Perspectives: Finance

September 24, 2018
Evaluating the Liquidity Within Your 1-4 Family Portfolio
By Mark Cary, Sr. Vice President, FTN Financial Capital Assets

As loan-to-deposit ratios and liquidity ratios reach five-year highs and lows, respectively, now is the time to take stock of all of your potential liquidity options. While most liquidity contingency funding plans include options for raising deposits, selling investment securities or obtaining other funding (such as FHLB advances), one often overlooked option as a valuable source of potential liquidity is the 1-4 family first lien mortgage portfolio.

As loan-to-deposit ratios and liquidity ratios reach five-year highs and lows, respectively, now is the time to take stock of all of your potential liquidity options. While most liquidity contingency funding plans include options for raising deposits, selling investment securities or obtaining other funding (such as FHLB advances), one often overlooked option as a valuable source of potential liquidity is the 1-4 family first lien mortgage portfolio.

Got Liquidity?
In 2014, the national marketing arm for the dairy industry retired the popular “Got Milk?” ad campaign that featured celebrities in milk moustaches, but let’s use a twist on the once-popular ad campaign to highlight the need for liquidity in today’s market. Figure 1 below highlights the increasing loan/deposit ratios for banks. This increase, coupled with an increasing cost of funds, can put a real strain on liquidity (and earnings).


Figure 1: U.S. Commercial Banks and Savings Banks (250M-$25B) - Loans-To-Deposits Ratio


Cost of Funds Is Also Rising (Significantly)
As Figure 2 indicates, cost of funds – which is comprised largely of interest-bearing deposits – has increased recently, and it does not seem like this will be ending anytime soon. With digital deposits on the rise and the availability of information on the internet about competing deposit accounts, the war for deposits will likely be more intense than it has ever been.


Figure 2: U.S. Banks ($250M-$25B) - Cost of Funds, Trailing 8 Quarters


Traditional Sources May Not Be Enough
While it has yet to be seen, the impending war for deposits may cause financial institutions to consider sources of liquidity outside of their usual arsenal. Normally, a financial institution’s potential remedies for a shortfall in funding include, but are not limited to:

1. Selling Available-for-Sale (“AFS”) securities
2. Raising rates on deposits
3. Tapping non-core sources such as brokered deposits, FHLB advances or other lines
4. Loans from correspondent banks


As rates rise, the costs for implementing the above strategies could get very expensive. A potentially more efficient option is the liquidity that resides within the on-balance-sheet portfolio of 1-4 family mortgage loans.

The 1-4 Family On-Balance-Sheet Portfolio as an Alternative
The 1-4 family loan portfolio represents an often overlooked source of potential liquidity. Of all loan product types, the 1-4 family portfolio often includes the most liquid and most price-efficient loans from a secondary marketing standpoint, and can be segregated into three separate liquidity grades as follows:

Agency Grade
Loans in this category meet all the general criteria for purchase by one of the agencies (Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) subject to a loan file documentation review. These are loans that were agency-eligible at origination or could be agency-eligible as the loans season or some corrective action is taken.

Private Grade
Loans in this category may meet one or more of the criteria for being eligible for purchase by the agencies, but are acceptable for purchase by private investors (usually other financial institutions) subject to a loan file documentation review. These loans would be subject to standard secondary marketing guidelines as related to FICO score, LTV, DTI, etc.

Portfolio Grade
The loan data fails one or more criteria for purchase in the standard secondary mortgage market. The loan may be a good credit risk and a performing asset, but from an economic perspective, its profile indicates it should be retained in the portfolio rather than being sold in the secondary market. In other words, the price to sell into the secondary market is quite a bit lower than the value to hold the loans to term.

Agency and private grade loans are collectively referred to as “investment grade” and are the MOST LIQUID loans within the entire loan portfolio. Over 80% of the loans in the average portfolio meet these criteria, representing a large source of untapped liquidity.

Strategies to Improve Liquidity Using Whole Loans
As with any strategy involving the balance sheet, it is important to understand all potential options. When evaluating funding strategies, one additional option to consider is the sale of a pool of loans. Strategies utilizing whole loan sales can be structured as follows:

1. Bulk seasoned MBS securitizations using one of the agencies (Fannie Mae or FHLMC) as a guarantor
2. Whole loan transactions from one institution to another
3. Participation transactions

Each of these strategies can be accomplished on a serviced, released or retained basis

Another “Liquidity” Arrow in Your Quiver

When preparing your Liquidity Contingency Plan, it is important to include the 1-4 family portfolio as a potential source of liquidity along with other more traditional sources. Doing so will provide you with another arrow in your liquidity quiver.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Financial Managers Society.

About the Author

Mark Cary is a senior vice president and loan sales manager for FTN Financial Capital Assets, drawing on his more than 30 years of experience in the a financial institution industry to assist clients in developing strategies to better manage their loan portfolios. He is a member of the AICPA and the Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants, and is an adjunct professor in the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Department of the University of Memphis.


September 3, 2018
Manage Vendors to Manage Risk
By Terry Ammons, Systems Partner, Porter Keadle Moore

Banking at its core is the business of managing risk for others. From deposit accounts to payment options and loan products, the entire culture of an institution is centered on identifying, controlling and responding to risk. Despite this, however, one area where the financial services industry is still struggling to succeed is vendor risk management.

Today, third-party vendors are ubiquitous within modern businesses, and financial institutions are no different. Working with technology partners requires institutions to accept a certain level of risk that must be managed both internally and externally. While regulatory, compliance and security issues still resound as top priorities for bankers, when choosing to work with new tech providers, the best approach to risk management is not avoidance, but a deeper understanding that helps the institution identify, prioritize, control and respond to any event that may cause a business interruption.

The hard truth is that responding to risk after a breach or incident has occurred is potentially more expensive – to the bottom line and to reputational brand equity – than implementing the necessary steps to safeguard the institution from the beginning.

Not All Vendors Are Created Equal
While regulatory compliance is not specific to banking, compared to most other industries, banks and credit unions have a much higher bar to reach when developing internal risk management programs. Federal regulators are closely evaluating the institutions they are charged with overseeing, and bankers must be vigilant in holding risk management programs to the highest level of scrutiny. Since a disaster in one area of the bank or credit union can affect the entire institution, risk management is an enterprise-wide concern and should be dealt with as such. This includes incorporating risk management efforts into the institution’s culture, organization, processes, technologies, personnel and physical infrastructure.

The first step toward creating a successful vendor management program is to categorize risk on a sliding scale of priority. Some institutions mistakenly apply the same level of risk to each of their vendors – regardless of the service provided, the level of access granted or the type of data shared. This can be a time-consuming and oftentimes damaging approach, as some vendors pose a larger threat to an institution than others. For example, some vendors will pull more sensitive information from a bank, which naturally necessitates a higher level of scrutiny on the bank’s part. By categorizing vendors based on risks, institutions can help focus their efforts and better ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.

Build Your Safety Net
While an institution may lack direct control over its vendor and their systems, it is nevertheless the institution’s responsibility to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to protect itself, its customers’ information and the integrity of the institution/vendor relationship. After evaluating and determining the risk profile of each vendor, the institution must conduct its own due diligence to ensure that the vendor is upholding its end of the contract.

The vendor bears some responsibility here as well. Regardless of risk assignment, a vendor must provide documentation that demonstrates its security arrangements and controls. While this usually occurs in the beginning of a vendor relationship, institutions should require their partners to provide quarterly and annual reports and analysis of their systems to satisfy not only the institution’s requirements, but its regulators as well.

Ideally, evaluation will be an ongoing effort that does not impede day-to-day operations. After all, even if everything is in place in the beginning of the relationship, those same controls may not necessarily be sufficient in the future. Specialized access to consumer information not only requires protections to be in place, but also to evolve with the changing cybersecurity landscape.

The relationship between vendor and banker needs to be a symbiotic one. For example, banks and vendors alike should work closely to outline the steps necessary to ensure services are restored in the event of an outage, with both organizations assuming responsibility for their part of the equation. To create a comprehensive due diligence program, vendors should provide their own internal and external IT audits to validate the controls they have in place. While this is the ideal, it is too rarely the reality.

Response Tactics
With an extensive range of risk touch points for financial institutions, even seemingly innocuous events such as missing a patch or an employee clicking a malicious email link can lead to enterprise-wide threats. Thus, a bank or credit union’s risk management strategy must also include steps for how to mitigate damage once a breach has occurred. Even with a robust due diligence process and regular audits to ensure compliance, an event can occur – hackers, unfortunately, are still very good at their jobs.

There are a few options to deal with an interruption once it has occurred: remediation, mitigation and acceptance. With an effective risk management and vendor management program in place, these attacks will be limited in scope and occurrence, but still may cause an inconvenience for the institution at the least and a breach of sensitive data in the most severe instances. It is at this point that an institution can learn firsthand where any missteps may have occurred, and if the vulnerability was previously unknown. Of course, every institution wants to avoid this situation, but when and if it does occur, it is certainly better to emerge with more robust controls and an example to assist other institutions in protecting themselves.

There is a balancing act between evolving business requirements and meeting the latest security standards – one that provides little room for error. Integrity of data must be ensured on the vendor’s side, with the institution setting expectations early on in the relationship, and then reevaluating those expectations throughout the life of that partnership. There is no finish line in reaching and maintaining compliance – it is an ever-moving target that requires constant monitoring.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Financial Managers Society.

About the Author

Terry Ammons, CPA, CISA, CTPRP is Systems Partner at Porter Keadle Moore (PKM), an Atlanta-based accounting and advisory firm serving public and private organizations in the financial services, insurance and technology industries.



August 10, 2018
Securing the Most Favorable Prices for Securities Transactions
By Robert Segal, CEO, Atlantic Capital Strategies, Inc.

Banking regulations require that financial institutions implement robust systems to monitor, manage and control risks related to investment activities. The agencies state further that effective management of the risks associated with securities represents an essential component of safe and sound practices. The FDIC, for example, says it is prudent for management to fully understand all relevant market and transaction risks. Accordingly, management has the responsibility to put systems in place to assure that all reasonable efforts are made to obtain the most favorable price for each securities transaction.

The market for fixed-income securities has evolved significantly in recent years. However, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the amount of “pre-trade” pricing information (bids and offers) is still relatively limited as compared to equities, and generally not readily accessible by the investing public. While new technology and communications in the fixed-income market have advanced, the market remains decentralized, with much trading still occurring on an over-the-counter basis.

Compared to equities, transaction costs for fixed-income securities remain stubbornly high. Academic studies have shown that transaction costs for even small orders of equities are a few pennies per share, while commissions for corporate and municipal bonds can be several dollars per $100 of bond principal value, or one hundred times higher or more.

Approximately ten years ago, the SEC instituted a “post-trade” reporting system that distributes information about bond transactions. Under the program, dealers are required to report, with a 15-minute delay, the price and quantity of every transaction. Corporate bonds were the first sector in the platform, followed by municipals and agencies, and more recently, Treasuries and mortgage securities. This innovation improved transparency by allowing investors to obtain more current information about market values.

In a recent regulatory notice, FINRA reiterated its commitment to best execution as a key investor protection requirement. The agency noted that in light of the advanced nature of fixed-income markets, brokerage firms need to regularly review their procedures to ensure they are designed to incorporate and reflect best execution principles, as the broker is “under a duty to exercise reasonable care to obtain the most advantageous terms for the customer.”

FINRA requires that brokerage firms establish, maintain and enforce robust supervisory procedures and policies regarding “regular and rigorous reviews” for execution quality. As part of its own regulatory reviews, FINRA conducts statistical analyses, establishing pricing parameters for comparison to other transactions in the same security. In fact, if certain transactions show a meaningful variance, FINRA may deem the firm to be in violation of best execution principles.

It is important to keep in mind that best execution does not always mean the lowest possible price. In its Trust Examination Manual, the FDIC said management should consider other factors when determining the quality of execution, including quality of research provided, speed of execution and certainty of execution. Regulators also recognize that obtaining quotes from too many sources could adversely affect pricing due to delays in execution and other factors.

Given the regulatory environment and improvements in transaction reporting, bank management may wish to implement a “back-testing” program to assure that the institution is receiving the most favorable prices for securities transactions. This surveillance tool could compare the institution’s pricing to prevailing market prices at the time of the trade, while also analyzing the bid/offer spread to confirm that the transaction “mark-up” was fair and reasonable.

A direct benefit is that the financial institution should see improved profitability as it routes business to brokerage firms that provide the lowest overall transaction costs. Corporate governance can be enhanced as risk management policies and procedures continue to be strengthened.

As the programs evolve, bank treasurers can ultimately establish a system for evaluating broker/dealer performance. The FDIC requires that financial institutions develop and approve an effective vendor management program framework. What the FDIC is looking for, according to industry observers, are well-defined documentation processes. The regulators see vendor risk management as needing continual monitoring and ongoing risk assessments.

Finance officers typically scrutinize the P&L in a finely-tuned manner. At the same time, most bankers acknowledge they don’t know what they’re paying for brokerage costs for securities transactions. Transaction costs can vary greatly based on the scope of the transaction and access to the most liquid dealers. A review of individual transactions indicates that investors may be “leaving a lot of money on the table.” Thus, a more diligent approach toward trading efficiencies could help support the bottom line.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Financial Managers Society.

About the Author

Robert Segal is the founder and CEO of Atlantic Capital Strategies, Inc., which provides investment advisory services for financial institutions. He has over 35 years of experience in the banking industry, having worked in several community banks with roles in mortgage banking, sales and trading and ALM. Bob is also currently a Director-at-Large on the FMS Board of Directors.



February 12, 2018
Auto Lending at a Crossroads
By Alec Hollis, Director – ALM Strategy Group, ALM First Financial Advisors, LLC

“Transitions to delinquency show persistent increases for auto and credit card debt; auto loan delinquency rates especially problematic for subprime auto finance loans.”

So reads the press release from The Federal Reserve Bank of New York for a recent Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit. Headlines like these are becoming more common in relation to auto lending as regulators cite concerns over several years of strong growth alongside eased underwriting standards and unabated flows into delinquency.

The unprecedented growth in auto debt can be derived in part by the underlying demand for the collateral. Annual auto sales have seen several consecutive years of growth, setting an all-time high of 17.5 million units in 2016. This growth has trickled down to auto lenders, as total auto loan debt notched a new all-time record at $1.21 trillion in outstanding balances at the end of the third quarter of 2017. This represents a 48% increase from ten years ago – second only to a 157% increase in student loan debt – while total household debt increased 7% over the same time period.

This growth has the OCC’s attention – the agency took notice as early as the spring of 2012, citing banks launching new products, services and processes to catalyze asset growth, and specifically mentioning the growth in indirect auto lending. While growth in and of itself is not necessarily bad, the OCC has consistently discussed auto lending, which is why it is important for financial institutions to understand the reasons behind the elevated risk status.

Originations
Total originated auto loans surpassed $430 billion through the first three quarters of 2017, with roughly $88 billion of those loans considered to be subprime (credit scores below 620). Subprime auto loan originations have not been growing as fast as in preceding years, as some major market participations have capped subprime production, but overall originations continue unabated, with an ongoing streak of year-over-year increases.

At the close of 2017, roughly 20% of auto loan originations were subprime, compared to 21% in 2016, 23% in 2015 and 29% pre-crisis in 2007. Despite this decrease, Figure 1 shows that subprime origination volume has nevertheless has accelerated to roughly pre-crisis levels today, while originations with excellent credit have far surpassed pre-crisis levels.

Figure 1



Delinquencies
Delinquencies in the auto lending space have likewise ticked up. Auto loans 90+ days delinquent measured 3.97% of the outstanding balance in the third quarter of 2017, continuing a streak of quarterly increases. Delinquency flow (newly delinquent loans) has also been increasing steadily for several years. Figure 2 shows the outstanding seriously delinquent balance, which has increased steadily since 2014.

Figure 2


Although widespread delinquencies have yet to materialize, there are certainly problematic sectors. Auto finance companies represent $602 billion – or roughly half of the $1.21 trillion outstanding – in auto loan debt. When it comes to subprime lending, auto finance companies dominate, representing 74% of outstanding balances with credit scores at origination of less than 620.

Auto financing companies might not look quite so dominant, though, when digging into delinquency flows. Figure 3 shows the flow into serious delinquency for auto loans originated with a credit score of less than 620. These flows have diverged from banks and credit unions in a major way, and are currently at levels not seen since the financial crisis for this major subset of subprime auto lenders.

Figure 3


The OCC has been consistently discussing and monitoring the trends in delinquencies since they first mentioned the drift higher in 2013. Asset quality indicators such as delinquency ratios and net charge-offs are trailing indicators, meaning that they take time to materialize as the credit lifecycle matures for a particular vintage of loans. Many are expecting delinquencies to continue to rise, as aggressively underwritten vintages continue to mature. To prepare for this, it is important for financial institutions to ensure collections operations can meet the potential delinquencies and that reserves are appropriate given this expectation.

Indirect Auto Lending
As it relates to auto lending, the OCC has widely discussed fair-lending risk, a result of yielding underwriting decisions to auto dealers or other third parties. Not only does this practice create a risk to credit standards, but it also carries significant compliance risk.

A notable case in 2013 involved Ally Financial, a large lender in the indirect auto space. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) took action against discriminatory lending practices present in Ally’s program. Incentivized by dealer markups, minority borrowers were being charged higher interest rates at the discretion of the auto dealer. As a result, Ally was required to pay a total of $98 million in damages and penalties.

This example demonstrates how crucial it is for financial institutions to have adequate controls and appropriate compensation for dealer relationships. The last thing an institution needs is a dealer making underwriting decisions – not to mention the potential multimillion dollar penalties that may accompany them.

Action Plan
Recent news is riddled with coverage on auto loan delinquencies, subprime auto lending and large institutions scaling back from auto lending. Most recently, TCF Financial Corporation, a Minnesota-based bank holding company with $23 billion in total assets, announced discontinuation of all indirect auto lending. Other big banks have announced the limitation of auto loan originations in general, citing rising stress and protection from credit risk. As far back as 2015, Wells Fargo announced a cap on subprime production, after years of being aggressive lenders in the space. Moves like these could indicate some concern.

Particularly in regards to indirect lending, institutions need to understand the importance of assessing the additional risks posed by dealer relationships, as well as the additional fees. Return-on-capital models can objectively assess the profitability of product lines – if risks are mounting, institutions can take a cue from TCF and perhaps take a step back from the market.

Overall, auto lending can be a very important part of the balance sheet for many consumer-focused financial institutions, and indirect lending and dealer relationships can be an excellent tool to expand the institution’s reach. However, if ensuring safe and steady growth is the goal, history has shown that loosening credit standards to increase loan volume is not often successful in the long run.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Financial Managers Society.

About the Author

Alec Hollis is a Director in the ALM Strategy Group at ALM First Financial Advisors, LLC.


OCTOBER 16, 2017
Understanding discounted cash flow modeling as an option for CECL  
By Brandon Quinones, Risk Management Consultant, Sageworks

One of the main impetuses for changing the prevailing model for estimation of the allowance for loan and lease losses (ALLL) was the FASB’s view that reliance on historic information to determine “incurred-but-not-realized” losses in reserve calculations did not allow institutions to adjust reserve levels given a reasonable and supportable expectation of future events. Thus, a new standard requiring institutions to “… estimate expected credit losses over the contractual term of the financial asset(s)…” and “…consider available information relevant to assessing the collectability of cash flows. This information may include internal information, external information, or a combination of both relating to past events, current conditions, and reasonable and supportable forecasts.”1

Contractual v. Expected Cash Flows
When estimating losses using a discounted cash flow (DCF) approach, expected cash flow models are appropriate for reserve calculation under the new standard. A few material differences between the two calculations are modeling factors such as prepayment, default estimates, loss estimates and recovery activities that otherwise would not be used in a contractual cash flow calculation.

Track movement of loans by segment
to identify trends in portfolio growth
Approach
To calculate and apply these tendencies, the following inputs are critical to the calculation of discounted cash flow:



Of all the portfolio assumptions noted in the table, perhaps the most important to calculate are the Probability of Default (PD) and Loss Given Default (LGD).

PD and LGD are parameters that can be leveraged by institutions in a standalone measurement. Institutions currently using a PD and LGD approach for current GAAP may make an effort to calculate a lifetime PD and a symmetrical LGD to determine a rate for loss in an attempt to accomplish life-of-loan requirements as part of the new standard.

BENEFITS
Long-Term Assets
Calculating and understanding the average life and/or prepayment rate of a loan/loan type (e.g., CRE, Mortgages, C&I) is mandatory when calculating the expected credit losses.

An institution calculating its life-of-loan loss experience utilizing methodologies such as Vintage Analysis, Migration, PD and LGD, and/or Static Pool analysis will require look-back periods sufficient to cover the expected life of the pool. For example, if a loan pool has an average life of four years, an institution would need four years of data to conduct a single four-year observation of losses, and such a data set would only be inclusive of loans that were on the balance sheet four years prior.

A DCF approach can employ recent, shorter-term observations for deployment in a forward-looking amortization schedule. DCF is, and will be, a preferred methodology for calculating the reserve of longer-lived assets.

Readily Available Industry/Peer Data
In instances where loan pools lack loan-counts to be statistically relevant, haven’t experienced a material amount of defaults/losses during periods where data is available and/or have new portfolios that are more analogous to industry/peer experience, a DCF best accommodates alternative measurements while maintaining institution-specific risk.

In using DCF, financial institutions may deploy industry-level PD, LGD and CPR (Conditional Prepayment Rate) toward their own loan structures for a reasonable and possibly more relevant expectation of life-of-loan loss.

Forecasting
The CECL standard frequently references concepts related to making adjustments based on reasonable and supportable forecasts2, concepts that are most logically addressed by using a DCF methodology. In projecting expected cash flows, each period within a forward-looking amortization schedule can/will vary slightly based on future expectations of external/economic data.

CHALLENGES
By its very nature, executing an expected cash flow schedule for each loan every month/quarter may not be practical in a spreadsheet environment. On the other hand, institutions utilizing a third-party provider may run into challenges recording the loan data required to build an accurate amortization schedule.

The process starts and ends with developing policies and procedures around the ongoing maintenance of loan-level data. Every institution should begin to define rules for storage and/or maintenance of data. By taking steps now, financial institutions will find themselves in a position to calculate a reasonable and supportable reserve.

1 ASU 326-20-30-6
2 ASU 326-20-30-7


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Financial Managers Society.

About the Author

Brandon Quinones, Risk Management Consultant, Sageworks
Brandon Quinones is a Risk Management Consultant in the Bank Division at Sageworks, where he primarily focuses on helping community banks and credit unions manage their allowance for loan and lease loss (ALLL) provisions.




September 18, 2017
Managing Mortgage Pipeline Risk
By Robert Perry, Principal – ALM and Investment Strategy, ALM First Financial Advisors, LLC

Residential mortgage banking is a sizable and important market segment, and many institutions operate originate-and-sell models, in which mortgage production is sold to investors (e.g., Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac). Loans locked with borrowers but yet to be originated-and-sold represent the entity’s “mortgage pipeline.”

Managing this pipeline is critical in today’s market and calls for skilled management to keep risk under control while ensuring profitability. The hedging process can often seem confusing – even daunting – to some because it involves complex computations and the use of sophisticated models to manage risk and determine pricing. When done correctly, however, hedging strategies protect lenders from the unpredictability of interest rate movements and other financial risks, thus improving risk-adjusted returns and long-term business viability.

Managing the pipeline for secondary sale
When a mortgage lender locks with a borrower and the loan enters the mortgage pipeline, an open interest rate exposure is created. If interest rates change significantly, the price of the loan will change significantly as well. Additionally, the borrower is free to choose another lender without penalty. When a particular lock fails to originate, it is known as a “fallout” or “hard fallout”. This is where good pipeline management becomes essential; understanding your fallout is critical to understanding your market exposure.

Common strategies for managing pipeline market risk include using forward-sale commitments and hedging using capital market instruments.

Forward-sale commitment
Forward-sale commitments are direct commitments to sell to the investor at some point in the future; commonly, this includes GSE investors, such as Fannie Mae. Forward-sale commitments can be made on a “mandatory” or “best-efforts” basis for future delivery of the loan. A “mandatory” commitment requires the originator to deliver a set dollar amount of mortgage loans at a certain price by a specific date; if the originator does not deliver, the agent charges a “pair-off” fee.

A “best efforts” commitment hedges fallout risk by not charging a pair-off fee assessment if the loan fails to close; however, this comes at a cost, as the price will be less favorable.



Hedging with capital market instruments
Hedging the pipeline can also be accomplished through the use of capital markets instruments, most frequently using the TBA, or “To Be Announced”, mortgage-backed securities market. Larger, more sophisticated lenders tend to use this vehicle due to efficiency, flexibility gains and the ability to employ warehousing strategies to boost interest income – all leading to higher returns.

A successful hedging program includes three key steps:

1. Maintain models and accurate data
Because hedging decisions are made based on data, data quality is paramount to the hedging process. Ensuring accurate and timely data is of utmost importance, and often involves disciplined and rigorous databasing and IT architecture. Automation and integration of the LOS, servicing platform and financial modeling software are important to foster efficiency and to reduce the possibility of human error.

2. Estimate fallout
Understanding fallout, as discussed, is imperative to the hedging process, and can contribute significantly to hedge tracking error. Factors impacting fallout include interest rate movements, product type, pipeline stage, borrower characteristics and origination channels.

3. Compute the hedge dollar amount
To determine the dollar amount that needs to be hedged, the risk manager must measure the market risk exposure associated with the mortgage assets, after adjusting for the expected fallout impact. Also depending on the institution’s circumstances, the mortgage servicing rights (MSR) asset volatility could also be important to model. Because the firm has a long position in mortgages, the firm should initiate a hedge by selling short the appropriate amount of TBA MBS.

A well-planned mortgage pipeline management program reduces the risk of the pipeline’s price volatility. Eliminating all risk would mean a perfect score, even if the hedge position resulted in a loss. Adjustments to the hedging process should reflect post-process evaluations of the accuracy of predictions, such as the back-testing of hedge ratios.

While internal hedging can bring cost savings, ultimately a hedge strategy is only as good as its execution. Thus, partnering with firms that are experienced in analysis and capital markets is often a prudent approach.



Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Financial Managers Society.

About the Author

Robert Perry, Principal – ALM and Investment Strategy, ALM First Financial Advisors, LLC
Robert Perry is a Principal at ALM First Financial Advisors. He is responsible for the ALM and Investment Strategy Groups, which includes development of asset liability and investment portfolio themes, as well as strategic focus for financial institution client portfolios primarily invested in the high credit quality sectors. He also is instrumental in balance sheet hedging strategy development.



AUGUST 16, 2017
Building an Optimal Investment Portfolio
By Robert B. Segal, CFA, Atlantic Capital Strategies, Inc.

Bank investment portfolios are an increasingly important part of balance sheet management. As portfolios have grown by 5.9% over the past year, according to the FDIC, they also produce a larger share of earnings. However, regulatory challenges and the low interest rate environment have pushed some into lopsided positions, such as high concentrations of agency notes and collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), with those institutions dealing with what are now sub-optimal portfolio allocations.

These investment portfolios show heightened risk exposures, whether through maturity extension, early call features or declining levels of income – less palatable sources of risk in an industry currently focused on improving earnings. In order to boost long-term performance while mitigating risk, investment officers should keep an eye on the following key areas.

Target Duration
Investment policy statements describe the framework by which the institution manages its portfolio. One goal is to enhance profitability within the overall asset/liability management objectives, while a second aim is to establish a process for implementing specific measures to manage sensitivity to interest rate changes.

Accordingly, management should establish a target level of duration that reflects the institution’s asset/liability position, income requirements and risk tolerance. Academic studies consistently show that longer-duration portfolios provide higher levels of income. At the same time, highly-leveraged institutions need liquidity to fund loans, and this may reduce the desired level of price sensitivity, causing the investment officer to “shorten-up.”

Maintaining duration, moreover, is an essential factor in preserving margin and maximizing net interest income. As portfolios age, duration can decline unless cash flows are reinvested back out on the curve; this “opportunity cost” limits earnings potential. Similarly, portfolios comprised exclusively of mortgage securities can extend if prepayments lag initial projections, creating unexpected interest rate risk. Investment officers should closely monitor their portfolios and take steps to ensure target durations are preserved to protect net interest income.

Diversification
Many portfolios become heavily weighted toward certain “comfortable” sectors. The returns fixed-income investors receive are determined by various factors, such as volatility of rates, credit and yield curve slope. An emphasis on callable agencies, for example, implies a reliance on returns from taking extension risk or prepayment risk.

With an expected drop in market rates, this institution will receive unwanted funds which must be reinvested at lower yields. Conversely, calls slow down in a rising-rate environment, providing less cash to put to work at better yields or to fund loans. A diversified portfolio (more call-protected assets, in this case) would keep cash flow fluctuations to a minimum, leading to improved portfolio performance.

Cash Flow
It is recommended that the treasury group prepare cash flow projections in a base case, as well as several alternate scenarios. An institution exposed to mortgage security prepayments, for example, can act in advance to protect against a decline in income in a falling-rate environment by either pre-investing or realigning the portfolio. The cash flow projections provide the information necessary to understand the position and evaluate suitable strategies, with the ultimate goal of establishing an optimal cash flow profile.

Bond Ladder
A laddered portfolio consists of securities that mature in successive years, starting in the short term and extending out to five years or longer. Assembling a stable basket of cash flows avoids locking in all one’s funds at “low” yields, while enabling the investor to pick up some additional income.

The benefit of a ladder is that as rates move higher, bonds coming due in the near term can provide funds for reinvestment when the alternatives may be more attractive. Depending on the institution’s preference and individual situation, the principal can be put to work at the desired maturity. If current yields are higher than the bonds rolling off, the institution is able to increase overall returns, boosting portfolio performance.

Fixed vs. Floating
Many investment officers wonder about the optimal strategy for deploying assets – whether to put on longer-term fixed-rate investments that pay a higher coupon or add floating-rate instruments that would benefit if rates rise. The investment officer might be considering two options: a five-year fixed-rate note yielding 2.4% or a similar term floating-rate bond priced at 90-Day LIBOR (1.3%) plus 50 basis points, for a current yield of 1.8%.

If the market forecast is correct, then the yield for the floating-rate bond will increase 25 basis points in September 2018 and a similar amount the following year – bringing the yield to 2.3% at September 2019. By contrast, the institution will have received a constant 2.4% for the fixed-rate option. Assuming a $1 million investment, the fixed-rate bond provides interest income of $72,000 over the three-year time horizon, compared with $65,250 for the “floater.” Even as the yield curve has flattened, fixed-rate assets may still provide higher levels of current income than floating-rate alternatives in the intermediate term.

Best Execution
In light of recent advances in technology, regulatory agencies such as FINRA have reiterated their commitment to ensuring best execution as a key investor protection requirement. FINRA stated in a November 2015 regulatory notice, for example, that the market for fixed-income securities has evolved significantly and transaction prices for most securities are widely available to market participants.

Broker/dealer transaction costs can vary greatly based on the scope of the transaction and access to the most liquid dealers. For example, the Bid-Ask Spread Index from MarketAxess shows that block trades on actively traded corporate bonds currently have a 3-basis-point bid-ask spread, and “odd lots” trade at 7 basis points. Individual transactions often trade at higher spreads, indicating that investors may be “leaving money on the table.” A more diligent approach toward trading efficiencies could help support the bottom line.

Municipal Bonds
Banks have boosted their holdings of municipal bonds steadily over the past decade, according to Federal Reserve statistics. Industry reports generally show that institutions holding larger percentages of municipal bonds tend to be the high performers, and banks holding at least 30% of their investment portfolios in munis are typically found in the first quartile for investment yield.

A primary benefit of municipal bonds is the long period of call protection. Bank treasurers may be relatively certain they’ll hold on to the initial yield for seven to ten years, regardless of interest rate movements. With considerable optionality on most bank balance sheets, municipals provide much-needed predictable cash flow. In addition, the municipal curve remains steep, providing some price protection for a rising-rate environment.

The Bottom Line
Taking some of these steps may enable management to build more efficient investment portfolios that generate higher levels of income over time. Building predictable cash flow characteristics provides the flexibility to manage the portfolio effectively within the context of the balance sheet, while also leading to stable returns.

Of course, the institution should consider its asset-liability position when making these decisions. Investment officers should also continue to maintain robust risk management practices, keeping interest rate risk exposure at reasonable levels.



Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Financial Managers Society.

About the Author

Robert B. Segal, CFA, Atlantic Capital Strategies, Inc.
Robert B. Segal is the founder and CEO of Atlantic Capital Strategies, Inc., and has over 35 years of experience in the banking industry, having worked in several community banks with roles in mortgage banking, sales and trading and asset-liability management. Bob is also currently a Director-at-Large on the FMS Board of Directors.