Ibanez and Securitization Fail

Adam Levitin’s analysis of the Ibanez case from Credit Slips.

The Ibanez foreclosure decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has gotten a lot of attention since it came down on Friday. The case is, not surprisingly being taken to heart by both bulls and bears. While I don’t think Ibanez is a death blow to the securitization industry, at the very least it should make investors question the party line that’s been coming out of the American Securitization Forum. At the very least it shows that the ASF’s claims in its White Paper and Congressional testimony are wrong on some points, as I’ve argued elsewhere, including on this blog. I would argue that at the very least, Ibanez shows that there is previously undisclosed material risk in all private-label MBS. …

You can’t believe everything you read. Some of the materials coming out of the financial services sector are simply wrong. Three examples:

(1) JPMorgan Chase put out an analyst report this morning claiming the Massachusetts has not adopted the UCC. This is sourced to calls with two law firms. I sure hope JPM didn’t pay for that advice and that it didn’t come from anyone I know. It’s flat out wrong. Massachusetts has adopted the uniform version of Revised Article 9 of the UCC and a non-uniform version of Revised Article 1 of the UCC, but it has adopted the relevant language in Revised Article 1. There’s not a material divergence in the UCC here.

(2) One of my favorite MBS analysts (whom I will not name), put out a report this morning that stated that Ibanez said assignments in blank are fine. Wrong. It said that they are not and never have been valid in Massachusetts:

“[In the banks’] reply briefs they conceded that the assignments in blank did not constitute a lawful assignment of the mortgages. Their concession is appropriate. We have long held that a conveyance of real property, such as a mortgage, that does not name the assignee conveys nothing and is void; we do not regard an assignment of land in blank as giving legal title in land to the bearer of the assignment.”

A similar line is coming out of ASF.  Courtesy of the American Banker:

Perplexingly, the American Securitization Forum issued a press release hailing the court’s ruling as upholding the validity of assignments in blank. A spokesman for the organization could not be reached to explain its interpretation.

ASF’s credibility seems to really be crumbling here. It’s one thing to disagree with the Massachusetts SJC.  It’s another thing to persist in blatant misstatements of black letter law.

(3) Wells and US Bank, the trustees in the Ibanez case, immediately put out statements that they had no liability. Really? I’m not so sure. Trustees certainly have very broad exculpation and very narrow duties. But an inability to produce deal documents strikes me as such a critical error that it might not be covered. Do they really want to litigate a case where the facts make them look like such buffoons? Do they really want daylight shed on the details of their operations? Indeed, absent an executed PSA, I don’t think the trustees have any proof of exculpation. They might be acting, unwittingly, as common law trustees and thus general fiduciaries. I think they’ll settle quickly and quietly with any investors who sue.

Finally, what are the ratings agencies going to do? It seems to me that any trust with Massachusetts loans that doesn’t have a publicly filed, executed PSA with a reviewable loan schedule should be on a downgrade watch. Very few publicly filed PSAs are executed and even fewer have publicly filed loan schedules.  That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but somewhere off-line, but if I ran a rating agency, I’d want trustees to show me that they’ve got those papers on at least a sample of deals. Of course should and would are quite different–the ratings agencies, like the regulators, are refusing to take the securitization fail issue as seriously as they should (and I understand that it is a complex legal issue), but I think they ignore it at their (and our) peril.