Maryland officials gave a cool reception yesterday to a new proposal to ease the problems spawned by the collapse of Equity Programs Investment Corp. (EPIC), amid indications that the plan also will face objections from institutions that loaned money to EPIC.
The Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund (MDIF), the conservator for EPIC and its sister, Community Savings & Loan, has been working with other parties to devise a plan for curing EPIC's delinquencies on payments on $1.4 billion worth of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities.
The restructuring plan developed by the Ticor Mortgage Insurance Co. is the first to emerge since EPIC filed for bankruptcy last week on behalf of 341 limited partnerships it set up to buy houses as tax shelters. A previous bailout plan put together by the Wall Street brokerage house, Dean Witter Reynolds, collapsed last week.
The proposal put together by Ticor, which has estimated its potential losses at EPIC at $166 million, essentially would enable the EPIC partnerships to meet a cash-flow squeeze by reducing the monthly interest payments they owe on mortgages to 9 percent -- well below what the mortgages are paying now, according to analysts.
Under a restructuring, the mortgages would become six-year balloon mortgages -- the unpaid principal on the mortgages would be due in six years and would be paid off through the sale of the properties underlying them.
Rents received from the properties would go to the mortgage-holders, although any shortfall would be met by the mortgage insurance companies exposed at EPIC. The insurers' liability would be limited to 25 percent of the value of the mortgages.
Insurers would be willing to accept these losses because the plan would allow them to forestall the potentially far greater claims they could be forced to pay if the lenders immediately foreclosed on the properties. Such foreclosures are stayed by the bankruptcy proceedings.
Ticor has scheduled a meeting in Chicago on Friday to discuss its plan with major lenders and regulators. Yesterday, it presented its proposal to MDIF officials, who described the plan as the basis for further talks but not a definitive outline for solving EPIC's problems.
Maryland officials have said their primary interest is to extricate Community, which has advanced EPIC an estimated $70 million in funds, from the situation as easily as possible. The Federal Home Loan Bank Board has ordered Community to shed EPIC before it can qualify for federal deposit insurance, which all but the smallest Maryland savings and loans have been required to obtain as a result of the thrift crisis.
The Ticor proposal may still leave Community with more liabilities than Maryland officials are willing to accept, sources said. Under the plan, MDIF ranks low in priority among the parties in line to receive money from the dispersal of EPIC assets.
Lou Panos, press secretary for Gov. Harry Hughes, said the Ticor proposal is "not the solution the state is looking for," but added it could serve as a framework for negotiations. Another state source said that key Maryland officials still are mapping out strategy and have not yet determined a course of action.
The other main parties that have to approve any restructuring of the mortgages are the thrifts and other institutions that own EPIC mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. A meeting has been scheduled for today by the trustees for the mortgage-backed securities to gauge how the certificate holders feel about proceeding, sources said.
However, one official familiar with the situation said indications are that the security holders would be reluctant to agree to such a plan. "I can't imagine that they would want to go along," said the source. "It doesn't give them the certainty that they want as to what their ultimate losses would be. It doesn't give them present value."
Other lawyers, however, said there may be some incentives for the investors to join in the Ticor plan despite the cut in interest income they would be required to take. The prospect of a protracted legal battle over the disposition of EPIC's assets, as well as doubts that some of the mortgage insurance companies can actually meet their obligations on bad loans, could induce otherwise recalcitrant lenders to join in, some said.
Furthermore, lawyers said, the alternative of a quick foreclosure would mean that the mortgagees would have to sell the properties in one fell swoop, an action that could depress the value of the more than 20,000 EPIC houses, many of which reportedly are concentrated in the stagnant real estate market in Texas.
Another wild card in the complicated situation is whether the other mortgage insurance companies would be willing to contribute to the plan. Executives at Old Republic Mortgage Insurance and the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp., the two other companies heavily exposed by EPIC, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Winston Morrow, president of Ticor's parent firm, said the other companies know of the plan and have had some input, but he said, "This is not their proposal." Another industry executive, however, said that because the other companies don't have as much to lose at EPIC, they might not be as eager to pitch in for the plan.
In other developments yesterday, MDIF Director Melville S. Brown said he was exploring "every possible alternative" to allow Community depositors quick access to their funds.
On Tuesday, at a legislative hearing in Annapolis, Brown said full access to deposits could be delayed for years. Brown and other state officials sounded a more optimistic note yesterday, saying they probably would allow limited access to deposits for hardship cases if a resolution to Community's current financial crisis is delayed.