After having just stating in an interview earlier this week that although many banks are probably guilty of what Lehman was caught doing with Repo 105's pursuing those actions based upon semantics may be fruitless (it may be called depo 106?), Reuters comes out with this interesting story: Major US banks masked risk levels: report

(Reuters) - Major U.S. banks temporarily lowered their debt levels just before reporting in the past five quarters, making it appear their balance sheets were less risky, the Wall Street Journal said, citing data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The paper said on Friday 18 banks, including Goldman Sachs Group , Morgan Stanley , J.P. Morgan Chase Bank of America and Citigroup , understated the debt levels used to fund securities trades by lowering them an average of 42 percent at the end of each period.

The banks had increased their debt in the middle of successive quarters, it said.

Citi, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley were not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters outside regular U.S. business hours.

Excessive leverage by the banks was one of the causes that led to the global financial crisis in 2008.

Due to the credit crisis, banks have become more sensitive about showing high levels of debt and risk, worried their stocks and credit ratings could be punished, the Journal said.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York could not be immediately reached for comment by Reuters.

 

The Wall Street Journal (see their interactive model) and ZeroHedge broke a similar storty with some meat behind it to justify the allegations. Ahhh!!! The return of real reporting, and not just from blogs!

After having just stating in an interview earlier this week that although many banks are probably guilty of what Lehman was caught doing with Repo 105's pursuing those actions based upon semantics may be fruitless (it may be called depo 106?), Reuters comes out with this interesting story: Major US banks masked risk levels: report

(Reuters) - Major U.S. banks temporarily lowered their debt levels just before reporting in the past five quarters, making it appear their balance sheets were less risky, the Wall Street Journal said, citing data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The paper said on Friday 18 banks, including Goldman Sachs Group , Morgan Stanley , J.P. Morgan Chase Bank of America and Citigroup , understated the debt levels used to fund securities trades by lowering them an average of 42 percent at the end of each period.

The banks had increased their debt in the middle of successive quarters, it said.

Citi, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley were not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters outside regular U.S. business hours.

Excessive leverage by the banks was one of the causes that led to the global financial crisis in 2008.

Due to the credit crisis, banks have become more sensitive about showing high levels of debt and risk, worried their stocks and credit ratings could be punished, the Journal said.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York could not be immediately reached for comment by Reuters.

 

The Wall Street Journal (see their interactive model) and ZeroHedge broke a similar storty with some meat behind it to justify the allegations. Ahhh!!! The return of real reporting, and not just from blogs!

Implied volatility for the big banks is down across the board, just about where it was before the system went into convulsions. This implies the coast is clear, as do the share prices of many banks.

Hard core forensic and fundamental analysis implies otherwise. So does the Fed's actions, which still incorporates ZIRP policy, as well as the waffling at FASB. We will either have smooth sailing from this point on out or there is a nasty surprise waiting (on and off balance sheet) for bank investors in the near future. I invite readers to weigh in with their opinions.

image001.png

As you can see, we are just about where we were in 2007 in terms of average volatility. 

Implied volatility for the big banks is down across the board, just about where it was before the system went into convulsions. This implies the coast is clear, as do the share prices of many banks.

Hard core forensic and fundamental analysis implies otherwise. So does the Fed's actions, which still incorporates ZIRP policy, as well as the waffling at FASB. We will either have smooth sailing from this point on out or there is a nasty surprise waiting (on and off balance sheet) for bank investors in the near future. I invite readers to weigh in with their opinions.

image001.png

As you can see, we are just about where we were in 2007 in terms of average volatility. 


 Two months ago I pointed out an anomaly in JP Morgan's "blowout" quarterly earnings release - Reggie Middleton on JP Morgan's "Blowout" Q4-09 Results. Let's reminisce...

Warranties of representation, and forced repurchase of loans

JP Morgan has increased its reserves with regards to repurchase of sold securities but the information surround these actions are very limited as the company does not separately report the repurchase reserves created to meet contingencies. However, the Company's income from mortgage servicing was severely impacted by increase in repurchase reserves. Mortgage production revenue was negative $192 million against negative $70 million in 3Q09 and positive $62 million in 4Q08.

Counterparties who are accruing losses from bad loans, (ex. monoline insurers such as Ambac and MBIA, see A Super Scary Halloween Tale of 104 Basis Points Pt I & II, by Reggie Middleton circa November 2007,) are stepping up their aggression in pushing loans that appear to breach certain warranties or smack of fraud. I expect this activity to pick up significantly, and those banks that made significant use of brokers and third parties to place mortgages will be at material risk - much more so than the primarily direct writers. I'll give you two guesses at which two banks are suspect. If you need a hint, take a look at who is increasing reserves for repurchases! JP Morgan and their not so profitable acquisition, WaMu! 

http://boombustblog.com/images/stories/regional_banks/32bustedbanks/thumbnails/thumb_image020.png

As I said, losses should be ramping up on the mortgage sector. Notice the trend of housing prices after the onset of government bubble blowing: If Anybody Bothered to Take a Close Look at the Latest Housing Numbers...

PNC Bank and Wells Fargo are in very similar situations regarding acquiring stinky loan portfolios. I suggest subscribers review the latest forensic reports on each company to refresh as the companies report Q4 2009 earnings. Unlike JPM, these banks do not have the investment banking and trading fees of significance (albeit decreasing significance) to fall back on as a cushion to consumer and mortgage credit losses.

Well, it looks as if I was onto something. From Bloomberg:

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Fannie Mae andFreddie Mac may force lenders includingBank of America Corp.JPMorgan Chase & Co.Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. to buy back $21 billion of home loans this year as part of a crackdown on faulty mortgages.

 That’s the estimate of Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Chris Kotowski, who says U.S. banks could suffer losses of $7 billion this year when those loans are returned and get marked down to their true value. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both controlled by the U.S. government, stuck the four biggest U.S. banks with losses of about $5 billion on buybacks in 2009, according to company filings made in the past two weeks.

The surge shows lenders are still paying the price for lax standards three years after mortgage markets collapsed under record defaults. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are looking for more faulty loans to return after suffering $202 billion of losses since 2007, and banks may have to go along, since the two U.S.- owned firms now buy at least 70 percent of new mortgages.

...

Freddie Mac forced lenders to buy back $4.1 billion of mortgages last year, almost triple the amount in 2008, according to a Feb. 26 filing. As of Dec. 31, Freddie Mac had another $4 billion outstanding loan-purchase demands that lenders hadn’t met, according to the filing. Fannie Mae didn’t disclose the amount of its loan-repurchase demands. Both firms were seized by the government in 2008 to stave off their collapse.

....

The government’s efforts might be counterproductive, since the Treasury and Federal Reserve are trying to help banks heal, FBR’s Miller said. The banks have to buy back the loans at par, and then take an impairment, because borrowers usually have stopped paying and the price of the underlying homehas plunged. JPMorgan said in a presentation last month that it loses about 50 cents on the dollar for every loan it has to buy back.

Striking a Balance

“It’s a fine line you’re walking, because the government’s trying to recapitalize the banks, not put them in bankruptcy, and then here’s Fannie and Freddie putting more pressure on the banks through these buybacks,” FBR’s Miller said. “If it becomes too big of an issue, the banks are going to complain to Congress, and they’re going to stop it.” [Of, course! Let the taxpayer eat the losses borne from our purposefully sloppy underwriting]

Bank of America recorded a $1.9 billion “warranties expense” for past and future buybacks of loans that weren’t properly written, seven times the 2008 amount, the bank said in a Feb. 26 filing. A spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina- based Bank of America, Scott Silvestri, declined to comment.

JPMorgan, based in New York, recorded $1.6 billion of costs in 2009 from repurchases, including $500 million of losses on repurchased loans and $1 billion to increase reserves for future losses, according to a Feb. 24 filing.

“It’s become a very meaningful issue, and it will continue to be a meaningful issue for the next couple of years,” Charlie Scharf, JPMorgan’s head of retail banking, said at a Feb. 26 investor conference. He declined to say when the repurchase demands might peak.

...

“I can’t forecast the rates at which they’re going to continue,” she said. Her division lost $3.84 billion last year, as the bank overall posted a $6.28 billion profit. “The volume is increasing.”

Wells Fargo, ranked No. 1 among U.S. home lenders last year, bought back $1.3 billion of loans in 2009, triple the year-earlier amount, according to a Feb. 26 filing. The San Francisco-based bank recorded $927 million of costs last year associated with repurchases and estimated future losses.

...

Citigroup increased its repurchase reserve sixfold to $482 million, because of increased “trends in requests by investors for loan-documentation packages to be reviewed,” according to a Feb. 26 filing.

“The request for loan documentation packages is an early indicator of a potential claim,” New York-based Citigroup said.

...

Banks that sell mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have to provide “representations and warranties” assuring that the loans conformed to the agencies’ standards. With more loans going bad, the agencies are demanding that banks turn over loan files, so they can scour the records for missing documentation, inaccurate data and fraud.

...

The most common include inflated appraisals or falsely stated incomes in the loan applications, said Larry Platt, a Washington-based partner at law firm K&L Gates LLP who specializes in mortgage-purchase agreements. The government agencies hire their own reviewers who go back and compare the appraisals with prices from historical home sales, he said.

“They may do a drive-by for a visual inspection,” he said.

Wells Fargo said three-fourths of its repurchase requests came from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. While investors may demand repurchase at any time, most demands occur within three years of the loan date, Wells Fargo said.

The mortgage firms are looking at every loan more than 90 days past due and “asking us basically to give them all the documentation to show that it was properly underwritten,” JPMorgan’s Scharf said. “We then go through a process with them that takes a period of time, and literally it’s every loan, loan-by-loan, and have the discussion on whether or not we actually should buy the loan back.”

...

Mortgage repurchases may crimp bank earnings through 2011, Oppenheimer’s Kotowski said. That’s because the worst mortgages -- those underwritten in 2007 -- are just now coming under the heaviest scrutiny, he said.

...

“The worst of the stress is the 2007 vintages, though 2006 and 2005 weren’t a whole lot better and 2008 wasn’t much better,” Kotowski said.

Next week, the Mortgage Bankers Association is holding a workshop in the Dallas area that promises to help banks “survive the buyback deluge” and “build up your repertoire of lender defenses.” According to the MBA’s Web site, the workshop is sold out.

 Two months ago I pointed out an anomaly in JP Morgan's "blowout" quarterly earnings release - Reggie Middleton on JP Morgan's "Blowout" Q4-09 Results. Let's reminisce...

Warranties of representation, and forced repurchase of loans

JP Morgan has increased its reserves with regards to repurchase of sold securities but the information surround these actions are very limited as the company does not separately report the repurchase reserves created to meet contingencies. However, the Company's income from mortgage servicing was severely impacted by increase in repurchase reserves. Mortgage production revenue was negative $192 million against negative $70 million in 3Q09 and positive $62 million in 4Q08.

Counterparties who are accruing losses from bad loans, (ex. monoline insurers such as Ambac and MBIA, see A Super Scary Halloween Tale of 104 Basis Points Pt I & II, by Reggie Middleton circa November 2007,) are stepping up their aggression in pushing loans that appear to breach certain warranties or smack of fraud. I expect this activity to pick up significantly, and those banks that made significant use of brokers and third parties to place mortgages will be at material risk - much more so than the primarily direct writers. I'll give you two guesses at which two banks are suspect. If you need a hint, take a look at who is increasing reserves for repurchases! JP Morgan and their not so profitable acquisition, WaMu! 

http://boombustblog.com/images/stories/regional_banks/32bustedbanks/thumbnails/thumb_image020.png

As I said, losses should be ramping up on the mortgage sector. Notice the trend of housing prices after the onset of government bubble blowing: If Anybody Bothered to Take a Close Look at the Latest Housing Numbers...

PNC Bank and Wells Fargo are in very similar situations regarding acquiring stinky loan portfolios. I suggest subscribers review the latest forensic reports on each company to refresh as the companies report Q4 2009 earnings. Unlike JPM, these banks do not have the investment banking and trading fees of significance (albeit decreasing significance) to fall back on as a cushion to consumer and mortgage credit losses.

Well, it looks as if I was onto something. From Bloomberg:

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Fannie Mae andFreddie Mac may force lenders includingBank of America Corp.JPMorgan Chase & Co.Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. to buy back $21 billion of home loans this year as part of a crackdown on faulty mortgages.

 That’s the estimate of Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Chris Kotowski, who says U.S. banks could suffer losses of $7 billion this year when those loans are returned and get marked down to their true value. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both controlled by the U.S. government, stuck the four biggest U.S. banks with losses of about $5 billion on buybacks in 2009, according to company filings made in the past two weeks.

The surge shows lenders are still paying the price for lax standards three years after mortgage markets collapsed under record defaults. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are looking for more faulty loans to return after suffering $202 billion of losses since 2007, and banks may have to go along, since the two U.S.- owned firms now buy at least 70 percent of new mortgages.

...

Freddie Mac forced lenders to buy back $4.1 billion of mortgages last year, almost triple the amount in 2008, according to a Feb. 26 filing. As of Dec. 31, Freddie Mac had another $4 billion outstanding loan-purchase demands that lenders hadn’t met, according to the filing. Fannie Mae didn’t disclose the amount of its loan-repurchase demands. Both firms were seized by the government in 2008 to stave off their collapse.

....

The government’s efforts might be counterproductive, since the Treasury and Federal Reserve are trying to help banks heal, FBR’s Miller said. The banks have to buy back the loans at par, and then take an impairment, because borrowers usually have stopped paying and the price of the underlying homehas plunged. JPMorgan said in a presentation last month that it loses about 50 cents on the dollar for every loan it has to buy back.

Striking a Balance

“It’s a fine line you’re walking, because the government’s trying to recapitalize the banks, not put them in bankruptcy, and then here’s Fannie and Freddie putting more pressure on the banks through these buybacks,” FBR’s Miller said. “If it becomes too big of an issue, the banks are going to complain to Congress, and they’re going to stop it.” [Of, course! Let the taxpayer eat the losses borne from our purposefully sloppy underwriting]

Bank of America recorded a $1.9 billion “warranties expense” for past and future buybacks of loans that weren’t properly written, seven times the 2008 amount, the bank said in a Feb. 26 filing. A spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina- based Bank of America, Scott Silvestri, declined to comment.

JPMorgan, based in New York, recorded $1.6 billion of costs in 2009 from repurchases, including $500 million of losses on repurchased loans and $1 billion to increase reserves for future losses, according to a Feb. 24 filing.

“It’s become a very meaningful issue, and it will continue to be a meaningful issue for the next couple of years,” Charlie Scharf, JPMorgan’s head of retail banking, said at a Feb. 26 investor conference. He declined to say when the repurchase demands might peak.

...

“I can’t forecast the rates at which they’re going to continue,” she said. Her division lost $3.84 billion last year, as the bank overall posted a $6.28 billion profit. “The volume is increasing.”

Wells Fargo, ranked No. 1 among U.S. home lenders last year, bought back $1.3 billion of loans in 2009, triple the year-earlier amount, according to a Feb. 26 filing. The San Francisco-based bank recorded $927 million of costs last year associated with repurchases and estimated future losses.

...

Citigroup increased its repurchase reserve sixfold to $482 million, because of increased “trends in requests by investors for loan-documentation packages to be reviewed,” according to a Feb. 26 filing.

“The request for loan documentation packages is an early indicator of a potential claim,” New York-based Citigroup said.

...

Banks that sell mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have to provide “representations and warranties” assuring that the loans conformed to the agencies’ standards. With more loans going bad, the agencies are demanding that banks turn over loan files, so they can scour the records for missing documentation, inaccurate data and fraud.

...

The most common include inflated appraisals or falsely stated incomes in the loan applications, said Larry Platt, a Washington-based partner at law firm K&L Gates LLP who specializes in mortgage-purchase agreements. The government agencies hire their own reviewers who go back and compare the appraisals with prices from historical home sales, he said.

“They may do a drive-by for a visual inspection,” he said.

Wells Fargo said three-fourths of its repurchase requests came from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. While investors may demand repurchase at any time, most demands occur within three years of the loan date, Wells Fargo said.

The mortgage firms are looking at every loan more than 90 days past due and “asking us basically to give them all the documentation to show that it was properly underwritten,” JPMorgan’s Scharf said. “We then go through a process with them that takes a period of time, and literally it’s every loan, loan-by-loan, and have the discussion on whether or not we actually should buy the loan back.”

...

Mortgage repurchases may crimp bank earnings through 2011, Oppenheimer’s Kotowski said. That’s because the worst mortgages -- those underwritten in 2007 -- are just now coming under the heaviest scrutiny, he said.

...

“The worst of the stress is the 2007 vintages, though 2006 and 2005 weren’t a whole lot better and 2008 wasn’t much better,” Kotowski said.

Next week, the Mortgage Bankers Association is holding a workshop in the Dallas area that promises to help banks “survive the buyback deluge” and “build up your repertoire of lender defenses.” According to the MBA’s Web site, the workshop is sold out.

Well, it looks like Blankein, Dimon, et. al. really should have tried harder to make that meeting with the President a couple of weeks ago. It appeared as if he may have had something important to discuss. As my readers and subscribers know, I have been very bearish on the big money center banks since 2007, and quite profitably so. The last 3 quarters saw a much larger trend reversal than I expected, that resulted in the disgorgement of a decent amount of those profits - a disgorgement that I am still beating myself up over. You see, as a fundamental investor, I don't do well when reality diverges from the fundamentals for too long a period. Luckily for me, fundamentals always return, and they usually return with a vengeance. To keep things in perspective though, I am still up on a cumulative basis many, many multiples over the S&P (which is still negative, may I add) as well as your average fund manager. Why? How was I able to do this? Well, its not because I am supersmart, or well connected. It is because I keep things in perspective. Those that look at the records that I publish say, "Well he was down the last couple of quarters, so..." while disregarding what happened the 8 or even 40 or so quarters before that. Such a short term horizon will probably not be able to appreciate the longer term perspective and foresight that enabled me to see this entire malaise coming years ago and profit from it. No, I am not perfect and I do mess up on occasion, but I also do pay attention to the facts.

These facts pointed to a massive overvalutation in banks throughout the bulk of last year, again! I made it clear to my subscribers that the banks simply have too many things going against them: political headwinds, nasty assets, diminishing revenue drivers, over-indebted consumers, and a soft economic cycle. I also warned explicitly that I didn't think Obama would be nearly as lenient on the banks as Bush was. Well, the headwinds are stiffening. On that note, let's take an empirical look at just what this means in terms of valuation (note, I will following this up with a full forensic re-valuation for all subscribers, incuding a scenario analysis of varying extents of principal trading limits). Some of these banks are I-N-S-A-N-E-L-Y overvalued at these post bear market rally levels considering the aforementioned headwinds. Methinks fundamental analysis will make a comeback in a big way for 2010 as it meets the momentum and algo traders in a mutual BEAR feast on the big investment banks cum hedge funds. I can't guarantee it will happen, but the numbers dictate that it should. We shall see in the upcoming quarters.

We have retrieved information about trading revenues for GS, MS, JPM and BoFA. We have also retrieved some balance sheet data to reflect the trend in investment holdings and the level of leverage, but I will address that in a future post for the sake of expediency. While the banks don't break out the P&L for principal trading, we can sort of back into it. Remember, traders are fed bonuses off of net revenue, not profit.