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Shadow banks are taking over the mortgage market again

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Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images

Shadow banks are on the cusp of taking the lead from their commercial counterparts in the mortgage market, new data suggests, a phenomenon that hasn't been seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

Non-bank lenders, which inhabit the comparatively lightly regulated industry, accounted for 48 percent of mortgage activity in 2015 — and there's reason to believe that when all is said and done for 2016 that number will grow.

The implications, while good for an industry that is believed to hold about $80 trillion in assets, carry some dark undertones.

"The last time nonbanks accounted for that much mortgage activity was 2006, the year before the subprime crisis began," a report from SNL Financial said this week. (NOTE: The post is behind SNL's pay wall.)

Shadow banks accounted for 55 percent of mortgage activity in 2006; the number was 45 percent in 2014 before growing to 48 percent in 2015, according to SNL, citing data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

"We know from separate, non-HMDA data that it has continued into 2016. I think when the dust has settled on 2016, you'll see nonbanks with close to a 50 percent market share," Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, told SNL.

While shadow banks could eclipse 50 percent of share this year, they overall hold about 24 percent of all mortgages, according to a report published earlier this year from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The SNL report notes that big banks have pulled back from mortgages, in the face of billions in legal penalties for conduct that led to the 2008 financial crisis. While shadow institutions have come under greater scrutiny in recent years, they still don't face the same regulatory burdens as commercial banks.

For instance, the so-called non-doc or "ninja" loans — no income, no job mortgages that were widespread in the pre-crisis days — are no more. Large banks, according to SNL, are focusing more of their attention toward the jumbo market, or loans of more than $417,000 that are not underwritten by government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The biggest lenders in the shadow market are Quicken Loans, LoanDepot.com and Freedom Mortgage.