Countrywide Financial Corporation and the Failure of Mortgage Socialism
Angelo Mozilo is the Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of the failed Countrywide Financial Corporation. Mr. Mozilo co-founded this company, nearly 40 years ago, in 1969. To be in business for almost forty years, and to become America's top private home-mortgage lender, are testimonies to genuine business acumen. However, success can breed arrogance, and a sense of supreme power, to the point where a corporate chieftain believes his personal will can override the free market and reshape society according to a grand vision - which, for Angelo Mozilo, entailed making America a better country by bringing home ownership within reach of all and sundry. For Countrywide Financial, unfortunately, Mr. Mozilo's dream of social engineering demanded that sound credit-underwriting principles be abandoned. And now, Countrywide Financial Corporation's failure stands as a monument as to how integrating egalitarianism and political correctness, into a business plan, is downright poisonous.
February 4, 2003 marks the day when Countrywide Financial's shareholders should have dumped every last share of their stock. For on this day Angelo Mozilo made a presentation, at The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, titled The American Dream of Homeownership: From Cliché to Mission. This is the day that Mr. Mozilo revealed to the world that political correctness had infected his mind. He openly declared that sound credit underwriting was tantamount to judgmentalism and, therefore, anti-egalitarian. How dare anyone judge anyone else - credit standards be damned. Subprime mortgages, accordingly, were going to be a blessing for America since everyone deserves a house. Oh how political correctness feels so good. He worshiped the mortgage socialism hatched in the New Deal along with every federal-housing program introduced in the succeeding decades. A true credit professional would have been horrified by this speech; which indubitably was met with approving applause by the pseudo-intellectual, limousine liberals populating Harvard University. February 4, 2003 is the day Countrywide Financial's Board of Directors should have fired Mr. Mozilo.
Over the years, Angelo Mozilo has been handsomely rewarded by Uncle Sam's mortgage socialism. Here's how it works. Countrywide Financial makes a conforming home loan, sells it to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (both are government sponsored enterprises), and has its coffers replenished in doing so; hence, allowing Countrywide to keep churning out loans. Countrywide, in turn, remains the mortgage servicer on each loan and earns a fee for doing so. These fees most certainly add up when you are servicing $1.5 trillion in home loans (not all of which are Fannie and Freddie loans). Needless to say, Countrywide had other sources of revenues but mortgage servicing was top-shelf when it came to profitability.
Thus, it is no wonder why Mr. Mozilo waxed fondly, in his Harvard speech, regarding America's foray into mortgage socialism. After all, it made him very wealthy. Here is an excerpt:
One can only imagine Mr. Mozilo's broad smile as he delivered these words. Between his compensation and stock sales, Angelo has made hundreds of millions of dollars. Socialism certainly can be beneficial for an elite few.
Do you remember President George W. Bush's initiatives to increase homeownership in the United States? His administration definitely played a role in creating America's housing bubble. When speaking about housing assistance, President Bush evoked the emotion of envy and declared that the U.S. had a "homeownership gap." Angelo Mozilo, being a kingpin of political correctness, couldn't resist playing the envy-card to an approving Harvard audience. He stated:
Credit underwriting has nothing to do with race, creed, skin color, gender, or religion. Sound credit underwriting has everything to do with the "Five Cs" of credit - i.e., character, capacity, capital, collateral, and conditions. Under pure capitalism, a credit underwriter is not concerned about making people happy by lending money regardless of a person's creditworthiness. An underwriter's primary objective is to make profitable loans and this demands nothing less than effectively assessing risk on a case-by-case basis. This, undeniably, requires underwriters to exercise learned judgment. Ah, but to say this in the cradle of political correctness (Harvard) would have been met with resounding "boos."
To be sure, Mr. Mozilo did not disappoint his fellow limousine liberals. He goes on the attack and smears credit underwriters as being judgmental - the antithesis of political correctness. Considering that Countrywide had become the largest private mortgage lender in the U.S., the following words depict a man who had taken leave of his senses:
What Angelo Mozilo desires to accomplish is to replace human underwriters with computers. He never mentions the Five Cs of credit because sound credit underwriting requires human judgment; which can be aided with, yet never replaced by, technology. In Mr. Mozilo's daffy world of credit progressivism, he may as well distill the mortgage application down to a one-page document containing a single question: Are you willing to make your mortgage payment? If the answer is "yes" then the loan is approved and if the answer is "no" then it is declined. Under such circumstances, a computer would work perfectly.
As I have asserted before, political correctness is an enfeebling infection of the mind. Mr. Mozilo's vision of politically-correct, and "enlightened," credit underwriting was nothing short of daffy. Yet, one can only imagine how approvingly this pabulum was met by his Harvard chums.
Angelo Mozilo had no intention of disappointing his fellow travelers. There was hope as to closing the homeownership gap. It was something called the subprime mortgage. In his bizarre mind, the more subprime mortgage originations there were, the better off America would be. To wit:
Had Mr. Mozilo delivered this speech today, he would have immediately been fitted into a straightjacket and then driven to the nearest loony bin.
Countrywide Financial and many other financial institutions ended up throwing all credit standards out the window in order to package and sell as many subprime mortgage-backed securities as possible. To be sure, many did not do so sharing Mozilo's politically-correct and egalitarian hallucination - they just wanted to make a fast buck.
An important distinction to convey here pertains to the fact that Countrywide and others were not selling all of their loans to Freddie and Fannie. The aforementioned mortgage-backed securities were purely packaged and sold under private labels. When America's housing bubble was expanding, buyers of such subprime securities obviously felt there was no downside. Such are the delusions that materialize when central bankers flood the world with the opiates of easy money and credit.
Regrettably, by completely ignoring underwriting fundamentals, Countrywide and its ilk have set up so many borrowers for failure (as have the king and queen of mortgage socialism, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae; both of whom, by the way, may be on the brink of their own financial meltdowns). The pain and anguish of losing a home, and having one's family displaced, will be visited upon countless families. Of course, such borrowers must look in the mirror when the urge, to pass around the blame, emerges. Nonetheless, Angelo Mozilo's dream has transmuted into a nightmare for millions.
My, oh my, aren't political correctness, egalitarianism, and social engineering wonderful? You be the judge.
Eric Englund has an MBA from Boise State University and lives in the state of Oregon. He is the publisher of The Hyperinflation Survival Guide by Dr. Gerald Swanson. You are invited to visit his website.