by John Rubino
Record student loan balances? Check. Trillion dollar credit card debt? Check. Six tech stocks dominating the Nasdaq? Check. Subprime auto loans at record levels? Check.
All that’s missing is subprime mortgages and we’d have every bubble base covered. Oh wait, those are back too, just under a different name:
They were blamed for the biggest financial disaster in a century. Subprime mortgages – home loans to borrowers with sketchy credit who put little to no skin in the game. Following the epic housing crash, they disappeared, due to strong, new regulation, and zero demand from investors who were badly burned. Barely a decade later, they’re coming back with a new name — nonprime — and, so far, some new standards.
California-based Carrington Mortgage Services, a midsized lender, just announced an expansion into the space, offering loans to borrowers, “with less-than-perfect credit.” Carrington will originate and service the loans, but it will also securitize them for sale to investors.
“We believe there is actually a market today in the secondary market for people who want to buy nonprime loans that have been properly underwritten,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings. “We’re not going back to the bad old days of ninja lending, when people with no jobs, no income, and no assets were getting loans.”
Sharga said Carrington will manually underwrite each loan, assessing the individual risks. But it will allow its borrowers to have FICO credit scores as low as 500. The current average for agency-backed mortgages is in the mid-700s. Borrowers can take out loans of up to $1.5 million on single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums. They can also do cash-out refinances, where borrowers tap extra equity in their homes, up to $500,000. Recent credit events, like a foreclosure, bankruptcy or a history of late payments are acceptable.
All loans, however, will not be the same for all borrowers. If a borrower is higher risk, a higher down payment will be required, and the interest rate will likely be higher.
“What we’re talking about is underwriting that goes back to common sense sort of practices. If you have risk, you offset risk somewhere else,” added Sharga, while touting, “We probably are going to have the widest range of products for people with challenging credit in the marketplace.”
Carrington is not alone in the space. Angel Oak began offering and securitizing nonprime mortgages two years ago and has done six nonprime securitizations so far. It recently finalized its biggest securitization yet — $329 million, comprising 905 mortgages with an average amount of about $363,000. Just more than 80 percent of the loans are nonprime.
Investors in Angel Oak’s nonprime securitizations are, “a who’s who of Wall Street,” according to company representatives, citing hedge funds and insurance companies. Angel Oak’s securitizations now total $1.3 billion in mortgage debt.
Angel Oak, along with Caliber Home Loans, have been the main players in the space, securitizing relatively few loans. That is clearly about to change in a big way, as demand is rising.
“We believe that more competition is positive for the marketplace because there is strong enough demand for the product to support multiple originators,” said Lauren Hedvat, managing director, capital markets at Angel Oak. “Additionally, the more competitors there are, the wider the footprint becomes, which should open the door for more potential borrowers.”
Big banks are also getting in the game, both investing in the securities and funding the lenders, according to Sharga.
“It’s large financial institutions. A lot of people with private capital sitting on the sidelines, who are very interested in this market and believe that as long as the risks are managed well, and companies like ours are particularly good at managing credit risk, that it’s a good investment opportunity,” he said.
So today’s subprime mortgages are being written with lots of common sense safeguards. But demand for the resulting bonds is soaring and lots of new players, big and small, are getting into the game. Wonder what that means for underwriting standards going forward…