8 Sep 2015

“Liars Loans” Are Back in the USA…But With A Twist

By Michael Krieger: Most of you will be intimately familiar with the rollliars loans played in last decade’s financial crisis. In a nutshell, these were loans in which the borrower was encouraged to lie about his or her income in order to qualify for a mortgage they couldn’t actually handle. In the aftermath of the crisis, regulations have been put in place to ensure lenders verify income and the ability of the borrower to service the mortgage. As is always the case, there’s a loophole, and Wall Street is already exploiting it.
The loophole pertains to loans for homes that will be used for business purposes. Unsurprisingly, people are lying about the true use of their homes to avoid regulations. Some of these are then being packaged in AAA rated bond issuances.

From Bloomberg:
The pitch arrived with an iconic image of the American Dream: a neat house with a white picket fence.
But behind that picture of a $2.95 million home in Manhattan Beach, California, were hints of something darker: liar loans, those toxic mortgages of the subprime era.
Years after the great American housing bust, mortgages akin to the so-called liar loans — which were made without verifying people’s finances — are creeping back into the market. And, like last time, they’re spreading risks far and wide via Wall Street.

Today’s versions bear only passing resemblance to the ones that proliferated in the mid-2000s, and they’re by no means as widespread. Still, they reflect how the business is starting to join in the frenzy that’s been creating booms in everything from subprime car loans to junk-rated company bonds.

That’s because federal regulations put in place following the crash effectively outlawed liar loans. Under so-called ability-to-pay requirements, lenders must take specific steps to ensure homebuyers actually can afford the mortgages. If they don’t, homeowners can sue and potentially win damages that can dwarf the value of the homes.
But in a throwback to subprime times, Velocity and other specialty lenders routinely offer certain mortgages with limited reviews, if any, of borrowers’ finances. That’s because the rules exempt mortgages made for “business purposes.” The setup lets borrowers avoid typical paperwork, in return for paying higher mortgage rates.
Chris Farrar, Velocity’s chief executive officer, says his company takes steps to ensure customers really are buying homes for business purposes. These include having every borrower hand write and sign letters testifying to their plans.
As Velocity and others hunt for profits, the question is also how carefully these lenders are vetting customers and loan brokers.
Apparently, not that carefully. For example:

The story begins earlier this year, when a TV producer bought the cream-colored home. His lender, Velocity Mortgage Capital LLC, says it writes mortgages for people buying homes only for business purposes, such as renting them out, and requires all customers to sign documents stating their intentions.
Soon Velocity was bundling the $1.92 million mortgage and hundreds of other loans into securities through Wall Street’s securitization machine. Kroll Bond Rating Agency featured a picture of the house in a report on the $313 million deal, most of which was rated AAA. Marketing documents for the offering, which was managed by Citigroup Inc. and Nomura Holdings Inc., characterized the buyer as an “investor.”
But when a reporter recently knocked on the door in Manhattan Beach, the buyer answered and said he never planned to rent out the place. Nor, he said, had he signed documents stating he would. He was living in the house with his family.
Representatives for Nomura and Citigroup declined to comment.
Other players in this game include Citadel Servicing Corp. and Athas Capital Group Inc., both based in California.
Financial crimes don’t repeat, they rhyme. Aren’t you glad we bailed out Wall Street?

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger


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