For all their saber-rattling and bold talk about a fix to the problem of global financial risk, the Germans haven’t done a hell of lot to rein in their banks. There is, for instance, no Großdeutschesvolckerregierung. At least, not yet. Read more »
Bank earnings season is always a little surreal, I guess because there’s an inherent surrealism about banking. Deutsche Bank reported earnings today,1 and those earnings had an up-is-down quality that Bloomberg’s summary captured in this amazing sentence:2
Deutsche Bank AG, Europe’s biggest bank by assets, exceeded a goal for raising capital levels as co-Chief Executive Officer Anshu Jain focused on bolstering the firm’s finances rather than limiting losses.
So there’s one way of running a business where you bolster your finances by making money. And then there is global banking. Here is another, possibly even more astonishing line from the same article:
Deutsche Bank “took pain” in the quarter by booking a loss to boost its capital ratio without selling shares, Jain said.
Booking a loss to boost its capital ratio. Losing money, in the regular universe, should reduce your capital: capital is mostly retained earnings. Everything here is backwards.
Bonus Watch ’13: Deutsche Bank Is Mulling Over The Idea Of Paying A Li’l Less This Year, Would Appreciate Rivals Throwing Them A Bone And Doing The SameBy Bess Levin
The Germans might take an ax to bonuses, cutting them by 20 percent, or they might not. According to CEO Anshu Jain, what it may come down to is whether or not other banks will help him out here by getting on board with the proposed reductions, as it would make DB look bad to be the only firm doling out tough love this year. Thanks in advance. Read more »
Deutsche Bank co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen, already the subject of a German tax-fraud probe, has come under further pressure after political leaders accused him of trying to influence the investigation by calling a senior German politician to protest a police raid on the bank’s headquarters last week. On Thursday, a day after the surprise search, Mr. Fitschen contacted Volker Bouffier, governor of the state of Hesse, where Deutsche Bank is based, to complain about the action. Mr. Bouffier declined to intervene, according to his spokesman. The state government has ultimate authority over the prosecutor’s office…The Deutsche Bank CEO faced criticism from senior German lawmakers on Monday who accused him of trying to undermine the judicial process. The call has left the impression that Deutsche Bank thinks it is “above the law,” said Michael Meister, a senior official in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party. “The prosecutor’s investigation must be supported,” he said. “Deutsche Bank has to send a clear signal.” Other political leaders were less polite. “A fish rots from the head down. That also applies to Deutsche Bank’s boardroom,” the Handelsblatt newspaper quoted Green party co-chief Jürgen Trittin as saying. [WSJ]
Our German friends are issuing walking papers to a whole bunch of Houston-based power and gas traders, part of cuts that have also claimed the bank’s commodities chief. More than 50 jobs are being cut. Read more »
Cuts are said to have gone down at the other DB. Read more »
Every financial contract is subject to a bunch of risks, and in some sense each of those risks affects its value. There’s some chance that an asteroid will crash into the earth next year, rendering your 30-year interest rate swap considerably less valuable, and if you’re so inclined you can discount its value for that possibility.
One nice thing to imagine is that your financial contract is, like, one contract, and all the risks are spelled out in that contract, and you can figure out the value of the contract based on real or market-implied probabilities of all the risks happening etc., and you add them all up and you conclude “the market value of this contract today is 12!” or whatever and you go on your merry way. But that doesn’t need to be true. Some of your risks live in the contract and are part of the contract; some live in the counterparty and have to do with the counterparty’s riskiness; some live in whatever collateral arrangements you have with the counterparty and have to do with the mechanics of your collateral; some are asteroids.1
Anyway, remember the Deutsche Bank whistleblower story? I said last week that the question of whether DB’s actions constituted accounting fraud was not a particularly interesting question, but that is all relative and you’d be surprised what I find interesting. One thing I find interesting: those Deutsche Bank trades! And umm their accounting.
So, some background. As far as I can tell, DB sold a bunch of credit protection in sort of normal ways, CDX and stuff. And it bought a bunch of protection in leveraged super senior tranches. A super senior tranche, classically, is:
- You have a pool of reference assets,
- You pay some spread to a protection writer,
- If defaults wipe out more than some unlikely-seeming percentage – 15%, say – of those assets, then the protection writer gives you money, more or less 1% of notional for every 1% of losses over that threshold,
- So for instance if there are 40% losses you get paid 25%.
- The protection writer is like a big bank or monoline or whatever and, in 2005, is either AAA/AA or is posting mark-to-market collateral or both.
So there’s your trade. A leveraged super senior is the same thing, except replace that last bullet point with:
- The protection writer posts a bunch of collateral – 10% of max exposure, say – day one.
- The protection writer is a Canadian asset-backed commercial paper conduit or some other non-credit party.2
- If certain bad things happen that make you worry that you don’t have enough collateral, you can ask the protection writer to post more collateral, but (1) they don’t have to, (2) they don’t want to, and (3) they can’t.3
The Germans are said to have asked a handful of employees to clean out their desks. Read more »
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:
Deutsche Bank Executive Sought Counsel From Semi-Helpful LAPD Re: Bath Salts Prior To Ruthless Beating, ArrestBy Bess Levin
“How long does this stuff stay in your system?” Read more »
UBS Encouraged Kweku Adoboli To Develop Other Interests Outside Rogue Trading, Which It Condoned, Says Lawyer/Old BossBy Bess Levin
Adoboli lawyer Charles Sherrard said the bank became “more aggressive in terms of its desire to make profits” in 2011, while cross-examining one of Adoboli’s former bosses at a fraud trial in London today. “The culture, practice at the bank you were working for, didn’t matter as long as you were making money,” Sherrard said to Ron Greenidge, who oversaw UBS’s exchange-traded-funds desk until April of last year…Greenidge, who worked at UBS for 19 years, said today he was dismissed for gross misconduct because of Adoboli’s trades. He said he felt the bank was making him a scapegoat…Sherrard read out Adoboli’s performance reviews from 2009 written by Greenidge, which said the trader needed a better balance between work and other activities. Greenidge said Adoboli was a “great ambassador for the ETF product” and had outstanding performance that year…The culture at UBS changed with the arrival from Deutsche Bank of Yassine Bouhara in 2010 as the co-head of equities, Sherrard said. Bouhara is no longer at the bank. “The very nature of the bank became more aggressive in terms of its desire to make profit,” Sherrard said to Greenidge. “The mantra was coming from above was revenue, revenue, revenue.” [Bloomberg]