43 posts from January 2012

Arbitration Double Standards

posted by Bob Lawless

A case out of the Third Circuit demonstrates the frustration that many of us have with the current state of consumer arbitration law. The consumer had purchased a Dell computer that he alleged had design flaws leading to repeated failure of his motherboard. After Dell refused to fix the computer a third time, he brought a class action against Dell for the alleged design defects.

Dell invoked an arbitration clause which read that any dispute "SHALL BE RESOLVED EXCLUSIVELY AND FINALLY BY BINDING ARBITRATION ADMINISTERED BY THE NATIONAL ARBITRATION FORUM (NAF)." This clause was found in "clickware," that is an agreement to which the consumer agreed by checking a box on Dell's web site when he purchased the computer. The capital letters were in the original agreement, presumably to make this language stand out due to its importance. As many readers of this blog will quickly pick up, there is a problem with this language -- because of abuses the National Arbitration Forum agreed to a consent judgment where it would no longer administer consumer arbitrations.

Continue reading "Arbitration Double Standards" »

Private Equity Works on Its Image Problem

posted by Stephen Lubben

Bloomberg out with an interesting story about how private equity firms are buying single family homes at foreclosure to rent out. It surprises me that there is real interest in what remains a relatively small scale, highly heterogeneous asset. Previous attempts to achieve economies of scale in this area have been disastrous -- see Bank of America.

Consumer Friendly Forms for Bankruptcy

posted by Katie Porter

In many respects, bankruptcy is a one-size-fits-all legal process. Yes, there are ample differences in the law (and a world of difference in practice) between the bankruptcy of a large corporation and a typical consumer. But the Bankruptcy Code itself contains plenty of provisions of general applicability. A major example of the one-size-fits-all approach to bankruptcy is the official forms for filing a case. The basic petition and schedules are the same forms for Big Airline Co. and Mr. Joe Blow. The information on the forms is wildly different, with Big Airline Co. listing hundreds or even thousands of creditors, with many more digits in their debts, than Joe Blow. But the form for those debts--Schedule F--is the same form. That may all be changing soon.

The Bankruptcy Rules Committee began a Forms Modernization Project a few years ago, and one of its top agenda items has been creating new forms just for use in consumer bankruptcy cases. Although few people seem to be aware of the effort, a draft version of those new forms is available to the public and to my mind, well worth a look. To see the forms, go here, then click on September 2011, download the file, and look  at pp. 189-315 of the PDF (or tab 7.1 if you use the PDF index.) One thing that is obvious from the page numbers in the prior sentence is that the new forms are really long--way longer than the current forms as completed in the typical consumer case. The added length results in part from the development of extensive instructions for each form. Below is an example of a new form with some commentary on its notable new features.

Continue reading "Consumer Friendly Forms for Bankruptcy" »

The GM & Chrysler Success

posted by Adam Levitin

During the State of the Union address, the President crowed about the success of the GM/Chrysler bailouts, noting that these companies were thriving again. An NPR program this evening was holding up GM/Chrysler as a beacon of hope for Kodak, as if bankruptcy were now the fountain of corporate youth.  

But this just begs the question of why did the GM/Chrysler bankruptcies work? What made these bankruptcies success stories? NPR raised the question, but had some lame answers, namely that it forced management to make decisions it hadn't wanted to do like cutting loser brands (Saturn, Pontiac). It might have helped focus management decision-making, but that alone can't be the answer, I think. I'm curious to hear readers' thoughts. A few thoughts of my own below the break.

Continue reading "The GM & Chrysler Success" »

Vee Haf Vays Uf Making You Pay!

posted by Adam Levitin

Anna Gelpern's Gunboat Diplomacy post pretty much sums out the leaked German term sheet on Greece. I would only note one other thing--the highly idiosyncratic use of "absolute priority." The Germans seem to have taken the language of Chapter 11 and repurposed it, with absolute priority meaning foreign unsecured creditors get paid in full before anyone else sees a cent. Of course, maybe the Germans really do know how to get blood out of a stone.  But in the meantime, I think this is best referred to as Teutonic priority.  

Greek Gunboat Diplomacy Eupdate and More ECB/EFSF

posted by Anna Gelpern

Someone who wanted to be very mean to the Germans just leaked this document, where they manage to come off as both desperate and inept. The proposal purports to address Greek failure to meet program targets by installing an EU overlord, whose job it would be among other things to pay off the foreign bondholders before funding public services in Greece.

The strategy goes back to the days when imperial gunboats took over debtors' customs houses to pay foreign bondholders, but has been considered impolite in creditor country circles for a century or so. Now it is back as an EU institutional innovation. As for the business of "absolute priority" for foreign creditors, the statement is nonsensical on its face: Greece will enact a law that would make creditors feel "de facto" senior. At best, this would be "de jure," and without a shred of credibility. The actual phrase used--"De facto elimination of the possibility of a default"--surely qualifies for an Oscar nomination.

All this innovating does follow a pattern: take a program that does not work, double down on it, and ratchet up enforcement to the point where no one would ever dream of it. Genius.

And further to my last post, it looks like Richard Barley and Felix Salmon took sides on the EFSF swap possibility a couple of days ago, except that they seem to operate on the assumption (which I shared last May) that EFSF would have to take the loss up front. Now I think that the swap would be worth it even if it only captured the discount for Greece. Phase Two happens when it does.

The Crisis of Fake Constraints: Greek Denouement Eupdate

posted by Anna Gelpern

Unless Greece and its creditors reach a deal in the next few days, Greece has no money to pay €15 Billion or so due to its bondholders in March.

From the start, this has been a crisis of fake legal and economic constraints masking very real political constraints. In 2010, Greece could have restructured its debt quicker than most sovereigns in modern memory -- or it might have been bailed out, had Europe chosen to go the route of fiscal transfers. Neither of these paths was taken because the European Central Bank was unwilling to countenance the sin of debt restructuring, but member states with money were unwilling to pay for the appearance of collective virtue.

Now that the restructuring is inevitable and the virtue bill unpayable, the fake constraints are back. The ECB holds about €50 of Greek debt, which must go into the restructuring to get enough debt and cashflow relief. But the central bank would not take losses, and remains allergic to triggering credit default swaps (which is more likely to happen if it sits out). Worse, its votes might be needed to (credibly threaten to) amend Greek bonds using retrofit Collective Action Clauses. (See latest from Gulati-Zettelmeyer here.)

There seems to be a simple fix: swap the Greek bonds held by the ECB for bonds of the European Financial Stability Facility at a price that does not cause ECB losses. Then have the EFSF go into the exchange and vote the bonds if it needs to. At a minimum, this captures for Greece the discount at which the ECB bought its bonds. If Europe is unwilling to see the EFSF take a loss from the ECB's purchase price, Greece could conceivably make up the difference with a special bond issue for the EFSF on terms that reflect the specialness of the vehicle and the circumstances.

Continue reading "The Crisis of Fake Constraints: Greek Denouement Eupdate" »

Break up Bank of America?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Steve's title was subtle, so in case anyone missed it, here are the materials on Public Citizen's website. The petition calls on the Federal Reserve and the Financial Stability Oversight Commission to use their authority under Dodd-Frank to break up Bank of America. (But still check out Steve's analysis on Dealbook!).

And Now Featuring Melissa Jacoby

posted by Bob Lawless

On behalf of all the Credit Slips bloggers, it is my pleasure to announce the permanent return of Professor Melissa Jacoby as one of our "Occasionals." For the past several weeks, she had doing some guest posts, but we are very happy that she has agreed to stick around. Melissa is a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and a leading expert on bankruptcy law with a number of prominent studies on medical debt as well as housing issues. As one of the founding members of Credit Slips, Melissa is one of the reasons we're here at all. Welcome back.

Caught up on this line again

posted by Stephen Lubben

Bank of America, OLA, and the problems of oversized financial institutions, up now on Dealbook.

Should the Government or the Market Set Mortgage Down Payments? A New Study

posted by Melissa Jacoby

UNC's Center for Community Capital has posted a new analysis of 19.5 million mortgage loans originated between 2000 and 2008 finding that mandatory down payments of 10% would lock out nearly 40% of all creditworthy borrowers while a 20% down payment would exclude 60%. The study finds a significantly higher exclusion rate for African American and Latino borrowers. The authors (Roberto Quercia of UNC, Lei Ding of Wayne State University, & Carolina Reid from the Center for Responsible Lending) do find valuable default-reduction benefits of other forms of strong underwriting as the Dodd-Frank Act already requires (through the "QM" and "QRM" classifications), but signal caution about the significant access costs of government-mandated down payment levels that government regulators may be currently considering.

And the Wind Blows Wild Again

posted by Stephen Lubben

I wade into the chapter 11 professional fee debate again, this time in the context of the UST's proposed guidlines for attorneys fees in big cases.

How to Address Apparent Racial Disparity in the Consumer Bankruptcy System

posted by Jean Braucher

The article discussed in the N.Y. Times story today is heavily empirical. It is also deliberately light on the prescriptive. Bob Lawless, Dov Cohen and I did make two modest proposals: (1) that a question about race of the debtor should be included on the form for a bankruptcy petition to make it possible to confirm (or disprove) the finding that African Americans file in chapter 13 at a much higher rate than debtors of other races (about double in the data we have), and (2) that all actors in the bankruptcy system—judges, trustees, attorneys and clients—be educated about the apparent racial disparity and the possibility that subtle racial bias may be producing it. The Times certainly helped with the second one!

Beyond that, we leave it to others and to each of us individually to come up with policy responses. In my view, Henry Hildebrand, a longtime chapter 13 trustee in Tennessee, got the big picture exactly right; he is quoted in the Times story as saying we should “use this study as an indication that we should be attempting to fix what has become a complex, expensive, unproductive system.” He will probably reappraise his views if he finds out that I agree with him! Those of us who participate in or study the system know that its complexity is onerous.

Continue reading "How to Address Apparent Racial Disparity in the Consumer Bankruptcy System" »

Race and Chapter 13

posted by Bob Lawless

As Adam noted in his kind post, the New York Times today featured our study, "Race, Attorney Influence, and Bankruptcy Chapter Choice." My co-authors are Credit Slips blogger Jean Braucher, a law professor at the University of Arizona, and Dov Cohen, a professor at the University of Illinois who holds a cross appointment in psychology and law. And, we all express many thanks to the NYT reporter, Tara Siegel Bernard, who spent a lot of time slogging through the statistics and legal intricacies in our study.

In a nutshell, the study reports real-world data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project showing that, among bankrupcy filers, blacks file chapter 13 at higher rates than all other races. The effect is large -- for example, blacks even had a higher chapter 13 rate (54.6%) than homeowners (47.1%). The second part of the study showed that, in a random sample, bankruptcy attorneys were more likely to recommend chapter 13 for a hypothetical couple named "Reggie & Latisha" who went to the African Methodist Episcopal Church as compared to "Todd & Allison" who went to the United Methodist Church. Also, attorneys were more likely to see "Reggie & Latisha" as having good values and being more competent when they expressed a preference for chapter 13.

Continue reading "Race and Chapter 13" »

Kudos to Jean Braucher and Bob Lawless!

posted by Adam Levitin

A new study by Credit Slips own Jean Braucher and Bob Lawless (with Dov Cohen) on race and bankruptcy filings received very prominent and well-deserved page A1 coverage in the New York Times.  It's a fabulous study, and it's wonderful to see it getting such great media attention. 

Payday Loans are First Target of New Consumer Protection Chief

posted by Nathalie Martin

Richard Cordray’s first CFPB hearing will be held today and will focus on the practices of payday lenders. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already outlaw payday loans, but in all of the others, lenders can and do charge 400% interest or more, on loans against consumers' next paycheck. Under terms of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB could not regulate payday lenders or other nonbank entities that provide financial products until its director was in place. As Republican senators were blocking Cordray's confirmation, President Barack Obama used a recess appointment to install him last month. Cordray's first order of business was to launch the bureau's nonbank supervision program, from which today's hearing springs. Consumer advocates are very hopeful that the CFPB will use its authority to scrutinize industry loan records and marketing materials and gauge their compliance with federal laws. According to Jean Ann Fox of the Consumer Federation of America, consumer groups also hope that the CFPB will develop new rules regarding industry practices deemed unfair, deceptive and abusive.

Carter Doughtery of Bloomberg News just posted a more detailed description of the CFPB's current inquiry into payday lending.

Kindle and ePub Versions of Bankruptcy Code (Updated)

posted by Bob Lawless

One of my crack research assistants, Scott Cromar, put together electronic versions of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure (FRBP) that can be read using Amazon Kindle or an ePub reader. Because these books were assembled using public-domain materials from the U.S. government, we are making them available free of charge. Keep reading after the page break for links and more information.

Continue reading "Kindle and ePub Versions of Bankruptcy Code (Updated)" »

SOPA, PIPA, and Us

posted by Bob Lawless

Given what a small part of the web we are, it seemed a little melodramatic for Credit Slips to go dark over the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). It did seem appropriate at least to add my own voice to the opposition.

If you are not familiar with these heavy-handed attempts to police intellectual property piracy, plenty of information is available from Wikipedia here (and, yes, that link still works today, January 18). Some of the provisions in these acts could have implications for small sites such as this.

Although the government should stop the theft of intellectual property, these proposed laws go way too far, sacrificing too much freedom in the name of property rights. In particular, it disappoints me that some senators who have been champions of consumer protection have put themselves on the wrong side of this issue. Specifically, Senators Patrick Leahy, Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin, Charles Schumer, Al Franken, and Sheldon Whitehouse are listed on THOMAS as sponsors or co-sponsors of PIPA (S. 968). It would be great to see these senators lead a retreat from these onerous pieces of legislation.

Those are my personal views as blog administrator. And, that is probably a point we don't emphasize enough on this blog -- everyone is speaking for himself or herself only.

Bankruptcy, Backwards

posted by Adam Levitin

Credit Slips Own Anna Gelpern has a great new article in the Yale Law Journal that very much deserves a plug. It's called "Bankruptcy, Backwards:  The Problem of Quasi-Sovereign Debt." The article deals with the problems of financial distress for quasi-sovereigns, like US states or even to some degree EU member states. As Anna points out, bankruptcy seems to mean all things to all people, and as a result framing discussions of how to deal with quasi-sovereign debt---where there is no bankruptcy regime of any sort--quickly devolves into debates about existing bankruptcy systems, like US Chapter 9, rather than starting from the unique problems of quasi-sovereign debtors and then figuring out what sort of financial restructuring system might make sense.

I highly recommend the article, particularly for those of us who don't regularly deal with sovereign debt issues. There's a strange divide in practice and scholarship between domestic bankruptcy and sovereign debt restructuring. A few people (David Skeel, Steven Schwarcz, Bob Rasmussen, e.g.) have written in both areas, but they remain pretty separate fields. Anna's insights from the sovereign debt field are very useful for domestic bankruptcy scholars, as they help us step back and see the larger picture of what is going on.  

American Capitalism: Profit, But Fairly

posted by Adam Levitin

Adam Davidson wrote up an interesting apologia for Wall Street in the NY Times last week, which I think is ultimately a call for better regulation, rather than bank-hating.  I missed the piece originally, but Yves Smith found it and has nothing good to say about it. I think Yves is a little too harsh on Davidson. I've got issues with parts of the piece, but on different grounds, namely that it efuses to engage on the real issue. The problem isn't financial intermediation.  That's a perfectly fine thing that plays a useful role in society.  

Instead, the problem is when financial intermediaries do not treat the intermediating parties (meaning consumer and investors) fairly. The history of US financial services is nothing short of a history of scandals involving financial institutions variously ripping off investors and consumers. I'm not just talking about those scandals we remember, like Milken or Madoff or the recent slew or even the second tier ones like the Salad Oil scam or all of 1920s mortgage bonds. The history of US financial services is largely a history of unregulated innovation resulting in abuse and then follow-up regulatory reform. Lather, rinse, wash, repeat. 

Davidson argues that the reason to "hate the banks" is that 

Wall Street firms enforce the cold rules of capitalism: hostile takeovers, foreclosures, fee increases, defaults. But those rules clearly do not apply to the largest banks themselves. 

Davidson misses the mark here a bit. It's not just that the banks get bailed out, meaning that the rules of market discipline don't apply to them. It's that the banks frequently break the rules when applied to others.  It's fine to do foreclosures or hostile takeovers or sell consumers speculative securities. But it's not ok to foreclose without following the law or to profit on insider knowledge on hostile takeovers or or to sell investors "safe" assets when you know they are junk.

The fundamental rule of American capitalism is "profit, but fairly." Whatever one thinks is "fair", I don't think there should be much disagreement that Wall Street too often disregards the second part of this dictum to focus on the first. But take away the "but fairly" and society quickly becomes a Gilded Age baronial kleptocracy, a post-Soviet (or pre-Soviet) Russia. If we want capitalism to work--meaning that there is social stability, pace OWS--market players must play by the rules. This is where the debate needs to be focused:  ensuring that our financial intermediaries play by the rules. 

Continue reading "American Capitalism: Profit, But Fairly" »

Twinkies at Risk

posted by Nathalie Martin

At least it’s not Tastykakes, right Philadelphians? But seriously, historians with a sweet tooth should be feeling a little uneasy after Hostess’ chapter 11 last week, precipitated by runaway pension and medical benefits claims and a tough economy. Tough is right. If people are too broke to buy Twinkies, things really have reached an all-time low.Interstate Bakeries, which owns Hostess brands, claims to have over $950 million in pension claims.

Twinkies have an interesting history. According to wikipedia, Twinkies were invented in Schiller Park, Illinois in 1930 by James Alexander Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company. Realizing that several machines used to make cream-filled strawberry shortcake sat idle when strawberries were out of season, Dewar conceived a snack cake filled with banana cream, which he dubbed the Twinkie. He said he came up with the name when he saw a billboard in St. Louis for "Twinkle Toe Shoes". During World War II, bananas were rationed and the company was forced to switch to vanilla cream. This change proved popular, and banana-cream Twinkies were never widely re-introduced.

In 1988, Fruit and Cream Twinkies were introduced with a strawberry filling swirled into the cream. However, the product never caught on and was soon dropped. Vanilla's dominance over banana flavoring would be challenged in 2005, following a month-long promotion of the movie King Kong. Hostess saw its Twinkie sales rise 2 percent during the promotion, and in 2007 permanently restored the banana-cream Twinkie to its snack lineup.

Twinkie sales for the year ended December 25, 2011 were 36 million packages, down almost 2% from the prior year. Hostess claims that more customers are choosing healthier foods, implying that it may need to invent a healthy Twinkie in order to avoid liquidation and attract new investors.

The Consumer Finance Pantheon?

posted by Adam Levitin

In putting together a revised syllabus for my consumer finance course this semester, I was struck with how different this nascent field is from established courses like Contracts.  No matter what Contracts casebook one uses to teach, there are a bunch of well-established chestnuts that everyone knows:  Hadley v. Baxendale, for example, or Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture, Raffles v. Wichelhaus, Frigaliment, Lucy Lady Duff Gordon, Hawkins v. McGee, or Jacobs & Young v. Kent (and one could go on and on).  It's hard to say the same for Consumer Finance; indeed, I've got very few cases on my syllabus. 

I'm curious what Credit Slips readers think are the leading cases in the consumer finance area.

Continue reading "The Consumer Finance Pantheon?" »

Your Favorite Business Bankruptcy/Restructuring Lingo: A Word of Thanks

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Just a word of gratitude to readers for providing great responses to the prior call for corporate bankruptcy lingo. Thanks to your help, UNC Law's advanced business bankruptcy students are collaboratively examining such terms through a wiki and this will help them make an even smoother transition into the professional world. If any new lingo comes to mind, don't hesitate to pass it along! 

Foreclosure Timelines and Mortgage Delinquency: More Evidence from Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

At the end of a lively session yesterday at Duke Law School featuring Professor Stephen Ware of University of Kansas Law School, there was a brief discussion of whether shorter foreclosure timelines and clearer rules would promote more workouts of delinquent mortgages. The aforementioned paper about bankrupt homeowners suggests that the opposite might actually be the case: among homeowners in bankruptcy, longer foreclosure timelines in their home states were associated with a lower probability of foreclosure initiation while shorter timelines were associated with a higher probability of foreclosure initiation.

Continue reading "Foreclosure Timelines and Mortgage Delinquency: More Evidence from Bankruptcy" »

American Banker: Chase Has Halted Credit Card Collection Suits

posted by Bob Lawless

Yesterday, the American Banker reported that Chase has stopped filing lawsuits to collect consumer debtors. Moreover, they did it quietly and quickly. With concerns over sloppy procedures in debt collection, akin to the robo-signing problems in the mortgage industry, this news was quite interesting.

H/t to our reader who pointed me to the story.

Justice Calls for Foreclosure Mediation Support

posted by Alan White

The Justice Department's project on access to justice has issued a report summarizing current research on state foreclosure mediation programs, calling for more funding and support.  The report offers an excellent summary of the best available research on foreclosure mediation programs, including the very successful Philadelphia and Connecticut programs, that have participation rates as high as 60% to 70% of defendants, and whose participants achieve settlements keeping them in their home in as much as half of the cases. 

The industry, led by federal bank regulator OCC and housing finance regulator FHFA, is promoting the idea that all foreclosures are hopeless, homeowners are using state law solely for the purpose of delay, and that massive foreclosures are inevitable, that most judicial foreclosures just result in default judgments, so let's get on with it.  The empirical evidence from states where adequate resources are applied, and mortgage companies are compelled to evaluate each and every homeowner with an income and a desire to pay, belies this myth. 

Justice now joins the Federal Reserve in advocating for fewer, not more, foreclosures.

What is the Relationship Between Credit Cards and Mortgage Delinquency?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Previously I mentioned this new paper on homeowners in bankruptcy in the American Bankruptcy Law Journal. The central goal of the paper was to investigate what makes homeowners more or less likely to have mortgage troubles as they head into bankruptcy. One of the notable findings is that, across all the models, credit access had a significant effect on keeping mortgages current and avoiding foreclosure initiation (specifics listed pp. 302-304). But why?

Continue reading "What is the Relationship Between Credit Cards and Mortgage Delinquency? " »

BROKE: A New Book on Consumer Debt and Bankruptcy

posted by Katie Porter

Just in time for New Year's resolutions on 1) reading more, 2) paring back your own debt, and 3) learning more about consumer bankruptcy to help you do your job (if you are a lawyer, judge, or academic, media, etc), the book, Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class was released from Stanford University Press.

BrokeThe book makes extensive use of the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project data, providing statistics, analysis, and commentary on consumer bankruptcy and debt topics. I edited the volume, and chapter contributors are many Credit Slips regulars or guest bloggers--Jacob Hacker, Bob Lawless, Kevin Leicht, Angela Littwin, Deborah Thorne, and Elizabeth Warren--along with other top scholars.

In the next few weeks, the chapter authors will blog here at Credit Slips about the research featured in the book, but to whet your appetite, I've included a table of contents for the book after the break. The book is accessible to lay readers but its scholarly focus provides plenty of data to educate and surprise even bankruptcy experts. Working on the book, I certainly learned a great deal about timely and important topics such as how pro se debtors (those without attorneys) fare in bankruptcy, where families go after they lose their homes to foreclosure, how bankruptcy affects couple's marriages, and the ways that bankrupt households differ in their financial straits from other households of concern such as those with low assets or late payments on debt. Of course I'm biased but I think the book provides the most comprehensive overview of the consumer bankruptcy system since the enactment of the 2005 bankruptcy amendments.

Continue reading "BROKE: A New Book on Consumer Debt and Bankruptcy" »

Law of the Chicken

posted by Bob Lawless

A headline from last Friday's BNA's Bankruptcy Law Reporter, which reports recent cases and other legal developments, caught my eye:

Poultry Farmers Can't Rely on Promissory Estoppel Theory;
Proofs of Claim Denied

That seems like a pretty harsh rule for poultry farmers. I wonder whether it is some sort of corollary to the "widows and orphans rule" -- poultry farmers always lose. Ever since Schechter Poultry was effectively overruled, poultry farmers can't seem to catch a break in the federal courts.

The Fed on Mortgage Servicing

posted by Adam Levitin

I had the privilege today of hearing Federal Reserve Board Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin deliver the keynote address to the Section on Financial Institutions at the American Association of Law Schools Annual Meeting.  Governor Bloom Raskin's topic: mortgage servicing, which is not something the Fed has previously addressed.  I strongly commend her speech to you. It's rare to see a bank regulator invoke Shakespeare to great effect, as she does, but it's much more important for some of the other things she says:

This wave of foreclosures is one of the factors hindering a rapid recovery in the economy. Traditionally, the housing sector, buoyed by low interest rates and pent-up demand, has played an important role in propelling economic recoveries. The increase in housing sales and construction often is accompanied by purchases of complementary goods, like furniture and appliances, which magnify the effect of the housing recovery.

However, six years after house prices first began to fall, the pace of the economic recovery remains slow. Nationally, house prices have fallen by nearly one-third since their peak in the first quarter of 2006, and total homeowners' equity in the United States has shrunk by more than one-half--a loss of more than $7 trillion. The drop in house prices has had far-reaching effects on families, neighborhoods, small businesses, and the economy, in part because so many American families--more than 65 percent--own their homes. The fall in house prices has caused families to cut back on their spending and has prevented them from using their home equity to fund education expenses or start small businesses. The decline in house prices has also impeded families from benefiting from the historically low level of interest rates, as perhaps only half of homeowners who could profitably refinance have the equity and creditworthiness needed to qualify for traditional refinancing.

This is a really important set of points. They shouldn't sound new to Credit Slips readers, but it's really important to have a Fed Governor saying them.  

Continue reading "The Fed on Mortgage Servicing" »

Greek VoluntaryInvolutary DealNoDealDeal: Convolution Eupdate

posted by Anna Gelpern

Will Greece reach a voluntary deal with its creditors to write down its debt by 50% in the coming weeks? Will it default? ... or will its official patrons blink, pay up, and let the creditors off the hook? I hear at least two uber-expert Euro-watchers have taken opposite sides of the bet on that one. I bet nobody wins.

Continue reading "Greek VoluntaryInvolutary DealNoDealDeal: Convolution Eupdate" »

Bankruptcy Filings Down 11.7% in 2011

posted by Bob Lawless

Calendar Year Filings 1998 to 2011The year-end bankruptcy statistics from Epiq Systems have arrived. There were just over 1,379,000 U.S. bankruptcy filings in 2011, a decline of 11.7% from the previous year.

On a monthly basis, December kept with the theme of the past year. The daily bankruptcy filing rate in December 2011 was 4,584, a decline of 12.1% on a year-over-year basis. The past seven months have seen year-over-year declines in the 10-15% rate range. What makes December 2011 different is that December 2010 itself had a year-over-year decline. In words, the declines are building on previous declines.

The question for the moment is whether bankruptcy filings will level off at around their current level or continue to decline. I'm inclined to think we'll see a further decline in 2012, although that assessment is more instinct than analysis. I'll try to post a more formal analysis about projected bankruptcy filings for 2012. Bankruptcy filings may not be a great economic indicator, but their levels are important for the bankruptcy system.

Financial Institutions Palooza at the Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting

posted by Anna Gelpern

The Section on Financial Institutions and Consumer Financial Services will have a record four events at this weekend's Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. The theme is rethinking and reviving the field of financial institutions on the ground and in the academy. We will take stock of reforms so far and consider the impact of the crises in the United States and Europe, but also will take a long-term view of the field from diverse theoretical, policy, and methodological perspectives.

The program begins on Saturday morning with a big-think "revival" panel featuring Jill FischHowell JacksonKim KrawiecPat McCoyKatharina Pistor, and Annelise Riles, immediately proceeding to the lunch keynote by Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin, introduced by Arthur Wilmarth. Next comes an offsite policy roundtable moderated by Adam Feibelman, with regulators and policy makers from different agencies. The weekend program  features five academic paper presentations on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, focusing on the state of financial reform and the way forward. Heidi Schooner will moderate the Call for Papers panel.

Full program details are here. Below are the links to the selected papers, authors, and commentators.

Continue reading "Financial Institutions Palooza at the Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting " »

Understanding Anna Nicole Smith (or, at least, Stern v. Marshall): A Must-Read Analysis

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Led by my colleague Elizabeth Gibson, four members of the National Bankruptcy Conference have produced a fantastic analysis of the Stern v. Marshall U.S. Supreme Court decision (that most recently has been mentioned on Credit Slips here and here). I strongly recommend it for judges, lawyers, academics and others interested in the bankruptcy system and/or federal court jurisdictional questions.    

The Restatement of Property and the Road to Mortgagocracy

posted by Adam Levitin

I recently did a string of blog posts of the Permanent Editorial Board for the UCC's Report on the enforcement of negotiable mortgage notes. I'm still planning a final installment there, but I came across another document that just floored me in showing how across another American Law Institute product that just floored me in how deeply captured and compromised part of the legal elite is.  

The document in quest is section 5.4(c) from the Restatement (2d) of Property.  The Restatements are an ALI-only product (unlike the UCC, which is jointly done with NCCUSL), and they are the ALI's signature product.  They are meant to "restate" the law, meaning summarize and improve it, sort of the way Yiddish versions of Shakespeare plays were unironically advertised as farbesert un fartaytsht (improved and translated).  That is to say the restatements are meant to be positive summaries of the law, but they often have normative spins.  

Section 5.4(c) appears to stand for a very simple and uncontroversial principle (pace FNMA v. Eaton), that only the obligee of a mortgage note has the right to foreclose on the note:  

A mortgage may be enforced only by, or in behalf of, a person who is entitled to enforce the obligation the mortgage secures.

In other words, a naked mortgage's got nothin' (are you listening AZ Supreme Court?).  But then the comments and illustration go off the deep-end. Here's Comment (e):  

Mortgage may not be enforced except by a person having the right to enforce the obligation or one acting on behalf of such a person...[including an agent or a trustee for the noteholder.]  The trust or agency relationship may arise from the terms of the assignment, from a separate agreement, or from other circumstances. Courts should be vigorous in seeking to find such a relationship, since the result is otherwise likely to be a windfall for the mortgagor and the frustration of [the noteholder]'s expectation of security. See Illustration 10.

Continue reading "The Restatement of Property and the Road to Mortgagocracy" »

MBIA v. Countrywide Ruling

posted by Adam Levitin

There's been a lot of media coverage of the recent ruling of the NY Supreme Court (that's the trial court, not the final Court of Appeals) in MBIA v. Countrywide, a suit by the monoline bond insurer against Countrywide for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, etc. that induced it to insure Countrywide's mortgage-backed securities. This and Syncora's similar suit are being carefully watched because they are the MBS litigation that is the farthest along and thus seen as a belleweather for other rep and warranty suits.  While the monolines are in a somewhat different position than MBS investors, they provide a good indicator of what to expect from investor suits.  

For all the discussion of the opinion, no one seems to have actually read the damn thing, so here it is.

Continue reading "MBIA v. Countrywide Ruling" »

In or Out of Mortgage Trouble? A Study of Bankrupt Homeowners

posted by Melissa Jacoby

This is a newly published paper  in the American Bankruptcy Law Journal that I was lucky to work on with Daniel McCue and Eric Belsky at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Using previously unexamined data in the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project, we study what makes homeowners more or less likely to have mortgage troubles as they head into bankruptcy. Although much can be said about the econometric analysis, for now I wanted to mention quickly that the paper includes descriptive details about bankrupt homeowners (debtor-reported) such as numbers of missed mortgage payments, use of adjustable rate mortgages, mortgage broker use, mobile homes, and refinancing or home equity lines of credit. So please check it out!   

The CFPB Gets a Director

posted by Adam Levitin

The CFPB is finally getting a Director, which enables it to exercise its full range of powers. It's good to see this Administration show some backbone. Better late than never, I guess, and Rich Cordray is a great pick.

While this is a step forward, I worry that the CFPB and Director Cordray will feel that they have to walk on eggshells so as not to rile Congressional Republicans and draw continued scrutiny. There's a fine line that the CFPB will have to navigate in terms of what fights to pick--there are some fights it needs to have and some that are better to avoid to live to fight another day, but I'm happy to see this as the new problem for the CFPB.        

Buy Here Pay Here Dealerships

posted by Katie Porter

The LA Times did a three-part series this fall on what they call "Buy Here Pay Here" car dealerships. (Here is Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). The name, which was new to me, comes from a common requirement that customers return to the lot to make their loan payments. The high-interest-rate loans are usually for aging, high-mileage vehicles to people with ragged credit. The idea of the "pay here" is to provide ample opportunity for dealers to keep track of the car's--and customer's--whereabouts and to increase the likelihood of repayment by customers.

One year ago (almost to the day), Credit Slips discussed the repossession rates for auto title loans. Unlike buy here/pay here, auto title loans are not to purchase a car but require a person to pledge their car's ownership if a loan is not paid back. Adam Levitin came up with an estimated rate of 14-18% for repossession on auto title loans but emphasized how difficult it was to get such data. Surprisingly to me, the LA Times managed to get the buy here/pay here industry to not just share--but to gloat--about how this business model works. The key data: 1)  About 1 in 4 buyers default. 2) The dealerships make an average profit of 38% on each sale, more than double the profit margin of conventional retail car chains.

Continue reading "Buy Here Pay Here Dealerships" »

Anna's Revenge, Episode I

posted by Bob Lawless

We may be beginning to see the fallout from Stern v. Marshall, the Supreme Court case on bankruptcy jurisdiction courtesy of Anna Nicole Smith's bankruptcy. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a broad decision that would call into question the power of the bankruptcy court to hear many state-law defenses to creditor's claims in bankruptcy. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first court of appeals decision applying Stern.

The Seventh Circuit, in a case called In re Ortiz, held the bankruptcy court could not hear claims that a health care company had violated Wisconsin state law by making bankruptcy court filings containing private medical information of bankruptcy debtors. The irony is that the bankruptcy court had found the debtors had failed to establish a claim under state law, thus making the Seventh Circuit's decision a victory for the debtors involved in that particular appeal. For other bankruptcy debtors, however, the Seventh Circuit's decision could hinder their ability to assert state-law defenses such as violations of state UDAP laws (unfair deceptive acts and practices laws).

Continue reading "Anna's Revenge, Episode I" »

Principal Write-Down Pilot Program in Massachusetts

posted by Jean Braucher

A Boston nonprofit, Boston Community Capital, is teaming up with some financial institutions, in particular Bank of America, in a pilot program that has the effect of writing down mortgages to close to home value. http://www.npr.org/2012/01/02/143601604/in-mortgage-crisis-some-banks-agree-to-cut-losses

BCC says it works with qualifying homeowners and banks to buy underwater homes, either in short sales or at foreclosure, and then sells them back to owners at just above current market value. The nonprofit takes the risk of making the resale and allows those buying back to use their own lender or a mortgage company that BCC works with. See the program’s FAQs: http://www.sunhomehelp.org/faq/sun

BCC is playing a gatekeeping role as far as who qualifies (there must be an ability to pay the written-down loan but an inability to pay the original loan). Also, BCC may have better credibility with distressed homeowners than financial institutions such as B of A do. The pilot is supposed to test whether such a program can be run without promoting “strategic default,” according to the NPR story.

Principal write-down is much needed relief to stabilize the housing market and reduce the lose-lose impact of foreclosure, so this is a pilot worth watching. A concern, however, is whether we can trust any reports that come out about it. There does not seem to be any neutral third-party such as an academic researcher studying what happens in the program. Also, a supposed fact cited in the NPR story is unattributed and highly doubtful—that 30 percent of private home loan modifications last year involved principal write-down. That certainly wasn’t true of the government-sponsored Home Affordable Modification Program, so if true about private modifications, it raises even more questions about the troubled HAMP.

Maryland Courts Require More Proof in Debt Collection Cases, Ringing in Some Debt Collection Cheer

posted by Nathalie Martin

In many states, a creditor or debt collector can easily obtain a default judgment with just a person’s name, last known address and Social Security number, and the judgment can follow the person around for years despite that the debt was never proven. Due to a flood of uncontested debt collection cases in Maryland, its high court has just ruled that for all cases filed on or after January 20, 2012, collectors and creditors must produce actual proof that the debtor incurred the debt. This can be done by producing a copy of a signed bill or contract, or other evidence of the debt. Debt buyers also must prove they actual hold the debt through a valid purchase, a common stumbling block for collecting debt buyers. In making this decision, the Maryland Court of Appeals (which is Maryland’s high court) took into consideration that many cases end in default judgments, a problem Nationwide. The decision also evidences a distrust of those pesky (often fraudulent) affidavits. Let’s hope other states decide to follow suit and put collectors to their proof.

The Decline in Bankruptcy Filings by Chapter

posted by Bob Lawless

Decline in Filing Rates.January 2012Bankruptcy filings have been on the decline, but has this decline been spread differently between chapter 7 and chapter 13? Using figures from the Bankruptcy Data Project at Harvard as supplied by Epiq Systems, the chart to the right breaks down the decline by chapter. (Clicking on the chart will bring up a larger version in a pop-up box.)

For the past year, both chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcies have been declining. Some commentators have speculated that the slowdown in mortgage foreclosures has been the reason for the declining bankruptcy rate, but if that were true, one probably would see larger declines in chapter 13 rates given that it is the chapter associated with saving a home. In fact, chapter 13s have been declining at a lower rate than chapter 7s. Consumer credit markets play the most important role in determining the swings of the bankruptcy filing rate. If mortgage foreclosures do climb in the first part of 2012, I do not expect to see a huge increase in bankruptcy filings.

Continue reading "The Decline in Bankruptcy Filings by Chapter" »


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