[Editor’s note: Many of us have questions on marketplace lending loan valuation so when we were approached to see if we would be interested in a Q&A post on the subject we jumped at the chance. The Lend Academy team created the list of questions and Gunes Kulaligil, Director in Houlihan Lokey’s Financial Advisory Services business provided his answers.]
As Marketplace lenders continue to lend at a fast pace, there has been a significant increase in the past several years in non-bank consumer, student and small business lending. Although these platforms operate in a similar fashion, there is a wide variety of underwriting guidelines thereby producing loans with notably different credit profiles and terms. As a result, prepayment and default performance vary significantly based on the platform originating the loan and the credit grade of the loan as determined by the platform. Additionally, loan performance and platform performance have been mixed, with losses sometimes coming in higher than expected and governance issues shaking investor confidence in the sector.
Despite these challenges, origination rates have climbed back towards their prior highs, and funding sources have been expanded with increased interest from whole loan buyers in flow agreements as well as investors seeking to acquire tranches from securitizations. The recalibration of performance expectations has hit many platforms and continues to be an ongoing process, thus highlighting the need to determine the relevant default and prepayment drivers necessary for accurate fair value analyses. While a robust and liquid secondary whole loan trading market has not emerged as some market participants had hoped, secondary transactions are occurring, especially as loans are aggregated into securitizations. Many of these transactions occur at a premium to par and can provide meaningful insight into pricing and relative credit performance of one platform versus others over time.
1. What are the most prevalent methods of valuing loan portfolios today?
Discounted cashflow (DCF) methodology at the loan or cohort level is the most prevalent valuation methodology used today to value marketplace loan portfolios and related assets, including tranches in securitizations and servicing rights, regardless of the lending vertical. I emphasize “today” because marketplace lending is an evolving corner of consumer & business lending that is small and fragmented in general, with over a hundred lenders, both small and large, with a handful of large lenders accounting for the lion’s share of the issuance. Despite its still nascent nature, marketplace lending has caught the eye of nimble credit-focused alternative investment managers and the relatively risk averse large bond funds alike. Credit investors usually acquire whole loan portfolios or subordinate bonds off of securitizations on a levered basis, whereas many of the larger bond funds focus on the senior bonds in securitizations.
The investment thesis from the credit funds’ perspective is the opportunity to achieve mid single to double digit returns on a levered basis with a short duration versus the bond funds’ thesis which could essentially be described as a yield pickup strategy where the buyers expect to achieve unlevered single digit returns with shorter duration than whole loans and ample structural credit support present in securitizations in the form of subordination and excess spread. Non-bank lending owes its ability to attract the attention of such a diverse group of investors not only due to the sector’s capacity to offer a wide range of credit exposures and duration, but also due to its future growth potential with a confluence of support from increasingly tech-savvy borrower demographics, a de-regulatory environment and innovative partnerships in the Fintech ecosystem.
2. Are valuation methods standardized? If not, why not? How does this lack of a valuation standard affect investors?