The sale of debt obligations to ‘debt farmers’ is a particularly insidious practice of present day business. Portfolios of unpaid and disputed bills from phone, credit card, utility companies or retailers are routinely sold to specialized firms for pennies on the dollar. This may be a very profitable operation for the purchaser if the firm is able to realize even a fraction of the outstanding debt.

If, for example, ABC Farmers, Inc. pays as much as twenty cents on the dollar, the firm will make a gross profit of 20% by collecting on two out five of the outstanding bills. The more ABC collects, the greater its profit. Expenses are quite modest since all that is needed for this debt collection business is a computer for producing and emailing statements, a phone for calling ‘customers’ and a bank account for accepting payments. Also helpful is the tenacity of a pitbull in the collecting process.

This type of ‘farming’ is reminiscent of tax farming in the Roman Empire. An ancient tax farmer made an advance payment to the state in exchange for the privilege of collecting taxes within a given territory. The more the taxes collected, the more the profit. Once the ‘contract’ was let, the state effectively washed its hands of the matter. Much the same conditions hold for debt collection today.



Virtuality and the Financial Crisis: Part 2

Corrective measures envisioned by lawmakers in the heat of the financial crisis are directed toward strengthening oversight of financial markets. The regulatory system including the Federal Reserve, the Securities Exchange Commission, and other Federal agencies collectively may have been unable to detect the formation of a speculative bubble in the housing market; or perhaps the system detected problems but failed to act on a timely basis. Interest rates could have been raised to reduce the amount of credit available for house purchases, and abusive lending practices could have been curtailed giving potential buyers more accurate information about their ability to carry a mortgage, and thus reducing the chances of defaults and foreclosures later on.

Overhauling and strengthening regulatory oversight of financial markets is a sensible step, but not enough to prevent a recurrence of the frenzied pursuit of profit that precipitated the crisis. Not all mortgage lenders succumbed to the lure of higher profits through securitization of loan portfolios.



Virtuality and the Financial Crisis: Part 1

The financial crisis that began in 2007 and reached fever pitch in the past few months is generally believed to be a consequence of the securitization of subprime mortgages and more generally of the over extension of credit. Participants in this tragic drama include actors in the real estate and financial services industries as well as home buyers.

The process of purchasing a house consists of a long chain of transactions starting with a ‘meeting of the minds’ of buyer and seller, usually mediated by a real estate agent representing the seller. Once an agreement has been reached, the buyer must arrange financing. Here is where the trouble starts.

Let’s say the buyer uses the services of a mortgage broker to find a bank or other lender willing to issue a mortgage on the house. Having no responsibility for the future behavior of the buyer, and receiving a fee for its services, the mortgage broker’s interest is to place as many mortgages as possible. Real estate agents and property appraisers have a similar interest. Both work on fees or commissions based on sales, so their aim is to generate as many sales as possible.


1 Comment