By Kandarp Srinivasan
Financial contracts such as repurchase agreements (“repos”) have effective “super-priority” in a bankruptcy situation—they are safe harbored from the automatic stay provision. The common justification for this special treatment is the threat of cascade effects (systemic risk). The 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (“BAPCPA”) expanded safe harbor provisions for repos collateralized by mortgage-related securities.
This paper highlights an unintended consequence of preferential treatment: Safe harbor exemptions increased incentives for financial institutions to issue complex securitized products. From an economic standpoint, an increase in demand for collateral in repo markets can cause securitized products to become more attractive to issue (Gorton and Metrick (2012)). This theoretical premise has remained untested so far.
Using data from bank holding companies and underwriters of structured mortgage products, this paper finds an increase in mortgage securitization activity in years preceding the financial crisis. Hand-collected data on repo collateral in the tri-party repo market reveals underwriters of securitized products increased use of mortgage-backed repos in the quarters following the law change.
Understanding the securitization “flash flood” is important because regulatory responses during the financial crisis (for example, TARP) were primarily targeted at buying securitized assets. Yet, the Dodd-Frank Act directs little attention to repurchase markets (Acharya (2010)). If safe harbor contributed to the proliferation of securitized products, it renews the debate (Roe (2011), Duffie and Skeel (2012)) on the costs and benefits of preferential treatment of financial contracts in bankruptcy.