Back in 2007/2008, Wall Street drastically pulled back on mortgage origination for their own balance sheets while ramping up their issuance of RMBS securities. Of course, the goal was very simple: package up all the mortgage-related nuclear waste on your balance sheet into a pretty package, tie a ribbon around it with that AAA-rating from Moody’s and sell it all to unsuspecting pension funds and insurance companies around the globe.
Now, despite all the ‘harsh penalties’ that Obama imposed on Wall Street after the mortgage crisis, like that $1.8 billion settlement where we showed that Goldman will actually make money from their ‘punishment’, it seems as though the exact same scheme is currently underway with auto loans. Per Bloomberg:
Both banks have grown more reluctant to make new subprime loans using money from their own balance sheets. Wells Fargo tightened its underwriting standards and slashed the volume of all loans it made to car buyers in the first quarter by 29 percent after greater numbers of borrowers fell behind on payments. JPMorgan’s consumer and community banking head Gordon Smith earlier this year said the bank had cut its new lending for subprime auto loans “dramatically.”
At the same time the firms are indirectly funding billions of dollars of the loans by helping companies like Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc. borrow in the asset-backed securities market, essentially shunting money from bond investors to finance companies. Wall Street banks packaged more loans from finance companies into bonds in the first quarter than the same period last year, and Wells Fargo and JPMorgan remained two of the top underwriters of the securities.
Of course, with only ~$200 billion of auto ABS outstanding, compared to $9 trillion in RMBS, the auto loan market hardly represents the same “systemic risk” to the financial industry today as mortgage loans did back in 2007. That said, deterioration in lending standards could certainly wreak havoc on consumers, investors and the auto industry which will undoubtedly have ripple effects throughout the economy.
The risks to Wall Street firms from subprime auto bonds are smaller. Big banks provide lines of credit to finance companies that make subprime loans, but these tend to be a small part of major firms’ balance sheets. The auto loan bond market is much smaller, too: there were just $192.3 billion of securities backed by auto loans, including prime and subprime, outstanding at the end of March according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, compared with around $8.9 trillion of residential mortgage bonds at the end of last year.
Banks might not get hurt much by subprime auto securities, but for investors who buy them, the risks are growing. Subprime borrowers are falling behind on their car loan payments at the highest rate since the financial crisis. General Motors Co. expects car prices to drop 7 percent this year and auto lender Ally Financial Inc. reported last month that prices fell that much during its first quarter, so the value of the loans’ collateral is dropping. Even Wells Fargo’s analysts who look at bonds backed by car loans cautioned in March that it may be a good time for investors to cut their exposure.
And while JPM and Wells are pulling back on their own auto loan underwriting, we wonder whether they’re sharing these details regarding auto loan delinquencies with new buyers of their sparkling auto ABS securities?
Or the fact that loss severities are also starting to rise…
Oh well, losses are never possible on those highly-engineered, complex wall street structures…until they are.