Thread: Banks Worsening Foreclosures
Banks Worsening Foreclosures
How Banks Are Worsening the Foreclosure Crisis - BusinessWeek bad mortgages that got the current financial crisis started have produced a terrifying wave of home foreclosures. Unless the foreclosure surge eases, even the most extravagant federal stimulus spending won't spur an economic recovery.
The Obama Administration is expected within the next few weeks to announce an initiative of $50 billion or more to help strapped homeowners. But with 1 million residences having fallen into foreclosure since 2006, and an additional 5.9 million expected over the next four years, the Obama plan—whatever its details—can't possibly do the job by itself. Lenders and investors will have to acknowledge huge losses and figure out how to keep recession-wracked borrowers making at least some monthly payments.
So far the industry hasn't shown that kind of foresight. One reason foreclosures are so rampant is that banks and their advocates in Washington have delayed, diluted, and obstructed attempts to address the problem. Industry lobbyists are still at it today, working overtime to whittle down legislation backed by President Obama that would give bankruptcy courts the authority to shrink mortgage debt. Lobbyists say they will fight to restrict the types of loans the bankruptcy proposal covers and new powers granted to judges.
The industry strategy all along has been to buy time and thwart regulation, financial-services lobbyists tell BusinessWeek . "We were like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike," says one business advocate who, like several colleagues, insists on anonymity, fearing career damage. Some admit that, in retrospect, their clients, which include Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C), and JPMorgan Chase (JPM), would have been better off had they agreed two years ago to address foreclosures systematically rather than pin their hopes on an unlikely housing rebound.
In public, financial institutions insist they've done their best to prevent foreclosures. Most argue that giving bankruptcy courts increased clout, known as cramdown authority, would reward irresponsible borrowers and result in higher borrowing costs. "What we're trying to do now is target the bill to make it as narrow as possible," says Scott Talbott, a lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable. On the defensive, the industry nevertheless benefits from one strain of popular opinion that home buyers who took on risky mortgages—even if the industry pushed those loans—don't deserve to be rescued.
AN INDUSTRY IN DENIAL
However the skirmish ends, the industry's contention that it has done as much as possible to limit foreclosures seems hollow. Some statistics it cites appear to be exaggerated. Even pro-industry figures such as Steven C. Preston, a Republican businessman who headed the Housing & Urban Development Dept. late in the Bush Administration, concede that many lenders have dragged their heels. "The industry still has not stepped up to the volume of the problem," Preston says. One program, Hope for Homeowners—which Bush officials and banks promised last fall would shield 400,000 families from foreclosure—has so far produced only 25 refinanced loans.
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