From the Wall Street Journal:
June 19, 2008; Page A14
Give Senator Christopher Dodd credit for nerve. On Tuesday, the very day he finally admitted knowing that Countrywide Financial regarded him as a “special” customer, the Connecticut Democrat also announced that he was bringing to the Senate floor a housing bailout sure to help lenders like Countrywide.
How much will Countrywide benefit from Mr. Dodd’s rescue? The Senator’s plan allows mortgage lenders to dump up to $300 billion of their worst loans on to taxpayers via a new Federal Housing Administration refinancing program, provided the lenders are willing to accept 87% of current market value. The program will be most attractive to lenders and investors holding subprime and slightly-less-risky Alt-A loans made during the height of the housing bubble in 2006 and 2007.
As the market leader during that period, Countrywide originated $167 billion of such loans, more than 11% of the nationwide total, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. Analyst Fred Cannon of Keefe, Bruyette and Woods estimates that the company is still holding more than $30 billion in subprime and Alt-A loans on its books, based on the company’s most recent quarterly financials.
What’s more, the company is holding $34 billion in home equity loans, which are even more risky than the mortgage loans, and typically result in 100% losses for the lender if a borrower defaults. The Dodd bailout will make it more likely that Countrywide gets some recovery from the worst of these loans because the mortgage holder will need to negotiate a settlement with the owner of the home equity loan before participating in the federal bailout.
If borrowers and lenders take full advantage of this new federal program, and Countrywide loans go south at roughly the same rate as those from other lenders, this suggests a potential taxpayer bailout of more than $25 billion for Countrywide-originated loans. Even if the losses turn out to be far less, why should taxpayers do anything to help a company that did so much to foment the mortgage mess?
Meanwhile, Mr. Dodd continues to insist that, though he knew he was a “special” Countrywide customer, he didn’t think he was getting any special financial benefit. But a $75,000 reduction in mortgage payments is no small matter for anyone living on a Senate salary of $169,300. Why else would he be known around Countrywide as a “Friend of Angelo” – Angelo being Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.
Yesterday, nine Senate Republicans led by South Carolina’s Jim DeMint sent a letter asking Majority Leader Harry Reid to delay consideration of Mr. Dodd’s housing bailout bill in light of its benefits for Countrywide – and Countrywide’s benefits for Mr. Dodd. That’s an excellent idea, in addition to a Congressional and Justice Department probe of Countrywide, Fannie Mae and the favors they seem to have spread around Washington. American taxpayers need to understand more about who they’re being asked to bail out here, and why.