Kroll Bond Rating Agency released a Commentary on Capital Requirements for Non-Bank Mortgage Companies. I may be missing something, but this just seems to be a love letter to the securitization industry. The Commentary opens,
Federal and state regulators are currently considering the imposition of capital requirements and other prudential rules on various classes of non-bank financial institutions, including insurers and mortgage servicers. This report examines some of the issues involving non-bank financial companies with a focus on non-bank loan mortgage originators and/or servicers (“seller/servicers”) in the context of the evolving discussion among regulators and researchers toward developing “appropriate” regulation and supervision like that traditionally applied to insured depository institutions (IDIs).
We believe that regulatory efforts to impose capital requirements on non-bank financial institutions such as mortgage loan seller/servicers need to consider the following factors:
• First, most non-bank financial companies operating in the mortgage space have significantly higher levels of tangible capital and lower risk-weighted assets than do IDIs, especially when considering that much of the asset base of a seller/servicer is collateralized and that the mortgages which they service typically are owned by third parties, in most cases institutional investors. The chief sources of risk for seller/servicers are operational and legal, not credit or market risk.
• Second, the recent call by state and federal regulators for capital requirements for non-bank mortgage companies somewhat ignores the real point of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, namely the vulnerability of IDIs and non-banks which perform bank-like functions to a sudden decline in investor confidence and a related drop in market liquidity.
• Third, since non-banks in the US are already dependent upon the commercial banking system for short-term funding and are effectively prohibited from capitalizing their asset and maturity transformation activities in the short-term debt capital markets (e.g., commercial paper), it is unclear why capital requirements for non-banks are appropriate.
We believe that large non-bank companies and particularly seller/servicers in the mortgage sector do not require formal capital requirements and other types of prudential regulation. In our view, the real issue behind the 2007-2009 financial crisis involved securities fraud and the resulting withdrawal of investor liquidity behind various classes of securities issued by off balance sheet vehicles, not a lack of capital in either IDIs or non-bank firms. (1, footnotes omitted)
First of all, it is not clear to me why Kroll is conflating mortgage originators with seller/servicers in this analysis. I think that Kroll is right that seller/servicers predominantly face operational risk, and whatever credit risk they might face (unless they own mortgages that they service) is quite low. But mortgage originators are a different story completely. If they fund themselves from the short-term commercial paper market they are subject to runs much like an uninsured bank would be. See generally Gary Gorton, Slapped by the Invisible Hand (2009). One would expect that regulators would prescribe different capital levels for different types of non-banks — and could conceivably exempt some seller/servicers completely.
Second, Kroll writes that the financial crisis was caused by “the vulnerability of IDIs and non-banks which perform bank-like functions to a sudden decline in investor confidence and a related drop in market liquidity.” But capital requirements go directly to investor confidence in individual firms as well as in an entire sector.
Third, Kroll’s analysis is heavily dependent on describing the troubles of IDIs. Yes, big banks were at the heart of the problems of the financial crisis, but that does not mean that non-banks should get a free pass on regulation, one that will allow them to grow to be the 800 pound gorillas of the next crisis.
Finally, Kroll writes,
One of the most widely held views espoused by US regulators is that non-bank financial firms caused the subprime crisis. A better way to state the reality is that the non-bank firms were involved in subprime mortgage origination and sales because the largest commercial banks and their partners such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had a monopoly position in the prime mortgage space. Large banks and the GSEs made the whole subprime market work by being willing to buy the senior tranches of subprime deals. (7)
I am not sure how to best characterize that argument, but it is of the ilk of “The Devil made me do it” or “Everyone else was doing it” or “I was just a small fry — much bigger companies than mine were doing it.” This is really not an argument against regulation — if anything it is a call for regulation. If appropriate incentives do not align without regulation, then that is just when the government should step in.