From subprime mortgage issues to superprime mortgage issues

The most recent financial uncertainty includes mortgages in a superprime era:

Photo by Expect Best on

This is quite the turnaround. After 2008, banking the rich was often touted as a far better model. Even the biggest banks began aiming more of their consumer lending and wealth management at relatively better-off customers, and they scaled back on serving subprime customers. Wealthy customers seldom default, they bring lots of cash and commercial banking business and pay big fees for investments and advice, the thinking went.

But when interest rates shot up last year, it exposed weaknesses in the strategy. It isn’t that the rich are defaulting on loans in droves. But the most flush depositors with excess cash last year started taking their cash and seeking out higher yields in online banks, money funds or Treasurys. On top of that, startups and other private businesses started burning more cash, leading to deposit outflows…

A major way that the better-off do borrow from banks is to buy homes, and often in the form of what are known as jumbo mortgages. Jumbos are for loan amounts over $726,200 in most places, and over $1,089,300 in high-cost cities such as New York or San Francisco. Jumbo mortgages bring wealthy customers with lots of cash. They also are typically more difficult to sell to the market, in part because they aren’t guaranteed by government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. So banks often sit on them. But the value of these mortgages, many of which are fixed at low rates for the foreseeable future, have dropped as interest rates have risen.

To be sure, not all banks that focus on wealthier individual clients are under intense pressure. Shares of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, are down less than half as much this month as the nearly 30% decline for the KBW Nasdaq Bank index. But those banks are more diversified and focus more on the steadier, fee-generating parts of the wealth business, such as stock trading and asset management, than on mortgages or deposits.

I interpret this to mean that there is less money – or lower rates of return – to be made on big mortgages. Wealthy people will want to buy real estate, particularly because it is often assumed that the value of real estate will be good long-term, but the money does not generate the amount of money banks want.

If mortgages are too “boring” or do not generate enough money, could we be headed to an era where banks do not want to do mortgages? Money for mortgages could come from elsewhere.

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