Is the Mortgage Bankers’ Assoc About to Implode?

Posted on July 22nd, 2008 in Daily Mortgage/Housing News - The Real Story

This fine piece of research was done by my buddy Rolfe Winkler at Option Armageddon.  It’s a great read – so much so that I am not even going to comment. I’m just going to do a cut and paste. -Best, Mr Mortgage <>

Kempner doubling-down on MBA’s future?

July 17, 2008 – 6:01 pm Like the rest of the real estate universe, the Mortgage Bankers Association is in trouble. Membership is in decline, meeting attendance is down and some of MBA’s largest conference sponsors are either out of business or cutting back. With this in mind, it seems a poorly-timed decision to double-down on real estate. But that’s precisely what CEO Jonathan Kempner did, using MBA’s reserve fund to construct brand new headquarters.

Taking the hit for MBA’s financial difficulties include a “low double-digit” number of staffers that were recently fired as well as a subset of members for whom dues will increase.

Kempner refused comment for this article through MBA’s SVP for Communications and Marketing Cheryl Crispen, but it seems clear he’s not sharing the financial pain. In the year ending September 2006—the latest for which MBA’s tax filing is available—he pocketed $1.15 million in salary, bonus, benefits and expense reimbursements, ranking him among the “top earning” trade association CEOs in the U.S. according to a National Journal article published earlier this year.

And his comments to National Journal suggest he isn’t expecting a pay cut any time soon. One would seem to be in order…..


At the beginning of 2007, as the real estate downturn accelerated, Kempner announced that MBA had signed an agreement to purchase 1331 L St., NW in Washington, D.C.:

“This new building will allow MBA to better meet the needs of its members,” he said in a press release at the time. “We will have a modern, state of the art facility that gives us the space and resources we need to serve our members, as well as the flexibility to adapt our office space as our strategic goals and objectives evolve.”

It’s not clear what “member needs” necessitated the building purchase. Perhaps Kempner thought he’d need more space after merging MBA with the the trade group representing subprime lenders in August 2006.

In any case, MBA closed the new building deal earlier this year and the association now occupies 40% of it. The rest wasto be leased out to help pay the mortgage. Trouble is, Kempner can’t find any tenants to share his new digs. With no tenants and deteriorating lending conditions, MBA was forced to put down “10% more” than planned toward the purchase according to the Washington Post.

Nor has Kempner found tenants to sublet the association’s old lease for 32,000 square feet on the 8th floor at 1919 Pennsylvania Ave. That lease runs through 2011. (Note the leasing contact info immediately to the right of MBA’s old plaque in the photo below.)

In total, MBA is carrying the cost of 200,000 square feet of space, of which the association is using only a third.

All of the above is hitting MBA’s reserve fund hard. According to Crispen, it stands at $57m, off from $77m a year ago. And while the acquisition cost of the building was $79m, according to Commercial Property News, MBA may be on the hook for millions more in tenant improvements.

With membership down 17% from its peak, and big conference sponsors like Countrywide out of business or cutting back, the decision to raid the rainy-day fund to buy an ostentatious, LEED-Silver Certified building seems questionable at best.

The official MBA line on the building remains enthusiastic:

“We came to the inescapable conclusion last year that owning our own building was the smartest long term investment for the Association and…[w]e are, quite frankly, thrilled to be in our own home.”

“We” apparently refers to Kempner and three “member-led” task forces that, according to Crispen, signed off on the purchase. If I were a member, I’d be curious to know those among my ranks that served on those task forces. And to hear their rationale.

Assuming they did their homework, how do they justify the purchase in light of the “dramatic” deterioration in D.C.’s commercial leasing environment? According to a May article in the Washington Post, published three weeks after MBA closed on its new building, “leasing activity dropp[ed] to its lowest level in more than a decade” in the first quarter of this year. Continued construction, coupled with slowing demand, is leading to a supply glut. Incentives such as free rent, which haven’t been seen in years according to the article, are increasingly common.

Crispen disputes the notion that the building wasn’t a good investment. She points to a “13% increase” in the building’s value since the deal closed. That appraisal, she says, comes from a “nationally-rated firm.” But she won’t name the firm and won’t say why.

Considering the difficulty they are having renting space, and the deteriorating financing environment, it’s hard to believe Kempner could flip the building for more than he paid. So the appraisal, like so many residential ones circa 2007, likely isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

Besides the layoffs, MBA’s deteriorating finances have forced Kempner to cut back other functions important to members. Functions like lobbying. According to Crispen, MBA’s outside lobbying operation is still going strong, but well-connected sources inside and outside MBA say that funding for lobbyists has been cut back.

Members themselves will soon be asked to share MBA’s financial pain more directly. According to an MBA spokesperson, new dues will soon be instituted for a subset of members based on “servicing activities.”

The one person not sharing the pain appears to be Kempner. At $1.2m, his comp sucked up 2.1% of MBA’s total revenue in the year ending Sept ‘06. We’ll know how much he took home in 2007 when MBA releases last year’s tax filing in August. But as the National Journal article makes clear, Kempner isn’t anticipating a pay cut any time soon.

Members should be asking why not.


You too can look up the MBA’s financial info, complete with a revenue breakdown and record of the CEO’s pay, by registering at It’s a standard, free website registration, with a confirmation e-mail in your inbox. Go through that and then when you’re back at the website search for “mortgage bankers association.” Under that listing you’ll see pdf versions of form 990, which is the annual report MBA files with the IRS.

11 Responses to “Is the Mortgage Bankers’ Assoc About to Implode?”

  1. Well, after all. A technical reporter at Barrons is calling a bottom for financials:

    You Heard it Here: a Bottom for Financials
    But that doesn’t mean that a bull market is beginning just yet.

    JUST ONE DAY AFTER MY SKEPTICAL VIEW of the condition of the financial sector last week, it picked itself up and zoomed higher. Wells Fargo (ticker: WFC) kicked off a parade of bank earnings that were bad but not as bad as the Chicken Littles feared. The sky was not falling and neither were bank stocks anymore.

    The question now is how long it will last and right now there is still little evidence that it is smooth sailing higher from here. But in a rather surprising switch, I do now view the sector as having bottomed. That does not mean it will go up but the process of repairing the damage and building a base has begun. And it is going to take some time.

    From a sentiment perspective, the fear has been driven out of financial stocks. Clearly, the market is no longer interested in bad news bank and broker stocks rallied sharply in the face of plummeting profits. It seems that anything short of a company failing will be met with a spate of buying.

    While the relief felt by investors as financial stocks did not fall into the abyss is certainly reason enough for these stocks to continue somewhat higher, we have to consider that its fuel is in short supply. Many analysts are of the opinion that last week’s action was a massive “short squeeze.” Traders that had sold this sector short were forced to buy back their positions as prices rose and that action fed on itself. The higher prices moved, the more urgent it was to cover those shorts.

    Eventually, the shorts will be covered and a big source of demand will disappear. But regardless of why the financial sector reversed course last week, the size and scope of both price action and trading volume suggest that the final panic has occurred and the worst — from a stock market perspective — is over. Just don’t confuse that with the worst being over in the real world as the stock market looks about nine months out into the future.

    Thing is, every crash in history occurred when “the bottom fell out.” (E.g. Black Tuesday’s “bottom”.) I’m just praying the system retains sufficient liquidity when I exercise my put options come October.

  2. Mr. Mortgage, do you believe that Wachovia will survive this crisis? Or do you think they fail? Any sense of timing?

  3. Boom ! Hey Wachovia is exploding in price. The news are “fantastic”. I can’t believe how the facists and the nazis from Goldman Sachs can manipulate a piece of shit on a day like this. The US stock market a racket. What a horrible country. A busted that goes up when everyone knows the company is worthless piece of shit. I am out of the US market for ever ! Mafia market !

  4. I am sure the 11,000 laid off employees of Wachovia are real happy seing that piece of shit going up 8% today. What a bad joke ! I am starting to hate this place.

  5. up 23% now.. this is f*ing ridiculous..

    They lost $8.9 BILLION right? Not $8.90?

  6. Is this anything to do with Paulson asking for permission to buy ‘unlimited amounts of shares in companies to stabilise the market’?

  7. Marc,

    Yea but managemnet took full responsibility for the poor performance, thus it is spun as a bullish event lol.

  8. I don’t see what you don’t get. The stocks are going up across the board because the Gov’t wants them to and will NOT let them default or implode. This is about as much “medicine” as the Fed is willing to let them take. Now the taxpayers who signed for those mortgages and even the poor schmucks that did not “game the system” have to ante up…..espically on 4/15/2009…and beyond. It sucks to be fiscally responsible and finacially conservative because you are the only one left with anything when it comes to corrections. Look at welfare…..keep working because millions depend on you. Don’t confuse my comment with lack of compassion. There are a great many who need help. It is meant to be a help up to the table….. not a permanent seat at the table.

  9. The stocks are going because the slaves will be paying the bills. What a great “democracy” ! 🙂 It’s not the oil, it’s that the markets are sure that slave taxpayer will be paying for all the mess. I never knew the USA was NOW again an esclavagist state. You are the slaves. And the slave merchant is the mafia boys from Goldman Sachs.

  10. The stocks are going up because the slaves will be paying the bills. What a great “democracy” ! 🙂 It’s not the oil, it’s that the markets are sure that slave taxpayer will be paying for all the mess. I never knew the USA was NOW again an esclavagist state. You are the slaves. And the slave merchant is the mafia boys from Goldman Sachs.

  11. “There will be gnashing of teeth”. (gold-filled, Zionist teeth!)

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