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Opinion, commentary, and analysis on everything that makes the U.S. housing economy tick -- not to mention the ghosts in the machine, too. Written by HW's team of editors and reporters each business day.
Investments Servicing

In defense of Ocwen: Servicer’s track record deserves a second look

Even deep in the weeds there is a path

April 29, 2015

I took a second look at Ocwen Financial (OCN) on Monday and wondered whether the company was getting its house in order, and is poised for a comeback, perhaps sooner rather than later.

Ocwen has seen a barrel of bad ink, digitally speaking, in the past year and while Thursday’s release of its first-quarter numbers – the first quarter without founder and former Chairman William Erbey – may still show the hangover, it could be that (just to mix metaphors) the worst of the road is behind the nonbank servicer.

Too long; didn’t read? Ocwen may be down but there’s no reason to think they’re out. That's despite the $140 million payout announced today over a force-placed insurance lawsuit.

Ocwen is a convenient, and perhaps at times deserving, whipping boy of the regulators, but there are housing advocates and investment funds that see a positive side to the beleaguered company. When investors and housing advocates come together to praise a servicer, you got something going for you.

A white paper making the rounds from specialty RMBS manager LL Funds LP, makes a solid case in defense of Ocwen’s track record as a servicer, based on its treatment of mortgage holders.

Their paper came after the firm Gibbs and Bruns LLP sent a “Failure to Perform” notice on behalf of large institutional investors to trustees of Ocwen-serviced deals.

LL Funds, contrarily, says that such legal action is potentially harmful to bondholders and homeowners, if it results in a change in who services these RMBS deals. LL Funds notes that Ocwen is more likely to modify — rather than liquidate through the foreclosure process — a delinquent borrower; in some cases modifying multiple times.

This is further attested to by a broad coalition of housing advocates, who in a letter earlier this month to Treasury, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau singled out Ocwen for praise.

The groups said in the letter that they work with mortgage companies, mortgage servicers, and community leaders to help borrowers stay in their homes, and cited Ocwen by name as an industry leader in providing principal reductions and loan modifications.

LL Funds says that G&B is wrong on Ocwen.

G&B claims that, “Ocwen’s imprudent modification practices result in materially higher re-default and re-modification rates when fairly compared to modifications performed by other servicers.” As we will show, this comparison is anything but “fair.” There are two main weaknesses in the G&B analysis: first, it does not take into account that Ocwen services a larger percentage of Subprime borrowers when compared to other servicers, and subprime borrowers are the weakest tier of borrowers in the credit spectrum. These borrowers are expected to have higher re-default rates by virtue of their inferior credit. Second, and more importantly, Ocwen has been willing to give marginal borrowers a second and third chance, borrowers who have spottier payment histories and those who have been in the delinquency pipeline for much longer periods of time. Once we account for these factors, Ocwen’s performance is better than other servicers.

Finally, while these modifications clearly benefit the delinquent homeowner — the alternative is liquidation via foreclosure — the question remains whether this aggressive modification strategy is better for bondholders. Because the answer depends on an uncertain future, we projected forward total estimated losses on all Subprime loans currently serviced by Ocwen and modified between 2008 and 2014, taking into consideration the evolution of both a harsh and a favorable economic environment.

I’m not an analyst, but even an innumerate scribe can see there’s potential upside amidst all the rubble. Thursday afternoon should make for some fun financial spelunking.  

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