Tags: accounting, Credit Derivatives, Derivatives, Deutsche Bank, Eric Ben-Artzi, leveraged super senior tranches
Oh man, what is going on in this FT article? Here is the bottom line:
In a series of complaints to US regulators, two risk managers and one trader have told officials that Deutsche had in effect hidden billions of dollars of losses.
“By doing so, the bank was able to maintain its carefully crafted image that it was weathering the crisis better than its competitors, many of which required government bailouts and experienced significant deterioration in their stock prices,” says Jordan Thomas, a former US Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyer, who represents Eric Ben-Artzi, one of the complainants.
The “in effect” does a lot of work there; Deutsche Bank “in effect” hid billions of dollars of losses because there were no losses. Other than that!
Here’s a synopsis of what seems to have been going on:
- Starting in 2005, Deutsche did some credit trades where they bought protection from some Canadian pension funds and sold protection to hedge funds, etc.
- The bought and sold protection were not identical, with various technical bits of non-overlap that you can read about at your leisure down below.1
- A credit crisis occurred, changing the risks involved in those non-overlapping bits from silly, abstract, purely theoretical risks into significantly more alarming and more-likely-to-occur but still purely theoretical risks.2
- Deutsche’s people sort of ran around dopily trying to figure out what to do about it. Here’s a condensed version of the running around they did about the main risk, the “gap option” that DB was short in its leveraged super senior trades:
Read more »
Tags: Derivatives, Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein
How can you not love listening to Lloyd Blankfein? He spoke at this Merrill conference this morning and here are the slides, whatever; he is not a PowerPoint presenter, he is a philosopher. Let’s talk Philosophy of Lloyd.1
Lloyd and I share a number of passions, I assert without evidence, but a quirky one is that we both enjoy idly speculating about conservation laws in finance. In the Q&A Lloyd was asked about the clearing of derivatives and their movement to central counterparties, in which instead of banks trading opaque over-the-counter products with each other and their clients directly, taking client and fellow-bank counterparty risks, derivatives will increasingly trade in standardized cleared form with public pricing and central clearinghouse credit risk. Lloyd began by hypothesizing a “physical law of conservation of risk,” noting that “the things you do to reduce the risk of a 20-year-storm” – like reducing credit exposure to a bunch of different shaky counterparties in derivatives markets – “might make worse the risk of a 50-year storm,” like the credit exposure to one central counterparty whose failure could bring everyone down. I’m with you Lloyd: endorsed; narrow the distribution and fatten the tails etc.
The other concern about the move to clearing is that lots of people expect standardization and clearing will reduce the spreads that banks can charge on cleared things (mostly interest-rate swaps, some miscellany). Coincidentally a while back I speculated about a sort of law of conservation of abstraction, in which the abstract fantasies of our global financial system are built on the mucky underpinnings of a basement at DTCC full of damp stock certificates. That was … that was dumb, I don’t know what I was thinking.2 It’s obviously false. It’s the other way around actually: the more the inputs of the financial services industry abstract away from human activity, the more the outputs can move even higher up the abstraction chain. You see this with DTCC itself, which was seeking efficiency by dematerializing stock certificates even before a hurricane did that job for it, or in that Journal article last week about how Belgium is dematerializing its stock certificates and everyone’s all sad about it but the march of progress waits for no paper-hoarding Belgian.
You can see it especially Lloyd’s take on whether increased clearing of interest-rate swaps, etc., will help or hurt Goldman Sachs’s business. Read more »
Tags: Carl Icahn, Derivatives, HSR, Netflix
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 »
Tags: Coca-Cola, Derivatives, SunTrust
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 »
Tags: Derivatives, Morgan Stanley, swaps, synthetic electricity
I very much enjoyed this Morgan Stanley electric shenanigans case that settled yesterday. According to the complaint, this happened:
- KeySpan, an electric generator, realized that prices for electric generation would be going down as more capacity came online.
- It decided to keep up prices by cutting back its own generation.
- But that’s dumb, because then it wouldn’t be able to sell much electricity at the high prices, which would mainly benefit its competitors.
- So it decided to buy its main competitor, cut back generation, but still sell plenty of electricity at high prices.
- But it “concluded that its acquisition of its largest competitor would raise serious market power issues” and so would raise problems with antitrust and electric grid regulators.
- So it said “aha, a swap!”
- And it synthetically acquired the capacity of its largest competitor (Astoria Generating) by entering into a swap with Morgan Stanley where it effectively bought that capacity at $7.57 a kilowatt-month.
- And Morgan Stanley hedged that trade by entering into a swap where it effectively bought the capacity from Astoria at $7.07 a kilowatt-month.
- Attentive readers will note that that’s a $0.50 difference, so Morgan Stanley made $0.50 per kW-month for about three years, for total revenue of around $21.6mm.*
So what do you make of it? The complaint sounds terrible, but then it would, and Morgan Stanley isn’t talking (and not admitting or denying etc. etc.), so we’ve only got one side of the story and maybe it’s exaggerated. But if you believe the complaint then everyone at KeySpan and Morgan Stanley knew that they were structuring this deal to get around antitrust requirements that they knew would make it impossible for KeySpan to buy Astoria directly. That’s certainly one possibility – everyone was as criminal as criminal can be – and, yeah, sure, probably, though the relatively low-dollar-value settlement might suggest otherwise.
But I like imagining the other possibilities in which someone was taking advantage of someone else’s naïveté. Read more »
Tags: Derivatives, LIBOR, municipal bonds, SIFMA, swaps
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 »
Tags: Derivatives, JPMorgan, oral histories, Quants, Whaledemort
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 »