Thursday, September 29, 2011

Will adding a label indicating minimum standards entice investors to buy European ABS deals? No!

A Bloomberg article reports that European issuers of ABS securities and a broker/dealer controlled lobbying group, the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, want to introduce a label indicating that the assets backing a structured finance deal meet a minimum standard.  According to the article, they are doing so to make the ABS securities more attractive to buyers.

There is zero chance that labeling the ABS securities will make them more attractive to investors.  This is just another attempt by the issuers and Wall Street to avoid having to disclose the current performance of the underlying collateral.

Why will this label not make the securities more attractive?
  • The minimum standards for the underlying assets are already covered by the representations and warranties made in the deal documentation.  Since the information is already in the deal documentation, the label offers absolutely zero new information.
  • The fact that the underlying assets met the minimum standards at one point in time does not mean that they still meet this standard at a future point in time.  For example, look at the decline in performance for so-called Prime mortgages in the US.  A label conveys zero useful information for valuing a deal in the secondary market.  Without current performance data, investors in the secondary market are blindly betting on the contents of a brown paper bag.
Disclosure of current performance data for the underlying collateral is the only way to entice investors to buy ABS securities.  It is only when investors know what they own that they will return.
The Association for Financial Markets in Europe and European Financial Services Round Table lobby groups are working on plans to label asset-backed notes that reach certain standards as Prime Collateralized Securities, according to two people familiar with the matter. 
A PCS working group, which also comprises investors, is scheduled to meet today to discuss the timing for the project and how to get better regulatory treatment for the debt, said the people, who declined to be identified because the discussions are private. 
The industry groups are working on the quality-assured brand after issuance in the asset-backed securities market in Europe tumbled by more than 80 percent since its pre-credit crunch heyday. Sales stalled in 2008 after bonds linked to U.S. subprime debt slumped, prompting investors to shun the hard-to- value securities. 
“In principle it’s a good initiative, but the implementation is very complex because of the different market practices in each European country,” said Alexander Batchvarov, the London-based head of structured finance research at Bank of America Corp. 
The PCS label would be designed to take account of new and existing regulation, said the people. Deals would need at least two triple-A credit ratings and reveal enough information about the underlying loans to be eligible for the liquidity operations of the European Central Bank and Bank of England, the people said. The ECB, BOE and European Investment Bank have been consulted on the plan, according to the people. 
As this blog has previously documented, the ECB and BoE have disclosure requirements for the underlying loan performance information that are inadequate for complying with Article 122a of the European Capital Requirement Directive.  Both Moody's and S&P have testified before Congress that these disclosure requirements are not adequate for timely rating (the equivalent of valuation) of the securities.

The inclusion of two triple-A credit ratings does not make ABS securities more attractive.  Investors learned from the sub-prime/CDO debacle to not rely on the credit ratings when it comes to valuing and investing in structured finance securities.
... The quality tag will be available for bonds backed by residential mortgages, small- and medium-sized company loans and consumer loans, the people said. 
“To make this initiative work it’s key to get the ECB and BOE to give the labelled issues better treatment in their liquidity operations, or to persuade the European Commission to require less capital for banks and insurance companies that buy these bonds,” Bank of America’s Batchvarov said.
Since September 2008, the ECB and BoE have been the major "buyer" for these securities. These securities are "purchased" by being eligible to be pledged to the ECB and BoE for their liquidity operations.

The goal of the ECB and BoE is to bring private investors back to the market so that they do not have to fund these securities.

Simply slapping a label on these deals will not work to attract investors.  The ECB and BoE know that it will take disclosure of current performance data for the underlying assets.

No comments: