Paulson's Plan to Punish the Publichttp://www.fool.com/investing/general/2007/11/30/paulsons-plan-to-punish-the-public.aspx Seth Jayson
November 30, 2007
If you don't learn from the past ...
In short, bankers and loan-servicing outfits are going to lower interest rates on strapped borrowers so they don't lose their houses. How much, how long, and who qualifies are all still up in the air. No doubt, this will sound good to those folks who signed on for mortgages they can't actually afford. It will also look good to politicians angling to score points before the next election, and to bleeding hearts everywhere. It will also look good to select mortgage-industry players -- like Countrywide Financial (NYSE: CFC ) and Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , which could really use a government-led bailout.
Unfortunately, this ill-conceived salve will ultimately punish the silent majority of Americans, people who didn't go out and make boneheaded financial decisions over the past half-decade. Let's take a look at why.
A history of the housing Ponzi scheme
This provided a musical-chairs-like situation in which lenders produced as much volume as they could, no matter how bad the loans or credit risk, because they got paid to pass that risk along, through Wall Street's Wise bankers, to whatever "investor" ended up with the loans, in the form of stuff called MBS, CDOs, CDO-squared, R2D2, and so on. There was a flood of money to the lenders, which stimulated excessive demand, in turn stimulating excessive price appreciation. (You will note that there was no Paulson-led "Hope Now Alliance" coming together at that point to try and rein in this dangerous orgy of greed, though the consequences were plain to anyone who bothered to examine it.)
Greedy flippers and naive homebuyers resorted to gimmicky loans, like interest-only and "option" adjustable-rate mortgages, because it was the only way they could pay inflated prices for the properties they wanted. They got a few years of artificially low payments, thanks to artificially low teaser rates. The catch was that when the loans reset after a few years, they'd jump up several points, to 9%, 10%, 11%.
This may not sound like a big deal, until you run the math on the payments to see that many people would be facing twice the mortgage bill they were used to. Now that those mortgages are resetting and home prices are dropping like rocks, they can't make their payments, and they can't flip the houses for a profit, so loans are defaulting. The fancy securities -- what I call Wall Street dog food -- have become nearly worthless, and the music has stopped, without any chairs for anyone. Ironically, stupid, leveraged bets on these lousy securities have crippled the banks themselves, and CEOs and other execs have been getting the boot at places like Citigroup, Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER ) , and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) .
Hank to the rescue!
This Fool, for one.
Making the credit crunch crunchier
If you think credit is tight now, just wait until you yank away potential returns from the people putting up the capital for all those loans.
And let's not forget that Paulson's plan introduces an incredible moral hazard. By rescuing greedy and naive borrowers from their mistakes, our government encourages others to take big, stupid, bankruptcy-inducing risks, secure in the knowledge that the government will bail them out when times get rough. That means trillions of dollars in capital will be ill-invested yet again, something that's much less likely to happen when speculators are made to suffer the consequences of their behavior.
No free lunches