Banks, Too Big to Fail, but Too Small to Regulate, Huh?

Biloxi     Once upon a time in America, and much of the world, there was a reliable way to identify a populist.  The litmus test was their view of banks.  If they saw them as somewhere between a criminal enterprise and a bunch of blood suckers, then the odds were good that they were populists.  If they saw them as pillars of the community and local members of Rotary and supporters of the high school football team, then they were definitely not populists, and most likely were Republicans or members of whatever party claimed to be the voice of small business.

This scorecard no longer seems to helpful at all.

Now a populist in common vernacular is someone who hates immigrant workers, supports Trump, and isn’t sure what to do about the increasing power of women and minorities in public and private life.  A populist also is someone in this distorted definition who is not for the people, but mainly against this, that, and the other, and one of the big things they are against is outsiders, rather than hometowners.   I suspect what blurred every bright-line test was free flowing campaign contributions which are available to local pols in more ways from smaller, so-called community banks, and that don’t trickle down to them much from the big Wall Street and regional behemoth money center banks.  Call me cynical.

Now in an era that has been marked by wild abuses from banks that crashed the real estate market and most of the world’s economy, some of which is still being felt a decade later, politicians are arguing about how they can give banks more breaks.  Now when there is abundant evidence that banks have not only created a credit desert, but are also blatantly discriminating in city after city, community after community, politicians are arguing about how they can relax, rather than reinforce, regulations covering banks.

Reports now indicate a bill before the Senate is gaining support from some Democrats and splitting the caucus, particularly among some red-state Demos facing election, who are claiming that they need to help the smaller, community banks against the consolidating, greedy big banks of Wall Street and its suburbs around the country.  That almost sounds old school populist, until we come to understand that they want to help out about two dozen midsized banks from protective Dodd-Frank rules by raising the regulatory triggers from $50 billion in assets to $250 billion in assets.

I don’t want to seem unsympathetic to local, community financial institutions, but we’re not talking about credit unions here.  Since when is $50 billion in assets not a big bank, wherever it gets its mail?  If you are going to play in the street, even if it’s not Wall Street, you still have to be careful about not bumping into the curb when you make a turn.  Some campaign contributions shouldn’t buy you the ability to just speed on the roads willy-nilly without obeying the rules and remembering that passenger, customer and community safety comes first.


Please enjoy Kacey Musgraves’s Slow Burn. Thanks to KABF.


Oh, No, Subprime Mortgage Brokers are Coming Back









New Orleans   Please, just move the soapbox over here a little closer, because I’m going to jump and shout yet again, and sadly, not for the last time about the little named co-conspirator and enabler of the Great Recession real estate meltdown: mortgage brokers. They are under regulated, lightly trained, totally unsupervised, largely sales people too often paid little more than commissions on mortgage closings achieved often by hook or crook. They beat the bushes to create the paper stream of deals that are then packaged and picked up by banks and, increasingly, nonbanks, who have even more of the mortgage action than they did a decade ago.

A thinly disguised job announcement in the “B” section of The Wall Street Journal headlined “Subprime Brokers Back in Demand” is a warning to the rest of us that big trouble is on the way, especially in lower income communities. The reporter wrote that Southern California was once again on the “cusp of efforts to bring back an army of salespeople who once powered the mortgage industry and, some say, contributed to the housing crisis.” Call me, “some,” because that’s exactly what I’m saying. Further she notes, that “some brokers faked loan applications and steered people into debt they couldn’t afford.” Oh, yes, many, many of them did, and subprime companies ate these loans like candy.

Here’s what’s really scary. The demand for brokers is coming largely from nonbank lenders and smaller lenders, both of which are lightly or hardly regulated, by states not the feds, and in the case of nonbank lenders, they are not even required to follow the Community Reinvestment Act or provide their data through the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The market includes families with lower credit scores, and, god knows, there is a huge market, especially now in the wake of the recession, and these families want and need loans, and many of them deserve mortgages, especially as the Home Savers Campaign has found, since too many are finding no alternative outside of land installment contracts and various rent-to-own schemes. Additionally, workers and families with difficult to verify income sources from cash payments in the gig economy or tipped employment, need so-called stated income loans, where their money is verified without company provided W-2s. We absolutely believe there needs to be a set of subprime products and stated income loans. Where we separate is over the issue of who and what is going to protect families from abuse. One of the reforms of the last decade has been an increasing reliance on affordability, meaning a family’s ability to pay the loan. Who and what is going to assure that that benchmark remains prominent?

Brokers are just in sales-and-promotion. They push the responsibility to financial institutions, and since they are the middle-men, they can venue shop until they find some place willing to take paper and issue the loan. They then get paid. Period. The consequences downstream mean nothing to them.

Meanwhile nonbank lenders have almost half of the total mortgage market now. In the increased scrutiny since the recession, only $6 billion nonprime loans have been issued in the first quarter of this year and only $22 billion in all of 2016, compared to $1 trillion in such loans in 2005 according to Inside Mortgage Finance, cited by the Journal.

If regulators don’t make the effort to separate the baby from the bathwater this time around, millions of families and thousands of neighborhoods will drown in it again.