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The risk of relying on reputational capital: a case study of the 2007 failure of New Century Financial

  • Allen B Frankel
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    The quality of newly originated subprime mortgages had been visibly deteriorating for some time before the window for such loans was shut in 2007. Nevertheless, a bankruptcy court's directed ex post examination of New Century Financial, one of the largest originators of subprime mortgages, discovered no change, over time, in how that firm went about its business. This paper employs the court examiner's findings in a critical review of the procedures used by various agents involved in the origination and securitisation of subprime mortgages. A contribution of this paper is its elaboration of the choices and incentives faced by the various types of institutions involved in those linked processes of origination and securitisation. It highlights the limited roles played by the originators of subprime loans in screening borrowers and in bearing losses on defective loans that had been sold to securitisers of pooled loan packages (ie, mortgage-backed securities). It also illustrates the willingness of the management of those institutions that became key players in that market to put their reputations with fixed-income investor clients in jeopardy. What is perplexing is that such risk exposures were accepted by investing firms that had the wherewithal and knowledge to appreciate the overall paucity of due diligence in the loan origination processes. This observation, in turn, points to the conclusion that the subprime episode is a case in which reputational capital, a presumptively effective motivator of market discipline, was not an effective incentive device.

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    Paper provided by Bank for International Settlements in its series BIS Working Papers with number 294.

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    Length: 28 pages
    Date of creation: Dec 2009
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:bis:biswps:294
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    1. Fender, Ingo & Mitchell, Janet, 2009. "Incentives and Tranche Retention in Securitisation: A Screening Model," CEPR Discussion Papers 7483, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. William Adams & Liran Einav & Jonathan Levin, 2007. "Liquidity Constraints and Imperfect Information in Subprime Lending," NBER Working Papers 13067, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Ashcraft, Adam B. & Schuermann, Til, 2008. "Understanding the Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit," Foundations and Trends(R) in Finance, now publishers, vol. 2(3), pages 191-309, June.
    4. Ingo Fender & Janet Mitchell, 2005. "Structured finance : complexity, risk and the use of ratings," Financial Stability Review, National Bank of Belgium, vol. 3(1), pages 127-135, June.
    5. Lily Hua Fang, 2005. "Investment Bank Reputation and the Price and Quality of Underwriting Services," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 60(6), pages 2729-2761, December.
    6. Geetesh Bhardwaj & Rajdeep Sengupta, 2008. "Where's the smoking gun? a study of underwriting standards for US subprime mortgages," Working Papers 2008-036, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
    7. Allen Frankel, 2006. "Prime or not so prime? An exploration of US housing finance in the new century," BIS Quarterly Review, Bank for International Settlements, March.
    8. Paul S. Mills & John Kiff, 2007. "Money for Nothing and Checks for Free; Recent Developments in U.S. Subprime Mortgage Markets," IMF Working Papers 07/188, International Monetary Fund.
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