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Sunday, February 24, 2008 1:02 AM

Bank of America Asks Congress for a $739 Billion Bank Bailout

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The New York Times is writing A ‘Moral Hazard’ for a Housing Bailout: Sorting the Victims From Those Who Volunteered.

Over the last two decades, few industries have lobbied more ferociously or effectively than banks to get the government out of its business and to obtain freer rein for “financial innovation.”

But as losses from bad mortgages and mortgage-backed securities climb past $200 billion, talk among banking executives for an epic government rescue plan is suddenly coming into fashion.

A confidential proposal that Bank of America circulated to members of Congress this month provides a stunning glimpse of how quickly the industry has reversed its laissez-faire disdain for second-guessing by the government — now that it is in trouble.
My Comment: The attempt to blame the free market for this mess is galling. The blame lies with Congress, the Fed, and the SEC. If the Fed had not reduced interest rates to 1% and held them there, the bubble would never has gotten as big.

Tax breaks by Congress and things like "the ownership society" helped drive up prices. GSEs were created to promote affordable housing and now the limit on "affordable" has been pushed to $730,000.

It was an act of the SEC that created the nightmare at the rating agencies. See Time To Break Up The Credit Rating Cartel for more on the rating agencies.
The proposal warns that up to $739 billion in mortgages are at “moderate to high risk” of defaulting over the next five years and that millions of families could lose their homes.

To prevent that, Bank of America suggested creating a Federal Homeowner Preservation Corporation that would buy up billions of dollars in troubled mortgages at a deep discount, forgive debt above the current market value of the homes and use federal loan guarantees to refinance the borrowers at lower rates.
My Comment: The reason they are at "high risk" is twofold. Prices are too high and Congress and this administration is spending too much money weakening the dollar. Home prices need to come down, the war in Iraq needs to be stopped cold turkey, and Congress needs to stop bailing out banks and homeowners when they do something stupid. While we are at it, we need to abolish the Fed.
“We believe that any intervention by the federal government will be acceptable only if it is not perceived as a bailout of the bond market,” the financial institution noted.

In practice, taxpayers would almost certainly view such a move as a bailout. If lawmakers and the Bush administration agreed to this step, it could be on a scale similar to the government’s $200 billion bailout of the savings and loan industry in the 1990s.
My Comment: Everyone would view it as a bailout of banks and Wall Street for one simple reason: It would be a bailout of banks and Wall Street.
The arguments against a bailout are powerful. It would mostly benefit banks and Wall Street firms that earned huge fees by packaging trillions of dollars in risky mortgages, often without documenting the incomes of borrowers and often turning a blind eye to clear fraud by borrowers or mortgage brokers.

A rescue would also create a “moral hazard,” many experts contend, by encouraging banks and home buyers to take outsize risks in the future, in the expectation of another government bailout if things go wrong again.
My Comment: Precisely
If the government pays too much for the mortgages or the market declines even more than it has already, Washington — read, taxpayers — could be stuck with hundreds of billions of dollars in defaulted loans.
My Comment: Taxpayers could be stuck or would be stuck? I think the latter. No one entity or agency can value these things, certainly not Moody's Fitch, and the S&P. For recent evidence, please see Evidence of "Walking Away" In WaMu Mortgage Pool.

The only proper way of establishing the worth of these securities is by the free market, not guesstimates by bureaucrats who cannot find their asses with both hands at one time, nor by banks willing to sell the government a bill of goods at taxpayer expense.
But a growing number of policy makers and community advocacy activists argue that a government rescue may nonetheless be the most sensible way to avoid a broader disruption of the entire economy.

The House Financial Services Committee is working on various options, including a government buyout. The Bush administration may be softening its hostility to a rescue as well. Top officials at the Treasury Department are hoping to meet with industry executives next week to discuss options, according to two executives.

“There are a lot of ideas out there,” said Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for President Bush, when asked at a White House press briefing on Friday about a possible buyout program. “There are many different ways in which we can address this problem and we continue to look at ways in which we can do that.”
My Comment: There are indeed a lot of ideas out there and every one of them but one is a horrid idea. The only good idea is to let this play out naturally over time without the government making matters worse.
Supporters contend that a government rescue could be the fastest and cleanest way to force banks and investors to book their losses from bad mortgages — a painful but essential first step toward stabilizing the housing market.
My comment: Those supporters are socialist fools.
The government would buy the mortgages at their true current value, perhaps through an auction, at what would probably be a big discount from the original loan amount. The mortgage lenders, or the investors who bought mortgage-backed securities, would be free of the bad loans but would still have to book their losses.
My Comment: This just gets sillier and sillier. If the Government buys them at "True Value" then why don't the banks just hold them at "True Value", or sell them to someone else at "True Value"? Clearly the idea is to dump them on the government at a price far above "True Value".
If the government took control of the bad mortgages, supporters of a rescue contend, it could restructure the loans on terms that borrowers could meet, keep most of them from losing their homes and avoid an even more catastrophic plunge in housing prices.
My Comment: A plunge in home prices should not be catastrophic. It should be welcome. Property taxes would drop and housing prices would be more affordable. Where are all the affordable housing clowns hiding out now anyway?
“Every citizen has a dog in this hunt,” said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a community advocacy group that has developed its own mortgage buyout plan. “The cost of spending our way out of a recession is something that everybody would have to bear for a very long time.”

Mr. Taylor estimated the government might end up buying $80 billion to $100 billion in mortgages. But he said the government could recoup its money if it was able to buy the mortgages at a proper discount, repackage them and sell them on the open market.
My Comment: Mr.Taylor is clearly a complete buffoon. How the hell is the government supposed to be able to package this garbage and sell it on the free market if the banks can't?
Surprisingly, the normally free-market Bush administration has expressed interest. Treasury officials confirmed that several senior officials invited Mr. Taylor to present his ideas to them on Feb. 15. Mr. Taylor said he had also received calls from officials at the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which is part of the Treasury Department.
My Comment: Bush knows Republicans are going to get slaughtered in the upcoming election so he is vote pandering like everyone else.
But even supporters acknowledge that a government rescue poses risks to taxpayers, who could be left holding a very expensive bag.

Ellen Seidman, a former director of the Office of Thrift Supervision and now a senior fellow at the moderate-to-liberal New America Foundation, said the government’s first challenge is to buy mortgages at their true current value. If the government overpaid or became caught by an even further decline in the market value of its mortgages, taxpayers would indeed be bailing out both the industry and imprudent home buyers.
My Comment: The first and only challenge is to do nothing.
“It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible,” Ms. Seidman said. “There are various auction mechanisms, both inside and outside government.”
My Comment: With that Ms. Seidman proved she is a complete buffoon too.
A second challenge would be to start a program quickly enough to prevent the housing and credit markets from spiraling further downward. Industry executives and policy analysts said it would take too long to create an entirely new agency, as Bank of America suggested. But they expressed hope that the government could begin a program from inside an existing agency.
My Comment: We are in deep trouble if we start addressing the second challenge. The first and only challenge should have been to do nothing.
But even if the government did buy up millions of mortgages and force mortgage holders to take losses, the biggest problem could still lie ahead: deciding which struggling homeowners should receive breaks on their mortgages.
My Comment: See how this has already morphed into a third challenge. And they did not even say so. There will be 88 challenges, all of them butchered, if we go beyond the first challenge of doing nothing.
Administration officials have long insisted that they do not want to rescue speculators who took out no-money-down loans to buy and flip condominiums in Miami or Phoenix. And even Democrats like Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have said the government should not help those who borrowed more than they could ever hope to repay.
My Comment: Instead they want to rescue the banks who were equally stupid, if not more so.
But identifying innocent victims has already proved complicated. The Bush administration’s Hope Now program offers to freeze interest rates for certain borrowers whose subprime mortgages were about to jump to much higher rates. But the eligibility rules are so narrow that some analysts estimate only 3 percent of subprime borrowers will benefit.
My Comment: Innocent victims are easy to spot. Those who stayed out of the mess but saw property taxes soar to the moon anyway. The second set of innocent victims were those on fixed incomes who got paid a lousy 1% in their money market accounts while the Fed blew the biggest credit bubble the world has ever seen.
Bank executives, meanwhile, warn that the mortgage mess is much broader than people with subprime loans. Problems are mounting almost as rapidly in so-called Alt-A mortgages, made to people with good credit scores who did not document their incomes and borrowed far more than normal underwriting standards would allow.
My Comment: Finally a true statement. The mortgage mess is indeed very broad. But notice how the blame was shifted to those who did not document their incomes, from banks who knowingly looked the other way while it happened.
Borrowers who overstated their incomes are not likely to get much sympathy. But industry executives and consumer advocates warn that foreclosed homes push down prices in surrounding neighborhoods, and a wave of foreclosures could lead to another, deeper plunge in home prices.
My Comment: Most of those who overstated their incomes are not looking for sympathy. They are simply walking away. It is banks who are looking both for sympathy and handouts.
Right or wrong, the arguments for rescuing homeowners are likely to be blurred with arguments for rescuing home prices. At that point, industry executives are likely to argue that what is good for Bank of America is good for the rest of America.
My Comment: There is no blur here. The arguments for rescuing homeowners and rescuing home prices are both equally stupid.

What's good for Bank of America is to learn a very painful lesson. What's good for America is Ron Paul.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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