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 »
There are two questions worth asking about today’s Wall Street Journal story about how Deutsche Bank “made at least €500 million ($654 million) in profit in 2008 from trades pegged to the interest rates under investigation by regulators world-wide”:
- is that a lot?, and
- did they do it by manipulating Libor?
The second one is hard, huh? Here’s the Journal:
[A] former employee has told regulators that some employees expressed concerns about the risks of the interest-rate bets, according to documents. He also said that Deutsche Bank officials dismissed those concerns because the bank could influence the rates they were betting on.
A Deutsche Bank spokesman said those allegations were “categorically false.”
So, who knows; Yves Smith says “unless the source can provide some sort of supporting evidence, this is ‘he said, she said,’ and the matter will shake out in the German bank’s favor.” I sort of come at this from the other direction, which is:
- Every other bank has mountains of emails and IMs to the effect of “hey we’re gonna go mess with Libor don’t tell anyone.”
- Deutsche isn’t, like, the #1 most-careful-with-emails-and-IMs bank in the history of banks.
- So, totally possible that supporting evidence will float up, no?
Also totally possible that these were legitimate trades unrelated to a few bad apples at DB who were admittedly manipulating Libor, of course. But where is the fun in that?
So let’s talk about the first question. 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