ICE’s $12bn mortgage tech deal builds heft in US residence loans

Intercontinental Alternate acquired a step nearer to realising seven-year-old goals of remodeling the US residence mortgage market this week, after a US regulator dropped opposition to its $12bn takeover of mortgage software program specialist Black Knight.

For others within the mortgage market, nevertheless, the transfer has did not allay anxieties in regards to the management ICE could have over expertise that would grow to be the spine of a fragmented $12tn trade. 

Final Monday, the Federal Commerce Fee agreed to finish a court docket case aiming to halt the ICE-Black Knight deal on competitors grounds. The transfer adopted two deliberate divestitures of Black Knight models. A last settlement is due later this month.

Underneath founder and chief government Jeffrey Sprecher, Atlanta-based ICE has grown from working commodity exchanges and clearing homes to changing into an unlimited data-centric enterprise that ranges from bond costs to operating the New York Inventory Alternate — and now the mortgage trade.

ICE obtained management of mortgage knowledge repository MERS in 2016 and purchased mortgage origination platform Ellie Mae for $11bn in 2020. The deal for Black Knight would mark its largest-ever buy and convey cumulative funding within the mortgage trade to greater than $23bn. 

The attraction for ICE is the possibility to use its expertise automating markets to a notoriously complicated course of.

Greater than 4,000 lenders supplied residence loans within the US final 12 months, 60 per cent of which have been made by impartial mortgage corporations, not banks.

Making use of for a mortgage is cumbersome, involving a number of rounds of discussions over paper documentation comparable to tax returns and credit score scores — all because the lender’s personal borrowing prices shift together with rates of interest, which have greater than doubled prior to now two years.

After a deal is accomplished, mortgage funds have to be monitored, whereas laws stipulate paperwork should be saved for a number of years.

“There’s solely a single-digit proportion of mortgages in the present day on this nation which have gone by means of a digital be aware course of. That’s the chance,” Sprecher instructed an trade convention two months in the past. “Our aim is to have the ability to present software program that may underwrite a mortgage when you’re filling out the applying. Proper now, it’s a couple of 60-day course of even for essentially the most eligible and succesful.”

Diagram showing the mortgage workflow

The potential for a streamlined course of has excited many within the trade, significantly smaller gamers who wouldn’t have the means to develop their very own expertise, whereas excessive rates of interest have weighed closely on the demand for brand spanking new residence loans.

Black Knight’s remaining models, after the divestitures, embrace market knowledge in addition to merchandise that assist with post-deal administration of loans.

“They’re undoubtedly going to be a serious participant,” stated Patrick Moley, analyst at Piper Sandler. “Once you mix ICE’s experience in electronification of mounted earnings and capital markets, and an outdated mortgage trade, it’s a good enterprise over the long run if they’ll achieve lowering some frictions within the trade.”

ICE estimates about 30 per cent of its revenues will stream from its mortgage tech unit after the Black Knight deal, with a much bigger share of these coming from recurring sources comparable to software program leases.

This would depart the group much less uncovered to housing market ups and downs, particularly at a time when climbing rates of interest have weakened housing market exercise. Working revenue in ICE’s mortgage tech section was $99mn within the second quarter, down by 28 per cent from a 12 months earlier than.

Line chart of Cost of new standard US 30-year mortgage (%) showing Rising rate pain

Past the potential to streamline the trade, ICE executives have additionally mentioned constructing tradeable merchandise primarily based on the corporate’s new knowledge trove. 

Final 12 months ICE launched mortgage futures primarily based by itself index monitoring mortgage charges, as an curiosity rate-hedging instrument

“What ICE is absolutely good at is monetising knowledge, and this provides them much more knowledge to monetise,” stated Andrew Bond, senior fairness analysis analyst at Rosenblatt Securities. 

But the deal faces sturdy reservations within the US mortgage trade, the place small lenders are significantly fearful ICE’s dominance will make it onerous to modify expertise suppliers and will add to their prices. When the FTC sued to dam the deal in March, it stated it will drive up costs to lenders and homebuyers.

“Our members really feel very susceptible as a result of these providers are so integral to their operations and the transition is so troublesome and problematic,” stated Scott Olson, government director of the Group Dwelling Lenders of America, whose members have reported bundling pressure from ICE, the place they’re pushed to purchase providers they are not looking for in an effort to get those they do.

ICE didn’t reply to a request for touch upon this level.

Black Knight is in arbitration with PennyMac, one of many largest standalone lenders, over what it felt have been anti-competitive practices designed to keep up Black Knight’s market-leading place.

David Stevens, a former head of the Mortgage Bankers Affiliation and a Federal Housing Administration commissioner within the Obama administration, labored instantly with ICE officers as a board member of MERS when the change group took management. He additionally expressed reservations in regards to the Black Knight deal.

“I’m a giant fan of ICE. They’re actually sensible folks however that is associated to basic [market] implications,” he stated. “Right here we now have a really subtle, very aggressive firm being given the chance to grow to be the most important monoline entity within the mortgage expertise house, which might theoretically start to crowd out newcomers.”

Monetary threat specialist Clifford Rossi, a veteran of a number of giant lenders and professor on the College of Maryland, recommended monetary regulators might make a powerful case for designating ICE as systemically vital due to its expansive mortgage market attain — a label that entails extra oversight. 

“By concentrating the expertise resolution within the arms of, say, one or two suppliers, it places extra stress on the [system] plumbing,” he stated, including: “If there’s a hiccup within the origination or within the servicing course of, that may have fairly important opposed impacts on not simply the businesses, but additionally on the purchasers downstream.”