You are on page 1of 13

The Credit Market Dislocation:

Putting The Key Factors In


Perspective
Ratings Services:
Mark Adelson, Chief Credit Officer, New York (1) 212-438-1075; mark_adelson@standardandpoors.com
Table Of Contents
Market Distress By Sector
Ramifications
Silver Linings
Takeaways
Notes
September 3, 2008
www.standardandpoors.com/ratingsdirect 1
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of
Use/Disclaimer on the last page.
669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation:
Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
As in past periods of market stress, today's market dislocation is accompanied by sizable helpings of confusion and
misunderstanding. Naturally, part of the confusion relates to why market distress is occurring. More interestingly,
though, part also relates to the differing degree to which it has affected different sectors of the fixed-income capital
markets.
On the issue of "why," the short answer seems to be that leverage plus speculation fueled by "financial engineering"
and derivatives such as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) were the primary drivers. Financial engineers started
with essentially manageable risks from the residential mortgage sector, but then concentrated and amplified those
risks. Hindsight reveals that they created securities that were vulnerable to rapid and severe deterioration far beyond
what market participants had anticipated.
The issue of how strongly the market distress has affected different sectors is trickier to assess. Many segments of the
capital markets have felt the impact of stress. However, the severity of that impact has not been uniform. It has been
most pronounced in two sectors: CDOs of structured finance instruments (SF CDOs) and asset-backed securities
(ABS) backed by second-lien mortgage loans. In both, we believe there are likely to be widespread defaults of
securities that initially carried ratings of 'AAA'.
By contrast, the first-lien subprime mortgage ABS sector has displayed less deterioration. In our view, this sector
likely will suffer widespread defaults of most securities initially rated at the 'BBB' and 'A' levels, but few defaults of
securities initially rated at the 'AAA' level.
The general media has blurred this distinction at times by using the term "subprime securities" to refer
indiscriminately to both SF CDOs and first-lien subprime mortgage ABS. That confusion may have spread
misunderstanding about the true causes and triggers of the current problems in the housing and financial sectors. If
policymakers misunderstand the true causes, they cannot frame effective policy responses. If investors misunderstand
the true causes, they cannot frame effective defensive strategies. Only with a more incisive understanding of what
has happened can both groups craft effective policies and strategies.
Market Distress By Sector
First-lien subprime ABS
Contrary to popular belief, the subprime mortgage sector probably was not the primary cause of the market
dislocation (rather, as noted above, the primary cause was the combination of leverage and speculation). However,
the subprime mortgage sector clearly was a contributing cause, and it was the key sector that triggered the release of
pent-up stresses.
The U.S. housing sector currently is experiencing a more severe contraction than at any time since the Great
Depression. That, combined with lax lending standards from 2005 through 2007, is producing high levels of
defaults and delinquencies on first-lien subprime mortgages. In turn, we believe that those defaults and delinquencies
likely will cause widespread defaults of 2005 through 2007 vintage subprime mortgage ABS tranches initially rated
at the 'BBB' and 'A' levels. That result should not be surprising given the high level of stress buffeting the U.S.
Standard & Poors RatingsDirect | September 3, 2008 2
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
housing sector. Naturally, securities rated initially at the 'BBB' and 'A' levels embody a lower measure of safety than
those rated at higher rating levels.
Indeed, if securities initially rated at the 'BBB' and 'A' levels did not experience defaults resulting from the greatest
level of stress in more than half a century, that would argue that they should have been rated higher in the first
place. To conclude otherwise begs the question of what level of stress should 'BBB' rated securities withstand: a
100-year, 250-year, or 500-year stress?
By contrast, the current performance of subprime mortgage ABS deals suggests to us that defaults of tranches
initially rated 'AAA' should be infrequent (see note 1).
From 2005 though 2007, total issuance of first-lien subprime mortgage ABS was around $1.1 trillion. Of that
amount, around 3%, 5%, and 10% carried ratings at the 'BBB', 'A', and 'AA' rating levels, respectively. Based on
current projections, 2005 through 2007 vintage first-lien subprime mortgage ABS are likely to suffer aggregate losses
around $200 billion (see note 2). To be sure, those are large numbers, but they represent only a moderate fraction of
the total issuance. As noted above, we expect that tranches that initially carried 'AAA' ratings are likely to suffer few
defaults; most had sufficient credit support to withstand losses in excess of 23% and, starting in third-quarter 2006,
many had sufficient credit support to withstand losses in excess of 28%. Thus, the overall performance of subprime
mortgage ABS is reasonably consistent with the severity of stress that the housing market is experiencing.
Some additional figures help put the size of the "subprime issue" in perspective. At the end of 2005, there were
around 109 million occupied housing units in the U.S. Renters occupied 34 million units, while 75 million units
were owner-occupied. Of the 75 million owner-occupied units, 25 million were owned free and clear. Fifty million
owner-occupied units had mortgage debt. Of those, roughly 44 million had prime mortgages, and around 6 million
had subprime mortgages. Of the 6 million households with subprime mortgages, we estimate that the homeowners
of between 1.5 million and 3 million are likely to default on their loans and either have loan modifications or lose
their homes. Accordingly, by this measure, the "subprime issue" directly affects fewer than 3% of U.S. households.
Why, then, has it become such a headline story? There are two main reasons. First, the subprime situation is
connected to the bursting of the U.S. real estate bubble. The inflation of the bubble, during the early 2000s, was one
of the key factors that led to the expansion of subprime lending. However, the two are not the same thing (see note
3).
On a nationwide basis, home prices advanced rapidly during the early 2000s, but not at a rate too far out of line
with historical norms. Chart 1 displays both the level of U.S. home prices and their rate of change from first-quarter
1975 through first-quarter 2008.
www.standardandpoors.com/ratingsdirect 3
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
Chart 1
However, in some areas of the country, home prices rose much more quickly than the national average, and much
faster than prices of other things (such as food, transportation, clothing, and entertainment). Charts 2 through 4
show the levels of home prices and their rates of change from first-quarter 1975 through first-quarter 2008 for three
states: California, Florida, and Arizona. In essence, home prices in those states formed the bubble that inflated to its
bursting point in 2006.
Standard & Poors RatingsDirect | September 3, 2008 4
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
Chart 2
www.standardandpoors.com/ratingsdirect 5
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
Chart 3
Standard & Poors RatingsDirect | September 3, 2008 6
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
Chart 4
Second, key changes in the mortgage business occurred while the housing bubble was inflating. Structured finance
assetsparticularly subprime mortgage ABSbecame the main asset class backing CDOs. Demand from the CDO
sector pushed spreads tighter on 'BBB' rated subprime mortgage ABS. By the end of 2005, CDO demand for the
securities was so strong that it drove other investors and bond insurers out of the sector. Now, in hindsight, it
appears that without the moderating influences of traditional investors and the bond insurers, subprime mortgage
originators became increasingly lax in their underwriting practices and started to make riskier loans.
Thus, in the subprime mortgage sector, the severe stresses from the bursting of the housing bubble were aggravated
by the effects of lax underwriting practices starting in 2005.
Still, as noted above, current projections suggest to us that the vast majority of first-lien subprime mortgage
ABSthose initially rated at the 'AAA' levelshould not suffer high levels of defaults. And, finally, for those that
do default, the severity of loss is expected to be quite small.
Second-lien ABS
The performance of second-lien ABS is notably poorer. Many of the tranches initially rated 'AAA' from deals issued
from 2005 through 2007 are at risk of defaulting. Fortunately, the dollar volume of such dealsroughly $150
billionis much smaller than the volume of first-lien subprime mortgage ABS during the period.
Although the housing and residential mortgage sectors are experiencing significant stress, we do not believe that
www.standardandpoors.com/ratingsdirect 7
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
today's conditions are sufficiently extreme, by themselves, to explain widespread defaults of securities initially rated
at the 'AAA' level. So, what happened in the second-lien area? In our opinion, second-lien mortgage lending changed
during the mid-2000sand past experience gave a false signal about future performance under stressed conditions.
One key change was an increase in so-called "piggyback seconds," which are purchase-money second-lien loans.
Another key change, related to the first, was significantly higher combined loan-to-value ratios (CLTVs) in
second-lien loans.
A third key change was in consumer behavior. Around the time home prices started to decline (late 2006),
consumers became increasingly willing to default on their second-lien loans. They realized that second-lien lenders
were unlikely to initiate foreclosures. Defaulting consumers concluded that damage to their credit reports was not a
consequence that was bad enough to deter them from defaulting. The old-fashioned notion that defaulting would
bring disgrace, shame, dishonor, and stigma appears to have been supplanted by the idea that the decision to default
is purely an economic one.
Although the first two changes were visible at the loans' origination, the third was not apparent until performance
of the loans could be observed. The combined effect of all three was an unprecedented increase in defaults on
second-lien mortgage loans. The early 2000s' "conventional wisdom" about second-lien mortgage loanswhich
virtually all market participants embraced, including investment banks, issuers, and investorsviewed the product
as quite risky and requiring higher credit support levels than any other residential mortgage product. However, the
historical experience upon which the "conventional wisdom" had rested had no precedent for what subsequently
happened. The combination of more piggyback loans, higher CLTVs, and changing consumer behavior produced
never-before-seen levels of risk in second-lien loans. The result was that virtually everyone in the sector was
blindsided.
Fortunately for the capital markets, the second-lien mortgage ABS sector is much smaller than the first-lien subprime
sector. As noted above, from 2005 through 2007, the total issuance of second-lien mortgage ABS was only around
$150 billion, compared with more than $1 trillion for the first-lien subprime mortgage sector. Thus, although the
intensity of credit problems is very highreaching the senior, 'AAA' level of many dealsthe total impact is not
significantly greater than that within the first-lien subprime sector.
SF CDOs
The SF CDO sector has suffered the worst of all. Starting around 2004, SF CDO issuance volume started to increase
rapidly. Professionals in the sector fueled the expansion by creating SF CDOs backed primarily by subordinate
tranches of subprime mortgage ABS deals and second-lien mortgage ABS deals. In fact, the demand from SF CDOs
for subprime mortgage ABS was so strong that it outpaced the available supply. To satisfy the higher demand,
investment banks started creating "synthetic" ABS using derivatives known as credit default swaps (CDSs).
Ultimately, the volume of synthetic ABS in the SF CDOs exceeded the volume of actual securities by a factor of
roughly 4 to 1.
As shown in chart 5, from 2004 through 2007, cumulative issuance of SF CDOs amounted to more than $600
billion.
Standard & Poors RatingsDirect | September 3, 2008 8
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
Chart 5
Many of the SF CDOs focused primarily on subprime mortgage ABS rated initially at the 'BBB' level. Those SF
CDOs were dubbed "mezzanine" deals. Others focused primarily on securities rated at the 'A' and, to a lesser
degree, 'AA' levels. Those were called "high-grade" SF CDOs. Current projections suggest that the vast majority of
mezzanine SF CDOs will suffer defaults into their tranches that initially carried ratings at the 'AAA' level. Although
the matter is somewhat less clear, we believe that a high proportion of high-grade SF CDOs is likely to suffer the
same fate. We expect that the dollar volume of defaulting securities initially rated at the 'AAA' level, as well as the
magnitude of losses on those securities, is likely to exceed the volumes of defaults and losses on 'AAA' securities
from the first-lien subprime mortgage and second-lien mortgage ABS sectors.
When the dust finally settles from the current market dislocation, we believe that losses on SF CDOs likely will
amount to between $200 billion and $300 billion, including a notable proportion of securities initially rated at the
'AAA' level. Those will represent the major share of losses booked by financial institutions and other market
participants.
By comparison, we believe that losses on second-lien mortgage ABS (including those backing SF CDOs) likely will
amount to roughly $50 billion, also including a high proportion of securities initially rated at the 'AAA' level. As
noted above, losses on first-lien mortgage ABS (including those backing SF CDOs) likely will amount to around
$200 billion, very little of which will have an impact on securities initially rated at the 'AAA' level. A large share of
those losses will not be felt directly by investors, but only indirectly because the securities were repackaged into SF
CDOs.
www.standardandpoors.com/ratingsdirect 9
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
Ramifications
Although many securities have already suffered severe deterioration of credit quality, most of them have not yet
suffered payment defaults. Nonetheless, a number of institutions have booked staggering writedowns attributable to
SF CDOs (see note 4). For example, from third-quarter 2007 through second-quarter 2008, Citigroup announced
total writedowns of roughly $25 billion attributable to SF CDOs (see note 5).
Likewise, Merrill Lynch reported net writedowns attributable to SF CDOs of $23.2 billion for 2007. Later, Merrill
Lynch reported SF CDO-related writedowns of more than $3.0 billion for first-quarter 2008 and of around $5.0
billion for second-quarter 2008 (see note 6). At the end of July, Merrill Lynch sold roughly $30 billion (face
amount) of its remaining SF CDO positions at a price of just 22 cents on the dollar, and, in doing so, financed 75%
of the purchase price, receiving only around 5 cents on the dollar in cash.
UBS, a major Swiss financial institution, had a similar experience. It booked SF CDO-related writedowns of $12.8
billion for 2007 (see note 7). Then it booked further SF CDO-related writedowns of $1.5 billion in first-quarter
2008 and $2.2 billion in second-quarter 2008.
Apart from their impact on banks and securities firms, SF CDOs have been a major factor in the deterioration of the
bond insurance sector. Most of the major players in that sector have suffered downgrades in the past year. Only a
few have managed to retain 'AAA' ratings.
The overall result has been a significant dislocation of financial markets, including a contraction of liquidity for all
types of complex and esoteric assets. Liquidity has contracted for simpler instruments as well, though to a somewhat
lesser degree. Bid-ask spreads for everything except instruments of the highest perceived quality have become very
wide. This, in turn, has caused a noticeable tightening of credit in both the consumer and commercial spheres.
Silver Linings
On the other hand, the news is not all bad. First, many SF CDOs included CDSs on subprime mortgage ABS rather
than the actual securities. Because a CDS is a two-party contract, every dollar lost by one party is a gain for the
other (see note 8). Thus, for every dollar of SF CDO-related losses attributable to CDS, there ought to be an
offsetting dollar of gain elsewhere in the global financial system. Unfortunately, losses, but not the offsetting gains,
seem to have been concentrated in many institutions that are key players in maintaining the smooth operation of the
global financial system.
Second, the 2008 market dislocation has revealed some of the systemic risks posed by high leverage and speculation
fueled by financial engineering and derivatives. Indeed, some commentators have recently argued that the
over-the-counter (OTC) market model for fixed-income derivatives and other complex instruments is largely to
blame for the current problems (see note 9). Identifying problems is the first step to solving them. Recognition of the
role that complex derivatives and financial engineering have played may give rise to wise policy responses that
protect the capital markets from similar disruptions in the future.
Finally, from the narrow standpoint of the U.S., sales of SF CDOs to investors outside the U.S. may have exported
some of the losses related to the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble. This has the potential effect of softening the
blow to the U.S. economy and the U.S. financial system.
Standard & Poors RatingsDirect | September 3, 2008 10
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
Takeaways
The subprime problem, the housing bubble, and the market dislocation are related, but they are distinct events.
Understanding their interrelationship is essential for identifying the weak points of the financial system and for
framing defensive strategies (for investors) and corrective policies (for policymakers).
The financial markets have the opportunity to learn from recent experience and to become stronger. It now remains
to be seen whether investors and policymakers will heed the lessons and seize the opportunities. At a minimum, all
types of market participants should now be on notice that leverage and speculation born of financial engineering
and complex derivative activities can produce unanticipated results.
Summary Of Selected Data And Projections
Product Security issuance Projected losses Comments
First-lien subprime
mortgage ABS
Roughly $1.1 trillion from
2005 though 2007
Roughly $200 billion Losses concentrated primarily in mezzanine and subordinate tranches that
carried initial ratings below 'AAA'. A high proportion of tranches with
losses were repackaged into SF CDOs.
Second-lien mortgage
ABS
Roughly $150 billion from
2005 through 2007
Roughly $50 billion Losses likely to affect all layers of the deals' capital structures, including
many senior tranches that carried initial ratings of 'AAA'.
SF CDOs Roughly $600 billion from
2004 through 2007
$200 billion to $300
billion
Losses likely to affect all layers of the deals' capital structures, including
many senior tranches that carried initial ratings of 'AAA'.
Notes
(1) The fate of the tranches initially rated at the 'AA' level is the most uncertain. Those are the tranches on the
"cusp" of current projections. In our view, there is a reasonable chance that a significant proportion of those
tranches could default. It is debatable whether the stress in the housing and residential mortgage sectors is severe
enough, by itself, to explain defaults of such securities.
(2) Losses on the underlying subprime mortgage loans likely will be somewhat higher. A portion of the losses on the
loans are absorbed by "excess spread" within each deal. The result is that ultimate losses on the securities are lower
than the losses on the related loans.
(3) The housing bubble itself merits headline attention because it affects all of the 75 million households that own
their own homes. Beyond the mortgage sphere, declining home prices can have important effects because they reduce
both household wealth and consumer spending.
(4) To date, most of the writedowns reflect market value losses rather than actual credit losses. In the short run,
market value losses can exceed projected credit losses because of supply-demand imbalance in the secondary market.
(5) Citigroup earnings announcements report the quarterly SF CDO writedowns as follows: third-quarter 2007:
$1.8 billion; fourth-quarter 2007: $14.3 billion; first-quarter 2008: $5.7 billion; and second-quarter 2008: $3.2
billion.
(6) For first-quarter 2008, Merrill Lynch had net writedowns of $1.5 billion on SF CDOs and $3.0 billion of credit
valuation adjustments related to hedges with financial guarantors, most of which relate to U.S. super-senior SF
CDOs. For second-quarter 2008, Merrill Lynch had net writedowns of $3.5 billion on SF CDOs and around $1.5
www.standardandpoors.com/ratingsdirect 11
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
billion of credit valuation adjustments related to hedges with financial guarantors, most of which relate to U.S.
super-senior SF CDOs.
(7) According to a special report to shareholders, dated April 18, 2008, about two-thirds of total UBS losses in 2007
were attributable to the bank's CDO desk. About half of the bank's total losses for the year came from super-senior
CDO positions.
(8) The equivalence of gains and losses under a CDS breaks down if the party obligated to pay defaults on its
obligation. Collateral-posting requirements mitigate that risk in many CDSs, but they do not fully eliminate it.
(9) Whalen, C., "Yield to Commission: Is an OTC Market Model to Blame for Growing Systemic Risk?" J. of
Structured Fin., vol. 14, no. 2 (Summer 2008).
Standard & Poors RatingsDirect | September 3, 2008 12
Standard & Poor's. All rights reserved. No reprint or dissemination without S&P's permission. See Terms of Use/Disclaimer on the last page. 669261 | 300136023
The Credit Market Dislocation: Putting The Key Factors In Perspective
Copyright 1994-2008 Standard & Poor's, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. All Rights Reserved.
Any Passwords/user IDs issued by S&P to users are single user-dedicated and may ONLY be used by the individual to whom they have been assigned. No sharing of
passwords/user IDs and no simultaneous access via the same password/user ID is permitted. To reprint, translate, or use the data or information other than as provided
herein, contact Client Services, 55 Water Street, New York, NY 10041; (1)212.438.9823 or by e-mail to: research_request@standardandpoors.com.
Ratings Services receives compensation for its ratings. Such compensation is normally paid either by the issuers of such securities or third parties participating in marketing
the securities. While Standard & Poor's reserves the right to disseminate the rating, it receives no payment for doing so, except for subscriptions to its publications.
Additional information about our ratings fees is available at www.standardandpoors.com/usratingsfees.
Analytic services provided by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services (Ratings Services) are the result of separate activities designed to preserve the independence and objectivity
of ratings opinions. The credit ratings and observations contained herein are solely statements of opinion and not statements of fact or recommendations to purchase, hold, or
sell any securities or make any other investment decisions. Accordingly, any user of the information contained herein should not rely on any credit rating or other opinion
contained herein in making any investment decision. Ratings are based on information received by Ratings Services. Other divisions of Standard & Poor's may have
information that is not available to Ratings Services. Standard & Poor's has established policies and procedures to maintain the confidentiality of non-public information
received during the ratings process.
Copyright 2008 Standard & Poor's, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (S&P). S&P and/or its third party licensors have exclusive proprietary rights in the data or
information provided herein. This data/information may only be used internally for business purposes and shall not be used for any unlawful or unauthorized purposes.
Dissemination, distribution or reproduction of this data/information in any form is strictly prohibited except with the prior written permission of S&P. Because of the
possibility of human or mechanical error by S&P, its affiliates or its third party licensors, S&P, its affiliates and its third party licensors do not guarantee the accuracy,
adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. S&P
GIVES NO EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE
OR USE. In no event shall S&P, its affiliates and its third party licensors be liable for any direct, indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or
others use of the data/information contained herein. Access to the data or information contained herein is subject to termination in the event any agreement with a third-
party of information or software is terminated.
www.standardandpoors.com/ratingsdirect 13
669261 | 300136023