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What is an Asset-Backed Security?

Understanding Asset-Backed Securities (ABS)

An Asset-Backed Security (ABS) is a form of investment, typically a bond or a note, which is secured by an underlying pool of assets. These assets, in most cases, generate a cash flow, typically from debt such as loans, leases, credit card balances, or receivables. ABS, therefore, serves as a form of collateralized debt, with its underlying assets serving as the collateral.

The world of finance is abundant with various types of ABS, all carrying their distinct characteristics, purposes, and cash flow sources. These include assets with fairly predictable cash flows such as credit card debt, home equity loans, auto loans, student loans, and more. Interestingly, there is a growing trend towards using cash flows from royalties of creative works such as movies and books, accounts receivables for a business, and other non-debt sources.

The ABS and its Relatives: MBS, CDO, and CMO

Commonly, ABS is associated with other types of securities such as Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS), Collateralized Mortgage Obligations (CMO), and Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO). Each of these asset classes, while sharing a common theme of being backed by a pool of assets, have distinct characteristics and applications.

MBS and CMO, for instance, fall under the broader category of ABS. However, these two asset classes emerged earlier than ABS, leading to specific rules and legislation shaping them differently. CDOs, on the other hand, are even more complex. They represent another layer of pooling and tranching where ABS and MBS are bundled together, divided into tranches, and sold as different classes of shares.

ABS: Risk Factors and Investment Appeal

In the financial markets, ABS inherently carries a higher prepayment risk when compared to the larger pools of CDOs or the more insulated PAC instruments. This is due to the fact that they can be tranched on their own. Nevertheless, ABS can be part of the pool of assets that are tranched in a CDO, but only if they meet certain criteria.

Despite these inherent risks, ABS remains appealing to income-oriented investors due to their characteristic of paying a steady stream of interest, akin to bonds. By pooling assets and packaging them into a security, a process called securitization, financial institutions are able to sell these to investors looking for a reliable income stream.

Key Takeaways in the ABS Landscape

Asset-Backed Securities serve as an integral part of the financial ecosystem, with their unique role of transforming a variety of income-generating assets into investable securities. The securitization process provides an avenue for companies to offload their loans or debts to financial institutions, which then creates investment opportunities for income-focused investors. This dynamism and flexibility make ABS a popular choice in the financial market, despite the inherent risks associated with them. It is therefore crucial for investors to have a clear understanding of the underlying assets and the securitization process before making an investment decision in ABS.

Asset-backed securities are bonds or notes that come in several forms, but they typically use the cash flows from debt repayment as the asset that backs them.

The assets that back the bonds called asset-backed securities (ABS) can be basically anything with a fairly predictable cash flow, but debt repayment cash flows tend to be used the most. These include credit card debt, home equity loans, auto loans, student loans, and so forth.

When we think of ABS, we tend to lump them together with Collateralized Mortgage Obligations and Mortgage Backed Securities. If we constructed a taxonomy or hierarchy of such securities, MBS would be a subset of ABS, in theory.

In reality, because the mortgage-backed securities came first and may even have specific rules and legislation which shaped them before similar securities appeared on the scene, these categories remain distinct. Interestingly, the bond notes known as Collateralized Debt Obligations are considered distinct from ABS as well since they are just downstream.

CDOs and CMOs take their upstream counterparts of ABS and MBS, pool them once again, and divide them into tranches, and sell off the various classes of shares. Asset-backed securities themselves can be tranched, but alone they have a higher prepayment risk than the larger pools of CDOs or the more insulated PAC instruments.

They are pooled and divided into tranches in the CDO — and that is only if they meet the criteria to be included in a CDO. Some asset-backed securities use cash flows from the royalties of creative works (movies, books, etc), accounts receivables for a business, or various other non-debt sources. Asset backed securities sometimes have payments secured by insurance contracts known as financial guaranty insurance.

What was the Subprime Meltdown?
What are Asset-Backed Securities?
What is Collateral?
What is a Credit Rating?

Disclaimers and Limitations

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