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Friday, April 15, 2011

More examples of bank shenanigans that helped cause the sub-prime mortgage bust in 2008:

The Permanent Investigations Subcommittee report added new flesh to the litany of tales of greed and neglect fueling the housing bubble whose bursting sank the economy. For example:

• Two Washington Mutual loan offices in Los Angeles were writing subprime loans with such soaring default rates that company officials reported their failures to higher-ups. Not only was no disciplinary action taken, but also the loan officers were rewarded with trips to Hawaii for setting sales records.

• Internal Washington Mutual documents lifted any mystery about the reason the firm plunged into the subprime market. According to the company's data, upon sale of a subprime mortgage to investors or Wall Street, the firm booked a 1.5 percent gain on sale, more than seven times the 0.19 percent gain from selling a conventional, fixed-rate mortgage.

• Mass ratings downgrades by Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's in July 2007 exposed the risky nature of mortgage investments that the same ratings agencies considered to be as safe as Treasury bills a few months earlier. But internal emails show that the credit rating agencies knew their ratings wouldn't "hold," yet delayed taking action "to preserve market share."

• Goldman Sachs was net 'short" by more than $10 billion at times, but when the price of short bets rose in the spring of 2007, its traders tried to engineer a new version of a 'short squeeze," which occurs when people betting against a security are forced to buy it back because it's gaining value. In this case, Goldman sought to mark down the value of bets against the housing market, allegedly to scare some players into selling so the firm could more cheaply enlarge its bets on, and its profits from, a housing slump.

I'm sure these types of tales will trickle out for years. The rating agency actions are the worst in my view. Their actions helped to set the high market for sub-prime mortgage securities, when they knew they were no where close to AAA.

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