Posted tagged ‘loans’

Notes and Predictions: The Stress Test

May 6, 2009

As the results of the stress test start leaking out slowly, it’s a fun exercise to make some educated guesses/predictions about what the future holds and take note of pertinent facts. As we’ve discussed before, there is a lot to take issue with when considering the results of the stress test at all, especially given the added layers of uncertainty stemming form the limited information provided in the scenarios. So, without further delay, let’s get started.

1. The baseline scenario will prove wholly inadequate as a “stress test.” Please, follow along with me as I read from the methodology (pdf).  I’ll start with the most egregious and reckless component of the mis-named baseline scenario (I would rename it the, “if payer works” scenario) : what I will refer to as “the dreaded footnote six.” From the document:

As noted above, BHCs [(Bank Holding Companies, or the firms being stress tested)] with trading account assets exceeding $100 billion as of December 31, 2008 were asked to provide projections of trading related losses for the more adverse scenario, including losses from counterparty credit risk exposures, including potential counterparty defaults, and credit valuation adjustments taken against exposures to counterparties whose probability of default would be expected to increase in the adverse scenario.(6)

[...]

(6) Under the baseline scenario, BHCs were instructed to assume no further losses beyond current marks.

(Emphasis mine.)

Holy <expletive>! In what alternate/parallel/baby/branching universe is this indicative of anything at all? Assume no further losses beyond current marks? Why not assume everything returns to par? Oh, well, that actually was a pretty valid assumption for the baseline scenario. From the document:

New FASB guidance on fair value measurements and impairments was issued on April 9, 2009, after the commencement of the [stress test].  For the baseline scenario supervisors considered firms’ resubmissions that incorporated the new guidance.

(Emphasis mine.)

Thank goodness! I was worried that the “if prayer works” scenario might have some parts that were worth looking at. Thankfully, for troubled banks, I can skip this entire section. (Confidence: 99.9999%)

2. Trading losses will be significantly understated across all five institutions that will need to report them. First, only institutions with over $100 billion in trading assets were asked to stress their trading positions. Second, from the section on “Trading Portfolio Losses” from the document:

Losses in the trading portfolio were evaluated by applying market stress factors … based on the actual market movements that occurred over the stress horizon (June 30 to December 31, 2008).

(Emphasis mine.)

Okay, well, that seems reasonable, right? Hmmmm… Let’s take a look. Here is what some indicative spread movements for fixed income products looked like January 9th of 2009, according to Markit (who has made it nearly impossible to find historical data for their indices, so I’m resorting to cutting and pasting images directly–all images are from their site):

yearendgraph

(Click on the picture for a larger version.)

Well, looks like a big move is taken into account by using this time horizon. Clearly this should provide a reasonable benchmark for the stress test results, right? Well, maybe not.

currentgraph

(Click on the picture for a larger version.)

Yes, that’s right, we’ve undergone, for sub-prime securities a massive widening during 2009 already. Also, as far as I can tell, the tests are being run starting from the December 2008 balance sheet for each company. So, if I’m correct, for the harsher scenario, trading losses will be taken on December 2008 trading positions using December 2008 prices and applying June 2008 to December 2008 market movements. For sub-prime, it seems pretty clear that most securities would be written up (June 2008 Spread: ~200, December 2008 Spread: ~1000, Delta: ~800, Current Spread: ~2600, December 2008 to Today Delta: ~1600, Result: firms would take, from December 2008 levels, half the markdown they have already taken).

Also, it should be a shock to absolutely no one that most trading assets will undergo a lagged version of this same decline. Commercial mortgages and corporate securities rely on how firms actually perform. Consumer-facing firms, as unemployment rises, the economy worsens and consumption declines, and consumers default, will see a lagged deterioration that will appear in corporate defaults and small businesses shuttering–both of these will lead to commercial mortgages souring.  Indeed we’ve seen Moody’s benchmark report on commercial real estate register a massive deterioration in fundamentals. That doesn’t even take into account large, exogenous events in the sector. Likewise, we see consistently dire predictions in corporate credit research reports that only point to rising defaults 2009 and 2010.

In short, for all securities, it seems clear that using data from 2H2008 and applying those movements to December 2008 balance sheets should produce conservative, if not ridiculously understated loss assumptions. (Confidence: 90%)

3. Bank of America will have to go back to the government. This, likely, will be the end of Ken Lewis. It’s not at all clear that Bank of America even understands what’s going on. First, if I’m correctly reading Bank of America’s first quarter earnings information, the firm has around $69 billion in tangible common equity. Also, it should be noted that the FT is reporting that Bank of America has to raise nearly $34 billion.  Now, with all this in mind, let’s trace some totally nonsensical statements that, unlike any other examples in recent memory, were not attributed to anonymous sources (from the NYT article cited above):

The government has told Bank of America it needs $33.9 billion in capital to withstand any worsening of the economic downturn, according to an executive at the bank. [...]

But J. Steele Alphin, the bank’s chief administrative officer, said Bank of America would have plenty of options to raise the capital on its own before it would have to convert any of the taxpayer money into common stock. [...]

“We’re not happy about it because it’s still a big number,” Mr. Alphin said. “We think it should be a bit less at the end of the day.” [...]

Regulators have told the banks that the common shares would bolster their “tangible common equity,” a measure of capital that places greater emphasis on the resources that a bank has at its disposal than the more traditional measure of “Tier 1” capital. [...]

Mr. Alphin noted that the $34 billion figure is well below the $45 billion in capital that the government has already allocated to the bank, although he said the bank has plenty of options to raise the capital on its own.

“There are several ways to deal with this,” Mr. Alphin said. “The company is very healthy.”

Bank executives estimate that the company will generate $30 billion a year in income, once a normal environment returns. [...]

Mr. Alphin said since the government figure is less than the $45 billion provided to Bank of America, the bank will now start looking at ways of repaying the $11 billion difference over time to the government.

(Emphasis mine.)

Right around the time you read the first bolded statement, you should have started to become dizzy and pass out. When you came to, you saw that the chief administrative officer, who I doubt was supposed to speak on this matter (especially in advance of the actual results), saying that a bank with $69 billion in capital would be refunding $11 billion of the $45 billion  in capital it has already received because they only need $34 billion in capital total. Huh? Nevermind that the Times should have caught this odd discrepancy, but if this is the P.R. face the bank wants to put on, they are screwed.

Now, trying to deal with what little substance there is in the article, along with the FT piece, it seems pretty clear that, if Bank of America needs $34 billion in additional capital, there is no way to get it without converting preferred shares to common shares. There is mention of raising $8 billion from a sale of a stake in the China Construction Bank (why are they selling things if they are net positive $11 billion, I don’t know). That leaves $26 billion. Well, I’m glad that “once a normal environment returns” Bank of America can generate $30 billion in income (Does all of that fall to T.C.E.? I doubt it, but I have no idea). However, over the past four quarters, Bank of America has added just $17 billion in capital… I will remind everyone that this timeframe spans both T.A.R.P. and an additional $45 billion in capital being injected into the flailing bank. Also, who is going to buy into a Bank of America equity offering now? Especially $26 billion of equity! If a troubled bank can raise this amount of equity in the current environment, then the credit crisis is over! Rejoice!

I just don’t see how Bank of America can fill this hole and not get the government to “bail it out” with a conversion. The fact that Bank of America argued the results of the test, frankly, bolsters this point of view. Further, this has been talked about as an event that requires a management change, hence my comment on Lewis.  (Confidence: 80% that the government has to convert to get Bank of America to “well capitalized” status)

Notes/Odds and Ends:

1. I have no idea what happened with the NY Times story about the results of the “Stress Test.” The WSJ and FT are on the same page, but there could be something subtle that I’m misunderstanding or not picking up correctly. Absent this, my comments stand. (Also, if might have been mean.unfair of me to pick on the content of that article.)

2. The next phases of the credit crisis are likely to stress bank balance sheets a lot more. The average bank doesn’t have huge trading books. However, they do have consumer-facing loan and credit products in addition to corporate loans and real estate exposure. In the coming months, we’ll see an increase in credit card delinquencies. Following that, we’ll see more consumer defaults and corporations’ bottom line being hurt from the declining fundamentals of the consumer balance sheet. This will cause corporate defaults. Corporate defaults and consumer defaults will cause commercial real estate to decline as well. The chain of events is just beginning. Which leads me to…

3. Banks will be stuck, unable to lend, for a long time. I owe John Hempton for this insight. In short, originations require capital. Capital, as we see, is in short supply and needed to cover losses for the foreseeable future. Hence, with a huge pipeline of losses developing and banks already in need of capital, there is likely not going to be any other lending going on for a while. This means banks’ ability to generate more revenue/earnings is going to be severely handicapped as sour loans make up a larger and larger percentage of their portfolios.

4. From what I’ve read, it seems that the actual Citi number, for capital to be raised, is between $6 billion and $10 billion. This puts their capital needs at $15 billion to $19 billion, since they are selling assets to raise around $9 billion, which is counted when considering the amount of capital that needs to be raised (according to various news stories). Interestingly, this is 44% to 55% of Bank of America’s needed capital. This paints a very different picture of the relative health of these two firms than the “common wisdom” does. Granted, this includes a partial conversion of Citi’s preferred equity to common equity.

5. I see a huge correlation between under-performing portfolios and a bank trying to negotiate it’s required capital lower by “appealing” the stress test’s assessment of likely losses in both the baseline and adverse scenarios. As I’ve talked about before, not all portfolio performance is created equal. Citi has seen an increasing (and accelerating) trend in delinquencies while JP Morgan has seen it’s portfolio stabilize. So, for the less-healthy banks to argue their losses are overstated by regulators, they are doubly wrong. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out–for example, if JP Morgan’s credit card portfolio assumes better or worse performance than Citi and Bank of America.

Commercial Developers: Not a Credible Threat

January 9, 2009

Ok, I’ve been tardy in posting. I’m very sorry about that, lot’s of things are going on. This post is, obviously, a bit delayed, but I think it’s important that people realize why this is amongst the dumbest ideas ever and will demonstrate how one can try to pull the wool over the eyes of the public.

On December 22nd I was startled to see a WSJ news alert title “Developers Ask U.S. for Bailout as Massive Debt Looms” in my email. This is potentially the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.  There are a few reasons I believe this. First, though we’ll need to know a few things about commercial properties and how they are financed…

1. Unlike residential mortgages, there are multiple metrics for value and credit worthiness of a commercial property. Residential properties can be looked at with a few paramters in mind, but there is a certain amount of behavioral science that undergirds mortgage models. For residential mortgages, one mainly considers FICO score and LTV (ratio of loan amount to value). However, these are not created equal: FICO is used to ascertain probability of default and LTV is used to figure out loss severity with a binary “under water or not” input into default probability as well. The intuition here is that how much one expects to lose is the probability you lose anything at all times the severity (percentage of loan value) of that loss. We can debate if the world is this simple (it isn’t, I’ll win that one), but that’s how one analyzes individual mortgages in the context of a pool. Note what is NOT in there, the actual rate of interest or income of the borrower (theoretically contributes to FICO, but FICO is largely a black box).

Commercial mortgages, on the other hand, are sized to two parameters: LTV and DSCR. DSCR is the Debt Service Coverage Ratio and is net cash flow (NCF) from the property divided by the monthly interest payment, and has traditionally been constrained to 1.20x as the minimum acceptable ratio. Further, the cashflow is the result of a detailed underwriting process where every line item (most important being rent, obviously) is analyzed and researched to find the correct assumptions. Values, unlike residential properties which are dollars per square foot, are determined by capitalization rates or cap rates for commercial properties. The cap rate is the NCF divided by the value of the property. So, if a property that generates $10 million “trades” at a 10% cap rate (which is ridiculously high, bubble cap rates were around 4% and normal cap rates are around5-7% for regular properties), it would “trade” at $100 million (trades being used to denote the theoretic level it could be bought or sold).

What we see here is that there are three elements of analyzing a loan here: the actual cashflow the property generates is scrutinized, the ability to service debt from that cash flow constrains the size of the loan, and the valuation of properties constrains the size of the loan along a different, but not unrelated, dimension.

2. The riskiest properties in the commercial mortgage market are structured as much shorter-term loans. If you are a developer and you aren’t refinancing a mortgage on a cashflowing property, you don’t get a 10-year fixed-rate loan. You get a two-year loan whose interest rate floats (although there is a cap purchased, so the property or developer has a maximum payment) and is extendable if you meet certain conditions and pay certain fees. These sorts of loans are made on newly-constructed complexes with no current cashflow, properties undergoing a severe renovation or being repositioned in such a way as to introduce a lot of uncertainty (adding floors, changing building type, etc.), and other risky properties.

Less risky properties get 10-year fixed rate loans, but they aren’t 10-year amortizing loans, they are 30-year amortizing loans that come due in 10 years. This is called a 10-year balloon payment. This means that in ten years the average commercial property will only have paid back 20% of their loan when the remaining 80% comes due. Clearly this is a regime meant to discourage unlevered ownership.

3. For very large loans, in addition to floating rate loans, commercial properties have low leverage mortgages and the additional debt comes in the form of mezzanine debt. Why is this important? Well, mezzanine debt, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is debt against equity–the owner puts up his/her ownership stake as the collateral of the debt. So, if one fails to make a payment on the mezzanine debt, the mezzanine debt holder can take the property. Note, however, this is unlike a bank foreclosing on your house–the mortgage in this scenario is above the mezzanine debt and is undisturbed by the default of the mezzanine debt. The mortgage holder is still owed money, but from whom the checks are coming is irrelevant to the mortgage holder. This structure exists for a number of reasons, including tax and accounting reasons, but one reason it is to often used is that mezzanine debt makes it much easier to transfer the property’s ownership versus having one large mortgage.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, though, that this complexity allows investment banks to get deep into the process of lending and distributing debt. The buyers of the lowest pieces of mezzanine debt are completely different than the buyers of the AAA bonds backed by the senior mortgages (yes, the mortgages are securitized, but mezzanine debt cannot be–for boring details on this to look into REMIC rules and other minutia).  The natural buyers of the lowest pieces of mezzanine debt are firms that, in the event of default, can own the property and operate it well. This is an important fact. Some buyers of commercial mortgage debt will refuse to purchase debt on a property, especially large or complex properties, if a smart firm with a good track record of operating properties isn’t in the first in line to take over the property in the event of a default (called the first-loss debt position).

Now, let’s explore what actually happened over the past few years. 2006 was the year underwriting standards totally died. Highly levered transactions became the norm, case-in-point is the EOP transaction. This was financed with floating rate debt and was very highly levered–EOP’s portfolio was yielding about 4% to 5% on the purchase price (although, this was on the final purchase price which was settled on in 2007, but the underwriting and debt commitments were all negotiated in 2006). Here’s another dirty secret about Blackstone’s buyout of EOP: the rating agencies, to rate debt, have to do their own underwriting of the properties and come up with their own, conservative, cashflow. Most, if not all, of the underwriting the rating agencies used was directly from Blackstone. This was not uncommon when the rating agencies were involved in a transaction with a large client who had a good brand name. EOP is merely illustrative of a top-of-the-market deal. Although, there are other huge examples.

Benchmark underwriting standards went from a 1.20x DSCR to 1.15x or 1.10x, although LTV’s stayed at 80% (although valuations were sky-rocketing).  A huge percentage of loans were interest-only, so the balloon payment went from 80% of the loan to 100% of the loan. Think about that… A borrower is constrained by their ability to make payments on the debt, but they are only constrained to 1.10x their debt payments, which don’t include amortization payments, and the constraint is based on your expected future cashflows (which, obviously, assume rent growth!), not your current cashflows. Starting to get the picture? Properties became over-levered in the instance where any problems developed.Who pushed for this? Developers and property owners. As a matter of fact, the push to grow market share and revenue meant that banks needed to lend more so they could sell more debt and securitize more. 2006, for these reasons was the peak of lending on commercial properties. Between 2005 and 2006, I would estimate, 40-50% of all the currently outstanding commercial mortgage debt was originated (the chart in the WSJ article bears this out).

2007 was the year that problems began to occur. Spreads blew out to record levels (at the time, those records are being smashed all the time). Within six months of relaxed standards being instituted, they were rolled back. It was also during this year that supply of debt, including the unsold inventory referred to as hung debt, far outstripped demand. Because of the large percentage of “fast money,” or hedge funds, in the real estate debt markets (see #7 in that post), when spreads moved against them the largest players took huge losses and shut down (“blew up”). Also, CDO’s were a huge consumer of this sort of debt, and the non-corporate CDO market stopped completely in 2007. Seeing the headwinds for reduced demand? So, in essence, the marginal buyers of debt who could live with relaxed underwriting standards, because they needed to get enough debt to issue a CDO or invest their new $1,000,000,000 they raised, disappeared.

2008 was, in essence, more of the same. The same pressures and lack of demand persisted and debt prices continued to sink. Also, more buyers of debt left the market or shutdown, compounding the problems.

So, now, we can examine the request for bailout funds by developers. In the next three years, there is, according to the article, citing some firm I never heard of, $530 billion coming due ($160 billion in the next year). Well, I can count, so let’s count backwards. The vast, vast majority of mortgages are 10 year mortgages with a balloon payment, so those loans made in 1998 with this structure will be coming due. Rents are up significantly since then (page 23), perhaps 40%. Cap rates have also compressed significantly. Taken together, these two facts mean that someone with a stable property, who got a mortgage in 1998, is coming due  this year and has 40% more cash coming in from the property and can lever that cashflow much more now. I think those people will be fine refinancing. Ditto for all normal loans coming due in the two years after that.

What’s left? Well, all the risky, shorter term loans. These are 2 year loans that can be extended by one year up to a total term of five years, traditionally. In my estimation 95% of the floating rate loans I’ve seen conform to this structure.  Well, two years ago means originated in late 2006 or early 2007. Three years ago is 2006 or 2005 (very top of the market). You see the pattern. These loans are the riskiest projects, undertaken at the top of the market. These loans were made with aggressive assumptions underlying their underwritten cashflows, top-tick valuations, and higher levels of allowable leverage than at any other time in recent memory (certainly in the time this market has been considered mature). Seems like I just made the case for the developers, no? Absolutely not. Common sense tells us that these risky loans aren’t the normal apartment buildings, malls, retail space, and industrial space–those are the 10-year loans we talked about. These risky loans are for acquisition and re-positioning of hotels, construction projects resulting in marginal increases in commercial space, and highly levered purchases of portfolios of properties. Not exactly the sort of properties that are the backbone of our economy.

Even worse for developers is the fact we discussed above: short term loans are designed to transfer owners. Defaulting on a highly levered property usually means the property owner becomes someone as good, if not better, at running that same property type. No one will come to their office to see the front door padlocked and the bank selling the building for the majority of these loans. Oh, and the majority of those 40-50% of loans I estimated were made in 2005 and 2006, based on frothy valuations and underwriting, will be coming due in 2015 and 2016–those numbers, then, can’t be in the numbers presented by developers.

The conclusion? Devleopers are using big numbers to scare people into putting money up to backstop the riskiest of their highly-levered projects. As a matter of fact, there was quote in the WSJ article.

“The credit crisis has got so bad that refinancing of even good loans may be drying up,” says Richard Parkus, head of commercial-mortgage-backed securities research at Deutsche Bank.

(Emphasis mine.)

HA! “Even good loans” … The unread part of that is, “Not just bad loans, but…”

Further, this just can’t be true at all:

There’s widespread agreement that a record volume of commercial real-estate loans made during the boom years are starting to come due. According to Foresight Analytics, the $530 billion of commercial mortgages that will be maturing between now and 2011 includes loans held by banks, thrifts and insurance companies as well as loans packaged and sold as commercial-mortgage-backed securities — or CMBS.

(Emphasis mine.)

Unless we are defining “boom years” as 1998 to 2001, this isn’t just suspect it’s patently false. No significant amount of loans turned into CMBS is coming due between now and 2011. At least the WSJ is consistent…

Unlike home loans, which borrowers repay after a set period of time, commercial mortgages usually are underwritten for five, seven or 10 years with big payments due at the end. At that point, they typically need to be refinanced.

[...]

At the heart of the financing scarcity is the virtual shutdown of the market for CMBS, where Wall Street firms sliced and diced commercial mortgages into bonds. During the recent real-estate boom that took off in 2005 and lasted through early 2007, that market fueled the lending to real estate because banks could sell easily the loans they made.

(Emphasis mine.)

Wow! Five, seven, and ten year loans, made between 2005 and early 2007 are coming due between now and 2011! The disproving of these are left as a simple exercise for the reader.

Look, as a reader of Dear John Thain, you know that I’m not always right. I’m probably missing something. Let’s see what else the WSJ has to say:

What’s not clear is how soon the crunch will come. The Real Estate Roundtable, a major industry trade group, predicts that more than $400 billion of commercial mortgages will come due through the end of 2009. Foresight Analytics estimates that $160 billion of commercial mortgages will mature next year.

Jeff DeBoer, president and chief executive officer of the Roundtable, says the group came up with its estimate by looking at the $3.4 trillion of commercial real-estate loans outstanding. It’s not unusual for roughly 10% of the industry’s debt to roll over every year, he says, referring to refinancings.

This year, some $141 billion worth of commercial real-estate debt owed by property owners and developers to lenders came due, according to Foresight Analytics. Most of that was refinanced or extended by existing lenders. The lion’s share of those loans was made between five and 10 years ago. Despite the recent decline in property values, the underlying buildings were still worth well more than their mortgages and were generating sufficient cash to pay debt service.

(Emphasis mine.)

Well, I guess not. So, the larger number is a guess based on the “take a large number and multiply it by 10%” rule. The smaller number is similar to what was experienced in 2008, where most of the debt was refinanced or extended by lenders. Further, those properties that make up the “lion’s share” were worth much more than their mortgages and generating sufficient cash to pay their debt service. Oh, and they were originated between 5 and 10 years ago, as I conjectured above. Seems like there is no justification, whatsoever, for spending a dollar on “bailing out” commercial mortgage developers. (I really want to put a Q.E.D. here…).

The Easiest Hardest Question Ever

January 7, 2009

I was reading Felix’s post, recently (I know, I’m behind on everything… I’m posting on that soon too), where he cites a Tanta piece on negative amortizing loans. And it prompted me to have a very specific memory.

Here’s my email to Felix…

————-

Subject: Here’s something funny-scary …

… that your post on option ARMS got me thinking about. No one, and I literally mean NO ONE, who works in securitized products knows very basic things about the loans, as you touched on. But the people securitizing the loans and selling the bonds don’t know very basic things that fall under the “you should be shot for not knowing something this basic” category… Here’s what I asked a whole bunch of these master’s of the universe and none of them knew the answer, they all guessed.

“When I, as an individual who has a mortgage on my home, have a fixed rate amortizing loan on a thirty-year amortization schedule, and I send in a curtailment (excess principal payment that doesn’t pay off the loan but reduces the principal balance faster than scheduled) what happens to all the subsequent payments?”

Here’s why this is tricky…

1. If you curtail the loan then your interest payment reduces. However, this means your payments are no longer “level” … They change from month to month. This is because amortization schedules set based on simple interest computation (rate*loan balance) but the principal is set to keep the payments level. When you curtail the loan, you destroy this balance.

2. If your interest payment reduces once, but the overall payment doesn’t change, then you have a loan that starts to amortize much faster than before. Why? Well, the bank can’t charge you interest for that month on a principal balance that is lower, right? So if your payment is “x” and you paid off 5% of your loan, because the interest portion of your payment is 5% lower, if the payment hasn’t changed that money that would have gone to interest on the paid off amount goes to principal repayment. This compounds the same problem for next month’s payment.

3. No one was aware of loans being recast. It doesn’t seem to be the case that loans are recast once someone sends in more than their payment, and it also doesn’t seem to be the case that loans are recast on any sort of schedule (annually, for example). Not a single person thought this happened.

Most common answer was “principal balance goes down” …. And once the details were asked? One usually got a hand wave and an answer of “Curtailments are so rare, this is unimportant.” Even the people modeling the actual cashflows didn’t understand what happens to loans when curtailments come in. They would model it as a partial prepayment of the pool, but not alter anything else (after all, curtailments are rare! why bother modeling them correctly?). Ha!

-DJT

————-

I did call some mortgage companies and it seems they do “turbo” the loan, essentially, by keeping payments level and applying more to principal … But this, obviously, makes it les than a 30-year loan. However, some mortgage companies will allow you to recast the mortgage totally for payments that are large enough.

The Financial Markets Stabilization Act We Should Have Seen

October 14, 2008

This comes from a comment I left on Barry Ritholtz’s “Bailout Plan Open Thread” the other evening. The basic premise is that the “Bailout Bill” as we know it basically says we need to go out and “lift” the street out of toxic crap. Then, the world will be better. It’s at least a bit less like the Underpants Gnomes in the sense that the toxic crap and the freezing up of the credit markets are linked… However, here’s the plan we should see if we, as taxpayers, really want our money going to help us.

1. Purchase only loans or securities that have the right to control loans directly or modify loans. The magic of the C.D.O. is that it’s backed by things that are backed by other things. So, if I buy some sub-prime–backed bonds and C.D.O.’s backed by those same bonds, I’m buying two securities being affected by the same loans. Just buy the loans. With the loans being controlled by the government, they are now free to…

2. Recast all delinquent loans to be much longer, have lower interest rates, and be much harder to abuse. Guess what interest rate you get on a forty year mortgage?  A lower one! Why? Because the duration is much higher. Why? If I make five basis points per year over the life of a forty year loan I’m making more money than if I earn five basis points over the life of a thirty year loan. Thus, the interest rate where I make the same amount of money should be lower on the forty year loan. The government doesn’t even need to smash any potential profits to make loans more affordable.

3. Offer financial institutions two options: sell the government’s bailout fund loans or securities at the price the government offers to purchase them at, or sell them at their mark and give the government equity. Why? Because if the bank isn’t willing to sell at a reasonable bid, furnished by the government, then their mark is over-inflated and they are trying to avoid an adverse hit to earnings–the government should receive more compensation for bailing out the bank. This should be applied to each position one at a time–no securities should be purchased in aggregate, that’s too easy to game. As a matter of fact, that’s how sub-prime worked to begin with: pools of loans got more and more barbelled and the bottom loans defaulted. On average they were normal, in reality they were crappy enough to break the securities. Oh, and the equity should have voting rights. Of course, there are questions to be answered.

4. Lend directly to people and small businesses. If the economic fears are all about the seizing up of the credit markets, we should be able to fix these problems by lending to those that live and die by financing. Create very strict standards for qualifying for these loans. FICO and income requirements, unlike sub-prime loans had. For businesses, underwrite loans to actual income and asset levels and only lend very conservative amounts of leverage.

5. Immediately raise capital requirements across the board. As Steve Davidoff notes (Lesson #4 when one follows that link), when you need to raise capital the most, you can’t. He concludes, as I have before, that this is a wonderful argument for raising capital requirements. Also, less levered institutions are more sound in general–there is more room for error. And, as one could guess, the competitive “flavor of the day” businesses, like C.D.O.’s and sub-prime, are much more levered because financing these products is viewed as a way to win business. This is why the institutions with cheap balance sheet are experiencing huge writedowns due to counterparty exposure with financing arrangements. Citi disclosed writedowns of  billions in warehouse lines where C.D.O. issuers were holding bonds with nearly no equity, on Citi’s balance sheet.

6. Required compensation reform. It’s well documented, conjectured, and even assumed that Wall St.’s compensation scheme is to blame for a lot of the mess we’re in. Swing for the fences and jump ship to another bank if it doesn’t work. That’s what it seems the most recent round of large bonuses for executives and traders that caused this problem were following. It’s simple, if you need money from the American people, you sign on to these reforms. Otherwise one might encounter a moral hazard due to government subsidized capital. Honestly, it shouldn’t be that hard to come up with an onerous set of restrictions and requirements for paying people exorbitant sums of money.

7. Immediate and broad consumer protections and consumer financial product reform. Rather than have banks start to do whatever they want to reduce their risk (I’ve heard reports of people with home equity lines in good standing paying their bill one day late and having the entire line canceled) require they treat their consumers fairly. Completely restrict the ability for banks to raise rates on things like credit card debt–to retroactively increase rates on existing debt is ridiculous in the first place. In an economy driven by spending and credit, for better or worse, putting consumers further at risk of defaulting on their obligations is stupid. Eliminate binding arbitration of consumer debt–just invalidate it completely, retroactively. I would prefer this practice be eliminated altogether, but if we’re keeping to the topic at hand I’ll only put forth that proposal. Lastly, put strong disclosure requirements in place for all consumer debt products, including new loans or recast loans. Require institutions to show the annualized rate, over the life of the loan, if interest rates rise 2%, 4%, 5%, and if the forwards are realized. Require large print, plain English disclosures. Some people will say Im trying to babysit people, but, honestly, how can one argue against requiring banks tell their customers basic information about their loans? Right, one can’t.

This is what we should have gotten to both get the economy and markets moving in the right direction and ensuring the confidence in institutions and consumers are both restored. Just my opinion..

Quick Thought: Irrational Politicians?

September 21, 2008

Isn’t this just like politicians… Now that they are bailing out some “too big to fail” firms and starting up a mass-produced bailout, why are they buying securities? Shouldn’t they be bailing out homeowners? They vote. If a bank is carrying loans, or securities, on their books at seventy cents on the dollar then why not give the borrower enough to pay the loan off (assuming it’s mark is it’s current principal value)? Anyway, by forgiving the loan, the potential exists for a C.D.O. to be paid down too–don’t forget they are securitizations of securitizations.

Maybe using taxpayer money to have the newly taxpayer-owned G.S.E.’s (more than sponsored, I suppose) make a loan to them at a much lower rate )obviously for the lower amount)? Honestly, seems illogical to go around bailing out financial institutions when those benefits are perceived to be more concentrated … More benficial to people who caused the problems rather than those who stand to lose the most from them.

Anyway, just my thought on this “bailout” …

More Bear! (Part Two)

May 29, 2008

The next installment in the WSJ’s look at Bear’s Collapse hit today. To be honest, nothing interesting stood out. Well, except the following..

1. Why was a Moodys downgrade of Bear Stearns–branded RMBS bonds cause the stock to drop? Something there makes no sense. These are insulated from the credit of Bear Stearns itself and the bonds are issued by a SPV. Seems off, or, perhaps, smacks of normal financial journalism that takes a fact and conflates it with the cause of the markets moving on that day.

2. I have to profess not knowing a ton about prime brokerage, but it seems that if, as it normal to do, Bear provided leverage on trades for prime broker clients, they need to borrow that money and as funds fled they would be able to require repayment of those loans. Also, since most funds are loathe to keep a lot of cash, as it hurts their performance, there shouldn’t be much cash fleeing with these funds.

3. Spitzer hosed Alan Schwartz. There is Alan Schwartz, talking about how super awesome Bear Stearns is, and Spitzer’s scandal starts interrupts him from saying things like, “Bear made money this past quarter.”

4. They had their lawyer call the Fed. I guess I’m not sure why the chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell was charged with calling the Fed to talk about Bear Stearns situation. Seems very odd. And why was it that when Alan Schwartz called the Fed, he struck a less alarmist tone?

5. J.P. Morgan representatives arrived and were shocked at Bear’s books. We don’t know what that means (their liquidity position? the marks they had on their positions?) exactly. But here’s an odd thing: The JPM crew asked for the Fed–and they were already there! Setup in a conference room was the Fed, having already been there for several hours. Maybe it’s completely logical that the Fed would be there, even if they hadn’t been asked for help yet… Just seems to not jive with Alan Schwartz being cautiously optimistic earlier.’

Ok, like I warned earlier, no much to really talk about in this one…. Soon, part three! The conclusion awaits.

Banking Risk

February 28, 2008

It’s funny to me that all of these problems are coming to light and, while there are clearly themes as to how these various products all became so prevelent, as well as why, there are some things that still need explaining. What do leveraged loans have to do with all this? Indeed Goldman could be asking itself why it got involved in that market–one in which it had become a major player, unlike some other businesses it was lucky enough to have been unsuccessful in entering. How did C.D.O.’s, a product generally managed off of trading floors where many market-sensitive businesses didn’t lose money, seem to be a categorical loser for banks? The answer seems pretty plain to me: These were products driven by “bankers.”

A “banker” is a person, as I think of them, whose job is to pitch a transaction to an entity/person/institution/group and get the fees involved in said transaction. They don’t manage risk, that is generally outsourced–but they do worry about it insofar as one can dimension the risk. Bankers make assumptions. Bankers LOVE assumptions. “Assume that trend continues.” “Assume defaults come in at 80% of the model for this collateral.” “Assume that debt gets taken out.” “Assume rates rally.” “Assume a static L.I.B.O.R.” “Assume this rate scenario and no losses.” It’s simply amazing. Why would one stress losses and not interest rates? Wouldn’t it be a better assumption that if 10% losses are occurring when 2.5% are projected that it’s because interest rates are higher than expected and people can’t get new loans? Well, the bonds don’t perform under those scenarios and showing that would make them harder to sell. Merely an example, I digress.

Bankers run the process on C.D.O.’s and  on leveraged loan deals. Their job is to put together scads and scads of powerpoint presentations detailing all kinds of details. Bankers show nice graphs like supply (amount of bonds issued) versus spreads (yield premium required for a bond’s incremental) to show some trend. Bankers trot out the all-knowing league tables for their product. (As we now know, the most accurate thing predicted by the C.D.O. league tables turned out to be writedowns–but bankers were judged on their standing in these league tables!) So, what if a banker was so successful at pitching these transactions that they were able to sign up dozens, creating a pipeline, and lock up the fees? They were a superstar! Imagine the fees on billions of dollars of C.D.O.’s? If their bank provided the financing for the C.D.O. issuer to acquire the assets? Higher fees! If the bank agreed in advance to buy the bonds and take them onto is own balance sheet if the market wouldn’t buy them? Higher fees! If these arrangement were made, 10-15 C.D.O.’s could earn $100 million in fees. Was there more risk? Of course, how do you think bankers would justify higher fees for these incremental commitments?! But, when your job is to spend months courting C.D.O. issuers, and you spend countless hours on conference calls telling them what a good deal issuing a C.D.O. is, and when you repeat, over and over, how strong the market is, citing many datapoints, then you’ll probably convince yourself too. Indeed, when told a deal you got a client to agree to commit to is too risky, by a risk manager or other independant person, then you will probably fight back… hard! (And, feel free to substitute C.D.O. with leveraged loan transaction in every instance.)

The point is the mentality. Bankers weren’t paid to manage risk day-to-day, watch the market, and hedge. Bankers became salespeople with some analytical and technical expertise. They weren’t thinking about hedging–they might not even have assets to hedge, they hadn’t created bonds yet. Market fluctuations didn’t affect the revenues from fee income. Although, a commitment to buy unsold bonds if the market has lost liquidity and values are plummeting is a risk, it’s not one bankers would have assumed, and definitely not hedged. Indeed these bankers, at some firms, even had separate reporting lines than the traders and risk management professionals. Their division was generating lots of revenue, so their senior layers of management gained a lot of power. A perfect storm? Seems like it was.

In fairness, the perfect storm that occurred was due to a fundamental problem–the disappearance of liquidity. In the heyday it wouldn’t have seemed rational to consider scenarios that correspond to what the market has actually experienced. But the methods of accounting for and cataloging the risk of, for example, derivative contracts exposed to tail events or highly illiquid investments clearly wasn’t used (When a P.E. firm makes a highly illiquid equity investment, I would bet bankruptcy risk is discussed!). Indeed most of the C.D.O. bankers were ex-lawyers, ex-structurers, or converted salespeople who didn’t have the background in these views on risk either. As for leveraged loans, the leveraged finance professionals were also mainly investment bankers and refugees from other relationship-driven fee-based businesses. I even know of people that jumped between the two (C.D.O.’s and leveraged loans)!

Another point, that seems obvious, is the scheme of compensation. Roger Ehrenberg had a recent post that discusses some of these issues. My personal belief is that the mentality was much more of an issue than the structure of the compensation scheme–but the perils of compensation, as it currently stands in the financial world, are well discussed and documented.

Maybe I just have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, but maybe the traders and other people who poke fun at bankers (see Monkey Business  and, of course, DealBreaker) for not seeing the forest through the trees were on to something.

Assume all Bonds are Spheres: Part I

February 14, 2008

This segment is a regularly occurring feature. It gets its name from a joke that is commonly made about technical people. Usually a very simple problem is presented about horses (or sometimes cows) and a physicist/engineer/mathematician is asked to provide a solution. The solution is made complex because incorporating the nuances of the animals in question is extremely difficult, hence the highly technical person is required. The solution then starts with the technical person saying, “I made two assumptions. The first assumption is gravity. The second assumption I made was that all horses are spheres.” The crux of the joke, which is often found in the markets, is that approximating is both easier and “accurate enough.” Hence the naming of this series on mathematical financial tricks and other interesting tidbits.

Loans are simple enough. I tell you that I would like to originate a loan, which I will securitize, and your interest rate on a loan is going to be 10%. Easy! You just send in 10% of the loan amount every year. Well, not really:

  • If I followed convention, I quoted you an Act/360 rate (it accrues yearly based on the actual days, but assumes a 360 day year)–the interest you pay is really 10.14% (~ 365/360 * 10%). (Note that the lower the interest rate, the lower the impact of converting to Act/360.)
  • If this was a 10 year loan, those 14 basis points (bps, 1/100th of a percent) are worth about 1.11% of the total notional of the loan (don’t forget, that’s 14 bps extra one pays per year, for 10 years–take the present value of all those cashflows).

Now, let’s look at what happens when I securitize the loan.

  • I monetize the 14 bps because the bonds I sell accrue on a 30/360 basis (market convention), so those extra days of interest never get paid to bondholders–I keep it.
  • Another nuance: The bonds are priced to the market convention, which is assuming a semi-annual yield. Investors will demand, say, a 10% coupon on their bonds. The bonds, though, match the loan–they pay monthly. What is the 10% worth on a monthly basis? About 9.80% (see below). What do I earn on arbitraging the difference? Well, about 20 bps per year, which, present valued, is worth about 1.59% of the loan amount.

Let’s review: I quoted you a loan at 10%. The 10% tuned out to be more than 10%. I then sold the loan using a completely different set of assumptions and, doing nothing at all, managed to pocket 2.7% of the loan amount. On $10 million dollars that’s $270,000 I made just for arbitraging various conventions and the difference in how bond investors think and how lenders generally think. Would you have been better off to take the 10.05% loan from the insurance company, quoted on a 30/360 basis? Yep. But the rate was lower … and all bonds are spheres.

————————–

The voodoo behind the 9.80% monthly equivalent coupon is easy. The first insight is to recognize that a yield is essentially a discount rate. To find a monthly equivalent to a semi-annual yield one needs only to find the interest rate that, when compounded twelve times a year, equals the yield that assumes compounding twice a year (the semi-annual yield).

We start by saying that an annualized yield, assuming compounding x times a year is

     (1 + i/x)^(x) – 1 = annualized yield       Formula that codifies the above intuition.

For our example of a 10% semi-annual yield, we get the following:

ann. yield (12 pmts.) = ann. yield (2 pmts)
(1 + (r/12))^12 – 1 = (1 + (10%/2))^2 – 1 
1+ (r/12)) = (1+5%)^(2/12)                      
Algebra… :(
r/12 = (1.05)^(2/12) – 1
r = 12 * ((1.05)^(2/12) – 1)
r =  9.79781526%   
                                   Our answer!

And that’s how I arrived at that solution. I’m sure I’m missing something minor that excel would do for me, but you get the idea.

Who Still Credits the Suisse with being Neutral? Anybody? Anybody at all?

February 12, 2008

A story that has been a focus for the debt markets, specifically as it relates to (corporate) credit debt markets, is the fire sales by C.S. of its stake in Harrah’s without coordinating with other banks. Indeed there is evidence that this wasn’t the first time C.S. got creative. The interesting thing about this turn of events is that these syndicates are put together to share risk and broaden distribution channels (some banks talk to accounts that others do not). Well, with the C.S. shenanigans creating a fire sale, leaving Harrah’s new bonds 7-10 points (cents on the dollar) lower and the loans being offered 5-6 points lower (estimates, market participants are rather cagey, but low 90s dollar price for the loans and 88 cents on the dollar for the bonds was widely noted in the marketplace) it seems like they made a good sale. Complicating the situation, of course, is the fact that they seemed to have caused the panic that led to the downdraft. Add to this technical overhang the lack of help from C.S. in distributing the remaining debt, and the fact that a sizable buyer was taken out of the market. It’s plain to see that C.S. worked against the syndicate and hurt the distribution power of the group.

Further, here’s an interesting datapoint: C.S. was reported to have around $30 billion in LBO debt on its books, around 10% of the estimate of $300 billion total LBO debt out there. Let’s assume all of this is too high by half (although why would journalists stress an extreme figure in a headline, hmm?). That leaves C.S. with around $15 billion. If, including Harrah’s, they sold $5 billion (rounding up all numbers in the previous Deal Journal post) but caused a 5 point decline in the market (assume it’s all loans they hold, no bonds, which suffered a more severe price movement), they lost $500 million. The figure includes $250 million that was saved on the loans they had already sold (overestimating their savings, since they only really “saved” that loss on Harrah’s, other sales occurred earlier). Ouch. But the remaining unsold LBO debt shed $7.5 billion in value (5 points on $150 billion) due to the sale, and ensuing panic. It seems that letting C.S. into the syndicate did anything but mitigate risk.

Because this situation has wreaked such havoc, perhaps other shops will actually take a stand and block C.S. from future syndicated deals. Their actions seem to show they can be relied upon neither to mitigate risk nor aid in distributing any.

T-Minus 12 Months to the Rally

February 11, 2008

One trend recently is that many funds or money managers that can raise opportunistic money have started to call asking for distressed opportunities to invest in. These funds are all looking for high return (18-20%) opportunities and usually take a few months to get up and running in addition to a few more months to start sourcing actual buying opportunities. (These funds usually employ leverage, so high return hurdles don’t refer to nominal spreads.) With so many platforms springing up, from both established players and nascent funds, how long can it be before these players fall prey to competition? If you are the same bid for bonds and loans that the larger, relationship firms are, how do you invest your newly raised funds? How long before they relax their return hurdles and the lower parts of the various debt capital structures finds buyers at tighter levels? I guess we’ll see…


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