Banks shiver as UBS swallows $885-m US fine

Written by Reuters | Washington/London | Updated: Jul 27 2013, 21:21pm hrs
UBS will pay $885 million in a settlement with a US regulators over allegations the Swiss bank misrepresented mortgage-backed bonds during the housing bubble, paving the way for billions more to be paid by other banks.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees government-sponsored housing enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said late on Thursday UBS must pay $415 million to Fannie Mae and $470 million to Freddie Mac to resolve claims related to securities sold to the companies between 2004 and 2007.

Other European banks, including RBS and Barclays, and US banks including JPMorgan and Bank of America could face costly settlements. RBS was the worst performing of European banks on Friday, shares falling 2.96%.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were seized by the US government in 2008 as the housing crisis threatened their solvency. They have received $187 billion in taxpayer funds to stay afloat.

UBS is just one of 18 banks the FHFA pursued in 2011 for allegedly misrepresenting the quality of the collateral backing securities during the run-up to the financial crisis. The regulator is seeking to recover losses on mortgage bonds sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

UBS is the third to settle, after Citigroup and General Electric settled for undisclosed sums. The details of the deal announced by the regulator on Friday follow a statement by UBS on Monday that said it had reached an agreement and had adequately for the payout without specifying how much was involved.

The FHFA said it remains committed to satisfactorily resolving the remaining suits as well and the deal may lay down a marker for how much it could cost rival banks.

Estimates on the overall sums involve vary widely.

Analysts at Credit Suisse earlier this year said European banks could take an $11 billion hit from a raft of mortgage-related litigation costs in the US.

They estimated RBS alone could face an FHFA litigation loss of $1.6 billion, Barclays a $1.1 billion loss and HSBC could take a $900-million loss.

But another London-based analyst, Joseph Dickerson at investment bank Jefferies, said he expected RBS's losses to be sub-$1 billion. I would say that $4.2 billion seems to be a complete non-sequitur.

Other banks have acknowledged they could incur losses from the suits but few have said how much it could cost.