Housing is on a tear lately.
And it's reaching many sectors of the U.S. economy and stock market. It’s driven up the earnings and share prices of homebuilders like Toll Brothers (TOL) and home improvement retailers like Home Depot (HD). The SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB), which tracks some of both types of companies, has rallied 53 percent in the past year.
Related: This Housing Recovery Has Legs
And many homeowners feel a little bit wealthier with home prices rising more than 10% in the past year, according to the S&P Case-Shiller national composite. In other signs of the housing rebound, sales of foreclosed homes tumbled 18% in the first quarter of the year and pending home sales just rose to their highest level in three years.
But what about the homeowners who were victims of the big banks’ mortgage abuses surrounding the financial crisis? Has the score been settled for them? There was that $25 billion settlement reached last year between five of these firms and 49 state attorneys general. The banks agreed to provide some relief to foreclosure abuse victims and also to comply with a set of servicing standards to atone for their misconduct. (The banks that signed on were Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and Ally Financial.)
Earlier this year came reports that victims are being shortchanged in the payouts. And now, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman claims to have proof that at least two of the banks, Bank of America (BAC) and Wells Fargo (WFC) have violated the terms of the settlement. In a letter obtained by Reuters, Schneiderman contends the two banks “are engaging in much of the same misconduct that precipitated” the settlement in the first place. He cited "inordinate delays" in reviewing loan modification applications, for example, and indicated other states have identified similar problems. The banks responded to Reuters saying that they are committed to the settlement.
Neil Barofsky, former Special Inspector General for the Treasury’s TARP bailouts and author of Bailout, thinks the situation is worse than Schneiderman portrays.
“Anecdotally I think all of [the banks] are violating the provisions of that agreement and it just goes back to incentives,” Barofsky tells The Daily Ticker in the accompanying video. The banks “engaged in all this bad conduct post-crisis because it was profitable…Now we have this settlement which is more or less a slap on the wrist. There’s no major stick of punishment for that bad behavior, and under the terms of this agreement…the institutions are actually allowed to have a certain number of abuses before the penalties kick in.”
Barofsky contends bad behavior among the financial institutions is going to continue because it’s profitable. In the video, he offers what he sees as the solution to the problem.
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