It’s a funny old world. Having yesterday noted the impending 10th anniversary of the starting gun going off on the global financial crisis I subsequently tripped over a vignette on Bloomberg which read “Junk subprime auto ABS spreads at record lows”. It really was just a vignette and went on - “Junk-rated tranches of new subprime auto bond deals are pricing at record tights amid unabated enthusiasm for the asset class, Wells Fargo analysts said in a report on Monday".
At this point Monty Python would suggest “Nod, nod, wink, wink...say no more” for it is a sobering read, not least of all if one recalls the kerfuffle recently about banks getting worried about the subprime auto (American for car) sector with its rising delinquency rates. In fact it was not only the auto loan space which had been in the news but the student loan sector too and flares were going up all over the place indicating overlending to those least able to repay. Sound familiar?
It is a curious trait that we see in markets, that if the banks don’t want to lend directly, then there will be someone out there who will see the yield and step into the breach by buying the bonds.
I remember years ago while working on a bond desk in London that practice ahead of a new issue was for the syndicating bank to provide other banks with nifty little floppy disks, remember them?, which displayed the all the scenarios for the financial future of the loan. Who’d be surprised to find out that no matter how one juggled the figures in the programme, they always ended up proving that the loan was of next to no risk.
By the time of the height of the structured credit boom in 2007 matters had advanced and the algorithms, though far more complicated, did exactly what the floppies had done a generation before which was to prove that nothing could go wrong. Or at least the embedded stress tests would prove that the sun would have to rise in the West before the structure could default. A likely story but one which an industry obsessed with lending by statistical probability simply lapped up. The lending process and in subsequence the management of the banks being usurped by mathematicians and statisticians really was a case of the lunatics taking over the asylum.
How silly of me - this time it will all be different - Oh really!
Alex Moffatt has almost 40 years’ experience dealing in equity, debt and currency markets in Australia, the UK and USA. He has worked at several companies in the wealth management industry, including Schroders in the UK. A director of Joseph...
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