The ICBA's CEO, Cam Fine, isn't happy about the most recent Bank Fail Friday Bloodbath. He calls it a sad day for main street. He also discloses a portion of an email he received from someone with inside knowledge of the way the FDIC takeover team treated the employees of the Bank of Eastern Shore, the only one of the five "too-small-to-save" community banks for which the FDIC did not find a buyer. Cam thinks that the email "speaks volumes about the kind of unequal justice under law and lack of respect that ICBA speaks out against when comparing the treatment of Main Street institutions and their management and staffs with Wall Street, too-big-to-fail institutions and their managements and staffs." I'll let readers draw their own conclusions on that point.
I wish I could share Cam's sense of outrage. After 37 years of witnessing the truth of P.J. O'Rourke's maxim that "giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys," I'd be shocked if bureaucrats didn't act like what many (but not all) of them are: the folks the jocks in high school stuffed in their lockers and the cool crowd wouldn't talk to, finally getting their payback by using the power of a governmental position to treat others the way they'd been treated during their Wonder Years. Frankly, the only sane inmates seem to be those that escape the asylum. Many of those who become "careerists" support the astuteness of one of Dennis Prager's observations:
The larger the state, the more callous it becomes... the colder its heart. It is also true that the bigger the corporation, the more callous its heart. But unlike the state, corporations have competition and have no police powers.
On the other hand, Prager's assertion regarding corporations always being subject to competition is becoming uncomfortably questionable with respect to the big banks that the Occupy movements love to vilify. In today's Housing Wire, Christopher Whalen criticizes the Obama administration's proposed Homeowner Bill of Rights, and in the course of his critique, has some sobering words about what has become of "competition" among banks, at least with respect to the residential mortgage lending business.
The mortgage industry is comprised of a cartel of the four largest banks, which happen to be the largest loan servicers, as well as the owners of most second liens. Federal bank regulations reinforce the cartel structure of the secondary market for loans by allowing large banks to treat servicer and tax balances as core deposits.
This expanded balance sheet enables the large banks to hold equally big portfolios of mortgage servicing rights and also gives the top four banks — JPMorganChase, Bank America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — a competitive advantage in dealing with the various federal housing agencies in the creation of mortgage-backed securities.
Thus, when a small bank wants to sell a loan into a securitization with a wrap from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, it typically sells the loan for as much as half the origination spread or more to one of the large banks.
The big bank then structures the RMBS that issues bonds to investors and retains the mortgage servicing rights. The large banks control the entire process, yet the Homeowner Bill of Rights does nothing to change this situation. Now you know why large banks seem to be more profitable than smaller banks.
Big government is callous, but so is big business. I think we've plenty to fear from both. Concentrating most of the mortgage business in the mitts of the Gang of Four cannot be a good thing for consumers over the long haul. Beyond the mortgage lending arena, in the banking business generally, the trend seems to be toward concentration in fewer, larger entities. To lovers of big government and big business, that's all fine and dandy, I suppose. To the rest of us, however, that trend is troubling.