Posted tagged ‘Fed’

A Recounting of Recent History

July 28, 2009

Yes, I’m alive! I’m terribly sorry for the extended silence, but I’ve had some big changes going on in my personal life and have been out of the loop for a while (honestly, my feed reader needs to start reading itself–I have over 1,000 unread posts when looking at just 4 financial feeds). So, here’s what I haven’t had a chance to post…

1. I totally missed the most recent trainwreck of a P.R. move at Citi. There is so much crap going on around Citi… I really intend to write a post that is essentially a linkfest of Citi material that stitches together the narrative of how Citi got into this mess and how Citi continues to do itself no favors. There was also a completely vapid opinion piece from Charlie Gasperino that said absolutely nothing new, save for one sentence, and then ended with a ridiculous comparison that was clearly meant to generate links. I’m not even going to link to it… It was on the Daily Beast, if you must find it.

2. I haven’t really had the opportunity to comment on the Obama administration’s overhaul of the financial regulatory apparatus. Honestly, it sucks. It doesn’t do much and gives too much power to the Fed. You’d think that after that recent scandal within the ranks of the Fed there would be a political issue with giving it more power. Even more interestingly, all other major initiatives from the Obama administration have been drafted by congress. Here, the white paper came from the Whitehouse itself. That won’t do too much to quiet the critics who are claiming that the Whitehouse is too close to Wall St. Honestly, if one is to use actions instead of words to measure one’s intentions, then it’s hard to point to any evidence that the Obama administration isn’t in the bag for the financial services industry.

3. The Obama administration did an admirable job with G.M. and Chrysler. They were both pulled through bankruptcy, courts affirmed the actions, and there was a minimal disruption in their businesses. Stakeholders were brought to the table, people standing to lose from the bankruptcy, the same people (I use that word loosely–most are institutions) who provided capital to risky enterprises, were forced to take losses, and the U.S.A. now has something it has never had: an auto industry where the U.A.W. has a stake and active interest in the companies that employ its members. Perhaps the lesson, specifically that poorly run firms that need to be saved should cause consequences for the people who caused the problems (both by providing capital and providing inadequate management), will take hold in the financial services sector too–I’m not holding my breath, though.

4. Remember this problem I wrote about? Of course not, that is one of my least popular posts! However, some of the questions are being answered. Specifically, the questions about how and when the government will get rid of its ownership stakes, and at what price, are starting to be filled in. It was rather minor news when firms started paying T.A.R.P. funds back. However, the issue of dealing with warrants the government owns was a thornier issue. Two banks have dealt with this issue–Goldman purchased the securities at a price that gives the taxpayers a 23% return on their investment and JP Morgan decided that it would forgo a negotiated purchase and forced the U.S. Treasury to auction the warrants.

On a side note: From this WSJ article linked to above, its a bit maddening to read this:

The Treasury has rejected the vast majority of valuation proposals from banks, saying the firms are undervaluing what the warrants are worth, these people said. That has prompted complaints from some top executives. […] James Dimon raised the issue directly with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, disagreeing with some of the valuation methods that the government was using to value the warrants.

(Emphasis mine.)

If I were on the other end of the line, my response would be simple: “Well, Jamie, I agree. The assumptions we use to value securities here at the U.S. government can be, well … off. So, we’ll offer you what you think is fair for the warrants if you’ll pay back the $4.4 billion subsidy we paid when we initially infused your bank with T.A.R.P. funds.” Actually, I probably would have had a meeting with all recipients about it and quoted a very high price for these warrants and declared the terms and prices non-negotiable–does anyone really think that, in the face of executive pay restrictions, these firms wouldn’t have paid whatever it would take to get out from under the governments thumb? As long as one investment banker could come up with assumptions that got the number, they would have paid it. Okay, that’s all for my aside.

5. I’m dreadfully behind on my reading… Seriously. Here’s a list of articles I haven’t yet read, but intend to…

I hope to get more time to post in the coming days. Also, I am toying with the idea of writing more frequent, much shorter posts. On the order of a paragraph where I just toss out a thought. Not really my style, but maybe it would be good. Feedback appreciated.

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Craziest Weekend in Wall St. History: Questions Abound!

September 15, 2008

What a weekend. I’m sure Wall St. feels a bit brutalized by the events. Now, here are my questions…

1. Doesn’t Lehman have to be involved in moving trades that are facing them? I simply do not understand what the “Lehman Risk Reduction Trading Session” is all about. Indeed, if one looks at the I.S.D.A. Novation Protocol Guide, it’s the case that the “Transferor” (the “Stepping out party”) needs to agree on certain terms. For example:

Negotiating a proposed Novation Transaction:

The Transferor will contact the Transferee to agree a price [sic] for the Novation Transaction.

Seems like “negotiating” and “to agree” seem to indicate the transferor has some decisions and veto power. Also, let’s be honest, all the banks sitting at the table for this situation showed that they aren’t willing to lend a helping hand to their competitors and are acting in self-interest while potentially risking the entire system’s stability (more on this in a bit). How do we know they will be candid with each other and the world regarding their exposures? If I were a bank, I would seek to novate all the in-the-money trades with Lehman and not the ones that are out-of-the-money, right?

And, now that Lehman is winding down, the trades that will be novated away could be hedges. So you have Lehman, sitting with assets it now needs to sell, as their hedges are being novated away and without the ability to put new hedges on. What does this mean? Lehman, in trying to recover maximum value for creditors, will now have to sell quicker or will be holding assets that are unhedged and much more exposed to further market deterioration. Something just doesn’t make sense with this whole thing…

To further complicate things, since the holding company is filing for chapter 11, not chapter 7 does that trigger this special session? Does it matter which entity it is? I suppose we’ll see. Oh, and then there’s this that seems to indicate there’s really no reduction of risk occurring at all, from the W.S.J.:

Some traders said it was difficult to find new counterparties for many of their outstanding trades with Lehman. The snags included different terms and maturity dates on derivatives contracts, and market prices changed rapidly Sunday afternoon. “People were screaming at each other over the phone, asking: How can this work?” one trader said.

William Gross, chief investment officer at bond-fund giant Pacific Investment Management Co., said very few Lehman trades were offset. “There’s an immediate risk related to the unwind of these positions,” he said.

(Emphasis mine.)

2. How is a solvent company with a recovery plan, on Wednesday, now insolvent? If you say it’s similiar to Bear or you mutter the words “run on the bank” then you’re either making something up or you have insider information that has been reported nowehere in the media. Proof? From the W.S.J.’s Marketbeat Blog:

“Ongoing pressure and anxiety in the markets resulted in significant cash outflows toward the week’s end, leaving Bear with a significantly deteriorated liquidity position at end of business on Thursday,” the agency wrote.

Lehman’s prime-brokerage business is smaller than Bear’s relative to its more diverse portfolio, Mr. Sprinzen noted. And Lehman doesn’t depend on hedge-fund clients’ free credit balances to the same extent. In Bear’s case, the “run on the bank” by prime-brokerage clients was a major contributor to its fall.

(Emphasis theirs! [Again, wow!])

Lehman’s prime brokerage certainly isn’t anywhere near large enough to bring down the firm, as was Lehman’s. So, did the Fed and Treasury cause this? By trying to set up a suitor did they make other firms unwilling to fund them and thus cause their death?

Remember that there was consensus before that Lehman could survive.

3. The Treausury and the Fed have a lot of decisions to make. What will they do? Why did they choose this path?

First, it was earlier reported that the Merrill-Bank of America tie-up would be unde-rcapitalized and need regulatory approval. That reference, from the New York Times article has since been removed.

Second, A.I.G. is now hunting for government loans to survive. How can they provide those when they refused Lehman? How can they refuse those when they provided them for Bear? A.I.G. is hardly at the center of the financial system. And, by the way, they went from selling units to not selling units and needing loans in a matter of hours!

Also, what of stability? First, Lehman is just as at the center of credit derivative markets as Bear Stearns was, in corporate credit default swaps and interest rate derivatives probably more-so. And what’s to stop people asking questions and begin to pummel Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs?

As Barry cites, perhaps the Fed has caused it’s own problems here:

To be eligible for a bailout, firms must also demonstrate a particular genius for screwing up. Before it went bust, Bear Stearns had a monstrous $33 of debt for every dollar of capital, and hedge funds it owned destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars of clients’ cash. It got a bailout. Lehman Brothers, which has taken painful measures to reduce its risk, is perversely less likely to get direct government help. “The worst Lehman can do is destroy the firm,” said Barry Ritholtz, CEO of Wall Street research firm FusionIQ and author of the forthcoming Bailout Nation. “Bear Stearns, on the other hand, set up the firm so that if they screwed up, they could threaten the entire financial system.” That may explain why Treasury Secretary Paulson has thus far resisted providing federal succor to Lehman.

(Italics theirs.)

4. As for Lehman’s assets, who gets them and what are the terms? I would claim that there should be an auction run. And, perhaps, when that auction is run there would be enough capital to save Lehman? Well, Lehman owns those assets at a different leverage ratio so how would that play? Depends on the price. We have to see if investment banks, like Goldman, did the math and withheld capital from a rescue assuming they could buy the assets on the cheap later.

Okay…. more to come, but that’s what is initially sitting uneasily with me.

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.

Bear Stearns: Where We Are, Some Little Known Facts, and Opinions

March 21, 2008

Well, it looks like the dust has settled on the situation. My predictions have actually fared quite well–lawsuits, retention bonuses, brokers jumping ship, and some interesting rumblings about management seeking out new bidders.

Bloomberg even highlighted Jamie Dimon’s greenmail:

Dimon made the proposal to several hundred Bear Stearns senior managing directors at a meeting yesterday evening in the securities firm’s Manhattan headquarters, according to two people who attended. He said members of the group who are asked to stay after the acquisition is complete will get additional JPMorgan shares, according to the attendees, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was private.

Bear Stearns employees own about a third of its stock, with a large concentration in the hands of senior managing directors. Their support may help JPMorgan counter opposition from billionaire Joseph Lewis, who owns 8.4 percent of Bear Stearns and said yesterday he may seek an alternative to the bank’s proposed purchase.

“He’s basically bribing them for their votes,” said Richard Bove, an analyst at Punk Ziegel & Co., referring to Dimon’s presentation. “In this environment, there are no jobs on Wall Street, so he can bribe them by letting them keep their jobs and they’ll vote for him.”

Lots of people have opined on the merger terms and the possibilities for other bidders, and even some odd provisions that suggest no one knows the entire story yet. Everyone who reads my blog knows what I think on the obvious points. Here’s an interesting fact, too, that I haven’t seen elsewhere. From the Times Online:

A counter-offer for Bear Stearns would face a series of hurdles. Part of the JPMorgan Chase offer, which values Bear at $2 a share, includes the financial support of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which has underwritten $30 billion of the most toxic of Bear Stearns’s investments. The New York Fed also extended special financing to JPMorgan to cover the cost of Bear Stearns redundancies and impending litigation. Any new bidder would have to convince the central bank that it should transfer its underwriting to support a new offer.

(emphasis mine).

Wow. Talk about a sweet deal! I’m not sure what that sentence means, but I know I haven’t seen that anywhere else, so I remain skeptical, but it wouldn’t surprise me. So, with this heavy handed approach, here’s a question: Why does the Fed care so much about ensuring the specific deal they got JPM to ink goes through? In the above Deal Journal post, it’s made clear that the Fed wants this deal to go through. So, if there is another bidder out there, at a higher price, then why does it matter who gets Bear? Certainly the crisis they were talking about ha been avoided, no? Let’s examine the facts (from a myriad of sources):

  • Bear Stearns had gotten a 28 day loan, via JPM, from the Fed.
  • The Fed had decided toget Bear sold A.S.A.P., this left other bidders out, as reported by the media.
  • The Fed decided to guarantee, essentially, $30 billion in assets on Bear’s balance sheet.
  • The Fed has now decided to open up it’s discount window to securities firms, to avoid this situation in the future.

These actions seem inconsistent. Why would you force a securities firm to be bought, but then allow other to borrow at the discount window? Why would you make a 28 day loan, and then, with not much else changing, force another alternative? Why would you try to get JPM to accurately asses the value of Bear, and then, when they are unable to do so, both guarantee the most troublesome assets and allow JPM to lock in a very low bid price?

Now, I hate to be trite, but the taxpayers now own $30 billion dollars of stuff that is nearly impossible to value and, simultaneously, not going up in value (leaving only flat or down). JPM shareholders are getting roughly $1 billion in incremental earnings (I, obviously, would claim that when all is said and done that number will be lower, but that’s their number and we have no reason to believe that they don’t believe it to be accurate) for a fraction of the outlay in cash (and potentially not even the legal expenses, if indeed the above statement from The Times Online is true). And all the while, the Fed is standing guard over the gasping, bleeding body of Bear Stearns warding off further bidders? This isn’t the kind of intervention that I can honestly say sounds “above board.” To me, one either let’s Bear file for bankruptcy protection or they are bailed out–forcing a suitor onto them seems a bit weird.

Now begins the next chapter in this saga, exploring who profited from the demise of Bear and the source of the rumors that caused this whole mess.

Bear Stearns: Notes and Predictions

March 17, 2008

Wow. What a difference a day makes. Bear Stearns is now, apparently, being fire-sold for $2 a share to avoid being fire-sold for the values of it’s assets minus it’s liabilities.

I was reading the WSJ piece on the topic, and it seems like there was a lot of pressure applied by the Fed to ensure Bear got sold, with no regard for shareholders (the article states this, in essence). So counterparty risk is now secure. Great! But wouldn’t it have been better to run a real process and determine the value of the company? Wouldn’t it have been more valuable to not send the message that the “health of the financial markets” is more important than a firm’s sale occurring at their true equity value? (And aren’t both of those, taken together, a contradiction? Mis-valued assets was how this mess got started.)  So, let’s make some bold predictions! I don’t think they will all be right, but they are obviously all reasonable to me. I’ll show my hand and give the probability I ascribe to the prediction coming true, as well.

Prediction: Lots of shareholder lawsuits. K.K.R. was looking a bidding, so was J.C. Flowers, and the Fed says the deal needs to be done today, so they get crammed out. Who do you sue? Everybody of course! Hence JPM estimates $6b in costs for this transaction, first item listed–litigation. Probability: 100% (Bonus prediction: Someone notable from Bear joins in a lawsuit or files one themself! Probability: 50%)

Prediction: The price gets raised. A process wasn’t run, shareholders will demand more, and the Fed is taking $30 billion in risk. For $1 billion in accretion to earnings, and not even being in the first loss position on the toxic assets Bear is holding, why pay such a low price? This will become a problem for JPM. Keep in mind, this can be raised (the pruchase price) by having to pay out certain shareholders more than the bid price. For example, employees they wish to retain might have shares made whole at a higher level than the sale (you have 40k shares of BSC, you get $40 in JPM stock for each share if you stay, for example). Probability: 70%

Prediction: JPM will never see some of those assets add to their franchise. If the prime brokerage business really saw the kinds of outflows reported by the media (from Bear, that is) JPM could already be finding itself over-paying for that asset. And the mortgage and securitization business at Bear? Management for that business are at the top of that market in terms of knowledge and relationships–watch that business experience brain drain quickly. Probability: 70%

Prediction: Integration will be a nightmare. Culture clash will occur at many points in the process and within many businesses. JPM and Bear’s cultures aren’t compatible. Bear is a very raw environment and is very cut-throat. You’ll see this get ugly, fast. Big names on both sides will leave and power struggles will be common. Perhaps this is normal merger behavior, but it will be worse because the Bear employee have already been financially destroyed. You’ll see resentment for JPM from ex-Bear employees and silos form within the firm. It will be difficult to interact with certain parts of the firm depending on where you worked when JPM bought Bear. Ouch. Probability: 60%

Well, that’s it for now. I’m sure much more information will leak out as this deal develops. If this drags on or lots of game-changing information comes to light, I might revisit these later.