During their very, very short times at the helm of the nation’s most boring bank, Robert Rubin and Vikram Pandit apparently devised and implemented a brilliant and nefarious plan to seize the levers of power in Washington. Read more »
Terra Firma Gets Second Chance To Prove It Only Bid For EMI Because It Thought Everyone Else Would TooBy Matt Levine
Fundamentally if you’re a sell-side M&A banker your job is to find a buyer and get them to overpay for the company you’re selling. I mean, oh, you know, you’re a repeat player and reputational concerns and continued business relationships and all that militate against getting them to overpay too much. But mostly, the more they overpay the better you’ve served your client. Also, though, those reputational things etc., plus lots of fraud laws, militate against getting buyers to overpay by deceiving them about stuff relating to the company you’re selling. You can’t, like, just go forge financial statements. That’s cheating, and not in an admiring hahaha-you-got-me way. In a jail way.
So what’s left? One thing you can do is gently deceive them about the competitive dynamic. This might seem a little silly – if you’re buying a company, shouldn’t you be carefully determining its fundamental value rather than just bidding a penny more than whoever else is in the auction? – but in fact a lot of the M&A function is pretty much exactly that. You set up an auction, you demand confidentiality, you forbid bidders from talking to each other, you don’t tell them each others’ bids, you don’t announce to the world when a bidder has dropped out, all with the goal of creating the appearance of more competition than there is. When the bidders share too much information about their bidding plans with each other, you sue them. If a possibly viable but spivvy bidder comes along, you encourage them to stick around and throw out big numbers, just to keep the other bidders on their toes. “Yes, Carl Icahn, please, tell us more about your plans to buy our company,” is a sentence you might find yourself saying. You don’t outright lie, but you do your best to create the impression that your particular fertilizer-byproducts company is the prettiest girl at the dance or whatever the going metaphor is.
Yesterday Citi sued Barclays over an indemnity that Barclays gave Citi during the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and while, yes, the lawsuit is boring in the way that only lawsuits over indemnities can be, I’m nonetheless going to tell you about it under the heading “laugh at Citi doing stupid stuff.” The stupid stuff here is roughly:
- Citi was the clearing bank for Lehman Brothers FX trades, with gross exposures in the tens of billions of dollars.1
- Lehman ran into some trouble in September 2008, as you may have heard.
- On September 9, 2008, one week before Lehman’s bankruptcy filing, Citi decided it might be a good idea to get some security for its Lehman FX clearing exposure, in the form of getting set-off rights against $2 billion that Lehman Brothers Holdings (the public parent company) had on deposit at Citi.
- On September 15, 2008, after Lehman Brothers Holdings had filed for bankruptcy, Citi decided that it might not be a good idea to continue extending credit to Lehman Brothers Inc. (the non-bankrupt broker-dealer subsidiary) and so terminated its FX clearing arrangement.
- Lehman Brothers Inc. begged Citi to reconsider, and Citi agreed to provide basically two more days of clearing (through September 17) in exchange for $1 billion of new collateral posted by Lehman.
- Lehman Brothers Inc. continued to not pay Citi amounts that it owed.
- So Citi again stopped clearing for Lehman.
- This time Barclays, which had agreed to purchase the Lehman U.S. broker-dealer operations, begged Citi to reconsider, and Citi agreed to provide basically two more days of clearing (through September 19) in exchange for $700mm in new collateral posted by Barclays.
- Lehman Brothers Inc. again continued to not pay Citi amounts that it owed, and was placed into SIPC liquidation on September 19.
- Citi again stopped clearing for Lehman, for real this time, and closed out its positions at a loss of something like $1,260mm.
- It set off $1bn of these losses against the collateral posted by Lehman.
- Then Barclays called Citi, in October 2008, and asked if it could have its $700mm of collateral back.
- Citi said yes!2 Read more »
Back in the pre-Lehman days Citigroup owned a lot of things that, in hindsight, turned out to be awful. Everyone knows that now but various people didn’t know it then, including (1) the people who bought some of those awful things from Citi, (2) the people who bought stock in Citi while it hung on to the bulk of those awful things, (3) the people who bought bonds in Citi while it hung on to the bulk of those awful things, (4) the people who bought preferred stock in Citi … you get the idea. The world being as it is – full of lawyers1 – each of those groups of people is slowly making its separate peace with Citi. We’ve talked about some of them before, including a rather controversial $285mm SEC settlement on behalf of the awful-thing-buyers and a $590mm private settlement on behalf of the stock-buyers. Today brings the biggest settlement yet, $730mm on behalf of the bond- and preferred-stock and TRUPS-buyers, who lost billions when Citi defaulted on its bonds.
Hahahaha no I’m kidding, Citi never defaulted on its bonds. Here’s the Journal:
In the case settled Monday, plaintiffs alleged the New York company misled them about Citigroup’s possible exposure to losses on securities backed by home loans, understated its loss reserves and said some assets were of higher credit quality than they actually were. The pact covers 48 preferred-stock and bond deals between May 2006 and November 2008.
Those possible exposures became real exposures, and Citi incurred plenty of unpleasantness. But these bonds mostly didn’t. Read more »
One of the nice things about last year’s Fed bank stress tests was that they were released, and everyone was like “OMG Citi failed!!,” and then we all calmed down and realized that all that meant was that Citi’s capital return plans had failed, so it couldn’t launch a big share buyback, but it wasn’t going to be smashed into dust as a warning to its compatriots. That turned out to be cold comfort for Vikram Pandit but was soothing for the rest of us. This year, in part to avoid the Vikram thing, the rules have changed: today the straight-up stress test results were released, while the Fed will approve or reject capital return proposals next week, and there’ll be a lot of weird disclosure gamesmanship in the interim. Early signs point to Citi being out of the doghouse, and Goldman possibly being in it.
Also Ally Bank failed, sorry! Legit failed, not failed pro forma for capital return. So, smashed into dust.
Here is a chart you may or may not find amusing:
It was a teary goodbye today, as Citigroup bade farewell to its internal hedge fund unit, Citi Capital Advisors, redubbed Napier Park Global Capital. And why wouldn’t parting be such sweet sorrow for the men and women who Citi literally gave the business away to, gratis? Read more »
Every once in a while I almost write “I don’t envy big bank CEOs,” and then I consider my own finances and the mood passes. But it does seem hard, no? The job is basically that you run around all day looking at horrible messes – even in good times, there are some horrible messes somewhere, and what is a CEO for if not to look at them and make decisive noises? – and then you get on earnings calls, or go on CNBC, or sign 10Ks under penalty of perjury, and say “everything is great.” I mean: you can say that some things aren’t great, if it’s really obvious that they’re not. If you lost money, GAAPwise, go ahead and say that; everyone already knows. But for the most part, you are in the business of inspiring enough confidence in people that they continue to fund you, and if you don’t persuade them that, on a forward-looking basis, things will be pretty good, then they won’t be.
Also, when you’re not in the business of convincing people to fund you, you’re in the business of convincing people to buy what you’re selling and sell what you’re buying, which further constrains you from saying “what we’re selling is dogshit.”1
Anyway I found a certain poignancy in Citi’s correspondence with the SEC over Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which was released on Friday. Citi and Morgan Stanley had a joint venture in MSSB, and MS valued it at around $9bn, and Citi valued it at around $22bn, and at most one of them was right and, while the answer turned out to be “neither,” it was much closer to MS than C. Citi was quite wrong, and since this was eventually resolved by a willing seller (Citi) selling to a willing buyer (MS) at a valuation of $13.5bn, Citi had to admit its wrongness in the form of a $4.7 billion write-down, and the stock did this: Read more »