Friday, February 16, 2007

Mortgages, Mortgage Back Securities and Repurchase Safeguards

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Not only subprime lenders but also most other lending institutions package and sell their mortgage loans to investment banks who often slice and dice these loan pools to issue mortgage-backed securities of varying risk levels. Occasionally, as HSBC seems to have done with some loans, the bank may keep these loans on its own books. This is a very risky proposition. However as was also the case with subprime loans purchased by HSBC, most investment banks purchasing these loans include repurchase clauses in the mortgage pool contracts. After adding $1.76b to bad debt costs, HSBC has sued some subprime banks who have failed to abide with repurchase clauses. (See "Mortgage Hot Potatoes: Banks Try to Return High-Risk Loans To the Originators," The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, February 15, 2007. page A4.)

In economics, such repurchase clauses are called transaction "safeguards," which if set correctly, will lead to a better hybrid transaction model. They discourage subprime lenders to take unreasonable risks and put them in a risky position if they do take extreme risks. The investment bank purchasing the loan pool may at any time (coinciding with a trigger, perhaps) want to exercise the repurchase option.

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