Commentary: A Warning Shot to Subprime

Setting an example: Some industry insiders have suggested to us that the FDIC’s proposed cease and desist order against Fremont General was a “warning shot across the bow” to other FDIC-insured depositories engaged in originating similar subprime products… …whether that means that the FDIC is likely to take similar action against other lenders it regulates remains to be seen, but most we’ve spoken to seem to think that won’t be the case, if only because of the sheer size of some of the other FDIC-insured depositories (think Wells Fargo, WaMu, Wachovia). Run away! Run away!: Freddie went public with its new standards for subprime loans this week, but industry sources are buzzing much more about Wall Street’s less-publicized move to do the same thing this past week. It now looks as if March 1 was the cutoff date for more than few new underwriting standards — changes that would seem likely to claim a few more warehouse operations in the weeks ahead.

Sources have told us that Credit Suisse is allegedly no longer securitizing subprime seconds and has even tightened its guidelines for funding A-paper; if true, this would suggest that Credit Suisse expects the industry fallout to reach well beyond subprime. We’ve also heard from a few qualified sources that Wells Fargo is considering or has considered a subprime exit, and that Merrill Lynch tightened its underwriting guidelines on March 1 as well. How much of all of this is confirmed? Nearly none of it — the press relations folks at nearly every bank, Wall Street or otherwise, have been extremely tight-lipped about any changes in credit policy…. We can confirm, however, that First Franklin (which is owned by Merrill Lynch) has tightened its underwriting criteria, although it isn’t clear what programs have been affected. Information we’ve received suggests that First Franklin is no longer funding 100 percent or 80/20 combo subprime loans, and that the company has also eliminated its subprime seconds program. Not that Merrill is confirming any of this, of course….the Wall Street firm did admit that First Franklin has altered its lending guidelines, although it wouldn’t confirm which programs were eliminated. If you’ve got tips, information, or any other information you think we should know about, be sure to send us a shout out: [email protected]. We’re all ears. Add two more to the mix: Two additional large lenders not named Fremont or New Century delayed their SEC filings yesterday. Be sure to stay tuned for Monday’s news to not only learn who, but to get the inside scoop on why…. Full disclosure: The author of this commentary does not own securities in any of the publicly-held companies discussed herein. Housing Wire will always disclose the financial position of its writers or contributors, and we caution readers that the information provided in HW commentaries often represents a discussion of unconfirmed opinions.

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