Before the credit crisis, residential and commercial mortgages were widely securitized, but securitizations have also been done for a wide range of cash-flow producing assets, such as residential mortgages, commercial mortgages, credit card receivables and college tuition loans. Securitization confers a huge advantage to lenders in that it allows the lender to transfer all of the risks around making loans to third party investors.
However, FASB has proposed changes to FAS 140, including the elimination of the QSPE rules which previously allowed for a “true sale” and the complete transfer of risk the lender to the investors (for more on that, see the REIT wrecks post on changes to FAS 140). As the video mentions, the securities were usually “tranched” into different classes, which enhances the credit rating of the resulting securities beyond that of the underlying assets. This is known as Credit Enhancement.
Essentially, issuers take the loans and split them into “tranches” which have different levels of risk (referred to as “subordination”). So, if the entire group of securities would have a credit rating of BBB, and you cut it into several tranches, the highest tranche with no subordination, could have a credit rating of AAA, because it gets paid first, and the only way it would not get paid would be if a huge group of the underlying loans were unpaid (i.e. the highest tranche has the lowest risk). Issuers can also “over-collateralize” the pool.
Tranching is important because different Mortgage REITs invest in different classes, or tranches, of the CMBS pool. Anthracite Capital, for example, invests mainly in the “controlling class” (so-called because AHR can take “control” of the defaulted assets) portion of CMBS deals. This is also known generally as the “B Piece”. Aside from the equity, which is unrated, the “B piece” is the highest risk and lowest rated portion of the securitization. If large numbers of mortgages default in a CMBS issuance, the controlling class has the most subordination and is the first to take a loss. Therefore, if a Mortgage REIT like Anthracite owns the controlling class securities of a securitization with extremely high rates of default, the REIT’s entire investment in that CMBS issuance can be wiped out. If you want to learn more about tranching and over-collateralization, see the REIT wrecks post on CDOs.
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Disclosure: None at the time of this writing