Goldman calls mortgage losses ‘immaterial’

November 9, 2010, 9:38 PM UTC

So far, so good on the mortgage crisis, Goldman Sachs says in its latest quarterly filing.

Investors have been anxious about how much various banks could end up paying to make good on problem loans they sold during the housing bubble. Wall Street analysts have produced widely varying estimates of the scale of the so-called mortgage putback problem.

X marks the spot, apparently.

Goldman wasn’t a big residential lender, and its mortgage-backed securities dealings during the bubble years pale in comparison with, say, Bank of America , which owns the remains of the notoriously reckless Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. Accordingly, Goldman hasn’t paid a heavy price for repurchases so far.

To date repurchase claims and actual repurchases of residential mortgage loans based upon alleged breaches of representations have not been significant and have mainly involved government sponsored enterprises. During the nine months ended September 30, 2010, the firm incurred an immaterial loss on the repurchase of less than $50 million of loans.

But the firm, which repeatedly characterized the mortgage issues as “fluid” in its quarterly conference call last month, adds that the bills could start to mount. 

Based upon the large number of defaults in residential mortgages, including those sold or securitized by the firm, there is a potential for increasing claims for repurchases. However, the firm is not in a position to make a meaningful estimate of that exposure at this time.

That sounds familiar. Meanwhile, Goldman continues to reassess the practices of its own entrant in the mortgage business, the Litton loan servicing firm it purchased at the end of 2007 as the market was beginning to crater:

The firm has received a number of requests for information from regulators and other agencies, including state attorneys general, as part of an industry-wide focus on the practices of lenders and servicers in connection with foreclosure proceedings. The requests seek information about the foreclosure protocols of Litton Loan Servicing LP (Litton), the firm’s residential mortgage servicing subsidiary, and any deviations therefrom. The firm is cooperating with the requests and is reviewing Litton’s practices in this area.

Goldman said last month that Litton had suspended foreclosure sales, though like others Goldman continues to hew to the line that there haven’t been any serious missteps.

Litton has temporarily suspended evictions and foreclosure and real estate owned sales in a number of states, including those with judicial foreclosure procedures. As of the date of this filing, the firm is not aware of foreclosures where the underlying foreclosure decision was not warranted.