The Truth About Cars » Subprime The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Subprime The New York Times Shines A Light On Subprime Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:20:41 +0000 20subprime-blog480

The issue of subprime car loans, specifically loans with exorbitant interest rates for used cars, has filtered into the New York Times, with the paper’s Dealbook section running an investigation into the practice.

The NYT article serves as a primer on the subprime auto loan crisis, though it focuses on used cars, and the unscrupulous practices of dealers who charge interest rates as high as 25 percent for used cars, which are frequently repossessed and then re-sold, enabling dealers to make vast profits many times over on the same car.

The Times also found evidence of hardball sales tactics and fraudulent loan documents, with some salesmen facing criminal charges related to their heavy-handed sales tactics and fraudulent loan applications. The article also focuses on the securitization of these loans, and Wall Street’s hunger for them thanks to the higher yields that they pay

Investors, seeking a higher return when interest rates are low, recently flocked to buy a bond issue from Prestige Financial Services of Utah. Orders to invest in the $390 million debt deal were four times greater than the amount of available securities.

What is backing many of these securities? Auto loans made to people who have been in bankruptcy.

An affiliate of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, Prestige specializes in making the loans to people in bankruptcy, packaging them into securities and then selling them to investors.

The average interest rate on loans bundled into Prestige’s latest offering, for example, is 18.6 percent, up slightly from a similar offering rolled out a year earlier. Since 2009, total auto loan securitizations have surged 150 percent, to $17.6 billion last year, though some estimates have put the total volume even higher. To meet that rising demand, Wall Street snatches up more and more loans to package into the complex investments.

Much like mortgages, subprime auto loans go through Wall Street’s securitization machine: Once lenders make the loans, they pool thousands of them into bonds that are sold in slices to investors like mutual funds, pensions and hedge funds. The slices that include loans to the riskiest borrowers offer the highest returns.

Rating agencies, which assess the quality of the bonds, are helping fuel the boom. They are giving many of these securities top ratings, which clears the way for major investors, from pension funds to employee retirement accounts, to buy the bonds.

None of this is news for anybody that has been following the topic on TTAC, nor does the NYT article cover the risks related to subprime lending in the new car market. But the Times does advance the argument that the lending practices of certain banks could pose a systemic risk if the subprime auto loan market faces a major downturn.

While losses from soured car loans would be far less than those on subprime mortgages, the red ink could still deal a blow to the banks not long after they recovered from the housing bust. Losses from auto loans might also cause the banks to further retrench from making other loans vital to the economic recovery, like those to small business and would-be homeowners.

If those losses materialize, they could pummel a wide range of investors, from pension funds to insurance companies to mutual funds held by Americans preparing for retirement. For the huge baby-boomer generation, including many whose savings were sapped by the 2008 crisis and the ensuing recession, any losses from the auto loan securities could deal them another setback.

After outlining the deteriorating underwriting standards and outright fraud used to get unworthy buyers into overpriced cars with usurious loan terms, NYT article closes by noting that in Q1 2014, repossessions were up 78 percent year over year. While the NYT points the finger at ratings agencies for being complicit in fueling the subprime bubble, at least one agency has taken notice.

As it stands now, the average vehicle loan term is 66 months, according to credit rating agency Experian, with loan terms of 73 to 84 months make up nearly a quarter of loans originated in Q1 of this year. The average amount financed for a new vehicle loan and the average loan payment also hit new highs in that same period. All of this suggests that Americans are financing vehicles with ever higher transaction pricing and stretching out the payments to unprecedented lengths, all in the name of a lower, more manageable monthly payment with little regard to how affordable the actual vehicle is. But as well all know, it’s different this time.

]]> 69 OCC Warns Of Auto Lending Risk Thu, 03 Jul 2014 14:48:24 +0000 20140701_auto2

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a government entity that regulates and supervises banks, is sounding the alarm regarding risks related to auto loans.

In its semi-annual report released earlier this week, the OCC warned about the usual factors that TTAC has been discussing for some time: rising loan terms, an increased focus on monthly payments and deteriorating underwriting standards

Across the industry, auto lenders are pursuing growth by lengthening terms, increasing advance rates,
and originating loans to borrowers with lower credit scores. Loan marketing has become increasingly
monthly-payment driven, with loan terms and LTV advance rates easing to make financing more
broadly available. The results have yet to show large-scale deterioration at the portfolio level, but signs
of increasing risk are evident. Average LTV rates for both new and used vehicles are above
100 percent for all major lender categories, reflecting rising car prices and a greater bundling of add-on
products such as extended warranties, credit life insurance, and aftermarket accessories into the

The average loss per vehicle has risen substantially in the past two years, an indication of how longer
terms and higher LTVs can increase exposure. Average charge-off amounts are higher across all lender
types over the last year. These early signs of easing terms and increasing risk are
noteworthy, and the OCC will continue to monitor product terms and risk layering practices to ensure
that banks manage growth and exposure prudently.

The OCC report did not single out subprime loans specifically, but instead focused on the entire auto loan sector. The full report is available here.

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Captives Dominating Auto Financing As Banks Resort To Risky Loans Thu, 19 Jun 2014 15:27:47 +0000 logo_toyota_credit_a

OEM captive financing arms are increasing their share of new car loans, with banks resorting to underwriting riskier loans in the used car market and to less credit-worthy buyers.

Citing data from credit agency Experian, Reuters reports that the captive arms of Ford, Honda and Toyota made up half of all new car loans in Q1 of 2014, up from 37 percent in the prior year. Buoyed by low interest rates, which allow for greater incentives, captive financing arms can offer better rates and other subsidies to consumers, enabling them to get in a new car more easily, while generating stronger sales numbers for the OEM.

At the same time, low interest rates have also created an environment where fixed income yields are low, causing investors to turn towards securities backed by auto loans, which can provide greater yields than other fixed income investments. This in turn is said to be fueling the supply of available credit for auto loans.

According to the article, certain banks (Ally and US Bancorp were among the examples cited) have turned towards financing used cars and buyers with subprime credit scores as a way of competing in the lucrative auto financing market. US Bancorp now makes 15 percent of its auto loans to buyers with subprime scores, compared to zero in previous years. Although it only represents one data point regarding financial institutions, the Reuters piece also claims that captives are increasing their share of subprime loans, while offering increasingly longer loan terms – in line with previous reports regarding declining underwriting standards and lengthier loans.

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Moody’s: Underwriting Standards, Borrower Credit Declining Wed, 11 Jun 2014 12:49:06 +0000 12116452-subprime-auto-loan-interest-rates

The global outlook for Auto Back Securities (ABS) is steady – except in North America, where underwriting standards and borrower credit are slipping.

The latest news comes from ratings agency Moody’s, which issued a new report on the popular investment vehicle. Sanjay Wahi, Vice President and Senior Analyst, stated

“Globally, auto loan ABS pools will continue to consist primarily of loans to prime borrowers. The exception is the US, which has a sizable market for securitizations backed predominantly by near-prime and subprime borrowers.”

Moody’s has long been bearish on subprime ABS in the United States. Both Europe and China are cited as having safer loan pools due to stronger underwriting standards and more rigorous loan terms. But the United States is unique in the predominance of subprime loans, perhaps in part due to the demand for specific sections of ABS (called “tranches” in the investment world) which are comprised of the riskiest subprime loans.

ABS has become a popular security in recent years, with subprime driving much of its growth. With fixed income yields at historic lows, investors are hungry for securities that will provide decent returns. ABS, particularly the subprime tranches of these securities, are among the few products that can provide them - their greater risk profile entails the potential for a higher return. Some have argued that the demand for ABS has led to the growth in subprime financing, with looser underwriting standards (in some cases, they are laughably lax) and a number of OEM captive financing arms that are all too willing to finance buyers with poor credit so that they can “move the metal”. Traditionally, the thinking has been that most buyers are sufficiently trustworthy enough to make their payments on time, and able to offset the few delinquent buyers – but that trend appears to be reversing as of late, with delinquencies on the rise. And if the latest trends outlined by Moody’s are any indication, this isn’t likely to reverse.


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No Credit Score? Show Your Cable Bill, Get Approved Wed, 14 May 2014 11:15:37 +0000 450x304xavenger1-450x304.jpg.pagespeed.ic.pDSlDpswsq

New technology is allowing buyers with no credit score – due to a lack of credit history or a personal bankruptcy – to get vehicle financing via examination of documents like the payment history of their cable or cell phone bill.

Automotive News reports that companies like Equifax can provide information for customers who have been diligent about paying their bills, even if they have not yet tapped traditional lines of credit.

Lou Loquasto, who runs auto finance for Equifax, told AN

“One thing that Equifax and others have is nontraditional credit. Equifax can tell a lender, ‘Hey, this customer has a $200 cell phone bill, they’ve got $400 in utilities, they’ve got $100 in cable, and they’ve had this for four years. They’ve paid perfect.”

Of course, there’s also the question of whether this initiative is just a way to issue more subprime loans, which can then be securitized and sold to yield-hungry investors. That’s usually been the big fear with extending credit for auto loans, but an Equifax economist told AN that there are other ways of looking at data over a longer timeline

“They’re not subprime individuals, they just have a subprime credit rating…There’s a lot of connotations with that, and I think it’s wrong, particularly after what we’ve seen with the recession, where a lot of people fell on hard times. Bad things happen to good people, and a lot of it is out of their control.”

A TTAC source at an OEM captive finance arm concurred with this assessment, telling us that they have spent a fair amount of effort in retaining customers who once leased their vehicles, but had fallen on hard times during the recession. Their less than stellar credit scores were the result of circumstances, rather than delinquent payment histories, and getting them back into a new lease was a goal for the captive.

Even so, a healthy dose of skepticism is required when taking a look at subprime auto loans. A February report by RatingsDirect shows that both losses and delinquencies are on the rise, while the market remains hungry for these types of loans. As a result, underwriting standards are changing as more and more consumers are being approved – including many who might not get financing in the first place. All of this adds up to a riskier loan pool, and the rise in losses and delinquent payments isn’t expected to fall any time soon.


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U.S. Treasury Loses $11.2 Billion In Accounting Of GM Bailout Thu, 01 May 2014 10:00:35 +0000 File photo of General Motors logo outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit

Detroit Free Press reports the U.S. Treasury lost $11.2 billion in taxpayer money from the rescue of General Motors back in 2008, up from the $10.3 billion estimated after the agency sold its remaining shares back in early December 2013. Part of the final figure came as a write-off of an $826 million “administrative claim,” which was found in a report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The overall figure pales in comparison to the $50.2 billion given by both Bush and Obama administrations between 2008 and 2009 to GM as the automaker struggled through its financial crisis at the onset of the Great Recession.

In other financial news, Automotive News reports the automaker’s new financial arm, GM Financial, has launched a pilot program for prime-risk consumers in preparation for an expansion into the market later this summer. In addition, the auto lender proclaimed last week that it began GM-backed lending in the near-prime market during Q1 2014 alongside its subvented subprime loans. Finally, GM Financial reported a net income of $145 million during the same period — acquiring the majority of former GM lender Ally Financial’s International Operations, as well — with loan and lease originations totally $2.1 billion in the United States and Canada, $4.2 globally.

Another former GM subsidiary is looking into “improper payments” made by employees in China. As Reuters reports, Delphi found a number of these payments by manufacturing facility employees, which could be in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The supplier is working closely with both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as contacted outside counsel to assist. Delphi warned that if what they found was true, the violations “could result in criminal and/or civil liabilities and other forms of penalties or sanctions.”

The Detroit News says GM has begun construction on a new motorsport engine design and production facility set to open in 2016 within its Global Powerplant headquarters in Pontiac, Mich. One hundred engineers and technicians are expected to transfer from their posts in Wixom, Mich. to 138,000-square-foot Performance and Racing Center in Pontiac by the middle of 2015, where they will work alongside the production engine team in sharing technology gathered from the track. The center, part of a $200 million investment into GM’s Pontiac facility, will offer an electric motor lab and a gear center to aid in the development of advanced electric motors and transmissions.

Finally, Forbes posits that GM’s lack of thorough engagement with its customers could once again give some loyalists pause before giving their favorite brand the benefit of a doubt. In one example, the automaker — which already had fewer engaged consumers pre-recall than the likes of Ford, Hyundai and Toyota with their respective recalls — posted the largest post-recall decline while Toyota and Hyundai lost the least after their recalls. The low engagement figures for GM could be a sign of things to come as it works its way through its many issues beyond the original recall in February 2014.

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Subprime Lending Still On The Rise As GM Financial Grows Prime Lending Operations Tue, 25 Mar 2014 20:05:02 +0000 450x236xGM-Establishes-GM-Financial-1024x539-450x236.jpg.pagespeed.ic.I-LWSrSJhA

Subprime auto financing continues to grow, and while one analyst at Moody’s says that banks are largely staying out of the subprime space, overall lending continued to rise, with retail banks seeing some of the strongest growth. This expansion in lending, particularly subprime, was attributed as a key driver in auto sales. SNL cited forecasts for a SAAR of between 16 and 16.7 million in 2014, up from 15.5 million in 2013.

SNL Financial, a finance industry trade publication, directly attributed strong auto sales to the increase in subprime financing, drawing a connection between the increased SAAR and an increase the portfolios of subprime lenders. Consumer Portfolio Services Inc saw a 37 percent growth in receivables year-over-year, with over $1.2 billion in receivables for Q4 2014.

The increase in subprime lending along with looser underwriting standards has led ratings agencies to view the sector in a negative light. Fitch, which has issued a negative outlook in the sector as a whole, told SNL that overall, losses were at “historical lows” and that the increase in lenders will make the segment more competitive.

SNL also reports that Moody’s has cast an eye on underwriting standards, with Moody’s VP Mark Wasden stating that longer loan terms (due to higher prices, more durable cars and increased ownership periods) is a major factor.

While Wasden noted that banks were remaining “relatively conservative” regarding subprime lending, savings banks saw the biggest growth in overall lending among depository institutions, growing 16.06 percent year over year (compared to 11.24 percent for credit unions and 10.04 percent for commercial banks). Even so, commercial banks remained the dominant force, issuing $331.92 billion in loans, with savings banks accounting for just $21.49 billion.

Another notable development is the increasing reliance of GM Financial on General Motors – while this sounds redundant, General Motors vehicle financing now accounts from 70 percent of GM Financial’s business, and receivables have more than doubled to $33 billion in Q4 2013 from just $13 billion a few years ago. GM Financial, once known as AmeriCredit Corp, was largely a subprime focused business when GM bought it in 2010, but plans are underway to transition GM Financial to prime lending. While GM Financial is now stepping into the role that the legendary GMAC once occupied, Ally (GMAC’s successor), is shrinking from the auto lending market, suggesting a reversal of roles for GM’s two finance arms .

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Subprime Car Loans At Highest Level Since Before Recession Wed, 13 Nov 2013 12:00:19 +0000 finance

Subprime borrowers have accounted for more than 27% of new car and light truck loans this year, the highest level since 2007, according to Bloomberg. A year ago, a buyer with a credit ranking in the bottom percentile would not likely have been able to buy a car. This year people with credit stores as low as 500 or lower have qualified for loans.

After the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates near zero for five years now, the subprime car loan market is now being described as “frothy”. With interest rates so low, investors are willing to purchase the riskier bonds that back subprime car loans in pursuit of higher returns. A number of financial companies have entered that market. Citigroup reports that 13 loan backers have accessed the asset-backed market to fund subprime auto loans this year. 

Experian Automotive says that subprime car loans are at their highest level since they started tracking loan data in 200y, over 27 percent. That’s up two percent from last year and 9 percent from 2009, when lenders became more conservative with their loans during the recession.

In dollar figures, so far this year issuance of bonds backing subprime auto loans are up to $17.2 billion, more than twice the amount of debt backing subprime car loans during the same period in 2010, though it’s down from the 2005 high of $20 billion.

Subprime car loans are seen as less risky than backing real estate mortgages because cars’ value can be more accurately assessed and they are easier to repossess than a house. Also, people who need to get to work prioritize their car payments.

Fifty-eight percent of loans taken out to buy Dodge brand vehicles in October were above the industry average of 4.2 percent annual percentage rate, according to Edmunds. The average loan to buy a Dodge came with an APR of 7.4% and nearly a quarter of Dodge loans were charging more than 10% interest. Dodge is the brand with the highest percentage of loans exceeding 10% interest, followed by Chrysler and Mitsubishi.

Though subprime auto loans have increased, late payments on them have been contained. Delinquencies in August were at 3.1% of the debt, compared to 13.3% in 2009. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in an Aug. 14 report, said it didn’t see evidence that a “disproportionate or unusual” volume of new loans are being made to high risk borrowers.

Industry observers say that U.S. auto sales, having their best year since 2007, are increasingly being fueled by borrowers with imperfect credit. “Perhaps more than any other factor, easing credit has been the key to the U.S. auto recovery,” Adam Jonas, an analyst for Morgan Stanley, wrote last month.

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Mainstream Press Finally Worried About Cheap Car Loans Mon, 14 Oct 2013 16:00:41 +0000 Subprime-Auto-Lenders

Months after TTAC started to relentlessly bleat about the glut of money flowing into the auto loan sector, the mainstream media is finally taking notice. Automotive News is finally expressing some worry over the factors that we’ve been discussing for some time: car loan terms are getting longer (to help keep payments low), subprime lending is increasing and an expected rise in interest rates could put an end to the new car market’s exuberant performance.


This phenomenon is being primarily driven by low-interest rates, which allow consumers to finance vehicles cheaply, even as transaction prices creep upwards. Meanwhile, financial institutions are happy to provide the loans, particularly to those with poor credit, since they can be securitized and sold off to fixed income clients looking to get decent yields in the same low-interest environment.

The topic of auto financing has been rather divisive, to say the least, and we at TTAC remain bearish on the outcome, though the likelihood of any systemic risk seems to be diminished as OEMs choose to expand existing factories rather than build new ones. But we’re hardly alone anymore.

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“All Is Fine In Sub-Prime Land,” Says Someone With A Vested Interest In Its Success Fri, 21 Jun 2013 15:07:27 +0000 283a57810a0d02b70008777c8dfe992a-252x350

The Detroit Free Press paints a pretty clear picture of the automotive lending landscape: auto loan terms are rising, with 1 in 5 loans now lasting longer than 6 years. At the same time, the average credit score for those taking out loans is dropping. Ominous signs for a car market that’s running on the hype of a perpetually increasing SAAR, right? Well, not according to some.

Despite more red flags than a Politburo meeting, the Freep manages to put a positive spin on things, trotting out Melinda Zabritski, Experian’s senior director of automotive credit, and Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler.

Even though loan terms are up and even the crappiest of the credit worthy are qualifying for car loans (those with sub-700 credit scores accounted for 25 percent of car loans in Q1 2013, up from 17 percent in 2010), Zabritski is sunny in her disposition

I think most people agree it’s very healthy. The growth still seems to be rather well managed…From what I am hearing from the lenders, (there is) a very strong sense of optimism. I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about,” Zabritski said. The thing to watch is consumer behavior in the longer-term loans. I think it’s easy for people to have that reaction of wanting to say ‘the sky is falling, subprime is growing,’ but it is still growing very modestly.”

This kind of guarded optimism could only be trumped by Bigland’s “What, me worry?” attitude towards the whole thing. Cheering the easily available credit for auto loans, Bigland shrugged off any notion of Chrysler being dangerously exposed to downside risk on sub-prime loans

For automakers like Chrysler, which don’t own their own finance companies, the risk is minimal. “I don’t own the paper; it’s the banks that are taking the risk,” Bigland said.


Last time we checked, Chrysler does have a captive financing arm with Santander, one of the largest sub-prime auto lenders in America. Chrysler may not have held the paper prior to the establishment of Chrysler Capital (their financing arm in conjunction with Santander) but sub-prime financing doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon.

That’s because the QE-fueled credit bubble is great for auto financing.

“Credit availability, in my opinion, is the best it has ever been in the history of automotive financing,” Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales, said earlier this month. “Banks have money, they have clearly been burned on mortgage loans … and from what I have seen … banks have looked to autos as a segment that has held up extremely well.”

What the Freep doesn’t tell you is that banks are packaging auto loans into securities, just like they did with mortgages, and selling them to investors. The same quantitative easing that makes auto loans so cheap has also wiped out yields on safer investments like bonds. Auto-backed securities, especially risky ones like sub-prime car loans, are the only thing providing decent yields, and investors can’t get enough of them. That means cheap money and car loans for peope who wouldn’t normally qualify for them.

Of course, it’s also good for companies like Chrysler, who drive a lot of their sales from sub-prime buyers. They’re playing a good part in helping to drive the SAAR back to pre-recession levels amid an optimism-and-easy-credit fueled euphoria. What happens when the music stops, QE ends, the economy slows and buyers can’t make payments? The consequences of that (repossession, auctions, a hit to residual values) won’t be great, but they’re not as bad as what could happen if the auto makers buy into the credit-fueled recovery too much. Remember 2008 and the days of overcapacity, excess inventory, sputtering sales and bankrupt dealers? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


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Auto Loan Delinquencies, Reposessions Up In Q1 2013 Thu, 16 May 2013 12:30:31 +0000 20130515_auto1_0

Bad news on the subprime front, as credit rating agency Experian reports a rise in delinquencies and repossessions for auto loans in Q1 2013.

Melinda Zabritski offered a rather dubious explanation for the nearly 17 percent rise in repos (as well as the 1.3 percent uptick in 30 day delinquencies and 12.4 percent rise in 60-day delinquencies)

“Obviously, we never want to see a rise in delinquencies or repossessions, but when you compare the current findings with previous years, they are still lower than the recession-level rates…However, one thing most lenders will agree upon is that today’s subprime borrower is less delinquent than those in the past.”

Zero Hedge, reporting on the latest data from the Fed, is reporting a nearly 24 percent rise in delinquent balances year-over-year. Experian only expects things to get worse, stating

“As we continue to move forward, we should start to see more increases as some of the subprime loans coming onto the books begin to deteriorate.”

And still, financial institutions are happy to keep pumping out bad loans. The total dollar volume grew to $726 billion, up from $663 billion in Q1 2012. Banks increased their loan portfolios by $20 billion, finance companies by $18 billion, credit unions by $14 billion and captive finance arms by $12 billion, while but average charge-off amounts rose by 9.8% to $7,401 on each defaulted loan. But, as Experian kindly reminded us, “Charge-offs are still well below recession levels, however, as Q1 2009 average charge-offs were $10,126.”

That’s definitely reassuring news!

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GM Financial Double Crosses Their Ally Mon, 13 May 2013 12:30:26 +0000 GM-Establishes-GM-Financial-1024x539. Photo courtesy GM Authority.

Following in the footsteps of Spanish bank Santander, GM Financial announced that it would enter the prime lending market in 2014.

SNL Financial, a subscription-only financial news service, reports that

General Motors Financial Co Inc officials said on a May 2 conference call that the company plans to launch a prime retail product in North America on a limited basis with an initial focus on General Motors dealers with which the captive finance company maintains a commercial lending relationship.

GM Financial, formerly AmeriCredit, was acquired by GM in 2010 to provide leasing and subprime financing options, alongside Ally Financial, which absorbed the former GMAC. While GM Financial claims that they don’t want to become the “predominant” prime lender for GM dealers or “supplant the banks and other providers in this market,” CEO Daniel Berce said the move would help achieve “strong growth in our earning asset base over time.”

Given GM Financial’s portfolio, it’s not hard to see why Berce is eager to transition to prime lending and see some growth in its earning asset base. In 2012, 85 percent of GM Financial’s portfolio was subprime, while delinquencies grew by $200 million, to $933 million according to its latest SEC filing. Meanwhile, GM Financial’s prime customers are said to have default rates in line with the industry average. Small wonder that the firm is looking to capture more of these lenders and eliminate some risk from its subprime-heavy portfolio.

Subprime aside, the move into prime lending will help GM Financial transition into a full-fledged captive financing arm. In addition to offering lending services to consumers, GM Financial also offers commercial lending products for its dealers. SNL reports significant expansion in these areas for GM Financial

GM Financial’s lease originations for GM vehicles of $620 million in the first quarter marked a sharp increase from $384 million in the year-ago period; the captive is a full-spectrum lease provider for its parent company. GM Financial also reported $882.7 million of commercial finance receivables as of March 31, up from $560 million on Dec. 31, 2012. The company rolled out the commercial loan products in mid-April 2012.

With Chrysler forming their own captive arm with Santander and GM Financial’s expansion, Ally stands to be the biggest loser. According to SNL, their commercial floorplan financing business saw a 3 percent decline in Q1 2013 versus the same period last year, and both Santander and GM Financial will undoubtedly take a good bite out of Ally’s consumer lending business, which previously targeted Chrysler and GM buyers. Ally’s President, William Muir, was rather blunt in his assessment of the Chrysler situation, stating “pure subvented business from Chrysler should go to zero pretty quick”.


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America’s Next Top Bubble: Delinquencies Down, Deals Up In ABS Land Tue, 30 Apr 2013 11:00:44 +0000 The largest asset-backed securities deal since prior to the mortgage crisis, worth $1.6 billion, was announced last week. Meanwhile, one ratings agency is touting their low delinquencies as positive signs in the ABS market.

The subprime mega deal was reportedly helmed by Santander, a major Spanish bank that is also Chrysler’s lending partner. Recent developments have had many observers questioning whether Chrysler’s phenomenal sales boom in 2012 was in fact spurred on by subprime loans. Credit rating agency Experian said that nearly 30 percent of new car loans issued by Chrysler went to subprime buyers. Meanwhile, a Top 10 car list for subprime buyers compiled by one online lender showed that Chrysler products made up 40 percent of the list.

Meanwhile, ratings agency Fitch was rosy in its outlook of ABS products, noting that

Both losses and delinquencies declined across prime and subprime auto ABS even as used vehicle values softened and are expected to moderate further this year. Subprime 60+ day delinquencies fell to 3.02% in March from 3.65% in the prior month, dropping 17% both on a MOM (month over month) and YOY (year over year) basis. Subprime ANL (annualized net losses)  were 3% down in March to 5.36% from 5.53% in February. On a YOY basis, subprime ANL  were still 14% higher in last month versus March 2012.

Our usual grain of salt comes in the form of cautious practices on the part of Fitch. The agency has been more conservative than most in rating subprime ABS deals, to the point where Fitch has been excluded from rating deals that some observers have considered rather risky.

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America’s Top Suzuki Dealer Switches To Subaru Mon, 29 Apr 2013 11:00:51 +0000

America’s top selling Suzuki dealer is switching it up with a much more popular brand. Wichita Suzuki has begun selling Subaru cars as it prepares for the end of the Suzuki era in America.

Faced with an end to Suzuki sales, proprietor Scott Pitman bought a stake in a Subaru store owned by a business partner and moved it to his former Suzuki store. At its former location, the Subaru store was selling less than 50 cars a month, and Pittman is hoping to double that figure within a year. Last year, Pitman sold about 1,300 new Suzukis and around 1,800 used cars. Unlike most stores, dealers at Pitman’s store are salaried, rather than paid commission. Automotive News explains Pitman’s rationale for the pay structure

That encourages salespeople to find the best fit for buyers rather than steer them toward the most profitable vehicles, he said. Subaru buyers generally also do lots of Internet research on their potential purchases, making the role of the salesperson more one of helping the shopper navigate the process rather than trying to push a vehicle on them, Pitman said.

And of course, Pitman’s store won’t be slacking on subprime sales either

Pitman said about half of his Suzuki vehicle buyers last year came to the dealership through credit leads. Those are generated on the dealership Web site or third-party shopping sites when a person fills out credit information to determine how expensive of a car he or she can afford. Pitman said he could put many of those buyers into a new low-priced Suzuki rather than a used car. He said his operation will continue to cater to buyers with poor credit at the Subaru and used-car stores.



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Fitch, Moody’s, Stand Alone As Subprime ABS Skeptics Thu, 25 Apr 2013 19:21:05 +0000

Ratings agencies and other players in the finance world are beginning to sound the alarm on auto backed securities.  Among the most troubling factors for some investors is the growth of smaller issuers who rely on pools of deep subprime loans. And ratings agencies who are being more conservative with their ratings are missing out on the action.

A report by Reuters highlights a recent ABS offering from Security National Automotive Acceptance Co (SNAAC), a smaller firm that focusing on loans to military personnel. This offering received a solid rating despite seemingly poor fundamentals.

According to the S&P, around 24% have ultra-low FICOs of between 500 and 550. And roughly 24% of the loans have loan-to-value ratios of 115% to 120% – meaning that the borrowers owe more than their vehicles are worth. Even so, S&P rated the deal AA, while rival DBRS gave it a full AAA rating.

Some players in the fixed income industry say that this kind of practice is far from an isolated incident. Ostensibly, a boom in subprime ABS has led to new players who are hungry for loans, regardless of quality

“The gap between the biggest players and the smaller issuers is just massive,” said John Kerschner, the head of securitized-product investing at Janus Capital Group. The smaller second-tier players go to deep, deep subprime – in the range of a 500 FICO score. That may not be the person you want to lend money to.”

Even more troubling is an assertion that ratings agencies Moody’s and Fitch, two well known companies in the bond ratings world have been deemed too cautious by a number of issuers, and thus have not been hired to rate their deals. Needless to say, this effectively stifles any outlooks that are less than rosy. John Bella, a top ABS official at Fitch, told Reuters

“We are generally more reluctant to reach AAA on subprime auto ABS for numerous reasons, among them the sector’s innately more volatile performance history, operational concerns and often heavy reliance on securitization as sole source of funding. Stiffer competition and deteriorating underwriting in recent months are amplifying our concerns.”

While the Reuters piece questions how investors may fare in the event of a burst ABS bubble, TTAC has long maintained that the real risk lies with new cars, the auto makers, and another possible systemic crisis. Auto manufacturers could interpret rising sales in an overly optimistic fashion, and start adding capacity as a result. But if the growth in sales is being driven by subprime lending, then it is inherently vulnerable to a slowing economy or an increase in unemployment. Either of those factors could be the trigger that causes subprime buyers to start defaulting. Used cars are less affected by this problem. They can simply be pumped through the system again and again, and the nature of subprime lending itself means that (if executed correctly) the high interest paid by everyone else can offset the losses brought on be delinquent debtors. If new car sales were to experience a significant contraction due to external forces like these, then auto makers could be left with a 2008-style scenario of idle plants, excess capacity and a glut of inventory, all of which are enormously costly to the OEMs.

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How A New Generation Of Sub-Prime Auto Financing Could Cause Another Catastrophe Fri, 05 Apr 2013 14:40:53 +0000

March was the 5th straight month of a SAAR above 15 million vehicles.  Industry analysts have explained the strength of the market in a number of ways. The need to replace older vehicles is one (new car sales were hit hard during the recession as consumers held on to their vehicles for longer. This also caused used car prices to skyrocket, something TTAC has been documenting), while others have cited increasing fleet demand, and the desire to replace vehicles damaged in Hurricane Sandy.

But one factor that is just starting to get attention outside of TTAC is sub-prime financing. Sub-prime lending, which involves giving high-interest loans to customers with poor credit scores, is driving the SAAR in a big way, by letting buyers with poor credit purchase new cars. In turn, the sub-prime bubble is being driven by Wall Street, whose clients cannot get enough of financial instruments backed by sub-prime auto loans.

On the surface, it seems unbelievable. Unemployment is at 7.7 percent, and even higher according to some pundits. Taxes are going up, wages are stagnant, the economy hasn’t really recovered according to many. And yet auto sales – for many people, the second biggest purchase they’ll ever make – are on a hot streak, rebounding back close to pre-recession levels.

Sub-prime loans, defined as a loan given to anyone with a credit score under 660, are now bigger than ever. In Q2 of 2012, new car sub-prime loans accounted for a quarter of of all loans, while 56 percent of used car loans went to sub-prime buyers.There’s even a new category called “deep subprime”, for auto loans issued to buyers with credit scores below 600. These loans account for nearly 11 percent of all car loans, despite the fact that a 600 credit score is considered abysmal.

A recent Reuters report detailed the usual routine of a sub-prime loan; a borrower with a poor credit rating is approved for a loan, often carrying an exorbitant interest rate hovering around 20 percent. In the Reuters story, the buyer agreed to finance a $10,000 2007 Suzuki at 21.5% interest using a shotgun (valued at $700) as his down payment. The buyer, stretched thin by various debts, including the car loan, ended up declaring bankruptcy. Another report by the Los Angeles Times outlined how unscrupulous used car dealers would issue sub-prime loans, knowing that their customers would default, wait for them to default, and then repossess the car and re-sell it, repeating this process over and over again.

In addition to the decreasing credit scores of car buyers (The Motley Fool reports that the sub-prime buyer’s average credit score dropped 9 points in 2012 compared to 2011), monthly payments have stayed static, due to 77 percent of loans lasting for longer than 5 years. This tactic allows buyers to manage the same monthly payment but borrow a greater amount, and thus able to afford a more expensive car without feeling more of a hit to their pocketbook.

Extending loans to unqualified buyers wantonly would seem like a poor business practice on the surface, but the demand for sub-prime loans isn’t just coming from consumers. Wall Street is also playing an enormous part in the practice. According to the New York Times, growth in securities backed by auto loans has been enormous. In 2008, investors bought $2.17 billion in auto loan securities. In 2011, that figure exploded to $11.7 billion.

The rationale behind the massive growth in auto loan securities can be linked to the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing. QE, which involves buying bonds and Treasury Secuities en masse, has injected liquidity into the market and kept interest rates artificially low. This has allowed banks to charge near-record low interest rates on all car loans, while also reducing yields on traditionally safer investments like bonds. Sub-prime car loans, packaged and sold into securities, are seen as riskier, albeit with the potential for greater return. And with hedge funds and institutional clients looking for a greater return on their money, auto loan securities have become the instrument of choice for a number of entities – even Google is investing in these instruments, after being frustrated by low returns elsewhere.

And just like the 2008 mortgage crisis, these sub-prime auto loans are being packaged and sold as AAA rated bonds. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the number of loans packaged and sold as a securities is in the tens of thousands. The thinking goes that even if some of the loans are delinquent, there are plenty more that will make the security safe. And like sub-prime mortgages, the securitized auto loans are being divided up into tranches, with demand for the riskiest tranches being strongest.

Unfortunately for American consumers, the biggest players in sub-prime auto financing have significant ties to domestic auto makers. A report by Reuters names Santander, which is Chrysler’s auto financing outlet, and GM Financial as the two largest sub-prime auto lenders in the United States. Santander alone accounted for 53 percent of all sub-prime financing – and Santander’s expertise in the field was apparently one reason that Chrysler decided to partner with the Spanish bank.

While both Chrysler and GM use Ally Financial for their prime loans (which are issued to qualified buyers), GM has its own seperate sub-prime arm, known as GM Financial. In Q1 2012, some 93 percent of GM Financial’s loans were to sub-prime buyers, up from 87 percent in Q4 2010. During that same period, loans to the least qualified buyers – those with FICO scores under 540, were up 79 percent. GM Financial’s delinquent loans also rose by some $200 million in 2012, to $933 million – higher than Ford Toyota and Honda’s combined delinquencies.

The situation in auto-loan securities has eerie shades of the 2008 mortgage crisis across the board: the eager distribution of not just sub-prime loans, but “deep sub-prime” loans to borrowers with the worst credit ratings. The securitization of auto loans and the hunger for the riskiest tranches of these securities. And the “AAA” rating of even the most egregiously crappy securities.

In light of these factors, it’s worth reflecting on how much of an influence sub-prime auto loan securitization is having on the lofty heights being reached by the new car market. The last time America experienced the bursting of an asset bubble, auto makers were stuck with excess capacity and significant overcapacity. Combined with a sudden contraction in consumer credit, these factors nearly brought America’s auto makers to their knees.

The current situation is not directly comparable to the mortgage crisis of 2008, but bares too many parallels for us to ignore. It would be the ultimate irony if another systemic crisis occurred, due to securitizied auto loans. They very instruments used to by auto makers to help spur sales growth will have ended up crippling them yet again.


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Subprime Madness: Shotguns Now Accepted As Car Loan Down Payments Wed, 03 Apr 2013 15:36:07 +0000

Anyone looking for an anecdote illustrating the QE-fueled madness that is subprime auto lending, take a look at this Reuters report on what constitutes a down payment in the subprime world.

And still, though Nelson’s credit history was an unhappy one, local car dealer Maloy Chrysler Dodge Jeep had no problem arranging a $10,294 loan from Wall Street-backed subprime lender Exeter Finance Corp so Nelson and his wife could buy a charcoal gray 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara.

All the Nelsons had to do was cover the $1,000 down payment. For most of that amount, Maloy accepted Jeffrey’s 12-gauge Mossberg & Sons shotgun, valued at about $700 online.

Sub-prime auto loans were up 18 percent in 2012, thanks to a bubble created by the Fed’s quantitative-easing program. As QE has driven up inflation and kept interest rates low, global investors are looking at riskier investment vehicles that offer better potential returns. Bonds backed by subprime car loans are one of those vehicles that everyone from hedge funds to institutional investors have gravitated towards. In 2012, $18.5 billion in subprime backed securities were sold, up from $11.75 billion in 2011.

With subprime lenders expecting 1 in 4 creditors to default on their loans, interest rates can easily top 20 percent, and dealers can easily repossess and sell the same car over and over again while reaping enormous profits. Meanwhile, the process appears to be fueling yet another credit-driven asset bubble similar to the mortgage crisis that torpedoed everything in the previous decade.

Despite a focus on used cars in the Reuters report, many of the players in the used car field, such as Santander, GM Financial and Ally Financial are tied in with the new car side as well. Santander is Chrysler’s financing unit of choice, while GM has GM Financial as a separate subprime financing arm, in addition to Ally. Delinquencies are slowly creeping upwards as well. GM alone claims that 8.5 percent of its auto contracts are delinquent  higher than Ford, Toyota and Honda combined.

News of yet another month with a SAAR of over 15 million is an encouraging sign for the auto industry, but in light of reports such as this one, one can’t help but wonder how much of the market is being driven by subprime lending, and whether this level of auto sales will be sustainable. Adding additional capacity to meet demand that is fueled by a lending bubble could be disastrous if we witness a 2008-style deflation in auto sales thanks to a subprime contraction.

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Sub-Prime Auto Financing, Loan Terms On The Rise Wed, 06 Mar 2013 21:05:24 +0000

Long-term auto loans, leasing and sub-prime financing all saw increases year-over-year from 2011 to 2012, according to a report by Experian, a consumer credit rating agency. While typically a dry and detail-oriented subject, the area of auto financing gives us some insight into the nature of the new car market and even the economy itself.

The average term for a new vehicle loan rose to 65 months in Q4 2012, up from 62 months in Q4 2011. Longer terms and lower interest rates allow for smaller monthly payments for consumers, enabling them to pick a more expensively vehicle than they may have been able to afford with a shorter loan.

The lower interest rates and monthly payments meant that the average loan amount increased slightly, up $272 to $29,691. While used car loan terms stayed flat at 60 months, interest rates did decline slightly (from 8.67 percent to 8.48 percent) as did the average monthly payment. Sub-prime financing accounted for just under a quarter of all new vehicle loans in Q4 2012, up from 22.59 percent in Q4 2011. 55.4 percent of used car loans were sub-prime, up from 53.8 in Q4 2011.

The report comes on the heels of another study claiming that most middle-class Americans have trouble affording a new car – a notion that is at odds with the 15 million + SAAR expected this year, along with strong 2012 sales. The longer loans and increase in sub-prime financing give us a clue as to the way things are going. By approving more people for loans and making their monthly payments more manageable  consumers are able to afford a car more easily, while the finance company can collect interest for a longer period of time. TTAC commenters with experiencing in this area, feel free to chime in with your take. Steve Lang has already sounded the alarm in recent columns with respect to the used car market. But I am wondering what the implications are for new car sales, and how the SAAR is being affected by overzealous auto financing.

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The Return Of Subprime: GM Getting High On Junk Again Fri, 13 Apr 2012 19:34:54 +0000 The collapse of the house of cards built with subprime mortgages was a central reason for the 2008 crash. GM’s GMAC was brought down by subprime loans. The economy has not quite recovered, and the deck of cards is again being used as building material. Back in the high-risk game: General Motors.

Writes the New York Times:

“As financial institutions recover from the losses on loans made to troubled borrowers, some of the largest lenders to the less than creditworthy, including Capital One and GM.

Consumer advocates and lawyers worry that the financial institutions are again preying on the most vulnerable and least financially sophisticated borrowers, who are often willing to take out credit at any cost.

‘These people are addicted to credit, and banks are pushing it,’ said Charles Juntikka, a bankruptcy lawyer in Manhattan.”

Other people worry that GM fell off the wagon, and is getting a fix on the same old junk. Continues the Times:

“Moody’s was already sounding the alarm last year that some very risky borrowers were getting auto loans. The market, Moody’s wrote in a report in March 2011, could be growing “too much too fast.”

Steve Bowman, the chief credit and risk officer for GM Financial, expects subprime auto loans continue to grow. GM Financial openly flaunts its return to the subprime poker table. On its website, GM Financial says:

“When it comes to subprime auto financing, GM Financial is the perfect fit … Today, over 40 percent of Americans are in need of subprime financing options. And, according to A.T. Kearney’s 15th Annual Automotive Study, the economic downturn of 2008-2009 resulted in an additional 15 million Americans being classified as subprime.”

There is nothing wrong with having a well-managed captive finance arm. Ford Credit is one example. A captive finance arm can provide profits and increase customer loyalty. It is not without risks however. In the wrong or desperate hands, it can get more dangerous than crack. Customers can default. Overly optimistic residuals can break the bank. A parent that is desperate for gaining market share can prod its financing arm into making riskier and riskier bets until the house of cards comes crashing down – again.

Forbes says that subprime lending is “not such a bad thing,” and that “the most important thing for lenders is to keep the lessons learned from 2008 crisis fresh in their memory.” It seems like the only lesson GM Financial has learned is that the 2008 crisis was just the right thing to produce 15 million additional subprime marks.

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GM And GMAC: Together Again? Mon, 24 Jan 2011 23:57:46 +0000

One of the more dangerous conflicts embedded in the US auto bailout that was identified in the recent Congressional Oversight Panel report has been a TTAC hobbyhorse for some time, namely the tradeoff between GM’s success and that of its former captive finance arm GMAC (now known as Ally Financial). As we wrote back in May,

if government-owned Ally isn’t interested in underwriting GM’s volume gains with risky loans but also isn’t interested in seeing its auto lending business bought by GM, there’s trouble brewing. After all, that would leave GM with only two options: partnering with another bank, or starting a new captive lender. Either way, a new GM captive lender would likely force Ally into offering more subprime business anyway, or face losing its huge percentage of GM business.

Fast forward the better part of a year, and GM has indeed bought its own in-house subprime lender, leaving the COP to term The General’s lack of interest in taking care of “the Ally Tradeoff” as “disconcerting.” After all, with over 20 percent of GM’s equity and over 70 percent of Ally’s stick, the Government should have been able to work out some kind of deal that gets GM and Ally back on the same page… right? Not so fast, reports the WSJ. Ally turned down a $5b GM offer for its wholesale lending business earlier this year, and now it seems another deal may be in the works. But it has nothing to do with maximizing taxpayer payback, and everything to do with shoring up GM’s floorplanning credit. And it’s not coming from the government, but from GM’s newly-ubiquitous CEO Dan Akerson.

The move seems to be motivated by the same fundamental concerns as those that drove the GM-Americredit deal earlier last year, namely analysis from like this nugget from Morgan Stanley

Returning to captive financing is likely a prerequisite for maintaining U.S. market share over 20% longer term. While impossible to quantify, we believe GM is ceding hundreds of basis points of U.S. market share to competitors with integrated finance operations.

But GM CFO Chris Liddell has a serious concern that seems to stand in the way of a GM-Ally reunion, explaining

I am philosophically against having a $100 billion finance company attached to a $50 billion to $60 billion car company. In a [market] downturn, we might be exposed. It’s critical we have credit flowing through those times.

Which raises a very interesting question in light of the credit market’s recent escapades: is it better for an auto firm to take its up-and-down lumps on the open market, or to open itself for even more reward and risk by setting up its own lender which, if improperly managed, could become a driver of credit market failure as GMAC was? Obviously the question is as much about execution as it is about abstract principle (for example, Toyota’s $84b captive lender hasn’t been blamed for any of the company’s recent woes), but because GM seems to be most worried about foregone sales opportunities in the subprime sector, it seems safe to assume that we’re talking about some serious risk.

Meanwhile, with its own IPO planned for the near future, Ally has its own future to worry about. As Chrysler’s main lender, GMAC would lose much of its current business if it became an exclusive GM lender… and based on its relative product situation, it’s fair to assume that Chrysler might suffer even more from credit interruptions than GM. Which means that even a reunion between GM and Ally would not tie up the bailout’s loose ends and internal conflicts. Besides, if Americans are supposed to believe the copious hype around Detroit’s improved products, GM and Chrysler will have to stop blaming a lack of risky loans for their mediocre sales performances. Otherwise, taxpayers will have bailed out companies that must push more risky loans to survive… and the point of the bailout was certainly not to save America’s status as the world’s subprime auto leader.

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GM Drops $3.5b On Subprime Lender AmeriCredit Thu, 22 Jul 2010 15:09:20 +0000

After months of speculation about GM’s re-entry into the subprime lending market, The General has announced a deal in which it will purchase the lender AmeriCredit for $3.5b. Founded in 1992, and managing assets worth $10b, AmeriCredit has been pursued by GM for the last month, according to GM CFO Chris Liddell in the WSJ [sub]. GM paid AmeriCredit stockholders $24.50 per share for a controlling interest in the firm, a 24 percent premium over its $19.70 closing price yesterday. Still, GM insists that acquiring AmeriCredit will have “a minimal impact” on its balance sheet, although no explanation is given as to how. $3.5b is at least ten percent of GM’s cash pile at this point, and it’s not clear if that qualifies it as a “minimal impact” or if GM is using some kind of financial instrument to purchase the firm. AmeriCredit says it will “expand its offerings” to support GM, likely in the area of lease deals, but it will also continue to offer loans to non-GM-brand car deals.

Meanwhile, the debate over GM’s re-entry into the subprime market will likely to continue generating controversy. Subprime lending has long been a preferred method of maintaining sales growth through periods of slow demand, but analysts warn that there’s very little that automakers can do to turn around the soft underlying demand for cars. GM’s response [via AP/Google]:

Liddell said that customers could now expect more lease deals from GM. Only 7 percent of its sales are from leases, compared with 21 percent for the industry, he said. Only 4 percent of GM’s sales come from subprime buyers, which the company hopes to expand with its AmeriCredit acquisition.

With 40 percent of the new car market estimated to have a credit score of 620 or under (the definition of subprime), there’s no doubt that GM can move some metal with the help of AmeriCredit. But what if the overall economy and unemployment in particular stay low? If GM signs a load of new subprime loans, default risks could start piling on. And though GM has room to grow its leasing business (particularly at Cadillac), it’s led the industry in cash incentives for most of this year, suggesting that no amount of financial wizardry will restore demand to the levels its looking for. If this deal helps GM wean itself off its incentive addiction, it will have been worth it. If the idea is to pile on incentives, lease deals and subprime loans in order to redline demand for its vehicles ahead of an IPO, GM could be setting itself up for a big fall. And with plenty of demands on its cash already, one big stumble could become a big problem on short notice.

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Chrysler Beats GM To Non-Prime Loan Deal Tue, 18 May 2010 17:06:28 +0000
As non-executive vice-chairman of the Swiss bank UBS, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has deep connections with the European banking community. Now, under threat of losing its primary lender Ally Financial to GM’s dreams of a return to in-house, subprime lending, Marchionne has leveraged that experience into a non-prime lending deal with a US division of Spain’s Banco Santander. Automotive News [sub] reports that Santander and Chrysler have reached a deal to provide loans to Chrysler customers with sub-650 credit scores that ChryCo reckons could result in an additional 2,000 sales each month.

Chrysler and Santander already enjoy close ties, as about half of all Chrysler dealers use the Spanish bank for used-car financing. And that’s not all: Fiat-owned Scuderia Ferrari recently closed a deal in which Santander would become a major sponsor of its Formula One team. Under the just-closed Chrysler subprime deal, Santander will save non-prime customers 30 percent on their car loan costs, which works out to about $3,000 in savings over the life of the loan. According to Chrysler, some 22 percent of its customers fall into the credit-score range addressed by the new program.

But the Chrysler-Santander deal isn’t being done on the strength of close ties alone. AN [sub] reports that Chrysler is subsidizing these subprime loans, although officials are refusing to disclose the size or nature of this investment. The only thing that Chrysler spokesfolks will say is that:

Santander specializes in this credit market. They know how to finance it. They don’t do prime lending. They have plenty of money. There is not a liquidity issue.

Your move, GM.

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GM Captive Finance Push Explained: The General Wants More Subprime Business Mon, 17 May 2010 22:56:04 +0000

When we first heard that GM was eying a return to in-house financing, our first reaction was to worry that

the potential for falling back into old bad habits can’t be ignored.

Clearly our concern wasn’t wasted, as the AP [via Google] reports that The General’s major motivation for considering re-creating a captive lender is to chase subprime business its current major lender won’t touch. And considering that that lender is GM’s bailed-out former captive finance lender GMAC (now Ally Financial), which was badly burned by subprime mortgages, it’s not surprising that GM is frustrated by GMAC’s tentative approach. But should The General charge into the low-standard lending sectors where Ally fears to tread?

At the moment, GM’s window of opportunity for forming an in-house finance unit that could sweep up subprime business is as good as it is likely to get. Not only is the overall market for cars struggling to regain its footing after a disastrous 2009, Toyota has responded to its recent recall scandal by offering unprecedented incentives and finance deals. GM may be making money in this environment thanks to deep cost-cutting and a bankruptcy-rinsed balance sheet, but its volume isn’t increasing the way leadership would like to see, despite exceeding industry incentive-per-vehicle averages for all but one of the last 16 months .As a result, GM’s market share is remaining stagnant.

New product coming through development is ultimately responsible for improving volume and market share, but aside from the Cruze which launches this year, there’s not a lot of big-volume new products planned for release over the next 9-12 months. And that’s the timeframe for GM’s likely IPO, which will likely require a minimum of two back-to-back quarterly profits, and marked improvements in volume. Until the Cruze comes, GM has few other options for “moving the needle” in its business, except for targeting subprime buyers.

GM’s North American boss Mark Reuss points out that Honda gets 20 percent of its sales from subprime borrowers, whereas GM gets a mere one percent of its business from these riskier lenders (through April, GM has sold 659,475 units whereas Honda sold 331,597). Reuss says the difference is captive finance.

They’re able to finance their cars at a much lower level than we are. I’m not sure what the answer is. But it would sure help my sales, the company’s sales in North America, if we were able to get access.

Specifically, it will help sales soon. Credit raters Experian say 16 percent of all car loans in the fourth quarter of 2009 were subprime, a distinction it bestows on borrowers with credit ratings below 620 on its 300-800 scale. Though Ally won’t reveal how many subprime loans it approves now, it does disclose that only 12 percent of its Q1 auto business was in leases. Ally spokesfolks say that

As the financial crisis has eased and as the credit markets come back we have been able to broaden our offerings and look at the credit spectrum more broadly

But that’s clearly not happening fast enough for GM. Though Reuss stops short of admitting GM is pressuring Ally for more subprime business, he did indicate that the topic was “an area of opportunity.” But if government-owned Ally isn’t interested in underwriting GM’s volume gains with risky loans but also isn’t interested in seeing its auto lending business bought by GM, there’s trouble brewing. After all, that would leave GM with only two options: partnering with another bank, or starting a new captive lender. Either way, a new GM captive lender would likely force Ally into offering more subprime business anyway, or face losing its huge percentage of GM business.

Either way, GM’s understandable impatience with government ownership is pushing it into risky territory. And the dangers of redlining a car business through risky loans isn’t limited to the risk of default: brand degradation, falling resale values, and boom-bust bubbles all come with the territory. Which is not to say GM is incapable of handling more subprime business… but rushing into risky positions in order to goose short-term performance has been a consistent bugbear of The General’s.

And with state-owned Ally hanging in the balance, the political calculations won’t be easy either: should Ally be forced to sacrifice its most profitable business that GM might live to pull off an IPO? Or should GM forgo in-house lending, and struggle along without putting up the kind of performance that could inspire a successful IPO, until the next downturn forces another bailout? Meanwhile, what about Chrysler? In any of these scenarios, the taxpayers lose. And even if there is a way to get GM to fatten itself on in-house, subprime loans without killing Ally and Chrysler, there’s still the longer-term default risk inherent in the subprime strategy, which could also bring down the General in the case of another downturn.

There are no easy answers in this mess, but there is plenty of past behavior on which to predict future performance. History, with apologies to William F. Buckley, is standing astride General Motors and shouting “stop.”

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