As CNW Research noticed both sequential and year-over-year increases in approvals for subprime vehicle financing so far this month, two Equifax economists took their turn to again reiterate how a bubble is not forming in that segment, contrary to the connection some observers are making to the mortgage meltdown.
In a white paper released on Monday, Equifax explained the three critical components to the bubble formation in the mortgage space going into the recession. Those elements included:
— Rising asset prices (home prices) fueled speculation in residential real estate.
— New-home construction was at all-time high for a sustained period and exceeded population growth.
— The share of mortgages originated to subprime credit borrowers was rising at a time when home purchases were at record levels.
Equifax chief economist Amy Crews Cutts and deputy chief economist Dennis Carlson pointed out in the white paper that as the number of borrowers who were well-qualified to finance a home purchase did not rise in tandem, the credit bubble was fueled by inappropriate lending, which in turn fed the asset bubble.
“While there are always key differences in the housing market compared to the auto market, including housing as a potentially appreciating asset versus an auto that is likely a depreciating asset, the Equifax expert acknowledged there are some similarities in factors that indicate some “effervescence” such as quickly rising sales of new vehicle and an even faster rate of increase in auto lending.
“But looking closely at those similar factors, we see that the auto market of today is just now recovering to pre-recession levels and, unlike the mortgage market immediately prior to the recession, the auto market was not in the same frenzied state at that time,” said Crews Cutts and Carlson, who noted that new-vehicle sales reached their peak level in the first quarter of 2000 and averaged 16.96 million units for the six-year period ending December 2005.
Crews Cutts and Carlson began their white paper titled, “Not Yesterday’s Subprime Auto Loan,” by reiterating the importance subprime financing is to the future of consumers who have damaged credit profiles. The Equifax economists noted the positive consumer ramifications well known to finance company executives at institutions that specialize in subprime contracts such as the importance of quality transportation to enhance employment opportunities and how steady payment performance can possibly lead to a rise toward prime status.
“If a borrower with subprime credit obtains a loan from a financial institution that reports the complete payment histories of their clients to the national credit reporting agencies, and that borrower makes timely payments on that loan and other credit obligations, then over time that borrower’s credit score will likely improve, possibly enough to qualify for prime credit terms,” Crews Cutts and Carlson said.
“If, however, the subprime-score borrowers are precluded from mainstream sources of credit, it becomes more difficult for those borrowers to improve their credit scores,” they continued. “Auto financing in the subprime segment adds to the benefits by enabling credit-worthy consumers to obtain reliable transportation and acquire a valuable, albeit depreciating, asset.”
Adding to the importance and value of subprime auto financing, Crews Cutts and Carlson emphasized that the lending landscape today is not the same as it was in 2007 when experts contend the economy ran into its worst tailspin since the Great Depression.
“Lending in the heyday of the credit boom often greatly underweighted any consideration of credit worthiness outside of a credit score. However, credit scores are predicated on lending underwriting standards being maintained as they were during the reference period used to create them — that is, they explicitly assume that lenders will verify the collateral, capital, and capacity of borrowers just as they always have,” the Equifax economists said.
“Lending has returned to the ‘good old days,’ both because lenders generally have a reduced appetite for risk and because regulatory scrutiny has increased,” they continued. “Specifically, in the subprime auto lending segment most lenders are now verifying incomes today on all loans.
“Given this, loans originated with a 620 credit score today are likely to perform very differently from loans originated with a 620 credit score in 2007, when the loans were likely granted without full underwriting,” Crews Cutts and Carlson went on to say.
And CNW’s data showed the modest increases the industry is currently generating. According to the firm’s August issue of its Retail Automotive Summary, subprime contract approvals are up 5.18 percent in August compared to July and 9.91 percent higher versus the same month last year.
Equifax closed its white paper by pointing out that subprime vehicle financing needs to be monitored carefully, especially given the risk finance companies take providing loans to borrowers in the subprime space.
“The evidence does not support that there is a bubble forming in the auto lending space,” Crews Cutts and Carlson said “It is also beneficial to consider than an unmet need is being satisfied.
“Assuming originations and loan performance in the space remain as they are today, this may benefit the overall economy, as well as the individual participants, in the long run,” they added.
The complete white paper from Equifax is available here.