June 18, 2019

Fair Game: In Countrywide Case, Watchdogs Without Any Bark

But the case, being heard by Justice Barbara R. Kapnick, extends far beyond the impact of the settlement on Bank of America’s balance sheet. It is also laying bare an industry practice that has put investors in mortgage securities at a disadvantage and reduced their financial recoveries in the aftermath of the home loan mania.

The practice at issue involves trustee banks overseeing the vast and complex mortgage pools bought by pension funds, mutual funds and others. Trustees like Bank of New York Mellon were paid by investors to make sure that the servicers administering these mortgage deals, known as trusts, treated them properly. Trustees receive nominal fees — less than a penny on each dollar of assets — for the work.

But when mortgages soured, trustees declined to pursue available remedies for investors, such as pushing a servicer to buy back loans that did not meet quality standards promised when the securities were sold.

In other words, this case highlights a problem with trustees: they are a dog that could have barked but didn’t.

Before mortgage securities were undone by troubled loans, trustee inaction was not an issue. Trustees collected their fees at minimal effort and investors were satisfied.

But because trustees are hired by the big banks that package and sell the securities, their allegiances are divided. Sure, investors are paying the fees, but if a trustee wants to be hired by sellers of securities in the future, being combative on problematic loan pools may be unwise.

Trustee practices are under the microscope in Justice Kapnick’s courtroom because Bank of New York Mellon is the trustee overseeing all 530 Countrywide mortgage deals covered by the proposed $8.5 billion settlement. The trustee is supporting the deal between Bank of America and the 22 investors that include BlackRock, Pimco and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Losses by all investors in the securities are projected at $100 billion.

While lawyers for BlackRock and Pimco were negotiating this deal, other investors in the securities were not at the bargaining table. Nevertheless, they must abide by the settlement’s terms.

Some outside investors, including the American International Group, have objected, saying $8.5 billion is inadequate given the mountain of problem loans it covers. Lawyers for A.I.G. contend that Bank of New York put its interests ahead of other investors outside the settlement process. Had the trustee been more aggressive with Bank of America, the servicer administering the troubled securities, investors would have received more money in a settlement, A.I.G.’s lawyers say.

Bank of New York Mellon argues that the settlement is reasonable and that it has always acted in the best interests of all investors. 

But over the last two weeks, arguments and testimony have shed light on behind-the-scenes dealings during the settlement negotiations with Bank of America. Some of these details raise questions about the trustee’s assertiveness on behalf of all investors.

A crucial issue: the trustee didn’t request individual loan files from Bank of America to help determine how many mortgages had problems and, therefore, whether $8.5 billion was a reasonable recovery. A trustee has the right to request those files for investors who cannot get them on their own.

When loan files have been examined, recoveries have been far greater. Last year, for example, Deutsche Bank agreed to reimburse Assured Guaranty, a bond insurer, for 80 percent of losses on eight residential mortgage securities it had insured.

Asked about the basis for the $8.5 billion settlement, Kent Smith, a Pimco executive with experience in loan servicing, testified on June 7 that it came in part from an estimated percentage of problematic loans that was provided to the investors by Bank of America. But on cross-examination, he said the estimate was far lower than it would have been if Bank of New York Mellon had examined specific loan files.

The estimate, 36 percent, meant that just over one-third of the loans had violated underwriting representations and warranties made to investors. But a review of the loan files would have pushed the figure as high as 65 percent, he testified.

Additional testimony raised questions about fairness during the settlement talks. The 22 investors who struck the deal held at least 25 percent — a required threshold for taking action — in only 215 trusts, less than half the 530 covered by the settlement. No other investors had an advocate at the bargaining table. Asked who was representing investors outside the negotiating group, an in-house lawyer for Bank of New York Mellon said he did not know.

Then there’s an e-mail from Jason H. P. Kravitt, Bank of New York Mellon’s outside counsel, recounting how he told Bank of America that on one important point its and the trustee’s “self-interest” were aligned — neither wanted the Countrywide securities to go into default. If they did default, the trustee would have been forced to increase its oversight of Bank of America, adding to its costs. If the trustee did not sue the bank, investors could. 

Referring to a default, Mr. Kravitt said he told a Bank of America lawyer, “We don’t want it either, Chris.”

Asked about these matters, Kevin Heine, a Bank of New York Mellon spokesman, said, “We believe an $8.5 billion bird-in-the-hand settlement with significant servicing improvements is a far better result for all investors than the likely outcome following years of costly litigation.”

Trustees argue that they do not make enough money overseeing these loan pools to act on investors’ behalf. But this could be resolved if the Securities and Exchange Commission allowed or encouraged trustees to use trust assets to pay for loan reviews or litigation.

Justice Kapnick’s decision is not expected for months, and will affect only this settlement. But the revelations in her courtroom send a message to investors who might have expected trustees to protect their interests with more vigor.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/business/in-countrywide-case-watchdogs-without-any-bark.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Two States Ask if Paperwork in Mortgage Bundling Was Complete

The investigation is being led by Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, who has teamed with Joseph R. Biden III, his counterpart from Delaware. Their effort centers on the back end of the mortgage assembly lines — where big banks serve as trustees overseeing the securities for investors — according to two people briefed on the inquiry but who were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

The attorneys general have requested information from Bank of New York Mellon and Deutsche Bank, the two largest firms acting as trustees. Trustee banks have not been a focus of other investigations because they are administrators of the securities and did not originate the loans or service them. But as administrators they were required to ensure that the documentation was proper and complete.

Both attorneys general are investigating other practices that fueled the mortgage boom and subsequent bust. The latest inquiry represents another avenue of scrutiny of the inner workings of Wall Street’s mortgage securitization machine, which transformed individual home loans into bundles of loans that were then sold to investors.

It follows months of sharp criticism of the mortgage foreclosure process, which produced an uproar last year over shoddy paperwork and possible forgeries of legal documents by banks, other lenders or their representatives.

The slipshod practices in foreclosures led to further questions about whether all the necessary documents were delivered to the trusts and properly administered by them.

Some of the nation’s biggest mortgage servicers are currently in negotiations with a group of state attorneys general to settle an investigation into foreclosure abuses. The new inquiry by New York and Delaware indicates the big banks’ troubles may not end even if a settlement is reached in the foreclosure matter.

The stakes are potentially high. If the trustees did not follow the rules set out in the prospectus, they may be liable for breaching their duties to investors who bought the securities. That could expose the banks to costly civil litigation.

Spokesmen from Bank of New York and Deutsche Bank declined to comment about the investigation, as did representatives from the offices of both attorneys general.

A complex process that produced hundreds of billions of dollars in securities during the lending boom, the issuance of mortgage securities began with home loans, which were then bundled into investments and sold to pension funds, mutual funds, big banks and other investors. The bundles were created as trusts overseen by institutions such as Bank of New York and Deutsche Bank; they were supposed to make sure the complete mortgage files for each loan were delivered within a specified time and with the proper documentation.

After the securities were sold, the trustees disbursed interest and principal payments to investors over the life of the trusts.

The trusts were governed by the laws of the states in which they were set up. Roughly 80 percent of the trusts are governed by New York law with the rest by Delaware law.

The rules governing the securitization process are labyrinthine, and there are steps required if the investment is to comply with tax laws and promises made by the issuer in its offering document. If the trusts did not comply with tax laws, for example, the beneficial treatment given to investors could be rescinded, causing taxes to be levied on the transactions.

The terms of these mortgage deals varied, but many of them required that the trustee examine each of the loan files as soon as they came in from the Wall Street firm or bank issuing the security. For a file to be complete, it would typically have to include all of the information necessary to establish a chain of ownership through the various steps of the bundling process, as when the originator transferred it to the issuer of the security who then moved it to the trustee.

Complete loan files were supposed to be delivered to the trusts within 90 days in most cases. If the trustee found any missing or defective documents, it was supposed to notify the loan originator so that it could either cure the deficiency or replace the loan. Such substitutions are typically allowed only in the early years of the trust.

By asking for documents relating to this process, investigators are trying to determine if the trustees fulfilled their obligations to the investors who bought the mortgage deals, according to the people briefed on the inquiry.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d616be2d3549b56107c3c1d674e4b119