The Banks Win, Again

Finally, some well-deserved help for beleaguered monster banks is on its way.

Make that, well on its way.

Those poor big banks accidently and inadvertently got caught up making so many easy loans to deserving, hard-up borrowers, who wanted to buy overpriced dream homes, and a few million other folks who deserved two homes and McMansions to keep up with the Joneses (you know the Joneses... most of them were "friends of Angelo").

But now, at last, the banks are making profits again.

After suffering the indignity of insolvency and near collapse for all their hard work, the New Samaritans are still being haunted by their generosity, as regulators hound them into settlement submission, merely for doing God's work.

So, what's the good news?

The second quarter may be a good one for the three biggest servicer banks, namely Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), and - the little bank that could, run by that kid named Jamie - JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM).

What's strange is that these do-gooders are being helped by some of the same government folks who are still attacking them in public venues where voters hang their hats.

What's not strange is that tons of underwater homebuyers, who are drowning in debt on dwellings whose prices have fallen 30% to 40%, aren't blaming banks and are running to their rescue.

Okay, maybe they're not running, maybe it's more that they're being corralled, like sheep. But either way, they are helping banks fatten their profits pools (make that bonus pools) again.

They're repaying the banks' favor of giving them loans in the first place by coming (more like being forced) back to the banks to get refinanced on better terms.

But they're not doing it on their own. The banks have a partner helping to round up their old customers and corral them into the breeding profits barn.

That Partner is HARP 2.0

The original Home Affordable Refinance Program, which was launched in April 2009, failed miserably (because there was nothing in it for banks). But the powers that be (the banks... DUH) harped for a new HARP, and they got it last November.

The new program is known as HARP 2.0 (that's because it's twice as profitable for the big banks that sunk the economy and the world under Housing Bubblemania 1.0).

Okay, enough sarcasm; let me slice and dice this succinctly for you.

Under HARP 2.0, if a borrower's mortgage is guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, they're in like Flynn.

Of course, the loan had to be sold to Fannie or Freddie on or before May 31, 2009. Borrowers can't have missed any payments in the past six months and can't have missed more than one in the past 12 months. And their LTV (loan to value) has to be 80% or higher. (Sorry, no help for the deserving, saving, and paying crowd - you're on your own because you are stupid and don't get the "leverage" thing or the "too-big-to-fail" thing.)

Now, an underwater borrower can refinance their old mortgage no matter how high their loan-to-value (LTV) may be. Under the old HARP, the limit was 125%.

The idea is simple. If underwater homeowners can refinance and pay less (or get shorter loans to pay down their debt faster) then they're less likely to default, with all those ugly ramifications for everyone... especially the banks.

So, why's this a great deal for the big banks?

There's virtually no competition for them. Because under HARP 2.0, if a bank that sold a mortgage to F&F (the Fannie & Freddie Factory) refinances it (no mater what the LTV is now), they are not subject to the same old "putback" provisions they are dealing with now. The representations and warranties they used to have to make - which said they did their homework on these loans and if they default or there are other problems they will buy them back - have been waived this time around.

That means no other bank (not granted a waiver) is going to make a HARP loan, because they will be threatened indefinitely by potential putbacks.

Ain't going to happen.

Given the lack of competition, banks are, believe it or not, charging higher rates and fees than they otherwise would be able to in a "free" market. But, whatever.

The banks have other luxuries. For instance, F&F are paying them a premium to buy the newly minted loans in bulk. They don't need a new appraisal. And since they already have lent to the borrower (meaning they have "files" on them), they have less paperwork and lower costs.

And, wouldn't you know it, they have more profit potential because their captive "sheep" can be steered into buying title insurance and flood insurance, and any other insurance they need, from - guess who? That would be subsidiaries of the banks.

Talk about vertical integration. The banking business has become sexier than being horizontal!

The bottom line... the banks win, again.

Sometimes, a lot of the time, there's someone smarter than me who says something so much better than I could ever quip. In this case, it's Laurie Goodman, a senior managing director at Amherst Securities. Laurie is quoted in today's American Banker saying this on the subject: "It's clearly a gift to the largest banks." She calls the profits banks are making on Harp refinances "huge."

There you have it.

Related New and Articles:

About the Author

Shah Gilani boasts a financial pedigree unlike any other. He ran his first hedge fund in 1982 from his seat on the floor of the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. When options on the Standard & Poor's 100 began trading on March 11, 1983, Shah worked in "the pit" as a market maker.

The work he did laid the foundation for what would later become the VIX - to this day one of the most widely used indicators worldwide. After leaving Chicago to run the futures and options division of the British banking giant Lloyd's TSB, Shah moved up to Roosevelt & Cross Inc., an old-line New York boutique firm. There he originated and ran a packaged fixed-income trading desk, and established that company's "listed" and OTC trading desks.

Shah founded a second hedge fund in 1999, which he ran until 2003.

Shah's vast network of contacts includes the biggest players on Wall Street and in international finance. These contacts give him the real story - when others only get what the investment banks want them to see.

Today, as editor of Hyperdrive Portfolio, Shah presents his legion of subscribers with massive profit opportunities that result from paradigm shifts in the way we work, play, and live.

Shah is a frequent guest on CNBC, Forbes, and MarketWatch, and you can catch him every week on Fox Business's Varney & Co.

Read full bio