- Non-bank lending companies like Quicken Loans, PennyMac and LoanDepot could cause a financial crisis if the Federal Reserve doesn't regulate them, CNBC's Jim Cramer warns.
- They are currently "the biggest risk" to the U.S. economic system, the "Mad Money" host says.
- "I am not crying wolf," Cramer says, calling on the Fed to "crack down" before it's too late.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell may have "blinked" in his Wednesday speech, saying that the Fed had "no preset policy path" for interest rates, but his work is far from over, CNBC's Jim Cramer warned as stocks popped on Powell's speech.
"What's the biggest risk to the system right now? After listening to Fed Chief Jay Powell, who made a lot of sense today, I'd say it's non-bank lending," Cramer said Wednesday on "Mad Money."
In the speech, Powell characterized non-bank lenders as imprudent and a potential problem for the credit markets and the broader financial system. Still, he noted that after the 2008 financial crisis, federal regulators took measures that "have reduced the risk that key non-bank parts of the system would freeze up in the face of market stress."
Even so, Cramer thought the rapid-fire rise of institutions like Quicken Loans, PennyMac and LoanDepot, three of the largest non-bank lenders, posed a near-term threat.
"There are many non-bank institutions making home loans that could collapse in value," Cramer warned. "These companies came out of nowhere. They now control about half of the current mortgage market — that's a trillion dollars' worth of mortgages a year."
Worse, if those lenders can skirt regulations meant for big banks with similar lines of business and make loans without enough documentation or money down, "that could be a serious problem," the "Mad Money" host warned.
But Cramer — who in 2007 famously criticized the Fed for not paying enough attention to the economic layout — worried that the central bank would again fail to stop these unsound lending practices.
Instead of raising interest rates blindly, he suggested the Fed "make sure they play by the same rules as J.P. Morgan and Bank of America. If there are outliers and reckless lenders, you don't raise rates, you shut them down. The Fed has that power — they should use it."
Cramer's urgency stemmed from the worrisome trends across the market. In the housing sector, reports are showing falling new home sales, plateauing home prices and rising supply. The auto space is weakening. Oil prices just hit a 2018 low.
"When you get a great deal of housing inventory and prices start coming down while mortgage rates go up, that typically causes a collapse in pricing as sellers are desperate to get out, but few buyers can actually afford these homes because they're swapping out a cheap, old mortgage for an expensive, new one," Cramer said.
"At that point, homeowners who want to sell have no choice but to chase buyers further down," he continued. "If the non-bank lenders issued floating debt, these sellers with floating-rate mortgages [will] default en masse if they can't find buyers. It could be a mini version of the mortgage meltdown we had a decade ago."
So while Powell's comments may have ignited a relief rally in the stock market, the "Mad Money" host didn't want anyone to be fooled into thinking there weren't still serious risks to the health of the U.S. economy.
"It's now time for him to put on his regulatory hat. He needs to crack down on these non-bank lenders with firm enforcement, not higher interest rates, which will just push any troubled lenders over the edge [and] make things worse," Cramer said of Powell. "We know it's happening. We see the ads. We know there's been little or no regulation of these guys. I'm not crying wolf. The Fed needs to crack down on these non-bank lenders before it's too late."
Disclosure: Cramer's charitable trust owns shares of J.P. Morgan.