Audit Notes: Ibanez Implications, The Daley Problem, Sbarro Sliced

The Ibanez verdict in Massachusetts Supreme Court is yet more confirmation that the foreclosure scandal will have serious repercussions for the banks.

Why is this case important? First read some background on the case from the FT’s Tracy Alloway.

Audit Peterson Fellow Felix Salmon called it a “bank-eating cancer” over at Reuters and sums up the reason this case matters: “it’s a solid precedent saying that if a bank doesn’t own a mortgage, then it can’t foreclose on a home.” Sounds like a reasonable rule, no?

CNBC’s John Carney, contra some securities analysts, also thinks it’s a big deal and shows why by running through a hypothetical example of how banks might try to go about redocumenting their purchases—and the difficulties they’ll run into when they do.

The Washington Post found an analyst who disagrees with his fellow analysts:

Banking analyst Richard Bove, who initially thought that the financial sector’s losses from the foreclosure uproar would be limited, said Friday that the court’s decision raises the stakes.

“We don’t know what might happen now. It might lead to bankruptcies,” he said. “In theory it’s trillions of dollars of mortgages that are affected.”

Ouch. Let’s see some more reporting on that.

— Simon Johnson has some excellent thoughts on the Bill Daley problem.

Top bankers, including Bill Daley, have pulled off a complete snow job - including since the crisis broke in fall 2008. They have put forward their special interests while claiming to represent the general interest. Business and other groups, of course, do this all the time. But the difference here is the scale of the too big to subsidy - measured in terms of its likely future impact on our citizenship and our fiscal solvency, this will be devastating.

How big is that TBTF subsidy?

Today’s most dangerous government sponsored enterprises are the largest six bank holding companies: JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. They are undoubtedly too big to fail - if they were on the brink of failure, they would be rescued by the government, in the sense that their creditors would be protected 100 percent. The market knows this and, as a result, these large institutions can borrow more cheaply than their smaller competitors. This lets them stay big and - amazingly - get bigger.

Why is the Daley appointment specifically so problematic?

Bill Daley now controls how information is presented to and decisions are made by the president. Daley’s former boss, Jamie Dimon, is the most dangerous banker in America - presumably he now gets even greater access to the Oval Office. Daley is on the record as opposing strong consumer protection for financial products; Elizabeth Warren faces an even steeper uphill battle. Important regulatory appointments, such as the succession to Sheila Bair at the FDIC, are less likely to go to sensible people. And in all our interactions with other countries, for example around the G20 but also on a bilateral basis, we will pursue the resolutely pro-big finance views of the second Clinton administration.

— I got a bit of a chuckle from this Wall Street Journal blog post about the financial woes of the abominable pizza chain Sbarro. The headline’s pretty good:

Sbarro: Great Moments in History

Of course the puns about “chewing through its debt load” and being “cheesed by its debt load” are here.

And Shira Ovide reminds us Sbarro’s place in comedic history:

In a season two episode of “The Office,” the hapless Michael Scott makes a trip to New York to meet the corporate honchos. Standing in Times Square, the beating heart of the tourist choked, five-shirts-for-$10 Manhattan, Michael refers to Sbarro as “my favorite New York pizza place.” (Note to out of towners: Yes, there are six Sbarro locations in Manhattan, but eat somewhere else. Please.)

How prescient? In 2009, Stephen Colbert pondered whether Sbarro deserved a bailout. The fake news host concluded no, because “the Parmesan cheese gets stuck in the shaker and won’t come out as fast as I like.” Instead, as a helpful cost cutting strategy, Colbert suggested a “Crust Lovers Pizza” to save on those pesky costs like cheese, sauce and toppings. We’ll see if Sbarro’s restructuring advisers at Kirkland & Ellis take this idea to heart.

Seriously. Never, ever eat at a Sbarro in New York. Just don’t.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,