Posted tagged ‘Alan Schwartz’

On Executives and Risk

July 31, 2008

Okay, I read the NYT Dealbook post on Alan Schwartz, and I have to admit, it completely destroys the entire notion of executives at firms, especially like Bear, as having any real personal risk. Let me quote…

Mr. Schwartz, Bear Stearns’s chief executive during the firm’s near-collapse, has been talking with Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and boutique advisory firm Centerview Partners, among others, people briefed on the matter told DealBook.

(emphasis theirs).

Okay, now, here’s the issue I have: Alan Schwartz is the reason Bear doesn’t exist today. Remember the three part WSJ article about Bear going under? Remember what I noted about the first part? Alan Schwartz, who is not a trader, vetoed the very trade(s) that would have saved Bear and was proposed by his senior traders. What happened from that decision was that thousands of people lost their jobs, the firm went out of business, and a lot of other, very bad, things. That’s fine that he made the decision. I almost don’t care that he was wrong. However, it’s a huge moral hazard/slippery slope/perverse incentive/etc. Alan Schwartz should be toxic right now.

One can argue about Stan O’Neil, Chuck Prince, or any of the other C.E.O.’s that lost their jobs but got large payouts. (I don’t support that either, by the way–if you were at the helm, you should take what you’ve already been given and neither ask for nor accept any more. You retire/leave rich nevertheless–but boards were incompetent, stupid, or in league on promising these things, so taking them isn’t the fault of the ex-C.E.O.’s.) However, these C.E.O.’s firms didn’t die and go away and they certainly didn’t veto the proposed lifeline with nothing but a body of irrelevant experience to guide them arguing from a place of no authority. These same kinds of hedges worked at other firms.

The common argument says, “C.E.O.’s get paid more because they have more risk.” Well the other people at Bear Stearns got less money, are out of a job, and, in this market, certainly are finding it difficult to get a new job. These people probably don’t have millions of dollars. Alan Schwartz does have millions of dollars, is out of a job as a result of something he could control, and can land on his feet as a senior deal maker making millions of dollars? Unacceptable and unthinkable. If this situation defines the rule then C.E.O.’s should get paid much less than they currently do and realize that even if they roll the dice and lose when betting with an entire company they will still get a job that pays exceptionally well.

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More Bear! (Part Three)

May 30, 2008

Kate Kelly drops the finale on us today. My thoughts:

1. Why, in the name of anything or anyone, didn’t Bear use it’s leverage? No one wanted them to file. They bent Jamie Dimon over (well, $10 per share isn’t bending him over, but paying five times the original price seems to be…) when they saw an opening. Everyone fought to ensure they didn’t have to file for bankruptcy, they must have known that it would be a disaster scenario that no one wanted to see played out… so why didn’t they use that more? “Make the J.C. Flowers bid work, or find a way to match it, otherwise I’ll be filing tomorrow. I’ll fax over the preliminary bankruptcy filing in five minutes.” Why not, right? If Bear’s position could deteriorate further then they can pass some form of legal test that they did what they were also looking out for creditors… Would the Fed and U.S. Treasury Secretary let them file and throw the world into disarray? If it looked like they caused, or stopped something that could have prevented, financial market Armageddon then they would be blamed. Seems like they balked on using this tactic, and I don’t understand why.

2. Oh, yeah… where is 2,000 DJIA points coming from?

At their gloomiest, regulators believed a bankruptcy filing could stoke global fears, threatening to topple other financial institutions and to send the Dow Jones Industrial Average into a 2,000-point nose dive.

Ugh. Please, stop guessing at stupid crap. If I said 500 would that be okay? Dimensioning the problem in terms of stock market movements is stupid. Hopefully this wasn’t their actual thought process. None of the agencies involved should be setting policy or taking action to prop up the stock markets. Jeeze…

3. I’ve been told by a whole bunch of reliable people that Ken Griffin, of Citadel fame, has a brother that heads up a large group at Bear Stearns (errr… did…). If Alan Schwartz can call a Morgan Stanley banker to get some Fed help why couldn’t Bear leverage Ken’s own brother, who would be very sympathetic to Bear, to figure out their “Citadel is shorting us” problem. Maybe they didn’t know? I could be missing something, I suppose…

4. We all know that Jamie Dimon manhandled Vikram Pandit on the call. I won’t re-hash it. Seems a bit… unnecessary, but it’s an interesting statement on each man’s demeanor.

5. Okay, this amazes me…

The next day, March 21, was Good Friday. J.P. Morgan turned up the heat, telling Mr. Cohen that if Bear Stearns didn’t make the desired concessions, the bank didn’t see how it could provide funding for the brokerage to trade the following Monday. In an ugly replay of the weekend before, Bear Stearns was imperiled again.

If J.P. Morgan wouldn’t guarantee Bear Stearns’s trades on Monday, the firm would most likely have to file for bankruptcy protection.

The article isn’t specific, but weren’t they required to provide financing? Or is this not the 28-day loan? the article isn’t specific here, but I can’t imagine that if J.P. Morgan was providing funding that it wasn’t somewhere in the terms they had agreed to at some point. Something is missing, and the missing facts probably makes the above passage “kosher” … however, since it’s not there, it just seems weird that J.P. Morgan was refusing monies to Bear when it had an interest in their survival, or, perhaps, even had an obligation to fund them.

6. I anticipate many people will chime in on this…

But this time around, Bear Stearns’s business was so weak, it wasn’t eligible for a Chapter 11 reorganization filing. Instead it faced a Chapter 7 liquidation, in which a court-appointed trustee would take over the firm, likely throwing out management and launching a sale of its assets to repay debts.

Many people great legal minds have opined on how Bear could only ever file for Chapter 7 … yet there is constantly mention of Chapter 11.

7. The last few sentences are just… hoaky. Why are those in there? I don’t know.

Well.. an interesting chain of events. An interesting take on it from the WSJ. Honestly, these are the kinds of things I think allows the WSJ to add the most value. Anyone can reshash the trading day, but this is where financial sources and real reporting shines. Good job WSJ!

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.

More Bear! (Part One)

May 28, 2008

Well, today begins the three part story of Bear Stearns, as told by the WSJ. Deal Journal has a great summary post … A few thoughts:

1. It struck me that Bear wasn’t able to see the forst through the trees when it came to it’s strategy, specifically demonstrated with the “Chaos” trade. When one thinks about how these sorts of things can play out, especially in unprecedented times, how the decision to unwind these trades came about makes perfect sense. Someone puts on a unique trade and management asks them to justify it. Well, there’s a slide with four or five bullet points explaining why this trade should work (mostly qualitative/anecdotal). Also, there there’s a chart presented that shows a pretty bad history for the trade if it had been put on in the past. Indeed we can examine Mr. Schwartz’s history with the trade to see this:

For some of the assets, the market was frozen, Mr. Schwartz reasoned, so selling was out of the question. On others, he had mixed feelings. He didn’t want to unload tens of billions of dollars worth of valuable mortgages and related bonds at distressed prices, creating steeper losses.

The [hedge, called “the Chaos trade”] was a deeply pessimistic bet — essentially a method for making money if the mortgage and financial markets cratered. The traders bet that the ABX, a family of indexes made up of securities backed by subprime mortgages, would fall. They made similar moves on indexes tracking securities backed by commercial mortgages. Finally, they placed a series of bets that the stocks of major financial companies with exposure to mortgages … would decrease in value as well.

Faced with the fierce divide among his top executives, Mr. Schwartz, who was generally supportive of the chaos trade, decided to abandon it. He wanted specific pessimistic plays that would offset specific optimistic bets, rather than the broader hedges Mr. Marano had employed. Frustrated, Mr. Marano ordered the trades undone.

(emphasis mine).

Now, everything until the last part follows naturally. The last part (matching your hedges to your positions one-to-one) is fine, until you realize that it’s impossible to do this in a liquidity-challenged market. Also, with a massive re-pricing of risk, due to liquidity constraints, one should take a broader view. The CDO market drove demand in securitized products generally and mortgages specifically. Inventories in loans and bonds were sitting on firm’s balance sheets while credit concerns were coming to fruition. So, firms can’t sell risky products, which are losing value from a fundamental re-pricing, and, also, the lack of buying (overall liquidity) is causing a further, more broad technical re-pricing. That is the subtle point from above–why bet on “financial markets cratering” if you own mortgages and call that a hedge? Well, given the widespread ownership of these products, their credit impairment caused widespread credit concerns. With credit worthiness in doubt, liquidity became scarce. Scarce liquidity means less available money to buy these products, and leads to a technical problem with markets and drives prices lower (lower demand … easy, right?). Clearly this requires a deeper understanding of how interconnected markets are and exactly how they work together–potentially a leap of faith or a layer of complexity a firm wasn’t willing to bet on.

There was, however, evidence markets were behaving this way. Spread product was moving in lock step (directionally). LCDX (index of loans, generally made to high yield companies) was moving wider, corporate bonds had a secular widening, and mortgage product was impossible to trade, commanding a larger and larger liquidity premium… Also, LIBOR was rising and banks were finding it harder and harder to borrow. But, instead of using relatively liquid indices and stocks to bet on these “second order” effects, Mr. Schwartz started asking for specific bets that offset highly illiquid positions. Good luck. To ask for relevant hedges is logical, follows from first principles, seems safer, and wasn’t executable–easy for risk managers and executives to demand and impossible to do, leaving the problems unsolved. Keep in mind, too, that the stock market hedges could easily be unwound in the event they failed to be correlated to the loans they were hedging. Would the “specific” hedges that would, themselves, be highly illiquid? No chance. CMBX and ABX have been known to trade in markets that are 5-10 points, or percentage of notional value, and that’s for small size (5-10 million dollars). To hedge the size here … well, I can’t imagine the costs.

Just to review: They had toxic positions, hedged them, and then removed the hedges, but (from what I can tell) didn’t sell the positions (while trying to one-to-one hedge the). There’s something to be said for taking the hit you know about today instead of trying to call a bottom.

2. Regulators were having calls, as regular as daily, with Bear. From the article:

Bear Stearns’s … risk officers were meeting in the sixth-floor executive offices with staffers from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The regulators had traveled from Washington to make sure Bear Stearns had access to the day-to-day loans it needed to fund its trading operation. After scrutinizing the firm’s $400 billion balance sheet well into the afternoon, the regulators agreed to reconvene with Bear Stearns managers for daily briefings until the market crisis passed.

Now, uness Bear is different from ever other financial institution, when it’s regulators come knocking it’s unusual–everyone walks more straight and takes much more care when dealing with them. The reason is simple: there’s nothing to be gained when a regulator is pleased, the best thing that can come from making regulators happy is avoiding the situation where said regulators are unhappy and consequences arise. I wonder if, ever, in the history of Bear, regulators called in to check on their situation daily. This should have been a major warning sign and left employees involved extremely uncomfortable as it was going on.

3. Many sophisticated investors walked away from a deal with Bear.

  • KKR walked away, and we never learn what their concerns were (Bear was focused on not crossing clients)
  • Allianz SE’s Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO) had discussions with Bear that “fell apart”
  • Fortress discussed a merger with Bear (sounds similar to what I wrote about recently) that never went anywhere

Now, J.C. Flowers walked away because both sides had issues, so I don’t count them. Similarly, I don’t count the hiring of Lazard, and that effort failing to bearing fruit. I’m not sure why each of these potential transactions fizzled, but certainly it seems like a pattern that one can read into.

4. Two institutions with a major financial stake in Bear’s viability expressed concerns. One of these, PIMCO, unless I’m missing something glaring, had been in talks to acquire a stake in Bear and declined (second bullet point above). Maybe they knew something the rest of us didn’t, from their earlier talks and whatever due diligence they had performed? It would make sense, but would probably also be illegal. More likely? PIMCO was focused on Bear and extrapolated to the current market conditions. Perhaps, also, some unease exuded from the senior PIMCO ranks…

On a side note, what’s with the illustrations? Maybe this is going to be a chapter or section of a book? It reads that way almost… Newscorp swooping in to add a fresh (and awkward) feel to the WSJ? It was distracting to say the least. Of course Dealbreaker goes (almost scarily) deeper with this observation (as is their charge), and they have some amusing thoughts.

I can’t wait for part two!