Posted tagged ‘predictions’

In The Year 2010: C.D.O. Edition

October 21, 2008

In another installment of the series called “In The Year 2010″ I will sit here and guess what will be going on by the end of 2010 with respect to various products. (Inspired by the Conan O’Brian skit “In The Year 2000″). This is a thought experiment, nothing more.

This edition, as the title would seem to suggest, is about C.D.O.’s. Please sit down, because I’m about to argue something very counter-intuitive. C.D.O.’s will be alive and well in the year 2010. Now, I’m willing to claim this victory on a technicality–corporate C.D.O.’s are still being issued. Now, safe in my assured technical victory, I’ll go farther out on the limb

It’s somewhat instructive to understand what have been the various motivations behind the C.D.O. market, historically (some of these obviously no longer exist)…

  1. There was the reach for yield. If one could get AAA C.D.O.’s for a higher yield than other AAA bonds, it was a no brainer. Both were AAA, obviously! No extra risk.
  2. A highly customized risk profile. If I looked at a pool and thought 6% of the balance was going to written off, but no more, I could buy the 7%-10% tranche and get a higher return. Obviously this higher return would need to match whatever threshhold I established, but that was most likely related to the market anyway. Some people referred to this as taking a position in the collateral with leverage. C.D.O.’s are, in essence, leverage on leverage, but this is a complicated, technical, and largely semantic argument. The surface intuition is that taking a levered position increases your return if nothing defaults, but less has to default for the buyer to lose money.
  3. C.D.O.’s were used to finance bonds or other debt positions. “How?” is what I heard you say, in the back? Well, think about it this way: an investment bank requires 50% of the purchase price of a set of bonds and charges LIBOR+100bps on the other 50%. We say that you’ve financed the purchase of the bonds two to one at a rate of one hundred basis points over LIBOR. Now, using our example, let’s say one could issue a C.D.O. and sell enough bonds to get 50% of the purchase price of the underlying bonds up front. Let’s also assume that the liabilities have a weighted average interest rate of LIBOR+10bps. Using the C.D.O. instead of a traditional loan, especially since the C.D.O. can’t be cancelled like a loan can and, most likely, contains much more lax terms than a loan, is much more cost effective. Taking this a step further, it was even possible for C.D.O.’s to be issued that allowed more bonds to be put into the C.D.O. or allow bonds that were sold to be replaced. This effecive made the C.D.O. a credit line with an extremely cheap interest rate. Keep in mind the “equity” or “most levered tranche” or “bottom” of the C.D.O. generally was structured to have a very high return, somewhere in the 15-25% range.

Also, the backdrop of the boom in C.D.O.’s, don’t forget, was a very low rate environment. If one could get LIBOR+10-15bps on AAA bonds when rates were, in 2004 for example, 1% (for USD LIBOR and the Fed Funds), that was a major out performance for a AAA security (AAA, how much risk could there be?!).

Now that the historical context is out of the way, it seems pretty clear that some of these reasons for isssuing C.D.O.’s will not diminish in importance. Funds and money managers will always need more yield. Investors that are smart about credit analysis will always want to take the risks they understand and get paid for taking said risks. Funds and other “levered players” will always need financing. So, let’s examine how the landscape changes rather than disappears.

  1. Complexity will die. There are a number of reasons for this. Part of the reason is that buyers of C.D.O.’s will begin to realize that structure adds a layer of complexity that no one really can grasp fully. Why have dozens of triggers and tests at every stage of the waterfall (the way cash is distributed in order of seniority)? In some deals, I’m sure, this complexity helped some tranches of the C.D.O. In some other deals, I’m sure, this complexity hurt some tranches of the C.D.O. The one  constant is that it’s nearly impossible to tell the right levels and specific mechanics beforehand. Hence the complexity will die and structures will simplify. Likely this also means less tranches. Why have a $4 million tranche size in a $400+ million deal when you can’t even predict losses within an order of magnitude (1%, 9%. or 20%? Who knows?!)? This is hardly a new concept, I introduced it already when discussing residential mortgages.
  2. Arbitrage C.D.O.’s will reign supreme. This one is controversial, and the term “Arbitrage C.D.O.” almost takes on a different meaning each time it’s defined. The intuition, though, is that a hedge fund taking advantage of a market dislocation by issuing a C.D.O. is an “Arbitrage C.D.O.” Why will these be popular? Well, C.D.O. shops, or firms that are serial issuers of C.D.O.’s, have mostly blown up and are done. Traditional money managers will be shying away from C.D.O.’s for a long time. So, in order to sell the C.D.O. equity, the most levered risky piece, the firm issuing the C.D.O. will need to also be willing to take on the equity–this leaves only hedge funds. Arbitrage C.D.O.’s also come together more quickly and generally are backed by corporate bonds. Funds and other accounts that, as a core competency, already analyze corporate credit won’t have to go “outside the comfort zone” to buy into arbitrage C.D.O.’s.
  3. C.D.O.’s or C.D.O. technology will become part of the M&A world more and more. Aha! Maybe too clever for my own good, but while all these specialty finance companies used to be able to issue a C.D.O. for funding purposes on their own, now they will need an investment bank to connect them with hedge funds or take on the debt, and thus the risk, themselves. These C.D.O.’s will likely be simple too (see #1), but will be an efficient way for these companies to finance assets or move them off the balance sheet. Here’s an example: a diversified finance firm, with a large lending presence, for example (most likely with a R.E.I.T. subsidiary, a popular structure of the past eight years) will be looking to sell itself. However, because the assets on it’s balance sheet look risky the leveraged finance groups will need to arrange some financing against those assets. The structure? Most likely a C.D.O. with hedge funds providing the cash and getting a “juiced” return on their money. This is essentially the covered bond product, but with an extra layer of complexity (tranching) on top.

Okay… that’s enough prognosticating for now. Still deciding which product is next. Drop me a line if you have a favorite!

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In The Year 2010: Residential Mortgage Edition

October 17, 2008

Okay, in a series I just thought of, called “In The Year 2010” I will sit here and guess what will be going on by the end of 2010 with respect to various products. (Inspired by the Conan O’Brian skit “In The Year 2000”). This is a thought experiment, nothing more.

Residential mortgages. What can be said about where they’ve been that hasn’t been said already? I can’t even pepper that sentence with links because I wouldn’t know where to start. I mean to cover this product from the capital markets side, but let me starts by saying that this industry will probably be scared of it’s own shadow when it comes to making loans–probably for quite some time. Gone will be the sub-prime loans we all know and, well, we all just know them… 720 FICO, 25% DTI, 72% LTV? Greenlight. 600 FICO, 50% DTI, 90% LTV? Redlight. It’ll nearly be that simple.

Now, given that the loans will likely be much cleaner, what will the capital markets products look like? Easy! Well… hold on. First, there are some powerful subtleties. First, Fannie and Freddie won’t be nearly the same presence as they were in the residential mortgage markets in general, and probably sub-prime and Alt-A mortgage markets specifically (buying AAA’s). That’s one source of liquidity down. Second, CDO buyers are gone (this product will be a different post, but keep in mind CDO’s are not all mortgage related). CDO’s would buy the lower credit pieces, such as BBB’s (including BBB+, BBB, and BBB- … For Moody’s lovers, Baa1, Baa2, Baa3) and lower rated classes. Oh, and not as many investment banks are around. Guess what they bought? The residuals. Residuals were the 1-5% of the securitization that was unrated by the agencies and took the first losses of every pool. Banks “took these down” assuming they would pay off and that was how they would make their money. Most of those banks are also either not around or hurting.

So, we have fewer AAA buyers, fewer buyers of the lowest rated pieces, and fewer buyers of the lowest unrated pieces. Hmmmm…. I’m guessing there will be less securitization volume. However, I do think there will be securitizations going on. The financial technology is sound–slice up risk to those who can best take said risk. However, securitizations will be much simpler beasts. Gone will be the reliance on the rating agencies to evaluate risk. I doubt anyone will see a AA+ and a AA tranche on deals, risk will be cut into much broader swathes.

With these facts in mind, will AAA’s (or, more generally, high quality low-leverage securities) have a home? Well, at 10+% returns with banks paying 5% to the government for billions in new equity capital (just an example), which they can still lever over 10x (from what I can tell banks generally run 11-15x leverage), AAA’s seem like a good buy. Now, granted, those estimates for returns aren’t adjusted for losses, although AAA’s taking a loss hasn’t happened yet to my knowledge. This would seem to indicate that banks (there are no more investment banks) have a compelling value proposition when it come to holding market-rate AAA securities that are higher quality than found in ABX, but still not prime. Even if these AAA’s only returned 7%, and with current prime mortgage rates at around 6.5% that seems ridiculously unlikely, with 5% cost of capital they could be making over 20% ROE (way over, I’m being conservative and fudging downward). A lot of the these numbers aren’t apples to apple, but we’re also guessing at the future, so we use what we have.

If AAA’s have a home, the next question is what becomes of the lower-rated pieces. Well, my belief is that these will go wholesale to hedge funds and specialized funds focused on these products. The returns will be something in the 20-30% realm, near current levels. Credit analysis will drive value in this market, but if loan pools are kept clean enough then there can be sufficient liquidity to ensure a given securitiation can be sold (i.e. there will be enough funds bidding to ensure that, at a price, bonds will be sold). This is probably the easier problem than the AAA’s to be honest. The hedge funds that will do a lot of work to get a good return already exist, AAA buyers will need to convince themselves that they should be doing those transactions before anything starts happening.

Lastly, I think a market that will grow is the whole loan market. There will be a lot more trading volume in raw loan positions–transactions that aren’t driven by securitizations and don’t need to have tranches of risk in order to sell. Without going too much into the details, this market will be driven by dynamics of servicing arrangements, accounting rules, and detailed credit analysis. Currently this market is thriving, but in the form of “scratch and dent” trades of non-performing and re-performing (people that stopped paying and restarted paying later) pools of mortgage loans.

So, to sum up, what I believe the residential mortgage market will see is a return to simpler times. Selling off loans either a pool of actual loans or in two tranche securitizations seems reasonable. Indeed, this theme will most likely hold for other products as well, but the reasons fit here, so I’ll call it now and risk sounding redundant later.

Now, just to mess with everyone, I’ll use a newly added WordPress feature: polls! Tell me your thoughts on this…

Feel the Excitement!

May 16, 2008

Ok, I can prove the 3G Apple iPhone is coming. Here’s how:

First, we look Google trends from 2006, leading up to the actual introduction of the iPhone…

Google Trends data for iPhone in 2006

And now, mentions of the “3G iPhone” over the past twelve months …

3G iPhone mentions and searches from Google Trends

And, just to get a baseline, recent mentions are larger in magnitude (the huge red spike is obviously the actual iPhone introduction) …

See? What more does one need? The move up is even stronger than it was before the first iPhone was inntroduced.

Oh, and there’s plenty of other clues as well…