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Government caused the financial crisis..
This is a favorite of market fundamentalists, as government basically creates all economic problems, if only they would get out of the way and let the market do its magic..

It isn't that simple, however. One bugbear of market fundamentalists has been the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Market fundamentalists argue that this forced banks to lend to people who could not afford a mortgage. There are several things wrong with this:
  • The CRA exists since 1977
  • There is no CRA in countries like Ireland, Spain, which experienced even bigger housing bubbles
  • Only one out of the top 25 mortgage lenders was subject to the CRA
  • There is no relation between the CRA and sub-prime mortgages
On the latter, here is research by the Fed:

Quote:The Federal Reserve Board has found no connection between CRA and the subprime mortgage problems. In fact, the Board's analysis (102 KB PDF) found that nearly 60 percent of higher-priced loans went to middle- or higher-income borrowers or neighborhoods, which are not the focus of CRA activity. Additionally, about 20 percent of the higher-priced loans that were extended in low- or moderate-income areas, or to low- or moderate-income borrowers, were loans originated by lenders not covered by the CRA. Our analysis found that only six percent of all higher-priced loans were made by CRA-covered lenders to borrowers and neighborhoods targeted by the CRA. Further, our review of loan performance found that rates of serious mortgage delinquency are high in all neighborhood groups, not just in lower-income areas.
For the Last Time, Fannie and Freddie Didn't Cause the Housing Crisis

By David MinDec 16 2011, 12:35 PM ET Comment

The housing bubble occurred during a period when Fannie and Freddie's market share of high-risk mortgages dropped.

Two weeks ago, we published an interview with Rep. Barney Frank. Defending his role as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee at the start of the recession, the congressman took a swipe at Peter Wallison, the member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission most critical of government's role in the crisis. Wallison responded, on our site, that Congress was indeed at the heart of the mortgage meltdown. Here, David Min, the associate director for Financial Markets Policy at the Center for American Progress, responds:

Quote:In his article for The Atlantic, Peter Wallison claims that Rep. Barney Frank played a major role in causing the financial crisis, by pushing for affordable housing goals in 1992 on the mortgage market entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which enjoyed government backing. This line of attack is consistent with the argument that  Wallison has pushed in a multitude of other venues, most notably in his Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission dissent, in which Wallison claims that federal affordable housing policies were the primary cause of the financial crisis. To understand why Wallison's argument has been rejected by many analysts, including by all nine of his fellow commissioners on the FCIC, it is helpful to recall a few facts that he conspicuously omits from his interview with the Atlantic.


First, central to Wallison's argument that affordable housing policies (including those advocated by Rep. Frank in 1992) caused the mortgage crisis is his claim that the federal government is responsible for 19.2 million "subprime" mortgages (with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being responsible for 12 million of those). But what Wallison fails to tell the Atlantic's readers is that he is using his own made-up definition of "subprime," a definition that no one outside of his think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, uses. By way of comparison, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office has estimated that there were only 4.58 million subprime and other high risk loans outstanding, with very few of these attributable to the federal government.

Importantly, as I've argued elsewhere, Wallison's vastly expanded definition of "subprime" does not stand up to serious scrutiny. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the "subprime" loans Wallison attributes to the federal government have defaulted at about the same rate as the national average. This delinquency rate is about one-third the rate of actual subprime mortgages.

Wallison also omits the fact that most of the "subprime" mortgages he attributes to federal affordable housing policies could not have been motivated by these policies, either because the loans were ineligible (typically because they were made to higher-income borrowers) or because the lenders were not subject to these policies (such as in the case of the non-bank lenders, which did not have any applicable federal affordable housing requirements; non-bank lenders made up 24 of the top 25 subprime lenders in 2006).


Second, Wallison fails to inform his readers that Wall Street's "private-label securitization" of mortgages, which objective analysts identify as the primary source of most subprime and other high-risk loans, experienced a dramatic increase in market share that was exactly contemporaneous with the housing bubble, rising from about 10 percent market share in 2003 to nearly 40 percent by 2006. Overall, loans originated for private-label securitization have defaulted at about six times the rate of Fannie and Freddie loans. Indeed, Wallison does not explain--cannot convincingly explain--why the housing bubble occurred during a period when Fannie and Freddie's market share dropped precipitously. Wallison's answer to this central problem with his thesis is simply to claim that the housing bubble began in the early 1990s (Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner, who advance a similar argument about the central role of Fannie and Freddie's affordable housing goals in the housing bubble in their book Reckless Endangerment, deal with this problem in a different, but equally anemic way--claiming that Fannie and Freddie created a "cultural" shift in mortgage banking, teaching Wall Street that lobbying and increased risk-taking could lead to greater profits).


Third, Wallison ignores the parallel bubble-bust cycle we experienced in commercial real estate, which does not have affordable housing policies of the sort he criticizes for Fannie and Freddie. Commercial real estate values experienced a peak-to-trough price decline of 45 percent, which was considerably worse than the 33 percent peak-to-trough price decline we saw in residential real estate. If, as Wallison contends, it was affordable housing policies that caused the residential real estate bubble, then what caused the bubbles in commercial real estate? Moreover, why did we have similar surges in credit liquidity in student loans, auto loans, and credit cards? The mainstream narrative advanced by Rep. Frank and most others--that it was unregulated securitization on Wall Street that drove the financial crisis--explains these parallel bubbles fairly well; the argument advanced by Wallison does not.

Moreover, as Wallison's fellow Republican-appointed commissioners on the FCIC noted, many other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, all had contemporaneous housing bubbles. Again, the mainstream narrative--that poorly regulated new forms of financing drove asset bubbles--explains this fact rather well; Wallison's argument does not.

In short, there are many reasons, of which I've provided just a few, why Peter Wallison's argument has been rejected by his fellow Republican-appointed FCIC commissioners.

Unfortunately, some people will, for ideological and other reasons, always believe that any market failures must necessarily be the fault of government intervention, no matter how convincing and overwhelming the evidence is against this proposition. I believe we should join with the more nuanced view taken by Rep. Frank, who has rejected the proposition that U.S. housing policies caused the financial crisis, while at the same time acknowledging that these policies were flawed and need major revisions.


Editor's UpdatePeter Wallison responds via email.

"Now that the SEC has sued Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for failure to disclose the subprime and other low quality loans they held and securitized, this really is the last time we'll hear from David Min and others who have been trying to protect the government from blame for the financial crisis.

"The SEC's suit is based on the failure of Fannie and Freddie to disclose the poor quality of the mortgages that they were buying, holding and securitizing. As the SEC said in its press release on the suit: "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives told the world that their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was." This explains why Min and others--despite the insolvency of Fannie and Freddie-- have continue to argue that the two companies did not hold substantial amounts of subprime and other low quality loans. Fannie and Freddie simply failed to disclose this information.

"The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission failed completely in its mission because it refused to inquire seriously into what Fannie and Freddie had done. My dissent however, based on the research of my AEI colleague Edward Pinto, contains all this data, and even points out that Fannie and Freddie had failed to disclose it to the market. Although the FCIC had subpoena power and could have put Fannie and Freddie executives under oath, the FCIC did not want to know the facts that the SEC has now discovered. It was a travesty and a whitewash, and a waste of taxpayer funds. It has also misled people like David Min and others into believing that Fannie and Freddie were--as the FCIC said in its majority report--only "marginal" players in the financial crisis. It's lucky for the FCIC that the SEC doesn't have jurisdiction over false government reports.

"When all the facts come out at trial, the roles of Fannie and Freddie, and the government housing policies they were implementing, will become painfully clear."
Joe Nocera nails it

He writes:

Quote:...Peter Wallison, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, almost single-handedly created the myth that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial crisis. His partner in crime is another A.E.I. scholar, Edward Pinto, who a very long time ago was Fannie’s chief credit officer. Pinto claims that as of June 2008, 27 million “risky” mortgages had been issued — “and a lion’s share was on Fannie and Freddie’s books,” as Wallison wrote recently. Never mind that his definition of “risky” is so all-encompassing that it includes mortgages with extremely low default rates as well as those with default rates nearing 30 percent. These latter mortgages were the ones created by the unholy alliance between subprime lenders and Wall Street. Pinto’s numbers are the Big Lie’s primary data point.

Two things: First, Pinto and Wallison's definition of "subprime" is any loan that goes to a neighborhood they wouldn't live in or to a person they wouldn't have lunch with.  According to the American Housing Survey, there were around 52 million mortgages outstanding in the US in 2009.  This means that according to Wallison and Pinto,  the median borrower is a subprime borrower.  I guess this means they think that that half of homeowners with mortgages should be renting in Potterville.

Second, Nocera should in his piece put quotes around the word "scholar."
Private sector loans, not Fannie or Freddie, triggered crisis

Talk radio and the blogosphere are pushing the idea that the stock market meltdown and the freeze on credit was triggered by finance giants Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's lending money to poor and minority Americans. But federal housing data reveal that that charge isn't true. Instead, it was the private sector that was behind the soaring subprime lending at the core of the crisis.

[Image: 20081013-ECONOMY-subprime.source.prod_affiliate.91.jpg]


David Goldstein and Kevin G. Hall - McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — As the economy worsens and Election Day approaches, a conservative campaign that blames the global financial crisis on a government push to make housing more affordable to lower-class Americans has taken off on talk radio and e-mail.

Commentators say that's what triggered the stock market meltdown and the freeze on credit. They've specifically targeted the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the federal government seized on Sept. 6, contending that lending to poor and minority Americans caused Fannie's and Freddie's financial problems.

Federal housing data reveal that the charges aren't true, and that the private sector, not the government or government-backed companies, was behind the soaring subprime lending at the core of the crisis.

Subprime lending offered high-cost loans to the weakest borrowers during the housing boom that lasted from 2001 to 2007. Subprime lending was at its height from 2004 to 2006.

Federal Reserve Board data show that:
  • More than 84 percent of the subprime mortgages in 2006 were issued by private lending institutions.
  • Private firms made nearly 83 percent of the subprime loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers that year.

  • Only one of the top 25 subprime lenders in 2006 was directly subject to the housing law that's being lambasted by conservative critics.

  • The "turmoil in financial markets clearly was triggered by a dramatic weakening of underwriting standards for U.S. subprime mortgages, beginning in late 2004 and extending into 2007," the President's Working Group on Financial Markets reported Friday.
    Conservative critics claim that the Clinton administration pushed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make home ownership more available to riskier borrowers with little concern for their ability to pay the mortgages.
    "I don't remember a clarion call that said Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster," said Neil Cavuto of Fox News.
  • Fannie, the Federal National Mortgage Association, and Freddie, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., don't lend money, to minorities or anyone else, however. They purchase loans from the private lenders who actually underwrite the loans.
    It's a process called securitization, and by passing on the loans, banks have more capital on hand so they can lend even more.
    This much is true. In an effort to promote affordable home ownership for minorities and rural whites, the Department of Housing and Urban Development set targets for Fannie and Freddie in 1992 to purchase low-income loans for sale into the secondary market that eventually reached this number: 52 percent of loans given to low-to moderate-income families.
  • To be sure, encouraging lower-income Americans to become homeowners gave unsophisticated borrowers and unscrupulous lenders and mortgage brokers more chances to turn dreams of homeownership in nightmares.
  • But these loans, and those to low- and moderate-income families represent a small portion of overall lending. And at the height of the housing boom in 2005 and 2006, Republicans and their party's standard bearer, President Bush, didn't criticize any sort of lending, frequently boasting that they were presiding over the highest-ever rates of U.S. homeownership.
  • Between 2004 and 2006, when subprime lending was exploding, Fannie and Freddie went from holding a high of 48 percent of the subprime loans that were sold into the secondary market to holding about 24 percent, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance, a specialty publication. One reason is that Fannie and Freddie were subject to tougher standards than many of the unregulated players in the private sector who weakened lending standards, most of whom have gone bankrupt or are now in deep trouble.
  • During those same explosive three years, private investment banks — not Fannie and Freddie — dominated the mortgage loans that were packaged and sold into the secondary mortgage market. In 2005 and 2006, the private sector securitized almost two thirds of all U.S. mortgages, supplanting Fannie and Freddie, according to a number of specialty publications that track this data.
    In 1999, the year many critics charge that the Clinton administration pressured Fannie and Freddie, the private sector sold into the secondary market just 18 percent of all mortgages.
  • Fueled by low interest rates and cheap credit, home prices between 2001 and 2007 galloped beyond anything ever seen, and that fueled demand for mortgage-backed securities, the technical term for mortgages that are sold to a company, usually an investment bank, which then pools and sells them into the secondary mortgage market.
  • About 70 percent of all U.S. mortgages are in this secondary mortgage market, according to the Federal Reserve.
    Conservative critics also blame the subprime lending mess on the Community Reinvestment Act, a 31-year-old law aimed at freeing credit for underserved neighborhoods.
  • Congress created the CRA in 1977 to reverse years of redlining and other restrictive banking practices that locked the poor, and especially minorities, out of homeownership and the tax breaks and wealth creation it affords. The CRA requires federally regulated and insured financial institutions to show that they're lending and investing in their communities.
  • Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote recently that while the goal of the CRA was admirable, "it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — who in turn pressured banks and other lenders — to extend mortgages to people who were borrowing over their heads. That's called subprime lending. It lies at the root of our current calamity."
  • Fannie and Freddie, however, didn't pressure lenders to sell them more loans; they struggled to keep pace with their private sector competitors. In fact, their regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, imposed new restrictions in 2006 that led to Fannie and Freddie losing even more market share in the booming subprime market.
  • What's more, only commercial banks and thrifts must follow CRA rules. The investment banks don't, nor did the now-bankrupt non-bank lenders such as New Century Financial Corp. and Ameriquest that underwrote most of the subprime loans.
  • These private non-bank lenders enjoyed a regulatory gap, allowing them to be regulated by 50 different state banking supervisors instead of the federal government. And mortgage brokers, who also weren't subject to federal regulation or the CRA, originated most of the subprime loans.
    In a speech last March, Janet Yellen, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, debunked the notion that the push for affordable housing created today's problems.
  • "Most of the loans made by depository institutions examined under the CRA have not been higher-priced loans," she said. "The CRA has increased the volume of responsible lending to low- and moderate-income households."
  • In a book on the sub-prime lending collapse published in June 2007, the late Federal Reserve Governor Ed Gramlich wrote that only one-third of all CRA loans had interest rates high enough to be considered sub-prime and that to the pleasant surprise of commercial banks there were low default rates. Banks that participated in CRA lending had found, he wrote, "that this new lending is good business."
    Read more here:
The Blame the Community Reinvestment Act Industry

[Image: 20081013-ECONOMY-subprime.source.prod_affiliate.91.jpg]

Sunday, 06 January 2013 04:46

One of the major occupations for economists these days is blaming efforts to help poor people for the housing bubble and bust. The main villains in this story are Fannie Mae, Freddic Mac, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). A reader recently sent me another work in this proud tradition.

I just did a quick reading of the paper, but it seems that the smoking gun in this one is that banks subject to the CRA appeared to do more lending in CRA tracts in the periods where their lending behavior was being scrutinized by regulators. Just to remind folks, the CRA requires banks to make loans in the areas from which they were taking deposits, in particular focusing on areas that are disproportionately African American or Hispanic. The authors take this timing result, which is especially pronounced in the peak bubble years of 2004-2006, as evidence that the CRA played a major role in the pushing of bad loans on moderate income people. As they note, the loans issued in these tracts in these periods had a much higher default rate than other loans.

It's not clear that this gun is smoking quite as much the paper implies. First, it is important to remember that the biggest peddlers of subprime loans were mortgage lenders like Ameriquest and Countrywide. These lenders were for the most part not subject to the CRA since they were not banks (they raised money through the capital markets, not by taking deposits). Therefore the CRA was not a gun to the head of these lenders forcing them to make bad loans.

However even for the banks to whom the CRA did apply the evidence in this paper is less compelling than it may seem. Let's assume that banks do care about their CRA ratings for the reasons mentioned in the paper. (The CRA rating would likely be a factor that would come up when a bank was interested in a buyout or merger.) Let's also imagine that banks time their loans to CRA tracts so that they can show more loans in the periods where their compliance is being reviewed. Let's also hypothesize that in total the CRA doesn't get banks to make any more loans to CRA tracts than they would otherwise.

In this case, we would get exactly the sort of pattern of lending found in this study. Banks that are subject to the CRA would refrain from focusing on CRA tracts when they know no one is looking. Then when the light is on, they would make a stronger effort to make loans in the neighborhoods covered by the CRA. If banks engaged in this sort of timing of loans to CRA tracts, we would find that loans during CRA review periods were higher than in other times, even if there was no net increase in loans as a result of the CRA.

As a practical matter, I would be surprised if the CRA had no effect whatsoever on lending to the covered tracts. But it's not clear how this paper can distinguish a timing effect from a situation where banks actually increased lending to CRA tracts beyond what they would have done without the law.

In the process of prosecuting the case against the CRA, the paper produces some exonerating evidence for Fannie and Freddie. It finds that the CRA effect was strongly associated with private securitization because the investment banks had lower standards than Fannie and Freddie. It comments on this finding:

"We conjecture that banks are more likely to originate loans to risky borrowers around CRA examinations when they have an avenue to securitize and pass these loans to private investors after the exam."

And, just to remind folks, the FHA became almost irrelevant in the peak bubble years, with its share of the market dwindling to almost nothing. At the time it was derided as an outmoded relic since the private sector was so much more efficient in providing loans to low and moderate income families.

Anyhow, I don't think there is any doubt that the efforts to push homeownership went seriously awry in the bubble years. Many of the organizations that encouraged moderate income families to buy homes at badly inflated prices as a wealth building strategy should be wearing bags over their heads for the next three decades. But there is no escaping the fact that the main motivation for issuing the bad mortgages was money: the banks were booking huge profits in these years. And no believer in the free market can think that bankers have to be told by government bureaucrats to go out and make money.
Fallout from 'Untouchables' Documentary: Another Wall Street Whistleblower Gets Reamed

by: Matt Taibbi

Michael Winston
FRONTLINE | The Untouchables

A great many people around the county were rightfully shocked and horrified by the recent excellent and hard-hitting PBS documentary, The Untouchables, which looked at the problem of high-ranking Wall Street crooks going unpunished in the wake of the financial crisis. The PBS piece certainly rattled some cages, particularly in Washington, in a way that few media efforts succeed in doing. (Scroll to the end of this post to watch the full documentary.)

Now, two very interesting and upsetting footnotes to that groundbreaking documentary have emerged in the last weeks.

The first involves one of the people interviewed for the story, a former high-ranking executive from Countrywide financial who turned whistleblower named Michael Winston. You can see Michael's segment of The Untouchables at around the 4:20 mark of the piece. The story Winston told during the documentary is essentially an eyewitness account of the beginning of the financial crisis.

When I spoke to him last week, Winston was still as amazed and repulsed by what he saw at Angelo Mozilo's crooked subprime mortgage company as he was when he worked there. Winston, who had worked for years at high-level positions at companies like Motorola and Lockheed before joining Countrywide in the 2000s, described a moment in his first months at the company, when he rolled into the parking lot at the company headquarters.

"There was a guy there, a well-dressed guy, standing next to a car that had a vanity plate," he said. "And the plate read, 'FUND'EM.'"

Winston, curious, asked the guy what the plate meant. The man laughed and said, "That's Angelo Mozilo's growth strategy for 2006." Here's how Winston described the rest of the story to PBS – i.e. what happened when he asked the man to elaborate:

Quote:"What if the person doesn't have a job?"

"Fund 'em," the – the guy said.

And I said, "What if he has no income?"

"Fund 'em."

"What if he has no assets?" And he said, "Fund 'em."

Later on, Winston would hear that the company's unofficial policy was that if a loan applicant could "fog a mirror," he would be given a loan.

This kind of information is absolutely crucial to understanding what caused the subprime crisis. There are people out there still willing to argue that the government somehow "forced the banks to lend" to unworthy applicants. In reality, it was unscrupulous companies like Countrywide that were cranking out loans en masse, knowing that these loans would be unloaded down the line, first to banks and then to sucker investors like pension funds and foreign trade unions, almost as soon as they were created.

Winston was a witness to all of this. Eventually, he would be asked by the firm to present false information to the Moody's ratings agency, which was about to give Countrywide a negative rating because of some trouble the company was having in working a smooth succession from one set of company leaders to another.

When Winston refused, he was essentially stripped of his normal responsibilities and had his corporate budget slashed. When Bank of America took over the company, Winston's job was terminated. He sued, and in one of the few positive outcomes for any white-collar whistleblower anywhere in the post-financial-crisis universe, won a $3.8 million wrongful termination suit against Bank of America last February.

Well, just weeks after the PBS documentary aired, the Court of Appeals in the state of California suddenly took an interest in Winston's case. Normally, a court of appeals can only overturn a jury verdict in a case like this if there is a legal error. It's not supposed to relitigate the factual evidence.

Yet this is exactly what happened: The court decided that the evidence that Winston was wrongfully terminated was insufficient, and then from there determined that the "legal error" in the original Winston suit against Bank of America and Countrywide was that the judge in the case failed to throw out the jury's verdict:

In short, having scoured the record for evidence supporting the jury's verdict on the issue of causation, we have found none. It follows that the trial court erred in denying defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

"I was flabbergasted," Winston says now. "Think of all the hard work the jury did, and [the court] overturns it just like that."

While it's impossible to say just exactly what a fair financial award should be for a person who reports bad corporate activity to the public, it's certainly true that when these whistleblower suits end in failure, it has a chilling effect on other people thinking about coming forward. Not many people are willing to risk their jobs if they think it will cost them every last dime in the end. This is just one more example of how hard it is for whistleblowers to come out even, even if they win jury trials.

That decision came down on February 19th, and is the first of the two interesting post-Untouchables footnotes.

The other involves some of the comments made by the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, who said (as he has on other occasions, including after the recent non-prosecutions of HSBC and UBS for major scandals) that his Justice Department has to weigh the financial consequences of bringing prosecutions. Quoting from the PBS show, Breuer explained:

But in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case, there's some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it's a factor we need to know and understand.

When Breuer said that, it raised a serious red flag on the Hill. A number of people in positions of power wanted to know just what "experts" people like Breuer had consulted with before deciding not to press charges in certain cases. Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, specifically, sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter asking a number of questions.

Among other things, the two Senators wanted to know if certain companies had been designated "Too Big to Jail." Then they had a series of very obvious and reasonable questions about those "experts":

4. Please provide the names of all outside experts consulted by the Justice Department in making prosecutorial decisions regarding financial institutions with over $1 billion in assets.

5. Please provide any compensation contracts for these individuals.

6. How did DOJ ensure that these experts provided unconflicted and unbiased advice to DOJ?

Well, at the end of last week, on February 27th, the Department of Justice sent Brown and Grassley a letter in return. The letter is, to describe it very generously, not terribly informative.

Most of the letter is just a long list of the many wondrous accomplishments the DOJ has secured under Eric Holder's watch, including felony manslaughter convictions against BP, or "fraud convictions for a board member of Goldman, Sachs," or the ongoing LIBOR investigation, or the prosecution in the Stanford Ponzi case. But the rest of the letter totally ignores the Brown/Grassley questions, particularly on the matter of which experts were and are being consulted.

On those questions, the DOJ would say only that "it is entirely appropriate for prosecutors to hear from subject matter experts at relevant regulatory authorities" and that . . .

When the Department consults with relevant regulatory authorities, or hears from companies who are targets of the Department's investigations and their counsel regarding potential collateral consequences of enforcement actions, neither those agencies nor the target companies receive any compensation from the Department.

That is one hell of a slippery piece of language. It's great that the Department of Justice is not paying, say, HSBC to consult with them on the question of whether or not HSBC should be prosecuted. What a relief! But that doesn't mean they're not paying someone else for that kind of advice.

The DOJ similarly blew off naming any individual experts and they refused absolutely to turn over information about any compensation they may have paid out to whomever it is who is whispering in their prosecutorial ears.

The two Senators late last week issued a blistering answer to the DOJ letter, saying, "the Justice Department's response is aggressively evasive," and that "the Department's only clear response was that it speaks to regulators and the banks themselves."

The Department of Justice is now saying that it misunderstood the two Senators, that it didn't know that they were asking for the actual names of those experts. Moreover, the Department claims it is working on answers to those queries.

In the meantime, Eric Holder is appearing before the Judiciary Committee this Wednesday, and it will be interesting to see how he handles questioning from Senator Grassley. It may get ugly before the answers actually come out, but it seems that someone is finally determined to get some real information.
And yet another article to refute the nonsence that the CRA somehow caused the financial crisis

Lending to Poor People Didn't Cause the Financial Crisis

[Image: 120x120.jpg]
JUNE 22, 2016 11:34 AM EST

By Barry Ritholtz

Two of Donald Trump’s economic advisers, Lawrence Kudlow and Stephen Moore, have revived an idea about the source of the financial crisis that really should have been put to rest long ago.

In a column published and rebroadcast by many politically sympathetic sites, they lay the blame for the credit crisis and Great Recession on the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law designed in part to prevent banks from engaging in a racially discriminatory lending practice known as redlining. The reality is, of course, that the CRA wasn’t a factor in the crisis.

What’s so wonderful about their article, which is an attempted take down of the Clintons, is that they miss the very obvious ways Bill Clinton’s administration did contribute to the financial crisis. But doing that would have been at odds with their anti-regulatory philosophy.

Here’s the heart of the Kudlow and Moore case:

The seeds of the mortgage meltdown were planted during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Under Clinton’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary, Andrew Cuomo, Community Reinvestment Act regulators gave banks higher ratings for home loans made in “credit-deprived” areas. Banks were effectively rewarded for throwing out sound underwriting standards and writing loans to those who were at high risk of defaulting. If banks didn’t comply with these rules, regulators reined in their ability to expand lending and deposits.

They then argue that this was part of a broader campaign to make loans to unqualified low-income folk, which in turn caused the crisis.

Let’s just be clear about what the CRA does and doesn’t doIt simply says that if you open a branch office in a low income neighborhood and collect deposits there, you are obligated to do a certain amount of lending in that neighborhood. In other words, you can’t open a branch office in Harlem and use deposits from there to only fund loans in high-end Tribeca. A bank must make credit available on the same terms in both neighborhoods. In other words, a “red line” can’t be drawn around Harlem, a term that dates to when banks supposedly used colored pencils to draw no-loan zones on maps.

Showing that the CRA wasn’t the cause of the financial crisis is rather easy. As Warren Buffett pal Charlie Munger says, “Invert, always invert.” In this case, let’s assume Moore and Kudlow are correct, and the CRA did require banks to lend to unqualified, low-income buyers. What would that world have looked like?

Here’s what we should have seen:
  • Home sales and prices in urban, minority communities would have led the national home market higher, with gains in percentage terms surpassing national figures;
  • CRA mandated loans would have defaulted at higher rates;
  • Foreclosures in these distressed urban CRA neighborhoods should have far outpaced those in the suburbs;
  • Local lenders making these mortgages should have failed at much higher rates;
  • Portfolios of banks participating in the Troubled Asset Relief Program should have been filled with securities made up of toxic CRA loans;
  • Investors looking to profit should have been buying up properties financed with defaulted CRA loans; and
  • Congressional testimony of financial industry executives after the crisis should have spelled out how the CRA was a direct cause, with compelling evidence backing their claims.
Yet none of these things happened. And they should have, if the CRA was at fault. It’s no surprise that in congressional testimony, various experts were asked about the CRA -- from former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair to the Federal Reserve’s director of Consumer and Community Affairs -- and none blamed the crisis on the CRA.

If that isn’t enough to dismiss the claim, consider this: Where did mortgages, especially subprime mortgages, default in large numbers?

It wasn’t Harlem, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit or any other poor, largely minority urban area covered by the CRA. No, the crisis was worst in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and California. Indeed, the vast majority of the housing collapse took place in the suburbs and exurbs, not the inner cities.

Now consider that much of the rest of the developed world also had a boom and bust in residential real estate that was worse than in the U.S. Oh, right -- those countries didn’t have the CRA.

What's more, many of the lenders that made the subprime loans that contributed so much to the collapse were private non-bank lenders that weren’t covered by the CRA. Almost 400 of these went bankrupt soon after housing began to wobble.

I have called the CRA blame meme “the big lie” -- and with good reason. It’s an old trope, tinged with elements of dog-whistle politics, blaming low-income residents in the inner cities regardless of what the data show.

But if you really want to blame a CRA, I can offer you some help -- check out the credit rating agencies. As the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded in its autopsy of the crisis: “The three credit-rating agencies were key enablers of the financial meltdown. The mortgage-related securities at the heart of the crisis could not have been marketed and sold without their seal of approval.”

The raters stamped AAA grades -- the same as given to U.S. government debt -- on what they should have known were junk mortgage securities in order to gain market share and win big fees. With the raters’ seal of approval, the country's biggest banks gorged on this garbage. The results, as we now know, were catastrophic.

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