Today, in the Huffington Post, I posted a document that shows an earlier incarnation of the ABACUS trade (although, not that different from the one that has got the SEC up in arms). I also explained it as well as I could. Head on over and let me know what you think.
Archive for the ‘Quantiative’ category
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.
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.
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).
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):
(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.
(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.
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.
Well, we’ve heard a ton about stress tests recently. Want some details on what a stress test entails? The Journal has some details about the tests here. Now, as much as I think GDP and unemployment are fine things to project forward for economists, let’s walk through the way one would use this to actually price an asset. Let’s start with something simple, like a 10-year treasury note (note that treasury bond specifically refers to bonds with a 30-year maturity). Here are all the components one would need to stress test the value of a treasury note.
- Characteristics of the note itself: coupon, payment dates, maturity dates, etc.
- What the yield curve would look like at the date you’re pricing the note.
Why would one need to know the shape of the yield curve (term structure of rates)? This is important, in order to “PV” the bond’s cashflows most accurately, one would discount each cashflow by it’s risk–the simplest proxy is to discount each cash flow by the rate of interest one would need to pay to issue a bond maturing on that date. For the government, this rate of interest is the point on the treasury yield curve (actually, the par zero curve) with the same maturity date. An example would be, if I were going to price a cash payment I will receive in two years, and the government can currently issue two-year debt at 5%, I should discount my cash payment (also from the government, since it’s a treasury note) at 5%. Treasuries are the simplest of all instruments to value.
Here’s an example, form the link above, of what a treasury yield curve might look like:
Now, it is completely and totally guesswork to figure out, given unemployment and GDP figures, what the yield curve will look like at any date in the future. Indeed, one can plug these projections into a model and it can come up with a statistical guess… But the only thing we know for sure about that guess is that it won’t be accurate, although it might be close. However, things like inflation will drive the longer end of the yield curve and monetary policy will drive the shorter end, so these certainly aren’t directly taken from the stress test parameters, but would need to be a guess based on those parameters. This is a large source of uncertainty in pricing even these instruments in the stress test.
Next, let’s examine a corporate bond. What would we need for a corporate bond?
- Characteristics of the bond: coupon, payment dates, maturity dates, special features (coupon steps, sinking funds, call schedules, etc.), where in the capital structure this bond sits, etc.
- What the yield curve would look like at the date you’re pricing the bond.
- The spreads that the corporation’s debt will carry at the date you’re pricing the bond.
Oh no. We already saw the issues with #2, but now we have #3. What will this corporations credit spread (interest/yield required in excess of the risk free rate) at the time of pricing? Will the corporations debt, which could trade at a spread of anywhere from 5 to 1500 basis points, be lower? higher? Will the corporations spread curve be flatter? steeper?
Here is a good illustration of what I’m referring to (from the same source as the figure above):
There, the spread is the difference between the purple line and the black line. As you can see, it’s different for different maturity corporate bonds (which makes sense, because if a company defaults in year two, it’ll also default on it’s three year debt.. but the companies’ two year debt might never default, but the company might default during it’s third year, creating more risk for three year bonds issued by that company than two year bonds). It shouldn’t be a surprise, after our exercise above, to learn that the best way to compute the price of a corporate bond is to discount each cashflow by it’s risk (in my example above, regardless of whether the company defaults in year two or year three, the interest payments from both the three year and two year debt that are paid in one year have the same risk).
Well, how does one predict the structure of credit spreads in the future? Here’s a hint: models. Interest rates, however, are an input to this model, since the cost of a firm’s borrowing is an important input to figuring out a corporation’s cashflow and, by extension, creditworthiness. So now we have not only a flawed interest rate projection, but we have a projection of corporate risk that, in addition to being flawed itself, takes our other flawed projections as an input! Understanding model error yet? Oh, and yes unemployment and the health of the economy will be inputs to the model that spits out our guess for credit spreads in the future as well.
Next stop on the crazy train, mortgage products! What does one need to project prices for mortgage products?
- Characteristics of the bond: coupon, payment dates, maturity dates, structure of the underlying securitization (how does cash get assigned in the event of a default, prepayment, etc.), etc.
- What the yield curve would look like at the date you’re pricing the bond.
- The spreads that the debt will carry at the date you’re pricing the bond.
- What prepayments will have occurred by the date you’re pricing the bond and what prepayments will occur in the future, including when each will occur.
- What defaults will have occurred by the date you’re pricing the bond and what defaults will occur in the future, including when each will occur.
Oh crap. We’ve covered #1-3. But, look at #4 and #5 … To price a mortgage bond, one needs to be able to project out, over the life of the bond, prepayments and defaults. Each is driven bydifferent variables and each happens in different timeframes. Guess how each projection is arrived at? Models! What are the inputs to these models? Well, interest rates (ones ability to refinance depends on where rates are at the time) over a long period of time (keep in mind that you need rates over time, having rates at 5% in three years is completely different if rates where 1% or 15% for the three years before). General economic health, including regional (or more local) unemployment rates (if the south has a spike in unemployment, but the rest of the country sees a slight decrease, you’ll likely see defaults increase). And a myrid of other variables can be tossed in for good measure. So now we have two more models, driven by our flawed interest rate projections, flawed credit projections (ones ability to refinance is driven by their mortgage rate, which is some benchmark interest rate [treasuries here] plus some spread, from #3), and the unemployment and GDP projections.
I will, at this point, decline to talk about pricing C.D.O.’s … Just understand, however, that C.D.O.’s are portfolios of corporate and mortgage bonds, so they are a full extra order of magnitude more complex. Is it clear, now, why these stress tests, as they seem to be defined, aren’t all that specific, and potentially not all that useful?
Wow. Seriously, wow…
This year, up to 80% of the stock portion will come via what Credit Suisse is formally calling a “Partner Asset Facility,” of the illiquid assets, largely corporate loans.
Bankers won’t receive a return on the PAF program for eight years, although they can start to collect some of the principal in 2013. If the firm finds outside buyers for the assets, it will pay the proceeds to itself first, then provide the rest to employees.
The PAF applies only to senior bankers within the firm’s investment bank, which includes merger advisory, capital markets and leveraged finance. Those in Credit Suisse’s private bank and asset-management division aren’t subject to the PAF.
I’m going to play both sides of this one… But, how do you know it’s a good move? Hiede Moore’s post, in the next line, offers the proof:
The announcement elicited livid reactions from senior bankers, many of whom questioned whether it was legal. Many said they believed they were being unfairly punished for risky assets bought by colleagues in distant parts of the firm.
I’m not crying for these bankers, exactly, but they missed the point. To be honest, it’s a tremendous incentive for everyone to work together for the good of the firm. These same “livid” investment bankers, I’m sure, have been pushing transactions onto their counterparts in capital markets and trading for years. I know this, specifically of C.S.F.B. Their investment bankers would constantly use the “relationship” reason for doing a given transaction that resulted in real estate exposure for their firm (or leveraged finance commitments). So bankers, as a whole, shouldn’t say they are being unfairly punished for their colleagues decisions to make loans that they asked them to make. Now those bankers will not push loans they think might make it into their compensation! (There was a rumor that something like this happened a long time ago at Salomon Brothers.)
Now, why might this be a bad ideas? Honestly, all the reasons are highly technical. First, the investment is much longer dated than normal equity: first principal distributions come in 2013 and the investment will be zero-return for 8 years. This is a bit unfair, as the vesting and return of cash should be similar to normal equity plans if employees are given no notice. It’s only polite as it concerns things like paying college tuition. That being said, this is a program for senior employees and, thus, they should have planned for bad times and not gambled with their entire lifestyle. The two largest issues, though, are where the firm is using this to their advantage instead of being “just” about it. First, Credit Suisse pays itself before employees. That seems tacky.. pro-rata, maybe? Even pro-rata withe the firm counted more… Second, this makes C.S.F.B. employees much less mobile. When a bank is trying to figure out how to make the bankers being recruited from C.S.F.B. whole on what they lose when they depart their current firm (standard practice), it’s likely that their P.A.F. holdings will be valued at, or near, zero.
Now, despite the problems, I think this is a great lesson and a fair mechanism. And, unlike the clawback, if the firm loses money on the investment, so are the people getting paid in P.A.F. units… So you don’t have to worry about going after an employee, they get reduced along with shareholders.
With all these bailout (banks, A.I.G., Bear Stearns, and, coming soon, autos!) it’s a wonder how we got to this point. Well, I found an interesting statistic. Taken from the history of the S&P 500’s top components and G.D.P. data we find out that the growth rate of the largest companies (A.I.G. and Citi were part of this group in 2006) has outpaced our economy by 6% annually. Stated another way, the market cap of the top 10 components of the S&P 500 has grown by, on average, 9.4% per year and the economy, as measured by G.D.P., has grown by around 3% per year. This data covers 27 years.
Now, I’m no math genius, but when you have a subset of the economy growing much faster than the economy, it points to a super-concentration of risk. Especially when the system is so inter-connected, perhaps the issue is that some companies became too big, ya think?
This sort of growth is a perfectly natural as a corollary to pay issues and other things. If I’m an executive, and I make money based on earnings, and I get paid in stock, then why not buy my competitors to enlarge my company and increase earnings, eliminate competition to expand margins and create more room for error in execution of business strategies, and use my newly-created larger company to invest even more in the business lines that are producing the best quarterly results? Well, I would! And they did.
But, if we are looking for stability in the system, and we really want the market to work wonders, then we want something different. We want lots of smaller, nimble competing businesses that are constantly keeping margins low and product innovations high. We do not want two or three super-sized businesses that are stable in their market share and merely looking to increase earnings through incremental improvements, and not innovation (G.M.? Ford? Chrysler? I’m looking at you). We don’t want an entire industry to consolidate to the point where they all start following each others innovations so that they can all go down with the ship if any one of them is wrong (Investment banks? Bear? Lehman? I’m looking at you now). And, as a taxpayer, I wouldn’t want a decline in the economy, when all businesses suffer, to jeopardize a set of companies that are too big to fail and not drag the economic state down with them–I would have to bail them out when I’m hurting most.
Those of you that are math geniuses know what comes next … “=><=” (or “⊥”).
I guess we know who won out now. Maybe our leaders should figure out how to prevent this kind of consolidation. They do it with banks (obviously they took a very narrow view there).