The SEC settled cases today with JPMorgan and Credit Suisse over “misleading investors in offerings of residential mortgage-backed securities” for a total of about $400 million, which the SEC plans to hand out to those misled investors. There’s been a lot of this sort of thing recently, so here’s a quick cheat sheet on who is suing whom over what mortgages:
Everyone is suing every bank over all of their mortgages.
So fine but is that not weird? Two things to notice about big banks is that they are (1) big and (2) banks, both attributes that tend to accrue lawyers. And a thing that lawyers are supposed to do is stop stupid cowboy bankers from doing stupid illegal things. If you told me that one or two banks decided to go without lawyers for cost-cutting and/or risk-increasing reasons, I would be skeptical but perhaps willing to play along, but all of them? I am certain that JPMorgan has lawyers.1
The mystery is resolved and/or deepened if you look at most of what is being settled in these cases, which in highly schematic outline was:
banks wanted to hose investors,
they asked their lawyers if that was okay,
the lawyers checked the documents and said “yes,”
so they did.
In ever so slightly less schematic outline: Read more »
Mortgage-backed securities are sort of conceptually simple – put mortgages in a pot, stir, sell layers of resulting goop – but complex in execution; they have not only economic but also legal and accounting and bankruptcy purposes and so their offering documents are long and boring and filled with dotted and dashed lines and arrows and boxes and originators selling to sponsors selling to depositors selling to trustees selling to underwriters selling to investors. All those arrows serve as a finely calibrated series of one-way gates; each link in that chain is meant to shield the person before the link from something, some real or imaginary claim from the people coming after the link, allowing originators/sponsors/etc. to tell themselves “I never need to worry about those mortgages again!”
Hahahaha no they totally do. Today the Journal and the FT have stories about a possible JPMorgan SEC settlement on some Bear Stearns mortgage practices, specifically (per JPM’s filings) “potential claims against Bear Stearns entities, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and J.P. Morgan Securities LLC relating to settlements of claims against originators involving loans included in a number of Bear Stearns securitizations”. If you’re keeping score these are:
not the thing where Bear maybe did a shoddy job underwriting mortgages, and
JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said his company has lost up to $10 billion as a result of the government asking him to buy teetering Wall Street firm Bear Stearns during the financial crisis. “Someone said the Fed did us a favor to finance some of this or something like that. No no no. We did them a favor,” Dimon said, speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations event. “I’m going to say we’ve lost $5 billion to $10 billion on various things related to Bear Stearns now. And yes, I put it in the unfair category,” the CEO added. [CNBC]
A pair of BSAM’s most successful hedge funds were run by Ralph Cioffi, one of the firm’s top traders, and Matthew Tannin. The funds traded in the kinds of exotic assets Mr. Marin and Bear Stearns were experts in, collateralized debt obligations. When the housing market on which these bundles of mortgages were based seized up, the funds tanked and Bear Stearns had to spend $3.2 billion bailing them out, the second-largest intervention in Wall Street history (though it would pale in comparison to what was coming). When asked about these events, and how Mr. Marin comported himself, Mr. Schwartz was insistent. “I do not want to talk about that,” he said from his car Tuesday morning, on the way to a meeting. “If you want to talk about the ferris wheel and Rich, great. Every article doesn’t have to be dredging up what happened at Bear Stearns. Rich is a good guy, a creative guy, a good business man. I don’t want to reminisce about what happened at that time. It’s frankly a disservice to drag it back up.” [NYO]
So, subprime mortgage-backed securities. Here’s a schematic:
Banks packaged subprime mortgages into bonds and sold them to people.
The bonds were bad and the people lost money.
What’s the something? There are two main theories. Theory 1 says that everyone knew at some lizard-brain level that it was a bad idea to give lots of money to poor unemployed people with low credit scores to buy overpriced houses, but figured it would work out fine if house prices kept going up. This worked until it didn’t; when house prices went down, badness ensued.
Theory 2 says that, while mortgage originators and securitizers knew that they were giving mortgages to people who had no chance of paying them back, the buyers of those mortgages had no idea: they thought that the originators were holding them to rigorous underwriting standards, where “rigorous” is read to mean “other than requiring a job, or an income, or assets, or a credit score.” When that turned out to be false, badness ensued.
Theory 1 has the benefit of probably being right.1 Theory 2 is superior on every other metric. For one thing, it fits well with deep cultural desires to find villains for the subprime crisis, and punish them. For another, it better fits the explicit facts. No subprime offering document actually said “these guys are all just terrible reprobates and the only way you’ll get your money back is if they can find a greater fool to buy their overpriced house when their rate resets.” But there’s no shortage of internal emails that say – well:
In connection with the Bear Stearns Second Lien Trust 2007-1 (“BSSLT 2007-1”) securitization, for example, one Bear Stearns executive asked whether the securitization was a “going out of business sale” and expressed a desire to “close this dog.” In another internal email, the SACO 2006-8 securitization was referred to as a “SACK OF SHIT”2 and a “shit breather.”
Earlier today, it was announced that Matt Zames had been named JPMorgan’s new Chief Investment Officer, to replace Ina Drew, the woman who supervised the trader responsible for the firm’s whale of a loss and was dismissed over the weekend. Previously, Zames served as the firm’s head of fixed income and while he may be happy to be seen by senior management as a guy capable of putting out a fire, based on his experience, is probably at least a little bit underwhelmed by the task. Read more »