Commercial Mortgage-backed Securities

Commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) are backed by a pool of commercial mortgages on income-producing properties such as multi-family properties (e.g. apartment buildings), office buildings, industrial properties, shopping centers, hotels, and healthcare facilities.

Credit Risk

In the U.S. and other countries where commercial mortgages are non-recourse loans, the lender can only seize the income-producing property. The lender has no recourse to the borrower’s other assets.

Two key indicators of potential credit performance are the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio and debt-service-coverage (DSC) ratio. For example, if a lender buys a $1,000,000 property and makes a down payment of $200,000, the loan-to-value ratio will be $800,000/$1,000,000 = 0.8. The lower the LTV, the more the lender is protected for recovering the loaned amount.

The debt-service-coverage (DSC) ratio is calculated as the net operating income generated by the property divided by the interest and principal repaid to the lender. A DSC exceeding 1 indicates that cash flows from the property are sufficient to cover the debt service.

Structures of Commercial Mortgage-backed Securities

A credit-rating agency determines the level of credit enhancement to achieve the desired credit rating. For instance, if specific LTV and DSC ratios cannot be met at the loan level, subordination could be used to achieve the desired credit rating.

One of the major benefits of Commercial Mortgage-backed Securities over Residential Mortgage-backed Securities is the call protection feature, which protects investors against early prepayments. Four mechanisms offer a call protection at the loan level:

  1. Prepayment lockout: the minimum number of years in which the borrower cannot pay off the entire loan.
  2. Prepayment penalty points: predetermined penalties that must be paid by the borrower if the borrower wishes to refinance
  3. Yield-maintenance charge: in the event the borrower pays off a loan before maturity, it allows the lender to attain the same yield as if the borrower had made all scheduled mortgage payments until maturity
  4. Defeasance: a method for reducing the fees required when a borrower decides to prepay a fixed-rate commercial real estate loan. Instead of paying cash to the lender, the defeasance option allows the borrower to exchange another cash-flowing asset for the original collateral on the loan.

Many commercial loans backing CMBS are balloon loans requiring a substantial principal repayment at maturity. If the borrower fails to repay, the lender could extend the loan with higher default interest rate over a period called the workout period. Thus, the total default risk becomes a “balloon risk.”


Which of the following characteristics are most desirable in a commercial mortgage-backed secrurity from the point of view of the lender?

A. A low loan-to-value ratio and a low debt-service-coverage ratio

B. A high loan-to-value ratio and a high debt-service-coverage ratio

C. A low loan-to-value ratio and a high debt-service-coverage ratio


The correct answer is C.

The lower the loan-to-value ratio, the more the lender is protected for recovering the loaned amount. On the other hand, a debt-service-coverage ratio exceeding 1 indicates that cash flows from the property are sufficient to cover the debt service.

Reading 45 LOS 45g:

Describe characteristics and risks of commercial mortgage-backed securities


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