So you thought Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was just for the youngins? Not according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Read about this and the other stories influencing financial stocks today.
1. It's time to Facebook friend your stocks
In a ruling issued yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (click here for the ruling itself) held that companies can use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to disseminate material nonpublic information to investors so long as the companies have told investors which outlets they use. The issue came up last July after Reed Hastings, the chairman and chief executive officer of Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), posted on Facebook that the company had streamed more than one billion hours in the previous month for the first time in its history. Here's Hastings' original post:
Congrats to Ted Sarados, and his amazing content licensing team. Netflix monthly viewing exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time ever in June. When House of Cards and Arrested Development debut, we'll blow these records away. Keep going, Ted, we need even more!
2. Bank of America's ongoing battle with MBIA
The legal death match between Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and mortgage bond insurer MBIA (NYSE:MBI) completed another round yesterday after an appeals court ruled in the latter's favor on a number of critical issues. The principal question before the court was whether B of A is only obligated to repurchase mortgages that have already gone into default. According to the court, the answer is no: "Plaintiff is entitled to a finding that the loan need not be in default to trigger defendants' obligation to repurchase it. There is simply nothing in the contractual language which limits defendants' repurchase obligations in such a manner."
The court also upheld the lower court's ruling that MBIA need not demonstrate a "direct causal link" between alleged misrepresentations by Countrywide Financial (which B of A purchased in 2008) and the degradation in value of mortgage-backed securities insured by MBIA. The implications of this ruling are wide-ranging. To read more about this, check out Reuters' Allison Frankel's take on it here.
3. Bank of America concludes settlement with the NCUA
In slightly better news for B of A, the National Credit Union Administration announced yesterday that it will drop legal claims against the bank in exchange for a $165 million payment. Not unlike MBIA, the NCUA had alleged that the bank "downplayed risks of poor-quality mortgages packaged into securities" that were then sold to credit unions around the country. As I discussed here, this marks a "small but important victory" for the bank in its efforts to atone for the sins of Countrywide. To learn more about B of A's progress on the legal front, check out this in-depth series that we published in February.
4. Wells Fargo's complete domination of the mortgage market
This is more of an interesting read for bank investors. The Wall Street Journal published an article today that examines Wells Fargo's (NYSE:WFC) growing domination of the mortgage market. Among other interesting tidbits, the article notes that the bank grabbed "an unprecedented 28.8% of all home loans issued nationwide last year." That translated into a staggering $524 billion in mortgages. In addition, it's now making impressive inroads in previously untapped markets like New York City. According to a mortgage executive interviewed for the article, "They are dominating the retail space because they are huge, and because there is so little competition from other big banks that have pulled back." To read more about this, click here.
The private payroll processing company ADP estimated today that private sector employment increased by 158,000 jobs in March. This was the smallest monthly gain since October, and it came on the heels of a revised 237,000 gain for the month of February. According to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, "Job growth moderated in March. Construction employment gains paused as the rebuilding surge in the wake of Superstorm Sandy ended. Anticipation of Health Care Reform may also be weighing on employment at companies with close to 50 employees."
Finally, the Mortgage Bankers Association released its weekly estimate of mortgage applications. For the week ended March 29, the association's market composite index, a measure of loan application volume, decreased 4% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. Meanwhile, the average contract interest rate for conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgages decreased three basis points to 3.76%.