The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. may ask lenders that take over assets from seized banks to reduce the principal for up to $45 billion of mortgages, says FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair.
The idea is to go beyond interest-rate reductions and payment deferrals when institutions that take over failed banks share losses with the FDIC.
“We’re looking now at whether we should provide some further loss-sharing for principal write-down,” Bair told Bloomberg.
“Now you’re in a situation where even the good mortgages are going bad, because people are losing their jobs. So you have other factors now driving mortgage distress.”
A record one in seven U.S. mortgages were in foreclosure or at least one payment past due in the third quarter. And surging unemployment – now 10.2 percent – has contributed to that.
When a healthy bank takes over a failed one, the FDIC will cover up to 80 percent of losses on a home mortgage, and the acquiring bank is responsible for the rest.
So mortgage-principal reductions would create costs for both the FDIC and acquiring banks. “I think we’re going to gain by reducing re-default rates or delinquencies with people walking away,” Bair said.
She’s not the only one concerned about the state of the housing market.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com, expects home prices to fall again soon. "The housing crash is not over," he told Reuters.
Meanwhile, Reuters has reported that U.S. bank regulators will meet Dec. 15 to consider a plan that would give banks more time to build capital cushions against more than $1 trillion of assets they will have to move back on their books next month.
The FDIC board is considering offering banks extra protection for the loans in an attempt to drive responsible securitizations and bring more transparency to banks' financial statements.
Banks will have to move assets held by off-balance-sheet trusts back on their balance sheets on Jan. 1.
An FDIC spokesman has said Bair is flexible about phasing in the capital impact of the change, which she has said could harm recovery in securitization markets.
But many of the same banks that were bailed out last year are paying out huge bonuses this year, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner isn’t happy about it.
Goldman Sachs, for example, has set aside about $17 billion to reward its workers.
“Our judgment is we have to end that era of irresponsibly high bonuses that helped to create these incentives for excessive risk taking,” Geithner told Bloomberg.
“We want to see fundamental constraints in how senior executives are paid at these institutions so that their compensation is much more tied to long-term gain.”
The basic problem, he says, is that executives were paid for taking unwise risks. “And those compensation packages were not at risk.”
Geithner also refuted Goldman Sachs’ recent assertion that it could have survived without government aid.
The entire U.S. financial system, including institutions both large and small, was in the midst of a run – “a classic bank run,” he said.
“I think the system was at risk and, the big institutions – none of them would have survived a situation in which we had let that fire try to burn itself out.”
Bankers also are making out on the stocks and options they were given in lieu of bonuses last year.
“People have to look at the sizable gains that have been made since stock and options were granted last year,” Jesse Brill, chairman of CompensationStandards.com, told The New York Times. “This had nothing to do with people’s performance.”
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