A couple of years ago when pundits and naysayers wanted to discuss auto financing, often they gravitated toward how the industry’s recovery stemmed from subprime activity, resulting in a possible bubble similar to what created the Great Recession.
While analysts and experts eventually extinguished that line of thinking by showing performance data, these same industry folks could soon be refuting notions that another auto bubble is inflating — but this time because of leasing.
Earlier this month, Experian’s latest State of the Automotive Finance Market report highlighted leasing volume as a share of all new models financed set another record during the second quarter. Analysts indicated leasing continued its strong growth as the share of new vehicles leased jumped from 26.92 percent in Q2 2015 to a record high of 31.44 percent in Q2 2016.
Then this week, J.D. Power and LMC Automotive indicated that they have never seen franchised dealers slap as much cash on the hood as they are seeing this month to keep new metal turning.
Analysts reported on Monday that incentive spending thus far in September is at a record level of $3,923 per unit. That figure surpassed the previous high of $3,753 set in December 2008.
To gauge whether these trends should be triggering alarms, we visited again with Anil Goyal, senior vice president of automotive valuation and analytics at Black Book, which pushed out online survey results involving more than 500 auto finance company executives. The survey released this week showed a large number of auto finance companies say they don’t leverage residual data for their portfolio despite the majority of finance companies admitting that portfolio risk assessment and remarketing remain at the top of their portfolio strategy for a growing number of used vehicles.
“The environment we are in is more volatile with trends that are very different than what we’ve seen in the last five years, with more supply coming back, with more incentives on the new vehicle sales and leases, with increased use of leasing,” Goyal said.
“There is increased risk around residuals in both loan and lease portfolios in trying to understand what that vehicle might be worth when it’s returned or repossessed,” he continued.
Goyal recapped that projecting residual values certainly is challenging for automakers and their captives since there are “a lot of moving parts.” The OEM must coordinate production schedule, work with suppliers and forecast how much demand for a particular model there might be.
And if their projections are off, Goyal pointed out automakers can join forces with captives to incentivize their customers to take delivery. They can simply reduce the vehicle price; that's the cash on the hood. They can reduce the APR, especially since captives originate leases mostly with prime and super-prime customers.
Also, they can offer a subvented residual enhancement. For example, if the residual value projection for a vehicle is 55 percent of its worth as a new model after three years, the OEM and captive can bump up the level to 60 percent in order to make the customer’s lease payment more manageable.
“There’s a lot of those levers that the OEM and the captives have to play around with to ensure that they are making the sales on their existing vehicles and keeping their pricing competitive with others and monitoring that scenario to make the lease payment work,” Goyal said.
But off-lease vehicles are increasing in the wholesale space. Certified pre-owned sales continue to set records, but what if retail demand for those units diminishes?
“Definitely the risks in the leasing scenario are increasing. Essentially, the captive and manufacturers sometimes when they share the risk, you’re essentially pushing the losses to the back end. You’re making the sale, but you’re going to have a loss,” said Goyal, who is one of the experts coming to Used Car Week at the Red Rock Resort and Casino in Las Vegas Nov. 14-18.
“In the last few years, used-car values have been very strong, so in many cases the vehicle that got returned there was not a loss,” he continued. “In fact, in many cases there was a profit to be made because the values were higher than the residuals, especially on SUVs and trucks. But that has really propelled lease penetration.
“The forecast is lower now for where the values are going to be,” Goyal went on to say. “If more and more leases are essentially made feasible to keep that payment lower through subvented residuals, you’re now going to have a situation where the losses will start to appear on the returns.”
So does leasing bubble talk have merit? Goyal didn’t go to that degree during our conversation on Wednesday. He reiterated how leasing is primarily in the prime and super-prime credit tiers. He added rating agencies often make conservative forecasts when making their analysis of securitizations filled with leases.
“We don’t see it as a bubble, but I do think there is an increased risk developing,” Goyal told Auto Remarketing. “That essentially limits how long leasing can grow.
“If we have higher and higher incentives to make the leasing work, you’re essentially moving from selling that vehicle to really just providing the vehicle on a three-year lease and pushing out your losses as a captive and manufacturer,” he continued. “That’s a trend that could be disturbing if it continues to grow by increasing the risk in the system.”
To help mitigate that risk, Black Book’s latest white paper, “How To Grow a Profitable Used Leasing Portfolio,” can help finance companies identify which vehicles make good used leasing candidates for their portfolio. It is available for download by clicking here.
“You don’t want to have unexpected surprises,” Goyal said. “What we promote to our lenders is not a one-and-done kind of analysis. Rather it’s something that’s ongoing, a refresh of the forecast because the trends are changing.”