Asset-Backed Security (ABS) vs. Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO)

Asset-Backed Security (ABS) vs. Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO)

3 Min.

Asset-backed securities (ABS) are a type of investment that provides returns based on the repayment of debt owed by a group of consumers. A collateralized debt obligation (CDO) is a version of an ABS that may contain mortgage debt and other types of debt. These investment options are primarily marketed to institutions rather than individual investors.


Investment vehicles known as asset-backed securities leverage a diverse debt portfolio, encompassing assets like auto loans and home equity loans. A variant of ABS, collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), extends this scope to potentially incorporate mortgages and various other asset classes. The financial gains for the holder of these instruments stem from the repayment of principal and interest by the collective borrowers whose loans constitute the foundation of the security.

Evolution of Mortgage-Backed Securities Into Asset-Backed Securities (ABS)

Originating in the 1980s, Asset-Backed Securities trace their roots to Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS). MBS comprises mortgages divested by originating banks, purchased and repackaged by investment banks or financial institutions. These mortgages are categorized into segments, such as residential or commercial, each forming an MBS available for investor acquisition.

Similarly, ABS represents a pool of diverse assets excluding mortgages. This pool can include credit card debt, outstanding auto loans, student loans, or other forms of debt. Investors in both MBS and ABS derive financial returns, either directly or indirectly, as borrowers repay the interest and principal on the underlying loans.

Structured Finance Varieties: Unveiling CDOs and CMOs

CDOs, a form of Asset-Backed Securities (ABS), materialize through a specialized entity, the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), designed exclusively for CDO issuance. These financial instruments display diversity in their underlying debt, with subclasses such as Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) comprising bank loans, Collateralized Bond Obligations (CBOs) comprised of bonds or other CDOs, and Structured Finance-Backed CDOs integrating assets like ABS, residential or commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS), or Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) debt. Additionally, Cash CDOs rely on cash-market debt instruments, while synthetic CDOs leverage other credit derivatives.

In contrast, Collateralized Mortgage Obligations (CMOs) are intricate Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS), uniquely dependent on MBS components. This structure makes CMOs susceptible to interest rate fluctuations, debt prepayments, and mortgage credit risks.

Catering primarily to institutional investors, both CDOs and CMOs undergo segmentation. In a CMO, interest rate and principal payments are categorized based on mortgage risk. Conversely, CDOs feature tranches (equity, mezzanine, and senior), each possessing distinct credit quality and yield characteristics. Equity tranches offer the highest yield with the lowest credit ratings, while senior tranches exhibit superior credit quality at the expense of lower yields. Mezzanine tranches fall between equity and senior tranches in terms of both credit quality and yield.

Navigating the Financial Crisis: A Tale of Mortgage-Backed Securities and Collateralized Debt Obligations

The financial crisis of 2008 was caused by the collapsing value of mortgage-backed securities backed by subprime mortgages. The bubble in home prices was fueled by subprime lending. These subprime mortgages were sold to institutions, repackaged, and sold again. As the bubble began to deflate, homeowners were forced into default, and the securities that derived income from the repayment of those loans plummeted in value. By 2011, the market for mortgage-backed securities had returned to something like normalcy after the financial crisis dissipated.


Asset-backed securities and their variations, like collateralized debt obligations, target institutional investors, offering returns linked to diverse consumer debt. The evolution from mortgage-backed securities to ABS demonstrates market adaptability. 

Asset-Backed Security (ABS)
Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO)
Collateralized Mortgage Obligation (CMO)