Eoin Treacy's view -
Since 2013, the federal regulatory agencies have been warning banks and investors about the potential risks in leveraged lending. These warnings have been both timely and prescient, particularly in view of the ongoing credit debacle in the Energy sector. In addition to the well-documented credit risk posed by leverage loans, we believe that the widespread practice of selling participations in leveraged loans represents a significant additional risk to financial institutions and other investors from this asset class.
While regulators have appropriately focused on the credit risk component of leveraged loans held by banks and nonbanks alike, the use of participations to distribute risk exposures to other banks and nonbank investors also raises significant prudential and systemic risk concerns. The weakness in oil prices, for example, has caused investors to cut exposure to companies in the Energy sector. This shift in asset allocations caused by the decline in oil prices has negatively impacted prices for leveraged loans and high yield bonds. In some cases, holders of these securities are attempting to exit these exposures by securitizing the participations.
The investor exodus away from leveraged loans with exposure to the petroleum sector brings back memories of the 1970s oil bust, an economic shock that led to the failure of Penn Square Bank in 1982, the subsequent failure of Seafirst Bank later in that year, followed by Continental Illinois Bank in 1984. Before its failure, Penn Square technically continued to "own" — and service — loan interests held by other banks with participations. As receiver for the failed bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. deemed those investors to be nothing more than general creditors of the failed bank's estate. Those participating banks lost their entire investment.
Leveraged loans issuance overtook the 2007 peak a couple of years ago. That fact is bemusing to many people who remember claims that bankers would never again engage in such activity. Yet with interest rates so low and the demand for yield so high the rationale for issuing to less than optimal borrowers is hard to resist.
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