A recent ZeroHedge article (Bank Of America Can Not Deny It Used Repo 105, Response From PricewaterhouseCoopers Pending; The BofA QSPE's ) probes the possibility of BofA engaging in Repo 105-like activities in regards to their QSPEs (off balance sheet vehicles). ZH does seem to uncover a lot of dirt these days. After reading the article, I think it is worth blog fans time to delve deeper into the off balance sheet world of BofA. Here are some older blog posts that ask the hard questions and raises some additional ones.

And the next AIG is... (Public Edition, and yes, I know there is a typo in Mr. Tizzio's name) Free registration required to access the naked swap note.

Published in BoomBustBlog

I will start posting more news topics of interest and welcome readers to forward research and investment ideas at will. Here is the crop from last week. I will post topics from the weekend later on today, and as usual will randomly comment on daily news events.

From Alliance Bernstein:

  • Core Intermediate Producer Prices have taken 6 months to rise 5.2% annualized, recession of 2002 took 2 years to reach same level
  • Operating Rate hit low of 65.4% last year and has only risen to 69.4%, still short of historical threshold causing rise in raw material prices (74%)
  • Increases in foreign operating rates have started to indicate US may now be a price follower instead of price leader
  • The Fed cited lack of resource utilization as reasoning for maintaining record low rates, as these concerns begin to wane Alliance Bernstein sees easing of emergency Fed policy

Bloomberg.com:

  • Christina Romer, Peter Orszag, and Tim Geithner have predicted unemployment will settle in 2010 at around 9.7%, citing poor job conditions
  • Federal deficit projections for 2011 & 2015 are $1.5 trillion & $751 billion respectively, White House officials cite Bush's medicare and income tax cuts for allowing deficit insanity
Published in BoomBustBlog

I have warned my readers about following myths and legends versus reality and facts several times in the past, particularly as it applies to Goldman Sachs and what I have coined "Name Brand Investing". Very recent developments from Senator Kaufman of Delaware will be putting the spit-shined patina of Wall Street's most powerful bank to the test. Here is a link to the speech that the esteemed Senator from Delaware (yes, the most corporate friendly state in this country). A few excerpts to liven up your morning...

Mr. President, last Thursday, the bankruptcy examiner for Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. released a 2,200 page report about the demise of the firm which included riveting detail on the firm’s accounting practices. That report has put in sharp relief what many of us have expected all along: that fraud and potential criminal conduct were at the heart of the financial crisis.

... Only further investigation will determine whether the individuals involved can be indicted and convicted of criminal wrongdoing.

Published in BoomBustBlog

Let's get something straight right off the bat. We all know there is a certain level of fraud sleight of hand in the financial industry. I have called many banks insolvent in the past. Some have pooh-poohed these proclamations, while others have looked in wonder, saying "How the hell did he know that?"

The list above is a small, relevant sampling of at least dozens of similar calls. Trust me, dear reader, what some may see as divine premonition is nothing of the sort. It is definitely not a sign of superior ability, insider info, or heavenly intellect. I would love to consider myself a hyper-intellectual, but alas, it just ain't so and I'm not going to lie to you. The truth of the matter is I sniffed these incongruencies out because 2+2 never did equal 46, and it probably never will either. An objective look at each and every one of these situations shows that none of them added up. In each case, there was someone (or a lot of people) trying to get you to believe that 2=2=46.xxx. They justified it with theses that they alleged were too complicated for the average man to understand (and in business, if that is true, then it is probably just too complicated to work in the long run as well). They pronounced bold new eras, stating "This time is different", "There is a new math" (as if there was something wrong with the old math), etc. and so on and associated bullshit.

Published in BoomBustBlog
Monday, 08 March 2010 23:00

The Financial Times' Banker on Bonuses

The Financial Times has published an Op-Ed piece I penned on bonuses in the banking industry. Enjoy!

A bank employee recently asked me: "As a trader, my bonus is derived directly from my profit and loss, which is accrued over the quarter and kept in a separate account. It does not go into the firm's bottom line and then back out to me. Also, like most traders, I accrue 2% of my gains in a loss provision account in case I have a major write-down in the year. My bonus is 10% of my profit for the year. If I make $50m for the year my bonus is $5m. What does my bonus have to do with the mortgage-backed securities [MBS] trader who is sitting on losses? Did I or did I not show a profit of $40m to the firm's bottom line?"

Main Street is absolutely flabbergasted that bankers do not understand the core issues of this bonus question. Allow me to clearly outline the problem and propose a solution. Assuming this trader works for a prominent US bank that received a bailout, he is not entitled to a $5m bonus if he made $50m for the year. Why not? Because he generated that 10% return from taxpayer capital, not firm capital. For example, Goldman Sachs would have had the drawdown from purgatory had it not been rescued from a $30bn credit default swap deal with AIG.

Let's assume AIG would have negotiated a 40% payout to Goldman Sachs, which is realistic given that litigation with an insolvent company that had many more contingent and direct claims would probably have resulted in a lower net receipt to Goldman. This alone would have resulted in a hole of about $7.8bn for the bank.

Published in BoomBustBlog

Home grown credit risks look to come back home to roost. I am actually shocked the following development didn't get more traction in the mains stream media. The recent announcement by the Chinese finance ministry to nullify all guarantees for local governments for loans taken by their financing vehicles, and its plan to issue rules banning all future guarantees by local governments (see Bloomberg article), fuels (even further) our concerns about credit risks on such loans.

The primary concern is that most of these were non-recourse loans to provinces, municipalities and counties through shell companies, known as Urban Development Investment Corporations (UDIC). Some went to fund projects backed by assets, such as commercial real estate, others to projects with future cash flows such as subways and toll roads. Still others are social in nature and backed only by an implicit guarantee of the City/Provincial Investment Holding Corporation (CIHC).

 This post should be taken in context of the discussion had regarding regarding the prospects of the highly levered Russian energy company. Subscribers please see Mechel (MTLR) Mechel (MTLR) 2010-02-26 18:32:58 366.23 Kb and
Mechel (MTLR) Overview, pt2 Mechel (MTLR) Overview, pt2 2010-02-28 06:09:51 532.89 Kb

The China Macro Discussion 2-4-10 is also quite relevant.

 And the most concerning part of these loans primarily includes the estimated 3,000 billion Yuan ($450billion) of local infrastructure loans extended in 2009, which represents 30% of the record new bank lending last year.

  • Most UDIC loans have sparse local equity and limited cash flow prospects for repayment. For 2009, local governments and CIHCs have been able to meet interest payment gaps with healthy land sales, which totaled 1,600 billion Yuan in 2009, as well as central government transfers.
  • However, at the end of 2009, the UDIC liability is estimated at close to 6,000 billion Yuan or 14% of the outstanding loan base. And a 30% default rate could in effect wipe out the paid-in capital of top banks such as China Construction Bank and Bank of China.

According to Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, during the National People's Congress, "while ‘many' local financing vehicles have the ability to repay, two types cause concern. One uses land as collateral, while the other can't fully repay borrowing", which means that for such loans the local governments may become liable, leading to ‘fiscal risks' for the government.

Home grown credit risks look to come back home to roost. I am actually shocked the following development didn't get more traction in the mains stream media. The recent announcement by the Chinese finance ministry to nullify all guarantees for local governments for loans taken by their financing vehicles, and its plan to issue rules banning all future guarantees by local governments (see Bloomberg article), fuels (even further) our concerns about credit risks on such loans.

The primary concern is that most of these were non-recourse loans to provinces, municipalities and counties through shell companies, known as Urban Development Investment Corporations (UDIC). Some went to fund projects backed by assets, such as commercial real estate, others to projects with future cash flows such as subways and toll roads. Still others are social in nature and backed only by an implicit guarantee of the City/Provincial Investment Holding Corporation (CIHC).

 This post should be taken in context of the discussion had regarding regarding the prospects of the highly levered Russian energy company. Subscribers please see Mechel (MTLR) Mechel (MTLR) 2010-02-26 18:32:58 366.23 Kb and
Mechel (MTLR) Overview, pt2 Mechel (MTLR) Overview, pt2 2010-02-28 06:09:51 532.89 Kb

The China Macro Discussion 2-4-10 is also quite relevant.

 And the most concerning part of these loans primarily includes the estimated 3,000 billion Yuan ($450billion) of local infrastructure loans extended in 2009, which represents 30% of the record new bank lending last year.

  • Most UDIC loans have sparse local equity and limited cash flow prospects for repayment. For 2009, local governments and CIHCs have been able to meet interest payment gaps with healthy land sales, which totaled 1,600 billion Yuan in 2009, as well as central government transfers.
  • However, at the end of 2009, the UDIC liability is estimated at close to 6,000 billion Yuan or 14% of the outstanding loan base. And a 30% default rate could in effect wipe out the paid-in capital of top banks such as China Construction Bank and Bank of China.

According to Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, during the National People's Congress, "while ‘many' local financing vehicles have the ability to repay, two types cause concern. One uses land as collateral, while the other can't fully repay borrowing", which means that for such loans the local governments may become liable, leading to ‘fiscal risks' for the government.

Two months ago I pointed out an anomaly in JP Morgan's "blowout" quarterly earnings release - Reggie Middleton on JP Morgan's "Blowout" Q4-09 Results. Let's reminisce...

Warranties of representation, and forced repurchase of loans

JP Morgan has increased its reserves with regards to repurchase of sold securities but the information surround these actions are very limited as the company does not separately report the repurchase reserves created to meet contingencies. However, the Company's income from mortgage servicing was severely impacted by increase in repurchase reserves. Mortgage production revenue was negative $192 million against negative $70 million in 3Q09 and positive $62 million in 4Q08.

Counterparties who are accruing losses from bad loans, (ex. monoline insurers such as Ambac and MBIA, see A Super Scary Halloween Tale of 104 Basis Points Pt I & II, by Reggie Middleton circa November 2007,) are stepping up their aggression in pushing loans that appear to breach certain warranties or smack of fraud. I expect this activity to pick up significantly, and those banks that made significant use of brokers and third parties to place mortgages will be at material risk - much more so than the primarily direct writers. I'll give you two guesses at which two banks are suspect. If you need a hint, take a look at who is increasing reserves for repurchases! JP Morgan and their not so profitable acquisition, WaMu!

http://boombustblog.com/images/stories/regional_banks/32bustedbanks/thumbnails/thumb_image020.png

As I said, losses should be ramping up on the mortgage sector. Notice the trend of housing prices after the onset of government bubble blowing: If Anybody Bothered to Take a Close Look at the Latest Housing Numbers...

PNC Bank and Wells Fargo are in very similar situations regarding acquiring stinky loan portfolios. I suggest subscribers review the latest forensic reports on each company to refresh as the companies report Q4 2009 earnings. Unlike JPM, these banks do not have the investment banking and trading fees of significance (albeit decreasing significance) to fall back on as a cushion to consumer and mortgage credit losses.

Well, it looks as if I was onto something. From Bloomberg:

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Fannie Mae andFreddie Mac may force lenders includingBank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. to buy back $21 billion of home loans this year as part of a crackdown on faulty mortgages.

That’s the estimate of Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Chris Kotowski, who says U.S. banks could suffer losses of $7 billion this year when those loans are returned and get marked down to their true value. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both controlled by the U.S. government, stuck the four biggest U.S. banks with losses of about $5 billion on buybacks in 2009, according to company filings made in the past two weeks.

The surge shows lenders are still paying the price for lax standards three years after mortgage markets collapsed under record defaults. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are looking for more faulty loans to return after suffering $202 billion of losses since 2007, and banks may have to go along, since the two U.S.- owned firms now buy at least 70 percent of new mortgages.

...

Freddie Mac forced lenders to buy back $4.1 billion of mortgages last year, almost triple the amount in 2008, according to a Feb. 26 filing. As of Dec. 31, Freddie Mac had another $4 billion outstanding loan-purchase demands that lenders hadn’t met, according to the filing. Fannie Mae didn’t disclose the amount of its loan-repurchase demands. Both firms were seized by the government in 2008 to stave off their collapse.

....

The government’s efforts might be counterproductive, since the Treasury and Federal Reserve are trying to help banks heal, FBR’s Miller said. The banks have to buy back the loans at par, and then take an impairment, because borrowers usually have stopped paying and the price of the underlying homehas plunged. JPMorgan said in a presentation last month that it loses about 50 cents on the dollar for every loan it has to buy back.

Striking a Balance

“It’s a fine line you’re walking, because the government’s trying to recapitalize the banks, not put them in bankruptcy, and then here’s Fannie and Freddie putting more pressure on the banks through these buybacks,” FBR’s Miller said. “If it becomes too big of an issue, the banks are going to complain to Congress, and they’re going to stop it.” [Of, course! Let the taxpayer eat the losses borne from our purposefully sloppy underwriting]

Bank of America recorded a $1.9 billion “warranties expense” for past and future buybacks of loans that weren’t properly written, seven times the 2008 amount, the bank said in a Feb. 26 filing. A spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina- based Bank of America, Scott Silvestri, declined to comment.

JPMorgan, based in New York, recorded $1.6 billion of costs in 2009 from repurchases, including $500 million of losses on repurchased loans and $1 billion to increase reserves for future losses, according to a Feb. 24 filing.

“It’s become a very meaningful issue, and it will continue to be a meaningful issue for the next couple of years,” Charlie Scharf, JPMorgan’s head of retail banking, said at a Feb. 26 investor conference. He declined to say when the repurchase demands might peak.

...

“I can’t forecast the rates at which they’re going to continue,” she said. Her division lost $3.84 billion last year, as the bank overall posted a $6.28 billion profit. “The volume is increasing.”

Wells Fargo, ranked No. 1 among U.S. home lenders last year, bought back $1.3 billion of loans in 2009, triple the year-earlier amount, according to a Feb. 26 filing. The San Francisco-based bank recorded $927 million of costs last year associated with repurchases and estimated future losses.

...

Citigroup increased its repurchase reserve sixfold to $482 million, because of increased “trends in requests by investors for loan-documentation packages to be reviewed,” according to a Feb. 26 filing.

“The request for loan documentation packages is an early indicator of a potential claim,” New York-based Citigroup said.

...

Banks that sell mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have to provide “representations and warranties” assuring that the loans conformed to the agencies’ standards. With more loans going bad, the agencies are demanding that banks turn over loan files, so they can scour the records for missing documentation, inaccurate data and fraud.

...

The most common include inflated appraisals or falsely stated incomes in the loan applications, said Larry Platt, a Washington-based partner at law firm K&L Gates LLP who specializes in mortgage-purchase agreements. The government agencies hire their own reviewers who go back and compare the appraisals with prices from historical home sales, he said.

“They may do a drive-by for a visual inspection,” he said.

Wells Fargo said three-fourths of its repurchase requests came from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. While investors may demand repurchase at any time, most demands occur within three years of the loan date, Wells Fargo said.

The mortgage firms are looking at every loan more than 90 days past due and “asking us basically to give them all the documentation to show that it was properly underwritten,” JPMorgan’s Scharf said. “We then go through a process with them that takes a period of time, and literally it’s every loan, loan-by-loan, and have the discussion on whether or not we actually should buy the loan back.”

...

Mortgage repurchases may crimp bank earnings through 2011, Oppenheimer’s Kotowski said. That’s because the worst mortgages -- those underwritten in 2007 -- are just now coming under the heaviest scrutiny, he said.

...

“The worst of the stress is the 2007 vintages, though 2006 and 2005 weren’t a whole lot better and 2008 wasn’t much better,” Kotowski said.

Next week, the Mortgage Bankers Association is holding a workshop in the Dallas area that promises to help banks “survive the buyback deluge” and “build up your repertoire of lender defenses.” According to the MBA’s Web site, the workshop is sold out.
Published in BoomBustBlog
Sunday, 28 February 2010 23:00

HSBC is Performing as Expected

About a year and a half ago I warned that HSBC would be facing increasing and unanticipated (I was a contrarian on the China bubble) losses in Asia, as well as increasing losses on bad debt in the US. I believe I was one of the very few who threw this caution out there. I have included a free opinion along with the macro analysis to badk it up here: Part one of three of my opinion of HSBC and the macro factors affecting it . Subscribers can download the forensic reports: spreadsheet HSBC_Holdings_Report_04August2008 - retail 2008-09-16 06:38:38 87.28 Kb and HSBC_Holdings_Report_04August2008 - pro HSBC_Holdings_Report_04August2008 - pro 2008-11-06 10:11:09 138.89 Kb. As a refresher, the 2nd quarter 2008 review is available here: HSBC 1H 08 results update. There is a discernable trend.

From Bloomberg:

March 1 (Bloomberg) -- HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest bank, posted full-year net income that missed analyst estimates after impairments for bad loans rose and profit in Asia fell.

Published in BoomBustBlog

Johnathan Weill has an excellent article on
Bloomberg today illustrating just how BS the BS FASB accounting changes
regarding mark-to-market really were. For all of those who wondered why I
have stayed so bearish on the banks, stay tuned, but before we read
this oh so interesting story, let me provide you with a graphical
recollection of recent history via this chart sourced from Bloomberg:

fasb_mark_to_market_chart.png

If the engineered
bear market rally is running off of the FASB generated lies, then we
certainly do have another crash coming, don't we?

Published in BoomBustBlog