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 »
The Fed last night unleashed eight zillion pages of Basel III implementation on the universe and I’m tempted to be like “open thread, tell us about your hopes and fears for capital regulation.” So do that! Or don’t because it is super boring, that is also a valid approach. Still I guess we should discuss.
Starting slow though. Banks have to have capital, meaning that they have to fund some of their assets with things that are long-lived and loss-absorbing, like common equity, rather than with things that have to be paid back soon and at face value. The reason for this is that the rest of banks’ assets are funded with things that we really do want to be paid back soon and at face value, like deposits, and if the value of those assets declines you don’t want those deposits to be wiped out.
The rules say that you need capital equal to a percentage of your assets. The game is deciding (1) what that percentage is, (2) what is capital (proceeds from selling common stock, and actual earnings, yes, but, like, deferred tax assets?), and (3) how you count assets (you might want more capital to shield you from losses in, say, social media stocks than you would to shield you from losses in Treasury bonds, so regulators use “risk-weighted assets,” so that $1 of corporate bonds counts as $1 of assets, $1 of Treasuries counts as $0 of assets, and $1 of Facebook stock counts as $3 of assets*).
Anyway, here are the required capital levels: Read more »
Here is a fun thing we can do, which is put arbitrary numbers in a list and see how they look. Shall we? We shall.
First, here is how much various bank CEOs and assorted other miscreants made in 2011, if you don’t worry too much about what “made” and “in 2011″ mean*:
This list is, of course, inspired by this exercise by Bloomberg, ranking the top 50 highest paid financial institution CEOs. But if you’re Lloyd Blankfein or, I mean, really, Henry Kravis, you are probably not planning your retirement around your paycheck. Instead you could to some approximation view your job running your financial institution as keeping an eye on the people responsible for your private wealth, in the form of your share ownership in that institution, and Lloyd’s $16mm 2011 paycheck hardly makes up for the $155mm of lost value on his GS shares. Read more »
A stylized picture of a credit default swap is that it’s a way for a bank to offload to the market the credit risk of loans that it makes, while still funding those loans and making a profit on them. If you start from that stylized picture, you must at some point get comfortable with the stylized fact that this market is probably rife with insider trading. Turns out it is! Part of the reason for that is that it’s maybe legal,* part of it is just the general run of market-participant scumminess,** but there’s also the fact that the basic model sort of requires it. Here is the basic model:
- private side bank employees evaluate a company for a loan, using lender materials that contain nonpublic information and banker relationships that are all about nonpublic information,***
- private side bank employees negotiate and fund that loan with a company,
- [magic happens], and
- public side bank employees buy CDS on some but not all of the companies that the bank lends to in sizes that vary among companies.
So, I mean, I generally trust that most banks are over-compliant on this point and the magic happens behind a Chinese wall and so forth, but still, that sequence of events should make you a tiny bit suspicious if you’re anti insider trading in CDS.
Anyway, if you continue on with that stylized picture you’ll notice that, while the existence of traded CDS allows for a two-sided market of public-market speculators who buy CDS to bet against companies that they don’t lend to (or that they lend to only in public bond form), the origin of and net demand for single-name corporate credit protection comes largely from banks who do private-side lending and are probably hedging that lending. This is basically true.
That sucks for the CDS writer, doesn’t it? Read more »
When the London Whale thing came out, JPMorgan made one sort of clever attempt to minimize it by saying this:
Since March 31, 2012, CIO has had significant mark-to-market losses in its synthetic credit portfolio, and this portfolio has proven to be riskier, more volatile and less effective as an economic hedge than the Firm previously believed. The losses in CIO’s synthetic credit portfolio have been partially offset by realized gains from sales, predominantly of credit-related positions, in CIO’s AFS [available-for-sale] securities portfolio. As of March 31, 2012, the value of CIO’s total AFS securities portfolio exceeded its cost by approximately $8 billion. Since then, this portfolio (inclusive of the realized gains in the second quarter to date) has appreciated in value.
What did this mean? Well, I think it roughly meant what it said, which is that as if March 31, JPMorgan’s Chief Investment Office had about $375bn worth of bonds for which it had paid about $367bn, and that after March 31 (1) that portfolio of bonds increased in value to at least $375,000,000,001 and (2) JPMorgan had sold at least some of those bonds at a profit. But one nice thing about it is that, if you squinted, you could read it as “our hedge decreased in value, yes (and by $2bn), but that’s because the underlying portfolio increased in value (by $8bn), so net-net we’re way ahead, and it was a hedge, and whaddarya gonna do, hedges go down when things-hedged go up, that’s life.” That turned out to be an entirely wrong reading but hey they tried!
Reuters moved that story forward a bit with this kind of interesting parsing of Jamie Dimon’s words, including particularly the statement that JPMorgan had realized $1bn of gains on the CIO portfolio of available-for-sale securities between the end of the first quarter and the beginning of that super-awkward whale-confession conference call. Read more »
I might have enjoyed this Andrew Ross Sorkin column, about how bringing back Glass-Steagall would have prevented neither the financial crisis nor l’affaire Whaledemort, more than most people.* Yes, the argument is pretty silly – like saying we shouldn’t have speed limits because they probably wouldn’t have prevented the Columbine massacre – but it contains an essential point that can’t be made often enough about the Volcker Rule:
But [bad sh]it often starts with banks making basic loans. Making loans “is one of the riskiest businesses banks engage in and has been a major contributing factor to most financial crises in the world over the last 50 years,” Richard Spillenkothen, former director of the division of banking supervision and regulation at the Federal Reserve, wrote in a letter to Politico’s Morning Money on Monday.
Lending: it’s proprietary! It’s risky! And yet! You can’t really get rid of it because it’s kind of what a bank is. On the flip side many crisis contributors – Bear, Lehman, AIG, I’d add Reserve Primary, you name it – were never affiliated with FDIC insured commercial banks and so also would have been untouched by Glass-Steagall or the Volcker Rule, but were both risky and systemically interesting and so worth keeping an eye on. Read more »
“Make banking boring again” is a favorite reaction to news that JPMorgan was screwing up its VaR modelling of its attempt to get long gamma with improperly delta-hedged tranches of the CDX.NA.IG.9 and, sure, maybe, but don’t tell Treasury:
The U.S. Treasury may pool stakes in small banks bailed out during the financial crisis to entice potential investors as the Obama administration winds down the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“Some of the investments are smaller and it may not be possible to auction them individually,” Tim Massad, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for financial stability, said in an interview. “So one of the things we’re looking at is pooling those investments together.”
You can see how much TARP money remains outstanding at all the wee banks at pages 240-257 here; on a quick look the smallest seems to be the $1.4mm subordinated debentures at Frontier Bancshares of Austin, TX, and there are plenty of other single-digit-millions remaining slugs of preferred or sub debt.* The notion that it would be impossible to sell something at auction for less than $50mm seems weird to me – it’s done all the time by, um, auction houses – but you get the idea: these are subordinated fixed-income instruments of small banks that have run into trouble in the recent past; the risks are significant and the potential rewards – particularly in absolute dollar numbers – may not justify the investment of time and effort to understand and bid on them. Read more »
Oh am I a sucker for this sort of thing:
This paper proposes a theoretically sound and easy-to-implement way to measure the systemic risk of financial institutions using publicly available accounting and stock market data. The measure models credit risk of banks as a put option on bank assets, a tradition that originated with Merton (1974). We extend his contribution by expressing the value of banking-sector losses from systemic default risk as the value of a put option written on a portfolio of aggregate bank assets whose exercise price equals the face value of aggregate bank debt. We conceive of an individual bank’s systemic risk as its contribution to the value of this potential sector-wide put on the financial safety net. To track the interaction of private and governmental sources of systemic risk during and in advance of successive business-cycle contractions, we apply our model to quarterly data over the period 1974-2010. Results indicate that systemic risk reached unprecedented highs during the years 2008-2010, and that bank size, leverage, and asset risk are key drivers of systemic risk.
A “theoretically sound and easy-to-implement way to measure the systemic risk of financial institutions” sounds pretty good! Is it easy to implement? Well let’s implement it to find out. [Pounds head against Google Spreadsheets.] Umm. Okay, I guess it was easy? I don’t know, I can’t fully replicate their numbers; tell me where I’m wrong in the comments. Or don’t. Read more »