One of the drivers of that bubble was the emergence of private label mortgage “originators” who, as the name implies, simply created mortgages and then sold them off to securitizes, who bundled them into the toxic bonds that nearly brought down the global financial system.
The originators weren’t banks in the commonly understood sense. That is, they didn’t build long-term relationships with customers and so didn’t need to care whether a borrower could actually pay back a loan. With zero skin in the game, they were willing to write mortgages for anyone with a paycheck and a heartbeat. And frequently the paycheck was optional.
In retrospect, that was both stupid and reckless. But here we are a scant decade later, and the industry is headed back towards those same practices. Today’s Wall Street Journal, for instance, profiles a formerly-miniscule private label mortgage originator that now has a bigger market share than Bank of America or Citigroup:
One afternoon this spring, a dozen or so employees lined up in front of Freedom Mortgage’s office in Mount Laurel, N.J., to get their picture taken. Clutching helium balloons shaped like dollar signs, they were being honored for the number of mortgages they had sold.
Freedom is nowhere near the size of behemoths like Citigroup or Bank of America; yet last year it originated more mortgages than either of them, some $51.1 billion, according to industry research group Inside Mortgage Finance. It is now the 11th-largest mortgage lender in the U.S., up from No. 78 in 2012.
Its rise points to a bigger shift in the home-lending business to specialized mortgage lenders that fall outside the banking sector. Such nonbanks, critically wounded in the housing crisis, have re-emerged to become the market’s dominant players, with 52% of U.S. mortgage originations, up from 9% in 2009. Six of the 10 biggest U.S. mortgage lenders today are nonbanks, according to the research group.
What does this mean? Several things, depending on the resolution of the lens you’re using.
In the mortgage market it means that emerging private sector lenders are taking market share – presumably by being more aggressive – which puts pressure on the relatively stodgy brand-name banks to lower their own standards to keep up. To grasp the truth of this, just re-read the last sentence in the above article: “I always believed that, if somebody is applying for a loan, we should try to make it for them.” That is fundamentally not how banks work. Their job is to write profitable loans by weeding out the applicants who probably won’t make their payments.
Now, faced with competitors from the “No Credit, No Problem!” part of the business spectrum, the big guys will once again have to choose between adopting that attitude or leaving the business. See Bad Bankers Drive Out Good Bankers: Wells Fargo, Wall Street, And Gresham’s Law. Since the biggest mortgage lender is currently Wells Fargo, for which cutting corners is standard practice, it presumably won’t be long before variants of liar loans and interest only mortgages will be back on the menu.
From a broader societal perspective, this is par for the late-cycle course. After a long expansion, most banks have already lent money to their high-quality customers. But Wall Street continues to demand that those banks maintain double-digit earnings growth, and will punish their market caps if they fall short.
This leaves formerly-good banks with no choice but to loosen standards to keep the fee income flowing. So they start working their way towards the bottom of the customer barrel, while instructing their prop trading desks and/or investment bankers to explore riskier bets. Misallocation of capital becomes ever-more-common until the system blows up.
The Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLF) closed at $28.33 on Friday, down $-0.03 (-0.11%). Year-to-date, XLF has gained 1.87%, versus a 8.20% rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.
This article is brought to you courtesy of DollarCollapse.com.