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    Repiglican Roast

    A spirited discussion of public policy and current issues

    Location: The mouth of being

    I'm furious about my squandered nation.

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Credit crisis expands, hitting all kinds of consumer loans


    That means consumers are going to have an increasingly difficult time getting bank loans for car purchases, credit cards, home equity credit lines, student loans and even commercial real estate, experts say.

    When financial analyst Meredith Whitney wrote in a report last October that the nation's largest bank, Citigroup, lacked sufficient capital for the risks it had assumed, she was considered a heretic.

    However, Whitney was proved correct: Citigroup pushed out its CEO, sought foreign investors and slashed its dividend. Her comments now carry added weight on Wall Street, and she has a new warning for ordinary Americans: The crisis in credit markets is far from over, and it increasingly will affect consumers.


    The warning is scary considering what's already behind us in the credit crisis — the resignation or firing since last August of CEOs at almost every large commercial or investment bank; the Federal Reserve lowering its benchmark lending rate by 3.25 percentage points; a Fed-brokered deal to sell investment bank Bear Stearns; and weekly auctions of short-term loans from the Fed worth billions of dollars to keep credit markets functioning.

    Whitney argues that the worst is still ahead because the financial tools that enabled credit to flow so freely to homeowners and consumers for most of this decade are likely to remain in a prolonged shutdown indefinitely.

    "After years of inherently flawed underwriting, banks face the worst yet of the credit crisis — over $170 billion in write-downs and charge-offs from consumer loans," Whitney told McClatchy. The same kind of losses from housing may be ahead for credit extended to consumers, she said.

    At the heart of the nation's lending boom from 1996 to 2006 was a process called securitization. In housing, this process involved pooling mortgages for sale to investors as special bonds called mortgage-backed securities. Monthly mortgage payments were also pooled and served as the return to investors.

    Securitization meant that most home loans no longer sat on a bank's balance sheet. Instead, they were sold into a secondary market, where they were sliced and diced in a process that was supposed to spread investment risk a mile wide and an inch deep.

    For every dollar of mortgage loans that banks kept on their balance sheets since 2000, another $7 of these loans were sold to the secondary market and securitized. This led to the industry joke that "a rolling loan gathered no loss." Risk was passed along to the next holder of the debt. Securitization added what bankers call liquidity, a fancy term for having more money on hand to lend.

    Now, the structured finance that enabled Americans to borrow cheaply has gone away, at least in the housing market.

    "With that source of liquidity removed, the sheer number of buyers who can qualify for mortgages and therefore buy homes will decline dramatically," Whitney told McClatchy. "It stands to reason, therefore, that less demand and more supply will drive home prices down well below current expectations."

    In addition, interest is waning in other areas of lending where securitization has also been common — car loans, credit cards, home equity lines of credit, student loans and even commercial real estate. It means that lending in those areas is growing tighter.


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