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Credit Crisis demystified

When:

Seeds were sown way back in 1977. Known as Community Reinvestment Act  , is a United States federal law that requires banks and thrifts to offer credit throughout their entire market area and prohibits them from targeting only wealthier neighborhoods with their services. The bill encouraged the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae, to enable mortgage companies, savings and loans, commercial banks, credit unions, and state and local housing finance agencies to lend to home buyers.

Why

National grassroots pressure for affordable housing. Though there was considerable opposition from the mainstream banking community. Only one banker from ShoreBank in Chicago, testified in favor of the act.

Subprime Explained

Mr A seeks a housing loan to give shape to his dream home. But he doesn’t have good credit rating. This means that he is unable to clear all the stringent conditions that a bank imposes on an individual before it sanctions a loan. Since his credit is not good enough, no bank will give him a home loan as there is a fear that the chances of a default by him are high. Here enters , Mr B (a robust financial institution)who has good credit rating and is willing to take on some amount of risk and make profit.

 Given his good credit rating, the bank is willing to give Mr B a loan. The bank gives the loan at a certain rate of interest.Mr B then divides this loan into a lot of small portions and gives them out as home loans to lots of others like Mr A who do not have a great credit rating and to whom the bank would not have given a home loan in the first place.

Mr B gives out these loans at a rate of interest that is much higher rate than the rate at which he borrowed money from the bank. This higher rate is referred to as the sub-prime rate and this home loan market is referred to as the sub-prime home loan market.

By giving loan to many Mr A’s , Mr B is expecting to make lot of profit.  Mr B does not wait for the principal and the interest on the sub-prime home loans to be repaid, so that it can repay its loan to the bank (the prime lender), which has given it the loan.

So what does Mr B do? He goes ahead and securitises’ these loans. Securitisation means converting these home loans into financial securities, which promise to pay a certain rate of interest. These financial securities are then sold to Mr C (Institutional Investors)

 

And how is Mr C repaid? The interest and the principal that is repaid by Mr A through equated monthly installments (EMIs) is passed onto Mr C.

This looks so simple so what went wrong

 

The sub-prime home loans were given out as floating rate home loans. A floating rate home loan as the name suggests is not fixed. As interest rates go up, the interest rate on floating rate home loans also go up. As interest rates to be paid on floating rate home loans go up, the EMIs that need to be paid to service these loans go up as well.

What happened next is that people started defaulting on their obligations. Once more and more sub-prime borrowers started defaulting, payments to the institutional investors who had bought the financial securities stopped, leading to huge losses.  The housing bubble collapsed and mortgage-backed securities (bought by Mr C) were almost worthless . As defaults kept rising, Mr B could not service their loans that they had taken from banks. So they turned to other financial firms to help them out, but after a while these firms too stopped extending credit realizing that the collateral backing this credit would soon lose value in the falling real estate market.

 

Now burdened with tons of debt and no money to pay it back, the back of these financial entities broke, leading to the current meltdown.

Ok this is an American problem , so why are markets around the world crashing

Mr C who had invested in securitised paper from the sub-prime home loan market in the US, saw his investments turning into losses. Most big investors have a certain fixed proportion of their total investments invested in various parts of the world.  Once investments in the US turned bad, more money had to be invested in the US, to maintain that fixed proportion. In order to invest more money in the US, money had to come in from somewhere. To make up their losses in the sub-prime market in the United States, they went out to sell their investments in emerging markets like India where their investments have been doing well. So these big institutional investors, to make good of their losses in the sub-prime market, began to sell their investments in India and other markets around the world.


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