"The audacity of that prick…This guy thinks he’s got a big dick. He’s got nothing, except maybe a boyfriend…Who the fuck asked you? You’re not an elected officer. You’re a clerk." —Former Bear Stearns CEO Jimmy Cayne, speaking of US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in William Cohan’s book House of Cards
In 2008, as head of the New York Fed, Timothy Geithner led the first
of the big bank bailouts: the dissection and sale of Bear Stearns to
JPMorgan Chase. It was only on March 31, 2010—nearly a year after
JPMorgan repaid a $25 billion government loan—that the Fed finally
released the details of the Bear “legacy” assets it still owns.
The Bear sale was managed through a Fed-controlled company called Maiden Lane. In its March 31 press release announcing the sale, the Fed said it “recognizes the importance of transparency to its financial stability efforts.” Transparency, however, is not clarity: The list of Maiden Lane holdings is indecipherable to laymen. That $1 billion Thornburg Mortgage security, for instance, is described only as “TMST_06-1 AX,” plus an ID code.
That code reveals which product sold by the now-bankrupt Santa Fe mortgage company wound up held by the Fed: Thornburg Mortgage Securities Trust 2006-1, a complex bundle of loans from assorted companies that was co-managed by Bear and Lehman Brothers, another defunct investment bank. The lengthy prospectus for the Thornburg security, filed Jan. 20, 2006 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, shows it was “expected” to be rated as an “Aaa/AAA” investment. The security consisted of 3,144 loans, mostly for home purchases of between $400,000 and $600,000. (Only 25 went to New Mexico homebuyers.)
The prospectus, which is available to anyone who wants to slog through it, reveals that only half of the loans packaged in the supposedly AAA security were made to borrowers who provided “full documentation” of their income and assets.
The other half included hundreds of millions of dollars in “stated documentation” and other shaky loans.
Thornburg always claimed it only lent to wealthy “prime” borrowers. Evidently, it wasn’t so particular about re-selling other lenders’ crappy loans to investors. The security prospectus shows that approximately 1 in 5 loans were originated and serviced by Countrywide, whose brand name became a synonym for predatory lending.