A.M. Best Co., Oldwick, N.J., has initiated analysis and coverage of the U.S. banking industry and says it plans to publish a series of regular bank-related research papers and analytical methodologies.The company noted that real estate exposure continued its steady rise last year in the banking industry, increasing from 45% of total bank assets at the end of 2002 to nearly 50% as of Sept. 30, 2005. One- to four-family residential loans grew by 3 percentage points as a percentage of total assets, to 24%, the company reported. "Two additional factors that seem to have contributed to the growth in real estate exposure are the rise in outstanding balances under home equity lines of credit and the increased popularity of so-called 'nontraditional' or 'affordability' mortgage products, such as interest-only loans and payment-option adjustable-rate mortgages," A.M. Best said. The company can be found online at http://www.bestweek.com.

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