H&R Block Inc. told investors to ignore speculation that it faces a surge in costs tied to its defunct mortgage business.
Concern about potential losses tied to buybacks of home loans "is not based on fact," and reserves to protect the company against claims "are adequate," its chief executive, Alan Bennett, said last week during a conference call about fiscal first-quarter earnings.
The call included repeated queries about claims, which have totaled more than $680 million.
"There's nothing that we're seeing anywhere that would lead to the kind of phone calls we just listened to other than speculators that, in my mind, have probably sold our stock short and then stirred this up," Bennett said in an interview after the call.
Mortgage buyback claims "are getting better," he said.
H&R Block, the biggest U.S. tax preparer, originated mortgages through January 2008. It has repurchase reserves of $188 million for potential losses on faulty mortgages, its interim chief financial officer, Jeffrey Brown, said during the conference call.
H&R Block's mortgage buyback liability "remains within our reserved expectations, and we continue to view related reserves as adequate," Brown said.
"As of right now, they're not seeing the claims," said David Burtzlaff, an analyst with Stephens Inc. "I'm still concerned that they may see more claims in the future. If they don't, the stock probably will move higher. It's been pushed down because of this fear."
"Word on the street" was that H&R Block, of Kansas City, Mo., was among the recipients of 64 subpoenas issued by the Federal Housing Finance Agency in July that sought information on mortgage buybacks, Michael Millman, founder of Millman Research Associates, said on the conference call. Bennett said he "can't comment as to speculation."
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for which the FHFA is conservator, are under pressure from Congress to recoup losses from soured mortgages.
H&R Block's portfolio of originated mortgage loans has declined 34%, to $33 billion, from the principal balance when it stopped servicing mortgages, Brown said.
Of the $33 billion, $15 billion of the portfolio was originated before 2006, with the rest in 2006 and 2007. "We believe the likelihood of repurchase claims decline as loans become more seasoned," he said.
About one-third of the portfolio is securitized, and the company had $500 million of direct loan sales to government-sponsored entities such as Fannie and Freddie, Brown said.