'America's Foreclosure King' How the United States Became a PR Disaster for Deutsche Bank

Deutsche Bank is deeply involved in the American real estate crisis. After initially profiting from subprime mortgages, it is now arranging to have many of these homes sold at foreclosure auctions. The damage to the bank's image in the United States is growing.

By and Thomas Schulz

AFP

The small city of New Haven, on the Atlantic coast and home to elite Yale University, is only two hours northeast of New York City. It is a particularly beautiful place in the fall, during the warm days of Indian summer.

But this idyllic image has turned cloudy of late, with a growing number of houses in New Haven looking like the one at 130 Peck Street: vacant for months, the doors nailed shut, the yard derelict and overgrown and the last residents ejected after having lost the house in a foreclosure auction. And like 130 Peck Street, many of these homes are owned by Germany's Deutsche Bank.

"In the last few years, Deutsche Bank has been responsible for far and away the most foreclosures here," says Eva Heintzelman. She is the director of the ROOF Project, which addresses the consequences of the foreclosure crisis in New Haven in collaboration with the city administration. According to Heintzelman, Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank plays such a significant role in New Haven that the city's mayor requested a meeting with bank officials last spring.

The bank complied with his request, to some degree, when, in April 2009, a Deutsche Bank executive flew to New Haven for a question-and-answer session with politicians and aid organizations. But the executive, David Co, came from California, not from Germany. Co manages the Frankfurt bank's US real estate business at a relatively unknown branch of a relatively unknown subsidiary in Santa Ana.

How many houses was he responsible for, Co was asked? "Two thousand," he replied. But then he corrected himself, saying that 2,000 wasn't the number of individual properties, but the number of securities packages being managed by Deutsche Bank. Each package contains hundreds of mortgages. So how many houses are there, all told, he was asked again? Co could only guess. "Millions," he said.

Deutsche Bank Is Considered 'America's Foreclosure King'

Deutsche Bank's tracks lead through the entire American real estate market. In Chicago, the bank foreclosed upon close to 600 large apartment buildings in 2009, more than any other bank in the city. In Cleveland, almost 5,000 houses foreclosed upon by Deutsche Bank were reported to authorities between 2002 and 2006. In many US cities, the complaints are beginning to pile up from homeowners who lost their properties as a result of a foreclosure action filed by Deutsche Bank. The German bank is berated on the Internet as "America's Foreclosure King."

American homeowners are among the main casualties of the financial crisis that began with the collapse of the US real estate market. For years, banks issued mortgages to homebuyers without paying much attention to whether they could even afford the loans. Then they packaged the mortgage loans into complicated financial products, earning billions in the process -- that is, until the bubble burst and the government had to bail out the banks.

Deutsche Bank has always acted as if it had had very little to do with the whole affair. It survived the crisis relatively unharmed and without government help. Its experts recognized early on that things could not continue as they had been going. This prompted the bank to get out of many deals in time, so that in the end it was not faced with nearly as much toxic debt as other lenders.

But it is now becoming clear just how deeply involved the institution is in the US real estate market and in the subprime mortgage business. It is quite possible that the bank will not suffer any significant financial losses, but the damage to its image is growing by the day.

'Deutsche Bank Is Now in the Process of Destroying Milwaukee'

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Deutsche Bank now holds loans for American single-family and multi-family houses worth about $3.7 billion (€3.1 billion). The bank, however, claims that much of this debt consists of loans to wealthy private customers.

More damaging to its image are the roughly 1 million US properties that the bank says it is managing as trustee. "Some 85 to 90 percent of all outstanding mortgages in the USA are ultimately controlled by four banks, either as trustees or owners of a trust company," says real estate expert Steve Dibert, whose company conducts nationwide investigations into cases of mortgage fraud. "Deutsche Bank is one of the four."

In addition, the bank put together more than 25 highly complex real estate securities deals, known as collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, with a value of about $20 billion, most of which collapsed. These securities were partly responsible for triggering the crisis.

Last Thursday, Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann was publicly confronted with the turmoil in US cities. Speaking at the bank's shareholders' meeting, political science professor Susan Giaimo said that while Germans were mainly responsible for building the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, "Deutsche Bank is now in the process of destroying Milwaukee."

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