One thing of note - The Fed's attempts to prop up the market should
help most banks, but the issue is that the bank's problems are that of
solvency and not liquidity. Liquidity problems have popped up, but they
are a consequence of the market being fearful of insolvency. The Fed
has created a limited backstop against general liquidity issues, but if
there is another run on the bank the Fed will not be able to afford to
stop it. Even if they could, they can't stop all of them by supplying
money. If there is a run on the bank, Lehman is next in line. I mention
this because if you really read my pieces - Banks, Brokers, & Bullsh1+ part 1
and Banks, Brokers, & Bullsh1+ part 2 you should walk away appreciating the risk between large private
investors and the I Banks. The I banks are starving for liquidity to
balm their solvency issues, so if they get money from the Fed you can
bet your booty that they will not be lending it back out (I was told that the banks were told by the Fed to allow their clients to borrow through them to the Fed window, but seeing is believing). They will
also be very jittery about collateral and credit risks, which means
more margin calls. The calls will be devastating. That means that if or
when banks start calling in collateral, the crash just may occur in the
hedge fund/private institutional investor arena before the actual I
bank arena. I that happens, the collateral will devalue futher as
deleveraging occurs, and it will put a liquidity strain on the I banks
again as they bang against the Fed's lending facility. I can't
guarantee this will happen, but it is a distinct possibility.

Published in BoomBustBlog
Friday, 14 March 2008 01:00

Counterparty risk chatter around the Web

Stories from RGE Monitor and around the net related to Banks, Brokers, & Bullsh1+ part 2:

  • Carlyle Capital Corp (CCC) defaults on about $16.6 billion of AAA agency debt as widening spreads led to huge losses and margin calls on position leveraged 32 times. Lenders seizing all of its assets--> Carlyle Group's only material financial exposure to CCC is through a $150 million unsecured subordinated revolving credit agreement with CCC.
  • Sudden Debt, FT: Almost all structured finance transactions are based on unfunded margin debt--> Margin debt cannot be "restructured" with falling asset prices.
  • Brunnermeier/Pedersen (Princeton/NYU), BIS: Under certain conditions, margins are destabilizing and market liquidity and funding liquidity are mutually reinforcing, leading to liquidity spirals.
  • Whalen (IRA), Joseph Mason: With prime brokers and hedge funds there is no such thing as a "true sale" or complete risk transfer because the hedge fund has little capital and the prime broker, as a result, ultimately bears all the risk. Same as securitized assets landing back on balance sheet without capital to account for them.
  • InvestorsInsight: Hedge Funds are net sellers of credit protection in CDS market, like insurers. Seides: hedge funds sell 32% of all CDS ($14.5 trillion) with only about $2.5 trillion in net assets under management--> watch counterparty risk.
  • S&P via FT Alphaville 75% of loans to junk-rated U.S. companies provided by HF/non-banks (about $400bn)--> worst asset class performance in Q4.
  • Peloton hedge fund run by former Goldman Sachs partners is liquidating $1.8bn ABS fund that produced 87% gain in 2007. Potential $9bn asset fire sale.
    Strategy: go short subprime paper, go long prime rated paper--> as of Jan 2008 however spreads on both low and prime rated assets widened due to deleveraging (=reverse leveraged bets on good assets). Margin calls triggered decision to unwind.
  • FT Alphaville: January 08 worst month for hedge funds since August 1998 LTCM episode--> average fund tracked by the HFRX index lost more than 2% in January, with event-driven funds, which include activists, the worst hit with a 3.39% loss. Equity long-short funds with net long exposure down too.
Published in BoomBustBlog

The amount of equity devaluation has literally doubled BSC's leverage and potentially halved the market's confidence in this company. At this point, I would feel comfortable issuing a going concern warning.

All banks use excessive leverage to monetize the perception that they can make money for their clients. BSC has lost that perception, thus is at risk of painful deleveraging, by force. They will also have a hard time incentivizing strong talent with such a weak share price and no cash to spare. They aready have the highest bar to cross in regards to compensation as percent of tangible equity and revenues.

Published in BoomBustBlog

I would like to waltz through today's news, but before I do... For those of you who haven't read my pieces on the I banks and brokers, I urge you to peruse (in the following order):

I know it is a lot of reading, but I feel it is well worth the time if you have any financial ties to this indutry, and the subject companies explored, in particular. The forced liquidation of asset backed securities and mortgages this weak definitely makes these researched opinion pieces appear awfully prescient. I, unfortunately, cannot take credit for being a genious since the writing was clearly on the wall. As for what is happening to the companies in question, well, readers of my blog not only saw this coming but know that the worst is yet to come. The financials are not even halfway through their downcycle, and some of the big name brands are at risk of insolvency. Let's turn to today's

Hedge Funds Squeezed As Lenders Get Tougher

The financial turmoil is taking on a new dimension: Banks that lent money to hedge funds and other big risk-takers are asking for some of it back.

Loans from banks and brokerages had allowed hedge funds, which manage some $1.9 trillion in clients' money, to amass many times that amount in investments. But as the value of mortgage-backed bonds and other investments has dropped in recent weeks, the lenders are demanding that borrowers put up more cash or assets. (Banks, Brokers, & Bullsh1+ part 2 - credit risk?)

This is producing a negative cycle that has policy makers deeply worried. When investors rush to dump assets, prices fall and lenders feel compelled to make further demands, or "margin calls," which cause even more selling.

Published in BoomBustBlog

all stemming from a lack of respect for the price compression
resulting from the real estate/credit busting. They really took a
beating on the homebuilders. I am increasingly negative on CTX now, for
they have large mortgage operations that have to be getting hit hard.

Legg Mason's SIV Troubles:
Legg Mason said it obtained a letter of credit from an unnamed bank to
support its money market fund's holdings of Cheyne Finance, a
structured-investment vehicle. The company said in a release that it
will take a charge of $142 million,
or 41 cents per share after adjustment for incentive compensation and
taxes, "principally representing unrealized losses in the SIV
securities underlying the support."

Published in BoomBustBlog

The following is an interesting commentary forwarded by one of the boombustblog readers. I am enthused at the level of knowldege and common sense prevalent in this community. It really makes me happy that I started the blog.Wink

Letter from Buffet's camp.

As you know, many constituencies in the financial markets have been increasingly focused on the emerging issues in the financial guaranty industry for several weeks now. In fact, we ourselves have had several meetings with the New York Insurance Department to explore whether there is something we can do under the current circumstances that would be helpful in addressing the growing concerns in the financial marketplace. Unfortunately, the structured finance "side" of the business, with its many moving pieces and interdependent variables, has proven to be beyond our ability to adequately analyze. Nonetheless, we are ready and willing to lend our reinsurance support to the municipal side of the house, and in fact had set out in a letter to the New York Superintendent of Insurance a concept that we believe would address the needs and concerns of main street America's municipalities. The Superintendent has no objection to our approaching you with this proposal. We would like to meet with you and your client, MBIA, to discuss whether MBIA would have any interest in the proposal .

The key elements of the proposal we described to the Superintendent were: (1) we would raise the capital level in our monoline insurer, Berkshire Hathaway Assurance Corporation (BHAC), to $5 billion; (2) we would assume by reinsurance the muni bond portfolio of several of the monoline companies for a premium of 150% of the existing unearned premium reserves of the companies (with respect to two of the leading companies this would result in a combined unearned premium reserve of $6 billion, plus $3 billion for a total premium of $9 billion which, with the increased capital contribution to BHAC would result in approximately $14 billion of assets available to meet the combined $600 billion or so of total principal value of municipal bonds insured by these two companies); (3) we would undertake not to reduce BHAC's assets by dividends, fees, etc., for a minimum period of ten years; and (4) we had furthermore proposed that, if the companies found a preferable solution during the first 30 days of our cover, they could have a no-questions-asked walk-away option in consideration of a break-up fee that would be paid to us.

Published in BoomBustBlog
Sunday, 17 February 2008 00:00

Banks, Brokers and Bullsh1t, part 2.5?

It looks like my bearish position on AGO needs to be doubled up. From the

Ambac Financial Group Inc. is in discussions to effectively split itself up in a move aimed at ensuring that municipal bonds backed by Ambac retain high credit ratings, according to a person familiar with the situation.

A halving of Ambac would create one unit that insures municipal debt and one that would cover rapidly diminishing securities tied to the mortgages in a structure that effectively creates a so-called "good bank" and "bad bank." Bond insurers generate revenue by promising to cover bond payments on debt issued by a range of entities, including local governments. Bond insurers now are under pressure, though, because they also agreed to guarantee payments on mortgage debt or securities to banks, brokers and investors.

Ratings companies now are poised to further cut credit ratings on bond insurers because of those guarantees. Ratings downgrades can have chain reactions and lead to increased borrowing costs for municipalities and write-downs for banks that own debt backed by the insurance providers. To avert financial chaos, regulators in New York, including state insurance superintendent Eric Dinallo and Gov. Eliot Spitzer have pressured the companies to find solutions or else face regulatory action.

Ambac is one of two bond insurers considering an effective break-up. FGIC Corp. on Friday notified Mr. Dinallo's office, the New York State Insurance Department, that it is pursuing an effective break-up. But according to people familiar with the situation, FGIC's plan came as a surprise to a consortium of banks that had been in early discussions to shore up FGIC's capital. Talks between the two sides be prolonged and litigation may be one outcome. Ambac's plan is much further along and an announcement could be made this week.

But the plan to split Ambac is complex and has required tens of hours in recent days. While a "good bank-bad bank" model has existed for decades, there isn't a playbook for halving a bond insurer. A number of issues remain to be resolved, said a person familiar with the situation.

So, what does this mean for the companies and industries covered in my blog? Well, in my opinion, this is the beginning of the endgame. Let's walk through the game board...

Published in BoomBustBlog

This is the part where you should expect me to say all hell breaks loose. For those who don't follow me regularly, this is my take on the monolines and Ambac. Now, let's check the headlines... From

Ambac's Insurance Unit Cut to AA From AAA by Fitch Ratings

Ambac Financial Group Inc., the second-largest bond insurer, was stripped of its AAA credit rating by Fitch Ratings after the company abandoned plans to raise new equity...Ambac Assurance Corp. was lowered two levels to AA and may be reduced further, New York-based Fitch said yesterday in a statement. The downgrade ``reflects the significant uncertainty with respect to the company's franchise, business model and strategic direction,'' Fitch said... Without its AAA rating, New York-based Ambac may be unable to write the top-ranked bond insurance that makes up 74 percent of its revenue. Ambac may quit the business or sell itself, said Robert Haines, an analyst at CreditSights Inc., a bond research firm in New York. The downgrade throws doubt on the ratings of $556 billion in municipal and structured finance debt guaranteed by Ambac.

``This makes Ambac insurance toxic,'' said Matt Fabian, senior analyst and managing director at Municipal Market Advisors in Westport, Connecticut. And therein lies the fundamental problem. The insurance was toxic from the get-go. The Fitch change in moniker status did nothing to change this, but give us bloggers and some reporters something to type about.``The market has no tolerance for a ratings-deprived insurer.''

Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's, the two largest ratings companies, are reviewing Ambac's ratings for a possible reduction. Moody's said this week that it may also cut the ratings of MBIA Inc., the largest bond insurer. This all a big fat joke. They cut ratings after a 80% drop in price and announcement of a $33 per share loss? Don't do us any more favors. Like I have disclaimed earlier, I am far from a fixed income expert, but I could have sworn that the ratings agencies advisory was aimed at being predictive, and not reactive. All they are doing is telling people how much money they lost!!!

``The likelihood is quite high the others will follow,'' said John Tierney, credit market strategist at Deutsche Bank AG in New York. ``Barring some significant development on new capital, it's just a matter of time before S&P and Moody's act on MBIA and Ambac.''... The seven AAA rated bond insurers place their stamp on $2.4 trillion of debt. Losing those rankings may cost borrowers and investors as much as $200 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The industry guaranteed $100 billion of collateralized debt obligations linked to subprime mortgages, $22 billion of non-prime auto loans and $1.2 trillion of municipal debt. Buffet's stock may see a lot of demand out of this...

New York-based Merrill Lynch & Co., the world's largest brokerage, this week took $3.1 billion of writedowns on the value of default protection from bond insurers... Fitch, following its downgrade of Ambac Assurance, adjusted ratings accordingly for 137,990 municipal bonds and 114 non- municipal issues insured by the company. Bonds with underlying ratings higher than Ambac's will remain above the bond insurer's level, Fitch said yesterday in a statement...Fitch last month demanded the company raise $1 billion by the end of January. Ambac on Jan. 16 slashed its dividend 67 percent and said it would sell stock or convertible notes to bolster its capital. The plan provoked a boardroom dispute and led to the departure of Chief Executive Officer Robert Genader.

Ambac's interim CEO, Michael Callen, 67, said this week that the company planned to raise capital in ``an accelerated time frame.'' And exactly how are they going to accomplish that.

Moody's said this week that it may cut Ambac's ratings after the company forecast writedowns of $3.5 billion on subprime-mortgage securities. S&P said yesterday that it may cut Ambac's rating because its capital-raising options are ``impaired.'' I hate to say I told you so, but... The issue is now your credibility is severely damaged by making so many wrong calls to begin with, then taking so long to do something about them.

The sudden increase in scrutiny by Moody's, a month after the company affirmed the ratings, sparked tension with Ambac and MBIA. Ambac this week described Moody's decision to place its ratings on review as ``surprising.'' MBIA issued a statement yesterday, saying it had started a capital raising plan ``in good faith reliance'' on Moody's stated requirements. You guys know you weren't a AAA risk. Let's stop the shenanigans, please...

MBIA's surplus notes plunged as low as 70 cents on the dollar yesterday, indicating a yield of about 25 percent, traders said. MBIA fell 67 cents, or 7.3 percent, to $8.55 on the New York Stock Exchange, taking its decline to 48 percent this week. Now, here I am going to say "I told you so"! Actually, my words were, "wait until they start trading!". I don't know what investors were thinking went they bought these notes! Do they not have professional advisors ? If not, I will offer free access to my blog for those that need it. A quick lesson for free - stop trying to reach for above market yields, for you may be handed above market losses in return.

Ratings companies, which affirmed their assessments a month ago, are scrutinizing bond insurers to ensure they have enough capital to protect against losses. S&P this week said industry losses on subprime securities will be 20 percent more than it initially forecast. Ambac has a capital shortfall of about $400 million under the new assumptions, S&P said. Well, one of us needs to recharge the batteries in our calculators, recalibrate Excel, or something. I see billions of dollars in shortfalls... (see Monolines swoon, CDO's go boom & I really wonder why the ratings agencies are given any credibility!)

Ambac's 6.15 percent bonds due in 2037 have plunged by 25 cents on the dollar this week to 35.4 cents on the dollar, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The yield has soared to 17.6 percent from 10.5 percent and the extra yield investors demand over government securities with similar maturities has widened 7.2 percentage points to 13.4 percentage points. And Moody's considers this a AA risk!!! Can you imagine what they would mean by the term JUNK!

Prices for credit-default swaps that pay investors if MBIA can't meet its debt obligations imply a 71 percent chance it will default in the next five years, according to a JPMorgan Chase & Co. valuation model. Contacts on Ambac imply 72 percent odds. Hey, isn't that what I said in the links above???

Contracts tied to MBIA's bonds have risen 10 percentage points the past two days to 26 percent upfront and 5 percent a year, according to CMA Datavision in New York. That means it would cost $2.6 million initially and $500,000 a year to protect $10 million in MBIA bonds from default for five years.... Credit-default swaps on Ambac, the second-biggest insurer, rose 11.5 percentage points to 26.5 percent upfront and 5 percent a year yesterday, prices from CMA Datavision show.

Ambac agreed to guarantee almost $200 million of bonds sold so far this year, or 6 percent of the market for new insured issues, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Ambac's market share was 22.5 percent as of Sept. 30, 2007, according to a Dec. 13 report from Bear Stearns Cos. In a few days I will illustrate the relationship between Bear Stearns, Ambac, and Mr. & Mrs. CounteryParty Risk.

So, after all of this, what comes next??? Is this the part where you expect me to say, "All hell breaks loose!". Well, not all hell, but I think some companies may find just a taste of it...

Published in BoomBustBlog
Wednesday, 16 January 2008 00:00

Ambac Management Should Read Blogs More Often

I was going to post an update on the Bear Stearns and GGP work, but since there was such adverse price action in Ambac stock I decided to follow up on that - again. So, here we go. If you are new to the blog be sure to click, follow and download all the links. They are worthwhile. If you are a regular to my monoline musings, at least download the following pdf link. It is new, and worth a quick reading. Feel free to email it and pass it around as well. I annotated a FAQ directly off of their site.

From the FAQ about 2 1/2 months ago

See first line of page 2 here: pdf ABK FAQ 12/26/07 - Reggie Annotated.

Question Category
Does Ambac have any plan to reduce the amount of its dividend? LIQUIDITY
Ambac does not currently anticipate reducing its common stock dividend.
Updated as of 11/8/07

From this blog author on 11/28/07: Ambac is Effectively Insolvent & Will See More than $8 Billion of Losses with Just a $2.26 Billion of Equity! -

Alternatively, we have calculated the provisioning for losses that Ambac will need to make every year on the basis of the anticipated losses that the company will have to pay in coming years. In doing so we have assumed that the 85% of the premium written from 2007 onwards (excluding 15% as underwrting expesnse) will be transferred to the loss expense reserve every year. The loss reserve uptill 2007 is taken from comapny's balance sheet. The losses have been calculated on the basis of various default probabilities assummed in Strucutred Finance, Direct Subprime RMBS and Consumer Finance portfolios. We have assumed a duration of 5 years to spread the losses on various vintages over the coming years. We anticipate the company will have to create a provisoin of $ 6.8 billion under the base case scenario. That;'s about $67 per share, they are halfway there already with $33 per share announced to be expected today. Mayhap someone from this blog should invite the Ambac management team to register...

Published in BoomBustBlog

We actually had a modern day run on the bank in the UK and the equity markets shrugged it off.

It is a mistake, plain and simple. I normally don't like to tell people who specialize in a business how to run it, since they probably know more about their business than I do - but sometimes the mistakes are just so glaring. I don't care how many analysts are poring over how many books at Countrywide. BAC's error is not misjudging the value of Countrywide now, but misjudging the macro environment in which Countrywide operates.

My experience has been primarily understanding and evaluating companies from the equity perspective, but that definitely doesn't mean that I ignore the fxed income side. I am just not better at it than the other guys. What I have been noticing of late is that credit markets have been screaming murder for some time now, and the equity markets have been humming along new bullish highs and trading runs as if nothing is truly wrong. This is a strong indicator that momentum trading has again taken control of the markets. It is an environment where price trumps value. The last time this came to a head was the dot com bust. It took many institutional and individual investors 5 to 6 years to break even. Some never recouped their losses. Well, my gut has been telling me for about a year and change now that we are back there again. 2008 thus far has done nothing but confirm that we have come to a head. The pic above was an actual shot (one of very many at various locations) of the run on Northern Rock Bank in the U.K. This was real, and it was indicative of a real problem.

Well, we had a very recent run on the bank here in the states as well. There were pictures all over the web when it occurred, and now mysteriously, they are all gone. All I was able to retrieve was this screen capture of a thumbnail from Just as the pictorial remnants of the run have somehow disappeared, so has the equity markets prudence in the face of such a run. You can guess which bank got ran on.

Published in BoomBustBlog