Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of CountryWide Financial was fined $67.5 million to settle charges of insider trading and civil fraud. Of this, $45 million or 66% will be paid by Bank of America, who acquired the toxic asset and must now indemnify the former head. As I mentioned back in early 2007, CountryWide insiders were dumping stock as fast as they while simultaneously publicly pumping it. Mozillo made about $134 million from insider trading and then another $100 million on the sale of the company to Bank of America. Having profited over $200 million, being fined a mere $22.5 million doesn’t seem like much of a punishment.
Of course, being a CEO of a major US financial institution seems to provide immunity against any wrongdoing. Now and then, the SEC will prosecute someone to make an example of them, but the most part you can get away with far more than the average white collar criminal.
Meanwhile, Bank of America’s stock has been whacked this year, down 20% year to date. If Bank of America really did buy Countrywide for the tax losses, this investment just got better!
Based on my own experiences of being allowed to borrow 40 times my annual income to purchase investment property, I knew the real estate party was going to end badly for many borrowers, banks and eventually tax-payers. I had tried shorting Countrywide, which was the largest lender of mortgages, last year when the stock was trading at around $36. Unfortunately, I was a little early and closing my position at $39 incurring a substantial loss. If I had held on to my position, with Countrywide currently trading in $6-$7 range, I would’ve have been handsomely rewarded.
Hopefully, I’ll have the fortitude to hold onto my positions next time. Right now I think the Commercial real estate is the next bubble to burst.
Easy liquidity and the willingness of investors to settle for low rates of return have squeezed the margins on commercial properties over the past few years. Commercial construction has been on tear and new malls have sprung up all over the place. There’s also been a contraction in commercial liquidity owing to the sub-prime fiasco. Added to that is the slow-down in consumer spending which will affect the bottom line of retailers and the amount their willing to spend on employees and rent.
I’m currently short Simon Properties (SPG), which gets 25% of its income from retail malls in California and Florida and the Dow Jones Real Estate Index (IYR). Lets see if I can hold on to these positions during the coming few months which will probably be quite volatile.
Bank of America (BAC) recently announced it would be buying Countrywide (CFC) for $4.1 Billion putting an end to rumors that CFC was considering bankrupcy.
Apart from gaining access to CFC’s technology, banking business and god-only knows what it has thats of any worth, Bank of America will also inherit it’s losses. According to tax guru Robert Willens, the tax break could total about $500 Billion dollars over the first five years and may even be worth considerably more from the sixth year, depending on how big Countrywide’s losses are when Bank of America formally acquires it.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. In 1988, Bank of America purchased the failed FirstRepublic Bank of Dallas in auction. Using a complex tax strategy allowed Bank of America to save $1 Billion in taxes.
Willens estimates that Bank of America will be able to deduct $270 million of Countrywide’s losses annually for the first five years it owns the firm, which would total $1.35 Billion! If Countrywide’s losses turn out to bigger, Bank of America gets to write off even more of its profits.
CFC’s CEO Mazillo will get a going-away present of $115 million, including company jet time and country club fees. Its not enough that he had been pumping the stock on CNBC for the past 18 months while simultaneously dumping $100 million worth of stock. He should be investigated by the SEC for painting a rosy picture of his company’s business when he must have known the stock was going to drop like a rock. If not illegal, it was definitely unethical.
On the other hand, Bank of America which currently owns 9.7% of US deposits will be breaking the law when it acquires CFC. Countrywide’s Bank has savings deposits which will push Bank of America over the federally regulated limit preventing individual banks from possessing more than 10% of all deposits. I guess they’ll just have to give the depositors some of their money back! It’ll be like a reverse bank-run.