Subprime Auto Loans May Be Hurtling Toward a Crash

Late payments are piling up on subprime auto loans, and investors could get burned

Jul 13, 2014 at 11:43AM

Flickr / Vincent Van Der Pas.

Vehicle sales have been a bright spot in the economic recovery, largely due to the increase in lending to customers with less-than-stellar credit. But cracks are appearing in the securities created from these dicey loans, and investors may be in for a rude awakening.

Two years in the making
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has raised a red flag in its Spring 2014 risk report, noting how lenders have aggressively pursued this loan market by offering loans to consumers with low credit scores. As vehicle prices rise and borrowers purchase extras such as extended warranties, loan terms stretch out further, increasing risk. 

Over the past year, charge-offs have increased for all lenders, including banks. The biggest player in auto loans is Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), which increased its car-loan activity by more than 11% in the first quarter of this year. One way it has done this is by lending to consumers with credit scores lower than 620, generally considered "subprime" territory. 

It wasn't that long ago that subprime auto lending looked like a sweet way for banks to make money, and delinquencies were low. Banks courted subprime borrowers as competition with non-bank lenders grew fiercer, but no problems seemed to be looming on the horizon late in the summer of 2013. 

Meantime, asset-backed securities were being stuffed with these subprime car loans, which were then sold to yield-hungry investors tired of piddling returns on less risky investments.


Flickr / uk homeoffice.

A bubble in the making?
A report by Standard & Poor's earlier this year showed that things were not necessarily as they seemed. Loans contained within those ABSes were showing signs of strain, with 30-day delinquency rates rising nearly 1.5 percentage points to 7.59% from September 2012 to September 2013.

Should investors be worried? Probably, but that isn't stopping them from snapping up these wobbly bonds, even as 60-day delinquency rates rise, too. With interest rates still achingly low, investors have taken a shine to securities that feature loans with interest rates as high as 26.55%. Investor losses are increasing, though, with S&P estimating year over year losses at 4.45% this past March from 3.88% previously.

Though the OCC is concerned about the increasing risk, it states that it will only monitor the situation for now, since loan portfolios at banks aren't in crisis. Wells Fargo isn't worried, either, noting that only 10% of its auto loan portfolio is comprised of subprime borrowers. Meanwhile, with vehicle sales surging this past June to the highest level in over five years, the subprime auto market shows no signs of downshifting just yet. 

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Amanda Alix has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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