Structured finance is a broad term used to describe a sector of finance that was created to help transfer risk using complex legal and corporate entities. This risk transfer as applied to of various financial assets (e.g. mortgages, credit card receivables, auto loans, etc.) has helped to open up new sources of financing to consumers. However, it arguably contributed to the degradation in underwriting standards for these financial assets, which helped give rise to both the credit bubble of the mid-2000s and the credit crash and financial crisis of 2007-2009.
Securitization is the method utilized by participants of structured finance to create the pools of assets that are used in the creation of the end product financial instruments.
Tranching is an important concept in structured finance because it is the system used to create different investment classes for the securities that are created in the structured finance world. Tranching allows the cash flow from the underlying asset to be diverted to the various investor groups. The Committee on the Global Financial System explained tranching succinctly: “A key goal of the tranching process is to create at least one class of securities whose rating is higher than the average rating of the underlying collateral pool or to create rated securities from a pool of unrated assets. This is accomplished through the use of credit support (enhancement), such as prioritization of payments to the different tranches.”
Credit enhancement is a key in creating a security that has a higher rating than the issuing company. Credit enhancement can be created by issuing subordinate bonds. The subordinate bonds are allocated any losses from the collateral before losses are allocated to the Senior Bonds, thus giving senior bonds a credit enhancement. Also, many deals, typically deals involving riskier collateral such as subprime and Alt-A, use overcollateralization as well as subordination. In Overcollateralization, the balance of the Loans is greater than the balance of the Bonds, thus creating excess interest in the deal. Excess interest can be used to offset collateral losses before losses are allocated to Bondholders thus providing another added credit enhancement. Another credit enhancement involves the use of derivatives such as swap.
Ratings play an important role in structured finance.
There are numerous structures which may involve mezzanine risk participation, Options and Futures within structuring of financing as well as multiple stripping of interest rate strips. There is no laid-out fixed structure unlike in Securitization which is only a subset of the overall structured transactions. Esoteric transactions often have multiple lenders and borrowers distributed by distribution agents where the Structuring entity may not be involved in the transaction at all.
- Asset-backed securities (ABS) are bonds or notes based on pools of assets, or collateralized by the cash flows from a specified pool of underlying assets.
- Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are asset-backed securities the cash flows of which are backed by the principal and interest payments of a set of mortgage loans.
- Collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs) are securitizations of mortgage-backed securities.
- Collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) consolidate a group of fixed income assets such as high-yield debt or asset-backed securities into a pool, which is then divided into various tranches.
- Collateralized bond obligations (CBOs) are CDOs backed primarily by corporate bonds.
- Collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) are CDOs backed primarily by leveraged bank loans.
- Commercial Real Estate Collateralized debt obligations (CRE CDOs) are CDOs backed primarily by commercial real estate loans and bonds.
- Credit derivatives are contracts to transfer the risk of the total return on a credit asset falling below an agreed level, without transfer of the underlying asset.
- Collateralized Fund Obligations (CFOs) are securitizations of private equity and hedge fund assets.