September 28, 2011 11:06 pm

SEC probes banks over mortgage loans

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The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse and other financial institutions for their handling of problem mortgage loans, according to public disclosures and people familiar with the matter.

The SEC is examining whether banks misled shareholders about the number of loans they might be forced to buy back because of early defaults – known as loan repurchase requests – and set aside sufficient reserves to fund those purchases or handle related litigation, people familiar with the matter said.

RBS disclosed the probe in a regulatory filing last month, saying it relates to “document deficiencies and remedial measures taken with respect to such deficiencies. The investigation also seeks information related to early payment defaults and loan repurchase requests.” RBS said it was co-operating with the investigation and “has not experienced a significant volume of repurchase demands . . . and has not ceased any of its US foreclosure activities”.

Credit Suisse was subpoenaed by the SEC in relation to allegations made in a private lawsuit, according to court filings. MBIA sued Credit Suisse, alleging the bank fraudulently sold securities backed by loans that did not meet underwriting standards.

A spokesman for MBIA said the law firm representing it in the litigation has also been subpoenaed by the SEC for documents related to that lawsuit. Credit Suisse has denied any wrongdoing.

Another facet of the investigation is the examining of whether banks sold investors securities backed by mortgages that they knew fell short of underwriting standards.

The SEC is also looking into whether some banks reached settlements with originators over problem loans but failed either to disclose the pacts or replace the bad loans as required by contract, these people say. The practice is known as “double-dipping” because the banks collect fees twice, once for securitising the loans and again in settlements.

Banks are already under investigation by New York’s attorney-general for similar mortgage practices. The New York prosecutor is probing practices at banks including RBS, JPMorgan Chase, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley , people familiar with the matter have said.

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