Lessons From The FCIC Final Report In FHFA v. Nomura

The ruling of Judge Denise Cotes in Federal Housing Finance Administration v. Nomura Holding America, Inc., is a 361 page description of the fraud and corruption that went into just one group of real estate mortgage-backed securities. FHFA was formed after the Great Crash to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two entities were the actual buyers of the RMBSs offered by Nomura Securities International, Inc., and RBS Securities, Inc., then known as Greenwich Capital Markets, Inc. The Court finds that a number of statements in the offering materials were false at the time of the offering, in violation of Section 12 of the Securities Act of 1933. It awarded a judgment in the amount of $806 million, and required FHFA to tender return of the securities.

This Reuters story is typical of the coverage of the decision, in the “we knew that” mold. Peter Eavis of the New York Times wrote a clearer explanation, pointing out that this decision undercuts any argument that Wall Street banks did not break the law in the sale of RMBSs. This is the first paragraph of the decision:

This case is complex from almost any angle, but at its core there is a single, simple question. Did defendants accurately describe the home mortgages in the Offering Documents for the securities they sold that were backed by those mortgages? Following trial, the answer to that question is clear. The Offering Documents did not correctly describe the mortgage loans. The magnitude of falsity, conservatively measured, is enormous.

In this post, I’ll look at several aspects of the case: 1) the legal framework; 2) the discussion of the due diligence tracks the findings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in its Final Report; 3) the individual liability holdings; 4) the role of the Credit Rating Agencies; and 5) loss causation.

!. The Legal Framework.

The main theory of liability in this case is the Securities Act of 1933, 15 USC § 77a et seq., specifically Section 12. The operative language says that a person who

offers or sells a security (whether or not exempted by the provisions of section 77c of this title, other than paragraphs (2) and (14) of subsection (a) of said section), by the use of any means or instruments of transportation or communication in interstate commerce or of the mails, by means of a prospectus or oral communication, which includes an untrue statement of a material fact or omits to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading (the purchaser not knowing of such untruth or omission), and who shall not sustain the burden of proof that he did not know, and in the exercise of reasonable care could not have known, of such untruth or omission

is liable to the purchaser for any loss arising from the misrepresentations. The plaintiff has to prove that the offering materials contained an untrue statement of a material fact, and that the purchaser did not know about the falsehood. Sellers can defend by proving that they did not know and “in the exercise of reasonable care could not have known” of the falsehood. Sellers can also reduce their damages to the extent they bear the burden of proving that the losses of the buyer were not caused by the falsehood. The defendants did not claim that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac knew that the offering materials were full of falsehoods. Thus, the main focus of the decision is the falsehoods in the offering materials.

2. The Due Diligence Defense and The Final Report of the FCIC

If the Defendants exercise reasonable care in preparing the offering materials, they are protected from liability. In fact, the risks of failing to exercise due care are so great that investors believe that financially strong sellers of securities wouldn’t take the risk of selling unless they had done good due diligence. Of course, our dominant ideology, neoliberalism, preaches that markets, whatever they might be, police themselves, and securities laws are unnecessary. Here’s a lovely example from John Spindler, now a business law professor at the University of Texas (it’s not on his CV). The Final Report also calls out this bizarre idea, beginning at P. 171 (.pdf page 198).

The Final Report looks at the due diligence across the universe of securitizers in Chapter 9, page 156 (.pdf page 184). It says that the securitizers did little or no due diligence themselves. Instead, they farmed it out to third parties. These vendors examined a sample of loans from a pool, and reported whether the loans met the guidelines that the originators claimed to follow, whether they complied with federal and state laws, and whether the valuations of collateral were reasonably accurate. They also looked for compensating features that might outweigh the defects. The sample loans were graded, and the securitizers could use these grades to kick out loans, or they could waive the defects, and in either case, they could use the information to negotiate the purchase price for the pool.

The Final Report says that vendors reported very high defect rates, and that securitizers waived in a high percentage of the defective loans. The originators then put the kicked-out loans into other pools proposed for sale. Disqualifying defects were discovered in 28% of the loans examined by one vendor, Clayton Holdings, for the 18 months ending June 30, 2007. Of those, 39% were waived in, so that 11% of defective loans were included in purchased pools. The samples were small, as low as 2 or 3%. There seems to be little effort to find the defective loans in the non-sampled portion, so it’s reasonable to assume that a similar or higher percentage of loans in the entire pool are defective.

Judge Cote follows a similar pattern. Nomura had no written procedures for evaluating loans. P. 48. After it won a bid for a pool, it conducted a review of the loans, relying on the information contained on the loan tape provided by the originator of the loans in the pool. The loan tape is actually a spread sheet containing information about the loans, including FICO scores, debt to income ratios, loan to value ratios, owner-occupancy status and other important data. P. 31. Nomura sent the loan tape to its vendors to conduct reviews for credit, compliance with originator’s stated underwriting guidelines, and valuation. The due diligence was done on a sample, in the range of 25-30%, but it was not a random sample, so the results could not be extended to the entire loan pool.

Of the loans submitted beginning in 2006 and the first quarter of 2007, one vendor graded 38% as failing to meet the originator guidelines. Nomura waived in 58% of those. It also had very high kickout rates for the pools it purchased. That means that of the examined loans, about 22% had major defects, again not counting the unexamined loans. With high kick-out rates, the number of defective loans remaining would be much higher.

The offering materials for these RMBSs all claimed that the loans met the originator guidelines with some exceptions. Judge Cote says this was a false statement, and that there was no showing that the defendants had done the kind of investigation required to avoid liability.

3. Individual Liability.

The Judge looks at the liability of the five individual defendants in part IV.b.3. P. 234. These are the officers, directors and signatories of the entities responsible for the filing of the offering materials. The ruling is harsh:

All five Individual Defendants testified at trial. The general picture was one of limited, if any, sense of accountability and responsibility. They claimed to rely on what they assumed were robust diligence processes to ensure the accuracy of the statements Nomura made, even if they did not understand, or, worse, misunderstood, the nature of those processes. Not one of them actually understood the limited role that due diligence played in Nomura’s securitization process, and some of them actually had strong reason to know of the problems with the diligence process and of the red flags that even that problematic process raised.

Each Individual Defendant made a point of highlighting the aspects of Nomura’s RMBS business for which he claimed to have no responsibility. None of them identified who was responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the contents of the Prospectus Supplements relevant to this lawsuit, and, as this group of Individual Defendants furnished the most likely candidates, the only logical conclusion is that no one held that responsibility.

A detailed explanation of this summary follows. Apparently securitizers have terrible memories.

4. Misleading The Credit Rating Agencies

FHFA did not claim the ratings were false, but that the ratings were not based on accurate information about the actual collateral for the RMBSs. The Court found that the defendants gamed the credit rating agencies models by submitting only the loan tapes prepared by the originators, even when they knew that the loan tapes were full of errors that would affect the final rating. Page 202. The Court found that the ratings depended on factors like the loan to value ratio and the debt to income ratio. The Court found that the LTV ratios were lower than represented by Nomura in 18-36% of the loans, and that many LTV ratios were above 100%, which skewed the models of the credit rating agencies and bought Nomura undeserved AAA ratings. This is a nice piece of lawyering by the legal team at Quinn Emanuel.

The FCIC is not so forgiving towards the Credit Rating Agencies:

The Commission concludes that the credit rating agencies abysmally failed in their central mission to provide quality ratings on securities for the benefit of investors. They did not heed many warning signs indicating significant problems in the housing and mortgage sector. Conclusion to Ch. 10 at .pdf 240

But there’s no point in shooting at the credit rating agencies. They have a get out of jail free card from the judiciary, which says that they are just giving opinions and are protected by the First Amendment.

5. Loss Causation.

The defendants argued that they didn’t cause the loss. They claimed that it was the housing market crash. Judge Cote cites a recent decision from the Second Circuit, Fin. Guar. Ins. Co. v. Putnam Advisory Co., LLC, — F.3d —, 2015 WL 1654120 at 8 n.2

… there may be circumstances under which a marketwide economic collapse is itself caused by the conduct alleged to have caused a plaintiff’s loss, although the link between any particular defendant’s alleged misconduct and the downturn may be difficult to establish.

Judge Cote tells us that the Second Circuit cited the Final Report of the FCIC for the proposition that the housing crash was linked to the “shoddy origination practices concealed by the misrepresentations” in the Nomura offering materials. Those shoddy practices contributed to the housing bubble, and were factors in the Great Crash. Crucially, she writes at 332:

Defendants do not dispute this. They do not deny that there is a link between the securitization frenzy associated with those shoddy practices and the very macroeconomic factors that they say caused the losses to the Certificates. This lack of contest, standing alone, dooms defendants’ loss causation defense, which, again, requires them to affirmatively prove that something other than the alleged defects caused the losses.

6. Conclusions

The legal team at Quinn Emanuel did a nice job of preparation. The people who prepared the testimony of the expert Dr. William Schwert deserve a special mention: that was really smart. See page 204 and previous material.

It looks like the Quinn Emanuel team and the Judge were deeply informed by the Final Report, and used it as a road map to digging up and presenting evidence of the fraud and corruption in the securitization process. It’s a terrible shame the spineless prosecutors at the Department of Justice couldn’t grasp the point of the Final Report. That is, unless the prosecutors did understand, and the decision was made by the neoliberals at the top, Lanny Breuer and Eric Holder, and the bankster’s best friend, Barack Obama.

Vikram Pandit’s Material Mistatements

It appears that Vikram Pandit’s failure to disclose material problems with Citibank’s valuation of its shitpile is another of the crimes we’re supposed to look forward and ignore. Jonathan Weil looks at how one of the documents disclosed in the FCIC dump–a February 14, 2008 OCC report finding that Citibank’s models for measuring the value of its shitpile were crap.

The gist of the regulator’s findings: Citigroup’s internal controls were a mess. So were its valuation methods for subprime mortgage bonds, which had spawned record losses at the bank. Among other things, “weaknesses were noted with model documentation, validation and control group oversight,” the letter said. The main valuation model Citigroup was using “is not in a controlled environment.” In other words, the model wasn’t reliable.

That report was addressed to Vikram Pandit.

But eight days later, in the annual report that Pandit certified himself, Citibank made no mention of its shitpile valuation problems.

Eight days later, on Feb. 22, Citigroup filed its annual report to shareholders, in which it said “management believes that, as of Dec. 31, 2007, the company’s internal control over financial reporting is effective.” Pandit certified the report personally, including the part about Citigroup’s internal controls. So did Citigroup’s chief financial officer at the time, Gary Crittenden.The annual report also included a Feb. 22 letter from KPMG LLP, Citigroup’s outside auditor, vouching for the effectiveness of the company’s financial-reporting controls. Nowhere did Citigroup or KPMG mention any of the problems cited by the OCC. KPMG, which earned $88.1 million in fees from Citigroup for 2007, should have been aware of them, too. The lead partner on KPMG’s Citigroup audit, William O’Mara, was listed on the “cc” line of the OCC’s Feb. 14 letter.

Now, if DOJ actually want to jail a high level criminal, this is the kind of easy thing they ought to look into. And perhaps Pandit’s failure to disclose Citi’s problems modeling shitpile is one of the things FCIC referred to DOJ.

But I doubt it. Pandit’s a former MOTU, after all, and MOTUs simply shouldn’t be bothered with minor things like misleading stockholders.

Clinton’s Blowjob: 5 Times More Important than the Wall Street Crash

Honest, I’m posting this video not for obvious affinities I have for Dylan Ratigan’s argument. But mostly because of the obvious suggestion, based on the resources we dedicate to investigating them, that Clinton’s blowjob was five times more dangerous for our country than the crash of our entire financial system.

Working Thread on FCIC Report

I keep trying to immerse myself in the FCIC Report, but keep getting distracted–I guess I’ll have to read it this weekend. But it’s high time I put up a working thread for the rest of you.

The report itself is here.

Lambert Strether has made 1147 of the backup documents released by the FCIC available here.

And Masaccio sent me this observation from the report last night:

The number of suspicious activity reports—reports of possible financial crimes filed by depository banks and their affiliates—related to mortgage fraud grew 20-fold between 1996 and 2005 and then more than doubled again between 2005 and 2009.

p. 22 in the .pdf

This means that the regulators were not doing their jobs under the Bank Secrecy Act, the PATRIOT ACT and other laws. These laws are designed to enable prosecutors and regulators to spot money-laundering and other crimes.

Lenders made loans that they knew borrowers could not afford and that could cause massive losses to investors in mortgage securities. As early as September 2004, Countrywide executives recognized that many of the loans they were originating could result in “catastrophic consequences.” Less than a year later, they noted that certain high-risk loans they were making could result not only in foreclosures but also in “financial and reputational catastrophe” for the firm. But they did not stop.

And the report documents that major financial institutions ineffectively sampled loans they were purchasing to package and sell to investors. They knew a significant percentage of the sampled loans did not meet their own underwriting standards or those of the originators. Nonetheless, they sold those securities to investors. The Commission’s review of many prospectuses provided to investors found that this critical information was not disclosed.

That is tantamount to saying that these people committed crimes. They sold securities with documents that were knowingly false.

Republicans Vote to Ban the Terms “Wall Street” and “Deregulation”

Apparently, the Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission have abandoned the commission because the other six members would not agree to ban the phrases “Wall Street” and “deregulation” from the final report.

The four Republicans appointed to the commission investigating the root causes of the financial crisis plan to bypass the bipartisan panel and release their own report Wednesday, according to people familiar with the commission’s work.


Frustrated in part by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s chairman, Phil Angelides, and the tenor of the panel’s preliminary findings, the Republicans are choosing to ignore the five Democrats and lone independent and issue their document ahead of the commission’s Jan. 15 release.


During a private commission meeting last week, all four Republicans voted in favor of banning the phrases “Wall Street” and “shadow banking” and the words “interconnection” and “deregulation” from the panel’s final report, according to a person familiar with the matter and confirmed by Brooksley E. Born, one of the six commissioners who voted against the proposal.


“I certainly felt, and I think the majority of the commission felt, that deleting those phrases would impair the commissioners’ ability to give a full and fair and understandable report to the American people about the causes of the financial crisis,” Born said.

“Certainly, it’s hard to imagine Wall Street wasn’t involved,” she added.

It all sounds so childish. But then, it’s no more childish than holding a bunch of unemployed Americans hostage to make sure the very wealthy get tax cuts and an estate tax cut. So, as much as the Obama Administration seems intent on giving the banks what they want, Republicans seem insistent on using nuclear tactics to steal even more for the banks.

I guess both parties really are going to insist on pushing us into a Depression and/or full-on feudalism, aren’t they?