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One of the lesser-known but incredibly powerful tools in the credit analysis toolkit is the concept of 'vintage curves.' At their core, vintage curves track the performance of loans or investments that began at the same time. Think of them as a timeline showing how these investments evolve, which is crucial information because it helps predict how current and future investments will likely perform based on historical trends.

Whether you’re managing, analyzing, or investing in lending portfolios, understanding vintage curves can be your roadmap to better financial health and more strategic investment choices.

What are vintage curves?

The term "vintage" in the context of vintage curves refers to a group of loans, investments, or financial assets that originated during a specific period, usually within a particular year or month (in the same way that you might hear of a "vintage" when discussing wine from a particular year). Vintage curves generally focus on the performance of those loans or assets. Vintage curves are commonly used in consumer lending (like credit cards, auto loans, or mortgages) but can also apply to other types of financial assets.

The performance is usually measured in terms of default rates, prepayment rates, or similar financial metrics. One common way vintage curves are used is to compare the rates of charge-offs.

What are charge-offs?

​​A charge-off is a term used primarily in the context of loan and credit management. It refers to the point where a creditor writes off a debt as a loss in their accounting records, typically because it’s considered uncollectible.

A charge-off usually occurs when a loan or credit account is severely delinquent. In many cases, this happens after a borrower fails to make payments for a certain period, often around 180 days (six months), though this can vary depending on the creditor's policies and the type of credit.

For the creditor, a charge-off is an accounting action. The debt is removed from their financial statements as an asset because it's not expected to be paid. This doesn't mean the debt is forgiven or the borrower is relieved of the obligation to pay. Even after a charge-off, creditors can still attempt to collect the debt. They might do this themselves or sell the debt to a collection agency, which will then take over the effort to recover the funds.

For the borrower, a charge-off has a significant negative impact on their credit score. It signals a major payment issue and will stay on a credit report for up to seven years, making it more difficult and expensive to obtain credit in the future. The borrower still legally owes the debt despite the charge-off. Creditors or collection agencies may pursue legal action to recover the funds, including filing a lawsuit.

How are vintage curves used?

Asset managers and credit analysts use vintage curves to inform their lending strategies and determine market trends. Financial analysts can use vintage curves to identify patterns in how loans perform as they age. For example, a vintage curve might show that certain loans tend to default more in their first year, stabilize in the middle years, and then default more as they approach maturity. By analyzing which vintages perform better over time, they can adjust their lending criteria and interest rates and focus on more profitable or less risky segments.

Vintage analysis helps banks and financial institutions manage risk and set aside appropriate provisions for loan losses. Analysts can make informed predictions about how current and future vintages might behave under similar conditions by examining how past vintages have performed.

Vintage curves also give insight into how external factors, like economic cycles, impact loan performance. For instance, loans that originated during a booming economy might perform differently compared to those that originated during a recession.

What do vintage curves look like?

The horizontal (X) axis represents the age of the loan or investment cohort, often broken down into monthly or yearly intervals. The vertical (Y) axis represents a performance metric: default rates, prepayment rates, loss rates, or recovery rates. In this example, a vintage curve shows charge-off rates and lets viewers quickly see if loan loss rates from different “vintages” increase or decrease over time.

Example of a set of vintage curves analyzing auto loans
Example of a set of vintage curves analyzing auto loans

The graph usually contains multiple lines, each representing a different vintage. Each vintage is based on a cohort of loans or investments that were originated or acquired during the same period. This cohort approach allows for a more accurate comparison of performance over time.

For instance, one line might represent loans originating in 2018, another for 2019, and so on. These lines allow for a comparison of how each cohort performs over time. The lines are often color-coded or labeled to distinguish between different vintages. This makes it easier to follow and compare the performance of each cohort, and to identify nascent trends in repayments.

The curves provide a snapshot of performance at different time intervals since origination, offering insight into how the risk and performance of financial assets evolve.

Why is vintage analysis important?

The importance of vintage analysis in finance stems from its ability to provide time-based, consistent, and predictive insights into the performance of financial assets, which are crucial for effective risk management, strategic planning, and maintaining a competitive edge in the financial market. Other methods might offer valuable insights too, but they may not capture the lifecycle perspective and cohort-specific nuances that vintage analysis provides.

A vintage analysis is distinct in its focus on time. It tracks the performance of loans or investments from the same origination period over their lifetime. This time-based tracking provides a clear view of how financial assets mature and behave as they age.

By grouping assets based on their origination period, vintage analysis ensures that the comparison is between like-for-like cohorts. This is important because it factors out variations that could arise from different economic conditions, lending standards, or market environments at the time of origination. Such cohort analysis gives a more accurate and relevant comparison than analyzing a mixed group of assets without considering their origination period.

This analysis method is particularly effective in showing how external factors, like economic cycles or regulatory changes, affect asset performance and loan repayments. Since each vintage is tied to a specific time period, it’s easier to correlate performance with external events. Other methods might miss these nuances or fail to link performance to specific time-bound events directly.

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All information presented herein is for informational purposes only, and Finley Technologies, Inc. does not assume any liability for reliance on the information provided. Before making any decisions that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.


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