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SEC adopts securities rules

Firms to give credit histories so investors can assess risks

WASHINGTON – Financial firms that sell securities backed by loans, like the kind that fueled the 2008 financial crisis, will have to give investors details on borrowers’ credit record and income under action taken Wednesday by federal regulators.

The Securities and Exchange Com­mission adopted the rules for securities linked to mortgages and auto loans on a 5-0 vote.

The commissioners also imposed new conflict-of-interest rules on the agencies that rate the debt of companies, governments and issues of securities. That vote split 3-2 along party lines, with the two Republican commissioners opposing adoption of the rules.

Home mortgages bundled into se­cur­i­ties and sold on Wall Street soured after the housing bubble burst in 2007, losing billions in ­value.

The vast sales of risky securities ignited the crisis that plunged the economy into the deepest recession since the Great Depression and prompted a taxpayer bailout of banks.

In requiring sellers of the securities to provide information about borrowers’ credit and income, the aim is to enable investors to better assess the risks of the loans underlying the securities.

“These reforms will make a real difference to investors and to our financial markets,” SEC Chair Mary Jo White said before the vote.

A recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that U.S. auto loans jumped to the highest level in eight years this spring, fueled by a big increase in lending to risky borrowers.

The Fed also said that loans to borrowers with weak credit, known as subprime loans, continue to make up a smaller proportion of total auto loans than before the recession.

Still, the rapid increase in subprime auto lending has raised concerns among federal regulators in recent months that it could set off a wave of defaults such as occurred in the mortgage market collapse. Because auto loans are packaged into securities, an increase in auto loan defaults could be amplified.

The new rules on so-called asset-backed securities and credit rating agencies were called for under the sweeping financial overhaul law enacted in 2010 in response to the financial meltdown. The rules take effect in 60 days.

A number of big banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, have been accused by the government of abuses in sales of mortgage securities in the years preceding the crisis.

Together, they have paid hundreds of millions in penalties to settle civil charges brought by the SEC, which accused them of deceiving investors about the quality of the securities they sold.

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