Asset-backed securities: The key to unlocking Europe's credit markets?
The European market for asset-backed securities (ABS) has all but closed for business since the start of the economic and financial crisis. ABS (see Box 1) were in fact the first financial assets hit at the onset of the crisis in 2008. The subprime mortgage meltdown caused a deterioration in the quality of collateral in the ABS market in the United States, which in turn dried up overall liquidity because ABS AAA notes were popular collateral for inter-bank lending. The lack of demand for these products, together with the Great Recession in 2009, had a considerable negative impact on the European ABS market.The post-crisis regulatory environment has further undermined the market. The practice of slicing and dicing of loans into ABS packages was blamed for starting and spreading the crisis through the global financial system. Regulation in the post-crisis context has thus been relatively unfavourable to these types of instruments, with heightened capital requirements now necessary for the issuance of new ABS products.And yet policymakers have recently underlined the need to revitalise the ABS market as a tool to improve credit market conditions in the euro area and to enhance transmission of monetary policy. In particular, the European Central Bank and the Bank of England have jointly emphasised that -“a market for prudently designed ABS has the potential to improve the efficiency of resource allocation in the economy and to allow for better risk sharing... by transforming relatively illiquid assets into more liquid securities. These can then be sold to investors thereby allowing originators to obtain funding and, potentially, transfer part of the underlying risk, while investors in such securities can diversify their portfolios... . This can lead to lower costs of capital, higher economic growth and a broader distribution of risk” (ECB and Bank of England, 2014a).In addition, consideration has started to be given to the extent to which ABS products could become the target of explicit monetary policy operations, a line of action proposed by Claeys et al (2014). The ECB has officially announced the start of preparatory work related to possible outright purchases of selected ABS1.In this paper we discuss how a revamped market for corporate loans securitised via ABS products, and how use of ABS as a monetary policy instrument, can indeed play a role in revitalising Europe’s credit market.However, before using this instrument a number of issues should be addressed -First, the European ABS market has significantly contracted since the crisis. Hence it needs to be revamped through appropriate regulation if securitisation is to play a role in improving the efficiency of resource allocation in the economy.Second, even assuming that this market can expand again, the European ABS market is heterogeneous - lending criteria are different in different countries and banking institutions and the rating methodologies to assess the quality of the borrowers have to take these differences into account. One further element of differentiation is default law, which is specific to national jurisdictions in the euro area. Therefore, the pool of loans will not only be different in terms of the macro risks related to each country of origination (which is a ‘positive’ idiosyncratic risk, because it enables a portfolio manager to differentiate), but also in terms of the normative side, in case of default. The latter introduces uncertainties and inefficiencies in the ABS market that could create arbitrage opportunities.It is also unclear to what extent a direct purchase of these securities by the ECB might have an impact on the credit market. This will depend on, for example, the type of securities targeted in terms of the underlying assets that would be considered as eligible for inclusion (such as loans to small and medium-sized companies, car loans, leases, residential and commercial mortgages). The timing of a possible move by the ECB is also an issue; immediate action would take place in the context of relatively limited market volumes, while if the ECB waits, it might have access to a larger market, provided steps are taken in the next few months to revamp the market.We start by discussing the first of these issues – the size of the EU ABS market. We estimate how much this market could be worth if some specific measures are implemented. We then discuss the different options available to the ECB should they decide to intervene in the EU ABS market. We include a preliminary list of regulatory steps that could be taken to homogenise asset-backed securities in the euro area. We conclude with our recommended course of action.The European ABS market - evolution and current sizeThe ABS market peaked in Europe before the crisis, with a total of $1.2 trillion in new ABS issuance in 2008. By 2013, total new issuance was only $239 billion (Figure 1). Demand for these assets plummeted after 2008 because of the deterioration in the rating of the collateral behind the various types of ABS, leading to a major market price correction of ABS products.
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