March 24, 2023

To Stem Foreclosures, Federal Housing Agency to Sell Off Loans

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High & Low Finance: Deloitte’s Failings Revealed, but Only After More Than 3 Years

They should have drilled into allowances for loan losses, and they should have been especially alert for signs that the banks were playing games when they sold loans. Auditors should have carefully reviewed how the banks were valuing their mortgage-backed securities and loans that they planned to sell.

It won’t surprise you to learn that in at least one case, the auditor seems to have done a pretty poor job.

What may be surprising is that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board figured that out at the time, and was harshly critical of Deloitte Touche, one of the Big Four audit firms, for not doing the work to check assumptions in those areas and for being overly reliant on whatever the bank’s management said was proper.

Those comments were made after the board’s inspectors reviewed Deloitte’s audit of a bank’s 2006 results, as part of the annual inspection of the firm. The inspection of 61 Deloitte audits concluded in November 2007.

Had the auditor taken the criticism to heart, it might have gone back in and checked more thoroughly.

But it did not.

The bank was not named in the report, even in the previously confidential part released this week.

I thought it might have been Washington Mutual, a Deloitte client that collapsed in September 2008, but Deloitte says that was not the case.

Deloitte, in its response to the board, stated that at the bank, “the audit procedures performed, the conclusions reached and the related documentation were appropriate in the circumstances.”

In other words, Deloitte concluded the board simply did not understand what it was talking about.

All that became public in early 2008, when the censored version of the board’s report became public. But it was little remarked on at the time. Now we have seen the rest of the report, and it is even more critical.

The report said its inspections indicated “a firm culture that allows, or tolerates, audit approaches that do not consistently emphasize the need for an appropriate level of critical analysis and collection of objective evidence, and that rely largely on management representations.”

Deloitte responded by denying almost everything. It did not like the “second guessing” shown by the regulators. It said “we strongly take exception” to the observation about its culture, which it said was simply wrong.

In any case, the firm concluded, “there were only a limited number of instances,” not nearly enough to justify questioning Deloitte’s quality controls.

The board inspectors found problems in 27 of the 61 Deloitte audits.

The Sarbanes-Oxley law that established the board included provisions to protect the public images of audit firms. If a board inspection found problems with the quality control systems, that was to be kept confidential unless the firm did not move to fix the problems over the following year. Then the release could be delayed while the firm tried to persuade the board to keep the information private. If that effort failed, the firm could appeal to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Only then could the report be made public. So in this case, it took 41 months from the issuance of the report — more than three years — for Deloitte’s clients to learn of the problem.

The board also has the authority to file enforcement actions against auditors, but those, too, are private until the S.E.C. rules on an appeal. It is as if charges of robbery had to be kept confidential until all appeals had been completed. There is no way to know if the accounting board has taken action against anyone. An auditor that the board deems to be in violation of rules may keep working for years while secret proceedings continue.

Firms have every incentive to stall, and then to say that whatever is being criticized happened years ago.

Deloitte’s current chief executive, Joe Echevarria, tried to sound cooperative in his response this week, and was careful to point out he was new on the job. A Deloitte spokesman said that Barry Salzberg, the chief executive when Deloitte sent the response letter in 2008, was traveling in Asia and unavailable for comment.

Mr. Echevarria emphasized in an interview that the firm was investing in training, and spoke of a desire to be the leader in audit quality.

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Bucks: Are Serious Errors Lurking in Your Credit Report?

How accurate is the all-important data in your credit report? It depends on whom you ask.

Previous estimates of credit reports with serious errors vary widely, anywhere from 3 to 25 percent. But according to a recent study paid for by the Consumer Data Industry Association, the trade group for the credit bureaus that assemble and sell credit reports, that rate is much lower. Consumer advocates, meanwhile, were skeptical of those results.

The study, conducted by the Policy and Economic Research Council, found potential errors in 19.2 percent of credit reports examined. But once consumers disputed potentially problematic errors and got the bureaus to fix them, less than 1 percent of these corrected reports led to meaningful increases in credit scores.

And what is meaningful in the credit score context? Well, very few of the corrections led to a big enough credit score gain to push those consumers into a better “credit risk tier,” where they would have access to cheaper loans and such.

But that’s a pretty narrow way to view the results. Consumers typically want to hang on to every last point they can — especially at a time when lenders are reluctant to extend credit.

Score wise, the report found that less than 1 percent of all credit reports examined, or 0.93 percent, prompted a dispute that resulted in a correction that boosted scores by 25 points or more. About 1.2 percent of reports resulted in a score increase of 20 points or more; nearly 1.8 percent of reports saw scores climb 10 points or more; and slightly more than 3 percent had an increase of 1 point or more.

Keep in mind we are not speaking in FICO terms, or the popularly known credit score scale that most lenders use. Instead, the study measured scores using the bureaus’ VantageScore credit score, whose scale ranges from 501 to 990. The higher the score, the better the credit rating.

Consumer advocates pointed out that even seemingly low error rates can affect millions of consumers because each of the big three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — have at least 200 million credit files. So a 1 percent error rate would translates into two million consumers per bureau, noted Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. For those consumers, “the credit bureaus should conduct real and meaningful investigations of disputes, which they do not,” she said.

Here’s how the researchers arrived at their numbers: Over all, the study, which included 2,338 consumers, found that 19.2 percent of credit reports had one or more pieces of information that a consumer believed could be inaccurate and disputed. Of those reports, 63 percent, or 12.1 percent of all reports examined, were found to contain errors that could potentially have “material impacts” that could lead to “possible adverse consequences.” Ultimately, 7 percent of reports in the study were disputed.

Consumers received their credit reports from one or all of the three bureaus, along with a credit score. They were instructed to identify any errors and then to file disputes with the relevant bureau, which then calculated scores based on the corrected report too. The study found that most changes were consistent with the consumers’ requests and that 95 percent of participants who lodged disputes were satisfied with the outcomes.

But satisfaction is almost certainly easier to achieve when you have a dedicated phone line for the participants making disputes — and one of the big bureaus did. Michael Turner, president and chief executive of PERC, said there wasn’t a meaningful difference in the results from the bureau that had the special phone number versus those that did not.

Experts also questioned the way the study participants were found. Instead of being randomly selected from the population at large, they were recruited through the Synovate Global Opinion Panels, where one million consumer members are compensated to complete an average of 12 to 14 surveys annually. But Mr. Turner said that the study’s sample “looks very much like an adult population on every sociodemographic metric.”

“We are transparent and are making available to academics and regulators the underlying data and the results from our independent peer review,” he added.

Still, it wasn’t enough to completely quiet the study’s critics. “To claim less than 1 percent have meaningful errors is kind of like trying to change an “F” to an “A” on you report card,” said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at, who also pointed out that the study thanks the three credit bureaus for providing “numerous insights, guidance, and invaluable assistance with the implementation of the research.”

The Federal Trade Commission is conducting a nationwide study of its own that also examines the accuracy of credit reports. It’s expected to deliver its results next year, and, it may include recommendations for legislative action. Perhaps that study will provide more clarity.

Have you discovered any serious errors in your credit report? What did you do to fix them? And what do you think of the study?

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Room For Debate: Is There Any Hope for Greece?


Greece austerity measuresLouisa Gouliamaki/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images City workers in Athens protesting against austerity plans on May 18.

Global markets slipped on Monday as worries rose about the euro zone’s fiscal stability. Meanwhile, Greece’s cabinet approved another package of spending cuts and asset sales in response to demands from euro zone partners — including Spain and Italy — that it move faster on austerity measures.

Skeptics are saying that Greece, facing loans of more than 150 percent of gross domestic product, will eventually have to restructure its debt — paying back less than face value.

What’s the answer for Greece? If staying in the euro zone means living with austerity plans that could lead to years of high unemployment and recession, would leaving the euro be a sound option?

 Read the Discussion »


Topics: Economy, Europe, Greece


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Bucks: Thursday Reading: The Debate Over Physician Fatigue

April 06

Yes, That Really Was an Ad for a Bachelor Party Loan

A payday lender is advertising loans for bachelor parties, cosmetic surgery, and perhaps most bizarrely, pot-bellied pigs.

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