by João Santos
There’s ample evidence that securitization led mortgage lenders to take more risk, thereby contributing to a large increase in mortgage delinquencies during the financial crisis. In this post, I discuss evidence from a recent research study I undertook with Vitaly Bord suggesting that securitization also led to riskier corporatelending. We show that during the boom years of securitization, corporate loans that banks securitized at loan origination underperformed similar, unsecuritized loans originated by the same banks. Additionally, we report evidence suggesting that the performance gap reflects looser underwriting standards applied by banks to loans they securitize.
Historically, banks kept on their books the loans they originated. However, over time they increasingly replaced this originate-to-hold model with the originate-to-distribute model, by syndicating the loans they originated or by selling them in the secondary loan market. The growth of securitization provided banks with yet another opportunity to expand the originate-to-distribute model of lending. The securitization of corporate loans grew spectacularly in the years leading up to the financial crisis. Prior to 2003, the annual volume of new collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) issued in the United States rarely surpassed $20 billion. Since then, this activity grew rapidly, eclipsing $180 billion in 2007.
Corporate loan securitization appealed to banks because it gave them an opportunity to sell loans off their balance sheets—particularly riskier loans, which have been traditionally more difficult to syndicate. By securitizing loans, banks could lower the risk on their balance sheets and free up capital for other business while continuing to earn origination fees. As with the securitization of other securities, the securitization of corporate loans, however, may lead to looser underwriting standards. For example, if banks anticipate that they won’t retain in their balance sheets the loans they originate, their incentives to screen loan applicants at origination will be reduced. Further, once a bank securitizes a loan, its incentives to monitor the borrower during the life of the loan will also be reduced.
To investigate whether securitization affected the riskiness of banks’ corporate lending, my paper with Bord compared the performance of corporate loans originated between 2004 and 2008 and securitized at the time of loan origination with other loans that banks originated but didn’t securitize. We found that the loans banks securitize are more than twice as likely to default or become nonaccrual in the three years after origination. While only 6 percent of the syndicated loans that banks don’t securitize default or become nonaccrual in those three years, 13 percent of the loans they do securitize wind up in default or nonaccrual. This difference in performance persists, even when we compared loans originated by the same bank and even when we compared loans that are “similar” and we controlled for loan- and borrower-specific variables that proxy for loan risk.
Our results suggest that banks use laxer standards to underwrite the loans they sell to CLOs. For example, we find that banks put less weight on the “hard” information on borrower risk when they set spreads on the loans sold to CLOs than on the loans they don’t securitize. We also find that banks retain less “skin in the game” when it comes to securitized loans, suggesting that they have less incentive to monitor these loans after origination. While on average banks retain 26 percent of each syndicated loan they originate but don’t securitize, they retain only 9 percent of each loan they do securitize. This difference in underwriting standards may help explain why banks’ securitized loans underperform unsecuritized loans.
Finally, we find evidence that all loan investors, including banks, expect that securitized loans will perform worse. Banks appear to do so because they charge significantly higher interest rates on these loans than on the loans they don’t securitize. Institutional investors, who together with the originating bank and CLOs acquire the loans that banks securitize, follow the loan originator and choose to acquire a smaller stake in securitized loans.
Our evidence that securitization led to riskier corporate lending is in line with similar findings unveiled by studies of the effects of securitization on mortgage lending. Taken together, these studies confirm an important downside of securitization.