Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Title, Standing at Heart of Foreclosure Disaster; Stocks Don't Care, Rally

Finally, the truth about affidavits which are at the heart of the "robo-signing" scandal comes to light, courtesy of a must-read, NY Times front page story by Gretchen Morgenson.

The key passage:
"The byzantine mortgage securitization process that helped inflate the housing bubble allowed home loans to change hands so many times before they were eventually pooled and sold to investors that it is now extremely difficult to track exactly which lenders have claims to a home.

Many lenders or loan servicers that begin the foreclosure process after a borrower defaults do not produce documentation proving that they have the legal right to foreclosure, known as standing.

As a substitute, the banks usually present affidavits attesting to ownership of the note signed by an employee of a legal services firm acting as an agent for the lender or loan servicer."

Now we know that what mid-level employees at GMAC (now Ally Bank), JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America were signing off on were attestations of mortgage assignments between banks and securitization trusts, i.e., the supposed note-holding investors. The sad truth is that the original notes have been lost, misplaced, trashed or somehow dispossessed, and the servicing banks - which have no standing to foreclose - have been scrambling for alternatives. In light of the fraudulent manner in which the banks have been handling real estate business for the past five to ten years, it's entirely possible that even the information in the robo-signed affidavits is faulty, incorrect or woven entirely from unwholesome cloth.

This issue has not escaped the notice of some quick-draw attorneys in Kentucky, who have filed a class-action RICO lawsuit on behalf of all Kentucky homeowners in foreclosure, against Citigroup, Ally Bank and MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration System), claiming that through MERS the banks are foreclosing on homes even when they don’t hold titles to the properties.

Lender Processing Services (LPS), one of the foreclosure mills at the heart of the controversy and unfolding legal drama, traded as high as 44 within the last year, but has been in decline lately. Over just the past three trading sessions, the company's stock - which went public just two years ago - has fallen from a high of 33.50 on Friday to a low of 25.50 today. Company executives were busy explaining discrepancies in signatures on various foreclosure documents.

The issue was discussed in a heated segment on CNBC's "The Kudlow Report" Monday night, with host Larry Kudlow calling the situation "chaos." Note Kudlow's shocked and animated appearance during the segment below. Obviously, he's aware of the potential long-term ramifications of these developments.

At issue is nothing less than the credibility of the banks and the legal system. In Florida, where foreclosure cases are being heard in courtroom hallways and by retired judges due to the overwhelming volume of cases, the "rocket docket" has given the banks the benefit of the doubt when the reality may be that many servicing banks didn't actually have standing to foreclose and may have used forged, fraudulent documents to take homes from unsuspecting owners.

None of this was worthwhile news on Wall Street, however, as investors took advantage of a weak US dollar and hints of more QE by the Federal Reserve to boost stocks in a day-long rally.

Dow 10,944.72, +193.45 (1.80%)
NASDAQ 2,399.83, +55.31 (2.36%)
S&P 500 1,160.75, +23.72 (2.09%)
NYSE Composite 7,434.18, +161.65 (2.22%)

Advancers buried decliners on the day, 4682-1078. New highs towered over new lows, 550-32. For a change, volume was actually quite robust.

NASDAQ Volume 2,234,181,500
NYSE Volume 4,932,642,500

Commodities made enormous moves on the back of the declining dollar. Crude oil for November delivery soared $1.35, to $82.82 on the NYMEX. Gold advanced $23.50, to $1,340.30 another all-time high, while silver rose an astonishing 70 cents, to $22.74, a 3.18% move.

The moves in the stock market may be fleeting however, as investors brace for the release of key jobs data. At 8:15 am Wednesday the ADP Employment Change will hit the wires. Expectations are for a feeble number of just 20,000 private sector jobs created in September.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on non-farm payrolls for the prior month with expectations for a loss of 18,000 jobs overall and an unemployment rate of 9.7%. The figures are distressing to most people but seem to have little effect on Wall Street as continued high unemployment simply doesn't seem to be a metric most traders wish to look at with any kind of fundamental analysis.

With earnings beginning to take center stage, employment data may be simply overlooked, something investors will do at their own peril. With the true unemployment rate hovering around 18-20%, one has to wonder how long Wall Street can remain in denial as the underlying US economy continues to deteriorate.

As we've learned from the dotcom explosion, the subprime disaster and the general market malaise of 2008, denial can be an ongoing condition until well after the crisis has become severe. As elections loom ever closer, stocks seem to be in a highly volatile state, with valuations not reflective of economic realities.

Today, stocks seem like no-lose investments. The key question is how long will they remain floating on a bubble of cheap or free money when the underlying debt conditions appear to be creaking and groaning for relief.

No comments: