Remember all those financial tricks the money changers played during George W. Bush’s terms in office? Don’t look now, but they’re back.
As hard as it is to believe one could overlook the financial tricks and risky mortgage practices that contributed mightily to the nation’s economic meltdown roughly 10 years ago, many of the big investment houses and Wall Street opportunists are acting like nothing happened.
According to a report as far back as March 2017, USA Today business columnist Paul Davidson warned that riskier borrowers are making up a growing share of new mortgages, modestly pushing up delinquencies and raising concerns about an eventual spike in defaults that could slow or derail the housing recovery.
Davidson said the trend is particularly evident in home loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, which typically require down payments of just 3-5 percent. He added that those loans are increasingly being offered by non-bank lenders who have more lenient credit standards than banks.
In October, there was more evidence that the tactics that kindled the meltdown a decade ago were making a comeback. A similar kind of investment prevalent during the meltdown appears to be back in vogue, a report in the New York Times’ business section said. CLOs, short for collateralized loan obligations, are being sold to risky borrowers while lending standards are being dropped and regulators — once again — are looking the other way.
Top Federal Reserve policymakers began warning about CLOs, describing them as eerily resembling the “sliced and diced” securities that brought the American economy to its knees in ’07 and ’08, destroying the fortunes of millions of Americans and setting records in mortgage foreclosures.
Then in December, a New York Times piece by Paul Sullivan reported that housing lenders, squeezed by rising interest rates and fewer houses on the market, are starting to push loans on borrowers, who are using them to get into more expensive homes that they otherwise might not be able to afford.
One popular loan, Sullivan wrote, is the interest-only adjustable rate mortgage, with which a borrower pays only the interest for a period of time before the rate resets and principal becomes part of the payment. This may be just fine for a wealthy borrower, but the not-so-wealthy aren’t as lucky. They can qualify for the adjustable rate mortgage now, but when the loan resets with a new interest rate and higher payments for principal, many of them will struggle to stay above water.
The mortgage lenders respond that there’s nothing to worry about.
For instance, Quicken Loans, one of the largest FHA lenders, claims that all the concerns are overwrought. The financial landscape is much different than the mid-2000s when subprime mortgages were approved without verification of buyers’ income or assets. There are much stricter rules now on how mortgages can be bundled and sold — and everything and everyone are safe.
Let’s remember, though, that we’ve been sold that song and dance before many times before.
There have been several financial meltdowns in America’s economic history. They all seem to occur during halcyon days of a booming economy when visions of easy wealth turn business sense into greed. The late 1800s saw their share of busts over grain prices and railroad monopolies, poorly regulated banks and insurance companies. Not too long after, with the stock market setting records and making overnight millionaires, the Great Depression made millions destitute and destroyed countless lives.
Then came the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, the tech bust of 2000 and the cruel Great Recession a half-decade later.
In their wake, almost all were met with cries for better regulation and more oversight. That did happen — for a few years — and then big money succeeded in easing those restrictions. Even now, just 10 years after the Great Recession, politicians in bed with their wealthy campaign donors are pushing to weaken the Dodd-Frank safeguards enacted to address the recklessness on Wall Street.
What’s so commonplace in all the bubble-bursting is the ones most responsible seldom suffer. While the money changers get bailouts and fines that amount to wrist slaps, the common folk lose their homes, their jobs and their dignity.
So keep an eye on those reports we’re already seeing. Greed always manages to get its way.