Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Navient and the Zombie SLABS Meltdown (Bill Harrington*)

I look forward to reviewing the quarterly and annual Student Loan Portfolio reports, courtesy of Dahn Shaulis and the College Meltdown. The biggest student loan company Navient (NAVI) is melting down too. In the year-to-date, NAVI has underperformed the S&P 500 by 33%! Since spinning out from Sallie Mae in April 2014, NAVI has underperformed the S&P 500 by 137%! (The S&P 500 is up 92% and NAVI is down 45%.)

NAVI's standing is even worse than the trading suggests, in large part because the company still finances itself with the type of asset-backed security ("ABS") deals that birthed and prolonged the 2008 financial crisis. Big Picture: Navient valuations of its student loan ABS deal are exceptionally generous (and that assessment is itself exceptionally generous). The most fantastical valuations are those of the many Navient ABS deals with long-dated maturities as far in the future as 2080, as well as the deals with embedded flip-clause-swap-contracts. Navient’s complete reliance on crisis-causing finance is a governance failure with real dollars-and-cents credit costs — costs that Navient vendors such as auditors, counsel, and credit rating companies ignore.

I pointed out the credit costs of Navient’s failed governance to the credit rating company Moody’s Investors Service in my critique of Moody’s proposed global credit rating methodology for ESG. Moody’s issued a comment request on the proposal and I replied. The non-profit research Croatan Institute, where I am a senior fellow, posts my submission. See pages 10-16 for some of the most egregious Navient governance failures that should spell credit rating downgrades for the ABS and for Navient the company.

Responsible Investor published my op-ed “Moody's ESG overhaul won't have any actual effect on credit ratings...” on October 19. The op-ed highlights the governance failure of Moody’s in proposing a worthless ESG overhaul and links to my methodology critique.

I’ve forwarded the critique of Moody’s ESG proposal to regulatory entities such as the SEC Office of Credit Ratings and the Office of Credit Rating Agency Supervision at the European Securities and Markets Association that should be holding Moody’s (and DBRS, Fitch Ratings, and S&P Global Ratings) feet to the fire. 

Likewise, I’ve forwarded my critique of Moody’s methodology to law enforcement, including the attorneys general of New Jersey and New York. Both have acknowledged receipt and review of my critique. Finally, I’ve let Moody’s know that I’ve alerted the regulators, law enforcement, and many others. Moody’s knows that a lot of eyes are watching how it finalizes the ESG proposal. If Moody’s improves the ESG methodology even a little, that could be a BIG problem for Navient. Here’s hoping.

*Bill Harrington is a Senior Fellow at Croatan Institute, “an independent, nonprofit research institute whose mission is to harness the power of investment for social good and ecological resilience by working at the critical nexus where sustainability, finance, and economic development intersect.”

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