Friday, November 23, 2007

Banks and the "Legal Title" paperwork


Deutsche Bank got a hard shock a few days ago when a judge in the state of Ohio in the USA made a ruling that the bank had no legal right to foreclose on 14 homes whose owners had failed to keep current in their monthly mortgage payments.

A US Federal Judge, C.A. Boyko in Federal District Court in Cleveland Ohio ruled to dismiss a claim by Deutsche Bank National Trust Company. DB’s US subsidiary was seeking to take possession of 14 homes from Cleveland residents living in them, in order to claim the assets.

Here comes the hair in the soup. The Judge asked DB to show documents proving legal title to the 14 homes. DB could not. All DB attorneys could show was a document showing only an “intent to convey the rights in the mortgages.” They could not produce the actual mortgage, the heart of Western property rights since the Magna Charta of not longer.

Again why could Deutsche Bank not show the 14 mortgages on the 14 homes? Because they live in the exotic new world of “global securitization”, where banks like DB or Citigroup buy tens of thousands of mortgages from small local lending banks, “bundle” them into Jumbo new securities which then are rated by Moody’s or Standard & Poors or Fitch, and sell them as bonds to pension funds or other banks or private investors who naively believed they were buying bonds rated AAA, the highest, and never realized that their “bundle” of say 1,000 different home mortgages, contained maybe 20% or 200 mortgages rated “sub-prime,” i.e. of dubious credit quality.

Indeed the profits being earned in the past seven years by the world’s largest financial players from Goldman Sachs to Morgan Stanley to HSBC, Chase, and yes, Deutsche Bank, were so staggering, few bothered to open the risk models used by the professionals who bundled the mortgages. Certainly not the Big Three rating companies who had a criminal conflict of interest in giving top debt ratings. That changed abruptly last August and since then the major banks have issued one after another report of disastrous “sub-prime” losses.

A new unexpected factor

The Ohio ruling that dismissed DB’s claim to foreclose and take back the 14 homes for non-payment, is far more than bad luck for the bank of Josef Ackermann. It is an earth-shaking precedent for all banks holding what they had thought were collateral in form of real estate property.

How this? Because of the complex structure of asset-backed securities and the widely dispersed ownership of mortgage securities (not actual mortgages but the securities based on same) no one is yet able to identify who precisely holds the physical mortgage document. Oops! A tiny legal detail our Wall Street Rocket Scientist derivatives experts ignored when they were bundling and issuing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of CMO’s in the past six or seven years. As of January 2007 some $6.5 trillion of securitized mortgage debt was outstanding in the United States. That’s a lot by any measure!

In the Ohio case Deutsche Bank is acting as “Trustee” for “securitization pools” or groups of disparate investors who may reside anywhere. But the Trustee never got the legal document known as the mortgage. Judge Boyko ordered DB to prove they were the owners of the mortgages or notes and they could not. DB could only argue that the banks had foreclosed on such cases for years without challenge. The Judge then declared that the banks “seem to adopt the attitude that since they have been doing this for so long, unchallenged, this practice equates with legal compliance. Finally put to the test,” the Judge concluded, “their weak legal arguments compel the court to stop them at the gate.” Deutsche Bank has refused comment.

What next?

As news of this legal precedent spreads across the USA like a California brushfire, hundreds of thousands of struggling homeowners who took the bait in times of historically low interest rates to buy a home with often, no money paid down, and the first 2 years with extremely low interest rate in what are known as “interest only” Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs), now face exploding mortgage monthly payments at just the point the US economy is sinking into severe recession.

Is this a real problem??

What investor would be interested in any of this debt?

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Doug. That was rather interesting. I wonder if this will delay forecosures in California, making the slow death of the housing market even slower.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So does this means that the home owners can stay in their home as long as they shall please and do not have to pay mortgage?

1:46 AM  
Blogger Red said...

Nothing earth shattering here at all; the judge just said that if you want to foreclose, you need the proper paperwork. It will cost the bank some to properly trace it all, but certainly less than a single mortgage payment....
As a home owner who saw my one mortgage get sold 4 times, with the mailing address changing each time, I think its only fair the bank should have to document everything correctly.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous SB said...

In California, most home loans are Deeds of Trust rather than mortgages. They are similar, so we tend to use the word "mortgage", but legally they are different. Does the judges decision also affect Deeds of Trust loans as is commonly used in California?

10:26 PM  
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1:37 PM  

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