CHICAGO — Universal Special Auto Finance has chosen Performance Trust Capital Partners to provide the lending capital for Universal's new subprime automotive lending program through the Performance Trust nationwide network of client banks.

This program will provide a new, more stable way for financial institutions and other investors to participate in the subprime auto loan market.

Dealer contacts and deal underwriting will be handled by Universal and Computer Science Corporation is the designated primary servicer. In addition, Great American Insurance Company will offer optional insurance on these loans as a way to mitigate the default risk.

"We have spent considerable time and effort studying the macros of the subprime market and modeling the risk-reward profile of these types of auto loans," said Performance Trust CEO Richard Berg. "Contrary to our original expectation, we have found it to be a very attractive lending opportunity for our clients, and forged ahead with an agreement with Universal."

The new program, Special Auto Finance (SAF) Series1 is designed specifically to provide a high-yield, managed risk opportunity for financial institutions.

John Frew, Universal's president added, "We are pleased that Performance Trust has joined our team. In addition to securing lending capital, Performance Trust will provide necessary perspective and guidance to financial institutions that are active in the SAF Series1."

Commenting on SAF Series1, Berg noted, "One of the unique

features is the opportunity to purchase insurance for these loans. We have an A-rated insurance company willing to put their balance sheet on the line to insure this product."

He continued, "This sector is one that can provide far superior risk-adjusted returns versus more traditional lending. The decision to enter into a subprime market requires a significant amount of education for financial institutions to understand the analytics and statistics behind such a sector. However, the institutions that have done their due diligence tend to agree with our conclusions regarding this promising sector."

The current interest rate environment is very difficult for financial institutions, as the inverted yield curve, deposit competition and shrinking risk premiums on traditional lending products have resulted in declining net interest margins. Even traditionally conservative lenders are investigating new product lines in an effort to reverse the declining margin trend and to grow their business.

"Banks cannot afford to ignore this opportunity. We believe that they should at least listen and investigate," said Berg. "Twenty-five years ago, junk bonds were not considered an acceptable asset class. Now every prudent investor would consider allocating some portfolio percentage to the high-yield sector. We believe that over time, many banks will view the subprime or special auto finance sector in the same way."