If Goldman Sachs ends up paying a billion dollars as punishment for misleading investors in the Abacus deal, what should Washington pay for misleading the American people?

Given the utter failure of the Obama administration’s $75 billion mortgage modification program (a.k.a. the HAMP), it’s worth a thought.

After all, here was a plan that lots of folks at the White House and the Treasury must have known wouldn’t work as advertised. But they went ahead anyhow – and now that it’s not working, who ends up paying?

You know the answer to that one.

Now, I’ve got no hard proof that anyone at the White House ‘knew’ the mortgage modification plan would fail.

But consider this – on its launch date, February 18, 2009, it was pretty obvious to me – and my brain functions at a significantly lower speed than either Larry Summers’ or Tim Geithner’s. Please read my column ‘Why Obama’s Homeowner Rescue is Bound to Fail’ from that day.

No doubt, defining a program’s success or failure can be a fuzzy affair. So let’s look at some hard numbers taken from the government’s April HAMP report.

To start, the HAMP is nothing more than a giant taxpayer-funded foreclosure prevention scheme. It works by doling out government subsidies (up to $10,000 a mortgage) to both lenders and borrowers to ‘modify’ or reduce a mortgage.

Today, the U.S. has more than 6 million homeowners at risk of foreclosure. And with the HAMP, the White House pledged it could keep 3 to 4 million of them – the ‘responsible homeowners’ – in their homes.

What’s a responsible homeowner, you ask? It’s just a PR phrase invented by the White House to stick single-family mortgage deadbeats into the HAMP and leave out the speculators.

But here we are, well over a year into the HAMP and there are only 295,000 responsible homeowners with ‘permanent’ modifications. It’s less than 10% of the much-hyped 3 to 4 million figure.

And that shortfall matters. After all, scale is everything with the HAMP. It makes little difference if you save one house in the neighborhood from foreclosure. But save a dozen and you’ve saved the neighborhood.

With the HAMP, you can forget about the neighborhood. Keep that 3 to 4 million figure in mind and consider that so far there have been only 1.2 million borrowers who have even signed up for a ‘trial’ or test modification.

And the number of those signing up is barely growing, just 37,000 last month. In the final reckoning, HAMP will be lucky to get 1.5 million trials and 500,000 permanent modifications.

And we’ll be even luckier if a good chunk of those 500,000 don’t actually re-default. The ‘permanents’ are currently paying 64.3% of all their income in various mortgage, credit card, car-lease and alimony payments. They’re shaky credits at best.

So HAMP’s a failure. But it’s worse than that – it’s a predictable failure. There were never 3 to 4 million ‘responsible homeowners’ facing foreclosure. How can someone be ‘responsible’ while putting down less than 5% on his house or taking out a ‘no doc liar loan’?

It’s hard to figure how all the White House PhDs missed this and got their numbers so wrong. Unless of course, they didn’t miss it – but simply judged the HAMP to be politically expedient policy. Not that anyone in Washington ever fesses up to doing that kind of thing.

In the meantime, the Treasury and HUD still rate HAMP a great success. ‘As the number of homeowners receiving permanent modifications continues to increase, the Administration’s comprehensive efforts are making an impact in the housing market’s overall recovery,’ said David Stevens, FHA Commissioner and HUD Assistant Secretary for Housing, in Monday’s press release.

That’s Washington-speak for ‘we’re praying housing prices don’t collapse again.’

It will be amusing to see how President Obama defends the HAMP come the November mid-term elections.

Here are the arguments we can expect: ‘We had to slow the collapse of house prices.’ ‘We had to do anything we could to stop foreclosures.’ ‘We’ve ended up helping hundreds of thousands of responsible American homeowners.’

But forgive me for sharing my own private daydream. I see a Senate Investigations Subcommittee hearing. I see Larry Summers giving testimony. And I see Carl Levin screaming at him – ‘So this is your email, Mr. Summers…What did you mean HAMP is a sh**ty program?’

Evan Newmark

美国廉价房计划是高盛“欺诈门”翻版?

如果高盛集团(Goldman Sachs) 最终以支付10亿美元罚金作为在Abacus交易中误导投资者的惩罚,那美国政府应为误导美国人民付出何种代价?

鉴于奥巴马(Obama)政府金额高达750亿美元的住房抵押贷款修正方案(也称为HAMP方案)以彻底失败告终,这个问题值得考虑。

毕竟,白宫及财政部的众多人士一定早就清楚这个方案并不会像宣传的那么奏效。但他们却继续做下去了,而现在,方案没发挥效力,谁来为此买单?

这个答案你清楚。

现在,我尚无确实证据表明,白宫内有人“原本清楚”这个抵押贷款修正方案会失败。

但想想这个吧,在该方案发布之日,也就是2009年2月18日,这一点对我而言即显而易见。而我的大脑运转速度远低于白宫首席经济顾问萨默斯(Larry Summers)或者财政部长盖特纳(Timothy Geithner)。请读一读那天之后我的专栏文章《为何奥巴马的房主拯救方案注定要失败》?(Why Obama’s Homeowner Rescue is Bound to Fail)。

无疑,界定一个方案的成功与否有些模糊不清。因此,让我们看看4月份的政府HAMP方案报告中的一些确切数据吧。

首先,HAMP方案不过是个以纳税人的钱资助的大型止赎预防方案。该方案以向借贷双方发放每笔抵押最高达1万美元的政府补贴来修正或降低抵押贷款。

如今,美国有超过600万房屋所有人面临止赎风险。而白宫人士保证以HAMP方案的救助方式,使300至400万“负责任的屋主”保有他们的房屋。

你会问,何为负责任的屋主?这只是白宫发明的一个公关术语,以便将有抵押债不还的单一家庭列入HAMP方案中,而把投机者排除在外。

但在HAMP方案实施一年多后的现在,仅有29.5万负责任的屋主享有“永久”抵押修正补贴,还不到大肆宣传的300至400万屋主的10%。

而说明问题的正是这个差额。毕竟,HAMP方案最重要的就是其涉及面宏大。如果仅是使社区内的一所房屋免于止赎,就没什么不同。而若能拯救十多所房屋,则意味着拯救了整个社区。

而有了HAMP方案,就不要提社区的概念了。记住数据是300至400万,再想想迄今只有120万借款人报名试用这个修正案。

而且,这个报名参与的数字几乎不见增加,上月仅为3.7万。最终估算一下,幸运的话,HAMP方案的试用者将有150万,获得永久修正补贴的为50万。

而这50万中的大部分不会实际再度违约话,我们就更幸运了。获得永久修正者目前将其全部收入的64.3%用于各种抵押债、信用卡、汽车租赁及赡养费支付。还能指望他们还债已是最好的设想了。

所以说HAMP方案失败了。但更糟的是,这个失败是可以预知的。从未有300至400万“负责任的屋主”面临止赎。房贷首付低于5%或者做了无文件谎言贷款(no doc liar loan)者怎么会是“负责任”的人呢?

难以搞清为何白宫的博士们都没考虑到这一点,数据错得那么离谱。当然除非他们并非没考虑到这点,而只是将HAMP当作政治上的权宜之计。华盛顿的政客对他们的真正想法讳莫如深。

同时,美国财政部及美国住房和城市建设部(HUD)仍将HAMP视为一个大成功。在周一发布的新闻稿中,联邦住房管理局(FHA Commissioner)局长及住房和城市建设部助理房屋局局长史蒂文斯(David Stevens)说,接受永久房贷修正补助者持续增加,政府的综合措施正在对房市的全面恢复产生影响。

这是华盛顿意为“我们正在祈祷房价不要再次崩溃”之言。

看看总统奥巴马在11月份的中期选举中如何为HAMP做辩护将是件很有趣的事儿。

预计我们会听到诸如此类的辩护:我们不得不放缓房价崩溃的速度;我们必须采取一切措施制止止赎的发生;我们已为数十万负责任的美国屋主提供了帮助。

但原谅我要分享一下自己的白日梦。在梦中,我看到参议院调查委员会正在举行听证会。萨默斯正在作证。委员会主席莱文(Carl Levin)朝着他尖声大叫说:“这是你的邮件,萨默斯先生……你说HAMP是个狗屎?这是什么意思?”

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