What Is Pfandbriefe?

Pfandbriefe are a type of covered bonds issued by German mortgage banks that is collateralized by long-term assets. These types of bonds represent the largest segment of the German private debt market and are considered to be the safest debt instruments in the private market.

The singular term is ‘pfandbrief.’

Understanding Pfandbriefe

A pfandbrief is a type of covered bond. A covered bond is a debt security that is common in Europe. It issued by a bank or mortgage institution and collateralized against a pool of assets that, in case of default of the issuer, can cover claims at any point of time. The financial institution purchases investments that produce cash, typically mortgages or public-sector loans, puts the investments together, and issues bonds covered by the cash flowing from the investments. The institution may replace defaulted or prepaid loans with performing loans to minimize risk of the underlying assets not performing as well as expected. Since the underlying loans of a covered bond stay on the consolidated balance sheet of the financial institution issuing the bond, investors holding the bonds may still receive their scheduled interest payments from the underlying assets of the bonds as well as the principal at the bond’s maturity if the issuing bank becomes insolvent. Because of this extra layer of protection, covered bonds typically have AAA ratings.

The largest market for outstanding covered bonds worldwide is the German pfandbrief, which has never defaulted in its more than a 200-year long history. The pfandbrief, which makes up the largest segment of the German debt market, is a collateralized bond with an investment-grade rating that has a yield premium over sovereign bonds. The Pfandbriefe class of debt are similar to mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in the United States.

Entities that can issue covered bonds in Germany include:

  • Public sector banks which have their cover assets as claims on the public sector. Lendings cover public Pfandbriefe to the federal government and the regional and municipal authorities, or by guarantees issued by these bodies.
  • Private mortgage banks which have their cover pools as loans secured by real estate liens such as mortgages and land charges. Mortgage Pfandbriefe are used for the funding of property loans.
  • Ship pfandbriefe, which are secured by ship mortgages, which may be used as cover only up to the first 60 percent of the value of the ship (mortgage lending value) established by the Pfandbrief bank.
  • Aircraft pfandbriefe which are secured by aircraft mortgages. This Pfandbrief can be used by financial institutions in the German market to refinance aircraft loans.

The pfandbrief is regulated by The Pfandbrief Act, which was established in 2005. The Act provides the insolvency administrator and the cover pool administrator – appointed when insolvency proceedings are initiated against a Pfandbrief bank – with a host of options to procure the liquidity needed to warrant timely payment of the Pfandbriefe. The Act also states that the valuation to be used as the basis for the establishment of the mortgage lending value must be conducted by an appraiser who is not involved in the loan decision and who must have the requisite professional experience and knowledge in order to make mortgage lending value assessments.

The term Jumbo Pfandbriefe are used to refer to the larger, more liquid segment of the Pfandbriefe market and must have a minimum outstanding volume of EUR 1 billion.