In 2004, pay-option A.R.M.’s accounted for 6 percent of Countrywide’s originations. Two years later, they accounted for 21 percent of its loans. The loans were moneymakers for Countrywide; internal company documents show that the company made gross profit margins of more than 4 percent on such loans, double the 2 percent generated on standard loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration.
Countrywide pushed the lucrative loans hard. A sales document called “Pay Option A.R.M.’s Made Simple” asked rhetorically what kinds of customers would be interested in these loans. “Anyone who wants the lowest possible payment!” was one of the answers.
But these loans unnerved Mr. Mozilo, as his e-mails indicate. In April 2006, for example, he learned that almost three-quarters of the company’s pay-option customers had chosen to make the minimum payment the prior February, up from 60 percent the previous August, according to the S.E.C.’s complaint. In an e-mail to Mr. Sambol, Mr. Mozilo wrote: “Since over 70 percent have opted to make the lower payment it appears that it is just a matter of time that we will be faced with much higher resets and therefore much higher delinquencies.”
Two months later, and just one day after he talked up his company’s pay-option A.R.M.’s to investors at a Wall Street conference, Mr. Mozilo wrote an e-mail to Mr. Sambol predicting trouble ahead for many borrowers in these mortgages. They “are going to experience a payment shock which is going to be difficult if not impossible for them to manage,” he said.
And in September 2006, Mr. Mozilo wrote an e-mail saying the company had no way to assess the risks of holding pay-option A.R.M.’s on its balance sheet. “The bottom line is that we are flying blind on how these loans will perform in a stressed environment of higher unemployment, reduced values and slowing home sales,” he wrote.
Another Countrywide product that concerned Mr. Mozilo was its so-called 80/20 loan, named for the fact that the combination allowed a borrower to receive money covering 100 percent of a home’s purchase price.
Mr. Mozilo had become worried about these loans in the first quarter of 2006, when HSBC Bank , a buyer of Countrywide’s 80-20 loans, began forcing the lender to repurchase some that HSBC contended were defective.
“In all my years in the business, I have never seen a more toxic product,” he wrote to Mr. Sambol in an April 17, 2006, e-mail cited by the S.E.C. “With real estate values coming down ... the product will become increasingly worse.”
Such e-mails suggest that by mid-2006, Mr. Mozilo had recognized how reckless some of his company’s lending had become. And just three months later, according to the S.E.C. complaint, he met with his financial adviser to increase the amount of Countrywide shares he could cash in under a planned executive stock-sale program.
Mr. Mozilo had always been a big seller, and rarely a buyer, of the Countrywide shares he was granted as a part of his compensation. The timing of some of his sales, however, has drawn the scrutiny of the S.E.C.
For example, on Sept. 25, a day before writing the e-mail about how Countrywide was “flying blind” on pay-option A.R.M.’s, he set up a new planned stock-selling program for himself, known as a 10b-5 plan, the S.E.C. said.
Such plans allow executives to sell stock regularly, without running afoul of regulations governing the sale of stock around significant corporate announcements. Mr. Mozilo also set up plans enabling a family foundation and a trust he oversaw to sell shares.
Altogether, the S.E.C. said, from November 2006 to October 2007, he sold more than five million Countrywide shares under his personal plan. His gains were $140 million, the S.E.C. said.
Mr. Mozilo has long maintained that his stock sales were not unusual, and in the past Countrywide has said that it and Mr. Mozilo were battered by economic forces beyond their control.
“No one, including Mr. Mozilo, could have foreseen the unprecedented combination of events that led to the problems borrowers, lenders and investors face with many of these loans today,” a Countrywide spokesman told The Times in 2007. “Countrywide is proud of its role in making homeownership affordable to lower-income households.”
But lawyers and analysts say Friday’s settlement means that Mr. Mozilo’s legacy is likely to be something quite different from that of a banker who brought homeownership to the masses.
“Mozilo is agreeing to a permanent ban on serving as an officer or director of a public company,” said James A. Fanto, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and a specialist in corporate and securities law. “That is a significant punishment and does not look good for his legacy.”