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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SENATE FINDS MASSIVE FRAUD WASHINGTON MUTUAL: SPECIAL DELIVERY FOR WAMU VICTIMS!

Senate finds Massive FRAUD in SHam-MU! WaMu has allegedly defrauded hundreds of thousands of homeowners with unfair, deceptive and perhaps illegal lending policies and practices. Many of these homeowners are now facing the possibility of or are in foreclosure.

666 Pages with “Private” emails you’d like to read. Please be patient to upload.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another “HOME RUN” in Nassau, NY! Judge awards FREE home to woman after mortgage records lost: NEWSDAY

Originally published: May 6, 2010 8:47 PM
By SID CASSESE  sid.cassese@newsday.com

The house at 517 Pinebrook

Photo credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile | The house at 517 Pinebrook Ct. in West Hempstead, which a judge awarded to Corliss Gittens, free of any liens and mortgages because nobody opposed the action. (May 6, 2010)

A Lakeview woman got an early birthday present when a Nassau County State Supreme Court Justice awarded her the house she lives in, free and clear of any liens and mortgages because nobody opposed the action.

Tuesday, Corliss Gittens, who turned 48 Friday, received the award of her six-room ranch-style house at 517 Pinebrook Ct. from Justice John Galasso.

Gittens bought the house from her parents in late 2000. But when she mailed monthly checks to the mortgage company, Homeside Lending, the checks were never cashed, said Hempstead lawyer Fred Brewington, who represents Gittens. In 2001, Gittens was told by Homeside Lending officials that it could not locate evidence of the mortgage in its records.

“She had a mortgage and a deed. She went to a closing and purchased the house,” said Brewington. “She never stopped trying to find out to whom she should pay the mortgage because the uncertainty was making her distraught.”

Eventually, Gittens learned Homeside ceased to exist, and its parent company, SR Investments, was sold to Washington Mutual in 2002. Washington Mutual was in turn acquired by JPMorgan Chase in 2008. All of the companies, as well as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, were named as respondents.

None opposed Gittens’ suit.

Brewington said he reached out to Chase on the issue, only to be told the bank knew nothing about it.

Michael Fusco, a spokesman for Chase in Manhattan, said the bank “has no comment at this time.”

Gittens did not want to be interviewed for the story, but Brewington quoted her as saying: “After so many years of existing in limbo, I am happy that I will have the resources of my property available to me.”

He said Gittens once sought a second mortgage, but failed to get it because no one could get any information on the existing one. He added that her case was filed to wipe out that mortgage.

County records show the 2009 property tax on the house as $7,667.44.

In his decision Galasso said: “The Court directs the Clerk of the County of Nassau in whose office the mortgage and note were presumably recorded on or about March 6, 2001, to mark the record of the debt secured by the mortgage canceled and discharged.”

County Clerk Maureen O’Connell said Thursday she got the order Thursday and will execute it immediately.

HARVARD LAW AND ECONOMIC ISSUES IN SUBPRIME LITIGATION 2008

This in combination with A.K. Barnett-Hart’s Thesis make’s one hell of a Discovery.

 
LEGAL AND ECONOMIC ISSUES IN
SUBPRIME LITIGATION
Jennifer E. Bethel*
Allen Ferrell**
Gang Hu***
 

Discussion Paper No. 612

03/2008

Harvard Law School Cambridge, MA 02138

 

 ABSTRACT

This paper explores the economic and legal causes and consequences of recent difficulties in the subprime mortgage market. We provide basic descriptive statistics and institutional details on the mortgage origination process, mortgage-backed securities (MBS), and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). We examine a number of aspects of these markets, including the identity of MBS and CDO sponsors, CDO trustees, CDO liquidations, MBS insured and registered amounts, the evolution of MBS tranche structure over time, mortgage originations, underwriting quality of mortgage originations, and write-downs of investment banks. In light of this discussion, the paper then addresses questions as to how these difficulties might have not been foreseen, and some of the main legal issues that will play an important role in the extensive subprime litigation (summarized in the paper) that is underway, including the Rule 10b-5 class actions that have already been filed against the investment banks, pending ERISA litigation, the causes-of-action available to MBS and CDO purchasers, and litigation against the rating agencies. In the course of this discussion, the paper highlights three distinctions that will likely prove central in the resolution of this litigation: The distinction between reasonable ex ante expectations and the occurrence of ex post losses; the distinction between the transparency of the quality of the underlying assets being securitized and the transparency as to which market participants are exposed to subprime losses; and, finally, the distinction between what investors and market participants knew versus what individual entities in the structured finance process knew, particularly as to macroeconomic issues such as the state of the national housing market. ex ante expectations and the occurrence of ex post losses; the distinction between the transparency of the quality of the underlying assets being securitized and the transparency as to which market participants are exposed to subprime losses; and, finally, the distinction between what investors and market participants knew versus what individual entities in the structured finance process knew, particularly as to macroeconomic issues such as the state of the national housing market. 

 continue reading the paper harvard-paper-diagrams

 
 

 

Michael Lewis’s ‘The Big Short’? Read the Harvard Thesis Instead! “The Story of the CDO Market Meltdown: An Empirical Analysis.”

March 15, 2010, 4:59 PM ET

Michael Lewis’s ‘The Big Short’? Read the Harvard Thesis Instead!

By Peter Lattman

Deal Journal has yet to read “The Big Short,” Michael Lewis’s yarn on the financial crisis that hit stores today. We did, however, read his acknowledgments, where Lewis praises “A.K. Barnett-Hart, a Harvard undergraduate who had just  written a thesis about the market for subprime mortgage-backed CDOs that remains more interesting than any single piece of Wall Street research on the subject.”

A.K. Barnett-Hart

While unsure if we can stomach yet another book on the crisis, a killer thesis on the topic? Now that piqued our curiosity. We tracked down Barnett-Hart, a 24-year-old financial analyst at a large New York investment bank. She met us for coffee last week to discuss her thesis, “The Story of the CDO Market Meltdown: An Empirical Analysis.” Handed in a year ago this week at the depths of the market collapse, the paper was awarded summa cum laude and won virtually every thesis honor, including the Harvard Hoopes Prize for outstanding scholarly work.

Last October, Barnett-Hart, already pulling all-nighters at the bank (we agreed to not name her employer), received a call from Lewis, who had heard about her thesis from a Harvard doctoral student. Lewis was blown away.

“It was a classic example of the innocent going to Wall Street and asking the right questions,” said Mr. Lewis, who in his 20s wrote “Liar’s Poker,” considered a defining book on Wall Street culture. “Her thesis shows there were ways to discover things that everyone should have wanted to know. That it took a 22-year-old Harvard student to find them out is just outrageous.”

Barnett-Hart says she wasn’t the most obvious candidate to produce such scholarship. She grew up in Boulder, Colo., the daughter of a physics professor and full-time homemaker. A gifted violinist, Barnett-Hart deferred admission at Harvard to attend Juilliard, where she was accepted into a program studying the violin under Itzhak Perlman. After a year, she headed to Cambridge, Mass., for a broader education. There, with vague designs on being pre-Med, she randomly took “Ec 10,” the legendary introductory economics course taught by Martin Feldstein.

“I thought maybe this would help me, like, learn to manage my money or something,” said Barnett-Hart, digging into a granola parfait at Le Pain Quotidien. She enjoyed how the subject mixed current events with history, got an A (natch) and declared economics her concentration.

Barnett-Hart’s interest in CDOs stemmed from a summer job at an investment bank in the summer of 2008 between junior and senior years. During a rotation on the mortgage securitization desk, she noticed everyone was in a complete panic. “These CDOs had contaminated everything,” she said. “The stock market was collapsing and these securities were affecting the broader economy. At that moment I became obsessed and decided I wanted to write about the financial crisis.”

Back at Harvard, against the backdrop of the financial system’s near-total collapse, Barnett-Hart approached professors with an idea of writing a thesis about CDOs and their role in the crisis. “Everyone discouraged me because they said I’d never be able to find the data,” she said. “I was urged to do something more narrow, more focused, more knowable. That made me more determined.”

She emailed scores of Harvard alumni. One pointed her toward LehmanLive, a comprehensive database on CDOs. She received scores of other data leads. She began putting together charts and visuals, holding off on analysis until she began to see patterns–how Merrill Lynch and Citigroup were the top originators, how collateral became heavily concentrated in subprime mortgages and other CDOs, how the credit ratings procedures were flawed, etc.

“If you just randomly start regressing everything, you can end up doing an unlimited amount of regressions,” she said, rolling her eyes. She says nearly all the work was in the research; once completed,  she jammed out the paper in a couple of weeks.

“It’s an incredibly impressive piece of work,” said Jeremy Stein, a Harvard economics professor who included the thesis on a reading list for a course he’s teaching this semester on the financial crisis. “She pulled together an enormous amount of information in a way that’s both intelligent and accessible.”

Barnett-Hart’s thesis is highly critical of Wall Street and “their irresponsible underwriting practices.” So how is it that she can work for the very institutions that helped create the notorious CDOs she wrote about?

“After writing my thesis, it became clear to me that the culture at these investment banks needed to change and that incentives needed to be realigned to reward more than just short-term profit seeking,” she wrote in an email. “And how would Wall Street ever change, I thought, if the people that work there do not change? What these banks needed is for outsiders to come in with a fresh perspective, question the way business was done, and bring a new appreciation for the true purpose of an investment bank – providing necessary financial services, not creating unnecessary products to bolster their own profits.”

Ah, the innocence of youth.

Here is a copy of the thesis: 2009-CDOmeltdown

Move Your Money…

Move your money to a community bank or a credit union…watch the videos.

Here is Arianna Huffington: Move Your Money: A New Year’s Resolution

Go HERE to see where to go to move your money in your area

TOPAKO LOVE; LAURA HESCOTT; CHRISTINA ALLEN; ERIC TATE …Officers of way, way too many banks Part Deux “The Twilight Zone”

First Lynn Szymoniak ESQ. presented “Compare these Titles & Signatures” & “Too Many Jobs”…Now the next of many of compare these signatures & titles series. “Officers of Way, Way too many banks”…Part Deux “The Twilight Zone”.

How can you be an OFFICER of all these banks and Why is your signature never signed the same??? Minnesota? LPS? Bueller? …anyone?…Bueller?