What is an “S-Curve” and Does it Matter if it Varies by Servicer?

Mortgage analysts refer to graphs plotting prepayment rates against the interest rate incentive for refinancing as “S-curves” because the resulting curve typically (vaguely) resembles an “S.” The curve takes this shape because prepayment rates vary positively with refinance incentive, but not linearly. Very few borrowers refinance without an interest rate incentive for doing so. Consequently, on the left-hand side of the graph, where the refinance incentive is negative or out of the money, prepayment speeds are both low and fairly flat. This is because a borrower with a rate 1.0% lower than market rates is not very much more likely to refinance than a borrower with a rate 1.5% lower. They are both roughly equally unlikely to do so.

As the refinance incentive crosses over into the money (i.e., when prevailing interest rates fall below rates the borrowers are currently paying), the prepayment rate spikes upward, as a significant number of borrowers take advantage of the opportunity to refinance. But this spike is short-lived. Once the refinance incentive gets above 1.0% or so, prepayment rates begin to flatten out again. This reflects a segment of borrowers that do not refinance even when they have an interest rate incentive to do so. Some of these borrowers have credit or other issues preventing them from refinancing. Others are simply disinclined to go through the trouble. In either case, the growing refinance incentive has little impact and the prepayment rate flattens out.

These two bends—moving from non-incentivized borrowers to incentivized borrowers and then from incentivized borrowers to borrowers who can’t or choose not to refinance—are what gives the S-curve its distinctive shape.

Figure 1: S-Curve Example

example s-curve.PNG

An S-Curve Example – Servicer Effects

Interestingly, the shape of a deal’s S-curve tends to vary depending on who is servicing the deal. Many things contribute to this difference, including how actively servicers market refinance opportunities. How important is it to be able to evaluate and analyze the S-curves for the servicers specific to a given deal? It depends, but it could be imperative.

In this example, we’ll analyze a subset of the collateral (“Group 4”) supporting a recently issued Fannie Mae deal, FNR 2017-11. This collateral consists of four Fannie multi-issuer pools of recently originated jumbo-conforming loans with a current weighted average coupon (WAC) of 3.575% and a weighted average maturity (WAM) of 348 months. The table below shows the breakout of the top six servicers in these four pools based on the combined balance.

Figure 2: Breakout of Top Six Servicers

Top 6 servicers breakout of FNR 2017-11 Group 4

Over half (54%) of the Group 4 collateral is serviced by these six servicers. To begin the analysis, we pulled all jumbo-conforming, 30-year loans originated between 2015 and 2017 for the six servicers and bucketed them based on their refi incentive. A longer timeframe is used to ensure that there are sufficient observations at each point. The graph below shows the prepayment rate relative to the refi incentive for each of the servicers as well as the universe.

Figure 3: S-Curve by Servicer

s-curve by servicer

For loans that are at the money—i.e., the point at which the S-curve would be expected to begin spiking upward—only those serviced by IMPAC prepay materially faster than the entire cohort. However, as the refi incentive increases, IMPAC, Seneca Mortgage, and New American Funding all experience a sharp pick-up in speeds while loans serviced by Pingora, Lakeview, and Wells behave comparable to the market.

The last step is to compute the weighted average S-curve for the top six servicers using the current UPB percentages as the weights, shown in Figure 4 below. On the basis of the individual servicer observations, prepays for out-of-the-money loans should mirror the universe, but as loans become more re-financeable, speeds should accelerate faster than the universe. The difference between the six-servicer average and the universe reaches a peak of approximately 4% CPR between 50 bps and 100 bps in the money. This is valuable information for framing expectations for future prepayment rates. Analysts can calibrate prepayment models (or their outputs) to account for observed differences in CPRs that may be attributable to the servicer, rather than loan characteristics.

Figure 4: Weighted Average vs. Universe

s curve: weighted average vs universe

This analysis was generated using RiskSpan’s data and analytics platform, RS Edge.