The Truth About Cars » Wall Street http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:18:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 » Wall Street http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com GM Fined $28k By NHTSA, Places 2 Engineers On Paid Leave http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-fined-28k-by-nhtsa-places-2-engineers-on-paid-leave/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-fined-28k-by-nhtsa-places-2-engineers-on-paid-leave/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:56:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793305 Rencen. Picture courtesy GM

Associated Press reports General Motors has placed two engineers on paid leave as “an interim step” in the investigation conducted by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas. Spokesman Greg Martin declined to name the two engineers in question.

The Detroit News reports GM has been fined $28,000 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to answer in full by the April 3, 2014 deadline the 107-question survey sent to the automaker regarding the recall of 2.6 million vehicles with an out-of-spec ignition switch linked to 13 fatalities and 33 accidents. Furthermore, the agency will fine GM $7,000/day so long as the automaker continues to fail to comply with the inquiry in full, and may call in the Justice Department to sue GM for answers and fines.

As for how this came to pass, GM says it couldn’t provide all of the answers as the outside investigation by Valukas had yet to be completed. Meanwhile, spokesman Greg Martin defended the automaker’s response to the survey, citing the millions of related documents already delivered to the NHTSA as proof of compliance.

The agency may not be alone in its dimming view of GM, however, as concerns running through Wall Street have sent price targets of GM stock downward amid gloomy forecasts of rising costs, diminished earnings and other challenges outside of the recall crisis. Analysts for Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets have dropped their target prices of $49 and $47 per share to $33 and $46, respectively, with the former downgrading GM stock to “underweight.”

Without the crisis, however, the automaker still has rough seas ahead after emerging from government ownership, with Wall Street fearing for the long-term future of GM in the face of strengthening Japanese automakers — bolstered by a weakened yen — dependency on its joint ventures in China, problems in Europe and other international markets, and domestic challenges from Ford and Tesla.

In other financial news, Bloomberg reports former GM financial arm Ally Financial’s exit from U.S. Treasury ownership would allow Ally to take on more subprime auto loan borrowers. The finance company currently holds 11 percent of its portfolio in such loans, and at $25/share in its IPO, the $2.83 billion raised would give Ally a boost in attracting more subprime borrowers.

However, both CreditSights Inc. analyst Jesse Rosenthal and independent banking consultant Bert Ely shared concerns regarding the finance company’s reliance on auto loans, especially in the subprime market, citing the lack of diversification other consumer-finance companies or large banks possess in weathering the credit risk subprime auto lending could bring. Bloomberg adds that Ally’s relationship with GM — 39 percent of its lending and leasing portfolio came from the automaker in 2013 — could add an additional risk in light of the latter’s ongoing recall crisis.

Finally, Automotive News presents a history of failure between GM and its suppliers over the functionality of the ignition switch in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, leading to numerous changes, complaints, claims and, a decade later, a recall crisis that may bring more pain than the automaker could bear.

The first problem — Ion owners not being able to start their vehicle in cold weather — prompted the 2004 redesign currently linked to the recall, then quietly changed in April 2006 when the second and third problems — Cobalt owners not being able to shut off their vehicle unless they accidentally bumped their knee into the ignition — led to the conclusion by two engineers that the switch was mounted too low, and that it was “falling apart.”

Furthermore, in the deposition given by engineer David Trush in the case regarding the 2010 death of Brooke Melton behind the wheel of her Cobalt, Trush stated GM had its supplier at the time make replacement parts for the first ignition problem alongside a service bulletin asking dealers to install the new part in affected cars; the automaker changed suppliers in 2008, citing deficiencies in quality and production in the former supplier.

Lastly, nearly two years before the recall in April of 2012, GM began offering to replace the switch on 2007 – 2009 Cobalts and Pontiac G5s and 2008 – 2012 HHRs for free, citing a “binding condition” with the cylinder and its housing which could prevent basic functionality of the ignition system.

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97 Months And Running http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/97-months-and-running/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/97-months-and-running/#comments Mon, 15 Apr 2013 11:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=484814

8 years to pay off a car? A report by the Wall Street Journal claims that in Q4 of 2012, the average car loan stretched out to 65 months, or just over 5 years. Loan terms were being stretched out over increasingly longer terms too, with credit firm Experian reporting that nearly 1 in 5 car loans had terms between 73 and 84 months long, with some stretching for as long as 97 months.

So why stretch out loans for such a long period of time? Per the WSJ

“[the] 75-month loan illustrates two important trends rippling through the U.S. auto industry. Rising new-car prices and competition among lenders to attract borrowers is pushing loans to lengthier terms. In part, banks see the longer terms as a way to attract buyers, by keeping monthly payments under $500 a month.”

Among the culprits cited by the WSJ are increased credit, low delinquincy rates on car loans and, according to banks, minimal downside as far as auto lending goes.

Melinda Zabritski, director of automotive credit for Experian, said the greater availability of credit is helping the surge in new car sales. The percentage of subprime loans isn’t far below the record level of 2007, and the length of loans is growing, she said…With increased competition between the banks for business, offering loans longer than 72 months, or subprime loans is one way to compete for new borrowers. “Consumers tend to be monthly payment buyers. One way that lenders compete is to offer longer term loans,” Ms. Zabritski said.

Interestingly, Zabritski claims that buyers qualifying for the longer loans tend to be those with good credit scores buying more expensive vehicles. But what nobody answered is “where is all this credit coming from?” As per our last report on auto lending, the appetite for auto back securities is enormous, and Wall Street cannot get enough of them. Sub-prime loans in particular are a favorite. At this point, nobody, not even Zabritski, is denying that the expansion of credit for automobile buyers is driving new car sales. The question is, what happens when the music stops?

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How A New Generation Of Sub-Prime Auto Financing Could Cause Another Catastrophe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/qe-is-not-just-a-ship-how-a-new-generation-of-sub-prime-auto-financing-could-cause-another-catastrophe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/qe-is-not-just-a-ship-how-a-new-generation-of-sub-prime-auto-financing-could-cause-another-catastrophe/#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2013 14:40:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483661

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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Chrysler Debt Effort Stalls: Goverment Loans Not So “Shyster” After All? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/chrysler-debt-effort-stalls-goverment-loans-not-so-shyster-after-all/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/chrysler-debt-effort-stalls-goverment-loans-not-so-shyster-after-all/#comments Mon, 16 May 2011 16:56:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=395048

As Steve Rattner described in his book “Overhaul,” the Presidential Auto Task Force very nearly decided not to rescue Chrysler, with the decision coming down to a single vote. Now, it seems, that with Chrysler blaming the “shyster” interest rates on its government loans for its lack of profitability, Chrysler’s viability now depends on rounding up a “lender of second to last resort.” And, according to the latest reports, that rescue-of-a-rescue effort is still very much hanging in the balance as well. If CEO Sergio Marchionne thought the government’s loan terms were “shyster”-ish, he was clearly in need of some context from Wall Street… and he doesn’t seem to be liking it.

Though Chrysler needs about $7b in fresh debt to get out from under its oppressive government rescuers, the WSJ [sub] reports that Chrysler’s current debt proposal includes only $3.5b in loans and $2.5b in bonds. And, as the Journal describes, one of those elements is facing some trouble

While the bonds, which yield more than the loans, attracted strong interest from the beginning, the loan portion is off to a slow start. The loan will likely now be reduced, with a corresponding increase to the bond, according to people familiar with the matter. The loan will also likely carry a higher interest rate than previously proposed, they said. Overall, that shift will slightly increase the cost of the new debt.

Chrysler, which currently pays around 10 percent on its government loans is looking for loans at 5.5-5.75 percent. The fact that it’s having trouble getting loans at that rate means it’s more likely to have to take a disproportionate amount in bonds, which yield a not-insignificant 7.5%. The takeaway: nobody wants to lend Chrysler money at what it considers fair interest rates, and it will likely reduce its interest costs by less than half. Perhaps those government loans were more fair than Marchionne gave them credit for?

So what’s the problem? Well, the market, for starters.

The loan market’s limits have been stretched this month by the appearance of a number of large leveraged transactions, including multi-billion dollar deals by Delphi Automotive and Asurion Corp. The timing of Chrysler’s deal was complicated by the process of getting consensus from the U.S. government, the Canadian government and Fiat, said the people familiar with the matter.

The pool of money available for leveraged loans has shrunk because new collateralized loan obligations, known as CLOs, have disappeared. Also, many of the hedge funds that previously specialized in either loans or bonds are now buying both and are searching for attractive values across both markets.

Other problems? Well, Chrysler’s profitability has to be one of them. With $337m in interest expenses in Q1, a 33% reduction on a quarterly basis (a conservative best-case scenario for the re-fi), would still leave the firm with just under a billion dollars per year of interest costs. Given that Chrysler’s first profit in years was a razor-thin $116m, few of the lending banks are likely to delude themselves into thinking this re-fi will unshackle a slumbering giant that’s poised on the brink of huge profits. Add to this, the fact that the auto industry largely sees Chrysler’s rescue as negative for the health of the industry as a whole, and banks are going to be very hesitant about wading into a lot of Chrysler exposure.

Reuters adds some investor perspective to the picture, noting

Chrysler’s loan deal has struggled in part due to the troubled history of the company, as well as a pickup in supply of new leveraged loans that launched for syndication in recent days, potential investors said.

“In a market like this, trading sideways and with so much supply, people can afford to be choosy, especially when it comes down to a name where you have lost money before,” one of the investors said.

A second investor looking at the deal earlier this week said that pricing on the transaction may not adequately compensate lenders for the risk involved in the loan.

A third investor who was shown the deal said that given the large size of the loan, lenders didn’t feel pressed to rush in.

“Worst case, they can always pick it up in the secondary,” he said, adding that Chrysler’s car lineup consists mainly of larger cars that use more gasoline and that the company is relying on the Fiat brand, which is not widely known in the U.S. market.

Chrysler’s four underwriting banks, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, have each committed $200m to a $1.5b Chrysler revolving credit line, and though that facility is fully subscribed, the larger term loan is where the hesitation is taking place even though the revolver and the term loan are being priced identically, as follows:

400 to 425 basis points over Libor with a 1.25 percent Libor floor, along with a discount of 99 to 99.5 cents on the dollar.

Will Chrysler wrap up its financing and pay back the government? No matter what terms it finally gets, it will certainly save money with the re-fi, and will want to reap the PR benefits that come from misleading taxpayers into thinking the bailout payback is complete. Whether a Wall Street re-fi really changes much in the fundamentals of Chrysler’s business remains very much to be seen.

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