eminent domain

The city of Richmond, CA, is trying to use eminent domain to seize and refinance underwater mortgages, and yesterday the trustees of some mortgage bonds holding those mortgages sued to stop them. On its surface the lawsuit is about constitutional law but really it’s about option valuation. To stylize it a bit, the plan is for Richmond to:

  • use eminent domain to “seize” a performing mortgage with a balance of, say, $300,000, but on a house worth $200,000;
  • pay the owner of the mortgage $200,000 in compensation;
  • issue a new mortgage to the homeowner for $200,000; and
  • sell the new mortgage to an investor for $200,000, funding the costs to pay off the old mortgage lender.

The main stylization there is that actually the compensation will be more like $160,000, not $200,000, to account for the expected costs of foreclosure, and to provide a profit margin to the new investors (and fees to Richmond’s financial advisor).1 That is important for the lawsuit but not that important for our purposes so let’s ignore it.

The question is then: is a $300,000 performing mortgage on a $200,000 house worth $300,000, or $200,000, or something else? Read more »

  • 19 Jun 2012 at 6:09 PM

Doing Well By Doing Financial Reform

There’s a thing called socially responsible investing where
(1) you invest other people’s money,
(2) poorly,
(3) but it’s okay because you’re doing it not to make them money but to save the whales, er, penguins, and they like penguins, so they keep paying your fees. This is a good racket as rackets go but it turns out that people mostly don’t like penguins as much as they like money so it is sort of a limited racket. The trick if you can manage it is to appeal to people who like penguins to give you other people’s money, because people typically like penguins more than they like other people having money. This can be great for you and also for penguins, and for the right value of “you” and “penguins” can be a diabolical way to achieve real social good, which is my favorite.

Two great recent stories in that vein. One is a proposal to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages and refloat them. The idea, schematically, is (1) seize property,* (2) sell it back to homeowner at fair value, and (3) lend money to the homeowner to pay for the house, which the municipality then uses to pay fair value to the mortgage lender whose collateral was seized in step (1). Any dope of a municipality could presumably get their act together to do (1) and (2), but the problem is (3) coming up with the money for new mortgages to pay fair value to the old mortgagee. You could see why oh I don’t know BANKS would not like this scheme – it will cost them in servicing rights and refinancing fees and second-lien writedowns** – and so the money has to come from non-banks. Some folks think they can find the money, for a small fee of course, and so are roadshowing the idea to municipalities. It seems to be popular in California, go figure.

The other is this gloriously cynical play from TCI to try to extract some value out of Lloyds Bank while also improving the stability of the British financial system, maybe. Read more »