Friday, June 6, 2008

Is securitization coming back?

(Naked Capitalism) In a Financial Times article. Gillian Tett files a somewhat dumbfounded report from the European Securitization Forum in Cannes. While the event has gone wildly downscale from last year's bash, the participants were hopeful that the return of good times was just around the corner. As we'll see posthaste, Tett doesn't buy it. She sees regulators primed to attack the loopholes and oversights that allowed the high profit products, particularly CDOs, to flourish. Yes, securitization will come back, but it seems certain to be only the plain vanilla, low margin sort.

There's another constraint that Tett omits, Securitization depends on credit enhancement. That can be accomplished three ways: overcollateralization, credit default swaps, and insurance. The latter two were the most common methods for more complicated deals. Yet as the credit crisis has progressed, CDS protection writing capacity is scarce and costly, and measures to move CDS to exchanges and force standardization of terms would make them less suitable for new issues. Paul Jackson wrote about the problem shortly after the annual meeting of the American securitization industry's big confab:
While the monoline business may or may not be less important in the municipal bond markets due to the unbelievably low incidence of defaults, the guaranty business is actually far more important to the MBS business than most have given attention to thus far — precisely because defaults can and do happen.

For secondary mortgage market participants, resolving this crisis isn’t just a piece of the puzzle; it might be the puzzle. At the American Securitization Conference in Las Vegas last week, many investment bankers suggested on panels and in hallways that the bond insurer mess is the single largest issue keeping the private-party market from having a chance at establishing any modicum of recovery going forward.

As we know, the monolines have gone down for the count.

From the Financial Times:
[W]hat was more noteworthy about this week’s {European Securitisation Forum] gathering in Cannes was just how many bankers still seem to think – or hope – that this champagne drought will prove short-lived.

For while nobody is brave enough right now to predict that subprime mortgages are about to return, there was plenty of excitement in Cannes about opportunities in other asset classes. Auto loans, for example, are currently considered hot; so is Islamic finance. Meanwhile, one banker chirpily predicted that we will soon see the launch of some CDOs based on Russian consumer debt. “This stuff always comes back. Just give it a few months,” he said.

Well, perhaps. But I suspect that some of this optimism is pretty delusional. For the events of the last year have not just hurt investor confidence in the securitisation process, they have also left regulators horrified by the degree to which bankers have abused banking loopholes in recent years.

In normal times, bankers tend to be pretty cynical – even scathing – about what these regulators might think. (Indeed, one top representative from PWC had the temerity to declare in Cannes this week that the industry already had the regulators “under control”, although he noted the European parliament was less malleable.)

I suspect, however, that bankers would be foolish to discount the regulators this time. For some of the ideas currently floating around the supervisory community could potentially have a big impact on the securitisation world for years to come.

Take the matter of the capital treatment of trading books. In recent weeks, some Western supervisors have conducted intensive analysis on banks’ trading books and discovered, to their horror, that some banks have been exploiting so many regulatory loopholes in recent years that they have got away with posting virtually no capital reserves against assets, such as the senior tranches of CDOs.

This situation reflects badly on the regulators who devised these rules – and even worse on supervisors who were supposed to police them. However, now they have woken up to the problem, many regulators want to act, probably by imposing much higher capital charges for assets in the trading book.

This has big implications for parts of the CDO world. Most notably, the banks will have far less economic incentive to create instruments such as mortgage-bond CDOs, or so-called single-tranche CDOs, if they can no longer park the senior CDO debt on their trading books for free.

In other words, one upshot of the regulatory rules is that when securitisation does return, it is likely to be in a dramatically simpler form, centred around more traditional lines of business, such as creating mortgage-backed bonds. And the key point about this is that these “simple” business lines tend to be far less profitable than the complex stuff or, more accurately, wacky stuff that uses free money in spades.

So the upshot is this: securitisation is certainly not dead; but it is unlikely to produce endless champagne again anytime soon. And anybody setting out for the ESF events in the coming years had better develop a taste for cheap beer.

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