You may have heard that the Fed announced a new round of quantitative easing yesterday. I hope you’ve been able to get your fill of QE3 elsewhere; I suspect you have but if not I recommend Cardiff Garcia and Greg Ip, though also a million other people, and maybe stay away from Marc Faber. It’s not my area of expertise; what little I know about economic matters comes from working in the financial industry, whose concern is less with how humans turn their efforts into money than with taking a bit of it from them in the process of moving it from one place or time to another. But of course central bank policy involves quite a bit of moving money between times and places, with many stops along the way where some of that money can fall off the truck, so this piqued my QE3 interest:
That’s from an interesting Credit Suisse note on the latest quantitative easing, which of course consists of the Fed buying agency securities, and shows unsurprisingly that banks are uniquely well positioned to make money on it.1 Here’s another chart from Bloomberg: Read more »
I like reading banks’ research reports on other banks these days because they give off a certain the-call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house vibe; you imagine the analyst running the numbers, looking them over, and saying “my God, this can’t be right, can it? This seems to say … I’m fired?” JPMorgan’s analysts maybe suffer from this less than most but it still imparts a certain tension to the marvelous, strange, 100-page research note out of J.P. Morgan Cazenove today about global investment banks.* There are two big important points** which are:
(1) European banks are pretty pretty aggressive with how they risk-weight their risk-weighted assets, especially compared to US banks. Basel’s Standards Implementation Group is moving in the direction of requiring convergence on RWA measurement, and JPM thinks that that will lead to the European banks having to revise their RWA measurements – meaning that those banks’ capital positions will look much worse than they do now and they will need to shed RWAs and/or raise capital.
(2) You can quantify the return-on-equity effects of new banking regulation – including Basel RWA convergence, but also things like derivatives clearing, the Volcker Rule, etc. – on the big global banks, and those effects are bad. Bad for shareholders, anyway: per JPMorgan, global-bank average ROE would be 16% in 2013 but for those regulations, while after giving effect to them it will be just 6.3%.
But I presume that like any good utility maximizer you care only about your comp, so the important takesaways are (1) 6.3% is not good enough and (2) it will be remediated out of your pocket. Which leads JPMorgan into the truly chilling: Read more »
I liked that the two top articles in Money & Investing in the Journal today were (1) that European banks are buying bonds, and that’s bad, and (2) that American corporates are selling bonds, and that’s bad. And: probably!
The European banks are behaving sensibly:
With the European crisis knocking down the value of banks’ longer-term debt, some are taking advantage by buying back their debt from investors at a discount from the original value. Banks can book the difference in price as an accounting gain, adding to their bottom line — and their ability to withstand losses.
There’s enough opacity in European banking that you could be forgiven for assuming that “accounting gain” means “fake gain.” And indeed one can have an accounting gain merely by having the price of one’s debt drop, and that looks fake-ish. That’s not what’s happening here though: these banks are taking the critical extra step of actually saving money by taking advantage of that price drop. If I sell you a bond for €100 and then buy it back for €90, I have no debt and €10 more than I used to have, so that looks like gain, and also is gain.
Does it look like capital, or as the Journal puts it “ability to withstand losses”? Sure, I mean, money’s money and more of it is better than less. But the Journal and friends are probably not totally wrong to worry. My perhaps idiosyncratic view of bank capital is: you should want your banks to have a relatively long average duration of funding, and be sad if they’re almost exclusively funded via skittish overnight markets, and so (perpetual, fully loss-absorbing) common equity capital is a super way to bring up the average duration but you shouldn’t sneeze at 30-year bonds either, because when the world gets all Bear Stearns on you you don’t have to pay back the thirty-year bonds either.* Read more »
The banking system is a machine to transform risk: people put their money into a bunch of risk-free-ish-or-so-they-think banks, and those banks lend that money to risky businesses, and the banks make money on their ability to price that risk appropriately and/or on their ability to get a government bailout when they price it inappropriately. From this description you can rough out some boundary cases – a bank that loaned money only to risk-free businesses wouldn’t make very much money or serve very much purpose, while a bank that was a massively levered conduit for moving depositor money into Ponzi schemes would also not serve much social purpose – but that leaves a broad middle ground where banks need to evaluate risk carefully enough to avoid blowing up but not so carefully that they constrain promising but risky investment.
But that middle ground is where the action is so you get papers like this one, from the Bank for International Settlements, about one flavor of lending and two flavors of banks. The lending is syndicated lending, and the banks are “bailed out banks” and “not bailed out banks,” and here are some suggestive charts:
The restrained conclusion in the BIS paper is “Although the riskiness of loan signings started diminishing across the board in 2009, we do not find consistent evidence that rescued banks reduced their risk relatively more than non rescued banks during the crisis.” And in particular, in 2010, banks that had been bailed out still had more levered, higher-yield syndicated loans than banks that had avoided a bailout. Read more »
The Libor scandal presents a whole range of questions from the very micro “how much did I lose on my mortgage”* through the micro yet fantastically large “what kind of total damages are floating around in lawsuits” past the pseudo-philosophical “how can I ever trust the financial system again”** all the way up to the metaphysical “what is a price?” Somewhere in the middle realm there is a good set of questions of “what did regulators know and when did they know it and what did they do and why didn’t they do it?” The Times and Reuters get to those questions today and they’re unsurprisingly awkward.
The awkwardness starts with word choice. The verb “fix” is in market usage a bit of a contranym, in that “fixing” something, when that something is a price, can either solve or create a problem with it. No doubt the Fed regrets this meeting title:
In early 2008, questions about whether Libor reflected banks’ true borrowing costs became more public. The Bank for International Settlements published a paper raising the issue in March of that year, and an April 16 story in the Wall Street Journal cast doubts on whether banks were reporting accurate rates. Barclays said it met with Fed officials twice in March-April 2008 to discuss Libor.
According to the calendar of then New York Fed President, Timothy Geithner, who is now U.S. Treasury Secretary, it even held a “Fixing LIBOR” meeting between 2:30-3:00 pm on April 28, 2008. At least eight senior Fed staffers were invited.
“Let’s fix Libor,” said the Fed staffers, and so did a bunch of traders at Barclays, meaning … well, I was about to say meaning different things, but who knows? Reuters goes on: Read more »
Have you given up on this week yet? Of course you have. Libor Libor Libor Libor, we get it, mistakes were made. Next week though we get the start of bank earnings season, which will at least kick off with a whaling expedition, so that’s something.
One thing that we’ve had to look forward to in recent earnings seasons is getting to talk very seriously about how banks “make money” by becoming worse credits, or less amusingly “lose money” by becoming better credits. This is more or less referred to as “DVA,” for “debit valuation adjustment,” and stems from accounting rules that allow and/or require banks to reflect changes in the fair value of certain of their liabilities – including changes in fair value due to their own deteriorating or improving credit – in their accounting net income. The counterintuitive result is that the worse the bank looks, the better its earnings look. This provides cheap irony, which is a valuable social function because earnings reports are often pretty boring and what else are we going to talk about; it also provides countercyclical bank confidence-boosting (though not countercyclical actual capital), which is also a valuable social function especially if you take away other countercyclical confidence-boosters like lying about your unsecured borrowing costs. (Libor Libor Libor.)
The effect should be particularly interesting this quarter as there’ll be dueling credit effects on earnings. On the one hand, bank credit is broadly wider – I see JPM 5y CDS +44bps for Q2, C +50, BAC +38, GS +46, MS +45 (from Bloomberg CMA) – and when I last did any math on it 1bp of CDS spread seemed to translate into anywhere from ~$2mm (for GS) to ~$22mm (for JPM) of DVA earnings. So there’s potentially $2bn in imaginary earnings in those numbers. Read more »
One way you could spend this slow week is reading the “living wills” submitted by a bunch of banks telling regulators how to wind them up if they go under. Don’t, though: they’re about the most boring and least informative things imaginable and I am angry that I read them.* Here for instance is how JPMorgan would wind itself up if left to its own devices**:
(1) It would just file for bankruptcy and stiff its non-deposit creditors (at the holding company and then, if necessary, at the bank).
(2) If after stiffing its non-deposit creditors it didn’t have enough money to pay its depositors it would sell its highly attractive businesses in a competitive sale to willing buyers who would pay top dollar.
This seems wrong, no? And not just in the sense of “in my opinion that would be sort of difficult, what with people freaking out about JPMorgan going bankrupt and its highly attractive businesses having landing it in, um, bankruptcy.” It’s wrong in the sense that it’s the opposite of having a plan for dealing with banks being “too big to fail”: it’s premised on an assumption that the bank is not too big to fail. If JPMorgan runs into trouble that it can’t get out of without taxpayer support, it’ll just file for bankruptcy like anybody else. Depositors will be repaid (if they’re under FDIC limits); non-depositor creditors will be screwed just like they would be on a failure of Second Community Bank of Kenosha. Read more »
It’s easy to read the News Corp. story in conjunction with Phil Purcell’s piece in the Journal this morning arguing that big banks should split off their capital markets and investment banking businesses from their commercial/retail banking and asset management businesses. The parallels are eerie: large conglomerates run by rich yet loathed CEOs could enhance shareholder value by splitting their risky businesses – which face uncertain growth prospects, are constantly caught doing shady things, have uncomfortably close and dysfunctional relationships with government, and yet are beloved by senior management for personal reasons – from the more stable cash cow businesses. Splitting them up would de-risk one chunk of the business without really raising risk on the other one, and the market would value the two chunks separately more than it values them together.
It looks like News Corp. is actually doing this – splitting the dodgy low-growth newspaper business from the more profitable entertainment-and-Fox-News* juggernaut – whereas Purcell has yet to persuade the big banks: Read more »
BreakingViews has a couple of posts up about one of my favorite things in the financial universe, Credit Suisse’s habit of paying its bankers in structured credit instruments that take pages to describe. How’s that going? Great:
Three years ago, around 2,000 employees were forced to take some $5 billion of the riskiest assets from the Swiss group’s balance sheet as their bonuses. Now, recipients are being offered the chance to buy more. What once seemed like a punishment has turned into something of a perk.
Investors in the “Partner Asset Facility” already sit on a paper profit of around 80 percent, thanks to a recovery in the value of the original portfolio. That gain is essentially safe, since most of the assets involved have been liquidated or sold down and the funds are sitting in low-risk, low-return investments. The snag is that beneficiaries can’t get to the payouts until 2016.
To ease the pain of waiting, Credit Suisse is giving participants another bite. They have a chance to plough some of their paper profits back in, buying up to $1 billion of risky assets, including mortgage securities, from the bank’s books. Over a third of participants opted in to a similar offer late last year. Some of the purchases are to be funded by leverage, leaving perhaps half to come from willing PAF holders.
Phrases like “risky assets, including mortgage securities,” are always a bit of a minefield, but the sense is clear enough, which is that a whole lot of senior people at Credit Suisse are pretty keen to take money that is basically theirs, which is currently held in the form of basically cash, and invest that on a ~2x levered basis in, er, “risky assets, including mortgage securities,” which let’s just stipulate have a higher risk and higher return than cash.
How would you describe those people? Read more »