These lawsuits against Bank of America are pretty lame, aren’t they? The SEC and Department of Justice each sued BofA yesterday for fraud in a 2008 prime jumbo mortgage securitization but it doesn’t really feel like fraud. The guns are smoke-free. The DoJ gets itself all excited because someone proposed including some bad mortgages in the deal, and a Bank of America trader said of those mortgages that, “like a fat kid in dodgeball, these need to stay on the sidelines,” but they did! The trader thought some of the mortgages were crap, and they were crap, and so they weren’t included in the deal. The system worked! It’s like if Fabulous Fab emailed his girlfriend saying “I am creating monstruosities,” and she told him to stop, and he did.
The complaints put their fraudy eggs in two main baskets. The first is that Bank of America omitted to tell investors some material facts, of which the most important is that 70% of the loans in this securitization were wholesale loans (originated through brokers), and that wholesale loans were worse – for both credit and prepayment risk – than loans originated by BofA directly. Read more »
Fabulous Fab Tourre is on his way to trial in the SEC’s securities-fraud lawsuit over the Abacus synthetic CDO he built at Goldman Sachs for John Paulson, and Andrew Ross Sorkin has a column today about all the things that the SEC doesn’t want him to be allowed to say to the jury. You should read it, it’s enraging, though who you get enraged at is entirely up to you.1 But I’ll give you a quick and tendentious summary, which is:
The SEC’s main argument is that Fab deceived ACA, the “portfolio selection agent” on the Abacus deal, and
ACA were sort of stupid scumbags, and
the SEC understandably doesn’t want the jury to find that out.
My favorite financial news story of 2013 so far might be the Reuters story last Friday about how NYSE and Nasdaq each listed more IPOs than the other during the first quarter. A normal human might find that odd: listing an IPO is the sort of thing that you tend to notice and keep a record of, so you could pretty easily just add up the IPOs you listed and compare. But to a banker, it’s obvious that everyone would claim, with some sort of semi-plausible justification, to be first in every league table. In fact the explanation is perfectly, almost paradigmatically natural: Nasdaq excludes REITs, spin-offs, and best efforts deals.1 I remember when I used to exclude REITs! Excluding REITs is, like, 20% of what a capital markets banker does.
A deep tension at the heart of the financial industry is that it attracts a lot of quantitative logical evidence-oriented people and then puts them to work in essentially sales roles, and a lot of what it sells is unsubstantiated mumbo-jumbo. You wrote your senior thesis on geometric Brownian motion in the prices of inflation-linked Peruvian bonds from 1954 to 1976? Great, go make a page telling clients why Bank X is so much better at underwriting commoditized debt deals than Bank Y. Or: your thesis took for granted the truth of the efficient markets hypothesis? Great, go market a hedge fund that charges 2 and 20 to beat the market. You have to be quantitative enough to manipulate the data to get it to say what you want (“This fee run is 0.2% higher if we exclude REITs” “Well, do that then”), but not so quantitative that you find the whole process revolting. It’s a hard line to walk, and it’s not surprising that Eric Ben-Artzi or Ajit Jain or the quant truthers at S&P end up disgruntled and either blowing whistles or writing regrettable emails.2
Does that explain Lisa Marie Vioni? I dunno, her economics degree came with a side of French, she became a hedge fund marketer, and she’s done it for over 20 years, so I’d have pegged her as pretty comfortable in the gray areas. But in January 2012 she went to work for Cerberus as an MD selling its RMBS Opportunities Fund, and in February 2013 they fired her, and now she’s suing them. She’s suing in part for gender discrimination, which is hard to evaluate from her complaint but sure, maybe.3
But she’s also suing as a Dodd-Frank whistleblower, because she complained about what she thought were misleading marketing materials and was more or less told to go pound sand. And those accusations go like this: Read more »
Ninety percent of what happens in the typical lawsuit is (1) a lawyer for one side sends a letter to the other side asking for some information to prepare for a trial that will never happen, (2) the lawyer for the other side sends back a passive-aggressive letter refusing to provide that information, and (3) the lawyer for the first side sends a passive-aggressive letter to the judge saying “NO FAIR.” Seriously, that’s what happens. It’s called “discovery,” and it goes on until the lawyers’ bills have gotten big enough that everyone decides to settle the case.
In that milieu, someone sending an aggressive-by-passive-aggressive letter qualifies as huge news, and so there is a lot of excitement over this rather tart mandamus motion that fifteen big banks filed to overturn some discovery rulings that Judge Denise Cote made in a mortgage-backed-securities lawsuit. I will not attempt to convince you that its tartness is all that interesting; I just want you to have context for why some people think it is.
The case is interesting though. The FHFA, the regulator that oversees Fannie and Freddie, is suing the fifteen banks1 for selling crappy subprime residential mortgage-backed securities to Fannie and Freddie. Being a securities-fraud lawsuit, the basic claim is “you lied to us in the offering documents for these RMBS, and we relied on those lies, so we bought your RMBS, and then we lost money because of your lies.” And the lies in the offering documents are not “these mortgages will never default!,” but rather lies to the effect of “we bought these loans from originators, and reviewed those originators’ underwriting practices, and we believe that the originators underwrote them carefully and didn’t just stuff them full of fraud.”
The banks make a pretty good point, though, in this motion: Fannie and Freddie, who were being deceived by the big underwriter banks into buying all these RMBSes stuffed with crappy mortgages from crappy originators, were also separately buying similar mortgages directly from the same originators. And, presumably, doing whatever due diligence they expected the underwriter banks to be doing: Read more »
Bloomberg has a delightful story today about a new JPMorgan RMBS transaction, its first non-agency deal since the crisis. Specifically about this:
The bonds are made riskier by the New York-based bank and other originators of the mortgages offering weaker promises to repurchase misrepresented loans than those on similar deals, Fitch Ratings said today in an e-mailed report. Lenders and bond sponsors have been seeking to trim potential liabilities in such deals as the market revives after suffering billions of dollars of losses from debt sold before the collapse in home prices.
The value of the so-called representations and warranties in the JPMorgan transaction is “significantly diluted by qualifying and conditional language that substantially reduces lender loan breach liability and the inclusion of sunsets for a number of provisions including fraud,” New York-based Fitch analysts including Roelof Slump wrote in the presale report.
So naturally the deal is limited to an Aa rating, as it would be at Moody’s based on those sort of rep and warranty weaknesses, right? Errr not so much:
The classes of the deal expected to receive top credit ratings carried loss buffers of 7.4 percent as Fitch said it adjusted its analysis to reflect the greater investor dangers created by the weaker contracts, according to the report.
So 92.6% of the deal will be AAA rated at Fitch and Kroll, the other rating agency on the deal. Here’s the cap structure from Kroll’s report: Read more »
A primary goal of financial engineering is to confuse the bejeezus out of Them while remaining crystal clear to Us. There’s no point to it if it doesn’t in some way confound the expectations of some Other, whether that Other is the tax authorities, bank capital regulators, rating agencies, customers, or markets generally.1 But the worst possible outcome is for a product to be unpredictable to whoever built it, mostly because, if it was any good, they built a lot of it, and if it blows up on them it’ll hurt.
There is an obvious tension here: complicated products serve well to confuse Them but are more likely to end up acting up on Us as well.2 One fruitful approach is for Us to be just a bit smarter than Them. Another approach, lovely when it works, is to build a product that is so beautifully simple that anyone can understand it, but that has one simple conceptual twist that falls right in the particular blind spot of one particular targeted Them.3
You can bracket the question of whom residential mortgage backed securitizations were designed to confound,4 and just take a moment to realize: they kind of screwed the banks that did them, no? I mean, “compared to what” I guess – imagine if Countrywide had done all the lending it actually did, but kept everything on its balance sheet – but the fact that BofA has eighty zillion dollars in putback liability must be discouraging for whoever’s left there on the securitization desk. Like: the whole idea was to put some loans in a box and sell the box to investors; the investors, not you, now own the credit risk on the loans. You own nothing. The loans have nothing to do with you. Sure you signed a piece of paper saying some stuff about the loans, just before you waved goodbye to them, but why would you have read that? Those are just reps and warranties; those are for the junior law firm associates to haggle over. You sold the loans, it’s done, right? Read more »
The Journal had an article this morning about how cash equities traders are getting used to having computers as coworkers but I say unto you: can a computer do this?1
52. On March 31, 2010, Customer A, an investment adviser to a private fund, asked Jefferies to find buyers for several MBS, including Lehman XS Trust Series 2007-15N 2A1 (LXS 2007-15N 2A1) and Harborview Mortgage Loan Trust Mortgage Loan Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2006-10 2A1A (HVMLT 2006-10 2A1A). [Jefferies trader Jesse] Litvak approached a representative at AllianceBernstein about buying the MBS.
53. Litvak told the AllianceBernstein representative that the seller had offered to sell the HVMLT MBS at 58-00 and the LXS MBS at 58-8:
he will sell to me 20mm orig of hvmlt 0610 @ 58-00 but he is being harder to knock back on the lxs bonds … said that he thinks that one is much cheaper yada yada yada … he told me he would sell them to me at 58-8 (30mm orig) … I would be fine working skinnier on these 2 … but think you are getting good levels on these …
is he paying u or am I?
all the levels I put in this room are levels he wants to sell me … I will work for whatever you want on these …. so to recap levels he is offering to me:
hvmlt 06-10 2a1a (20mm orig) @ 58-00
lxs 40mm orig at 58-8…
Can u wash the hvmlt and [add] 5 ticks to lxs?…
54. Litvak misrepresented to AllianceBernstein the prices at which Jefferies had acquired the MBS for re-sale. Litvak bought the HVMLT MBS at 57-16 (not the “58-00” he told Alliance Bernstein) and he acquired the LXS MBS at 56-16 (not “58-8” he represented).
55. Litvak also misrepresented the compensation that Jefferies would receive for these trades. AllianceBernstein purchased the $20 million HVMLT MBS at 58 and $40 million of the LXS MBS at 58-13. As a result, on the HVMLT trade, Litvak made 16 ticks for Jefferies; he did not work for free (or “wash” the trade) as he had agreed. And, on the LXS MBS, Litvak made 61 ticks for Jefferies; he did not work for “5 ticks” as agreed.
56. As a result of his misconduct, Litvak made over $600,000 more for Jefferies on the LXS trade and over $50,000 more on the HVMLT trade.
That’s from the SEC’s complaint against former Jefferies trader Jesse Litvak, who apparently made a habit of this sort of thing. He would (allegedly!) tell a potential buyer (seller) of RMBS bonds that he had a seller (buyer), but he would inflate (deflate) the price that he was supposedly getting from the other side in order to inflate his spread. This worked 25 times – that the Feds caught – and allegedly made Jefferies $2.7 million in deceptive profits. This is particularly lovable: Read more »
One thing that would probably be fun would be reading the internal emails sent around at the places that bought terrible RMBS CDOs in the end times of 2006-2007. What did they say? Was it “these mortgages are worth twice what Morgan Stanley is selling them for! We are ripping their faces off”?1 Was it “I looked through a representative sample of the mortgages underlying the collateral in this deal and I think the yield more than justifies the risks”? Was it “my asset-level diligence was light because my macro view is that house prices will go up a lot in the next 18-24 months”? Was it “we have to invest $100mm somewhere and this gets 2bps more yield than other AAA-rated options”? Was it “I don’t know that much about mortgages but I sure am glad we can trust our friends at Morgan Stanley to put us in such a high quality product as this here CDO”? The possibilities are endless and, I think, fascinating: each trade has two sides, and each side has a view, even if that view is sometimes more of a vacant stare.
But the arrow of lawsuits runs only one way so instead we get this:
On March 16, 2007, Morgan Stanley employees working on one of the toxic assets that helped blow up the world economy discussed what to name it. Among the team members’ suggestions: “Subprime Meltdown,” “Hitman,” “Nuclear Holocaust,” “Mike Tyson’s Punchout,” and the simple-yet-direct: “Shitbag.”
The shitbag email chain is part of a collection of internal documents produced in China Development Industrial Bank’s lawsuit against Morgan Stanley over this “Stack 2006-1″ CDO deal that Jesse Eisinger describes today in DealBook and ProPublica. Morgan Stanley has issued the standard “these emails were just a joke and have nothing to do with anything” statement,2 and while normally that is just a meaningless lie that you say after your employees are caught sending around emails saying “this deal is shit, no, I mean it, this deal is composed of actual feces, I am not kidding, come look” – the emails here aren’t that bad. Basically they were like “ugh we gotta name this deal before we print it” and everyone was all “what about Macalester Albermarle Roundtree Paddington Pemberley Structured Finance Limited” and one dope replied with some gallows-humor names. In March 2007. When it was A SUPER DUPER SECRET that subprime mortgages were in trouble:3Read more »