Insurance Securitization24th November 2020
Securitization is the financial practice of pooling various types of contractual debt such as residential mortgages, commercial mortgages, auto loans or credit card debt obligations (or other non-debt assets which generate receivables) and selling their related cash flows to third party investors as securities, which may be described as bonds, pass-through securities, or collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Investors are repaid from the principal and interest cash flows collected from the underlying debt and redistributed through the capital structure of the new financing. Securities backed by mortgage receivables are called mortgage-backed securities (MBS), while those backed by other types of receivables are asset-backed securities (ABS).
The granularity of pools of securitized assets can mitigate the credit risk of individual borrowers. Unlike general corporate debt, the credit quality of securitized debt is non-stationary due to changes in volatility that are time- and structure-dependent. If the transaction is properly structured and the pool performs as expected, the credit risk of all tranches of structured debt improves; if improperly structured, the affected tranches may experience dramatic credit deterioration and loss.
Advantages to issuer
Reduces funding costs: Through securitization, a company rated BB but with AAA worthy cash flow would be able to borrow at possibly AAA rates. This is the number one reason to securitize a cash flow and can have tremendous impacts on borrowing costs. The difference between BB debt and AAA debt can be multiple hundreds of basis points. For example, Moody’s downgraded Ford Motor Credit’s rating in January 2002, but senior automobile backed securities, issued by Ford Motor Credit in January 2002 and April 2002, continue to be rated AAA because of the strength of the underlying collateral and other credit enhancements.
Reduces asset-liability mismatch: “Depending on the structure chosen, securitization can offer perfect matched funding by eliminating funding exposure in terms of both duration and pricing basis.” Essentially, in most banks and finance companies, the liability book or the funding is from borrowings. This often comes at a high cost. Securitization allows such banks and finance companies to create a self-funded asset book.
Lower capital requirements: Some firms, due to legal, regulatory, or other reasons, have a limit or range that their leverage is allowed to be. By securitizing some of their assets, which qualifies as a sale for accounting purposes, these firms will be able to remove assets from their balance sheets while maintaining the “earning power” of the assets.
Locking in profits: For a given block of business, the total profits have not yet emerged and thus remain uncertain. Once the block has been securitized, the level of profits has now been locked in for that company, thus the risk of profit not emerging, or the benefit of super-profits, has now been passed on.
Transfer risks (credit, liquidity, prepayment, reinvestment, asset concentration): Securitization makes it possible to transfer risks from an entity that does not want to bear it, to one that does. Two good examples of this are catastrophe bonds and Entertainment Securitizations. Similarly, by securitizing a block of business (thereby locking in a degree of profits), the company has effectively freed up its balance to go out and write more profitable business.
Off balance sheet: Derivatives of many types have in the past been referred to as “off-balance-sheet”. This term implies that the use of derivatives has no balance sheet impact. While there are differences among the various accounting standards internationally, there is a general trend towards the requirement to record derivatives at fair value on the balance sheet. There is also a generally accepted principle that, where derivatives are being used as a hedge against underlying assets or liabilities, accounting adjustments are required to ensure that the gain/loss on the hedged instrument is recognized in the income statement on a similar basis as the underlying assets and liabilities. Certain credit derivatives products, particularly Credit Default Swaps, now have more or less universally accepted market standard documentation. In the case of Credit Default Swaps, this documentation has been formulated by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) who have for a long time provided documentation on how to treat such derivatives on balance sheets.
Earnings: Securitization makes it possible to record an earnings bounce without any real addition to the firm. When a securitization takes place, there often is a “true sale” that takes place between the Originator (the parent company) and the SPE. This sale has to be for the market value of the underlying assets for the “true sale” to stick and thus this sale is reflected on the parent company’s balance sheet, which will boost earnings for that quarter by the amount of the sale. While not illegal in any respect, this does distort the true earnings of the parent company.
Admissibility: Future cashflows may not get full credit in a company’s accounts (life insurance companies, for example, may not always get full credit for future surpluses in their regulatory balance sheet), and a securitization effectively turns an admissible future surplus flow into an admissible immediate cash asset.
Liquidity: Future cashflows may simply be balance sheet items which currently are not available for spending, whereas once the book has been securitized, the cash would be available for immediate spending or investment. This also creates a reinvestment book which may well be at better rates.
Disadvantages to issuer
May reduce portfolio quality: If the AAA risks, for example, are being securitized out, this would leave a materially worse quality of residual risk.
Costs: Securitizations are expensive due to management and system costs, legal fees, underwriting fees, rating fees and ongoing administration. An allowance for unforeseen costs is usually essential in securitizations, especially if it is an atypical securitization.
Size limitations: Securitizations often require large scale structuring, and thus may not be cost-efficient for small and medium transactions.
Risks: Since securitization is a structured transaction, it may include par structures as well as credit enhancements that are subject to risks of impairment, such as prepayment, as well as credit loss, especially for structures where there are some retained strips.
Advantages to investors
Opportunity to potentially earn a higher rate of return (on a risk-adjusted basis)
Opportunity to invest in a specific pool of high quality assets: Due to the stringent requirements for corporations (for example) to attain high ratings, there is a dearth of highly rated entities that exist. Securitizations, however, allow for the creation of large quantities of AAA, AA or A rated bonds, and risk averse institutional investors, or investors that are required to invest in only highly rated assets, have access to a larger pool of investment options.
Portfolio diversification: Depending on the securitization, hedge funds as well as other institutional investors tend to like investing in bonds created through securitizations because they may be uncorrelated to their other bonds and securities.
Isolation of credit risk from the parent entity: Since the assets that are securitized are isolated (at least in theory) from the assets of the originating entity, under securitization it may be possible for the securitization to receive a higher credit rating than the “parent”, because the underlying risks are different. For example, a small bank may be considered more risky than the mortgage loans it makes to its customers; were the mortgage loans to remain with the bank, the borrowers may effectively be paying higher interest (or, just as likely, the bank would be paying higher interest to its creditors, and hence less profitable).
Risks to investors
Credit/default: Default risk is generally accepted as a borrower’s inability to meet interest payment obligations on time. For ABS, default may occur when maintenance obligations on the underlying collateral are not sufficiently met as detailed in its prospectus. A key indicator of a particular security’s default risk is its credit rating. Different tranches within the ABS are rated differently, with senior classes of most issues receiving the highest rating, and subordinated classes receiving correspondingly lower credit ratings. Almost all mortgages, including reverse mortgages, and student loans, are now insured by the government, meaning that taxpayers are on the hook for any of these loans that go bad even if the asset is massively over-inflated. In other words, there are no limits or curbs on over-spending, or the liabilities to taxpayers.
However, the credit crisis of 2007–2008 has exposed a potential flaw in the securitization process loan originators retain no residual risk for the loans they make, but collect substantial fees on loan issuance and securitization, which doesn’t encourage improvement of underwriting standards.
Prepayment/reinvestment/early amortization: The majority of revolving ABS are subject to some degree of early amortization risk. The risk stems from specific early amortization events or payout events that cause the security to be paid off prematurely. Typically, payout events include insufficient payments from the underlying borrowers, insufficient excess spread, a rise in the default rate on the underlying loans above a specified level, a decrease in credit enhancements below a specific level, and bankruptcy on the part of the sponsor or servicer.
Currency interest rate fluctuations: Like all fixed income securities, the prices of fixed rate ABS move in response to changes in interest rates. Fluctuations in interest rates affect floating rate ABS prices less than fixed rate securities, as the index against which the ABS rate adjusts will reflect interest rate changes in the economy. Furthermore, interest rate changes may affect the prepayment rates on underlying loans that back some types of ABS, which can affect yields. Home equity loans tend to be the most sensitive to changes in interest rates, while auto loans, student loans, and credit cards are generally less sensitive to interest rates.
Moral hazard: Investors usually rely on the deal manager to price the securitizations’ underlying assets. If the manager earns fees based on performance, there may be a temptation to mark up the prices of the portfolio assets. Conflicts of interest can also arise with senior note holders when the manager has a claim on the deal’s excess spread.
Servicer risk: The transfer or collection of payments may be delayed or reduced if the servicer becomes insolvent. This risk is mitigated by having a backup servicer involved in the transaction.
Special types of securitization
A master trust is a type of SPV particularly suited to handle revolving credit card balances, and has the flexibility to handle different securities at different times. In a typical master trust transaction, an originator of credit card receivables transfers a pool of those receivables to the trust and then the trust issues securities backed by these receivables. Often there will be many tranched securities issued by the trust all based on one set of receivables. After this transaction, typically the originator would continue to service the receivables, in this case the credit cards.
There are various risks involved with master trusts specifically. One risk is that timing of cash flows promised to investors might be different from timing of payments on the receivables. For example, credit card-backed securities can have maturities of up to 10 years, but credit card-backed receivables usually pay off much more quickly. To solve this issue these securities typically have a revolving period, an accumulation period, and an amortization period. All three of these periods are based on historical experience of the receivables. During the revolving period, principal payments received on the credit card balances are used to purchase additional receivables. During the accumulation period, these payments are accumulated in a separate account. During the amortization period, new payments are passed through to the investors.
A second risk is that the total investor interests and the seller’s interest are limited to receivables generated by the credit cards, but the seller (originator) owns the accounts. This can cause issues with how the seller controls the terms and conditions of the accounts. Typically to solve this, there is language written into the securitization to protect the investors and potential receivables.
A third risk is that payments on the receivables can shrink the pool balance and under-collateralize total investor interest. To prevent this, often there is a required minimum seller’s interest, and if there was a decrease then an early amortization event would occur.
In 2000, Citibank introduced a new structure for credit card-backed securities, called an issuance trust, which does not have limitations that master trusts sometimes do, that requires each issued series of securities to have both a senior and subordinate tranche. There are other benefits to an issuance trust: they provide more flexibility in issuing senior/subordinate securities, can increase demand because pension funds are eligible to invest in investment-grade securities issued by them, and they can significantly reduce the cost of issuing securities. Because of these issues, issuance trusts are now the dominant structure used by major issuers of credit card-backed securities.
Grantor trusts are typically used in automobile-backed securities and REMICs (Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits). Grantor trusts are very similar to pass-through trusts used in the earlier days of securitization. An originator pools together loans and sells them to a grantor trust, which issues classes of securities backed by these loans. Principal and interest received on the loans, after expenses are taken into account, are passed through to the holders of the securities on a pro-rata basis.
In an owner trust, there is more flexibility in allocating principal and interest received to different classes of issued securities. In an owner trust, both interest and principal due to subordinate securities can be used to pay senior securities. Due to this, owner trusts can tailor maturity, risk and return profiles of issued securities to investor needs. Usually, any income remaining after expenses is kept in a reserve account up to a specified level and then after that, all income is returned to the seller. Owner trusts allow credit risk to be mitigated by over-collateralization by using excess reserves and excess finance income to prepay securities before principal, which leaves more collateral for the other classes.