WASHINGTON — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Thursday that it would temporarily leave in place a hands-off policy toward securitized assets at a failed bank, but warned it is considering imposing additional conditions on securitizers that want to remain exempted.
The agency said it will continue until April to protect securitizations from bank seizures, easing market fears that the FDIC might move to claim them. But agency officials, citing how mortgage securitization helped upend the financial system last year, said the FDIC will propose a new policy next month that removes a blanket exemption for all securitizers.
"It's fully appropriate and necessary to provide a transitional safe harbor," FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said at the agency's board meeting. "However, while I believe a transitional safe harbor is appropriate, we cannot ignore the past. … We've all seen the role that the originate-to-distribute model for mortgage finance played in the buildup to the financial crisis."
The move came as the FDIC also finalized its plan for institutions to prepay three years of premiums totaling $45 billion, and signed off on a rule requiring loan originators to file with a new mortgage licensing registry.
The decision on securitizations was closely watched by credit card issuers and other players in the arena. Since 2000, the FDIC had kept off-balance-sheet sales of securitized assets safe from the agency's resolution process. But that special status was called into question by a June decision from the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which requires securitizations to go back on to banks' balance sheets starting as early as this month.
If the FDIC had not acted Thursday, on-balance-sheet securitizations would no longer comply with the criteria the agency had outlined for the exemption in its 2000 rule.
As a result, asset-backed securities could have faced sharp rating downgrades, and possible disinterest from investors worried they would not get paid if an originating bank failed. Some securitization deals — particularly by credit card issuers — were already being held up as the market awaited an FDIC decision.
Industry representatives applauded the agency for temporarily extending the safe harbor.
"The application of" the 2000 "rule had been cast in doubt by accounting standards changes that will take effect for reporting periods after" Nov. 15, Tom Deutsch, the deputy executive director of the American Securitization Forum, said in a press release. "Today's action by the FDIC board will resolve this uncertainty and will allow bank securitizations of credit card and auto loans to resume."
But in light of concerns about securitization's role in the crisis, FDIC officials said the move allows the agency time to develop a broader rule. Bair criticized securitization's role leading up to the crisis, saying it "did provide the vehicle for a flood of money coming into mortgage investments."
The agency's conditions on the exemption from the failure resolution process would aim to prevent securitizers from repeating past mistakes, she said.
"These conditions will allow insured banks and thrifts to properly securitize loans in a way that will align incentives to support sustainable lending," Bair said. "They will also support a structured-finance process that does not create land mines for banks, investors and our financial system."
Fellow board members agreed that a more comprehensive policy was needed, and said the other agencies will participate in developing a broader rule.
"It's very necessary that we go forward and clarify" the safe harbor "in the short term, while also having a robust interagency process for developing a rule in the longer term," said John Dugan, the comptroller of the currency.
The FDIC also finished its rule requiring up-front cash from banks and thrifts for their assessed premiums through 2012. Under the final plan, which was largely identical to the proposal, banks and thrifts must provide cash up front for premiums due in the fourth quarter as well as in all of 2010, 2011 and 2012. But institutions can report the expenses gradually, as if they were paying an assessment each quarter.
The agency moved up by 18 months the date when it will return unneeded portions of the prepayment to the industry, to June 30, 2013.