If I were the sort of guy who could come in to a company, yell at them a bunch, and get them to sell themselves to someone else at a premium, I would:
- do that often!, and
- buy lots of call options on the stock before doing it.
Right? If I bought the call options for, I dunno, $23 an option, and they had a strike price of $36 per option, let’s say, and I bought 5 million of them, and the company eventually sold itself for like $80, then I’d be stumping up like $115 million initially and getting back $220 million for a profit of $105 million, or ~91% of my original investment, and that would be sweet. If instead I boringly bought shares at, say, $59 per share, and it eventually sold for $80, then I’d be putting down ~$295 million to get back ~$400mm for only a ~36% profit. More importantly if somehow I failed to convince this company to sell itself, or even worse if I failed to convince others to buy it, the stock might go lower – maybe really low. If the stock went to $20, I’d lose my entire $115mm option premium, but that’s better than losing $195mm if I’d gone and bought the stock.
In other words, putting a company into play increases its volatility. Options gain value with volatility. Buying an option and then making it more valuable through your own actions – going out and making volatility happen – is a good strategy. So good it’s basically magic.
So good it’s impossible! Because: what kind of idiot would sell you that option?
Let’s ask Carl Icahn. Today he announced a just-under-10% position in Netflix this afternoon. The stock closed up ~14% (after being up ~21% earlier) on the news. And as it happens, Icahn’s Netflix position was almost entirely in the form of call options, so he just made a bajillionty dollars on paper.
Here is what Icahn says about those arrangements:1 Read more »
A core belief here at Dealbreaker HQ is that we’d be really good rich people.1 No conservative 401(k)s and unborn-children-college-funds for us; we’d dedicate ourselves to lives of sybaritic excess. For me, that means that if someone wants to die and leave me an oil fortune, I’ll be putting Morandis on the wall, DRCs in the cellar, and variable prepaid forwards in the trust fund. Everyone needs a little beauty in their life, and also in their trust fund.
That must have been what motivated JPMorgan to pitch Skelly oil heiress and “acute stress syndrome” sufferer2 Ann Fletcher to enter into variable prepaid forwards on the Exxon Mobil stock in her trust. That or:
The value of the Trust prior to entering into the May 2000 VPF was $14,392,000. As of June 30, 2003, the sum of the Trust’s repayment obligations under the three VPFs had grown to $10,336,050. The value of the Trust at the time the Bank resigned as co-trustee [in March 2006] was $12,515,085.57. The Trust’s associated decline in principal was $1.88 million.
The Bank produced emails and spreadsheets to show that the Bank earned $1,127,189 from the VPFs. Expert testimony indicates that the Bank earned as much as $2,000,000 in profit.
So, I dunno, I feel like 7.8% in profits over 6 years is a not bad result on a pretty vanilla equity financing trade?
You can read the opinion, some of which strikes me as being pretty clearly wrong but hey I am not an Oklahoma trusts lawyer,3 here. Baaaaaasically there was a trust, and it had stock, and the idea was to pay the dividends of the stock to Fletcher during her lifetime and then, when she died, to give half the stock to her children and the other half to charity. At some point someone – JPMorgan? Fletcher? – conceived the idea that Fletcher should get much more money during her lifetime, basically by selling stock and pocketing the proceeds, leaving of course much less stock for the children and charity. So that happened. Read more »
Soon it will be time for Congress to shout at bankers about derivatives again and that’s fine, but allow me to indulge a bit in mourning for a derivative that Basel III killed today. That being of course SunTrust’s postpaid bifurcated collateralized variable share forward on its Coca-Cola stake:
SunTrust Bank’s third quarter is about to be a bit of a kitchen sink report, and that includes tossing out its old stash of Coca-Cola. … Included in the asset shuffle will be the sale of 60 million shares of Coca-Cola Co. that the bank has held for nearly 100 years, a sale that will lead to a $1.9 billion pre-tax gain in the quarter.
SunTrust had in 2008 entered into two contracts to sell its Coke shares in 2014 and 2015. But after reviewing its position in light of new global capital regulations known as Basel III, SunTrust realized holding onto its Coke shares would punish its capital standing and decided to move forward the sales. The bank also said owning the shares hurt its stress-test results.
Probably nobody cares about this but me, but the derivative in question is among the works of art in the financial world so I want to share it with you.* Basically what happened is (all numbers rounded and split-adjusted): Read more »
We talked the other day about municipalities and the Libor shenanigans. Quick recap:
1) Municipalities wanted long-term fixed-rate debt.
2) They got it indirectly by selling long-term floating-rate debt and buying interest rate swaps from banks.
3) At first, this was cheaper than issuing fixed-rate debt.*
4) Later, though, sometimes it turned out to be more expensive than having issued fixed-rate debt, or at least more expensive than it should have been, because municipalities pay a floating rate based on weekly reset auctions of their debt and that rate tends to track an interest rate called the Sifma swap rate,** while they receive a floating rate based on a percentage of Libor, and in 2007-2008 those rates diverged in weird ways.
5) Specifically, banks messed with Libor.
6) You can imagine tons of derivatives counterparties who could get screwed without politicians getting that worked up about it, but poor beleaguered Nassau County is not one of them.
Anyway an informed reader wrote in with some comments, of which this was my favorite: Read more »
If you’d like some non-real-time insight into the London Whale, may I highly recommend this oral history, by Edinburgh sociologists Donald MacKenzie and Taylor Spears, of how investment banks came to price and trade and hedge things like the index CDS that the Whale dabbled in? It made me tear up a little. It is let’s say somewhat technical but it’s not really about math or derivatives, it’s about how people experience their lives in derivatives departments of investment banks.
The main discussion is about the relationship between certain derivative pricing formulas and the credit crisis, and in particular about why ratings agencies did a bad job of rating asset-backed CDOs. The authors attribute these mis-ratings to a cultural problem, in which the people building and rather ABS CDOs were credit-analyst banker type rather than quant types who derive their views from market prices and efficient market assumptions: 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 »
Hi! Would you like to talk about the London Whale? Sure you would. The amount of misunderstanding of our poor beleaguered beluga is staggering, so I figured we could try to embark on a voyage of discovery together. Maybe we’ll figure it out. Along the way we’ll talk a tiny bit about the Volcker Rule. I am going to try to talk very slowly and simplify things so if you are pretty financially sophisticated you could skip this post (I’ve linked to some better things to read at the end), or just get really angry at me in the comments. Also this post is terrifyingly long, sorry!
So. You are JPMorgan. People come to you and give you money, because you are a bank, and they want you to hold on to their money for them. You pay them interest so you need to invest their money to earn interest – ideally you earn more than you pay so you can make money and pay bonuses and stuff. You invest that money, broadly speaking, by lending it to other people who want to do things with it. Some of those people are buying houses, some of them are running businesses. Those are the main ones. (Some are buying cars, or educations; others are running countries, or municipalities. Ignore that.)
Now a tangent, which is long but important. Some of the money that you lend to people running businesses, you actually lend to people running businesses – like, they come to you and ask you for a loan and you give it to them. Some of it you don’t, because you don’t have enough good loans to make – not enough people come to you for loans because they’re not building factories because Obama or whatever, or people do come to you for loans but it’s for terrible things so you say no. So you have “excess deposits,” deposits that you haven’t loaned out, and you invest those. You invest those in securities – that is, loans that someone already made and packaged into bonds to be bought and sold on the market. Since you are by hypothesis JPMorgan, you do this investing of excess deposits through your Chief Investment Office, or CIO, which is staffed by cetaceans. You can tell how much of this investing JPMorgan does because they disclose it on page 33 of their Form 10-Q filed with the SEC yesterday: Read more »
Financial news is very serious business and you should probably fret more than you do about the economy and the banksters and the muppets and the homeowners and so forth. Some things, though, are best viewed as purely aesthetic triumphs, and your reaction should just be an appreciative whistle. This starts slow but stick with it, it gets wonderful:
Our results are impacted by the risk of counterparty defaults and the potential for changes in counterparty credit spreads related to our derivative trading activities. In 1Q12, we entered into the 2011 Partner Asset Facility transaction (PAF2 transaction) to hedge the counterparty credit risk of a referenced portfolio of derivatives and their credit spread volatility. The hedge covers approximately USD 12 billion notional amount of expected positive exposure from our counterparties, and is addressed in three layers: (i) first loss (USD 0.5 billion), (ii) mezzanine (USD 0.8 billion) and (iii) senior (USD 11 billion). The first loss element is retained by us and actively managed through normal credit procedures. The mezzanine layer was hedged by transferring the risk of default and counterparty credit spread movements to eligible employees in the form of PAF2 awards, as part of their deferred compensation granted in the annual compensation process.
We have purchased protection on the senior layer to hedge against the potential for future counterparty credit spread volatility. This was executed through a CDS, accounted for at fair value, with a third-party entity. We also have a credit support facility with this entity that requires us to provide funding to it in certain circumstances. Under the facility, we may be required to fund payments or costs related to amounts due by the entity under the CDS, and any funded amount may be settled by the assignment of the rights and obligations of the CDS to us. The credit support facility is accounted for on an accrual basis. The transaction overall is a four-year transaction, but can be extended to nine years. We have the right to terminate the third-party transaction for certain reasons, including certain regulatory developments.
Oh man, if I could write like that. If I could do that*! Read more »
One way I like to imagine the world is that there’s sort of a constant amount of financial risk and entropy tends to increase, so that as time goes by everyone increasingly ends up facing the same financial risks as everyone else (though quantities and leverage vary) and idiosyncratic risk is a rare and beautiful flower and so I dropped a good portion of my net worth on Mega Millions this morning because what else can you do? Entropy increasers could include index funds, or converging bank business models, and I guess you could profitably ponder the fact that the big banks are now living on DCM fees until M&A comes back and what that could mean for a model of “we need to split up the big banks to avoid too-big-to-fail risk.”*
One thing it could mean is get the hell away from banks. So for instance you could quite reasonably be worried about putting all of your money in collateral accounts with the banks who are your derivatives counterparties because hey MF Global just lost all the collateral you put with them, and so you are, reports the Journal based on the Fed’s Senior Credit Officer Opinion Survey on Dealer Financing Terms: Read more »