Sunday, September 20, 2015

Subprime King + Milwaukee Bucks = Sucker's Bet

Just the other day I was thinking that I should hit up a state with a struggling economy for a large cash infusion to my net worth, valued at a meager $2-3 billion. I hoped I could find a city that was willing to overlook my wealth and the way I acquired it, a city or state where my business was responsible for lots of abandoned homes that I now failed to maintain, a city or state so poor at negotiation that they would promise me $250,000,000 to make my dream of owning an NBA team a reality. Sadly, Wes Edens and Mark Lasry beat me to it.

Wes Edens is really the more interesting of the two, co-founder and co-owner of Fortress Investment Group, Inc., recently valued at nearly $70 billion. People in Milwaukee want to talk about Nationstar and its responsibilities for the houses it now owns and fails to maintain in the city, but there are dozens of other companies in the Fortress portfolio. The same week Fortress/Edens purchased the Milwaukee Bucks, they purchased three other companies WITH CASH. The value of the companies purchased was over $10 billion. Again, this was three companies in one week. (cash)

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is stuck holding the bag while the billionaires count their money. Well, mostly Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee are stuck doing this. All Fortress/Edens and Lasry have given up so far is sending some of their lackeys to have “discussions” about who they will hire, and how much they will pay them in the arena taxpayers built them. Everybody who backs this deal asks us to “wait until the ink dries." Where is this ink, and when in the hell is it supposed to dry? Fortress/Edens have built an empire almost entirely from sub-prime mortgage lending practices, profiting from Milwaukeeans who wanted their shot at the American dream of home ownership, but ended up in foreclosure largely due to lender practices. Believe me: they do not care about YOU. They care about MONEY.

Taking closer look at Nationstar, one of the dozens of companies Fortress/Edens own, just how are they doing with the average borrower? If you are familiar with Yelp!, Nationstar gets ONE STAR. That’s an AVERAGE, spread out over hundreds of scathing reviews. A quick scan of recent postings tells a painful story of company owners who would not piss on you if you were on fire. And your home mortgage? They make money whether you keep it or lose it. Users of Nationstar services in the past two months said:

“Unbelievable. I cannot describe how painful it is to do business with this company. I would pay $500 to get a different servicer on my loan. Seriously. I would pay $500 just to not have to deal with this company again. What a disgrace.”

“Run; don't walk away from these people or you'll regret it!”

“Everything about Nationstar is unappealing. I have no idea how they remain in business and their customer service is horrible. Well, they have none! No reply to emails, no way to reach them by phone.... it's nonexistent! Plain and simple, this is by far the worst mortgage company I have worked with and I've worked with many over the years buying and selling homes.”

“OMG... just read all the other reviews. Tell me... anyone... please tell me how this company is still in business??? Whomever regulates these types of poorly run companies should be ashamed of themselves as well! My problem was nothing compared to what some of these people have gone through. Again... shame on YOU Nationstar!”

“I can't give them zero stars, or I would. Requested basic information to be sent and it has been 2 months and still no documents. In my opinion, these guys are nothing but trouble and I feel they are going to mess my loan up. I will be switching lenders as soon as possible.”
Are we just being too hard on Nationstar, or on Milwaukee for doing business with these shysters? Of course not. One J-S commenter put it so very well:
Nationstar isn’t giving anything away. They are simply making less on a whole bunch of subprime mortgages in a city who just helped them land $250 million in public financing. This is cheap damage control in a city where this owner plans on conducting business. Pretty cheap grease for this squeaky wheel...”
More recently, Fortress/Edens have expanded into payday loans, car title loans, and casinos, all of which disproportionately target the poor. Businesses like the ones they acquire borrow from banks for just over 6% and reap more than 500% interest from almost exclusively low-income borrowers. Heck, even the Wall Street Journal calls Edens the “Subprime Lending King”, a dubious honor if there ever was one. Edens and associates appear hell-bent on robbing the working poor not only of their dreams of home ownership, but their dreams of being able to make their car payments or even the rent on the apartment they now live in after losing their homes due to the same unscrupulous business practices. If you believe these guys care at all about anyone in Milwaukee—from the security guards who might someday work at the new Arena for Billionaires to the people who will staff the parking ramp on the land sold to them for $1 across from Chris Abele’s place—you might be on the “negotiating” team (shout out to corporate Dems, y'all!).

Lest you think the online reviews and the media chatter are just biased, and these investors are whip-smart business people by day and huge charitable donors by night, an article (Subprime King) trying to tout Fortress’s “generosity” with charities offers this line: “Fortress is committed to giving back to local communities and has supported many charitable organizations while encouraging employees to do the same even offering a one-week gift matching program netting nearly $3.8 million to more than 700 charities on a global scale including charities like: Oxfam International, Partners in Health, City Harvest, Sanctuary for Families, Food Bank for New York City, Toys for Tots, and Smile Train.” Fortress was established in 1989. It’s worth about $70 billion. At 700 charities and $3.8 million, that’s $5,429 apiece. Taking that and spread it out over 26 years (Fortress was established in 1989), and that’s $209 apiece. Lowballing Edens’ net worth at $2 billion (Lasry is just under $2 billion), that’s less than one ten-millionth of his net worth per year to charity. The $30 million (over three years) that is supposed to be dedicated to maintaining and repairing distressed Milwaukee Nationstar and other properties, is 1.25% or less of each man's net worth per year. And when they sell these Nationstar-maintained homes they’ve decided to finally maintain? More profit!

It’s hard to imagine a deal worse for Milwaukee than this one, or worse people with whom we could do business. These billionaires are laughing all the way to the bank—at you (probably hardest at the "negotiating" team). They are probably driving past the house you used to own, by the lot full of cars they repossessed, while they breeze by.

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