Stanford Kurland, author of sub-prime crisis, returns
Kurland struck gold by getting America into the sub-prime mess: now he’s back to cash in again by buying back the toxic mortgages
Stanford L. Kurland was a name familiar to few outside the banking industry until he was nominated as 'Creep of the Week'. Now he stands to test the new media's powers to pillory people in the market place, not to mention the limits of tolerance of the beggared American consumer.
You could say he's brilliant. Anybody still holding a job on Wall Street probably does. But rarely has an obscure name aired in a news story set such a firestorm of rage. A week ago, a Google of his name came up with a few dry reports on the progress of the company of which he was President. Now it triggers an avalanche of blog-born outrage which has spread across the web.
This, in a nutshell, is Stanford Kurland's excellent adventure: as President of Countrywide Financial, until the meltdown of America's largest domestic mortgage lender, he invented and peddled the sub-prime mortgage; he bailed out in time to cash a personal $200 million-worth of shares; now he is buying back these same toxic mortgages for pennies on the dollar, and making millions all over again.
It’s like an arsonist buying the charred remains of a house and reselling it
Many argue that the match which lit the fuse for financial collapse was the 'teaser rate' mortgage. That's the one when you sell a part-time car mechanic a $500,000 mortgage against his $250,000 home with the spiel that by the time the starter interest of, say, 3.5 per cent balloons to eight, he'll be earning enough to meet the more-than-doubled payments, and the property will be worth $500K, easy. This idea was minted on Kurland's watch. It sold so many mortgages that Countrywide's 'portfolio' mushroomed from $62bn to $463bn in six years.
Kurland is now performing his new trick on taxpayers' money. It works like this: Washington bought the toxic assets left over from the bundling of all those 'predatory' mortgages; Kurland buys them back at their current, fractional value; and finally, he re-configures the loan to make it affordable, which he can do because the $500,000 owed is, to him, more like $50,000. If the punter still can't pay, Kurland gets the house.
Genius. The details from his biggest deal so far was reported by Eric Lipton in his scoop for the New York Times. Kurland paid the government's Federal Deposit Insurance Association $43.2m for $560m of defaulted mortgages left behind by the failed First National Bank of Nevada. If he can 'recover' even a minority of those mortgages, he earns millions.
"It is sort of like the arsonist who sets fire to the house," said Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Centre, "and then buys up the charred remains and resells it."
The Times' own columnist Gail Collins used a different simile: "It's like Jeffrey Dahmer (the cannibal homosexual serial killer) selling body parts to a clinic." But it was Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers International, who launched Kurland into the blogosphere with a column in the Huffington Post in which he named the mortgage maestro as 'Creep of the Week', a bit mild compared to arsonists and cannibal killers, but Americans might in moments of rage regard Kurland's crimes as even worse.
Kurland feels no guilt. He feels that he is now doing America a favour
Apart from being 56 and having ancestors who brought the family name over from Latvia, little is known of Kurland. He boasts of a charitable foundation run with his wife, Sheila, and operates out of southern California, enjoying a view of the Santa Monica mountains which is where the Times' Lipton found him, "leaning back comfortably in his leather boardroom chair, even as the financial markets in New York were plunging."
Kurland feels no guilt. "It is horrible what transpired in the industry," he says with a straight face, but it was not his fault. He also feels that he is now doing America a favour: his new company is cleverly named Private National Mortgage Acceptance Company, so that he can pitch it as PennyMac, which sounds like another Washington rescue operation.
Teams of telephone salesmen spend 15 hours a day contacting the greedy, the unfortunate and the remorseful in thrall to a mortgage Kurland has bought back, and make them an offer: if the householder will start paying again, PennyMac will slash the interest rate back to 'teaser' level, which it can easily afford to do because it paid so little for the cadavers of the original sub-primes.
This is going so well that Kurland, who now holds $800m in loans, plans to expand to $18bn within 18 months. Some homes have been saved, and in a way PennyMac can be pitched as a win-win business.
But the American dreamers, brought up for generations to admire the rich in the faith that they too might make millions, are baulking at the idea of letting the thief back into their homes on the grounds that he somehow might return a little of the family fortune. ·
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