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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Bad loans still make money

Scott Jagow Jul 30, 2009

A group of former Countrywide people launched an IPO today with their new company, PennyMac. Take one guess at what they’re doing. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about why the government’s loan modification program isn’t working.

PennyMac is based in Calabasas, California (sound familiar?), and it plans to make money by buying up failing home mortgages from failed banks and then restructuring the loans. From Forbes/Reuters:

PennyMac’s chief executive is Stanford Kurland, a former president and chief operating officer of Countrywide. At least 10 other top PennyMac officials are alumni of Countrywide, which was also based in Calabasas.

Countrywide was once the largest U.S. mortgage lender, but its aggressive lending practices are widely considered to be a major cause of the nation’s housing crisis.

PennyMac’s business has drawn the attention of critics who have accused Kurland and other Countrywide alumni of trying to profit from a housing crisis they helped create.

Do investors have faith in the crew the second time around? Well, in May, PennyMac predicted its IPO would raise $750 million. It netted $320 million. But the company has raised hundreds of millions from private investors as well, so some people believe PennyMac will find a way to profit.

And why not? What’s left of the mortgage business seems to be doing just fine. The New York Times reports that one reason the government’s loan mod program isn’t going very well is that mortgage companies collect tons of fees on delinquent mortgages:

“It frustrates me when I see the government looking to the servicer for the solution, because it will never ever happen,” said Margery Golant, a Florida lawyer who defends homeowners against foreclosure and who worked in the law department of a major mortgage company, Ocwen Financial. “I don’t think they’re motivated to do modifications at all. They keep hitting the loan all the way through for junk fees. It’s a license to do whatever they want.”

More from the article:

“If they do a loan modification, they get a few shekels from the government,” said David Dickey, who led a mortgage sales team at Countrywide and Bank of America, leaving in March to start his own mortgage advisory firm, National Home Loan Advocates. By contrast, he said, the road to foreclosure is lined with fees, especially if it is prolonged. “There’s all sorts of things behind the scenes,” he said…

“For many subprime servicers, late fees alone constitute a significant fraction of their total income and profit,” said Diane E. Thompson, a lawyer for the National Consumer Law Center, in testimony to the Senate Banking Committee this month. “Servicers thus have an incentive to push homeowners into late payments and keep them there: if the loan pays late, the servicer is more likely to profit.”

One more note on a semi-related subject. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Senate has subpoenaed Goldman Sachs, Deutsche and other banks to inquire about possible fraud in the mortgage market:

The congressional investigation appears to focus on whether internal communications, such as email, show bankers had private doubts about whether mortgage-related securities they were putting together were as financially sound as their public pronouncements suggested. Collapsing values for many of those securities played a big role in precipitating last year’s financial crisis.

If they can’t prove fraud, how about absolute and utter negligence?

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