In the end, it all comes back to mortgages. Though Bank of America would ultimately be charged with committing a dizzyingly diverse variety of corporate misdeeds, the bulk of the trouble the bank is in today arises from the Great Mortgage Scam of the mid-2000s, which caused the biggest financial bubble in history.
The shorthand version of the scam is by now familiar: Banks and mortgage lenders conspired to create a gigantic volume of very risky home loans, delivering outsize mortgages to dubious borrowers like immigrants without identification, the unemployed and people with poor credit histories. Then the banks took those dicey home loans and sprinkled them with bogus math, using financial gizmos like collateralized mortgage obligations to rechristen the risky home loans as high-grade, AAA-rated securities that could be sold off to unions, pensioners, foreign banks, retirement funds and any other suckers the banks could find. In essence, America's financial institutions grew vast fields of cheap oregano, and then went around the world marketing their product as high-grade weed.
The three lenders (Bank of America, Countrywide, and Merrill Lynch) also pioneered ways to sell their toxic pools of mortgages to suckers. Bank of America's typical marketing pitch to a union or a state pension fund involved a double or even triple guarantee. First, it promised, in writing, that all its loans had passed due diligence tests and met its high internal standards. Next, it promised that if any of the loans in the mortgage pool turned out to be defective or in default, it would buy them back. And finally, it assured customers that if all else failed, the pools of mortgages were all insured, or "wrapped," by bond insurers like AMBAC and MBIA. It sounded like a can't-lose deal. Not only did the bank offer a written guarantee of the high quality of the loans it was selling, it also promised to buy back any bad loans, which were often insured to boot. What could go wrong?
“I encourage you to read the following essay. The TBTF ("too big to fail") institutions that amplified and
prolonged the recent financial crisis remain a hindrance to full economic recovery and to the very ideal of American capitalism. It is imperative that we end TBTF. In my view, downsizing the behemoths over time into institutions that can be prudently managed and regulated across borders is the appropriate policy response. Only then can the process of “creative destruction”— which America has perfected and practiced with such effectiveness that it led our country to unprecedented economic achievement— work its wonders in the financial sector, just as it does elsewhere in our economy. Only then will we have a financial system fit and proper for serving as the lubricant for an economy as dynamic as that of the
United States .” -- Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve of Dallas