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Home / Articles / News / Features /  The Thornburg Variations
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The Thornburg Variations

One company’s rise and fall echoed the national economy’s  

December 23, 2009, 12:00 am

Think you can do better than MBA-toting geniuses who ruined the economy? The US bankruptcy court in Maryland has an opportunity for you.

The “much coveted” mortgage servicing business of the company formerly known as Thornburg Mortgage must be sold immediately, according to bankruptcy court documents filed this month.

Going up for auction in January: approximately 29 “securitization trusts”—pools of mortgages sold as investments—worth a collective $11.05 billion.

At least, they were once believed to be worth that much. It depends on what can be collected from the borrowers who, like everyone else, may be broke.

The falling dominoes that brought down the global economy began with usurious “subprime” mortgages. Thornburg was supposed to be more discerning, focusing on wealthy home-buyers with good credit and offering “super-jumbo” prime mortgages, in the company’s once-enthusiastic vernacular.

The Thornburg campus on Ridgetop Road, which still houses Thornburg Investment Management, stands as a half-empty symbol of Santa Feans’ hopes in more prosperous times.

During the “drill baby” Bush era, Thornburg offered progress: a “green” building fit for the smart young financiers who would flock to Santa Fe to work there.

That was before the crash. Before the layoffs. Before the lawsuits. Before allegations of fraud. Before two former executives reportedly promised to return potentially incriminating documents they took from Thornburg headquarters shortly before their dismissal [click HERE for our extensive coverage throughout 2009].

In 2007, the city gave Thornburg a $45 million, tax-free bond to finance its campus. Under the deal, the company pays no property taxes for 30 years. In return, it was supposed to make lump sum payments to the city and charitable contributions to the schools. A city “FAQ” explained: “Thornburg currently donates $35,000 to Partners in Education for their non-profit school programs; and, they donate over $100,000 per year to all Santa Fe schools.”

Thornburg actually increased its contribution to PIE to $45,000 this year, PIE Executive Director Ruthanne Greeley tells SFR. But the money only benefits schools attended by the children of Thornburg employees.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendant Bobbie Gutierrez tells SFR she’s not sure where the $100,000 figure came from. In an email, she writes that Thornburg “committed to provide the district with consultation services about property development, affordable housing, etc…I attended one meeting with [Thornburg Chairman Garrett] Thornburg and his staff to discuss workforce housing…Shortly after that the real estate and development market started to crumble and that was the end of the meetings.”

The foreclosures didn’t stop at the subprime market. In the last quarter, “prime fixed-rate loans to borrowers with good credit accounted for nearly 33 percent of new foreclosures,” the Associated Press reported Nov. 19.

SFR found several Santa Fe homeowners threatened with foreclosure on their Thornburg loans. Two spoke on condition of anonymity.

One, a gallery owner with a $950,000 mortgage, has a four-bedroom Las Campanas property on the market for $2 million. He says he avoided foreclosure when Thornburg agreed to lower his interest rate.

That’s good news. Many big banks that received billions in federal bailouts were supposed to help borrowers, but have failed to do so.

Thornburg did not get a bailout. But some of the bankrupt company’s creditors, like JP Morgan and Wells Fargo, did. Struggling Thornburg borrowers who keep paying their home loans are in effect paying the bailed-out banks twice—the second time, through taxes. “I have not thought about it, to be honest,” another delinquent Thornburg borrower, himself in the real estate biz, tells SFR. “To me, it doesn’t make a difference. I’m just protecting my own financial well-being.”

That look-out-for-No. 1 attitude was, some argue, the root cause of this crisis. But at the time, it wasn’t called greed. It was called prosperity.

 

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