The impact of estimation errors on CDO pricing
Another interesting, nicely written paper about valuating and pricing CDOs is “The Economics of Structured Finance” from Coval, Jurek, and Stafford which just appeared in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. It nicely complements the paper of Arora, Barak, Brunnermeier, and Ge titled “Computational Complexity and Information Asymmetry in Financial Products” (see also here). The authors argue that already small estimation errors in correlation and probability of default (of the underlying loans) can have devastating effect on the overall performance of a tranche. Whereas the senior tranches remain quite stable in the presence of estimation errors, the overall rating of the junior and mezzanine tranches can be greatly affected. Intuitively this is clear, as the junior and the mezzanine tranches act as a cushion for the senior tranches (and in turn the junior tranches are a protection of the mezzanine tranches). What is not so clear though at first is that this effect is so pronounced, i.e., smallest estimation errors lead to a rapid decline in credit quality of these tranches. In fact, what happens here is that the junior and mezzanine tranches pay the price for the credit enhancement of the senior tranches. And the stability of the latter with respect to estimation errors comes at the expense of highly sensitive junior and mezzanine tranches.
This effects becomes even more severe when considering CDO^2, where the loans of the junior and mezzanine tranches are repackaged again. These structures possess a very high sensitivity to slightest variations or estimation errors in the probability of default or correlation.
In both cases, slight impressions in the estimation can have severe impacts. But also, considering it the other way around, slight changes in the probability of default or the correlation due to changed economic conditions can have devastating effect on the value of the lower prioritized tranches.
So if you are interested in CDOs, credit enhancement, and structured finance you should give it a look.