Mis-Pricing Risk

Mis-pricing Risk in the US Real Estate and Lending Markets

Back before the housing bust in the early 2000’s we were in the process of purchasing a new condo and wanted to put down a substantial amount of money, over 50% of the purchase price. The response from lenders at the time was a full cavity search of all assets we had across all dimensions, and we never could seem to satisfy them (i.e. after we had given them everything, there were even more questions).

Meanwhile, people were getting “liar loans” with virtually nothing down or “balloon loans” with floating interest rates that were extremely risky, and they were paying roughly the same interest rate that we were receiving, even though the bank stood almost no risk of default with us since we were willing to put down 50% as equity. In order to lose money, the price of our real estate would have to lose 50% before the bank was at risk at all.

How this SHOULD have been accomplished is that someone borrowing money and putting down very little equity would have to pay a substantially higher interest rate than someone putting down substantial amounts of equity, since the real risk to the bank was far lower. Instead, the lender went through a spurious cavity search of me and then let the other guy do a liar-loan at virtually the same rates. This seemed ridiculous to me at the time and you can see how that all turned out for everyone.

Today, this problem has been “fixed” in a different way – instead of varying the interest rate based upon the inherent risk of the project, people with good credit receive loans at very low interest rates and people with poor credit are effectively frozen out of the market entirely. They have no access to credit at all, in the first place. We have de-facto rebuilt redlining, albeit based on creditworthiness, with no “slope” for those with poorer credit. This same process works with businesses – banks are willing to lend to those types of businesses that essentially don’t need the money (strong cash flows, limited debt) and won’t even consider riskier companies and start ups, at any price.

Mis-Pricing Emerging Country Debt Risk:

Today the world is hungry for “yield” or interest / dividend income, a consequence of the “zero rate interest policy” or ZIRP that is effectively employed in most of the developed economies today.

Mexico is currently able to issue debt at a rate of 5.43%. The Mexican finance officials see that there is a hunger for their debt and are moving to respond to it by issuing 10 and 20 year debt.

Several analysts saw the increase in long-term bond issuance as a response to the recent strong demand for the paper, which has pushed secondary-market yields down sharply in the past month.

While Mexico has financially been running a sound ship, with a reasonable deficit, there are profound risks in buying ten and twenty year debt at under 6%. The first major risk is the Mexican currency, which has depreciated many times in the past. The second major risk is crime.

A recent (highly recommended, albeit terrifying) article called “The Kingpins” in the New Yorker describes the intense drug wars currently engulfing Mexico, which lays out the following facts:

1) over 50,000 soldiers have deserted the army while fighting the drug war
2) it only costs 1000 pesos ($80 USD) to have someone assassinated in Mexico
3) over 98% of violent crime goes unpunished
4) drug lords are now tapping right into the pipelines of PEMEX, the oil monopoly and cash cow for the government, in order to steal fuel

The article follows the drug gang battles between various factions, the powerlessness and corrupt nature of the governmental bodies, and the civilians caught in the cross fire. These drug battles are so epic that they would better be described as military campaigns, and the entire situation is close to that of a civil war. Other than the use of massive heavy weapons (tanks, artillery) and targeting by ethic group (rather than gang alliances), the situation is likely not far from the Syria civil war in terms of total casualties and deaths.

HOW does it make sense to buy 20 year Mexican debt at a rate near 6%? To the extent that you believe the Mexican currency will do better than your currency and want to earn 6% during the interim, I guess that makes sense. But in general I cannot see that 6% interest rates in a country engulfed in a virtual civil war with widespread lawlessness and epic corruption making sense as fairly pricing that risk.

Likely the outcome of lending money in local currency to countries with severe domestic problems and a history of devaluations will turn out as well as our policy of granting loans to home buyers with virtually no equity and without verifying their earnings in the first place.

Cross posted at LITGM

4 thoughts on “Mis-Pricing Risk”

  1. The reluctance of banks to make business loans (except to those who don’t need them, as you point out) leads to real opportunities for the Business Development Companies, which are in the business lending business but are not fractional-reserve depository institutions…they get their funds from shareholders and bondholders. (I’m an investor in several of these, which are not risk-free by any means but mostly pay considerably more than the 6% of the 20-year Mexican debt.)

    One of the strange things about banking is that they invest huge amounts of money in growing their branch networks, at the same time they continue to disempower the branch management and staffs.

  2. The most mis-priced risk of all are US Treasury Bonds. They don’t even price the risk that the Fed will achieve its inflation target of 2%.

    I am real short and staying there. I wouldn’t touch Mexican paper payable in Pesos.

    I am buying Israel Bonds which are payable in US$:

    JUBILEE ISSUE BONDS ($25,000 Minimum Purchase)
    Bond Rate
    2-Year 0.51%
    3-Year 1.21%
    5-Year 2.29%


  3. In 2003 my Mom’s 1989 Toyota Celica with 300,000+ miles went kaput on some nondescript weekday.

    Later, that evening, at a Honda dealer in North Hollywood, Ca. Mom picked out a no frills Honda Civic that cost about $17,500 including taxes and destination. (The Civic was and is America’s equivalent to the Romanian Dacia, a Ceausescu era auto perfect for the proletariat that can complain about anything they want, as long as they are not averse to reeducation through hard labor.) Mom was going to lay $15,000 cash down payment and finance the remainder rather than break a CD at the bank. The Sales Manager came back with two caveats; firstly, in order to captive finance all loans had to be in minimums of $5k. No problem, she’d just make a lump sum payment when the loan first goes through and get the balance back to $2,500.

    The second caveat was the deal breaker; the interest rate was going to be 11%! That was outrageous, particularly in Greenspan’s post 9/11 free money America. About two years earlier my Mom was 30 days late on some sort of revolving payment. Nonetheless that was immaterial. She was already paying for the depreciation so there was minimal credit risk to the dealer. We stormed out of the dealership. The poor salesman’s jaw dropped as his sales manager would not budge at all and his commission walked out the door.

    The next morning we were at credit union, which immediately said yes at 3.5% at the smaller loan balance. Then to a different Honda dealer where she picked out an identical Dacia/Civic. We were done in an hour and a half. Yet a another example of mispricing of risk.

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