How the world of traditional finance could cause a traditional global financial crisis


Daniel Tischer, Senior Lecturer in Management, Bristol University, Adam Leaver, professor of accounting and society, University of Sheffield, and Jonathan Beaverstock, Professor of International Management, University of Bristol.
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At the heart of the 2007-09 global financial crisis was an obscure credit derivative called the Secured Debt Bond (CDO). CDOs were debt-based financial products – most notoriously residential mortgages – that were sold by banks to other banks and institutional investors.

The profitability of these CDOs largely depended on the owners’ ability to repay their mortgages. When people started to default, the CDO market collapsed. And because CDOs were closely linked to other financial and insurance markets, their collapse bankrupted many banks and left others in need of government and central bank support.

Many thought this would end the complex structured credit derivatives market, but it is not. In 2021, a close cousin of the CDO known as the Secured Loan Bond or CLO was approaching the equivalent value of the CDO market at its peak. A record number of CLOs were issued in August, and the market as a whole is approaching $ 1,000,000 in value. Many in the financial services industry say there is nothing to worry about, but there are good reasons they could be wrong.

How CLOs differ from CDOs

Secured loan obligations are not based on mortgages but on so-called leveraged loans. These are business loans with banking syndicates that are contracted, for example, by private equity firms to pay for buyouts.

Supporters of CLOs argue that leveraged loans have a lower default record than subprime mortgages and that CLOs have less complex structures than CDOs. They also argue that CLOs are better regulated and offer larger buffers against the defect through more conservative product design.

Leverage credits: the new base of derivatives par excellence. Eamesbot

None of this is wrong, but that doesn’t mean the risk is gone. Mortgages, for example, had a low default rate in the 1990s and early 2000s. But as CDOs allowed banks to sell their mortgages in order to free up their balance sheets for more loans, they started to lend to riskier clients in their search for more business.

This easing of lending standards in subprime mortgages – mortgages given to borrowers with bad credit – increased the potential default rate for CDOs, as people who could hardly pay their mortgages stopped paying. repay them. The danger is that the same appetite for CLOs similarly lowers the standards for leveraged loans.

In one respect, CLOs can even be worse than CDOs. When homeowners failed to pay off their mortgages and banks took over and sold their homes, they could recover substantial amounts that could be passed on to CDO investors. However, businesses are quite different from homes – their assets aren’t just bricks and mortar, but also intangible things like brands and reputation, which can be worthless in a default situation. This can reduce the amount that can be recovered and transferred to CLO investors.

Network effects

In a recent article, we looked at the similarities between CDOs and CLOs, but rather than comparing their designs, we looked at legal documents that reveal the networks of professionals involved in this industry. Actors who work together over a number of years build trust and shared understandings, which can reduce costs. But the mundane sociology of repetitive trading can take on a dark side if companies make concessions or become too interdependent. This can lower standards, indicating another type of risk inherent in these products.

The US-appointed Financial Crisis Commission of Inquiry (FCIC) found evidence of this dark side in its 2011 CDO market collapse report, highlighting the corrosive effects of repeated agency relationships. rating, banks, mortgage providers, insurers and others. The FCIC concluded that complacency set in as the industry readily accepted mortgages and other declining-quality assets to invest in CDOs.

Not surprisingly, creating CLOs requires many of the same skills as CDOs. Our article found that the key players in CDO networks in the early 2000s were often the same as those who developed CLOs after 2007-09. This raises the possibility that the same industry complacency may have set in again.

Indeed, the quality of leveraged loans has deteriorated. The proportion of loans denominated in US dollars called covenant-light or cov-lite – which means that there is less protection against creditors – has increased from 17% in 2010 to 84% in 2020. And in Europe, the percentage of cov-lite loans is believed to be higher.

The proportion of US dollar loans to companies with more than six times the leverage – that is, they were able to borrow more than six times their earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) – also fell from 14% in 2011 to 30%. % in 2018.

Before the pandemic, there were alarming signs of borrowers exploiting looser lending standards in leveraged loans to move assets into subsidiaries where the restrictions imposed by loan covenants would not apply. In the event of default, this limits the ability of creditors to seize these assets. In some cases, these unrestricted subsidiaries were able to borrow more money, meaning the company as a whole owed more in total. This has strong echoes of the financial creativity that led to riskier borrowing in 2005-07.

Image of a network with office workers as nodes
Has the network behind the CLOs become too cozy? Aelitta

So how worried should we be? The CLO market is certainly very large, and corporate defaults could skyrocket if it turns out that the extra money pumped into the economy by central banks and governments in response to the COVID crisis does not. offers only a temporary stay. The main buyers of these derivatives again appear to be large systemically important banks. On the other hand, according to some accounts, these derivatives are less intertwined with other financial and insurance markets, which can reduce their systemic risks.

Nonetheless, the market is at least large enough to cause disruption, which could cause major upheaval in the global financial system. If the networks behind these products become risk-blind and allow CLO quality to slowly erode, don’t rule out the problems ahead.The conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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