Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Credit Crisis was Preventable

Huffington Post


Transparency and accountability still missing from the Bush Administration and the banks...all the way down to the mortgage brokers. Bush ignored the FBI report that foreign terrorists were about to launch an attack on American soil. 911 happened. Bush again ignored another FBI report that domestic crooks were about to launch weapons of mass destruction on the American economy. The credit crisis happened. What is needed now, is an army of forensic accountants to comb through the debris of the massive destruction to find the money trail, the accountability of actions and decisions that led to the destruction of trillions.


The FBI has been warning of an "epidemic" of mortgage fraud since September 2004. It also reports that lenders initiated 80% of these frauds. When the person that controls a seemingly legitimate business or government agency uses it as a "weapon" to defraud we categorize it as a "control fraud" ("The Organization as 'Weapon' in White Collar Crime." Wheeler & Rothman 1982; The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. Black 2005). Financial control frauds' "weapon of choice" is accounting. Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime -- combined. Control fraud epidemics can arise when financial deregulation and desupervision and perverse compensation systems create a "criminogenic environment" (Big Money Crime. Calavita, Pontell & Tillman 1997.)

The FBI correctly identified the epidemic of mortgage control fraud at such an early point that the financial crisis could have been averted had the Bush administration acted with even minimal competence. To understand the crisis we have to focus on how the mortgage fraud epidemic produced widespread accounting fraud.

The first document everyone should read is by S&P, the largest of the rating agencies. The context of the document is that a professional credit rater has told his superiors that he needs to examine the mortgage loan files to evaluate the risk of a complex financial derivative whose risk and market value depend on the credit quality of the nonprime mortgages "underlying" the derivative. A senior manager sends a blistering reply with this forceful punctuation:

Any request for loan level tapes is TOTALLY UNREASONABLE!!! Most investors don't have it and can't provide it. [W]e MUST produce a credit estimate. It is your responsibility to provide those credit estimates and your responsibility to devise some method for doing so.

Fraud is the principal credit risk of nonprime mortgage lending. It is impossible to detect fraud without reviewing a sample of the loan files. Paper loan files are bulky, so they are photographed and the images are stored on computer tapes. Unfortunately, "most investors" (the large commercial and investment banks that purchased nonprime loans and pooled them to create financial derivatives) did not review the loan files before purchasing nonprime loans and did not even require the lender to provide loan tapes.

Real markets, however, became perverse -- "due diligence" and "private market discipline" became oxymoronic. These two documents are enough to begin to understand:
  • the FBI accurately described mortgage fraud as "epidemic"
  • nonprime lenders are overwhelmingly responsible for the epidemic
  • the fraud was so endemic that it would have been easy to spot if anyone looked
  • the lenders, the banks that created nonprime derivatives, the rating agencies, and the buyers all operated on a "don't ask; don't tell" policy
  • willful blindness was essential to originate, sell, pool and resell the loans
  • willful blindness was the pretext for not posting loss reserves
  • both forms of blindness made high (fictional) profits certain when the bubble was expanding rapidly and massive (real) losses certain when it collapsed
  • the worse the nonprime loan quality the higher the fees and interest rates, and the faster the growth in nonprime lending and pooling the greater the immediate fictional profits and (eventual) real losses
  • the greater the destruction of wealth, the greater the (fictional) profits, bonuses, and stock appreciation
  • many of the big banks are deeply insolvent due to severe credit losses
  • those big banks and Treasury don't know how insolvent they are because they didn't even have the loan files
  • a "stress test" can't remedy the banks' problem -- they do not have the loan files

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