You know the story: As the housing bubble grew, lenders gave away riskier and riskier mortgages to anyone who could fog a mirror. Those loans were split up into “mortgage backed securities” and sold like stocks. Ratings agencies such as Standard & Poor’s gave those stocks AAA ratings, even though they were filled with, essentially, junk.
End result: You and I had to buy those securities to prevent the complete collapse of the economy.
And now you and I — in the form of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (which oversees Fannie and Freddie, which lost $30 billion or so — are suing Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and others to get some of that money back.
The argument is simple: Misrepresenting the quality of a security, in this case the ones built on “toxic” mortgages, is a violation of law; the banks “failed to perform the due diligence required under securities law and missed evidence that borrowers’ incomes were inflated or falsified,” according to the New York Times story.
A couple of things to note:
1. This a completely separate from other lawsuits that are demanding the banks (notably B of A) buy back their bad loans. In this case, the feds want to be reimbursed for the losses. Our losses.
2. This is also separate from AIG’s $10 billion suit against Bank of America, which accused B of A (because it owns Countrywide) of misrepresenting the quality of mortgages that AIG ended up buying.
Bank shareholders are, not surprisingly, a bit concerned.
Arguments the lenders are likely to make, according to the Times, include ‘the whole economy was in trouble’ and ‘when Fannie and Freddie rescued us, they should have been more careful about what they bought’ (as the Times put it, “investors like A.I.G. as well as Fannie and Freddie were sophisticated and knew the securities were not without risk.”
And, of course, Ye Olde “Too Big To Fail”: Hurting the banks will hurt the economy.