Prosper to Provide Secondary Lending Market

Today I received an email from Prosper to notify me that they are entering a quiet period, as they register with the proper securities authorities for a secondary lending market. What is a secondary lending market? It is a market where you can buy and sell loans that have already been originated. This provides additional liquidity, as you are no longer bound to wait 36 months until maturity and you can sell loans before they complete the full term.

In a typical secondary market, the net present value of a loan depends on the expected future cash flows and a discount rate. The discount rate is the interest rate on the loan often with an additional risk premium. When interest rates fall, the net present value of existing loans will rise. This is because older loans were originated at higher rates and are more valuable. When interest rates rise, the net present value of existing loans falls since new loans can be originated at higher rates and provide greater cash flow.

I have a feeling that at least initially, the Prosper market will not behave like a typical secondary lending market. I think that either one of two things will happen:

  1. People that regret having tied up their money for 36 months will put their loans up for sale. In desperation they may be willing to accept very low prices for the loans. This will present a great opportunity for investors to purchase higher yielding loans.
  2. People will be greedy and attempt to sell their loans for much higher prices than they are worth. Investors will not bother buying them since they can just originate more attractive loans. It would be an illiquid market, very much like the broader credit markets are right now.

It will certainly be interesting to see exactly what happens. Perhaps neither will happen and the market will function in a relatively normal manner. I’m sure that Prosper will probably provide some tools to provide guidance to those selling loans to ensure some liquidity within the market. Prosper will want the market to be as liquid as possible, because they will very likely receive fees for sales within the secondary market.

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  • $15 Produce Shopping List

    A few weeks ago, I spoke about a family trip to the farmer’s market where we managed to buy all of our produce for $20. The cost savings of purchasing from the farmer’s market doesn’t cease to amaze me. This weekend we spent $15 on the following items:

    • Basket of 7 (small – med size) tomatoes: $2.00
    • Basket of green beans: $2.00
    • 4 Golden Delicious Apples: $1.00
    • 4 Red Apples: $1.00
    • 2 Large Red Onions: $1.00
    • 2 Large Onions: $1.00
    • 10 Yellow Squash: $2.00
    • 5 Cucumbers: $1.00
    • 4 large Zucchini: $2.00
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    The cost of living where we live (Jacksonville, Florida) is relatively low, but regardless it provides a substantial savings on what these items would cost us at the grocery store. My wife says this shopping list would have easily cost double at Publix (the preferred grocery store in Florida), and the quantity of items would probably have been smaller. To ensure nothing goes to waste she cut up and froze a portion of the beans, squash, zucchini, and peppers. The onions can be cut and frozen as well, but we plan on using them soon. I still swear by the farmer’s market, and I highly recommend you check out the nearest one to you. It could save you hundreds of dollars a year on your grocery bills.

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  • Media Does not Understand the Federal Reserve System

    This morning a friend of mine shared an article titled: AIG borrows 57 percent of government loan. The very first thought that came to my mind was, “I don’t remember hearing anything about AIG ever receiving any government loans.” The article states:

    The U.S. government had originally said it would loan AIG, once the world’s biggest insurer, $85 billion, but increased that to $122.8 billion on Wednesday as the company races to sell assets to pay off the loan before the credit turmoil makes buyers harder to come by.

    When I read this it made me sick to my stomach. Not because of the staggering sums of money being lent to AIG, but because it is not a government loan. My initial thought was correct, as AIG has never received any government loans. Granted Reuters is a British based company, but you would think that if they are going to report on U.S. financial news, they would ensure that their reporters understand the Federal Reserve System.

    Unfortunately I would seem that such errant reporting is not limited to foreign reporters. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the Fed is purchasing commercial paper to provide some additional liquidity to the credit markets (I came to learn of the NYT article from MyTwoDollars). Within the New York Times article the authors state:

    While the move will put more taxpayer dollars at risk, it underscores the growing sense of urgency felt by policy makers in a climate where lending has virtually dried up.

    I’m not exactly sure how it puts more taxpayer dollars at risk, because the Federal Reserve is independent within government, and generates its own revenue with Open Market Operations. If you look at the Federal Reserve’s 2007 income statement, you’ll see no line items that indicate income from taxes. If the Fed incurs any losses, they would be losses for the Fed not taxpayers.

    With all of the recent focus on the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (aka the $700 billion “bailout”), the media finds it convenient to label everything as a government-sponsored act. It is sensationalistic and inaccurate to equate the actions of the Federal Reserve as actions of the U.S. government. The next time you see the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government mentioned within the same article, be sure to take what you read with a grain of salt. It is likely that the author may not really understand how the Federal Reserve System works.

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    On Friday, Congress passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. Since its peak on Friday, the Dow has gone down as far as almost 1000 points, or nearly 10%. Asian and European markets tanked on opening Monday and the U.S. markets have followed suit. If you’re confused as to why the markets have not rallied in response to the bailout, it is because the bailout has nothing to do with the stock market. If you read my post on the initial defeat of the bailout, then you’ll see that the stock market and credit markets are completely separate markets.

    So why are the stock markets down in response to the passing of the bill? Although the bill has passed, the fact remains that credit markets are still failing and it is still difficult to borrow money. The credit markets really act as a fuel for the economy, as they make capital readily available that otherwise wouldn’t be. Capital allows companies to make capital investments (purchase of plant & equipment, i.e. long-term assets) for corporate growth which results in economic growth as well. Consumer credit also allows consumers to make purchases they may not otherwise be able to make if they could not repay them over time. This also helps to stimulate the economy. Without credit the economy suffers. The market value of stocks is fundamentally based on future cash flows (how much money companies are expected to make and grow), so when the economic outlook is poor stock prices will suffer.

    It will take time before the situation in the credit markets improve and ultimately the stock markets improve as well. So what can you do to protect yourself? That of course depends on your overall situation and your tolerance for risk. If you are in it for the long haul and you have long positions on some stocks or exchange traded funds that you do not intend to sell, you might want to consider selling covered calls. The VIX (CBOE Volatility Index) is currently over 50, which means that huge premiums are being paid for options. This is premium you could pocket by selling covered calls.

    However, one problem with this strategy is that if you are below your cost basis (very likely), you would be locking in losses by selling calls at strikes below your cost basis, if a miraculous recovery takes place before the expiration of the option you sell. If it takes a long time for the stock markets to recover (which I believe it will), you can sell slightly out-of-the money covered calls month after month and help to some of your losses and use your positions to generate income. Another problem with the strategy is that if the stock markets continue to fall rapidly, you’d just be better off liquidating your positions rather than trying to use covered calls for income. The income from the covered calls may not be sufficient to recover continuing losses.

    If selling covered calls doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, but you are still in it for the long haul then you probably should simply do nothing. If you can’t stand watching your portfolio continue to fall, you may want to consider selling off and holding on to your cash in an FDIC insured account. If retirement is a long way off, you should continue to contribute to your 401k and IRAs. If you can afford it, you might even want to try increasing your contributions a bit. If you are approaching retirement, hopefully you’ve adjusted your asset allocation accordingly and your portfolio is not heavily weighted in equities. There is one thing I’m certain about and it’s that the stock market will eventually recover. Even in the worst of times, they always do. I take solace in that and you should too.

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    Last week I asked if democracy will prevail, and earlier this week it did.  The Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was defeated in the House of Representatives by a vote of 225 to 208.  Although the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered the largest point loss ever, I was pleased to see that the majority of House members listened to constituents and defeated the bill.  A lot of it probably has to do with the upcoming election, which is a big incentive for incumbent representatives to listen to constituents in order to assure reelection.  I suspect that eventually some sort of relief package will be passed, but it is good to see that Congress will take some time to draft a bill that makes sense.

    I was watching the news last night and it was rather upsetting to listen to a member of Congress speaking about the issue in terms of what was taking place in the stock markets.  He spoke as if the purpose of passing the bill was to increase market value and restore losses experienced in 401k accounts.  Most politicians blaming are Wall Street for the woes in the credit markets, when in fact Wall Street has very little to do with it.  It is unsettling when those drafting legislation of such magnitude do not appear to understand that the securities markets and credit markets are two separate markets.

    Politicians are quick to blame lack of oversight and immoral CEOs for what has transpired, when in fact it is really no one’s fault.  When capital becomes available as easily as it did over the past several years, one should expect a lot of lending to take place to the point where even unqualified individuals are receiving substantial loans that they are incapable of paying back.  If anything is to blame, it is the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve from several years ago.  If any government oversight should be put into place, it should preside over the actions of the Federal Reserve Board, not the banks.

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