Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Illogic of CoreLogic

Even Einstein couldn't figure it out

The Illogic of CoreLogic

It doesn’t make sense. Why would a troubled company whose main business is supposed to be advising others on whether or not to buy or sell mortgages, why would such a company itself go into the business of buying and selling mortgages when it itself was apparently a high risk company that those in the mortgage field should be wary of?  Core-Logic, in other words, was in a Catch-22 situation. If CoreLogic was doing its job properly it would  have warned itself that  CoreLogic was a risky company to be doing business with.  

First American, CoreLogic’s predecessor  had a troubled history. That may be why it rebranded itself with the awkward name of one of the companies it had acquired, CoreLogic. Two prominent officers of First American helped give the corporation a bad name. The septuagenarian director of First American, D. Van Skilling, was rumored to no longer have his Midas touch, and after CoreLogic lost $66.5 million in 2011, the second consecutive year of red ink, there was a board shakeup and Van Skilling announced his retirement. Then the chief financial officer of First American/CoreLogic, Anthony “Buddy” Piszel, resigned under a cloud in February, 2011, after it became known that he was under investigation for possible wrongdoing when he had been chief financial officer of Freddie Mac, the controversial quasi-governmental agency that had been accused, at least by Republicans, of helping bring about the so-called Great Recession. It did not help Piszel’s reputation, or First American/CoreLogic’s either, when his replacement at Freddie Mac committed suicide. The liberal online tabloid, the Huffington Post, reported that Piszel, while at Freddie Mac, instead of behaving like a Certified Public Accountant, had been living it up in a luxurious Maryland shore home, of which it provided a provocative  photo spread, not of nude women but of old money country club opulence. What  is expected above all of CFO’s, many of whom are glorified Certified Public Accountants, is financial probity, not profligacy. But Piszel proved to be a Jet-Setter in CPA clothing. “Some of the fancy toys on the property,” the Huffington Post pointed out, “include a $230,000 38-foot Fountain Sportfish Cruiser, ironically named ‘A Better Decision,’ powered by three fuel-sucking outboard engines, two high-end Jet Skis, a house Jeep and a few horses.” But the stock market crash that precipitated the Great Recession turned Piszel into a pretzel financially and  put his palatial coastal pad into the hands of a real estate agent. The asking price was just under $5 million.

Instead of improving its image, First American’s rebranding of itself as CoreLogic made it only worse. One handicapper estimated online that CoreLogic had almost a four-in-ten chance of going bankrupt in the next two years, offering the following colorful chart to illustrate its precarious predicament.

One of the problems at CoreLogic, the same handicapper explained, was  the ratio of assets to debts, as the following chart illustrates:

       Since the housing market has improved slightly in the last two quarters, so presumably has CoreLogic’s financial position, but it is not out of the woods yet, far from it, as the graph below, taken from the company’s most recent annual report makes clear, but only if you focus on the CoreLogic line, 
which shows that $100.00 invested in 2006 would have been worth only $60.00 at the end of 2011, a 40% loss. Highfields Capital, of  Boston, was CoreLogic’s unhappy, second biggest shareholder. Since Highfields was an $11 billion dollar company, it would have  invested closer to $10,000,000 than $100.00, and stood to lose not $40.00, but closer to $4,000,000.

            All these charts and figures may not have anything to do with the price of tea in China, but they probably have a lot to do with the price of mortgages in Portsmouth, where homeowners carry more CoreLogic mortgages than with all the other mortgage companies combined, by a roughly eight to one ratio, including such mortgage giants as  Bank of America and Wells Fargo. If First American is still in the mortgage business, you would not know it by Portsmouth, where it’s CoreLogic, CoreLogic, CoreLogic. It seems  illogical to me that  CoreLogic, a relatively small, financially troubled, faraway supposedly information-based company, the Portsmouth-focused branch of which is located in that odd little town of Westlake, Texas, carries the most mortgages in Portsmouth. The who, the why, and the how of it all is a mystery I will delve further into in my next post on the subject.