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June 29, 2020 | Lenders Hit By Contracting Credit and Rising Bad Debts

Danielle Park

Portfolio Manager and President of Venable Park Investment Counsel ( Ms Park is a financial analyst, attorney, finance author and regular guest on North American media. She is also the author of the best-selling myth-busting book "Juggling Dynamite: An insider's wisdom on money management, markets and wealth that lasts," and a popular daily financial blog:

From March 1 through the end of May, Americans deferred debt payments on 106 million different loans, according to credit-reporting firm TransUnion, triple the number at the end of April.

In addition to missing payments on student and auto loans, 8.8% (4.68 million) of American homeowners were in forbearance plans delaying their mortgage payments for at least three months.  By comparison, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimate that 12% of Canadian mortgage holders deferred their payments in June, and expect this number to reach 20% by September.

The initial deferral presumption was that most people would be back to work by September and loan payments could resume.  But as the virus continues and social distancing requirements persist, this presumption is looking increasingly naive and begs the question of how many deferrals will end up as defaults and loan losses for lenders.

In the meantime, credit transmission is slowing through the economy.  It is difficult to tell who represents a good credit risk for new offers.  Deferrals under forbearance plans do not appear as delinquencies on credit reports, and it is hard to tell who is deferring because they lack the income to pay, and who has the income but are choosing to take the deferral.  At the same time, financial insecurity is reducing the appetite for even able consumers to borrow more.

One thing is for sure, lower credit originations along with rising provisions for bad debts add up to lower profit-prospects for lenders.  See WSJ, ‘Flying blind into a credit storm’:  Widespread deferrals mean banks can’t tell who’s creditworthy:

An estimated 79,000 personal loans were extended in the week ended May 10, compared with 226,000 in the week ended March 22, according to Equifax Inc. Auto loan and lease originations fell to 266,000 from 390,000 during the same period. General-purpose credit-card originations totaled 483,000, down from 856,000. In 2019, weekly card originations rarely fell below 1.2 million.

Lenders that are having a tough time spotting risky loan applicants are approving fewer borrowers for credit cards, auto loans and other consumer debt. They are also hunting for new data sets that could indicate who is in financial trouble and how much they need to set aside to cover soured loans. The Federal Reserve last week said the biggest U.S. banks could be saddled with as much as $700 billion in loan losses in a prolonged downturn.

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June 29th, 2020

Posted In: Juggling Dynamite

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