Senate investigators on Monday claimed that Goldman Sachs had devised not one but a series of complex deals to profit from the collapse of the home mortgage market. The claims suggested for the first time that the inquiries into Goldman were stretching beyond the sole mortgage deal singled out by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The S.E.C. has accused Goldman of defrauding investors in that single transaction, Abacus 2007-AC1, have thrust the bank into a legal whirlwind.

The stage for Tuesday’s hearing was set with a flurry of new documents from the panel, the Permanent Senate Subcommittee on Investigations. That was preceded by a press briefing in Washington, where the accusations against Goldman have transformed the politics of financial reform.

In the midst of this storm, Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman’s chairman and chief executive, plans to sound a conciliatory note on Tuesday.

In a statement prepared for the hearing and released on Monday, Mr. Blankfein said the news 10 days ago that the S.E.C. had filed a civil fraud suit against Goldman had shaken the bank’s employees.

“It was one of the worst days of my professional life, as I know it was for every person at our firm,” Mr. Blankfein said. “We have been a client-centered firm for 140 years, and if our clients believe that we don’t deserve their trust we cannot survive.”

Mr. Blankfein will also testify that Goldman did not have a substantial, consistent short position in the mortgage market.

But at the press briefing in Washington, Carl Levin, the Democrat of Michigan who heads the Senate committee, insisted that Goldman had bet against its clients repeatedly. He held up a binder the size of two breadboxes that he said contained copies of e-mail messages and other documents that showed Goldman had put its own interests first.

“The evidence shows that Goldman repeatedly put its own interests and profits ahead of the interests of its clients,” Mr. Levin said.

Mr. Levin’s investigative staff released a summary of those documents, which are to be released in full on Tuesday. The summary included information on Abacus as well as new details about other complex mortgage deals.

On a page titled “The Goldman Sachs Conveyor Belt,” the subcommittee described five other transactions beyond the Abacus investment.

One, called Hudson Mezzanine, was put together in the fall of 2006 expressly as a way to create more short positions for Goldman, the subcommittee claims. The $2 billion deal was one of the first for which Goldman sales staff began to face dubious clients, according to former Goldman employees.

“Here we are selling this, but we think the market is going the other way,” a former Goldman salesman told The New York Times in December.

Hudson, like Goldman’s 25 Abacus deals, was a synthetic collateralized debt obligation, which is a bundle of insurance contracts on mortgage bonds. Like other banks, Goldman turned to synthetic C.D.O.’s to allow it to complete deals faster than the sort of mortgage securities that required actual mortgage bonds. These deals also created a new avenue for Goldman and some of its hedge fund clients to make negative bets on housing.

Goldman also had an unusual and powerful role in the Hudson deal that the Senate committee did not highlight: According to Hudson marketing documents, which were reviewed on Monday by The Times, Goldman was also the liquidation agent in the deal, which is the party that took it apart when it hit trouble.

The Senate subcommittee also studied two deals from early 2007 called Anderson Mezzanine 2007-1 and Timberwolf I. In total, these two deals were worth $1.3 billion, and Goldman held about $380 million of the negative bets associated with the two deals.

The subcommittee pointed to these deals as examples of how Goldman put its own interests ahead of clients. Mr. Levin read from several Goldman documents on Monday to underscore the point, including one in October 2007 that said, “Real bad feeling across European sales about some of the trades we did with clients. The damage this has done to our franchise is very significant.”

As the mortgage market collapsed, Goldman turned its back on clients who came knocking with older Goldman-issued bonds they had bought. One example was a series of mortgage bonds known as Gsamp.

“I said ‘no’ to clients who demanded that GS should ‘support the Gsamp’ program as clients tried to gain leverage over us,” a mortgage trader, Michael Swenson, wrote in his self-evaluation at the end of 2007. “Those were unpopular decisions but they saved the firm hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The Gsamp program was also involved in a dispute in the summer of 2007 that Goldman had with a client, Peleton Partners, a hedge fund founded by former Goldman workers that has since collapsed because of mortgage losses.

According to court documents reviewed by The Times on Monday, in June 2007, Goldman refused to accept a Gsamp bond from Peleton in a dispute over the securities that backed up a mortgage security called Broadwick. A Peleton partner was pointed in his response after Goldman refused the Gsamp bond.

“We do appreciate the unintended irony,” wrote Peter Howard, a partner at Peleton, in an e-mail message about the Gsamp bond.

Bank of America ended up suing Goldman over the Broadwick deal. The parties are awaiting a written ruling in that suit. Broadwick was one of a dozen or so so-called hybrid C.D.O.’s that Goldman created in 2006 and 2007. Such investments were made up of both mortgage bonds and insurance contracts on mortgage bonds.

While such hybrids have received little attention, one mortgage researcher, Gary Kopff of Everest Management, has pointed to a dozen other Goldman C.D.O.’s, including Broadwick, that were mixes of mortgage bonds and insurance policies. Those deals — with names like Fortius I and Altius I — may have been another method for Goldman to obtain negative bets on housing.

“It was like an insurance policy that Goldman stuck in the middle of the sandwich with all the other subprime bonds,” Mr. Kopff said. “And it was an insurance policy designed to protect them.”

An earlier version of this article misidentified Senator Levin’s home state.

Relatated Stories:

Shareholders Sue Goldman, Blankfein Confirming Trusts Do NOT Own the Loans

House Democrats calling for criminal investigation of Goldman Sachs

Rep. Kaptur is the one that keeps grilling Geithner on the AIG scam involving you guessed it …Goldman Sachs!

April 21st, 2010 7:15 PM

House Democrats calling for criminal investigation of Goldman Sachs

 

  By Eric Zimmermann / The Hill

 A growing number of House Democrats are asking the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into Goldman Sachs.

 Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) made the request Tuesday in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. Since then, almost 20 of her colleagues have signed on.

 The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed a fraud action against Goldman for allegedly promoting a package of investments that was designed to fail. But the SEC can only pursue civil actions. Kaptur wants the Justice Department (DOJ) to consider criminal charges as well.

 “[I]f the DOJ is not currently looking into this particular case, we respectfully ask you to ensure that the U.S. Department of Justice immediately open a case on this matter and investigate it with the full authority and power that your agency holds,” Kaptur wrote to Holder.

 “The American people both demand and deserve justice in the matter of Wall Street banks whom the American taxpayers bailed out, only to see unemployment and housing foreclosures rise.”

 Republicans have accused Democrats of engineering the SEC charge to bolster the case for financial reform. Democrats have vehemently denied that claim, but the push for criminal charges isn’t likely to quiet the conservative charges.

 The letter has so far garnered 18 signatures, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) is organizing a grassroots campaign to urge more lawmakers to sign on. The group says it has gathered 23,000 signatures and organized 2,400 calls to Congress. 

“Now is the moment to make clear: Nobody on Wall Street is ‘too big for jail,’ ” PCCC co-founder Aaron Swartz wrote to supporters.

 The following House Democrats have signed on to Kaptur’s letter: Jim McDermott (Wash.), Diane Watson (Calif.), Chris Carney (Pa.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), John Lewis (Ga.), Charlie Melancon (La.), Tom Perriello (Va.), Betty Sutton (Ohio), Jay Inslee (Wash.), Pete Stark (Calif.), Mike Honda (Calif.), John Salazar (Colo.), Niki Tsongas (Mass.), Alan Grayson (Fla.), David Loebsack (Iowa) and Bob Filner (Calif.).

 Top Republican asserts feds 'looked the other way' from financial fraud

SEC Employees Were Eye”Balling” Porn While Your Economy Tanked

Via Gawker.com click the the new SEC logo to see the news via 4closure 

On a 2nd note …Husbands and Wives check out who what your souless mates are doing while AWAY at a S.E.X.C. meeting!

SEC Employees Were Masturbating to Kiddie Porn While Your Economy Tanked

SEC Employees Were Masturbating to Kiddie Porn While Your Economy Tanked

SEC Employees Were Masturbating to Kiddie Porn While Your Economy Tanked

SEC Employees Were Masturbating to Kiddie Porn While Your Economy Tanked