Rep. Maxine Waters asks if BofA deal with Fannie and Freddie was 'backdoor bailout' [Updated]
Rep. Maxine Waters is questioning whether Bank of America's $2.8-billion settlement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this week was a little too sweet -- even "a backdoor bailout" by the government, as Waters (D-Los Angeles), a longtime member of the House Financial Services Committee, put it.
The settlement with Fannie and Freddie, the government-sponsored mortgage buyers that collapsed into federal conservatorship because they lost so much money, was announced Monday. The deal would put an end to most of Fannie's and Freddie's demands that BofA buy back mortgages they claimed were misrepresented when they bought them from Countrywide Financial Corp.
Although a Waters statement Tuesday said BofA had made the loans, they were Countrywide mortgages.
BofA became liable in 2008 when it bought Countrywide, the loss-riddled Calabasas-based lender that under the guidance of ever-aggressive Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo had been the nation's largest home lender. The Fannie and Freddie settlements didn't address BofA's exposure to buying back its own home loans.
Analysts said the settlement with Fannie and Freddie cost the bank less than Wall Street had feared, and Bank of America shares have risen more than 8% since the deal was announced early Monday. Waters said the pop in the stock price had caught her attention. From her statement:
I'm concerned that the settlement between Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Bank of America over misrepresentations in the mortgages BofA originated may amount to a backdoor bailout that props up the bank at the expense of taxpayers.
Given the strong repurchase rights built into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s contracts with banks, and the recent court setback for Bank of America in similar litigation with a private insurer, I'm fearful that this settlement may have been both premature and a giveaway.
The fact that Bank of America's stock surged after this deal was announced only serves to fuel my suspicion that this settlement was merely a slap on the wrist that sets a bad example for other negotiations in the future.
Asked for comment, a Fannie Mae representative noted that Chief Executive Michael J. Williams had called the settlement "a fair and responsible resolution of these outstanding claims." Freddie Mac said its chief executive, Charles E. Haldeman Jr., had described the deal as "in all parties' best interests."
[Updated at 10:50 a.m.: Bank of America issued a statement in response: "Our agreements with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are a necessary step toward the ultimate recovery of the housing market. We have taken a leadership role in responding to the housing crisis, and will continue to do so."]
Waters has had her own difficulties with allegations of improper dealings at the expense of taxpayers.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating whether she intervened improperly to obtain federal bank bailout funds for OneUnited Bank, an African American bank where her husband had been a director. OneUnited hasn't paid back the $12 million and has missed $1 million in dividend payments to the U.S. Treasury on the government aid.
Waters has said she wasn't acting on behalf of a single bank but was trying to help all minority-owned banks that, like OneUnited, suffered because of heavy investments in companies brought down by the financial crisis.
Those ill-fated companies: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. OneUnited, for example, lost more than $50 million on investments in Fannie and Freddie securities that were rendered worthless when the government took over the mortgage finance companies in 2008.
Waters spokesman Sean Bartlett said the congresswoman had nothing new to say on the Ethics Committee investigation.
-- E. Scott Reckard
[For the record, 9:27 a.m. Feb. 16: An earlier version of this post misspelled Waters spokesman Sean Bartlett's last name as Barrett.]
Photo: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Credit: Los Angeles Times