This is what took down the markets in 2008-09, and it’s not surprising that they are doing this again, since Barack Obama and Eric “Place” Holder, steadfastly refused to prosecute.
No consequences, so they went back to ripping of the rest of us:
Among the toxic contributors to the financial crisis of 2008, few caused as much havoc as mortgages with dodgy numbers and inflated values. Huge quantities of them were assembled into securities that crashed and burned, damaging homeowners and investors alike. Afterward, reforms were promised. Never again, regulators vowed, would real estate financiers be able to fudge numbers and threaten the entire economy.
Twelve years later, there’s evidence something similar is happening again.
Some of the world’s biggest banks — including Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank — as well as other lenders have engaged in a systematic fraud that allowed them to award borrowers bigger loans than were supported by their true financials, according to a previously unreported whistleblower complaint submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission last year.
Whereas the fraud during the last crisis was in residential mortgages, the complaint claims this time it’s happening in commercial properties like office buildings, apartment complexes and retail centers. The complaint focuses on the loans that are gathered into pools whose worth can exceed $1 billion and turned into bonds sold to investors, known as CMBS (for commercial mortgage-backed securities).
Lenders and securities issuers have regularly altered financial data for commercial properties “without justification,” the complaint asserts, in ways that make the properties appear more valuable, and borrowers more creditworthy, than they actually are. As a result, it alleges, borrowers have qualified for commercial loans they normally would not have, with the investors who bought securities birthed from those loans none the wiser.
ProPublica closely examined six loans that were part of CMBS in recent years to see if their data resembles the pattern described by the whistleblower. What we found matched the allegations: The historical profits reported for some buildings were listed as much as 30% higher than the profits previously reported for the same buildings and same years when the property was part of an earlier CMBS. As a rough analogy, imagine a homeowner having stated in a mortgage application that his 2017 income was $100,000 only to claim during a later refinancing that his 2017 income was $130,000 — without acknowledging or explaining the change.
It’s “highly questionable” to alter past profits with no apparent explanation, said John Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert in securities regulation. “I don’t understand why you can do that.”
The complaint suggests widespread efforts to make adjustments. Some expenses were erased from the ledger, for example, when a new loan was issued. Most changes were small; but a minor increase in profits can lead to approval for a significantly higher mortgage.
The result: Many properties may have borrowed more than they could afford to pay back — even before the pandemic rocked their businesses — making a CMBS crash both more likely and more damaging. “It’s a higher cliff from which they are falling,” Flynn said. “So the loss severity is going to be greater and the probability of default is going to be greater.”
After lobbying by commercial real estate organizations and advocacy by real estate investor and Trump ally Tom Barrack — who warned of a looming commercial mortgage crash — the Federal Reserve pledged in early April to prop up CMBS by loaning money to investors and letting them use their CMBS as collateral. The goal is to stabilize the market at a time when investors may be tempted to dump their securities, and also to support banks in issuing new bonds. (Barrack’s company, Colony Capital, has since defaulted on $3.2 billion in debt backed by hotel and health care properties, according to the Financial Times.)
The notion that profit figures for some buildings are pumped up is surprising, said Kevin Riordan, a finance professor at Montclair State University. It raises questions about whether the proper disclosures are being made.
Investors don’t comb through financial statements, added Riordan, who used to manage the CMBS portfolio for retirement fund giant TIAA-CREF. Instead, he said, they rely on summaries from investment banks and the credit ratings agencies that analyze the securities. To make wise decisions, investors’ information “out of the gate has to be pretty close to being right,” he said. “Otherwise you’re dealing with garbage. Garbage in, garbage out.”
Once again, they are robbing us blind, and the response of the powers that be will be to bail them out.
To quote the late Paul Volker, “The only useful thing banks have invented in the last 20 years is the ATM.”