FDIC, Subprime Lender?

The most interesting tales coming out the current housing debacle are those being played out in courtrooms throughout the nation — and one involving Texas-based Beal Bank SSB and the Federal Desposit Insurance Corp. is one that is sure to capture the mortgage industry’s interest. A published report Monday took an in-depth look at the case, in which the FDIC took over Illinois-based Superior Bank FSB back in 2001, and then operated the bank for months as it searched for a buyer. During that time, the FDIC-controlled bank funded more than 6,700 subprime loans worth $550 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Beal Bank bought a whole bunch of those loans, which are defaulting at a very high rate — of the remaining loans, 1,489 are in default or nonperforming, according to an FDIC court filing obtained by the Journal. And not surprsingly, the execs at Beal are none too happy about it, not to mention borrowers who thought the government was stamping their loans as “approved.” To be fair, it’s not entirely clear how many of the defaults are due to more traditional means as opposed to those due to predatory lending or violations of consumer-protection laws. After all, the 2001 vintage has seen significant prepays by this point in time, and the Journal notes that 247 loans have already been repurchased by the FDIC and for those where predatory practices have occurred, it has instructed its servicing contractor to avoid foreclosure. With housing prices falling dramatically, it’s possible that a large number of the defaults could be due to simple economic weakness. In any other crisis, this might not matter as much; but with subprime lending now a full-blown national crisis, the fact that the FDIC may have helped it happen — even in some small part — is certainly newsworthy. After all, it underscores that back in 2001, federal regulators were not nearly as concerned about lending practices as they are now. It’s also a liability that could run as high as $70 million for the FDIC, according to the Journal. Fast-forward to the present: it’s worth noting that the same problem isn’t likely to take place during the FDIC’s receivership of failed IndyMac Bank, at least, as the government has halted all mortgage lending activity in the wake of the bank’s transition into federal hands. Related links: full WSJ story

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