Collateralized debt obligations take an asset and slice it into an investment that offers various levels of risk and reward. These asset-backed securities consist of bank loans as well as fixed income issues such as bonds and similar debt instruments.
In this article, we're going to be discussing the topic of collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs. As part of that discussion we'll talk briefly about the history of these investments. Next, we'll talk about how CDOs are structured, including an example that demonstrates how the tranches might be sold to investors. Then we'll finish up with the pros and cons of these investments, including some of the lessons learned in 2007.
Back in 1987, bankers at Drexel Burnham Lambert, Inc. issued the first CDO. Also referred to as synthetic investments or asset-backed synthetic securities, the size of the CDO market would grow slowly until 2001 when David X. Li, a Chinese quantitative analyst, developed Gaussian copula models capable of rapidly pricing CDOs. In 2006, the global market for these investments would peak at $520 billion.
The rapid growth of this market is attributed to the relatively high returns these securities offered investors. Typically, a CDO would provide returns that were 2 to 3% higher than bonds carrying the same credit rating. The way these securities were structured played a big role not only in their popularity, but also their downfall.
The term collateralized debt obligation is used interchangeably with more descriptive subsets including:
|CDO Type||Asset Used as Collateral|
|Collateralized Bond Obligations (CBO)||Corporate Bonds|
|Collateralized Insurance Obligations (CIO)||Insurance Contracts|
|Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLO)||Bank Loans|
|Commercial Real Estate CDO (CRE CDO):||Commercial Real Estate|
|Collateralized Synthetic Obligations (CSO)||Credit Derivatives|
|Structured Finance CDO (SFCDO)||Asset Backed Securities|
At the core of this structure is a collateral portfolio. These are the debt instruments, which can be bank loans, fixed income securities such as bonds, or other forms of debt. As borrowers make payment, money flows into the CDO structure.
The CDO is then sliced into what are called tranches. Each tranche carries a different combination of risk and reward. For example, the selection of tranches might include:
To summarize the structure of a CDO, we have:
The example below illustrates how the above structure works in practice.
In this example, there is a $100 collateral portfolio that is composed of debt at 6%. To pay for this collateral, the CDO is divided into four tranches:
In this example, the $75.00 of Class A would pay out $3.75 ($75.00 x 5.0%) in interest each year, Class B pays out $0.90 ($15.00 x 6.0%), and Class C pays out $0.45 ($5.00 x 9.0%). Of the remaining $0.90 ($6.00 - $3.75 - $0.90 - $0.45), $0.20 is used to pay for fees, leaving the Equity holders with a return of 14.0% ($0.70 / $5.00).
As is the case with most investments, there is always a balance of risk and rewards. The advantages and disadvantages of these investments are summarized below:
This risk of default is exactly what happened in the collateralized mortgage obligations market. The CMOs created back in the 2004 to 2006 timeframe were loaded with sub-prime mortgages. As long as homes increased in value, borrowers could continue to make payment on their mortgages, oftentimes using additional debt such as home equity loans.
When the housing bubble burst, these sub-prime borrowers could no longer afford their monthly mortgage payments. Defaults on loans quickly followed, rendering CMOs nearly worthless. The fallout from these defaults was felt around the globe, and the $520 billion CDO marketplace would shrink to $4.3 billion by 2009.
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