Lending market remains 'very strong' despite rise in delinquencies, subprime

As long as delinquencies remain near recent lows, a moderate increase in delinquencies is probably good news for dealerships, since it indicates lenders are competing for business and making credit available, auto finance experts say.

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Auto loan delinquencies and subprime penetration are rising, but not uniformly and not fast enough to worry about.

That’s the takeaway from audience responses to straw polls taken during a Webinar hosted last week by Equifax and Moody’s titled “Automotive Credit and Lending Outlook.”

The views of the online audience, which included executives from auto lenders and F&I vendors, confirmed what analysts have been saying for several quarters now.

As long as delinquencies remain near recent lows, a moderate increase in delinquencies is probably good news for dealerships, since it indicates lenders are competing for business and making credit available, according to auto finance experts.

“The overall perspective is that auto lending is a very strong market,” said Cristian deRitis, senior director for Moody’s analytics, who gave a presentation during the Webinar.

‘Pockets of concern’

DeRitis said outside of some regional “pockets of concern,” including some Southern states and regions within states, such as parts of Southern California, auto loan delinquencies are very close to their historic lows and in many cases lower than they were before the housing bust at the start of the last recession.

“Lenders have tightened up their processes. The economy has improved. The economic environment is much better than it was back in 2007,” he said.

In a survey conducted during the Webinar, audience members were given a selection of responses to the question: “Over the last six months, our auto loan delinquencies have been ... .” The response choices were “falling fast,” “falling slowly,” “steady,” rising slowly” and “rising fast.”

The most popular response from the audience was “steady,” at 44 percent; followed by “rising slowly,” at 31 percent. The Webinar had an audience of about 200; 55 people responded to the delinquency survey, Equifax said.

The results of the Webinar poll dovetail the most recent delinquency numbers from Experian Automotive. According to Experian, 30-day delinquencies accounted for 2.26 percent of outstanding auto loans in the fourth quarter of 2013, a barely measurable increase from 2.22 percent a year earlier.

Subprime up slightly

In another poll taken during the Webinar, audience members were asked whether subprime loans had increased or decreased in the last six months as a percentage of new originations. “Increased slightly” was the most popular answer, at 43 percent. “Stayed about the same” was next, at 36 percent. There were 39 respondents.

Moody’s deRitis said even though subprime penetration is slowly rising, it’s still below prerecession levels. He said customers with credit scores of 620 or below, considered to be subprime, accounted for around 20 percent of loan originations in the fourth quarter vs. around 30 percent prerecession.

“It’s very important to keep these numbers in perspective,” deRitis said. “At this point it doesn’t seem as though the market is terribly overheated or that we’re anywhere near a bubble, despite some reports that are out there.”

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com.

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