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  1. #1
    Senior Member AirborneSapper7's Avatar
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    Obama to Use Pension Funds of Ordinary Americans to Pay for Bank Mortgage Settlement

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Obama to Use Pension Funds of Ordinary Americans to Pay for Bank Mortgage “Settlement”

    Obama’s latest housing market chicanery should come as no surprise. As we discuss below, he will use the State of the Union address to announce a mortgage “settlement” by Federal regulators, and at least some state attorneys general. It’s yet another gambit designed to generate a campaign talking point while making the underlying problem worse.

    The president seems to labor under the misapprehension that crimes by members of the elite must be swept under the rug because prosecuting them would destablize the system. What he misses is that we are well past the point where coverups will work, and they may even blow up before the November elections. If nothing else, his settlement pact has a non-trivial Constitutional problem which the Republicans, if they are smart, will use to undermine the deal and discredit the Administration.

    To add insult to injury, Obama is apparently going to present his belated Christmas present to the banking industry as a boon to ordinary citizens. He refused to appoint a real middle class advocate, Elizabeth Warren, to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but he’s not above stealing her talking points.

    We and other commentators have discussed how the mortgage settlement negotiations nominally led by Iowa attorney general Tom Miller had descended into farce. Almost nothing the Miller camp said was believable. They were presented as “attorney general” discussions when the Administration was pulling the strings. They’ve described a deal as weeks away for over a year. They kept claiming that they had undertaken investigations when not a single subpoena was issued by the AGs still involved in the negotiations. They’ve argued from the get go that a pact will be good for homeowners when the deal reached by under-resourced Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto with a single servicer, Saxon, resulted in a payout that is 10 to 20 times what the Administration is calling a victory. And that assumes that the banks will live up to their side of the deal when past settlements of servicing abuses have shown that they don’t.

    The administration has finally woken up to the fact that the housing mess is almost certain to get worse before it gets better, and Obama must therefore be armed with better propaganda. The Miller-led talks have become a bit of an embarrassment and needed to be put out of their misery. So Team Obama and Federal banking regulators have agreed on terms and as we discussed last Friday, are upping the pressure on state attorneys general to fall into line. As reported by Shahien Nasiripour of the Financial Times:
    Banks and government negotiators have cleared a big hurdle in efforts to resolve allegations of widespread mortgage-related misdeeds, agreeing on terms for a settlement that are being circulated to the 50 US states for approval, state officials and a bank representative say.

    The proposed pact would potentially reduce mortgage balances and monthly payments by more than $25bn for distressed US homeowners…

    State prosecutors have already received a set of documents detailing new mortgage servicing standards that the banks and the government negotiators have agreed to. The states were also being sent documents detailing other main components of the deal, such as the liability release for the banks, the so-called “menu” of options describing the various forms of aid to be given to borrowers, as well as the precise language of the so-called “most favoured nation” clause, which spells out how participating states in the deal would be eligible to receive more advantageous terms should a holdout state strike a more favourable deal on its own with the five targeted banks.
    The story did not outline terms, but previous leaks have indicated that the bulk of the supposed settlement would come not in actual monies paid by the banks (the cash portion has been rumored at under $5 billion) but in credits given for mortgage modifications for principal modifications. There are numerous reasons why that stinks. The biggest is that servicers will be able to count modifying first mortgages that were securitized toward the total. Since one of the cardinal rules of finance is to use other people’s money rather than your own, this provision virtually guarantees that investor-owned mortgages will be the ones to be restructured. Why is this a bad idea? The banks are NOT required to write down the second mortgages that they have on their books. This reverses the contractual hierarchy that junior lienholders take losses before senior lenders. So this deal amounts to a transfer from pension funds and other fixed income investors to the banks, at the Administration’s instigation.

    Another reason the modification provision is poorly structured is that the banks are given a dollar target to hit. That means they will focus on modifying the biggest mortgages. So help will go to a comparatively small number of grossly overhoused borrowers, no doubt reinforcing the “profligate borrower” meme.
    But those criticisms assume two other things: that the program is actually implemented. The experience with past consent decrees in the mortgage space is that the servicers get a legal get out of jail free card, a release, and do not hold up their end of the deal. Similarly, we’ve seen bank executives swear in front of Congress in late 2010 that they had stopped robosigning, which turned out to be a brazen lie. So here, odds favor that servicers will pretty much do nothing except perhaps be given credit for mortgage modifications they would have made anyhow.

    There are two clever features of the deal, but neither look intended to benefit ordinary citizens. One is that the deal throws some funding at chronically cash stressed mortgage counselors. They are thus certain to voice approval of the pact. The other is (per the FT story) the deal’s “most favored nations clause” is designed to reduce the bargaining leverage of any AGs that go their own way. It means that any servicer will have the incentive to fight hard against giving any state a better deal because it will automagically trigger improved terms across the states that signed on to the Federal deal. But this may have interesting perverse effects, since banks that refuse to settle with breakaway AGs will ultimately have damages awarded by a court. That means longer and most costly fights by the states, but in most cases, ultimately bigger awards (frankly, the fact set is so bad that all the state AGs need to do is focus on fairly conservative legal theories to have good odds of scoring big wins).

    Dave Dayen seemed to think that the AG rebellion was likely to stay firm, given how few of the Democrats were going to Chicago on Monday for an arm-twisting meeting with HUD head Shaun Donovan and an unnamed emissary from the Department of Justice. I would not be so certain. With states so budget starved, I don’t see how anyone can justify sending a live body to Chicago when a phone briefing would work just as well. More important, the most favored nation clause is nasty, and may nudge some fence-sitters over the line.

    And I have also been told that Donovan was on the Hill late last week pressuring Congressmen to support the deal. Since this is a regulatory measure that does not require Congressional approval, this move is meant to deprive dissenting state AGs from any support in local media from sympathetic Congressmen. For instance, 31 California representatives wrote the Justice Department, the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency calling on them to “investigate possible violations of law or regulations by financial institutions in their handling of delinquent mortgages, mortgage modifications and foreclosures.” Clearly they could be expected to support California attorney general Kamala Harris’ withdrawal of the deal. Donovon is trying to get them and like minded solons speaking from the Obama script.

    But the Administration’s scheme may not be playing out according to script. Senator Sherrod Brown sent a letter last week to associate attorney general Thomas Perelli, Donovan, the CFPB’s Richard Cordray and Tom Miller criticizing the settlement pact. It could have been written by Naked Capitalism readers. Key section:

    Now while Republicans may relish the specter of Democrats infighting, the fact is no one is going to want to be seen to be undermining the leader of the party in an election year. So that will put a damper on how aggressive the opponents will be. And media outlets have been amplifying Obama’s efforts to take credit for gravity. For instance, the Administration is touting the fall in foreclosures as an indicator of success when their policies have ranged from do nothing to disasters like HAMP. The fall in foreclosures is actually a sign of failure, as banks are attenuating the process more and more, in some cases due to their inability to come up with necessary documentation, in others out of a desire to wring even more fees out of investors (when a borrower can’t pay, the bank’s fees come first out of the eventual sale of the house).

    Either a Gingrich nomination or Romney getting too dented during Republican primary fights increase the odds of what heretofore seemed impossible: an Obama win in November. So if the Republicans were smart, they’d take advantage of a serious weakness in this deal: that it violates the 5th Amendment takings clause. I am told by Bill Frey of Greenwich Financial that a servicer safe harbor provision in HAMP, which was supposed to shield servicers from investor lawsuits over mortgage modifications, was passed by both the House and Senate but was removed in reconciliation because that provision would have run afoul of the 5th Amendment. This settlement is intended to have servicers engage in even more aggressive mortgage modifications and would thus seem to have precisely the same Constitutional problem.

    As I urged last week, please call your state attorney general and tell them you think taking from your pension to enrich banks for abusing homeowners is a lousy idea and they should therefore refuse to sign on to the settlement. You can find their phone numbers here. Please call today if you haven’t already. Thanks!

    Obama to Use Pension Funds of Ordinary Americans to Pay for Bank Mortgage “Settlement” « naked capitalism
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  2. #2
    Senior Member AirborneSapper7's Avatar
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    Retiring Boomers Find 401(k) Plans Fall Short

    FEBRUARY 19, 2011

    Patti and Bob Webster had planned to retire in North Carolina but say they need to keep working.

    The 401(k) generation is beginning to retire, and it isn't a pretty sight.

    The retirement savings plans that many baby boomers thought would see them through old age are falling short in many cases.

    The median household headed by a person aged 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account has less than one-quarter of what is needed in that account to maintain its standard of living in retirement, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve and analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College for The Wall Street Journal. Even counting Social Security and any pensions or other savings, most 401(k) participants appear to have insufficient savings. Data from other sources also show big gaps between savings and what people need, and the financial crisis has made things worse.

    This analysis uses estimates of 401(k) balances from the end of 2010 and of salaries from 2009. It assumes people need 85% of their working income after they retire in order to maintain their standard of living, a common yardstick.

    Facing shortfalls, many people are postponing retirement, moving to cheaper housing, buying less-expensive food, cutting back on travel, taking bigger risks with their investments and making other sacrifices they never imagined.

    "Inevitably, we find that, for the average person, there is not enough there," says financial adviser Paul Merritt of NTrust Wealth Management in Virginia Beach, Va., who has found himself advising many retirement-age people with too little savings. "The discussion turns out to be: What kind of part-time work do you want to do after you retire?"

    He has clients contemplating part-time work into their 70s, he says.

    Tax-deferred 401(k) retirement accounts came into wide use in the 1980s, making baby boomers trying to retire now among the first to rely heavily on them.

    The problems are widespread, especially among middle-income earners. About 60% of households nearing retirement age have 401(k)-type accounts, according to government data, and those represent the majority of most people's savings. The situation is less dire for those in a higher income bracket, who tend to save more outside their 401(k) accounts and who have more margin for error if their retirement returns fall below the recommended 85% figure.

    William Hacker for the Wall Street Journal Steven Rutschmann says his six-figure 401 (k) balance was damaged by the financial crisis.

    Steven Rutschmann, 60 years old, manages the buildings and grounds at a Midwest research facility. His employer recently offered him a bonus if he retired early.
    Mr. Rutschmann's 401(k) is well into six figures. His wife has a 401(k) and expects a small pension from her nursing job. An outdoorsman, he dreams of spending time hunting, fishing and hiking.

    So he consulted a financial planner at Ernst & Young and learned that even with the bonus, his savings could run out before he turns 85. Now he expects to work for several more years.

    "I was disappointed," says Mr. Rutschmann, whose 401(k) balance was damaged by the financial crisis and who still has a large mortgage.

    In general, people facing problems today got too little advice, or bad advice. They didn't realize that a 6% annual contribution, with a 3% company match, might not be enough.

    Some started saving too late or suspended contributions when they or their spouses lost jobs. Others borrowed against 401(k) accounts for medical emergencies or ran up debts too close to their planned retirement dates.

    In the stock-market collapses of 2000-2002 and 2007-2009, many people were over-invested in stocks. Some bailed out after the market collapse, suffering on the way down and then missing the rebound.

    Initially envisioned as a way for management-level people to put aside extra retirement money, the 401(k) was embraced by big companies in the 1980s as a replacement for costly pension funds. Suddenly, they were able to transfer the burden of funding employees' retirement to the employees themselves. Employees had control over their savings, and were able carry them to new jobs.

    Jason Henry for The Wall Street Journal The Websters thought they had "the perfect plan" for retirement says Patti, pictured with her husband Bob.

    They were a gold mine for money-management firms. In 30 years, the 401(k) went from a small program to a multi-trillion-dollar industry supporting thousands of financial planners and money managers.

    But a 401(k) also requires steady, significant savings. And unlike corporate pension plans, which are guaranteed by the U.S. government, 401(k) plans have no such backstop.

    The government and employers aren't going to pay more for people's retirements. Unless people begin saving earlier and contributing more to their 401(k) plans, advisers say, they are destined to hit retirement age with too little money.

    Vanguard Group, one of the biggest providers of 401 (k) plans, has changed its advice on how much people should save. Vanguard long advised people to put 9% to 12% of their salaries—including the employer contribution—in their 401(k) plans. The current median amount that people contribute is 9%, counting the employer contribution, Vanguard says.

    Recently, Vanguard has begun urging people to contribute 12% to 15%, including the employer contribution, because of the stock market's weak returns and uncertainty about the future of Social Security and Medicare.

    Plans of younger people have been affected too. Of those 45 to 59 who had substantial retirement assets prior to the downturn, 40% planned to work longer, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research.

    Gloria Moss has been contributing to a 401(k) since 1985, when she went back to work after having children. Especially after divorcing, she wasn't able to contribute as much as she wished and when her children finished college, she focused on repaying college loans. She says she lost more than half her savings in the recent financial crisis, then shifted heavily to bonds and missed the stock rebound.

    "I thought I was doing the right thing, and found out otherwise," she says. When she consulted a financial adviser, "I got a report that said, 'You have a 5% chance of reaching your retirement goal'."

    In her early 60s, she is ready to retire, but if she does that now, "I will have $25,000 to $30,000 a year less than I anticipated having," she says.
    To retire at her current standard of living, she figures, she needs nearly twice the savings she has now.

    Dr. Moss, who has a Ph.D. in education, also made good decisions along the way. She saw trouble coming at the educational software company where she worked and found a new job a week after losing hers.

    Now she has sold the condominium she loved, near the Atlantic Ocean, and moved to a cheaper house. She cut back on vacations and meals out. She adores the theater but hasn't been to a play in at least a year.

    She works extra hours each week and contributes to her employer's version of a 401(k), but doesn't feel financially able to contribute the maximum amount.

    "I am going to probably have to work considerably longer than I anticipated," she says. "It is a nice job but I had not planned to be working well into my sixties," she says. "A lot of people are doing that. They need the money."

    It isn't possible to calculate precisely how many people are able to cover the recommended 85% of their pre-retirement income, but Federal Reserve data suggest that many people can't.

    Consider households headed by people aged 60 to 62, nearing retirement, with a 401(k)-type account at their jobs.

    Such households had a median income of $87,700 in 2009, according to data from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which derived this and other numbers by updating Fed survey data, at The Journal's request. The 85% needed for retirement would be $74,545 a year.

    Experts estimate Social Security will provide as much as 40% of pre-retirement income, or $35,080 a year for that median family. That leaves $39,465 needed from other sources. Most 401(k) accounts don't come close to making up that gap.

    The median 401(k) plan held $149,400, including plans from previous jobs, according to the Center for Retirement Research. To figure the annual income from that, analysts typically look at what the family would get from a fixed annuity.

    That $149,400 would generate just $9,073 a year for a couple, according to New York Life Insurance Co., the leading provider of such annuities— less than one-quarter of the $39,465 needed.

    Just 8% of households approaching retirement have the $636,673 or more in their 401(k)s that would be needed to generate $39,465 a year.

    Some families do have other income. Just under half expect pension income of a median $26,500 a year. Added to the $9,073 in 401(k) income, that still falls short. Some families have other savings, but Federal Reserve and other data suggest that those don't fill the gap for most people.

    These data don't even include people who are in the direst situations: Those who have lost their jobs, stopped contributing to 401(k) plans or shifted to jobs without 401(k) plans. The numbers also don't account for inflation, which would further eat into income from a 401(k).

    Some researchers question the Fed numbers because they are based on surveys rather than on records of actual contributions.

    Jack VanDerhei, head of research at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a group supported by 401(k) providers, estimates the median person actually has about $158,754, based on data from 401(k) providers. That is based on individuals in their 60s who have been at the same company for more than 30 years, a somewhat different group than that measured by the Fed data.

    Even that amount of 401(k) savings generates much less than what is needed.

    The difficulties have been worsened by the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Since the housing and financial markets began to collapse, about 39% of all Americans have been foreclosed upon, unemployed, underwater on a mortgage or behind more than two months on a mortgage, says Michael Hurd, director of the Rand Corporation's Center for the Study of Aging.

    In 2008, when he was 59, John Mastej figured he was on track to retire in his early 60s. He and his wife both were working, with 401(k) plans. Counting all their savings, they had close to $200,000. Mr. Mastej was putting 20% of his salary into his 401(k).

    The financial collapse cut their savings in half and left Mr. Mastej out of work for two years, with no 401(k) contributions. He had to dip into other savings and use up an inheritance to pay the mortgage. He found a new job in a specialty food store, but it paid much less than his old one in a plastics factory.
    Today, Mr. Mastej figures he has about $90,000 in savings left, including about $50,000 from the two 401(k)s, now mostly in a fixed annuity that isn't affected by the stock market. He and his wife have canceled their satellite television and drive 11-year-old cars to work.

    They buy some food at discounted prices through their church, but are proud they have remained current on their mortgage, home-equity loan, insurance and property taxes.

    "We don't go out to dinner. We don't do much entertaining," Mr. Mastej says. "I will probably end up having to work for another 10 years."

    Carol Dailey is continuing to work at age 71. Ms. Dailey spent 10 years as an executive assistant at America Online and had stock options she figures were once worth $1.7 million. The options' value collapsed with the company's stock.

    Now she relies on her 401(k), which took a hit in the 2008 market plunge. She has cut back spending for entertainment and organic food, and continues to work three days a week as an office manager for an Internet security company.

    "At AOL, we were buying $60 bottles of wine and not blinking. Now I drink box wine," she says.

    Eventually, she wants to retire completely. Then, to make ends meet, she plans to take bigger investment risks. Her financial adviser then will shift some of her savings out of an annuity and into high-yielding bonds and real-estate investment trusts, aiming to double the return on that money to 10% a year.

    Some people were done in by the twin collapses of the housing and stock markets.

    Patti and Bob Webster had accumulated a six-figure balance in their 401(k) accounts and were building a dream house in North Carolina in 2007. They planned to retire there in about a year. Then their builder went out of business and the stock collapse knocked 40% off their savings. They temporarily suspended 401(k) contributions.

    "We thought we had the perfect plan," says Patti Webster. "When the bottom fell out of the market, it kind of fell out of our perfect plan as well."

    Today in their mid-60s, they have completed the house but have worked two years longer than planned and expect to work two years more.

    "We are having to spend another two years in just trying to catch up with what the market did to us," Ms. Webster says.

    Write to E.S. Browning at

    Boomers Find 401(k) Plans Come Up Short -
    Last edited by AirborneSapper7; 01-26-2012 at 02:11 PM.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member HAPPY2BME's Avatar
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