They’re Back..! Subprime Loans, Cars, this time instead of houses. Defaults Are Soaring

❝ It’s classic subprime: hasty loans, rapid defaults, and, at times, outright fraud…Only this isn’t the U.S. housing market circa 2007. It’s the U.S. auto industry circa 2017.

A decade after the mortgage debacle, the financial industry has embraced another type of subprime debt: auto loans. And, like last time, the risks are spreading as they’re bundled into securities for investors worldwide.

❝ Subprime car loans have been around for ages, and no one is suggesting they’ll unleash the next crisis. But since the Great Recession, business has exploded. In 2009, $2.5 billion of new subprime auto bonds were sold. In 2016, $26 billion were, topping average pre-crisis levels, according to Wells Fargo…

❝ Few things capture this phenomenon like the partnership between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Banco Santander SA. Since 2013, as U.S. car sales soared, the two have built one of the industry’s most powerful subprime machines.

Details of that relationship, pieced together from court documents, regulatory filings and interviews with industry insiders, lay bare some of the excesses of today’s subprime auto boom. Wall Street has rewarded lax lending standards that let people get loans without anyone verifying incomes or job histories. For instance, Santander recently vetted incomes on fewer than one out of every 10 loans packaged into $1 billion of bonds, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The largest portion were for Chrysler vehicles.

Some of their dealers, meantime, gamed the loan application process so low-income borrowers could drive off in new cars…

❝ Through it all, Wall Street’s appetite for high-yield investments has kept the loans — and the bonds — coming…Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s U.S. sales chief, said Santander has been a “good partner.”

Typically, you look to see which regulators have had staff cut by the sleaziest members of Congress. That’s where the money-grubbers most inclined to fraud are focused. Nowadays, with today’s version of the Republican Party in slim control of both houses of Congress – with the pimp-in-chief in the White House – you can be assured the beat goes on!

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