The future of mortgage securitisation, what’s the opportunity?

by Graham Andersen

The opportunity in mortgage securitisation is to develop a modern digitised origination and funding platform. Securitisation can be streamlined so that borrowers are funded “direct to market” using transparent data and simplified structures in a modern IT environment that brings efficiency and cost savings to borrowers and higher yields to investors.

Securitisation has been used in the US and Australia since the 1980s to fund loans which are secured over residential property. It was a highly successful technique which competed successfully with incumbent lenders and expanded the ability of borrowers to get a mortgage to buy houses and it also accompanied a period of strong house price growth. The success was also followed by notable failures, as evidenced by the US sub-prime crisis of 2008 and 2009 where mortgage securitisation structures and ratings failed abysmally and effectively brought down the global financial system.

Despite the failures, securitisation markets are still significant in many parts of the world including Australia. Nevertheless little innovation has occurred and securitisation structures and methods remain essentially the same since the 1980s and 1990s.

So what’s now wrong with traditional securitisation?

Securitisation of mortgages was invented in the 1980s so that institutional investors in the capital markets could invest in low risk, high rated securities secured over pools of mortgages owned in special purpose corporate or trust vehicles. These securities are referred to as Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (“RMBS”). In order to create high rated ie AAA securities, RMBS were issued with different payment priorities so that losses were taken first by lower rated securities. A process called tranching. These special purpose vehicles with complex payment structures also required service providers, trustees and trust managers, to calculate and make payments and represent the interest of RMBS investors. Credit rating agencies would then provide their credit opinions to rate each tranche of an RMBS, AAA, AA, A, BBB etc.

These complex securitisation structures with third party service providers provide a workable solution but were and are expensive in the cost of management and the cost of funds due to the payment priorities of the tranched RMBS. Payment structures favour paying down the low risk, low cost AAA tranches first and so the cost of funds increases over time.

Lastly, except for certain statistics available over the mortgage pool, data was generally not available for buyers of the RMBS on an ongoing basis so that these buyers could analyse mortgage risk. Therefore RMBS investors needed to rely heavily on the credit rating agencies and the tranching process for risk analysis at the expense of yield. As demonstrated in the semi-doco “The Big Short”, those analysts that made the big effort to get data, analyse it and work out where the risk was and how bad is was, could gain a significant advantage on the rest of the market which just relied on credit rating opinions.

So in summary the tranching priority payment structures of traditional securitisations were necessary to meet RMBS investor risk requirements in an environment where data and analytic tools were not readily available and manual management processes were necessary. A funding solution which may have lasted the test of 30 years of successful funding (except for the financial crisis of 2008) but perhaps now could be said to be costly and lacking efficiency, ensuring that both borrowers and investors do not get the best deal.

What’s now available that drives the opportunity to improve the securitisation process?

Put simply, technology now allows for the free and accurate provision of data and analytic tools to understand risk and value as well as block chain and smart contract technology that can validate and automate the whole payment process. Technology allows the removal of complexity and external costs for the benefit of borrowers and RMBS investors.

Whilst data may be difficult to obtain and somewhat unreliable for traditionally structured RMBS, the fact that central banks in Australia and other parts of the world have standardised data requirements and definitions, means that innovators can create and make available standardised, reliable and cost effective analytic tools to investors using the data standards. MARQ is an analytic platform that is one such solution. Using MARQ delivered real time through the internet, an RMBS investor or any analyst can understand the risk and risk adjusted valuation of the mortgages in any securitisation structure without the need to rely on credit rating opinions.

Transparent data and standardised analytic tools allow the simplification of securitisation tranching structures removing to a large extent the inefficiency of the cost of funds over time. Manual trustee and trust manager processes can now be digitised using smart contracts and block chain technology, making the trustee and trust manager obsolete. Payment processes can be automated on an undeniably reliable platform, significantly reducing costs and errors. Smart contract and block chain technology exists and is available to develop a proprietary digitised securitisation funding platform.

Data, analytics, IT delivery, smart contracts and block chain allow for a mortgage borrower to be funded direct to market. The opportunity is here now to create a direct to market mortgage securitisation platform and deliver a better deal for borrowers and RMBS investors.

2017, interest rates, housing and mortgage markets,

By Graham Andersen

2017 will bring financial conditions in Australian mortgage and housing markets never seen before. The rules of the game have changed and so will the results. The future of the mortgage and housing markets in 2017 may appear uncertain but as we have now entered an era of rising interest rates in the US, a situation not seen for almost 10 years, risks to the downside are significant and locked in.

Whilst the RBA controls Australia’s official cash rate, interest rates set by the Fed in the US are critical to Australia. Australia runs a current account deficit and has done for around 50 years. The CAD is funded by offshore debt to our federal and state governments, and our banks. Australia as a rule, needs to maintain a premium on its official and actual interest rates over US, Japanese, UK and European rates to ensure that international debt providers stay put and do not withdraw their funds for better relative rates elsewhere. Capital flight would have severe impacts for the Australian financial system.

I have argued before that Australian interest rates could go significantly negative. Reality tempers this view by introducing the inflation constant and I’d change my view to Australia moving heavily into negative real rates although nominal rates could be negative as well. We already have zero to slightly negative real rates but movement into further negative territory will occur before this complex game plays out.

Against this trend in Australia the US Fed itself is predicting on average at least a 50 bps rise in official rates in 2017. The dilemma for the RBA is whether to follow the Fed to maintain the relative attractiveness of investing in $As, or faced with a weakening Australian economy, the RBA maintains current rates or decreases in order to stimulate. The dilemma is heightened because any significant capital flight will significantly reduce the value of the $A which will make the price of imported goods rise, stimulating inflation forcing the RBA to raise rates. Is this the rock and the hard place?

For a reactionary central banker, there is no rock and hard place here. The RBA will reduce rates as hard as possible. If this causes capital flight then the RBA will react to increase rates and deflect blame to offshore investors and government fiscal policy. Yes, the RBA must reduce rates to cause a capital flight crisis to be given the ammunition to increase rates to deflate overblown asset prices. Although this seems a perverse outcome, the journey may have further twists.
A question for the Australian banks is whether Australian interest rates could detach in domestic and international markets? That is one rate for international borrowing and a lower rate for domestic markets to minimise the impact on mortgage rates? If so this mechanism could be used to have negative real rates domestically propping up the housing market for a time but ultimately redistributing wealth more evenly. The banks know the answer and play on it.

If there is capital flight due to official interest rate decreases, the RBA could step in and fund the banks’ funding shortfall from a loss of international investors using the Committed Liquidity Facility at rates below the banks’ international funding rates. The CLF used in these circumstances would be a form of quantitive easing and would have a dampening effect on mortgage rates by subsidising bank borrowing rates but could never be a lasting solution and only have limited effect in the long term. So yes, high cost international funding by the banks can easily be replaced by cheap RBA funding through a form of QE or money printing subsidising bank profits and banker bonuses.

So it would seem on balance Aussie mortgage rates will decrease in the short term and depending on any implementation of macro-prudential measures also boost house prices.  Once this is done, the RBA’s hand will likely be forced to significantly increase Australian mortgage rates due to the Fed raising rates, capital flight risk, $A lowering, increased government debt and inflation. All these risks are only heightened when taken with the high probability that Australia will lose its AAA Rating.

Rising interest rates will undoubtedly put pressure on many mortgage borrowers ability to service their monthly payments. Whilst, APRA has pressured the banks to increase serviceability requirements in recent years, undoubtedly with house prices and debt levels at record levels relative to household incomes, the borrowers at the margin are likely to be severely impacted by only small interest rate increases.

Many factors effect house prices, but interest rates and mortgage serviceability are generally agreed as significant contributing factors. So whilst the RBA is able to keep mortgage rates constant or decrease rates, house prices should remain at elevated levels. But with developing pressure for both interest rates and serviceability to increase, the likely effect is that house prices or the principal on the mortgage must decrease to compensate. Whilst selling our housing assets to foreign buyers may stave off any immediate plunge in prices, or without any government assistance packages to subsidise price and demand, the outlook for house prices must be highly negative once rates turn, as they surely will.

It follows that the outlook for our banks is neutral in the short term but also negative when rates turn. Higher offshore borrowing costs, mortgage borrower stress at the margin, decreases in credit ratings, collateral values decreasing on the back book and probable resulting increases in capital requirements mean that the risk is more on the downside for banks profitability and return on equity over 2017 and 18.

Predicting the down turn in our housing and banking markets is fraught with danger with many lost reputations. In the past many pundits predictions failed to take account of the actions that the central bank and governments can take to maintain the status quo, even if actions were only temporary can kicks. However, 2017 may bring events that these authorities cannot control or soften the outcome but are predictable. Amongst all the events that could occur in international markets, what the Fed does with interest rates will be one of the most important for Australia

Complexity is Good, Simplicity Overrated, by Don Norman

Graham Andersen comments: “I could really relate to this article. I have often been hit with comments about MARQ being so simple. The “beautiful and simple but is that all there is ” comment. I take this as a compliment because there is incredible complexity behind analyzing mortgage risk and the task to make that simple for the user was immense. Sadly, this is not generally appreciated.”

Pity complexity. Badly misunderstood, railed against, insulted, decried. All for an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Want to know what is even worse? Simplicity. How did complexity become the evil villain, simplicity a hero? Simplicity is an emperor without clothes.

Complexity is good. The world is complex and our tools must work in that world, so they must match it. People – and this includes you, dear reader, need complex tools, products, and services. You don’t want simplicity. How do I know? Because when offered a choice between something really simple and something that actually accomplishes things you want done, even though more complex, you will chose complexity.

Confusion: This is the enemy. We do not wish to be confused, befuddled, and frustrated by our tools. The argument against complexity is due to the common misunderstanding that complexity leads to confusion. No, it doesn’t have to.  This is the role of good design: to make complex things simple to understand, easy to use, and delightful.

When we talk about simplicity, we need to ask how “simple” is being judged: from what point of view. Elegant, special-purpose tools are always simpler than complex, multi-functional ones. A correspondent once challenged me:

Tools. Show me a silversmiths planishing hammer with added complexity and I’ll show you an unsold tool. Same for many hand tools.

The point is a good one. Why is it that the tools of the crafts worker always seem simple and elegant? Consider woodworking, silversmithing, blacksmithing, gardening or sports such as camping, hiking, and mountain climbing. Simple, straightforward tools. Why must our electronic tools be so complicated?

But the comparison is misleading. One cannot compare the elegance of the silversmith’s planishing hammer (a specialized hammer made for toughening and smoothing a metal surface) with, for example, the complexity of the choices confronting a user of the photographic editing tool, Photoshop.

The correct comparison is with the complete toolset of the silversmith, where each of the “simple,” specialized tools is akin to a single menu choice in Photoshop.

With Photoshop, the hard part is knowing which menu item to chose. I don’t know anything about silversmithing, so when I see the array of tools in the silversmith’s workshop, I am completely overwhelmed. One person’s simplicity is another person’s complexity. .

The simplistic approach would be to ask the silversmith to use a single hammer for everything. In many cases, life is simpler by having a few complex, multi-purpose tools rather than a lot of elegant, special purpose ones.  If I am traveling, I do prefer a Swiss army knife. It makes my life simpler, even if the knife is complex (I never get the correct tool at first try), and even if each tool is deficient. I used to use it a lot when traveling (prior to airport security restrictions), but I would never use it at home.

Real complexity does not lie in the tools, but in the task. Skilled workers have an array of tools, each carefully matched to a particular task requirement. It can take years to learn which tool goes with which task, and years to master the tools. The tool set is complicated because the task is complicated. Looking at the visual simplicity of the tool is misleading.

The mark of the great designer is the ability to provide what people need without excessive complexity, without feature bloat. Make things understandable and they are perceived as being simple. It is the job of the designer to manage complexity with skill and grace, to ensure that complex things are understandable, usable, and enjoyable.

The mark of the great designer is the ability to provide the complexity that people need in a manner that is understandable and elegant. Simplicity should never be the goal. Complex things will require complexity. It is the job of the designer to manage that complexity with skill and grace.

 

Don Norman studies, teaches, and practices good design. He is co-founder of the Nielsen Norman group, an IDEO fellow, former VP at Apple and professor. He is the author of Design of Everyday Things and, most recently, Living with Complexity, from which parts of this essay have been taken. He lives in Silicon Valley at www.jnd.org.

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Risk, the data and analysis, and the context

by Graham Andersen

Starting with the 2008 financial crisis there have been a number of global events that seem to defy the predictions of the established players but with the benefit of hindsight analysis now seem obvious and predictable. Clearly the Big Short, Brexit and Trump are such events but why were these events occurring so misread beforehand? Events that have huge consequences for the risk of a multitude financial assets, one could be forgiven for thinking that best and most reliable analysis available would be trained on the likely outcomes. But no, even the humble bookies got it wildly wrong.
Even in these days of big data and fintechs, risk would seem to be widely misunderstood and what data there is is subject to inadequate analysis. My contention is that evidence will show that the conventional view of the risk of the Australian mortgage market is at odds with a more disciplined and unbiased view.
A particular dubious analytic indicator is for analytic firms to put probabilities on single events like the election of President-elect Trump. The outcome of the election is a single event set in today’s circumstances which will occur or not and never be repeated. There may be an expectation of a particular result based on the data at hand but to put a probability on that event occurring is very dubious science. Its actually akin to putting a probability on the reliability of the data which we know is not complete so we don’t know what we don’t know.
So proposition one on risk is that besides being misunderstood it generally lacks proper analysis on inadequate data.
My next proposition on risk is that the perceived importance of the risk by us humans is based on the setting even though an equivalent or greater risk may be taken every day.
The tragedy at Dream World would seem to support this point. Although terrible, it clearly is a rare event. Society does not react the way they do to the Dream World tragedy as they do to car accident tragedies which unfortunately occur almost every day. Why the difference? It’s the context and control. On a theme park ride, you are totally putting your safety in the hands of complete strangers with no control whatsoever (same for aircraft), whilst we also need to travel in or drive cars which carries considerable risk. But we have some control over what’s happening or trust the person in control. Does this make a big difference in the perception of risk and the reaction to a tragic risk event? As flawed humans, I think it does.
Applying propositions 1 and 2 to the Australian mortgage market may allow us to have a different view of the risk than is conventional wisdom.
The availability of data on mortgages in Australia to do detailed analysis to understand where the risk is and the extent of that risk is not available in detail. Reporting standards and data transparency have not been improved in any meaningful way for quite some time. During that time, Australia’s macro settings have changed considerably, notably with rising household debt levels, flattening incomes, rising house prices and rising offshore debt levels.
So with inadequate data during a time of increasing stress in the macro-economic settings, risk analysis also has not kept up. Most internal models, regulator analysis and rating agency analysis looks backward on borrower performance (ie good) when macro settings would indicate rising risk. Even house prices rising above incomes increases risk and disguises performance. The idea of determining the probability of default of a single mortgage based on past performance is as much pseudo-science as putting a probability on a Trump win.
Shouldn’t alarm bells be ringing? Well no, because proposition 2 on the risk context kicks in. Regulators and the government are driving the bus and think they are in control, so whilst they understand that there is risk in there somewhere, its only going to occur somewhere else. Borrowers, overstretched or not, have been driving their own debt cars and have been rewarded with capital gains and so have learnt that more debt is good and government and regulators will do their best to support borrowers from defaulting. So in that context and even with the macro settings and external influences which could smash the party, the conventional analysis concludes that our banks are strong and the system is safe.
Any good analyst who can take themselves out of the context and properly analyse the available Australian mortgage and macro data in a deductive manner may not predict wholesale defaults but they’d certainly shine a spotlight on the risk of that occurring.

The STUART Effect – The irrational effect on economic rationality

By Graham Andersen

Many things that occur in society defy rational or logical explanation. Society does not behave like the universe where science continues to unravel the workings through theory, experiment and testing. The universe is rationally predictable through the laws of science. Society or people are not. Collectives of humans influence their own outcome and that is the problem with economic rationality. Some things that occur in society seem irrational but are so STUpid, they are smART for a collective of humans for a time, and that is the STUART effect.

Unaffordable housing markets, overblown debt levels, loose lending criteria and negative interest rates are a few examples of current STUART Effects.

Australia’s housing market is seriously distorting economic activity. What some call strong I call stupid. Not only does housing costs inflate the cost of doing business and employing staff on an internationally competitive basis but the costs of capital projects like infrastructure are also greatly inflated. It may be cheap to borrow but it’s expensive to build.
You may feel smart if you’ve been in the housing market long enough but cashing out for retirement and investing at negative yields may not be the smart that was envisaged, even if STUART rules. The unearned income generated by cashing out of the housing market simply transfers debt to future generations of buyers who’ll need to be bailed out by future generations of taxpayers.

We’ll come back to STUART, but let’s review the signals and why Australia is heading for negative interest rates for a long time.
•    At over 125% of GDP, Australia’s household debt is the largest in the world.
•    Australia’s Public and Private foreign debt has reached astronomical height of 140% of GDP. This debt is growing and can only be repaid by selling the country
•    Debt creates money and if there’s too much debt, there is too much money
•    Australia’s economy is bar belled in that household debt is held by a group of borrowers and another group of depositors hold the money.
•    Australia’s private debt binge over the last 30 years has allowed house prices to rise to massive levels relative to median incomes all over the country.
•    Australia’s foreign debt binge over the last 30 years has allowed Australians to increase living standards and wealth in older generations whilst also ensuring that the current account deficit is paid for.
•    During the 30 year cycle Australia managed to transfer public debt to the private household sector but for the last 7 years has rebooted public debt in order to maintain growth in the economy whilst putting the AAA rating on the locked in path of downgrade.

Through the last 30 years did we have the policy debate that Australia was going to borrow itself to prosperity and eventually force interest rates to practically zero and beyond? Would we have thought that was a stupid or smart idea? Ask an individual and I’m sure most would call stupid. But let the humans act as a collective, then it’s very smart. I’m calling STUART on that. Enriching much of a generation or two with little effort and with the fall-out to be dealt with by future generations who’ve yet to wake up to their plight is not new, but it works, for a time.

Under current settings, a continuation of the debt to prosperity policies is all but impossible. So some things must give in order to reboot the economy to improve standards of living for existing and future generations. This cannot again be done by pushing up debt levels to create money rather we must increase productivity to generate wealth. Maintaining and increasing debt levels will only saddle future generations with lower living standards and reducing incomes plus the cost of bailing out the economy.

Simply put there is too much debt in the wrong hands and too much money in the opposite hands but this does not counter balance. In modern times, the rebalancing is usually done by having a financial crisis which results in loan losses, a destruction of money through equity and deposit losses and the resultant fall-out to employment. More recently, globalisation and the financialisation of almost everything, may mean that there is another yet stupid way of achieving the same thing.
Central banks around the world and our own RBA, have decreased interest rates to record lows on the basis of stimulating borrowing to keep our debt to prosperity model pumped. It has worked but not the way that was planned. Borrowing increased but mostly in non-productive assets like housing which had the effect of creating money and increasing asset prices but at the expense of productive investment. Not only that but the collective of humans worked on the basis that the RBA would keep decreasing  interest rates to avoid at all costs any rebalancing and a change to the debt to prosperity policy. To date that’s exactly what the RBA has done. So taking on massive debt amounts to buy overpriced assets, is not only low risk but is hugely profitable. I’m calling STUART.

As interest rates continue to decrease and move strongly into negative territory, asset prices and debt levels may still increase, but a funny thing happens, debt and money destruction starts to occur and the slow rebalancing of the economy commences without necessarily having a crisis. However, once the collective of humans is convinced that interest rates have hit bottom and the RBA cannot possibly lower further but must raise rates for fear of destroying too much money through negative rates, then the whole STUART process goes into REverse Gear (REG) and asset prices decrease in anticipation of higher rates and deleveraging. At this point the crisis hits with many losers through asset losses and income loss.
REG is not all bad however, the other thing that occurs at this point is that incentives now change considerably. The collective of humans, no longer wants assets decreasing in value but are incentivised, at the risk of losing a lot of capital, to invest in future productive cash flows. This may be hard for some to conceive but when the cycle turns, even when interest rates may be significantly negative, there will be little incentive to leverage assets because as asset values fall the cost of that debt rises to wipe out any notion of cheap debt. This is the point we must reach to reboot the economy, at the very least for the benefit of future generations. Whilst rebooting will create many relative losers, the balance is that the process creates even more future winners relative to the shocking effects of having to rescue an even bigger debt monster.
Perhaps there are numerous reasons why rates will not go heavily negative, the best of which is that it’s politically unacceptable to have depositors losing money on deposits. Nevertheless, the resulting outcome when STUART meets REG will still be the same regardless of where rates bottom. There is too much money and debt in the wrong hands for continued financial stability and as the list grows of those locked into massive mortgages and those locked out of the housing market, the political will starts to sway away from protecting those with unearned gains to those wanting opportunities of their own.
Although many events could happen internationally to bring on our rebooting crisis earlier, as we are very vulnerable, the collective of us humans that don’t want our children and grandchildren to pay for current excesses, want the economy rebooted. Those who want a more sustainable distribution of wealth across both society and generations should be creating their own STUART effect through a push for serious negative rates. Get on board and drive those rates down. Stupid hey, to believe that decreasing rates will cause the crisis? No, I call STUART. How low can they go before REG arrives and the reboot happens?

World debt hits $152tn record, says IMF

Printed in the FT on Oct 6 2016
by: Claire Jones in Washington
The world is $152tn in the red — a record-breaking level of debt, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The figure, more than two times the size of the global economy, comes from the fund’s latest Fiscal Monitor and is, officials claim, the most accurate measure of the world’s debt burden ever calculated.

“Global debt is at record highs and rising,” said Vitor Gaspar, director of fiscal affairs at the fund.

The figures highlight the apparent paradox between ultra-low interest rates imposed by many central banks in an attempt to encourage borrowing and boost sluggish economies, and the dangers that arise from excessive debt levels.

While the IMF did not call for rapid prepayment of debt, it warned that in some countries the unprecedented level of borrowing by companies was too high.

“Excessive private debt is a major headwind against the global recovery and a risk to financial stability,” said Mr Gaspar. “The Fiscal Monitor shows that rapid increases in private debt often end up in financial crises. Financial recessions are longer and deeper than normal recessions.”

Levels of borrowing have substantially outpaced global growth in recent years, rising from 200 per cent of gross domestic product in 2002 to 225 per cent last year.

While two-thirds of the debt is held by the private sector, governments’ borrowing requirements have also ballooned since the global financial crisis.

Nevertheless, officials at the fund — which is holding its annual meetings with the World Bank in Washington this week — want governments to act to boost growth.

Calls for what are often dubbed “growth-friendly fiscal policies” have grown from the IMF and other multilateral institutions as concern has mounted that the world’s central banks have been left with too much of the burden to lift the global economy.

Mr Gaspar emphasised that debt levels were not high everywhere. “The sharp diversity across countries is a reminder of the need to tailor policy diagnosis and prescription to the specific conditions prevailing in each country,” he said.

Most of the debt is concentrated in the world’s richest economies, although China has markedly increased borrowing in recent years. While low income countries have relatively low levels of debt, many have sharply increased borrowing in recent years.

The fund also said that companies would help raise growth if they shrank their balance sheets by reducing their size, although it acknowledged the process would take time.

He added that countries entering a financial recession with a weak fiscal position were likely to lose more growth than countries that manage to counter shocks by spending more.

Central banks have cut interest rates to all-time lows and engaged in mass bond buying in response to the global financial crisis. Although most economists think their actions have helped, there is also a broad consensus that the economy will remain below par unless governments do more.

The debt burden figure is based on data collected by the IMF and the Bank for International Settlements from 113 countries, which together make up more than 94 per cent of global GDP. Fund officials have worked on the project over the past year

The Private Debt Crisis

The Private Debt Crisis

China is drowning in it. The whole world has too much of it. History suggests: This won’t end well.
By Richard Vague from Fall 2016, No. 42 – 28 MIN READ
Tagged DebtGDPGreat RecessiongrowthIMF

Why does the IMF keep badly missing its global growth forecast? And what does that have to do with the 2016 presidential election?

In the years since the 2008 global crisis, when the world’s growth rates tumbled, the IMF has dutifully printed forecast after forecast predicting rebounding growth rates. But in reality, rates have fallen well short of these prediction……………..

The Private Debt Crisis