September 02, 2017

The financial packaging / securitization process includes an evil incentive

Sir, Patrick Jenkins in the Spectrum special “Financial crisis: 10 years on: Where are we now?” September 1 writes: “So great was investors’ appetite for these high-yielding MBSs and CDOs that mortgage companies lowered their underwriting standards to feed the securitisation sausage machine.”

Yes and no! First these MBSs had the additional quality of being rated by the credit rating agencies as very safe, AAA in many cases; and so in fact offered extremely high risk-adjusted yields, which made their great attractiveness perfectly logical. Naturally many investors would fall for these.

But then we have the problem with the securitization process itself. If you package something safe and sell it of as something safer, the profits are much smaller than if you manage to package something very risky and are able to sell it off as safe. So “mortgage companies lowered their underwriting standards”, not only because of the demand, but also because that allowed the original mortgages to carry higher interest rates, and so the profits of the packaging team would be larger larger. Here is how I have described that on my blog for more than a decade.

“If you convinced risky and broke Joe to take a $300.000 mortgage at 11 percent for 30 years and then, with more than a little help from the credit rating agencies, you could convince risk-adverse Fred that this mortgage, repackaged in a securitized version, and rated AAA, was so safe that a six percent return was quite adequate, then you could sell Fred the mortgage for $510.000. This would allow you and your partners in the set-up, to pocket a tidy profit of $210.000”