As concern spread Friday that more banks might run into trouble even with a $700 billion rescue for the financial system, Wachovia, one of those hardest hit by the housing crisis, became the latest to reach for a lifeline.
Weighed down by a huge portfolio of troubled mortgage loans, the nation’s fourth-largest bank by assets entered into preliminary deal talks with Citigroup, and extended feelers to Wells Fargo and Banco Santander of Spain, people briefed on the matter said. The talks are early, and no deal may emerge from them. But it appeared Wachovia was seeking potential alternatives should the bailout plan being debated in Washington not pass quickly, or fail to provide enough help.
Wachovia has a $120 billion portfolio of mortgages loaded with adjustable interest-rate loans that allow borrowers to skip part of their monthly payments, much of which it inherited from its ill-timed acquisition of Golden West, the big California lender, at the end of the housing boom in 2006.
“Wachovia has a real problem,” said Len Blum of the investment bank Westwood Capital. “Option ARMs are probably the worst mortgage products out there and Wachovia has a lot more of them than it has in tangible equity.”
“The Treasury Department plan will not prevent more bank failures,” said Chip MacDonald, a lawyer who advises banks at the law firm Jones Day. “The plan proposes to make purchases based on market prices, which are likely to be at a loss to the sellers. Such losses will deplete the sellers’ capital, which only strongly capitalized institutions can absorb without raising additional capital or a merging with a stronger bank.”
Option Arms are bad for everyone. Those that took them and those that lent them. The trouble is caused by the option arms are barreling down the hill looking to take everything in their path - and Wachovia will be one of the first casualties. Practically every homeowner that took one of these loans will also find themselves to be a casualty. Dangerous times ahead - be on the lookout.