Ok, now we are getting somewhere, albeit slow as molasses.

Treasury Secretary Paulson is pushing for covered bonds as a financial instrument to create more liquidity for US mortgages.

From my perspective, these are the types of things that have to happen for the US to see our way out of this credit crunch.

Covered bonds are debt securities backed by cash flows from mortgages or public sector loans. They are similar in many ways to asset-backed securities created in securitization, but covered bond assets remain on the issuer’s consolidated balance sheet.

The key here is recourse. In other words, if the bank goes under the bond holder has “recourse.” A basic concept but became obsolete during the securitization hay day because as it turned out, the bond holders had little recourse since the asset was split into so many pieces, it was very difficult to track down the asset.

Covered bonds are big in Europe.

Paulson issued best practices guidance (is that corporate speak or what?) to try to get the market jump started and was joined by FDIC, OTS and OCC as well as Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo (WaMu and B of A have experience in these instruments). I wonder if WaMu didn’t attend because they are simply trying to survive?

Bankers involved in the field reckon that a US covered bond market could ultimately outstrip the roughly €2,000bn European market. However, it faces limitations in the near term due to restrictions placed on the bonds’ treatment by the FDIC, which importantly has oversight of banks if they become insolvent.

For example, the FDIC said banks should be restricted from using covered bonds for more than 4 per cent of their funding in order to avoid depleting the assets available to repay ordinary depositors and other unsecured creditors if a bank failed.

In the US, the cost of issuing covered bonds and the FDIC restrictions mean they could lie low in the pecking order of banks’ funding preferences, at least initially, according to analysts at Citigroup. Funding through Fannie and Freddie or through the Federal Home Loan Banks both appear more attractive for now, the analysts said.

FDIC created an expedited procedure for recourse for bond holders in the spring. Covered bonds are capped at 4% of total liabilities so its not a major fix, but it’s a start.

Here’s a better explanation, in the way that only Felix Salmon can provide.

The investors have to be brought back into the fold.

I repeat:

“Covered” seems to be a synonym for collateralized, but it also has other meanings that may be appropriate in this effort to salvage the housing market. Think of covered wagons, which can be circled in times of crisis. With banks reluctant to lend their own money for mortgages, and the private securitization market quiescent if not dead, the cost of mortgage loans has been rising even as housing prices fall, making a bad situation worse. At best, a covered bond market would provide a cheaper source of financing for banks while reassuring investors that their money is safe.

Essentially investors would buy into a pool of mortgages that would be kept on the balance sheet of the bank that made the loans. These would be high-quality loans, and at the first sign of trouble in the underlying mortgages, those mortgages would be replaced in the mortgage pool. Thus, investors would be assured of repayment unless the underlying mortgages suffered major losses and the issuing bank failed. That might make investors burned by existing mortgage securities more willing to return to the market.

At best, a covered bond market would provide a cheaper source of financing for banks while reassuring investors that their money will be safe. It is highly unusual for the government to take such a major role in getting a market established, but Treasury officials said their action was needed to get more money into housing loans.

Paulson may not be a good public speaker, but he brought something tangible to the table.

And credit for his move is covered. (ok, sorry)


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