Google+ THE TALK SHOW AMERICAN: Bush Administration Warnings About Fannie and Freddie Went Unheeded

Bush Administration Warnings About Fannie and Freddie Went Unheeded

For years President Bush's Administration warned of financial turmoil at a housing government-sponsored enterprise (GSE)and suggested plans aimed at reducing the risk that Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac would encounter. President Bush called for reform 17 times in 2008. The warnings went unheeded, his attempts to reform the supervision of these entities were thwarted by the legislative maneuvering of those who denied there were even any problems.

2001
April: The Administration's FY02 budget declares that the size of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is "a potential problem," because "financial trouble of a large GSE could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting Federally insured entities and economic activity."

2002

May: The President calls for the disclosure and corporate governance principles contained in his 10-point plan for corporate responsibility to apply to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (OMB Prompt Letter to OFHEO, 5/29/02)

2003
January: Freddie Mac announces it has to restate financial results for the previous three years.

February: The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) releases a report explaining that "although investors perceive an implicit Federal guarantee of [GSE] obligations," "the government has provided no explicit legal backing for them." As a consequence, unexpected problems at a GSE could immediately spread into financial sectors beyond the housing market. ("Systemic Risk: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Role of OFHEO," OFHEO Report, 2/4/03)

September: Fannie Mae discloses SEC investigation and acknowledges OFHEO's review found earnings manipulations.

September: Treasury Secretary John Snow testifies before the House Financial Services Committee to recommend that Congress enact "legislation to create a new Federal agency to regulate and supervise the financial activities of our housing-related government sponsored enterprises" and set prudent and appropriate minimum capital adequacy requirements.

October: Fannie Mae discloses $1.2 billion accounting error.

November: Council of the Economic Advisers (CEA) Chairman Greg Mankiw explains that any "legislation to reform GSE regulation should empower the new regulator with sufficient strength and credibility to reduce systemic risk." To reduce the potential for systemic instability, the regulator would have "broad authority to set both risk-based and minimum capital standards" and "receivership powers necessary to wind down the affairs of a troubled GSE." (N. Gregory Mankiw, Remarks At The Conference Of State Bank Supervisors State Banking Summit And Leadership, 11/6/03)

2004

February: The President's FY05 Budget again highlights the risk posed by the explosive growth of the GSEs and their low levels of required capital, and called for creation of a new, world-class regulator: "The Administration has determined that the safety and soundness regulators of the housing GSEs lack sufficient power and stature to meet their responsibilities, and therefore…should be replaced with a new strengthened regulator." (2005 Budget Analytic Perspectives, pg. 83)

February: CEA Chairman Mankiw cautions Congress to "not take [the financial market's] strength for granted." Again, the call from the Administration was to reduce this risk by "ensuring that the housing GSEs are overseen by an effective regulator." (N. Gregory Mankiw, Op-Ed, "Keeping Fannie And Freddie's House In Order," Financial Times, 2/24/04)

June: Deputy Secretary of Treasury Samuel Bodman spotlights the risk posed by the GSEs and called for reform, saying "We do not have a world-class system of supervision of the housing government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), even though the importance of the housing financial system that the GSEs serve demands the best in supervision to ensure the long-term vitality of that system. Therefore, the Administration has called for a new, first class, regulatory supervisor for the three housing GSEs: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banking System." (Samuel Bodman, House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Testimony, 6/16/04)

2005
April: Treasury Secretary John Snow repeats his call for GSE reform, saying "Events that have transpired since I testified before this Committee in 2003 reinforce concerns over the systemic risks posed by the GSEs and further highlight the need for real GSE reform to ensure that our housing finance system remains a strong and vibrant source of funding for expanding homeownership opportunities in America… Half-measures will only exacerbate the risks to our financial system." (Secretary John W. Snow, "Testimony Before The U.S. House Financial Services Committee," 4/13/05)

2007

July: Two Bear Stearns hedge funds invested in mortgage securities collapse.

August: President Bush emphatically calls on Congress to pass a reform package for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying "first things first when it comes to those two institutions. Congress needs to get them reformed, get them streamlined, get them focused, and then I will consider other options." (President George W. Bush, Press Conference, The White House, 8/9/07)

September: RealtyTrac announces foreclosure filings up 243,000 in August – up 115 percent from the year before.

September: Single-family existing home sales decreases 7.5 percent from the previous month – the lowest level in nine years. Median sale price of existing homes fell six percent from the year before.

December: President Bush again warns Congress of the need to pass legislation reforming GSEs, saying "These institutions provide liquidity in the mortgage market that benefits millions of homeowners, and it is vital they operate safely and operate soundly. So I've called on Congress to pass legislation that strengthens independent regulation of the GSEs – and ensures they focus on their important housing mission. The GSE reform bill passed by the House earlier this year is a good start. But the Senate has not acted. And the United States Senate needs to pass this legislation soon." (President George W. Bush, Discusses Housing, The White House, 12/6/07)

2008
January: Bank of America announces it will buy Countrywide.

January: Citigroup announces mortgage portfolio lost $18.1 billion in value.

February: Assistant Secretary David Nason reiterates the urgency of reforms, says "A new regulatory structure for the housing GSEs is essential if these entities are to continue to perform their public mission successfully." (David Nason, Testimony On Reforming GSE Regulation, Senate Committee On Banking, Housing And Urban Affairs, 2/7/08)

March: Bear Stearns announces it will sell itself to JPMorgan Chase.

March: President Bush calls on Congress to take action and "move forward with reforms on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They need to continue to modernize the FHA, as well as allow State housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to homeowners to refinance their mortgages." (President George W. Bush, Remarks To The Economic Club Of New York, New York, NY, 3/14/08)

April: President Bush urges Congress to pass the much needed legislation and "modernize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. [There are] constructive things Congress can do that will encourage the housing market to correct quickly by … helping people stay in their homes." (President George W. Bush, Meeting With Cabinet, the White House, 4/14/08)

May: President Bush issues several pleas to Congress to pass legislation reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before the situation deteriorates further.

"Americans are concerned about making their mortgage payments and keeping their homes. Yet Congress has failed to pass legislation I have repeatedly requested to modernize the Federal Housing Administration that will help more families stay in their homes, reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to ensure they focus on their housing mission, and allow State housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to refinance sub-prime loans." (President George W. Bush, Radio Address, 5/3/08)

"[T]he government ought to be helping creditworthy people stay in their homes. And one way we can do that – and Congress is making progress on this – is the reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That reform will come with a strong, independent regulator." (President George W. Bush, Meeting With The Secretary Of The Treasury, the White House, 5/19/08)

"Congress needs to pass legislation to modernize the Federal Housing Administration, reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to ensure they focus on their housing mission, and allow State housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to refinance subprime loans." (President George W. Bush, Radio Address, 5/31/08)

June: As foreclosure rates continued to rise in the first quarter, the President once again asks Congress to take the necessary measures to address this challenge, saying "we need to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." (President George W. Bush, Remarks At Swearing In Ceremony For Secretary Of Housing And Urban Development, Washington, D.C., 6/6/08)

July: Congress heeds the President's call for action and passes reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as it becomes clear that the institutions are failing.

2 comments:

smrstrauss said...

How absurd.

Banks around the world are going belly up. We are hearing about trillions of dollars of investments in suspect “credit default swaps,” high leverage by banks making leveraged buyout loans, assets held “off balance sheet” so investors would not hear about them, mortgage-backed paper rated at AAA when it should have been DDD, and according to this blog, it is all caused by loans made to poor people. To be sure, some mortgage loans made to poor are now in default, but can you show with statistics that the rate of default of the poor is higher than the middle class? In fact, in terms of money, the rich probably have the most bad loans, as one of the articles below shows.

And yes, in 2004, four years ago, the Democrats did not see that there was a problem. They did not have perfect foresight. (Our secretary of the treasury did not think there was a crisis on Wall Street five or six weeks ago.)

Do you suppose that if a Democrat had got up in 2004 and said that “credit default swaps should be regulated” or that AIG was risky, any Republican would have listened to him? And the Republicans were in charge of Congress during the time when the Democrats were said in this article to have “blocked” legislation. How did the minority party block legislation without the support of members of the majority party?

Democrats however had been urging regulation of COMMERCIAL mortgage lenders, and Republicans had blocked that. By far the bulk of sub-prime loans originated in COMMERCIAL MORTAGE FIRMS.


The following two articles destroy the MYTH that Fannie and Freddie were the main cause of the crisis:


First

From the Wall Street Journal

OCTOBER 1, 2008

The GOP Blames the Victim
Capitalism sure is fragile if subprime borrowers can ruin it.
By THOMAS FRANK


Two weeks ago, I wrote that the breakdown of the nation's financial industry was undeniably a self-induced injury; that it would finally force conservatives to own up to the wrongheadedness of their deregulatory project; that they couldn't possibly blame the disaster on any of their traditional bogeymen…..

There is no doubt that Fannie and Freddie enabled the subprime neurosis, but for certain conservatives they are virtually the only malefactors worth noting. The dirge goes like this: Fannie and Freddie were buying up subprime mortgages, and they were doing it for (liberal) political reasons. Mortgage originators thus had no choice but to hand out mortgages like candy. Had market forces been in charge, loans would, no doubt, have been administered with a rigor and sternness to make John Calvin blanch.

I asked Bill Black, a professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an authority on the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s, what he thought of the latest blame offensive. He pointed out that, for all their failings, Fannie and Freddie didn't originate any of the bad loans -- that disastrous piece of work was done by purely private, largely unregulated companies, which did it for the usual bubble-logic reason: to make a quick buck.

Most of the mistakes for which we are paying now, Mr. Black told me, were actually made "by four entities that under conservative economic theory should have exercised effective market discipline -- the appraisers, the originators of the mortgages, the rating agencies, and the investment banking firms that packaged the subprime mortgage-backed securities." Instead of "disciplining" the markets, these private actors "served as the four horsemen of the financial apocalypse, aiding the accounting fraud and inflating the housing bubble." It is they, Mr. Black says, who "turned a crisis into a catastrophe."

Ah, but truth is no ally to a conservative with his back to the wall. So much more helpful are the trusty narratives on which the movement was built. So when we have dispatched this first canard, we learn from other conservatives that it is the sub-prime people who are to blame; that by taking out loans they couldn't possibly pay off, these undesirable borrowers have ruined us all.

There is no way to measure the number of people who took out mortgages they knew they couldn't afford, of course, but for what it's worth, a 2007 report by the Mortgage Bankers Association reports that the FBI estimates "80 percent of all reported fraud losses arise from fraud for profit schemes that involve industry insiders." That means the lenders, not the borrowers.

Just imagine the flights of fancy that the theory of borrower malevolence and Wall Street victimization requires conservatives to take: All these no-account folks, you see, got together and forced investment banks to engineer subprime mortgages into highly leveraged securities. Then they tricked all manner of hedge funds and pension funds and financial institutions into buying these lousy products. Just for good measure, these struggling homeowners then persuaded bond-rating agencies to misrepresent the risk associated with these securities.

Now imagine what such a fantastic scheme, if true, would mean for capitalism itself. This economic system, glorified by all, dominates the globe today, bidding prices up and down, forcing entire nations to change their ways to better suit its needs, and yet it is so fragile that, when challenged by the weakest members of society and a handful of community organizers, it simply crumbles. Thank goodness the Soviets never figured this out.

End Quote

Second article, from Slate

Subprime Suspects
The right blames the credit crisis on poor minority homeowners. This is not merely offensive, but entirely wrong.
Slate Magazine
Daniel Gross

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008, at 2:08 PM ET

We've now entered a new stage of the financial crisis: the ritual assigning of blame. It began in earnest with Monday's congressional roasting of Lehman Bros. CEO Richard Fuld and continued on Tuesday with Capitol Hill solons delving into the failure of AIG.

On the Republican side of Congress, in the right-wing financial media (which is to say the financial media), and in certain parts of the op-ed-o-sphere, there's a consensus emerging that the whole mess should be laid at the feet of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failed mortgage giants, and the Community Reinvestment Act, a law passed during the Carter administration. The CRA, which was amended in the 1990s and this decade, requires banks—which had a long, distinguished history of not making loans to minorities—to make more efforts to do so.

The thesis is laid out almost daily on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, in the National Review, and on the campaign trail. John McCain said yesterday, "Bad mortgages were being backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and it was only a matter of time before a contagion of unsustainable debt began to spread." Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer provides an excellent example, writing that "much of this crisis was brought upon us by the good intentions of good people."

He continues: "For decades, starting with Jimmy Carter's Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, there has been bipartisan agreement to use government power to expand homeownership to people who had been shut out for economic reasons or, sometimes, because of racial and ethnic discrimination. What could be a more worthy cause? But it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—which 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." The subtext: If only Congress didn't force banks to lend money to poor minorities, the Dow would be well on its way to 36,000. Or, as Fox Business Channel's Neil Cavuto put it, "I don't remember a clarion call that said: Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster."

Let me get this straight. Investment banks and insurance companies run by centimillionaires blow up, and it's the fault of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and poor minorities?

These arguments are generally made by people who read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and ignore the rest of the paper—economic know-nothings whose opinions are informed mostly by ideology and, occasionally, by prejudice. Let's be honest. Fannie and Freddie, which didn't make subprime loans but did buy subprime loans made by others, were part of the problem. Poor Congressional oversight was part of the problem. Banks that sought to meet CRA requirements by indiscriminately doling out loans to minorities may have been part of the problem.

But none of these issues is the cause of the problem. Not by a long shot. From the beginning, subprime has been a symptom, not a cause. And the notion that the Community Reinvestment Act is somehow responsible for poor lending decisions is absurd.

Here's why.

The Community Reinvestment Act applies to depository banks. But many of the institutions that spurred the massive growth of the subprime market weren't regulated banks. They were outfits such as Argent and American Home Mortgage, which were generally not regulated by the Federal Reserve or other entities that monitored compliance with CRA. These institutions worked hand in glove with Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, entities to which the CRA likewise didn't apply. There's much more. As Barry Ritholtz notes in this fine rant, the CRA didn't force mortgage companies to offer loans for no money down, or to throw underwriting standards out the window, or to encourage mortgage brokers to aggressively seek out new markets. Nor did the CRA force the credit-rating agencies to slap high-grade ratings on packages of subprime debt.

Second, many of the biggest flameouts in real estate have had nothing to do with subprime lending. WCI Communities, builder of highly amenitized condos in Florida (no subprime purchasers welcome there), filed for bankruptcy in August. Very few of the tens of thousands of now-surplus condominiums in Miami were conceived to be marketed to subprime borrowers, or minorities—unless you count rich Venezuelans and Colombians as minorities. The multiyear plague that has been documented in brilliant detail at IrvineHousingBlog is playing out in one of the least-subprime housing markets in the nation.

Third, lending money to poor people and minorities isn't inherently risky. There's plenty of evidence that in fact it's not that risky at all. That's what we've learned from several decades of microlending programs, at home and abroad, with their very high repayment rates. And as the New York Times recently reported, Nehemiah Homes, a long-running initiative to build homes and sell them to the working poor in subprime areas of New York's outer boroughs, has a repayment rate that lenders in Greenwich, Conn., would envy. In 27 years, there have been fewer than 10 defaults on the project's 3,900 homes. That's a rate of 0.25 percent.

On the other hand, lending money recklessly to obscenely rich white guys, such as Richard Fuld of Lehman Bros. or Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns, can be really risky. In fact, it's even more risky, since they have a lot more borrowing capacity. And here, again, it's difficult to imagine how Jimmy Carter could be responsible for the supremely poor decision-making seen in the financial system.

I await the Krauthammer column in which he points out the specific provision of the Community Reinvestment Act that forced Bear Stearns to run with an absurd leverage ratio of 33 to 1, which instructed Bear Stearns hedge-fund managers to blow up hundreds of millions of their clients' money, and that required its septuagenarian CEO to play bridge while his company ran into trouble.

Perhaps Neil Cavuto knows which CRA clause required Lehman Bros. to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars in short-term debt in the capital markets and then buy tens of billions of dollars of commercial real estate at the top of the market. I can't find it. Did AIG plunge into the credit-default-swaps business with abandon because Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now members picketed its offices? Please. How about the hundreds of billions of dollars of leveraged loans—loans banks committed to private-equity firms that wanted to conduct leveraged buyouts of retailers, restaurant companies, and industrial firms? Many of those are going bad now, too. Is that Bill Clinton's fault?

Look: There was a culture of stupid, reckless lending, of which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the subprime lenders were an integral part. But the dumb-lending virus originated in Greenwich, Conn., midtown Manhattan, and Southern California, not Eastchester, Brownsville, and Washington, D.C. Investment banks created a demand for subprime loans because they saw it as a new asset class that they could dominate. They made subprime loans for the same reason they made other loans: They could get paid for making the loans, for turning them into securities, and for trading them—frequently using borrowed capital.

At Monday's hearing, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., gamely tried to pin Lehman's demise on Fannie and Freddie. After comparing Lehman's small political contributions with Fannie and Freddie's much larger ones, Mica asked Fuld what role Fannie and Freddie's failure played in Lehman's demise. Fuld's response: "De minimis."

Lending money to poor people doesn't make you poor. Lending money poorly to rich people does.

End quote

smrstrauss said...

How absurd.

Banks around the world are going belly up. We are hearing about trillions of dollars of investments in suspect “credit default swaps,” high leverage by banks making leveraged buyout loans, assets held “off balance sheet” so investors would not hear about them, mortgage-backed paper rated at AAA when it should have been DDD, and according to this blog, it is all caused by loans made to poor people. To be sure, some mortgage loans made to poor are now in default, but can you show with statistics that the rate of default of the poor is higher than the middle class? In fact, in terms of money, the rich probably have the most bad loans, as one of the articles below shows.

And yes, in 2004, four years ago, the Democrats did not see that there was a problem. They did not have perfect foresight. (Our secretary of the treasury did not think there was a crisis on Wall Street five or six weeks ago.)

Do you suppose that if a Democrat had got up in 2004 and said that “credit default swaps should be regulated” or that AIG was risky, any Republican would have listened to him? And the Republicans were in charge of Congress during the time when the Democrats were said in this article to have “blocked” legislation. How did the minority party block legislation without the support of members of the majority party?

Democrats however had been urging regulation of COMMERCIAL mortgage lenders, and Republicans had blocked that. By far the bulk of sub-prime loans originated in COMMERCIAL MORTAGE FIRMS.


The following two articles destroy the MYTH that Fannie and Freddie were the main cause of the crisis:


First

From the Wall Street Journal

OCTOBER 1, 2008

The GOP Blames the Victim
Capitalism sure is fragile if subprime borrowers can ruin it.
By THOMAS FRANK


Two weeks ago, I wrote that the breakdown of the nation's financial industry was undeniably a self-induced injury; that it would finally force conservatives to own up to the wrongheadedness of their deregulatory project; that they couldn't possibly blame the disaster on any of their traditional bogeymen…..

There is no doubt that Fannie and Freddie enabled the subprime neurosis, but for certain conservatives they are virtually the only malefactors worth noting. The dirge goes like this: Fannie and Freddie were buying up subprime mortgages, and they were doing it for (liberal) political reasons. Mortgage originators thus had no choice but to hand out mortgages like candy. Had market forces been in charge, loans would, no doubt, have been administered with a rigor and sternness to make John Calvin blanch.

I asked Bill Black, a professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an authority on the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s, what he thought of the latest blame offensive. He pointed out that, for all their failings, Fannie and Freddie didn't originate any of the bad loans -- that disastrous piece of work was done by purely private, largely unregulated companies, which did it for the usual bubble-logic reason: to make a quick buck.

Most of the mistakes for which we are paying now, Mr. Black told me, were actually made "by four entities that under conservative economic theory should have exercised effective market discipline -- the appraisers, the originators of the mortgages, the rating agencies, and the investment banking firms that packaged the subprime mortgage-backed securities." Instead of "disciplining" the markets, these private actors "served as the four horsemen of the financial apocalypse, aiding the accounting fraud and inflating the housing bubble." It is they, Mr. Black says, who "turned a crisis into a catastrophe."

Ah, but truth is no ally to a conservative with his back to the wall. So much more helpful are the trusty narratives on which the movement was built. So when we have dispatched this first canard, we learn from other conservatives that it is the sub-prime people who are to blame; that by taking out loans they couldn't possibly pay off, these undesirable borrowers have ruined us all.

There is no way to measure the number of people who took out mortgages they knew they couldn't afford, of course, but for what it's worth, a 2007 report by the Mortgage Bankers Association reports that the FBI estimates "80 percent of all reported fraud losses arise from fraud for profit schemes that involve industry insiders." That means the lenders, not the borrowers.

Just imagine the flights of fancy that the theory of borrower malevolence and Wall Street victimization requires conservatives to take: All these no-account folks, you see, got together and forced investment banks to engineer subprime mortgages into highly leveraged securities. Then they tricked all manner of hedge funds and pension funds and financial institutions into buying these lousy products. Just for good measure, these struggling homeowners then persuaded bond-rating agencies to misrepresent the risk associated with these securities.

Now imagine what such a fantastic scheme, if true, would mean for capitalism itself. This economic system, glorified by all, dominates the globe today, bidding prices up and down, forcing entire nations to change their ways to better suit its needs, and yet it is so fragile that, when challenged by the weakest members of society and a handful of community organizers, it simply crumbles. Thank goodness the Soviets never figured this out.

End Quote

Second article, from Slate

Subprime Suspects
The right blames the credit crisis on poor minority homeowners. This is not merely offensive, but entirely wrong.
Slate Magazine
Daniel Gross

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008, at 2:08 PM ET

We've now entered a new stage of the financial crisis: the ritual assigning of blame. It began in earnest with Monday's congressional roasting of Lehman Bros. CEO Richard Fuld and continued on Tuesday with Capitol Hill solons delving into the failure of AIG.

On the Republican side of Congress, in the right-wing financial media (which is to say the financial media), and in certain parts of the op-ed-o-sphere, there's a consensus emerging that the whole mess should be laid at the feet of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failed mortgage giants, and the Community Reinvestment Act, a law passed during the Carter administration. The CRA, which was amended in the 1990s and this decade, requires banks—which had a long, distinguished history of not making loans to minorities—to make more efforts to do so.

The thesis is laid out almost daily on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, in the National Review, and on the campaign trail. John McCain said yesterday, "Bad mortgages were being backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and it was only a matter of time before a contagion of unsustainable debt began to spread." Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer provides an excellent example, writing that "much of this crisis was brought upon us by the good intentions of good people."

He continues: "For decades, starting with Jimmy Carter's Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, there has been bipartisan agreement to use government power to expand homeownership to people who had been shut out for economic reasons or, sometimes, because of racial and ethnic discrimination. What could be a more worthy cause? But it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—which 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." The subtext: If only Congress didn't force banks to lend money to poor minorities, the Dow would be well on its way to 36,000. Or, as Fox Business Channel's Neil Cavuto put it, "I don't remember a clarion call that said: Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster."

Let me get this straight. Investment banks and insurance companies run by centimillionaires blow up, and it's the fault of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and poor minorities?

These arguments are generally made by people who read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and ignore the rest of the paper—economic know-nothings whose opinions are informed mostly by ideology and, occasionally, by prejudice. Let's be honest. Fannie and Freddie, which didn't make subprime loans but did buy subprime loans made by others, were part of the problem. Poor Congressional oversight was part of the problem. Banks that sought to meet CRA requirements by indiscriminately doling out loans to minorities may have been part of the problem.

But none of these issues is the cause of the problem. Not by a long shot. From the beginning, subprime has been a symptom, not a cause. And the notion that the Community Reinvestment Act is somehow responsible for poor lending decisions is absurd.

Here's why.

The Community Reinvestment Act applies to depository banks. But many of the institutions that spurred the massive growth of the subprime market weren't regulated banks. They were outfits such as Argent and American Home Mortgage, which were generally not regulated by the Federal Reserve or other entities that monitored compliance with CRA. These institutions worked hand in glove with Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, entities to which the CRA likewise didn't apply. There's much more. As Barry Ritholtz notes in this fine rant, the CRA didn't force mortgage companies to offer loans for no money down, or to throw underwriting standards out the window, or to encourage mortgage brokers to aggressively seek out new markets. Nor did the CRA force the credit-rating agencies to slap high-grade ratings on packages of subprime debt.

Second, many of the biggest flameouts in real estate have had nothing to do with subprime lending. WCI Communities, builder of highly amenitized condos in Florida (no subprime purchasers welcome there), filed for bankruptcy in August. Very few of the tens of thousands of now-surplus condominiums in Miami were conceived to be marketed to subprime borrowers, or minorities—unless you count rich Venezuelans and Colombians as minorities. The multiyear plague that has been documented in brilliant detail at IrvineHousingBlog is playing out in one of the least-subprime housing markets in the nation.

Third, lending money to poor people and minorities isn't inherently risky. There's plenty of evidence that in fact it's not that risky at all. That's what we've learned from several decades of microlending programs, at home and abroad, with their very high repayment rates. And as the New York Times recently reported, Nehemiah Homes, a long-running initiative to build homes and sell them to the working poor in subprime areas of New York's outer boroughs, has a repayment rate that lenders in Greenwich, Conn., would envy. In 27 years, there have been fewer than 10 defaults on the project's 3,900 homes. That's a rate of 0.25 percent.

On the other hand, lending money recklessly to obscenely rich white guys, such as Richard Fuld of Lehman Bros. or Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns, can be really risky. In fact, it's even more risky, since they have a lot more borrowing capacity. And here, again, it's difficult to imagine how Jimmy Carter could be responsible for the supremely poor decision-making seen in the financial system.

I await the Krauthammer column in which he points out the specific provision of the Community Reinvestment Act that forced Bear Stearns to run with an absurd leverage ratio of 33 to 1, which instructed Bear Stearns hedge-fund managers to blow up hundreds of millions of their clients' money, and that required its septuagenarian CEO to play bridge while his company ran into trouble.

Perhaps Neil Cavuto knows which CRA clause required Lehman Bros. to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars in short-term debt in the capital markets and then buy tens of billions of dollars of commercial real estate at the top of the market. I can't find it. Did AIG plunge into the credit-default-swaps business with abandon because Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now members picketed its offices? Please. How about the hundreds of billions of dollars of leveraged loans—loans banks committed to private-equity firms that wanted to conduct leveraged buyouts of retailers, restaurant companies, and industrial firms? Many of those are going bad now, too. Is that Bill Clinton's fault?

Look: There was a culture of stupid, reckless lending, of which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the subprime lenders were an integral part. But the dumb-lending virus originated in Greenwich, Conn., midtown Manhattan, and Southern California, not Eastchester, Brownsville, and Washington, D.C. Investment banks created a demand for subprime loans because they saw it as a new asset class that they could dominate. They made subprime loans for the same reason they made other loans: They could get paid for making the loans, for turning them into securities, and for trading them—frequently using borrowed capital.

At Monday's hearing, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., gamely tried to pin Lehman's demise on Fannie and Freddie. After comparing Lehman's small political contributions with Fannie and Freddie's much larger ones, Mica asked Fuld what role Fannie and Freddie's failure played in Lehman's demise. Fuld's response: "De minimis."

Lending money to poor people doesn't make you poor. Lending money poorly to rich people does.

End quote

Post a Comment