Wednesday, 19 March 2008 01:00

Something stinks!

As far as I can discern, Lehman effectively had a run on the bank Monday. They admitted portions of it in the WSJ article I linked to earlier, and word is that many clients left to the tune of several billion dollars. They same appears to be happening in the UK, this is after:

  • one of their largest mortgage banks faced a run and had to be nationalized,;
  • The biggest US investment banks, numbers 1, 2 and 5 just ran to the government for emergency funds and investment bank 5's shareholders just got wiped out.
  • Investment banks 1 and 4 reported 50% drops in earnings and revenue, but rallied because analysts dropped expectations enough to say that they were beat;
  • They then started to recommend "buys" on each other;
  • The mechanism used by the Fed to prop up the I banks was used only once before, and that was during the worst economic period in the history of this country - the "Great Depression".

It doesn't take a detective to figure out all is not well in Smallville! There is probably a big negative waiting in the near future for the financial sector. The problem is that I have not fully deduced what it is, yet. I am growing extremely suspect of the Fed's move. I definitely understand why they felt they had to do it, the issue is the true facts surrounding the move and what the repercussions are. I think the US tax payers can kiss that $30 billion dollar back stop goodbye.

Published in BoomBustBlog

From the WSJ:

Stocks were unable to
hold onto Tuesday’s 400-plus point rally in the Dow industrials and
attendant rallies in other indexes, and steadily marched lower through
the afternoon, until news of a lawsuit filed by Merrill Lynch against a
unit of bond insurer Security Capital Assurance, alleging the company
is trying to avoid obligations of up to $3.1 billion under seven credit default swaps.
Merrill’s own CDS widened on the news, moving to 250 basis points from
210 basis points, according to Phoenix Partners Group, and the stock
market dove, with the Dow giving back a good lot of the previous day’s
massive rally.

I stated several
times in the comments that the CDS market may very well lead us into
the next serious leg down. Many of the guys who wrote these either
don't have the cash to pay up or are wrapped up in hedges using CDS
which will easily get @#$@ed up once one leg of the hedge falls.

Published in BoomBustBlog

all stemming from a lack of respect for the price compression
resulting from the real estate/credit busting. They really took a
beating on the homebuilders. I am increasingly negative on CTX now, for
they have large mortgage operations that have to be getting hit hard.

Legg Mason's SIV Troubles:
Legg Mason said it obtained a letter of credit from an unnamed bank to
support its money market fund's holdings of Cheyne Finance, a
structured-investment vehicle. The company said in a release that it
will take a charge of $142 million,
or 41 cents per share after adjustment for incentive compensation and
taxes, "principally representing unrealized losses in the SIV
securities underlying the support."

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In Banks, Brokers, & Bullsh1+ part 2 I forecasted Morgan Stanley having beef with their hedge fund clients and counterparties. Well, actually I claimed that they had excessive counterparty risk from these clients, which was bound to come back to bite them. In today's WSJ.com:

Some other hedge-fund managers say they've been bullied by securities firms when they've tried to cash out on profits from such positions. When one hedge-fund manager considered selling out of a credit-default swap -- in which his fund bought protection on $10 million of bonds of Countrywide Financial Corp. -- he says there was a condition attached by two securities firms. He says the firms -- Bear Stearns Cos., which sold him the swap, and Morgan Stanley -- told him they would cash him out of his profitable position, only if he would simultaneously enter into another swap-selling insurance protection on the bonds equal to his fund's $3 million profit. Eventually, he says, his fund sold the position through Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., allowing him to book the $3 million profit. Representatives for Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, Goldman and Lehman declined to comment.

Published in BoomBustBlog

This is post is primarily to document my assertions of self insurance by the banks in their alleged efforts to prop up the monoline (or should I say multilines?). Below you will find a chart with links that provide, in extreme detail, the insured holdings of a handful of banks and one homebuilder with a large mortgage operation (I do mean extreme detail, including asset name, CUSIP #, ratings by all major agencies, vintage, etc.). Let me add that I don't know how much of this is actually bank inventory versus what was sold off, but my guess is that the banks got stuck with the vast majority of everything from the last year or so. In addition, most of the underwriting banks can get stuck with the stuff that was found to violate the agreed upon underwriting guidelines (which is potentially a lot) for a certain period, even if it was sold off. This is something that can sink the smaller equity base banks such as First Franklin.

This is $120 billion dollars right here, and it is nowhere near comprehensive. These are RMBS, CMBS, and a smattering of consumer finance ABS insured by MBIA and Ambac. I know everybody thinks that we may be coming to the end of the writedowns from real estate related devaulations, but if that is what everybody thinks then everybody is wrong. This bubble took at least 6 years to build, it is not going to dissipate in 1 year. We are about 50% through the subprime crisis, but since this problem was never a subprime issue to begin with, we have lot more to go. There are all of the other classes of mortgages, the commercial real estate market, which I went over in detail , there is the consumer finance markets (recession, anyone?), then the big grand daddy of them all, the leveraged loan, junk bond CDO and CDS market - crashing at a financial institution near you. I am 50% through a forensic analysis that will expose the junk bond CDOs held by monolines that will probably knock your socks off. Alas, I digress...

This credit problem and real asset bubble is a result of combining very cheap money with the lax, "other people's money", moral hazard to be had whenyou don't need to be responsible for your own underwriting - otherwise known as the natural consequence of asset securitization. Why fret over due diligence when we're just going to sell the stuff off. The following are a sampling of whose holding the bag...

Published in BoomBustBlog
Sunday, 17 February 2008 00:00

Banks, Brokers and Bullsh1t, part 2.5?

It looks like my bearish position on AGO needs to be doubled up. From the WSJ.com:

Ambac Financial Group Inc. is in discussions to effectively split itself up in a move aimed at ensuring that municipal bonds backed by Ambac retain high credit ratings, according to a person familiar with the situation.

A halving of Ambac would create one unit that insures municipal debt and one that would cover rapidly diminishing securities tied to the mortgages in a structure that effectively creates a so-called "good bank" and "bad bank." Bond insurers generate revenue by promising to cover bond payments on debt issued by a range of entities, including local governments. Bond insurers now are under pressure, though, because they also agreed to guarantee payments on mortgage debt or securities to banks, brokers and investors.

Ratings companies now are poised to further cut credit ratings on bond insurers because of those guarantees. Ratings downgrades can have chain reactions and lead to increased borrowing costs for municipalities and write-downs for banks that own debt backed by the insurance providers. To avert financial chaos, regulators in New York, including state insurance superintendent Eric Dinallo and Gov. Eliot Spitzer have pressured the companies to find solutions or else face regulatory action.

Ambac is one of two bond insurers considering an effective break-up. FGIC Corp. on Friday notified Mr. Dinallo's office, the New York State Insurance Department, that it is pursuing an effective break-up. But according to people familiar with the situation, FGIC's plan came as a surprise to a consortium of banks that had been in early discussions to shore up FGIC's capital. Talks between the two sides be prolonged and litigation may be one outcome. Ambac's plan is much further along and an announcement could be made this week.

But the plan to split Ambac is complex and has required tens of hours in recent days. While a "good bank-bad bank" model has existed for decades, there isn't a playbook for halving a bond insurer. A number of issues remain to be resolved, said a person familiar with the situation.

So, what does this mean for the companies and industries covered in my blog? Well, in my opinion, this is the beginning of the endgame. Let's walk through the game board...

Published in BoomBustBlog

Why in the world would the media (rhetoric question) report the
street rallying when Buffet offers to buy the only thing keeping
monolines afloat? He is effectively holding the sword labeled monoline
hari kari.

From Bloomberg :

"
Berkshire would put up $5 billion as capital for the plan and is
offering to insure the municipal debt for 1.5 times the premium charged
by the bond insurers to take on the guarantee. The insurers could
accept the offer and back out within 30 days for a fee, Buffett said.
"

Of
course, management (at least the ones with any gray matter left) are
saying thanks, but no thanks. Wait a minute, though. They say that CDOs
have value and the mark downs are a temporary thing that will amortize
and revert back to par or above by maturity. If that was truly the
case, and you are strapped for capital that no one appears to want to
give to you, Buffet's offer makes plenty of sense. After all, he is
willing to pay you 2/3rds of what you paid for this low growth risk, but you get the capital that you seek so desperately and you get to capitalize on those structured products that you feel the market undervalues so foolishly. That
's a damn good deal for someone who is scrambling for money. Then
again, that's only if you really believe your own structured product
story. I don't think they do.

The only stock that should be rallying
is Berkshire Hathaway. Outside of potential for Buffet's stock holders,
nothing has changed. Even the Buffet equity potential has not changed
much. We all knew this is what he wanted to do - take advantage of the
mistakes that the monolines made with very little risk.

Published in BoomBustBlog
Monday, 11 February 2008 00:00

The Riskiest Bank on the Street

Key highlights of my research on the "Riskiest Investment Bank on the Street":

The Riskiest Bank on Wall Street Morgan Stanley has US$74 billion of Level 3 assets, over 200% of its equity, which is the highest amongst its peers. Although the Level 3 assets have declined from the previous quarters owing to huge writedowns, the reclassification of assets from from Level 2 to level 3 category continues as the liquidity for the troubled mortgage paper drys up.

Declining ABX index indicates troubled times are not over yet Morgan Stanley used the performance of the ABX index as one of the benchmarks to writedown US$9.4 billion in 4Q 07. As this index continiues to witness downward trend, we believe that the asset writedown done so far, may not be sufficient.

Forensic Accounting of ABS Assets yields more woes - a security by security accounting of MSs ABS inventory shows at least 30% and probably 56% in additional losses coming down the pike, as well as tests to its excessive exposure to the anemic capital reserves of its counterparties, namely monoline insurers and hedge funds.

Published in BoomBustBlog

This is the part where you should expect me to say all hell breaks loose. For those who don't follow me regularly, this is my take on the monolines and Ambac. Now, let's check the headlines... From Bloomberg.com:

Ambac's Insurance Unit Cut to AA From AAA by Fitch Ratings

Ambac Financial Group Inc., the second-largest bond insurer, was stripped of its AAA credit rating by Fitch Ratings after the company abandoned plans to raise new equity...Ambac Assurance Corp. was lowered two levels to AA and may be reduced further, New York-based Fitch said yesterday in a statement. The downgrade ``reflects the significant uncertainty with respect to the company's franchise, business model and strategic direction,'' Fitch said... Without its AAA rating, New York-based Ambac may be unable to write the top-ranked bond insurance that makes up 74 percent of its revenue. Ambac may quit the business or sell itself, said Robert Haines, an analyst at CreditSights Inc., a bond research firm in New York. The downgrade throws doubt on the ratings of $556 billion in municipal and structured finance debt guaranteed by Ambac.

``This makes Ambac insurance toxic,'' said Matt Fabian, senior analyst and managing director at Municipal Market Advisors in Westport, Connecticut. And therein lies the fundamental problem. The insurance was toxic from the get-go. The Fitch change in moniker status did nothing to change this, but give us bloggers and some reporters something to type about.``The market has no tolerance for a ratings-deprived insurer.''

Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's, the two largest ratings companies, are reviewing Ambac's ratings for a possible reduction. Moody's said this week that it may also cut the ratings of MBIA Inc., the largest bond insurer. This all a big fat joke. They cut ratings after a 80% drop in price and announcement of a $33 per share loss? Don't do us any more favors. Like I have disclaimed earlier, I am far from a fixed income expert, but I could have sworn that the ratings agencies advisory was aimed at being predictive, and not reactive. All they are doing is telling people how much money they lost!!!

``The likelihood is quite high the others will follow,'' said John Tierney, credit market strategist at Deutsche Bank AG in New York. ``Barring some significant development on new capital, it's just a matter of time before S&P and Moody's act on MBIA and Ambac.''... The seven AAA rated bond insurers place their stamp on $2.4 trillion of debt. Losing those rankings may cost borrowers and investors as much as $200 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The industry guaranteed $100 billion of collateralized debt obligations linked to subprime mortgages, $22 billion of non-prime auto loans and $1.2 trillion of municipal debt. Buffet's stock may see a lot of demand out of this...

New York-based Merrill Lynch & Co., the world's largest brokerage, this week took $3.1 billion of writedowns on the value of default protection from bond insurers... Fitch, following its downgrade of Ambac Assurance, adjusted ratings accordingly for 137,990 municipal bonds and 114 non- municipal issues insured by the company. Bonds with underlying ratings higher than Ambac's will remain above the bond insurer's level, Fitch said yesterday in a statement...Fitch last month demanded the company raise $1 billion by the end of January. Ambac on Jan. 16 slashed its dividend 67 percent and said it would sell stock or convertible notes to bolster its capital. The plan provoked a boardroom dispute and led to the departure of Chief Executive Officer Robert Genader.

Ambac's interim CEO, Michael Callen, 67, said this week that the company planned to raise capital in ``an accelerated time frame.'' And exactly how are they going to accomplish that.

Moody's said this week that it may cut Ambac's ratings after the company forecast writedowns of $3.5 billion on subprime-mortgage securities. S&P said yesterday that it may cut Ambac's rating because its capital-raising options are ``impaired.'' I hate to say I told you so, but... The issue is now your credibility is severely damaged by making so many wrong calls to begin with, then taking so long to do something about them.

The sudden increase in scrutiny by Moody's, a month after the company affirmed the ratings, sparked tension with Ambac and MBIA. Ambac this week described Moody's decision to place its ratings on review as ``surprising.'' MBIA issued a statement yesterday, saying it had started a capital raising plan ``in good faith reliance'' on Moody's stated requirements. You guys know you weren't a AAA risk. Let's stop the shenanigans, please...

MBIA's surplus notes plunged as low as 70 cents on the dollar yesterday, indicating a yield of about 25 percent, traders said. MBIA fell 67 cents, or 7.3 percent, to $8.55 on the New York Stock Exchange, taking its decline to 48 percent this week. Now, here I am going to say "I told you so"! Actually, my words were, "wait until they start trading!". I don't know what investors were thinking went they bought these notes! Do they not have professional advisors ? If not, I will offer free access to my blog for those that need it. A quick lesson for free - stop trying to reach for above market yields, for you may be handed above market losses in return.

Ratings companies, which affirmed their assessments a month ago, are scrutinizing bond insurers to ensure they have enough capital to protect against losses. S&P this week said industry losses on subprime securities will be 20 percent more than it initially forecast. Ambac has a capital shortfall of about $400 million under the new assumptions, S&P said. Well, one of us needs to recharge the batteries in our calculators, recalibrate Excel, or something. I see billions of dollars in shortfalls... (see Monolines swoon, CDO's go boom & I really wonder why the ratings agencies are given any credibility!)

Ambac's 6.15 percent bonds due in 2037 have plunged by 25 cents on the dollar this week to 35.4 cents on the dollar, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The yield has soared to 17.6 percent from 10.5 percent and the extra yield investors demand over government securities with similar maturities has widened 7.2 percentage points to 13.4 percentage points. And Moody's considers this a AA risk!!! Can you imagine what they would mean by the term JUNK!

Prices for credit-default swaps that pay investors if MBIA can't meet its debt obligations imply a 71 percent chance it will default in the next five years, according to a JPMorgan Chase & Co. valuation model. Contacts on Ambac imply 72 percent odds. Hey, isn't that what I said in the links above???

Contracts tied to MBIA's bonds have risen 10 percentage points the past two days to 26 percent upfront and 5 percent a year, according to CMA Datavision in New York. That means it would cost $2.6 million initially and $500,000 a year to protect $10 million in MBIA bonds from default for five years.... Credit-default swaps on Ambac, the second-biggest insurer, rose 11.5 percentage points to 26.5 percent upfront and 5 percent a year yesterday, prices from CMA Datavision show.

Ambac agreed to guarantee almost $200 million of bonds sold so far this year, or 6 percent of the market for new insured issues, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Ambac's market share was 22.5 percent as of Sept. 30, 2007, according to a Dec. 13 report from Bear Stearns Cos. In a few days I will illustrate the relationship between Bear Stearns, Ambac, and Mr. & Mrs. CounteryParty Risk.

So, after all of this, what comes next??? Is this the part where you expect me to say, "All hell breaks loose!". Well, not all hell, but I think some companies may find just a taste of it...

Published in BoomBustBlog

Bear fightThis is an introduction and precursor to the work being done over at Reggie's laboratory concerning Bear Stearns, who has seen its share price halved since the credit market melee kicked off. A melee that many say the Bear is responsible for igniting. I don't know how fair a comment that is, but I do know one thing, though. In terms of equity devaluation for the bear, you probably ain't seen nothin' yet. Bear Stearns will soon be, if not already, in a fight for its life. It is beset with the possibility of a criminal indictment (no Wall Street firm has ever survived a criminal indictment), additional civil litigation, and client defection and aliention. Despite all of these, the biggest issues don't seem all that prevalent in the media though. Bear Stearns is in a real financial bind due to the assets that it specialized in, and it is not in it by itself, either. It's excessive reliance on highly "modeled" and real asset/mortgage backed products in its portfolio may potentially be its undoing. See Banks, Brokers and Bullsh1+ part one for a run down on model risk and part two for my take on counterparty credit risk as a backgrounder before reading this piece.

I thought of sharing with you some of the key observations that we've made while doing the valuation model for Bear Stearns, which admittedely is quite late. I first took interest in Bear Stearns in June, but only recently got around to addressing the investment banking sector in a matter suitable for the blog over the last month. During that month, BSC has seen aggressive adverse price action. My research tells me that this price action is not only justified, but will have to continue in order for BSC to be adequately priced. There will be details that support this assessment in the final report.

Bear Stearns first caught my interest at around $130. When we started with the original shortlist of the investment banks for formal analysis on December 13, 2007, Bear Stearns stock price stood at $98.39. The stock price has fallen by more than 27% since then and now trades at $71.17.

External fundamentals behind my call for additional adverse price reaction

The company's exposure to the asset and mortgage backed securities is as follows:

Mortgage and Asset backed inventories of $43.6 billion

Published in BoomBustBlog