Before we get to today’s news, let’s start with a bit of history and background on how banking and lending works. Long ago, the first bankers realized that the odds of everybody wanting their money at the same time were just astronomical. So if they were to lend some of that money out at interest, not only would they profit, but they could pass on a little bit of that interest to depositors, making people want to deposit money with them. Charging of interest is even discussed in the Bible, so we know it happened in Biblical times. This process in fact creates money, so it’s very important to the economy.
But let’s fast-forward to a mythical and highly simplified bank somewhere in America. We’ll call it Bailey Bank. Bailey’s got ten thousand depositors with an average daily balance of $1,000. Simple math says they have roughly $10,000,000 in deposits — small by modern standards but still nothing to sneeze at. The Federal Reserve Bank regulates how much money they need to have on hand, and also says how much needs to be deposited with them for emergency purposes. They still have plenty of money to lend out.
So Bailey makes a few dozen mortgage loans, and lends for a few farms and small businesses too. If they are short on cash, they can borrow money from nearby Potter Bank or from the Federal Reserve, at interest rates set by the Fed. These are the rates that Greenspan used to mess with, and the ones Bernanke can change today, not the rates that banks charge us but the rates they charge one another and the rate that the Fed charges them.
When they came to the point where they didn’t really have more money to lend, they sold a bunch of mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fannie and Freddie paid them to be the servicers — sending the bills and collecting the money — and paid Bailey most of the money they would have earned by keeping the mortgage until it was completely paid off. This left Bailey with more money to write more mortgages. But Fannie and Freddie have rules about what they will and won’t buy. So Bailey changed some lending policies to make sure that Fannie and Freddie would buy their loans. There are properties that you almost can’t get a mortgage on because other banks did the same thing.
You already know the sad story of banks being left holding the bag in the foreclosure crisis they created. And maybe you even have seen how banks are driving down property values in your neighborhood by dumping properties at ludicrously low asking prices.
This also left Fannie and Freddie behind the 8-ball, and it may yet cost American taxpayers $1,000,000,000,000 to fix it. Why bother? Because banks have stopped counting on holding mortgages until they mature and count on selling the paper to investors like Fannie and Freddie. Without someone to buy the paper and give banks more money to lend, lending will dry up even more than it already has. And that means almost nobody buys property without cash. It may already be too late to save Fannie and Freddie; they are being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. It would be polite to say that’s a negative for the stocks.
But there is one ray of sunshine in the mortgage mess: the arrest of Lee Bentley Farkas of mortgage company Taylor, Bean & Whitaker. He and unnamed conspirators are accused of fraud in the TARP program, “misappropriating” $400,000,000, and causing the collapse of Colonial Bank by selling them $1,500,000,000 in bad mortgages. I agree that this prosecution is a good start.
In closing: Arizona still keen to repeal the 14th Amendment even as its schools wonder how to comply with state law; homelessness in America; China owns 13% of the publicly held national debt; some people said I was nuts when I suggested that some religious nuts favored the life of an embryo that couldn’t even become a baby over that of a fully grown woman; terrorist nitwits; and sometimes buttons are better than velcro.