Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Subprime Mortgage Market: Caveat Emptor

I have been doing a fair amount of reading on the subprime mortgage market in preparation for possibly teaching a class on the topic next year. In doing this, a colleague passed on to me the prospectus for the mortgage-backed securities that were sold in one deal in June 0f 2006. This is fascinating reading. For anyone not knowing what a prospectus is, it is the document (over 300 pages long in this case) that lays out all aspects of the securities being sold, including all risk factors. It is the legal document required by the Securities Exchange Commission.

This one deal was based on almost $1 billion of mortgages that had been originated in California, Florida and NY by New Century Mortgage Corporation. They were subprime mortgages. What does that mean, exactly? Well, in the prospectus is a long section on the underwriting standards of New Century. Here is an excerpt:

"Under the "C" risk category, an applicant must have a FICO score of 500, or greater...Unlimited 30 day and 60 day late payments and a maximum of one 90 day late payment within the last 12 months is accceptable on an existing mortgage loan. An exisitng mortgage loan must be less than 120 days late at the time of funding of the loan. All bankruptcies must be discharged at least one day prior to funding of the loan; provided, however, that Chapter 13 bankruptcies may be discharged with loan proceeds...The mortgaged property must be in at least average condition..."

Income verification is also interesting. "Under the limited documentation program, applicants usually are required to submit verification of stable income for at least 6 months, such as 6 consequtive months of complete personal checking account bank statements, and under the stated income documentation program, an applicant may be qualified based upon monthly income as stated on the mortgage loan application if the applicant meets certain criteria."

Whoo, boy. Does anything smell a little junky around here? The lowest tranche of the securities was promised an interest rate of the one-month LIBOR plus around 3%, for a total return of around 8%.

One thing I can say for sure: Anyone who read that prospectus has no right to say they were not adequately warned. I would have had a lot of questions to follow up with, but there was a lot in that prospectus that should have sent red flags up all over the place.

One really good summary article on the subprime market is this: : “Understanding the Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit,” Ashcraft and Schuermann, Federal Reserve Bank of NY, December 2007.

1 comment:

Blue Ridge Cabin Rentals said...

I found you post very interesting and I think people will be looking for classes on how to understand the lending practice. I think some loans will require it in the future and you seem ahead of the game.

It is clear that this business with lending has an immediate impact on the economy that can mushroom and that we are all learning alot about economics the hard way.

I fear banks calling in lenders and passing it onto homeowners loans being called and people loosing everything.

I hope that this new presidency brings a real plan to resolve this economy.