Posted tagged ‘Lehman’

Reading: Good For You, In Moderation

January 10, 2009

Okay, as I promised, I’d post on something I’m doing: catching up! Seriously, why do people keep writing kilo-worded articles? And all these must-read pieces… argh! Here’s what I haven’t gotten around to yet…

  1. The Weekend That Wall St. Died — The WSJ Journal piece that seems to be the answer to their three-part series on Bear Stearns.
  2. Fannie Mae’s Last Stand — Vanity Fair, in an effort to prove that they can write a lot of words about finance too, delivers 10,000 words on the G.S.E.’s end.
  3. Joe Nocera on VaR — Honestly, the fact that everyone read and commented on an article focused on VaR probably means I should get a less-nerdy blogroll. That being said, I can’t avoid the fact I’ll probably enjoy reading it.
  4. Two Part Op-ed from Einhorn and Michael Lewis — They should write a book. It can be called, “The New Profitable Thing: Fooling The Government All The Time”
  5. Judd Gregg’s Op-ed in the WSJ — Apparently, we (taxpayers) are making money hand over fist! Can I put more money with them?
  6. John Paulson’s Profile in Portfolio — The man put himself on the map and went from good, but not special, merger-arb to the king of the Fundhouse.
  7. The Reckoning — This series by the NYT goes int all sorts of topics. Really, though, NYT … China caused the crisis? Every article is lots of words.
  8. The End of Wall St. — Ugh. I know, should have read it by now. Sorry well-informed people.
  9. A Reasonable Query for AIG — Simply asks the question, “Where did the cash go?” I have no idea, I haven’t read it yet.
  10. AIG’s Bailout — A long article on it. That’s all I know.
  11. How India Avoided a Crisis — Joe Nocera talks about how India avoided … fine, you get it. Gotta be something worth knowing in here.
  12. How Spain Avoided a Crisis — It goes into some details about how they thought about the risks in the market and how they avoided the issues.
  13. Three Part Washington Post Series on AIG’s Collapse — By the end of this reading list I’m going to know every detail about the AIG bailout or the mainstream media should be vivisected.
  14. Anatomy of a Crisis — Profile of Bernanke and the crisis. It’s long and in the New Yorker, so it must be both worth reading and difficult to find the time and will to read.
  15. Euromoney Article on Lehman and Prime Brokerages — Once again, it’s long and it’s about a crisis. Must be worth reading.
  16. Banks vs. Consumers — In one corner you have lobbyists, PACs, and well-connected executives. In the other corner you have the people that actually elect the public officials who make that rules that will determine the outcome. Given that description, it has a surprise ending!
  17. NYT Advocates a Consumer Czar — This is just something I believe should be done. Hopefully they have facts I can arm myself with.
  18. Profile of Henry Blodget — This might actually remain on my list for a long time, since he never answers my emails. Although, Dan Frommer and I are Twitter pals, so maybe I’ll read it soon after all.
  19. Profile of Jimmy Cayne — I guess I’ll wait until I’m feeling down on myself…
  20. Inflation Swindles the Equity Investor — Not sure how this 1977 Warren Buffett article got on my list, but it hasn’t been on anywhere near as long as it’s been around.
  21. A Short Banking History of the U.S. — I have no idea how this got on there… NONE!
  22. A whole bunch of “Background of the Merger” sections from filings….

Argh. CliffsNotes… ?

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.

Profiting from Lehman’s Problems (Not What You Think)

September 12, 2008

Felix and I have a debate about Lehman, over IM. A more full post is coming (and I think the issues raised by that last post were dealt with, actually). But, that’s not what I’m referring to… What I mean is this smart entrepreneur:

Bold Statement: Time to Start Partying

September 10, 2008

I’m making a bold statement here: We’ve turned a corner. The Worst is over. Our evidence?

1. The Fannie and Freddie issue was always odd because, for as long as I can remember, there was an implicit guarentee that was unquestioned in all ways. It was a bullet point on every presentation about agency debt. It was a sub–bullet point on every presentation about agency M.B.S. Well, if Fannie and Freddie were always meant to be supported by the government, then why would people doubt that was the case? If the government guarntee was always pre-supoposed, why doubt it? Well, finally, the common sense statement that everyone doubted has been made explicit–which shouldn’t have needed to happen. However, I would claim, when you start doubting the obvious it’s a sign of a bottom. Especially now that the doubt has been quashed and the market is back to “pricing to reality.”

2. Lehman is resolved. As the rumors and estimates piled up Lehman has gotten crushed. Clearly this firm was the last big unknown as it dominated the news constantly. We knew every gyration and hiccup of the Korean Development Bank and their flirting and courtship with Lehman. Amazing. Well, with their announcement today, we know their losses, their plans for selling stakes in their businesses, and the extent of their real estate woes. Coupled with the mortgage market recovering slightly and stabilizing (see #1 above) the losses from mark to market aren’t likely to spiral far from here.

So, with these two very recent events, it seems reasonable to assume we’re out of the woods… I’ll be bold and predict, then, the reasonable assumption matches reality.

Update: Quite a tizzy over at Seeking Alpha about this post. I’m not calling a bottom here. I left a comment there if you would like to see it.

On Recent Stories: Something for Everyone

August 27, 2008

I haven’t had the opportunity, in a long time, to cobble together some real thoughts. However, here are a few quick takes on what is going on recently…

1. Citi continues to shuffle deck chairs. Now, I don’t know what they could be doing right now to fix their situation. The problem they are facing is that they need to control costs in an environment rife with morale problems. As one commenter on Dealbook pointed out, I don’t know who believes that Jamie Forese is asking a subordinate to become his equal–indeed that’s probably not even within his power to do. I also don’t know why there is such a massive use of management consultants–in a large bank with an everything-needs-signoff-from-the-C.E.O. culture it’s hard to imagine someone who runs a department of 200 people can go out and hire McKinsey … Those managers can’t even upgrade their own travel arrangements to first or business class! Anyway, the real issue with these measures is that the worst abusers are powerful and find their way around these policies and senior management’s time is better spent doing other things than approving new computers and offsite meetings.

IRONY ALERT: As I was writing this post, I saw this item from Research Recap:

McKinsey sees considerable scope for investment banks to cut their noncompensation costs – possibly up to $2 billion in recurring savings.

McKinsey said its experience indicates that data, printing, supplies, delivery and professional services usually yield the fastest results; restructuring real estate and IT spending may take longer but generate much larger savings.

McKinsey said its analysis suggests that “executives can embark on this additional belt tightening without harming a bank’s culture and morale.”

Of course, morale at most investment banks is already so low that a further whack at expenses is unlikely to make it any worse.

(emphasis mine.)

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up…

2. Lehman is approaching a deal to sell a stake in it’s asset management unit,  Neuberger Berman, to a private equity firm. This is a good start for a relationship, of the kind I have already opined on, between Lehman and a business that should be looking for disintermediation. I would, if I were Mr. Fuld, look to sell a stake in the asset management unit, get an equity investment in Lehman itself, and form a permanent J.V. with whatever top-shelf private equity firm will be winning the auction. Maybe Lehman can try cross-selling … “Mr. Kravis, I see you own a part of our asset management division, can I interest you in some cheap real estate debt? With gas prices so high who couldn’t use some hard assets?” Feel free to fo read my prior post–I go into a lot more detail there about the nuances of what the structure, in an ideal world, should look like.

3. Fannie and Freddie are falling … in slow motion! I have no idea, none at all, why the failing and bailout of Fannie and Freddie are both taking so long. Guess what? If Fannie and Freddie are woefully undercapitalized now then what’s the catalyst for things to get better? There is none. This whole situation doesn’t make sense. Are they waiting for the G.S.E.’s to be insolvent? We already know they are leveraged instutions completely concentrated in markets that are dead, dying, or woefully sick. I guess I don’t understand the rationale for waiting to take action… From the WSJ:

The Treasury probably doesn’t need to make a decision imminently unless the companies lose their ability to tap debt markets at reasonable costs, said Joshua Rosner, a managing director at research firm Graham Fisher & Co.

If the Treasury is forced to inject capital into Fannie and Freddie, though, that is likely to be part of a restructuring that would likely wipe out the value of previously issued common and preferred shares and lower the value of subordinated debt.

[Obligatory paragraph about what the stock did today.] …

Fannie increased its holdings of “liquid” investments, cash and short-term securities that can easily be sold, to $103.6 billion, up 43% from June. The move gives the company more flexibility to reduce its future borrowings if market conditions worsen, company officials said.

(emphasis mine.)

In what world is $100+ billion of anything easily sold? Simply stupid. Especially with the Fed pressuring the Treasury Department to ease up on wiping out certain equity holder because of the destruction wiping out parts of the G.S.E.’s capital structure would cause. Have any of these people ever seen markets function in the face of uncertainty? Oh, right … the last year or so. Well, at least that’s going well…

4. The next big problem is here: distressed companies. People expect that this will be the next set of losses and economic distress. Corporates have been fairly resilient, as a sector, to this economic downturn. Part of this is the lag that corporates have from the time consumers start tightening the purse strings to the time that effect is seen on the bottom line. Nothing else to say, really, the numbers are all moving in the same direction.

5. Random Assortment of other things…

A. Remember the rating agencies? Well, now one is going to sell you something that will tell you how much you’re going to lose on the C.D.O. paper you bought because they said was safer than it actually was after using their flawed ratings methodology… Apparently the part of their suite that worked was the part that picked out the downgrade candidates.

B. In a slight nod to my political views, there is finally hard data that we, as a society, have a vested interest in investing in those amongst us that have the least.

The Return: An Interesting Sign of Confidence

June 24, 2008

In the beginning, there was Charles Schwab returning to the epononymous firm. Then there was the return of John Mack to Morgan Stanley. Then, there was Jeff Kornthal’s return to Merrill. And now, there is Mike Gelband returning to Lehman Brothers. High level executives coming back into the fray seems to be both a huge vote of confidence and a harbinger of the worst being behind or nearly over.

This, to me, sends a huge signal. If you left, when things were good, and then an unmeasurable storm sets in, why would you return? One would need to be very confident that things were over. A returning executive would need to have a high degree of comfort that the problems internally were well understood and able to be fixed. If these sorts of tests weren’t met then why would one re-marry their fate to a firm they specifically took a financial risk divorcing? One thing never lies, I’ve noticed–the people indicators. Now, Mr. Gelband might be wrong, or things might get worse, but still…

Disclosure: I recently bought some shares of LEH … and I’m feeling pretty good about that move right about now.