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Banks turn to booming ABS market amid Basel III regulations

Banks turn to booming ABS market amid Basel III regulations

Banks are currently engaged in offloading assets, a move that has seen many turn towards a burgeoning sector of the bond market. This shift is driven by the need to adapt to new global capital regulations known as the Basel III endgame. These regulations are designed to enhance the resilience of the banking sector but are also expected to increase the cost of holding various types of loans. In response, banks are packaging more auto loans, equipment leases, and other forms of debt into asset-backed securities (ABS). This strategic maneuver allows banks to manage their balance sheets more effectively by transferring risk to investors.

In the United States, the impact of this shift is significant. Sales of ABS have surpassed $170 billion this year, an increase of approximately 38% compared to the same period in 2023, according to Bloomberg News. This remarkable growth reflects a broader trend across the financial markets, where institutions are increasingly seeking ways to mitigate the impact of regulatory changes. The rise in ABS sales is not confined to the US; Europe has seen similar trends. Issuance in Europe reached about €21 billion ($22.9 billion) this year, representing an increase of about 35% from the same time last year. This data, compiled by Bloomberg, excludes mortgage securities but highlights a robust demand for asset-backed products across different markets.

The upward trajectory in ABS issuance shows no signs of abating. Bank of America strategists, on May 31, revised their full-year US sales forecasts for these bonds, increasing their predictions from $270 billion to about $310 billion. This adjustment is mainly attributed to the surge in auto loan securitizations. These bonds are finding enthusiastic buyers among credit investors, who are keen on securities that offer attractive yields. At a global ABS conference in Barcelona, attendees expressed cautious optimism about the market's future, indicating a sustained interest in these financial products.

Kay Herr, the chief investment officer for US fixed income at JPMorgan Asset Management, emphasized the appeal of asset-backed securities in a recent episode of the Credit Edge podcast. Herr noted that there are "attractive opportunities in asset-backed securities," particularly those tied to US households. She highlighted the potential for yield pickup in this segment, underscoring the growing interest from investors seeking higher returns in a low-interest-rate environment. This sentiment is reflective of a broader trend where investors are increasingly drawn to structured finance products that offer compelling risk-reward profiles.

Moreover, the use of significant risk transfers (SRTs) by banks is contributing to the increase in ABS issuance. SRTs are similar to ABS and involve the transfer of risk from banks to investors, allowing banks to free up capital and manage their risk exposure more effectively. The issuance of SRTs is currently at its highest level since the 2008 financial crisis, which severely impacted the market. Andrew South, head of structured finance research at S&P Ratings, mentioned at a recent conference that most SRT deals have been concentrated in the US. He added that with numerous regulatory changes under Basel 3.1, banks might find more incentives to use securitization for capital relief. This potential regulatory shift could further drive the growth of the securitization market.

One clear indicator of robust demand is the rapid acquisition of asset-backed securities supported by increasingly exotic assets. Investors seeking securities with strong ratings and high yields have shown interest in ABS backed by art pieces from renowned artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Andy Warhol, as well as internet protocol addresses. Andrew South highlighted a notable increase in enquiries about esoteric securitizations, citing examples such as data centers and solar panels. This trend suggests that investors are willing to explore unconventional assets to achieve their investment objectives, reflecting a broader search for yield in a diverse range of asset classes.

However, there is speculation that issuers might be accelerating their sales to preempt potential market volatility. Factors such as the upcoming US presidential election and possible shifts in Federal Reserve monetary policy could create uncertainty in the financial markets. Issuers might be pushing their sales forward to avoid any disruptions that could arise from these events. This dynamic could result in a significantly slower second half of the year as the market adjusts to new developments and uncertainties.

Wall Street executives have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with the Basel III endgame rules. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s CEO Jamie Dimon remarked that hedge funds and other non-banking entities were eagerly anticipating the business opportunities that would arise from these regulations. "They’re dancing in the streets," Dimon said last year, highlighting the competitive advantage that non-banking financial institutions might gain as banks face stricter regulatory requirements. This sentiment underscores the broader concerns within the banking sector about the potential impact of these new rules on their business operations.

Regulators appear to be taking note of these concerns. In March, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell mentioned that the central bank was considering "broad and material changes" to how it implements the Basel III rules. Powell indicated that a complete overhaul of the regulatory framework might be on the horizon. This acknowledgment from regulators suggests that there could be significant adjustments to the current approach, aimed at addressing the concerns raised by the banking industry while still ensuring the stability and resilience of the financial system.

Despite these potential regulatory changes, banks are clearly preparing for the tougher new capital rules. The growing issuance of ABS is a testament to this preparation. In recent days, lenders have lined up a series of new deals for sale, including auto bonds from major players such as Santander and Toyota. This continued activity in the ABS market indicates that banks are proactively managing their capital requirements and seeking to optimize their balance sheets in anticipation of the new regulatory environment. The ongoing demand for these securities suggests that investors remain confident in the market's potential, even as regulatory landscapes evolve.

In summary, the banking sector is undergoing a significant transformation driven by the Basel III endgame regulations. Banks are increasingly turning to the asset-backed securities market to manage their balance sheets and mitigate the impact of these new rules. The growth in ABS issuance, both in the US and Europe, reflects the strong demand for these products among investors. As banks continue to navigate this complex regulatory environment, the ABS market is likely to remain a critical tool for capital management and risk transfer.

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