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S&p Downgrades Prime Jumbo Mortgage Securities

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SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) - Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said Tuesday that it downgraded several securities backed by large, higher-quality mortgages, a sign the housing crisis has spread well beyond its subprime origins.

S&P said it lowered ratings on 102 classes from 33 U.S. prime jumbo residential mortgage-backed securities that were issued from 1998 to 2004. The rating agency also affirmed ratings on 669 classes from 32 of the downgraded deals, as well as 34 other deals.

"The downgrades reflect our opinion that projected credit support for the affected classes is insufficient to maintain the previous ratings, given our current projected losses," S&P said in a statement.

The financial crisis was sparked by rising delinquencies and foreclosures among less creditworthy home buyers who took out so-called subprime mortgages. However, these defaults triggered a broad, global financial crisis and a punishing recession. Unemployment has soared, which has fueled a second wave of mortgage defaults that's affected all types of home loans.

Prime mortgages are only offered to the most creditworthy borrowers, while jumbo mortgages are larger home loans that still conform to the standards of government-owned finance giants Fannie Mae (FNM 0.64, +0.01, +1.17%) and Freddie Mac (FRE 0.71, +0.01, +1.43%) .

Prime mortgages were originally thought to be less vulnerable to housing cycles. Home loans offered before 2005 -- when the lending binge really took off -- were also considered more solid. But the rapid increase in unemployment has undermined these assumptions.

Two important things to take away here:

1.) These were Prime mortgages (supposedly the highest quality). Jumbo also refers to the high loan amount.

2.) S&P are downgrading stuff written in 1998. That's pre-bubble. Pretty scary.


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Covering their own bottoms?

Yep, the rating agencies have been trying to do that a lot, since their total incompetence and conflict of interest were exposed.


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