Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Serious Delinquency rates declined in May, by Calculatedriskblog.com


Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency rate declined in May to 3.57% from 3.63% April. The serious delinquency rate is down from 4.14% in May last year, and this is the lowest level since April 2009.

The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59%.

Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate declined slightly in May to 3.50%, from 3.51% in April. Freddie’s rate is only down from 3.53% in May 2011. Freddie’s serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.

To Read the rest of this article go to calculatedriskblog.com

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Mass Court May Rule on Retroactivity of some Foreclosures Tied to ‘Naked Mortgages’, by Jann Swanson Mortgagenewsdaily.com


Another next major marker in the convoluted foreclosure landscape will probably come in the next few weeks when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is expected to rule on Eaton v. Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae).  This is another in a series of cases challenging the right of various lenders and nominees to foreclose on delinquent mortgages based on assertions that those parties do not own or at least cannot prove they own the enabling legal documents.

Eaton raises an additional point that has excited interest – whether or not that foreclosure can be challenged and compensation enforced on a retroactive basis or whether such retroactivity exacts too high a cost or permanently clouds title.

The details of the case are fairly standard, involving a note given by Henrietta Eaton to BankUnited and a contemporaneous mortgage to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS).  The mortgage was later assigned by MERS to Green Tree servicing and the assignment did not reference the note.  The Eaton Home was subsequently foreclosed upon by Green Tree which assigned its rights under the foreclosure to Fannie Mae which sought to evict Eaton.  Eaton sued, charging that the loan servicer did not hold the note proving that Eaton was obliged to pay the mortgage.

The Massachusetts Superior Court relied on a January, 2011 ruling in U.S. Bank V. Ibanez in which the court held that the assignment of a mortgage must be effective before the foreclosure in order to be valid and that as holder of the note separated from the mortgage due to a lack of effective assignment, the Plaintiffs had only a beneficial interest in the mortgage note and the power of sale statute granted foreclosure authority to the mortgagee, not to the owner of the beneficial interest.

In Eaton the lower court said it was “cognizant of sound reason that would have historically supported the common law rule requiring the unification of the promissory note and the mortgage note in the foreclosing entity prior to foreclosure. Allowing foreclosure by a mortgagee not in possession of the mortgage note is potentially unfair to the mortgagor. A holder in due course of the promissory note could seek to recover against the mortgagor, thus exposing her to double liability.”

In its brief to the Supreme Judicial Court, Fannie Mae contests the lower court ruling on the grounds that:

1.  Requiring unity of the note and mortgage to foreclose would create a cloud on the Title and result in adverse consequence for Massachusetts homeowners.

2.  A ruling requiring unity of the note and mortgage to conduct a valid foreclosure should be limited to prospective application only (because)

A.  Such a ruling was not clearly foreshadowed and

B.  Retroactive application could result in hardship and injustice.

The case has been the impetus for filings of nearly a dozen amicus briefs from groups such as the Land Title Association, Real Estate Bar Association, and foreclosure law firms, most in response to a SJC request for comment on whether any ruling should be applied retroactively and if so what the impact would be on the title of some 40,000 homes foreclosed in the last few years.

Of particular interest is a brief filed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, conservator of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which some observers said might be the first time the agency had intervened in a particular foreclosure case.

FHFA asked the court to apply any decision to uphold the lower court decision prospectively rather than retrospectively.  It’s argument:  applying a ruling retroactively would be “a direct threat to orderly operation of the mortgage market.”   FHFA also said “Retroactive application of a decision requiring unity of the note and the mortgage for a valid foreclosure would impose costs on U.S. Taxpayers and would frustrate the statutory objectives of Conservatorship.”

“There presently is no mechanism or requirement under Massachusetts law to record the identity of the person entitled to enforce the note at the time of foreclosure,” FHFA said.  “Therefore, a retroactive rule requiring unity of the note and mortgage for a valid foreclosure would potentially call into question the title of any property with a foreclosure in its chain of title within at least the last twenty years.”

contrary opinion was advanced in a brief filed by Georgetown University Law School Professor Adam Levitin who called the ruling that a party cannot foreclose on a “naked mortgage” (one separated from the note) merely a restatement of commercial law and “to the extent that the mortgage industry has disregarded a legal principle so commonsensical and uncontroversial that it has been encapsulated in a Restatement, it does so at its peril.”

Levitin argues that it is impossible to know how widespread the problem of naked mortgages may be either in Massachusetts or nationwide so this should temper any evaluation of the impact of retroactivity.  He also states that there are several factors “that should assuage concerns about clouded title resulting from a retroactively applicable ruling requiring a unity of the note and mortgage.”  He points out that adverse possession, pleading standards, burdens of proof and equitable defenses such as laches all combine to make the likelihood of challenging past foreclosure unlikely and sharply limiting the retroactive effect of a ruling.

Kathleen M. Howley and Thom Weidlich, writing for Bloomberg noted that a decision to uphold the lower court “could lead to a surge in claims from home owners seeking to overturn seizures.”

According to Howley and Weidlich, the SJC ruled last year on two foreclosure cases that handed properties back to owners on naked mortgage grounds.  The Ibanez case, referenced above dealt with two single family houses, but in Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez the court handed an apartment building back to the previous owner five years after the foreclosure.  In the interim a developer had purchased the building and turned it into condos.  The condo owners lost their units without compensation and the building now stands vacant.

The decision may be available before month’s end and as Massrealestateblog.com said, “For interested legal observers of the foreclosure crisis, it really doesn’t get any better than this”.

Fannie, Freddie overhaul unlikely, by Vicki Needham, Thehill.com


An overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is unlikely again this year despite recent Republican efforts to move the issue up the agenda.

Congressional Republicans, along with some Democrats — and even GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich — are renewing calls to craft an agreement to reduce the involvement of Fannie and Freddie in the nation’s mortgage market.

But without a broader accord, passage of any legislation this year is slim, housing experts say.

 

Jim Tobin, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Home Builders, concedes that despite a mix of Democratic and Republican proposals, including a push by the Obama administration last year, congressional leaders probably won’t get far this year on a plan for Fannie and Freddie, the government-controlled mortgage giants.

 

Tobin said there are “good ideas out there” and while he expects the House to put some bills on the floor and possibly pass legislation, the Senate is likely to remain in oversight mode without any “broad-based legislation on housing finance.”

“We’re bracing for a year where it’s difficult to break through on important policy issues,” he said this week.

While the issue makes for a good talking point, especially in an presidential election year, congressional efforts are largely being stymied by the housing market’s sluggish recovery, prohibiting the hand off between the government and private sector in mortgage financing, housing experts say.

David Crowe, chief economist with NAHB, said that the market has hit rock bottom and is now undergoing a “slow climb out of the hole.”

The House has taken the biggest steps so far — by mid-July the Financial Services Committee had approved 14 bills intended to jump-start reform of the government-sponsored enterprises.

“As we continue to move immediate reforms, our ultimate goal remains, to end the bailout of Fannie, Freddie and build a stronger housing finance system that no longer relies on government guarantees,” panel Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said last summer.

Meanwhile, a number of GOP and bipartisan measures have emerged — Democrats and Republicans generally agree Fannie and Freddie are in need of a fix but their ideas still widely vary.

There are a handful of bills floating around Congress, including one by Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and another by Reps. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y), which would wind down Fannie and Freddie and create a new system of privately financed organizations to support the mortgage market.

“Every one of those approaches replaces them [Fannie and Freddie] with what they think is the best alternative to having a new system going forward that would really fix the problem and would really give certainty to the marketplace and allow housing finance to come back, and therefore housing to come back, as well,” Campbell said at a markup last month.

There’s another bill by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and bills in the Senate being pushed by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

Corker, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, made the case earlier this week for unwinding government support for the GSEs while promoting his 10-year plan that would put in place the “infrastructure for the private sector to step in behind it.”

“A big part of the problem right now is the private sector is on strike,” Corker said.

He has argued that his bill isn’t a silver bullet, rather a conversation starter to accelerate talks.

“So what we need to do is figure out an orderly wind-down,” Corker said in November. “And so we’ve been working on this for some time. We know that Fannie and Freddie cannot exist in the future.”

He suggested getting the federal government this year to gradually wind down the amount of the loans it guarantees from 90 percent to 80 percent and then to 70 percent.

“And as that drops down, we think the market will send signals as to what the difference in price is between what the government is actually guaranteeing and what they’re not,” he said.

Even Gingrich, who has taken heat for his involvement with taking money while doing consulting work for the GSEs, called for an unwinding during a December interview.

“I do, in fact, favor breaking both of them up,” he said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “I’ve said each of them should devolve into probably four or five companies. And they should be weaned off of the government endorsements, because it has given them both inappropriate advantages and because we now know from the history of how they evolved, that they abused that kind of responsibility.”

In a white paper on housing last week, the Federal Reserve argued that the mortgage giants should take a more active role in boosting the housing market, although they didn’t outline suggestions for how to fix the agencies.

The central bank did argue that “some actions that cause greater losses to be sustained by the GSEs in the near term might be in the interest of taxpayers to pursue if those actions result in a quicker and more vigorous economic recovery.”

Nearly a year ago, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asked Congress to approve legislation overhauling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac within two years — that deadline appears to be in jeopardy.

The Obama administration’s initial recommendations called for inviting private dollars to crowd out government support for home loans. The white paper released in February proposed three options for the nation’s housing market after Fannie and Freddie are wound down, with varying roles for the government to play.

About the same time last year, Bachus made ending the “taxpayer-funded bailout of Fannie and Freddie” the panel’s first priority.

While an overhaul remains stalled for now there is plenty of other activity on several fronts.

In November, the Financial Services panel overwhelmingly approved a measure to stop future bonuses and suspend the current multi-million dollar compensation packages for the top executives at the agencies.

The top executives came under fire for providing the bonuses but argued they need to do something to attract the talent necessary to oversee  $5 trillion in mortgage assets.

Earlier this month, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that the head of Fannie received $5.6 million in compensation and the chief executive of Freddie received $5.4 million.

Under the bill, the top executives of Fannie and Freddie could only have earned $218,978 this year.

Last week, Fannie’s chief executive Michael Williams announced he would step down from his position once a successor is found. That comes only three months after Freddie’s CEO Charles Haldeman Jr. announced that he will leave his post this year.

The government is being tasked to find replacements, not only for the two mortgage giants which have cost taxpayers more than $150 billion since their government takeover in 2008, but there is talk that the Obama administration is looking to replace FHFA acting director Edward DeMarco, the overseer of the GSEs.

In a letter to President Obama earlier this week, more than two dozen House members said DeMarco simply hasn’t done enough to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The lawmakers are pushing the president to name a permanent director “immediately.”

Also, in December, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued six former executives at Fannie and Freddie, alleging they misled the public and investors about the amount of risky mortgages in their portfolio.

In the claims, the SEC contends that as the housing bubble began to burst, the executives suggested to investors that the GSEs were not substantially exposed to sub-prime mortgages that were defaulting across the country.

The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP): What You Need to Know, by Hayley Tsukayama, Washington Post


On Monday, the federal government announced that it would revise the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), implementing changes that The Washington Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb reported would “allow many more struggling borrowers to refinance their mortgages at today’s ultra-low rates, reducing monthly payments for some homeowners and potentially providing a modest boost to the economy.”

The HARP program, which was rolled out in 2009, is designed to help. Those who are “underwater” on their homes and owe more than the homes are worth. So far, The Post reported, it has reached less than one-tenth of the 5 million borrowers it was designed to help. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know about the changes.

What was announced? The enhancements will allow some homeowners who are not currently eligible to refinance to do so under HARP. The changes cut fees for borrowers who want to refinance into short-term mortgages and some other borrowers. They also eliminate a cap that prevented “underwater” borrowers who owe more than 125 percent of what their property is worth from accessing the program.

Am I eligible? To be eligible, you must have a mortgage owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, sold to those agencies on or before May 31, 2009. The current loan-to-value ratio on the mortgage must be greater than 80 percent. Having a mortgage that was previously refinanced under the program disqualifies you from the program. Borrowers cannot not have missed any mortgage payments in the past six months and cannot have had more than one missed payment in the past 12 months.

How do I take advantage of HARP?According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the first step borrowers should take is to see whether their mortgages are owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. If so, borrowers should contact lenders that offer HARP refinances.

When do the changes go into effect?The FHFA is expected to publish final changes in November. According to a fact sheet on the program, the timing will vary by lender.

U.S. To Have Tough Time in Suits Against 17 Banks Over Mortgage Bonds, by Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times


Federal regulators allege the banks misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the safety of the bonds. But analysts say the two mortgage giants should have known that the loans behind the bonds were toxic.

Reporting from Washington—

The government’s latest attempt to hold large banks accountable for helping trigger the Great Recession could fall as flat as earlier efforts to punish Wall Street villains and compensate taxpayers for bailing out the financial industry.

Federal regulators, in landmark lawsuits this month, alleged that 17 large banks misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the safety and soundness of $200 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities sold to the two housing finance giants, sending them to the brink of bankruptcy and forcing the government to seize them.

Targets of other federal lawsuits and investigations have deflected such claims by arguing, for example, that the collapse of the housing market and job losses from the recession caused the loss in the value of mortgage-backed securities.

The big banks, though, might have a more powerful defense: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were no novices at investment decisions.

The two companies were major players in the subprime housing boom through the mortgage-backed securities market they helped create, and they should have known better than anyone that many of the loans behind those securities were toxic, some analysts and legal experts said.

“I can’t think of two more sophisticated clients who were in a better position to do the due diligence on these investments,” said Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago investors’ lawyer specializing in securities lawsuits. “For them to claim they were misled in some form or fashion, I think, is an extremely difficult legal argument to make.”

But the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has been running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since the government seized them in 2008, argued that banks can’t misrepresent the quality of their products no matter how savvy the investor.

“Under the securities laws at issue here, it does not matter how ‘big’ or ‘sophisticated’ a security purchaser is. The seller has a legal responsibility to accurately represent the characteristics of the loans backing the securities being sold,” the FHFA said.

The sophistication of Fannie and Freddie is expected to be the centerpiece of the banks’ aggressive defense. Analysts still expect the suits to be settled to avoid lengthy court battles, but they said the weakness of the case meant that financial firms would have to pay far less money than Fannie and Freddie lost on the securities.

Stoltmann predicted that a settlement would bring in only several hundred million dollars on total losses estimated so far at about $30 billion.

In the 17 suits, the FHFA alleged that it was given misleading data.

For example, in the suit against General Electric Co. over two securities sold in 2005 by its former mortgage banking subsidiary, the FHFA said Freddie Mac was told that at least 90% of the loans in those securities were for owner-occupied homes.

The real figure was slightly less than 80%, which significantly increased the likelihood of losses on the combined $549 million in securities, the suit said.

GE said it “plans to vigorously contest these claims.” The company said it had made all its scheduled payments to date and had paid down the principal to about $66 million.

The federal agency also has taken on some of the titans of the financial industry, including Goldman Sachs & Co., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., to try to recoup some of the losses on the securities. That would help offset the $145 billion that taxpayers now are owed in the Fannie and Freddie bailouts.

The suits represent one of the most forceful government legal actions against the banking industry nearly four years after the start of a severe recession and financial crisis brought on in part by the crash of the housing market.

The FHFA had been negotiating separately with the banks to recover losses from mortgage-backed securities purchased by Fannie and Freddie, but decided to get more aggressive.

“Over the last couple of years, they’ve been doing sort of hand-to-hand combat with each of the banks,” said Michael Bar, a University of Michigan law professor who was assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions in 2009-10. “The suits are an attempt to consolidate those fights over individual loans.”

Bar thinks the government has a legitimate case.

“The banks will say, ‘You got what you paid for,'” he said. “And the investors will say, ‘No we didn’t. We thought we were getting bad loans and we got horrible loans.'”

Edward Mills, a financial policy analyst with FBR Capital Markets, said the FHFA has a fiduciary responsibility to try to limit the losses by Fannie and Freddie. But the independent regulatory agency also probably felt political pressure to ensure that banks be held accountable for their actions leading up to the financial crisis, he said.

“There’s still a feeling out there that most of these entities got away without a real penalty, so there’s still a desire from the American people to show that someone had to pay,” Mills said.

Although the suits cover $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities, the actual losses that Fannie and Freddie incurred are much less. For example, the FHFA sued UBS Americas Inc. separately in July seeking to recover at least $900 million in losses on $4.5 billion in securities.

The faulty mortgage-backed securities contributed to combined losses of about $30 billion by Fannie and Freddie, but a final figure is likely to change as the real estate market struggles to work its way through a growing number of foreclosures.

Some experts worry that the uncertainty created by the lawsuits makes it more difficult for the housing market to recover, which adds to the pressure on the FHFA and the banks to settle.

The government case also could be weakened by an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into whether Fannie and Freddie did to their own investors what they’re accusing the banks of doing — not properly disclosing the risks of their investments.

Banks are expected to make that point as well. But both sides have strong motives to settle the cases and move on, said Peter Wallison, a housing finance expert at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

“Within any institution there are people who send emails and say crazy things, and the more these things are litigated, the more they get exposed,” Wallison said.

Because of flaws in its case and political pressures, the FHFA also will be motivated to settle, Wallison said.

“There will be a settlement because the settlement addresses the political issue … that the government is going to get its pound of flesh from the banks,” he said.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

U.S. may require more mortgage insurance Obama, FHFA outline possible help for underwater borrowers, by Ronald D. Orol, MarketWatch


WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Monday said the agency may force more borrowers to obtain private mortgage insurance as he also laid out further details about ideas he is considering to expand an Obama administration mortgage refinance program.

At issue is the extent to which Freddie and Fannie require private mortgage insurance for loans the firms guarantee. The two companies, which were seized by the government during the height of the financial crisis, typically require borrowers to obtain some form of private mortgage insurance if they make downpayments that are less than 20% of the value of the home they are buying.

For example, a borrower that makes a $10,000 downpayment — 5% down on a $200,000 home — must currently obtain mortgage insurance, while a borrower who puts $40,000 down on the same house doesn’t.

Federal Housing Finance Agency acting chief Edward DeMarco said in a speech at the American Mortgage Conference in Raleigh, N.C. that the agency will be considering a number of alternatives, such as hiking private mortgage insurance,to limit costs to taxpayers from Fannie and Freddie. Already the two firms have cost taxpayers some $130 billion.

DeMarco’s comments come as President Barack Obama discussed limiting costs to taxpayers from Fannie and Freddie as part of a broader deficit reduction plan released Monday. In his plan, Obama reiterated the government’s goal of gradually hiking the fees that Fannie and Freddie charge for guaranteeing home loans sold to investors. Obama said that this fee hike will help reimburse taxpayers for their assistance. The goal is also to drive investors to once again buy private-label residential mortgage-backed securities.

In his speech, DeMarco said the guarantee fee hike “will not happen immediately but should be expected in 2012, with some prior announcement.”

In addition, DeMarco discussed ways the agency could expand an expand an existing program that seeks to refinance mortgages. Obama also outlined the White House effort in this area as part of his deficit reduction proposal, following up on comments he made on Sept. 8 as part of a broader speech on the economy and jobs. Read about Obama’s deficit reduction plan

At issue is the White House’s Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, which seeks to provide refinancing options to millions of underwater borrowers who have no equity in their homes as long as their mortgage is backed by Fannie and Freddie. The program has only helped roughly 838,000 borrowers as of June 30, with millions more underwater.

DeMarco said the agency is considering a number of options to encourage more borrower and lender participation, including the possibility of limiting or eliminating risk fees that Fannie and Freddie charge on HARP refinancings.

These fees are also known as “loan level price adjustments” and have been charged to offset losses Fannie and Freddie accumulate in cases when HARP loans go into default. The fees are typically passed on to borrowers in the form of slightly higher interest rates on their loans.

“Loan level price adjustments, representations and warranties… and portability of mortgage insurance coverage are among the matters being considered,” he said.

By saying the agency is consider “representation and warranties,” DeMarco indicated that the agency could seek to try and encourage more lender participation in HARP by offering to indemnify or limit banks’ “reps and warranties” risk when it comes to loans refinanced in the program.

Also known as put-back risk, in this context, is the possibility that the loan originator will have to repurchase the loan from Fannie and Freddie because the underwriting violated the two mortgage giants’ guidelines.

Observers contend that this kind of “put-back” relief would encourage lenders to invest in more underwater refinancings but critics argue that it also have the potential to pile up losses on Fannie and Freddie and taxpayers.

DeMarco also said the agency is looking at whether they can allow the borrower refinancing their loan to keep the same private mortgage insurance they had before the re-fi. Currently, the borrower must obtain new private mortgage insurance when they refinance the loan, at an additional cost.

DeMarco said the agency is also considering allowing for even more heavily underwater borrowers, those not currently eligible for the program, to participate. As it stands now, HARP only allows borrowers to refinance at current low interest rates into a mortgage that is at most 25% more than their home’s current value. The FHFA said Sept. 9 that it was considering such a move. However, DeMarco said there were several challenges with such an expansion and that the outcome of this review is “uncertain.” Read about how a quarter of U.S. mortgages could get help

A J.P. Morgan report Monday predicted the FHFA’s first focus to expand HARP will be to assist this class of super-underwater borrowers.

“Given this focus on high [loan-to-value] borrowers, we believe the first wave of changes will include lifting the 125 LTV limit,” the report said.

 

What’s Behind the U.S. Suing Big Banks Over Mortgage-Backed Securities?, By Robert Blonk, ESQ., LLM., William H. Byrnes, ESQ.


More bank stock declines and less lending could be in store as financial institutions face another massive round of lawsuits. The Federal Housing Finance Agency sued 17 banks on Sept. 2, alleging that the financial institutions committed securities violations in the lead-up to the recent financial crisis.

The lawsuit concerns sales by the institutions to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of almost $200 million in residential private-label mortgage-backed securities that later collapsed. The lawsuit also names some of the banks’ officers and unaffiliated lead underwriters. 

In addition to the securities violations, the lawsuits allege that the banks made negligent misrepresentations and failed to do adequate due-diligence and follow standard underwriting procedures when offering the mortgage-backed securities.

The complaints were filed in both federal and state courts (New York and Connecticut) against 17 banks, including major financial institutions like Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Countrywide, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and others. The lawsuit is substantially similar to the suit filed against UBS Americas earlier this year.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship in 2008, right after the subprime mortgage crisis made public waves. Under the conservatorship, the FHFA has control over the government-sponsored enterprises and has the power to bring lawsuits on their behalf, as it did in this case.

The feds waited to file the lawsuit until the stock market was closing for the Labor Day weekend Sept. 2. But the timing didn’t prevent a run on bank stocks as rumors about the suit led to significant declines in bank stock prior to the release. This latest litigation comes on the heels of the 50-state robosigner foreclosure investigation which by itself could cost banks almost $200 billion.

Some in Washington say not bringing the suit would have been akin to giving the banks another bailout. U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, D-NC, praised the FHFA for bringing the suit, saying that “[n]ot pursuing those claims would be an indirect subsidy for an industry that has gotten too many subsidies already. The American people should expect their government not to give the biggest banks a backdoor bailout.”

But other commentators say the government’s timing of the lawsuit couldn’t be worse. It will hit the banks’ bottom lines when they can least afford it. And with interest rates likely to stay at record lows for the next two years and the Federal Reserve running out of options for stimulating bank lending, the cost may further stagnate the slow economic recovery. It’s hard to imagine how the lawsuit could be anything other than a weight on the already fragile economy.