Can the Mortgage Crisis Swallow a Town?
At current rates, analysts expect foreclosure filings to
hit a rate approaching heights not seen since the Great


I am leaving the NY Times headline above as the lead in to a blog. We, too, have used our mortgages to handle our major expense — putting three children through school and helping them get launched in their respective careers. But it is disconcerting to have our mortgage sold yet once again (to another holder). I assume that we probably have a good credit rating because our college teacher pension system, TIAA, generally leaves us in good shape at the end of a teaching career — I finally ended mine formally yesterday.

But my heart goes out to those caught in the middle of things — children still in school and health and pension benefits both disappearing as well as jobs. I have gotten to know several of the managers of banks where we did business. Two of them were given silver parachutes with children in college when their banks merged with bigger ones. We are now with one of the small banks which we are trying to support with two new ones having moved into our immediate Manhattan neighborhood along with two of the biggies that are left.

I heard an intelligent BBC discussion of the situation this a.m. which indicated that the bond rating agencies are paid by those they rate — wow? And now they are being sued, I gather, for having misled investors. Also it was noted that there are many small investors in the U.S. My father having been an honest broker who would shake his head as he described some of the crooked stuff that he encountered in Wall St., I remained a skeptic and probably benefited through not trusting ‘advisors’ with the TIAA decisions that I made along the way — TIAA allows many different investment options, ranging from fairly speculative to safe. I went with the former in my younger days and moved towards the latter as I moved closer to retirement. My personal rules of thumb were:

1) Don’t be greedy.

2) Don’t trust the mob, including lurking advisors — as an outsider you can never compete with those with inside information (that gets passed around freely in inner circles).

But I have seen far too many hurt. I see us moving into the same territory that set up the Great Depression of 1929 — my father anticipated it and got as many of his clients as would move out of stocks then. But it took WW2 to restore our economy and another several decades to restore trust in the stock market. As a college junior I had some direct experience with Wall St., etc. — edited a glossy mag that we put out at Yale called Wall St. 1955 and that summer wrote “short stories of enterprise” for Fortune Magazine where I met some who were obviously con artists face to face. As Jesus said to his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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