Explaining Southern California's economy

Countrywide settlement solves at least one Bank of America problem

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

File photo: Angelo Mozilo, founder and former CEO, Countrywide Financial Corporation, testifies during a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Capitol Hill March 7, 2008 in Washington, DC.

So Bank of America will shell out $335 million to settle legal claims that Countrywide Financial "systematically discriminated" (according to the LA Times) against minority borrowers. Here's the thing, though: The subprime loans in question were generated before BofA bought Countrywide in early 2008. So BofA inherited this problem, along with the rest of the long nightmare that has been Countrywide — and the bank has been at pains to point that out, stressing that it doesn't do this kind of thing.

This raises the obvious question of whether, as part of the acquisition process, BofA realized that Countrywide was pushing minority borrowers into subprime loans. The federal government was certainly on the case. The Fed alerted the Justice Department to it in 2007.

You can now see how Countrywide was operating, opportunistically urging borrowers to go subprime — especially if those borrowers would have qualified for a conventional prime loan. Countrywide was invested in generating subprime loans — that was its business model. It certainly couldn't make as much money on prime loans, nor could it presumably garner as much interest from firms that wanted to package higher-risk, higher-return loans into securities that could then be given the general thumbs up by the credit ratings agencies.

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Why Warren Buffett can't lose on Bank of America

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bank of America customers use an ATM on January 21, 2011 in San Francisco, California. Bank of America reported today that it has reached an agreement for an $8.5 billion settlement with a group of investors who lost money buying mortgage-backed securities from Countrywide Financial.

Recall, if you will, this past summer when Warren Buffett put a floor under Bank of America's then-plummeting stock, serving up a $5 billion "Buffett bailout." Now, as one of the worst years for bank stock ever winds down, Bank of America has been headed South again. Yesterday, it dropped through the symbolically important $5 per share level (it's back up over $5 today). As the Wall Street Journal reports, Buffett is now like a lot of people who hold BofA mortgages: $1.5 billion underwater.

Is Buffett concerned? Probably not:

Don’t worry about Buffett, though. He is guaranteed a profit on his BofA investment. The banking giant must repay Buffett’s $5 billion, plus a 5% premium, at any time. Plus, the world’s third-richest man will rake in dividends of $300 million a year from BofA, and he won’t give up those payouts no matter what sub-basement BofA shares tumble into.

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Reportings: Big September for cars; boring iPhone; Solyndragate II; Michael Lewis

Are bailed-out and formerly bankrupt U.S. car companies now recession-proof? Both General Motors and Chrysler had a big September: "General Motors Co. said its U.S. sales jumped 20% to 207,145 vehicles compared with September 2010. Chrysler Group's sales surged 27% to 127,334 vehicles, marking the company's best September since 2007." (LAT)

Is the Apple iPhone too grown up to have a wow factor? "'Industrial design is important, but in these small packages we are starting to bump into the laws of physics,' said Tim Bajarin, a consultant with Creative Strategies Inc. 'You aren't going to do anything that I would consider radical in design and still get this feature set and function.'" (WSJ) 

Paul Krugman gets on China's case and highlights the massive U.S. trade deficit: "A return to economic health would look much more achievable if we weren’t spending $500 billion more each year on imported goods and services than foreigners spent on our exports." (NYT)  

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