Originally published October 9, 2008 in Facebook.
The US subprime mortgage market was approximately $400 B. Nearly half of these loans were enhanced by so-called piggyback loans to help borrowers pay for the equity portion of the first mortgage. It was common for a first mortgage to cover 80% of home value (underwritten by Freddie Mac) and instead of the 20% buyer equity, the piggyback loan (usually from the same bank) would cover the difference – i.e. a second mortgage but with virtually no lien on the property.
Since the first morgage was secured by Feddie Mac, it was easy for the originating bank to sell it to other institutions, so the bank only needed to fund the piggyback portion of the loan. And since, those banks operated with 10x leverage ratios, they only had deposits & equity to cover 1/10 of those bad loans. 1/10 x 20% x $400 B = $8 B. Trouble indeed as the estimate for defaults on those mortgages has esclated from approx 20% to 40%.
The first mortgages in turn were purchased by large lenders who pooled loans of varioius quality which were sold to investment banks who in turn issued preference tranches on each pool. Top tranches would be paid out first, lower tranches would be paid out later, thereby artificially creating different instruments with different levels of credit grade. Since major banks operate with a leverage ratio of appoximately 6:1, the securitized MBS must have had a book value of approx 6 x $400 B x 80% = $2 Trillion.
At the start of the crisis in 2007 as defaults mounted on the mortgages, the market for the MBS securities started to dry up. As shown in the chart above the estimated total impact of impaired MBS securities is $160 B. The immediate problem facing banks was the rapid increase in their funding requirements when they could not securitise or otherwise distribute their loan warehouses. Banks began to hoard liquidity to meet actual and potential increases in these funding requirements, causing interbank rates to spike during August and September 2007.
Towards the end of 2007, banks began announcing substantial losses on their own holdings of structured credit products. That $2 Trillion of market value was starting to unwind. Current estimates (see below) show that the structured credit market losses are in the vacinity of $400 B (so far).
An element of counterparty credit risk began to influence interbank lending decisions. Some banks could not gain unsecured funding, amplifying their financing difficulties. As the end of the year approached, banks sought to increase their liquid asset positions, in part to strengthen the appearance of their reported balance sheets. This was a major contributing factor to the rise in London interbank offered rates (Libor) internationally in early December. This was alleviated to some extent by co-ordinated central bank action on 12 December 2007 causing money market conditions to improve during January 2008.
In February and March 2008, however, money markets tightened again as banks reported significant additional write-downs on ABS and the prospect of losses on exposures insured by monolines increased. Central banks provided a second round of co-ordinated liquidity provision on 11 March 2008.
However, by Aug/Sept 2008 not just the originating bad lenders have gone under, but also the major investment banks and large US lenders that created the MBS mess have failed (or been forced to merge). This has extended the counterparty risk substantially to international banks and the dominos continue to fall.
We are now seeing bank failures in UK, Germany, Holland, and Iceland. These will in turn extend the imprint of counterparty risk and cause even more bank hoarding. Banks hoard by declining to deal with other banks and by raising credit costs to businesses and consumers. The impact on business is growing with each passing week. Already 20% of all US car dealers are facing bankruptcy as they cannot finance their inventory due to tighter credit imposed by their banks and a drop-off in spending by consumers who can’t afford to pay the rising interest on their mortages.
Substantial interest rate cuts will be necessary to improve bank margins (making it easier for them to hoard cash) but don’t expect to see any of it in your personal credit card, car loans, or mortgages and certainly not in your business lines of credit, lease rates, etc.
Coupled with over $1 Trillion so far in bailouts in the USA and UK to guarantee the bad loans and ensure bank creditworthiness, we can expect serious degredation in the buying power of cash. Only by devaluing the purchasing power of the dollar can the central banks suck excess liquidity out and devalue the bad loans at the heart of it all.
So don’t be surprised when everything costs a lot more this time next year.