Who knows what to think about anything these days? It is hard to wrap one’s head around anything when so much is happening and none of it seems to be good. And so, when I learned that Stanford Kurland, the former president of Countrywide, had started a new mortgage company, my first reaction was, ohhhhhhhh boy, here we go again. I mean, there are a boat load of lawsuits underway against Countrywide, and some of them are accusing Kurland of being one of the main guys responsible for the irresponsible lending practices that dished out billions of dollars in risky home loans, which inevitably led to Countrywide’s demise, and left thousands of people risking foreclosure. But then I learned what his new company was doing, and my initial thoughts towards the man and his company changed.
The Private National Mortgage Acceptance Company, or simply PennyMac, buys up delinquent home mortgages that the government took over from failed banks for a fraction of what they are worth, and get a piece of what they can collect. As an example, PennyMac would buy a delinquent $500,000 mortgage for say, $180,000 (of course, in reality they are buying many mortgages at once). When they buy these mortgages for pennies on the dollar, they can afford to restructure the loan with the homeowners, slashing the interest rates, keeping the owners in their homes and making payments. And PennyMac gets to keep a share of the money coming in from these mortgage payments, which otherwise might not have been made. So this is not only helping homeowners, but it is helping the government get back some (as opposed to none) of the money from the bad mortgages they bought up.
According to Eric Lipton in an article for the New York Times, PennyMac struck a deal with the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), where “it paid $43.2 million for $560 million worth of mostly delinquent residential loans left over after the failure last year of the First National Bank of Nevada.” Lipton goes on to say that, “Under the initial terms of the FDIC deal, Penny Mac is entitled to keep 20 cents on every dollar it can collect, with the government receiving the rest. Eventually that will rise to 40 cents”. They’re doing to be doing real well. And some whom they have helped are doing well as a result also.
Lipton describes the Laverdes family had fallen three months behind on their mortgage after their furniture store began feeling the pressure of the economic crisis. They were “fearful that they might need to move their four children, three dogs and giant saltwater aquarium into a cramped apartmen, leaving behind their dream home. But a PennyMac representative instead offered to cut the interest rate on their $590,000 loan to 3 percent from 7.25 percent, cutting their monthly payments nearly in half.” Wow, go delinquent for a couple months and get rewarded with a 3% interest rate! Must be nice.
So perhaps our country needs more companies like PennyMac right now. Take some of the burden off government and banks and struggling homeowners, and turn a pretty profit while they do it. Is it too much to hope that companies like this can help stabilize the housing market? Probably, but like I said, I don’t know what to think at this point, so any beacon of light in this dismal economy and I’m going to cheer it on.
By Andrew Brentan