Photo by darkpatator.
Jamie Dimon just doesn't get it. I suppose it's his job as CEO of JPMorganChase not to get the point about the need for reasonable mortgage modification to avoid unnecessarily wasteful foreclosures that are deepening (causing?) the current economic mess we're in. The Financial Times reported yesterday that Dimon strongly opposes--surprise, suprise--current bills in Congress that would allow bankruptcy judges to value claims secured by principal residences at the realistic, current value of the home, rather than the fanciful, contrived value on which the mortgage was based. This isn't the place for a drawn-out explanation of "mortgage strip-down," but suffice it to say that the current bills bring the treatment of principal residence mortgages into line with the treatment of other secured claims (it's actually more involved than this, but this is the takeaway point for non-specialists).
As a policy matter, thess bills essentially punish banks (and MBS securitization trustees and servicers) for unreasonably refusing requests for modifications of distressed mortgages (that in most cases help the banks/investors to avoid major losses in foreclosure). If the lending industry had responded to Congress and supported reasonable modifications before, these bills wouldn't be in the hopper. But these banker folks are now infamous for their unreasonableness (recall, these are the same rocket scientists who valued my home at a discount to actual recent sales prices for identical homes in my townhome association because the other places had been on the market too long!). Now, Dimon will have to lie in the bed that he and his like have made. One of these bills very likely will pass, probably the Durbin bill, behind which even Citigroup and other lenders have thrown their support.
Dimon invites us to feel sorry for the banks, whom this bill would put "at the mercy of the vagaries of the courts." This is ridiculous, as the bill does no such thing--the market value of the property defines the value of the bank's claim. There's no judge discretion or beating up on mortgagees going on here; it's simple market economics. And by the way, Dimon clearly has no problem with borrowers being at the mercy of the vagaries of the market . . . What goes around, comes around.
Dimon's main argument against this bill is the same old, tried-and-true argument that every economist/banker/fill-in-the-conservative-blank levels against any kind of consumer protection or market regulating legislation: it will make banks less willing to lend for fear that loans will be modified or destroyed in bankruptcy. For Heaven's sake, when will bankers stop making this utterly ludicrous argument. First, perhaps a bit less lending is exactly what the doctor ordered, at least less lending to the droves of people who should never have received loans on the terms that these banks and brokers foisted on them in the past several years (leading to our current predicament). Second, no amount of consumer protection has ever inhibited banks from lending, either here or in other countries, even after banks have made their "sky is falling" arguments before passage of legislation (see, e.g., the broad-ranging adoption of consumer bankruptcy in Europe over the past 20 years--lending certainly hasn't ground to a halt there!). Finally, the Durbin bill (as amended in the deal to secure Citigroup's support) applies only to mortgages already existing--not to prospective mortgages. This tired argument about "we will be hesitant to lend if you pass this law" is totally off the mark with respect to the Durbin bill.
My favorite comment: Dimon warns that passage of the bill will "lead to an increase in personal bankruptcies." Well, no @#$%, Sherlock! That's the whole point. We wouldn't need more bankruptcies if the bankers would act reasonably in dealing with the foreclosure crisis, but since they've amply demonstrated that they're incapable of dealing with it responsibly, Congress is stepping in. This is like criticizing the release of a new cancer drug for fear that it will lead to more doctor visits by sick people. Indeed!