Reggie Middleton

Reggie Middleton

Resident Contrarian Badass at BoomBustBlog (you can call me Editor-in-Chief)...

Disruptor-in-Chief at Veritaseum.com, where we're ushering the P2P Economy.

 

Wednesday, 19 December 2007 05:00

Banks, Brokers, & Bullsh1+ part 1

A thorough forensic analysis of Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Lehman Brothers has uncovered...

Last week, Morgan Stanley called Citibank the “short play of the year for 2008”. That is rather rare – an investment bank not only issuing a plainly worded sell recommendation, but an actual short recommendation? And on a fellow bank??? I read it and said, “Hmmm!” Morgan Stanley has some damn nerve calling another bank a short. They are the RISKIEST bank on the street. Let’s take a quick visual overview, and then let’s go over how I came to that conclusion.

I went through your blog and the new post on Moody's rating affirmation and Ambac's reinsurance was fairly comprehensive. I especially liked the part where you talked about blood transfusion between two sick people and calling it a cure. I can't think of a better analogy that fits so well in this case.

Regarding my opinion on your post, From what I could gather, Ambac, struggling to avoid the losses of its AAA credit rating, took out insurance on $29 billion in securities it guarantees. The world's 2nd largest bond insurer agreed to transfer the risk that the securities will default to Assured Guaranty Ltd.

Robert Genader, Ambac's CEO had the following comment:
"Reinsurance is a valuable, capital-efficient and shareholder-friendly tool or managing risk and capital."

Reinsurance on $29 billion out of $556 billion portfolio – don’t know how much “risk” the company is likely to manage by reinsuring 5% of its portfolio.

This is part one of a two part response to comments and questions on the recent events concerning the Ambac and MBIA. The second part will be a forensic marking to market of Ambac's portfolio based upon the recent E*Trade sale. Required reading for this article includes:

  1. A Super Scary Halloween Tale of 104 Basis Points Pt I & II, by Reggie Middleton.
  2. Ambac is Effectively Insolvent & Will See More than $8 Billion of Losses with Just a $2.26 Billion Market Cap
  3. Follow up to the Ambac Analysis
  4. Monolines swoon, CDOs go boom & I really wonder why the ratings agencies are given any credibility
  5. Bill Ackman of Pershing Square - How to save the Monolines

Note: this came directly from one of my analysts, who seems to have been infected by my smart ass writing style :-)

Okay folks, now its official! According to Moody's, you can now rest asured that your retirement portfolio insured by Ambac is just as safe as those insured by Berkshire Hathaway, et. al., - AAA safe! Moody's has spoken...

From WSJ.com:
"Moody's gave a tentative pass to the biggest bond insurer, MBIA Inc., by affirming its rating late Friday but changing the outlook to "negative," in a move sure to cause howls from bearish investors and sighs of relief from Wall Street. Moody's also affirmed the triple-A rating of Ambac Financial Group Inc., another major bond insurer.

Moody's update of its view of the bond insurers had been awaited because of concern about the impact of troubles in the mortgage market on securities that bond insurers cover. Bond insurers guarantee the principal and interest payments on more than $2 trillion in debt, including securities that are backed up by mortgages.

Both MBIA and Ambac are top-rated insurers, and both have announced moves this month to boost their capital, which could help protect those ratings. This month, a private equity firm agreed to provide up to $1 billion to MBIA, which said at the time that it was also considering additional capital options. And Ambac struck a deal under which it bought reinsurance for a $29 billion portfolio."

Hmmm.

ACA is a holding company that provides financial guaranty insurance products to participants in the global credit derivatives markets, structured finance capital markets and municipal finance capital markets. I believe it may be close to its death knell, and possibly delisted. Expect to see an announcement like this for Ambac Financial over the next 8 quarters.

From one of my readers:

It's not a news story; it's something I witnessed personally. Freddie Mac lost $2B last quarter and plans to lose another $2B next quarter on $9B in revenue (20% losses). To celebrate, they threw a decadent holiday party at the Ritz Carlton in exclusive McLean, VA. They had a laser printer that printed pictures on chocolate lollipops for the kids, hors d'oeuvres, entertainment. You'd think it was the Goldman Sachs partners dinner. Alas, it was a Government Sponsored Enterprise pissing away money right before they're going to need a taxpayer bailout.

Thursday, 13 December 2007 00:03

Reggie's research

I have decided to keep pumping as much of my preliminary research as possible to the blog for free. Please read and accept the disclaimer below. In addition to the disclaimer, I want to add that this blog is not about investment advice, and I do not offer investment advice to the public. This blog is a digital diary of my thoughts, musings and opinions of boom-bust cycles and my own investment forays throughout these cycles. I have decided to offer some of my research to foster discussion, debate, and further analysis. Please do not request investment advice from me on the blog.

I have run into the same problem as most other investors (both individual and institutional) – the lack of credible, unbiased quality research. I have two teams of highly qualified analysts working for me full time, and they adhere to my outside of the box approach to fundamental analysis and research. Thus, the stuff that you see here will differ significantly from what you see from the usual suspects. My research is funded solely by me and my investment management vehicles, with no outside or third party interests, and is used to guide my investments and that of my private investment funds (as well as provide fodder for this blog), some of which may be open to qualified purchasers in the future. If you follow my blog, much of my research runs contrary to most of the sell side institutions and ratings agencies. I scream “danger!” in this “bust” way before they do, and will probably yell “opportunity” in the next boom cycle considerably before them as well. Consider it the contrarian wiki of buy side research. The research in this blog represents many man months of work PER MONTH. Any institutional players who are interested in a more formal, timely and complete version of my research and analyses should Email Me directly (examples: Ryland summary and Ambac loss tail and sensitivity analysis model). For the sake of comparison to sell side research from the big banks or newsletters, below is a description of the opinions expressed in this blog, displayed as if a short (or long, depending on boom or bust times, we are in a bust now so short is the order of the day) position was taken in a typical retail brokerage account the trading day after the article was posted. My style is that of the medium to long term horizon investor, alas, the blog has only been up and running for a few months.

This is part one of a two part response to comments and questions on the recent events concerning the Ambac and MBIA. The second part will be a forensic marking to market of Ambac's portfolio based upon the recent E*Trade sale. Required reading for this article includes:

  1. A Super Scary Halloween Tale of 104 Basis Points Pt I & II, by Reggie Middleton.
  2. Ambac is Effectively Insolvent & Will See More than $8 Billion of Losses with Just a $2.26 Billion Market Cap
  3. Follow up to the Ambac Analysis
  4. Monolines swoon, CDOs go boom & I really wonder why the ratings agencies are given any credibility
  5. Bill Ackman of Pershing Square - How to save the Monolines

Note: this came directly from one of my analysts, who seems to have been infected by my smart ass writing style :-)

MBIA � The company mentioned that "fair value" of their portfolio dropped by $850 million in the one month between September 30 and October 30, 2007. That speaks volumes. As far as equity infusion is concerned, MBIA is merely replacing the capital they have already lost. This may sound simplistic, but this is how it is. The caveat is, they are replacing it by diluting their current shareholders. Thus, those who did not do the math have bid the share price up, instead of down. Given the significant amount of exposure that the company has (MBIA has about $84 billion in residential ABS and CDO exposure), $1 billion of capital infusion at this point may not be sufficient; though it may keep off the immediate rating downgrade concern. The company has also mentioned that they�re setting aside $800 million to cover estimated losses on residential mortgage-backed securities in the fourth quarter. This will further impact its bottom line.

Required reading for this article: The very first paragraph of the very first post I made on this blog and "the Great Global Macro Experiment".

Of course commercial real estate is going to fall. Why? For the exact same reason residential real estate is falling. But, there hasn't been an oversupply of commercial real estate, you say. Well, the oversupply is not the core reason why residential is falling right now. Residential RE's problem is that easy, cheap money brought upon wreckless, imprudent speculation from players who were not well versed in the real estate game - and even those who should have known better. The current oversupply is a byproduct of that liquidity induced speculation. Why split hairs? Because the devil is in the details. The downfall of CRE is the rampant speculation that caused many to significantly overpay for assets that are quite illiquid and take significant expertise and time to improve (or even sell), even incrementally. Not only did they overpay, but they applied significant leverage as well, much more than the industry norm.

A Quick Commercial Real Estate Primer: Pricing Commercial Real Estate

There are several ways to price and value CRE, but the simplest and most straight forward is the capitalization rate (cap rate).

The cap rate is simply net operating income/price. The result is a yield that you can use to compare to other investments in order gauge relative price/return - such as the 10 yr. note yielding 4.114%. For instance, I buy a building for $100,000 and it throws off $10,000 after all operating expenses. $10,000/$100,000 = .10 or 10% = the cap rate. Thus this building is priced at a 10% cap rate, or priced by the seller to give the buyer a 10% return, unleveraged. This 10% return priced into the building allows a 589 basis point risk premia over the 10 yr treasury. Why, you ask? Because the office building is much riskier, being very illiquid, taking many months or years to close on and sell. The office building inherently has risk of litigation, operational risk, and market risk. It also requires a modicum of operational expertise, and in addition there is credit risk (through your lessees(?) So, as you can see, the risk premia is well deserved.

Now, many (in order to juice the return a bit) apply leverage through mortgages, bank loans, etc. to spice up the return, albeit at the risk of higher volatility of cash flows and the possibility of running negative cash flow in tight years. Assume, I used 30% of my own monies ($30,000) to buy this building and borrowed $70,000 for the rest. I now get that same $10,000 net operating income off of a $30,000 cash outlay, vs a $10,000 cash outlay. So now I yield 33% return instead of a 10% return due to leverage. Of course my astute readers realize that the cost of this leverage was not factored in. Let's assume the debt service for this loan is $4,900 per year. I must deduct that interest and principal repayment from my operating profit. This is reality. Thus, my leveraged yield is really something akin to 17%. Still not bad, and still better than 10%.

----- EXTENDED BODY:

The realities of the liquidity boom generated leverage, the absence of risk premia & how the combination of the two will bring down commercial real estate

There are additional caveats to the use of leverage. For one, it greatly reduces operating flexibility. If you paid all cash in the deal above, and two out four of tenants move out or go bankrupt, your (variable) cashflows are not as hindered by your debt service (fixed) which offers you the flexibility to pay more bills until you replace your income. If you took on debt, you have less room to maneuver since the debt service is a fixed cost. Of course, the more debt you take on, the less room you have.

Now, over the last year or two, I have witnessed market participants purchase apartment and office buildings at cap rates of,,,, hold your breath now,,,,, 1.5% -4.5%. That's right. These are supposed professionals, acquiring multi-million or even multi-billion dollar risky assets yield less than a 10 yr treasury or your local money market fund - much less. There are only way two ways to justify paying a low cap rate:

  1. A clear path towards increasing net operating income, such as doubling rents (this ain't gonna in this economic downturn with corporate earnings disappointing and the residential housing stock at all time highs), or reducing expenses, or -
  2. selling to an even greater fool at an even lower cap rate. With the easy money drying up and CMBS market looking rather scary, fools that are easily departed with thier money are increasinly hard to come by. Now, we can find fools, still - but the money part is the kicker these days - And even if you find a fool who still has some of his money, how do you convince even him to pay between 0% to 1% return on his money for your risky asset when treasuries are currently yielding ove 4%. This is not even taking into consideration leverage - which would assuredely drive this asset into negative cash flow, with NO MARGIN for ERROR in operating. Trust me, you will need a margin for error. Everyone makes mistakes, even me. I made one back in the early '90s... :-)

Sam Zell, one of the most successful real estate investors of our time, sold his Equity Office Properties Trust of Class A and B buildings to Blackrock for what I assuredely thought was a fools price. When I saw the numbers, I said easy money or not, there is an ass for every seat. Well, little do I know. Blackrock found someone to pass the cherry on to, and in near real time at that - and they paid even lower cap rates than Blackrock did. Hats off to the Blackrock folk. You found the guys at the very tip top of the market to drop those cap rates off on.

Now, the problem for the last guys to buy these properties (as Sam Zell sits there smiling on his $21 billion pile of cash) is that it is going to be nigh impossilbe to find someone who will pay a ZERO cap rate, and try as you might it will be damn hard to raise lease rates amongst an economic hard landing and negative trending earnings... And thus, this is the fate of commercial real estate. The many guys who overpaid, will get burnt as values tumble from their peak bubble highs. Old school real estate guys email me and say they never even heard of 5, 6 and 7 percent cap rates until recently (after 30 years in the biz). Well, some of these guys are pushing zero (literally 1.5% to 3 and 4%).

So I told my team to find the low cap rate buyers so we can short 'em. We, of course, started looking at the profile of those who bought from Blackrock (I mean, who wouldn't?) and then moved on when we saw that their were some entities that were in some real (and I mean real) trouble. Here are a couple of companies that we passed on because they weren't bad enough off:

Vornado - implied cap rate of 4.2% (currently about that of a risk free note, but fraught with risk), and debt to equity of 163%. This means $1.63 of debt to every dollar of equity or in terms of residential real estate.

Equity Residental - implied cap rate of 5% (currently about that of a risk free note, but fraught with risk), and debt to equity of 193%. This means $1.93 of debt to every dollar of equity. Inserted comment: Error correction, hat tip to Kiku below. It has been pointed out in the comments that published equity numbers are misleading for REITS, which is why we measure portfolio value independently, as we did with the mononline insurers and the homebuilders. Could you imagine going to a bank (like Countrywide, with mortgage backed structured products insured by Ambac) and saying, "Hey, I'd like to borrow twice what my house equity is appraising for, and I want to do it now, Dammit!" :-) Alas, this is what "The Great Global Macro Experiment" has wrought.

If you think these numbers might look just a little hairy, just wait and see the numbers of the companies that I am actually shorting. The one's above were actually cut off of the short's short list, so to say. Once you see, you will be a believer just like me - commercial real estate is on its way down. See comments below for more on the accuracy of the book calculations I use in my analysis vs. used in this story.

Details of transactions for sale of properties by Blackstone Group

Date

Particulars of transaction

Purchaser

Amount

12th June, 2007

Sold Extended Stay Hotels

The Lightstone Group LLC

$8 billion

9th August, 2007

Sold 38 assets comprised of 106 office buildings and 5.9 million square feet in San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City. The properties are from the CarrAmerica West Coast Collection that Blackstone Group purchased last year as part of a national portfolio.

GE Real Estate-owned Arden Realty

NA

17th July, 2007

Merlin Entertainments Group, the leisure park operator owned by Blackstone, sold its property assets to

London

property firm Prestbury Group plc owned by real estate investor Nick Leslau.

Prestbury Group plc

$1.27 billion

27th August, 2007

Sold 9 suburban Chicago office complexes to GE Real Estate. Blackstone acquired these properties when it bought Equity Office Properties Trust.

GE Real Estate

$1.05 billion

27th August, 2007

Sold a portfolio of downtown Chicago properties to Tishman Speyer. Blackstone acquired these properties when it bought Equity Office Properties Trust

Tishman Speyer

$1.72 billion

9th February, 2007

Sold 6.5 million square feet of Manhattan office space Macklowe Properties. Blackstone acquired these properties when it bought Equity Office Properties Trust.

Macklowe Properties

$7 billion

Required reading for this article: The very first paragraph of the very first post I made on this blog and "the Great Global Macro Experiment".

Of course commercial real estate is going to fall. Why? For the exact same reason residential real estate is falling. But, there hasn't been an oversupply of commercial real estate, you say. Well, the oversupply is not the core reason why residential is falling right now. Residential RE's problem is that easy, cheap money brought upon wreckless, imprudent speculation from players who were not well versed in the real estate game - and even those who should have known better. The current oversupply is a byproduct of that liquidity induced speculation. Why split hairs? Because the devil is in the details. The downfall of CRE is the rampant speculation that caused many to significantly overpay for assets that are quite illiquid and take significant expertise and time to improve (or even sell), even incrementally. Not only did they overpay, but they applied significant leverage as well, much more than the industry norm.

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