Investors have poured $500 million into a new mortgage-insurance company, Essent Guaranty Inc., that is based in Radnor and headed by a local financial executive, the company announced today.
Essent, backed by Wall Street investment firms and reinsurance companies, is being launched at a time of turmoil and uncertainty in the mortgage-insurance industry, which is reeling from billions in losses and dogged by doubts about its future.
Essent's president and chief executive officer, Mark A. Casale, a former top executive with Philadelphia mortgage-insurance competitor Radian Group Inc., cast those doubts aside in an interview.
"We believe that mortgage insurance is essential to the U.S. housing system," said Casale, a graduate of La Salle High School and St. Joseph's University.
Mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require mortgage insurance when borrowers put less than 20 percent down. "We believe the market for that is quite wide," Casale said.
Essent is not yet operating. It submitted a licensing application to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department on Dec. 1, said Melissa Fox, a spokeswoman for the regulator. The process typically takes six to seven months, she said.
James Brender, who follows the mortgage-insurance industry for Standard & Poor's Ratings Services but has not rated Essent, said Essent could have a twofold impact on the industry.
"On the one hand, you could say that this entity will be viewed as stronger because it has half-a-billion of clean capital," Brender said.
That might enable Essent to cherry-pick the best - or least risky - loans to insure, hurting competitors who are weighed down by loans made during the housing bubble.
But, Brender said, Essent could also relieve some of the pressure the industry is under because existing companies are unable to meet the demand for mortgage insurance. "It helps maintain the industry's relevancy," Brender said.
As it is, private mortgage insurers have lost substantial market share to the Federal Housing Administration, which issues government-backed mortgage insurance.
The FHA's market share in the first quarter was 69 percent, compared with 32 percent in the first quarter of 2008, said Guy Cecala, publisher of trade journal Inside Mortgage Finance. Private mortgage insurers, by contrast, saw their market share plummet to 22 percent from 61 percent, Cecala said.
Casale joined Radian in 2001 and became president of its mortgage-insurance unit in 2006. He left Radian in the fall of 2007 as losses were mounting from its exposure to risky mortgages.
A specialist in capital markets and complicated structured securities, Casale was responsible for Radian's growth in "non-prime mortgage markets," a 2005 news release on his promotion to senior vice president said.
Asked about that background, Casale said, "I would look broader than that," asserting wider industry experience. He also worked in Advanta Corp.'s mortgage business.
Essent's investors include Pine Brook Road Partners L.L.C., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., PartnerRe Ltd. and RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd. Contact staff writer Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or