BofA Said to Weigh Foreclosure Pact That Allows New York Probe
Bank of America Corp. (BAC) may settle a state and federal probe of foreclosure practices in a deal that lets New York proceed with an inquiry into securitizations, according to two people with direct knowledge of the talks.
The firm may pursue an accord with most of the 50 state attorneys general, even if it omits New York’s Eric Schneiderman and at least two other states who are opposed because a deal would impede related inquiries, said one of the people. Negotiations on a broad settlement stalled after Schneiderman indicated he wouldn’t let it block his probe into the bundling and sale of mortgages, said the people, who declined to be identified because talks are private.
Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan, seeking to reverse a 44 percent stock slide this year, has booked about $30 billion in settlements and writedowns to clean up mortgage liabilities at the biggest U.S. bank since the start of 2010. One of the largest legal matters still pending is the multi- state probe into whether firms servicing mortgages used bogus documents to justify foreclosures.
“They need to resolve this because it’s looming out there as an unknown liability,” said Brian Chappelle, a partner at mortgage-finance consultancy Potomac Partners LLC in Washington and former executive at the Mortgage Bankers Association. “It’s harming the housing recovery because the large institutions are reluctant to originate new loans because of the uncertainty.”
Bank of America executives, concerned that a delay in resolving the case is hurting the firm’s stock, are open to a deal that would resolve most of it, even if some mortgage investigations continue, said one of the people. The bank has been pushing for liability releases for loan activities besides servicing, such as securitization and lending.
Attorneys general from Delaware, Massachusetts and Nevada have also voiced concern that a proposed settlement would protect banks from mortgage investigations that aren’t yet finished. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, whose office sued Bank of America and is conducting civil and criminal foreclosure probes, said in an interview this week that she will be “very cautious” about agreeing to a settlement that hinders those inquiries.
Danny Kanner, a spokesman for Schneiderman, and Melissa Karpinsky, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, declined comment on Bank of America’s settlement talks. Edie Cartwright, a spokeswoman for Masto, didn’t comment. Jason Miller, a spokesman for Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, didn’t respond to an e-mail.
Negotiations with regulators and the five largest mortgage servicers including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. have bogged down over details of the proposed deal, which may cost the firms a total of more than $20 billion, people with knowledge of the talks have said. At least one of the banks objected to the size of its share of the settlement, arguing that its practices were better than others.
The holdup has spurred Bank of America to pursue talks with some states separately from the larger group, two people with knowledge of the matter said earlier this month. A settlement is probably still at least weeks from being completed, one person said.
The bank’s preference is still for a “global settlement,” said Dan Frahm, a spokesman for the Charlotte, North Carolina- based lender, who declined to comment further.
Moynihan, 51, met with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo in Washington last week to press for a resolution to the foreclosure talks, said the people. Moynihan had argued that delays were interfering with a housing market’s recovery.
Officials are seeking a deal that sets standards for how the banks service loans, interact with borrowers and conduct foreclosures, according to terms proposed in March. They are also seeking payments including fines.
“Attorney General Schneiderman remains concerned by any settlement agreement that would preclude state attorneys general from conducting comprehensive investigations of the mortgage crisis,” his spokesman, Kanner, said last month in an e-mailed statement.
Bank of America shares have been dogged by concerns that mortgage expenses and a stagnating U.S. economy will crimp profit and force it to bolster capital by selling new shares. Moynihan has repeatedly said this year that the firm won’t need to issue common stock. The company plunged 20 percent on Aug. 8 after a ratings downgrade of U.S. debt sparked concern that the economy may stall into recession.
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