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In re New York Community of Bancorp

September 18, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge


In this consolidated class action the plaintiffs claim that the defendants New York Community Bancorp. ("NYCB"), and Joseph R. Ficalora, Joseph L. Mancino, Michael F. Manzulli, Michael Puorro, Robert Wann, Anthony E. Burke, James J. O'Donovan, Thomas R. Cangemi (collectively with NYCB, the "Defendants"), violated federal securities laws by making materially false and misleading statements concerning NYCB's investment practices; its exposure to interest rate risk; the composition of its investment portfolio; and its ability to sustain growth through its multi-family mortgage lending business. Currently before the Court is (1) a motion by the plaintiffs Al Tawil and Estate of Farah Mahlab (collectively the "Tawil Plaintiffs") to vacate the Court's previous order of consolidation; and (2) a motion by the Defendants pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P.") to dismiss the Consolidated and Amended Class Action Complaint.


A. Procedural History

By order dated August 9, 2005 ("Consolidation Order"), United States District Judge Denis R. Hurley consolidated eleven related purported securities class actions commenced on behalf of investors who purchased or acquired stock of NYCB. In addition, the Court appointed Metzler Investment GmbH and Bernard Drucker (collectively the "NYCB Group") as Lead Plaintiff and its counsel Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman LLP as lead counsel. On October 6, 2005, the Lead Plaintiffs filed a Consolidated and Amended Class Action Complaint ("Complaint"). On February 24, 2006, the Defendants timely filed the pending motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint. On March 10, 2006, the case was reassigned to this Court. On April 12, 2006, the Tawil Plaintiffs filed the pending motion for reconsideration and to vacate the Order of Consolidation.

B. The Consolidated and Amended Class Action Complaint

The Complaint seeks relief under the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 ("Exchange Act") and the Securities Act of 1933 ("Securities Act") for all persons who purchased or acquired NYCB securities between June 27, 2003, and July 1, 2004 (the "Class Period"). In addition to existing shareholders of NYCB, the Class Period includes holders of Roslyn Bancorp, Inc. ("Roslyn") common stock who acquired shares of NYCB common stock in connection with the merger of Roslyn and NYCB on October 29, 2003, and those who purchased NYCB common stock in connection with a secondary public offering completed by NYCB in January 2004 (the January 2004 offering").

According to the Complaint, NYCB is a thrift engaged primarily in retail banking, the production of multi-family and residential construction loans, and in the sale of third-party investment products and financial services. Beginning in November 2000 NYCB achieved significant growth earning targets, in large part due to its acquisitions of other financial institutions, including Haven Bancorp., Inc., Richmond County Financial Corp., and finally Roslyn. NYCB built a unique and profitable core lending business comprised of multi-family mortgage loans.

The proposed merger with Roslyn was announced on June 27, 2003. The merger agreement provided that Roslyn shareholders would receive .75 shares of NYCB stock for each outstanding share of Roslyn stock. On September 23, 2003, Roslyn and NYCB issued a Joint Proxy (the "Joint Proxy") soliciting votes in favor of the merger, and the issuance of stock to fund the merger. In connection with the merger, NYCB announced that it intended to restructure Roslyn's balance sheet through the sale of as much as 3.5 billion in securities. At the time of the merger announcement, the two companies reported that Roslyn and NYCB had "exact opposite" balance sheets with regard to assets and liabilities, and the restructuring was designed to "restore the mix of assets to its pre-merger configuration." Compl. ¶¶ 71, 95. The merger was completed on October 29, 2003.

By November 2003, the three newly acquired institutions merged into NYCB accounted for $17 billion of its $23.4 billion in assets, and $11 billion of its $12.1 billion in deposits. Compl. ¶ 58. Through these transactions NYCB grew significantly, including immediate accretions to earnings, increased deposits, increased fee income and increases in lending activity. However, it is claimed in the Complaint that these mergers did not provide significant longer term earnings growth opportunities for NYCB's core business of multi-family lending.

Despite NYCB's growth, in 2003 the company's niche in multi-family lending faced uncertainty due to rising interest rates and increased competition from national lenders such as Fannie Mae and Washington Mutual. In order to remain competitive in the lending market, NYCB lowered its interest rates, and offered less profitable terms that were comparable to its competitors. As a result, NYCB's yields on its multi-family loans declined and NYCB's ability to grow its core earnings was allegedly limited.

The thrust of the 137 page complaint centers on NYCB's involvement in a risky, but common, leveraging strategy involving mortgage-backed securities known as the "carry trade." The carry trade involves financing or "carrying" the purchase of mortgage-backed securities with funds borrowed through repurchase agreements from the money market. This strategy attempts to take advantage of the differences between the rates of repurchase agreements, which have lower short-term interest rates, and the mortgage-backed securities, which have higher long-term interest rates. A comparison of the differences between the rates is called the "yield curve." Relying on this mismatch of interest rates can produce significant gains when the yield curve is steep, that is, when the spread between long-term and short-term interest rates is wide. This investment strategy was, according to the Complaint, allegedly utilized by NYCB to offset the undisclosed limited growth in its core lending business.

However, the carry trade has its risks. If the yield curve flattens because short-term interest rates increase and long-term rates do not increase at a similar pace, the investment is exposed in two ways. First, the spread between the interest rates is reduced such that net income from the spread decreases, an event known as a "margin squeeze." Second, under applicable accounting rules, mortgage-backed securities are classified as "available-for sale," instead of "held to maturity," and thus the investor must immediately realize any loss on the decline in value of the securities. Accordingly, the more money NYCB borrowed to purchase mortgage-backed securities, the more vulnerable it was to increases in short-term interest rates, which would both decrease the net interest income and force the Company to immediately recognize losses.

In addition to the reduced yield and immediate recognition of losses, increases in the interest rate affect the overall value of mortgage-backed securities, as explained in Olkey v. Hyperion 1999 Term Trust, Inc., 98 F.3d 2, 10 n.1 (2d Cir. 1996) (Newman, C. J., dissenting):

Normally, the value of mortgage-backed securities decrease when interest rates increase, and rise when interest rates decline. These effects are enhanced by the change in the rate at which mortgagors elect to pay off their mortgages. When interest rates rise, the pay-off rate declines, and holders of mortgage-backed securities have, in effect, lengthened maturities on average and thereby reduced value. When interest rates decline, the mortgage pay-off rate rises, and holders of mortgage-backed securities have, in effect, shortened maturities on average, received back principal sooner than anticipated, and thereby enhanced value.


The Complaint alleges NYCB discretely diverted an increasing portion of its capital from conservative, interest-rate neutral, lending activities, to the more risky investment of the carry trade in order to generate continued earnings growth. This purportedly was accomplished by advertising the company as a conservative community bank that was one of the few financial institutions that was well-protected against interest rate increases due to its conservatively written multi-family loans. In particular, the Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants: (1) falsely represented that NYCB was uniquely able to thrive in an environment of rising interest rates and that its business prospects remained strong; (2) highlighted a false strategy of deleveraging following the acquisition of Roslyn; and (3) failed to adequately disclose the extent of the risks of the carry trade activity. These alleged material misrepresentations or omissions set forth in the Complaint are fleshed out in greater detail below.

First, as to the claim that the Defendants highlighted the purported safety of NYCB's investment portfolio. This allegedly was accomplished by the Defendants statements regarding the company's ability to withstand rising interest rates and its conservative stance. For example, defendant Joseph R. Ficalora, the Chief Executive Officer, President and a Director of NYCB, emphasized that NYCB was not vulnerable to increases in interest rates in response to media inquiries:

So, you're actually going to be doing better in a rising interest environment?

That's right. . So with the rising interest rate environment, since [] the securities portfolio was structured to re-price, no matter whether rates were going up or not, it automatically will give us significantly more assets, at better yields [than] were contemplated in the [Roslyn] deal. * * * As we sit today, our assets are probably the most risk adverse assets that are out there in the marketplace.

Compl. ¶ 110 (quoting an October 22, 2003 interview with Bloomberg).

Ficalora also described the state of the bank to analysts as follows: [The balance sheet's] current configuration reflects the investment of borrowed funds into two to three year assets with characteristics that support our aversion to both interest rate and extension risk.

In a recent interview I was asked what I consider to be our greatest characteristic, and I believe that my response was perhaps our [aversion] to risk. This trait is not only reflected in the quality of our assets, it is reflected in virtually every management decision we make.

Compl. ¶ 111 (quoting an October 22, 2003 conference call with analysts).

At the time of the January 2004 offering the defendant Ficalora continued to represent to the investing public through analysts that NYCB remained risk-averse:

[W]e are confident in our ability to manage our balance sheet regardless of changes in interest rates and changes in our market. And [] we are confident in our ability to manage interest rate risk. * * * I'd say that interest rate sensitivity, we're neutral on that.

Compl. ¶¶ 135, 136 (quoting a January 27, 2004 analysts conference call); see also Compl. ¶ 140 ("We are a risk adverse company. We have always been a risk averse company. We have sacrificed earnings.") (quoting a January 28, 2004 speech at a Smith Barney conference)).

The Complaint also alleges that the Defendants made false or misleading statements regarding the growth of the bank's customer deposits and whether those deposits had an adverse impact on the company's financial performance. During a conference call with securities analysts on January 24, 2004, Ficalora stated there had not been any attrition in the deposits, and that he expected them to grow. However, according to several former employees of NYCB, including an Assistant Supervisor and ...

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