December 20, 2008

New York Times starts catching up to iSteve

From the Sunday, 12/21/08 New York Times:

White House Philosophy Stoked Mortgage Bonfire

We can put light where there’s darkness, and hope where there’s despondency in this country. And part of it is working together as a nation to encourage folks to own their own home.” — President Bush, Oct. 15, 2002

That, of course, as my readers (but practically nobody else's) know, was at the White House Conference on Minority Homeownership

... “How,” [Bush] wondered aloud, “did we get here?”

Eight years after arriving in Washington vowing to spread the dream of homeownership, Mr. Bush is leaving office, as he himself said recently, “faced with the prospect of a global meltdown” with roots in the housing sector he so ardently championed.

There are plenty of culprits, like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk.

But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush’s own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials.

From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that markets do best when let alone.

He pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent — and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards.

Mr. Bush did foresee the danger posed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance giants. The president spent years pushing a recalcitrant Congress to toughen regulation of the companies, but was unwilling to compromise when his former Treasury secretary wanted to cut a deal. And the regulator Mr. Bush chose to oversee them — an old prep school buddy — pronounced the companies sound even as they headed toward insolvency.

... “The Bush administration took a lot of pride that homeownership had reached historic highs,” Mr. Snow said in an interview. “But what we forgot in the process was that it has to be done in the context of people being able to afford their house. We now realize there was a high cost.”

For much of the Bush presidency, the White House was preoccupied by terrorism and war; on the economic front, its pressing concerns were cutting taxes and privatizing Social Security. The housing market was a bright spot: ever-rising home values kept the economy humming, as owners drew down on their equity to buy consumer goods and pack their children off to college.

Lawrence B. Lindsay, Mr. Bush’s first chief economics adviser, said there was little impetus to raise alarms about the proliferation of easy credit that was helping Mr. Bush meet housing goals.

“No one wanted to stop that bubble,” Mr. Lindsay said. “It would have conflicted with the president’s own policies.”

Today, millions of Americans are facing foreclosure, homeownership rates are virtually no higher than when Mr. Bush took office, Fannie and Freddie are in a government conservatorship, and the bailout cost to taxpayers could run in the trillions. ...

But in private moments, aides say, the president is looking inward. During a recent ride aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter, Mr. Bush sounded a reflective note.

“We absolutely wanted to increase homeownership,” Tony Fratto, his deputy press secretary, recalled him saying. “But we never wanted lenders to make bad decisions.”

Darrin West could not believe it. The president of the United States was standing in his living room.

It was June 17, 2002, a day Mr. West recalls as “the highlight of my life.” Mr. Bush, in Atlanta to unveil a plan to increase the number of minority homeowners by 5.5 million, was touring Park Place South, a development of starter homes in a neighborhood once marked by blight and crime.

Mr. West had patrolled there as a police officer, and now he was the proud owner of a $130,000 town house, bought with an adjustable-rate mortgage and a $20,000 government loan as his down payment — just the sort of creative public-private financing Mr. Bush was promoting.

“Part of economic security,” Mr. Bush declared that day, “is owning your own home.”

A lot has changed since then. Mr. West, beset by personal problems, left Atlanta. Unable to sell his home for what he owed, he said, he gave it back to the bank last year. Like other communities across America, Park Place South has been hit with a foreclosure crisis affecting at least 10 percent of its 232 homes, according to Masharn Wilson, a developer who led Mr. Bush’s tour.

“I just don’t think what he envisioned was actually carried out,” she said.

Park Place South is, in microcosm, the story of a well-intentioned policy gone awry. Advocating homeownership is hardly novel; the Clinton administration did it, too. For Mr. Bush, it was part of his vision of an “ownership society,” in which Americans would rely less on the government for health care, retirement and shelter. It was also good politics, a way to court black and Hispanic voters.

As I explained in detail back in October in "Karl Rove -- Architect of the Minority Mortgage Meltdown."

But for much of Mr. Bush’s tenure, government statistics show, incomes for most families remained relatively stagnant while housing prices skyrocketed. That put homeownership increasingly out of reach for first-time buyers like Mr. West.

So Mr. Bush had to, in his words, “use the mighty muscle of the federal government” to meet his goal. He proposed affordable housing tax incentives. He insisted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac meet ambitious new goals for low-income lending.

Concerned that down payments were a barrier, Mr. Bush persuaded Congress to spend up to $200 million a year to help first-time buyers with down payments and closing costs.

And he pushed to allow first-time buyers to qualify for federally insured mortgages with no money down. Republican Congressional leaders and some housing advocates balked, arguing that homeowners with no stake in their investments would be more prone to walk away, as Mr. West did. Many economic experts, including some in the White House, now share that view.

The president also leaned on mortgage brokers and lenders to devise their own innovations. “Corporate America,” he said, “has a responsibility to work to make America a compassionate place.”

And corporate America, eyeing a lucrative market, delivered in ways Mr. Bush might not have expected, with a proliferation of too-good-to-be-true teaser rates and interest-only loans that were sold to investors in a loosely regulated environment.

“This administration made decisions that allowed the free market to operate as a barroom brawl instead of a prize fight,” said L. William Seidman, who advised Republican presidents and led the savings and loan bailout in the 1990s. “To make the market work well, you have to have a lot of rules.”

There's lots more, much of it making Bailout Czar Henry Paulson look like a prime fool.

Anyway, I want to say that the New York Times is welcome to my research. Perhaps one of these days, they'll run a story pointing out that George W. Bush's Transportation Department was fighting discrimination against Arabs by airport security on September 11, 2001 because Bush had promised to outlaw profiling of Arab air travelers in his second Presidential Debate with Al Gore on October 11, 2000.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

It does have to annoy you, when stuff like this gets lifted.

BTW, I caught part of Gladwell on Chuck Rose's show last night, and the guy really is pretty average.

Anonymous said...

It was a long article, but yours does a better job of explaining it fully. History starts with Bush with just a tiny allusion to a previous politician, Clinton. Of course, it really began with Carter.

Second, they go into lots of details, but miss the picture. Deregulation is what the culprit is supposed to be according to the NYT, but it isn't wholly satisfying. They completely miss that the key difference between Bush and Clinton is the Hispanic outreach and Bush doing everything to cajole Mexicans to come here (or stay) and become American citizens and ones who own homes at that.

Pat Shuff said...

iSteve was well ahead of the story detailing the administration's complicity amongst the range of culpabilities enabling the credit debacle. As were numerous obscure finance oriented blogs, sounding the alarm
of a shadow banking system umbilically linking itself
to the depositor insured regulated banking system through 'the moneyization of credit' in an explosion of credit linked instruments amounting to a vast, collusional counterfeiting scheme masked in incomprehensible mathematics.

Now we have 'expedient geniuses' in the popular press explaining it all to us, the same journalists and publications that were totally unaware of what was occurring under their noses during its development and actually complicit in the mess, unknowingly and unconscionably, incapable of even asking the right questions.

After the fall of the wall a contingent of American academic journalism professors visited the former Eastern Bloc to give seminars to the former state writers on the fundamentals of market based writing...accuracy,
readership interest, etc.
A former state writer, feeling glum and confused about his prospects in this Brave New World of market oriented writing raises his hand to ask, "If we are not to be paid by the word anymore then on what basis is compensation?"

The bloggers, the pajama people had it nailed cold a year ago and more and remain ahead of the story. Meanwhile the expedient geniuses in the mainstream media empires, paid by the word, remain out in the cold. Makes one wonder, truly wonder.

“You may not be interested in war,” Trotsky once said, “but war is interested in you.”
Finance, too.

They say teach a man to fish. Apparently in Iceland, teach a man finance and he'll be fishing the rest of his life.

Hook: a new Big Deal
Line: printing prosperity
Sinker: US dollar repudiation

Find a nice dock.

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch 'em roll away again

Anonymous said...


"We absolutely wanted to increase homeownership, but we never wanted lenders to make bad decisions."

"I absolutely wanted to drink that bottle of Scotch, but I didn't want to get a hangover from it."

"...and a $20,000 government loan as his down payment."
"For Mr. Bush, it was part of his vision of an “ownership society,” in which Americans would rely less on the government for health care, retirement and shelter."

Maybe he and Laura teach their daughters personal responsibility by buying them diamond rings, I wouldn't know. Wouldn't shock me, of course.

David said...

It was always Steve's point that Bush's mestizo outreach vis housing was emblematic of the essential problem, namely the loosening of credit standards and regulatory structures in order to blow a bubble. The mestizo outreach was the most plainly irrational and nonsensical part of the larger mess - a microcosm. In addition, it was the leading part, the thing that, arguably, got the snowball rolling or provided the "moral" excuse and rationalization.

Mestizos and other aliens didn't blow the bubble (though they helped). Political correctness is what sticks in Steve Sailer's craw. Not mestizos and aliens, but bending over backward and throwing caution to the wind in the face of them is the problem he complains of. Such pandering indicates a dire lack of responsibility and sense, a lack which is especially unfortunate in financial matters.

Dutch Boy said...

Sure, the dusky-colored chumps got taken en masse by the whole scam but the driving force was the usurer class who ended up with the swag. They actually ended up chumping both ends of the spectrum: the po' folks who ended up with the unpayable mortgages and the wealthy investors and investment banks who bought the bundled mortgages as sure-fire investments. Guess who got bailed out?

rec1man said...

How Indian banks avoided the meltdown
due to bad loans

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/20/business/20nocera.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1229907663-J7qg/5YxaEmhKSTVrkCB+A

How India Avoided a Crisis

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Article Tools Sponsored By
By JOE NOCERA
Published: December 19, 2008

MUMBAI
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Leon Neal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Rana Kapoor of Yes Bank.
Related
A related post is on Joe Nocera's blog, Executive Suite, where readers can also comment on this column.
European Pressphoto Agency

Y. V. Reddy, left, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India and

“What has taken a number of us by surprise is the lack of adequate supervision and regulation,” Rana Kapoor was saying the other day. “This was despite the fact that Enron had happened and you passed Sarbanes-Oxley. We don’t understand it. Maybe it’s because we sit in a more controlled economy but ....” He smiled sweetly as his voice trailed off, as if to take the sting off his comments. But they stung nonetheless.

Mr. Kapoor is an Indian banker, a former longtime Bank of America executive with a Rutgers M.B.A. who, along with his business partner and brother-in-law, Ashok Kapur, was granted government permission four years ago to start a private bank, which they called Yes Bank. In the United States, Yes Bank is the kind of name a go-go banker might give to, say, a high-flying mortgage lender in the middle of a bubble. (You can even imagine the slogan: “Yes is part of our name!”) But Yes Bank is not exactly the Washington Mutual of India. One news release it hands out to reporters who come calling is an excerpt from a 2007 survey by The Financial Express: “#1 on Credit Quality amongst 56 Banks in India,” reads the headline.

I arrived in Mumbai three weeks after the terrorist attacks that killed 200 people — including, tragically, Yes Bank’s co-founder Mr. Kapur, who had served as the company’s nonexecutive chairman and was gunned down while having dinner at the Oberoi Hotel. (His wife and two dinner companions miraculously escaped.)

My hope in traveling to Mumbai was to learn about the current state of Indian business in the wake of both the credit crisis and the attacks. But in my first few days in this grand, sprawling, chaotic city, what I mainly heard, especially talking to bankers, was about America, not India. How could we have brought so much trouble on ourselves, and the rest of the world, by acting in such an obviously foolhardy manner? Didn’t we understand that you can’t lend money to people who lack the means to pay it back? The questions were asked with a sense of bewilderment — and an occasional hint of scorn. Like most Americans, I didn’t have any good answers. It was a bubble, I would respond with a sheepish shrug, as if that were an adequate explanation. It isn’t, of course.

“In India, we never had anything close to the subprime loan,” said Chandra Kochhar, the chief financial officer of India’s largest private bank, Icici. (A few days after I spoke to her, Ms. Kochhar was named the bank’s new chief executive, in a move that had long been anticipated.) “All lending to individuals is based on their income. That is a big difference between your banking system and ours.” She continued: “Indian banks are not levered like American banks. Capital ratios are 12 and 13 percent, instead of 7 or 8 percent. All those exotic structures like C.D.O. and securitizations are a very tiny part of our banking system. So a lot of the temptations didn’t exist.”

And when I went to see Deepak Parekh, the chief executive of HDFC, which was founded in 1977 as the country’s first specialized mortgage bank, practically the first words out of his mouth were these: “We don’t do interest-only or subprime loans. When the bubble was going on, we did not change any of our policies. We did not change any of our systems. We did not change our thought process. We never gave more money to a borrower because the value of the house had gone up. Citibank has a few home equity loans, but most banks in India don’t make those kinds of loans. Our nonperforming loans are less than 1 percent.”

Yet two years ago, the Indian real estate market — commercial and residential alike — was every bit as frothy as the American market. High-rises were being slapped up on spec. Housing developments were sprouting up everywhere. And there was plenty of money flowing into India, mainly from private equity and hedge funds, to fuel the commercial real estate bubble in particular. Goldman Sachs, Carlyle, Blackstone, Citibank — they were all here, throwing money at developers. So why did the Indian banks stay on the sidelines and avoid most of the pain that has been suffered by the big American banks?

Part of the reason is cultural. Indians are simply not as comfortable with credit as Americans. “A lot of Indians, when you push them, will say that if you spend more than you earn you will get in trouble,” an Indian consultant told me. “Americans spent more than they earned.”

Mr. Parekh said, “Savings are important. Joint families exist. When one son moves out, the family helps them. So you don’t borrow so much from the bank.” Even mortgage loans tend to have down payments in India that are a third of the purchase price, a far cry from the United States, where 20 percent is the new norm. (Let’s not even think about what they used to be.)

But there was also another factor, perhaps the most important of all. India had a bank regulator who was the anti-Greenspan. His name was Dr. V. Y. Reddy, and he was the governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Seventy percent of the banking system in India is nationalized, so a strong regulator is critical, since any banking scandal amounts to a national political scandal as well. And in the irascible Mr. Reddy, who took office in 2003 and stepped down this past September, it had exactly the right man in the right job at the right time.

“He basically believed that if bankers were given the opportunity to sin, they would sin,” said one banker who asked not to be named because, well, there’s not much percentage in getting on the wrong side of the Reserve Bank of India. For all the bankers’ talk about their higher lending standards, the truth is that Mr. Reddy made them even more stringent during the bubble.
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Related
A related post is on Joe Nocera's blog, Executive Suite, where readers can also comment on this column.

Unlike Alan Greenspan, who didn’t believe it was his job to even point out bubbles, much less try to deflate them, Mr. Reddy saw his job as making sure Indian banks did not get too caught up in the bubble mentality. About two years ago, he started sensing that real estate, in particular, had entered bubble territory. One of the first moves he made was to ban the use of bank loans for the purchase of raw land, which was skyrocketing. Only when the developer was about to commence building could the bank get involved — and then only to make construction loans. (Guess who wound up financing the land purchases? United States private equity and hedge funds, of course!)

Then, as securitizations and derivatives gained increasing prominence in the world’s financial system, the Reserve Bank of India sharply curtailed their use in the country. When Mr. Reddy saw American banks setting up off-balance-sheet vehicles to hide debt, he essentially banned them in India. As a result, banks in India wound up holding onto the loans they made to customers. On the one hand, this meant they made fewer loans than their American counterparts because they couldn’t sell off the loans to Wall Street in securitizations. On the other hand, it meant they still had the incentive — as American banks did not — to see those loans paid back.

Seeing inflation on the horizon, Mr. Reddy pushed interest rates up to more than 20 percent, which of course dampened the housing frenzy. He increased risk weightings on commercial buildings and shopping mall construction, doubling the amount of capital banks were required to hold in reserve in case things went awry. He made banks put aside extra capital for every loan they made. In effect, Mr. Reddy was creating liquidity even before there was a global liquidity crisis.

Did India’s bankers stand up to applaud Mr. Reddy as he was making these moves? Of course not. They were naturally furious, just as American bankers would have been if Mr. Greenspan had been more active. Their regulator was holding them back, constraining their growth! Mr. Parekh told me that while he had been saying for some time that Indian real estate was in bubble territory, he was still unhappy with the rules imposed by Mr. Reddy. “We were critical of the central bank,” he said. “We thought these were harsh measures.”

“For a while we were wondering if we were missing out on something,” said Ms. Kochhar of Icici. Banks in the United States seemed to have come up with some magical new formula for making money: make loans that required no down payment and little in the way of verification — and post instant, short-term, profits.

As Luis Miranda, who runs a private equity firm devoted to developing India’s infrastructure, put it: “We kept wondering if they had figured out something that we were too dense to figure out. It looked like they were smart and we were stupid.” Instead, India was the smart one, and we were the stupid ones.

Ms. Kochhar said that the underlying risks of having “a majority of loans not owned by the people who originated them” was not apparent during the bubble. Now that those risks have been made painfully clear, every banker in India realizes that Mr. Reddy did the right thing by limiting securitizations. “At times like this, you tend to appreciate what he did more than we did at the time,” said Mr. Kapoor. “He saved us,” added Mr. Parekh.

As the credit crisis has spread these past months, no Indian bank has come close to failing the way so many United States and European financial institutions have. None have required the kind of emergency injections of capital that Western banks have needed. None have had the huge write-downs that were par for the course in the West. As the bubble has burst, which lenders have taken the hit? Why, the private equity and hedge fund lenders who had been so eager to finance land development. Us, in others words, rather than them. Why is that not a surprise?

When I asked Mr. Kapoor for his take on what had happened in the United States, he replied: “We recognize it as a problem of plenty. It was perpetuated by greedy bankers, whether investment bankers or commercial bankers. The greed to make money is the impression it has made here. Anytime they wanted a loan, people just dipped into their home A.T.M. It was like money was on call.”

So it was. And our regulators, unlike theirs, just stood by and let it happen. The next time we’re moving into bubble territory, perhaps we can take a page from Mr. Reddy’s book — sometimes it’s better to apply the brakes too early than too late. Or, as was the case with Mr. Greenspan, not at all.

Richard H said...

Do you think National Review would ever run something like this?