SEC Ruling a Victory for Transparency

The SEC announced new rules a few weeks ago regarding structured finance and securitization. One rule was covered extensively in the press and has been criticized as more “extend and pretend.” The other, which was not as well covered, is a huge victory for those of us seeking more CMBS transparency.

The well-covered rule granted CMBS loan servicers more leeway in restructuring loans before they go into default. This issue was pushed by trade groups representing property owners under the hope that loans could be extended within the CMBS structure before going into payment default, which would help liquidity issues. Critics say that ruling just promotes the “extend and pretend” mentality.

A second ruling was not covered as extensively in the press, but it represents a huge victory for those of us seeking more transparency in CMBS.

The SEC ruled that issuers of structured products have to share the underlying data (rent rolls, underwriting assumptions, financial models) with all rating agencies, regardless of whether they were hired to rate the deal or not. The intent of the SEC was to discourage the issuers from “shopping for ratings” and to allow all rating agencies to provide analysis/ratings on deals, even if they were not hired by the issuer.

In CMBS, this issue was pushed successfully by Rob Dobilas, CEO of Realpoint (congrats Rob!). Realpoint is a rating agency with a different business model than the others. They rate all CMBS deals and sell their opinions to investors on a subscription model. In contrast, the traditional agencies only rate deals for which they were hired and paid by the issuers. Until now, Realpoint has had to rely on available IRP data and their own additional work to provide the ratings. With the new rules, they will be able to get the full issuer package — which includes data that is critically missing from the current IRP.

DBRS is another rating agency poised to gain from this ruling. They were left off most deals in 2006 and 2007 because they refused to rate deals as aggressively as the big three. In the future, they also will have rights to all the data and will be free to express opinions on all deals, not just the ones they were paid to rate.

Now, the question is, what about the data providers? We at provide IRP data feeds to DBRS to support their ratings and surveillance activities, and I know Trepp provides its data to Fitch. So, do the data providers also get the “full package?” If so, can we share that data directly with our CMBS investor clients?

These and other questions will be answered over the next several months, but the momentum is clearly moving toward more transparency. If all the rating agencies get all the data, how far behind will the investors themselves be from getting all the data? And if they get all the data (delivered in IRP 6 XML of course), then CMBS will truly become transparent.

The SEC ruling was a big first step in that direction.

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Jim Flaherty is CEO of and the creator of the Backshop loan origination system. He is a trained credit professional with experience installing enterprise underwriting systems for commercial real estate lenders, rating agencies and investors.

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