stress tests

  • 04 Apr 2014 at 1:29 PM
  • Banks

Scapegoat Watch ’15: Citigroup Stress Tests

The trauma of having your allowance withheld by the Federal Reserve is bad enough. What’s worse is having the failure laid squarely at the feet of two top officials who you’ll be sharing an elevator with for the foreseeable future.

Mike Corbat won’t be making the same mistake next year. Read more »

Citigroup Inc.’s capital plan was among five that failed Federal Reserve stress tests, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp. passed only after reducing their requests for buybacks and dividends. Citigroup, as well as U.S. units of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, HSBC Holdings Plc and Banco Santander SA, failed because of qualitative concerns about their processes, the Fed said today in a statement…Regulators seeking to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis have run annual tests on how the largest banks would fare in a similar recession or economic shock…Citigroup, which last year asked for the least capital return among the five largest U.S. banks after having its plan rejected in 2012, would have passed this year’s test on quantitative grounds alone…The central bank identified multiple deficiencies in Citigroup’s planning practices, including areas the Fed had flagged previously. [Bloomberg]

Today the Fed released a paper making fun of banks for their lame responses to the Fed’s stress tests, both on prudential-regulatory and on literary grounds. For instance, the banks were supposed to come up with their own stress scenario and see how they’d do in that scenario, and a lot of banks apparently phoned in that effort. The Fed was unimpressed:

A BHC [bank holding company] stress scenario that simply features a generic weakening of macroeconomic conditions similar in magnitude to the supervisory severely adverse scenario does not meet [the Fed's] expectations.

BHCs with stronger scenario-design practices clearly and creatively tailored their BHC stress scenarios to their unique business-model features, emphasizing important sources of risk not captured in the supervisory severely adverse scenario. Examples of such risks observed in practice included a significant counterparty default; a natural disaster or other operational-risk event; and a more acute stress on a particular region, industry, and/or asset class as compared to the stress applied to general macroeconomic conditions in the supervisory adverse and severely adverse scenarios.

At the same time, BHC stress scenarios should not feature assumptions that specifically benefit the BHC. For example, some BHCs with weaker scenario-design practices assumed that they would be viewed as strong compared to their competitors in a stress scenario and would therefore experience increased market share.

Oh sure you get points for, I don’t know, having a lot of capital or whatever the ultimate point of all of this is, but what really distinguishes a B+ from an A bank, stress-test-wise, is creative scenario design. Read more »

Derivatives are confusing, even pretty simple ones, which is why Goldman Sachs can describe Warren Buffett’s sale of $5 billion of GS stock like this:

The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. today announced that it has amended its warrant agreement with Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and certain of its subsidiaries (collectively, Berkshire Hathaway) from cash settlement1 to net share settlement.

“We intend to hold a significant investment in Goldman Sachs, a firm that I did my first transaction with more than 50 years ago,” said Warren Buffett, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Berkshire Hathaway. “I have been privileged to have known and admired Goldman’s executive leadership team since my first meeting with Sidney Weinberg in 1940.”

“We are pleased that Berkshire Hathaway intends to remain a long-term investor in Goldman Sachs,” said Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs.

In September 2008, Buffett bought – among other things – warrants to buy 43.5mm shares of Goldman Sachs stock in October 2013 for $115 a share, for a total purchase price of $5 billion. Today he amended that to instead allow him to buy in October 2013, for a total purchase price of zero, a number of Goldman Sachs shares equal to (A) 43.5 million times (B) [the average trading price of those shares at the end of September 2013 minus $115] divided by (C) that average trading price. As of when I type this, at a price of $145.80, that works out to around 9.2 million shares. So one way to read today’s agreement is that in effect Buffett is selling back 34 million (give or take) shares to Goldman for $5 billion. Read more »

  • 07 Mar 2013 at 6:20 PM
  • Banks

Fed Kicks Off Awkward Week For Banks

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:

This chart is intended to answer the question: how many a 1-in-100 terrible days would these banks need to have in order to get the Fed’s estimated trading losses?1 Read more »

On Monday, as a bevy of banks were settling a zillion dollars of mortgage lawsuits and putting themselves on a path to (1) certainty and (2) giving money back to shareholders, Goldman released a research note with the results of a survey of investors’ expectations of bank capital return.1 Here is what some sample of investors expect:

Total payouts are expected to increase to an average of 58% post-CCAR/CapPR from 43% in 2012. … The survey results suggest the biggest increases in dividend payout ratios will be for Citi and Capital One, while PNC and Morgan Stanley are unlikely to meaningfully move higher. For buybacks, investors expect the biggest increase for BB&T and JP Morgan (vs. their actual buyback, not vs. 2012 approval levels), while there is little change expected for Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York and Northern Trust. … Many of the banks with the most variability of responses are those that are coming off subdued capital deployment levels in 2012, including Capital One, Bank of America, Citigroup and Regions. Given the lack of consensus, it seems that regardless of the announcement, the market is likely to be “surprised”.

I too prefer to order my life so that I’m surprised by everything.2

Anyway the interesting/disappointing part for me is what investors thought about what GS calls the “Mulligan rule.” This refers to the fact that, in the 2012 bank stress tests, banks asked regulators for approval to return an amount of capital, and if the regulators said no then the banks basically couldn’t do anything (ex regular dividends etc.) for another year, but in the 2013 tests if the regulators say no the banks can go back and ask once more for another, lower amount of capital return. I was pretty bullish on this: the do-over gives you a chance to be more aggressive once, and scale back if regulators say no, so you’d think that at least some banks would be aggressive and get away with it, while others will be too aggressive and have to cut back to a more moderate capital return but still no harm no foul. Or so I would think. I am in the minority:

And here, conveniently, is why banks wouldn’t be aggressive – because their own shareholders would get mad at them for being too aggressive: Read more »

My simple model of How To Be A Bank goes something like (1) amass assets that are numerous and volatile enough to make your management rich and happy and (2) give as much money back to shareholders as you can, consistent with (1). If that were your model and you were building your capital plan what feelings would you feel about this:

The Federal Reserve on Friday kicked off the next round of its annual “stress test” for big banks, releasing instructions on how the process will work.

Included is a new opportunity for banks to alter their proposals to pay dividends or buyback shares before the Fed decides to approve or reject their overall capital plans. … Under the new instructions, banks will have “one opportunity to make a downward adjustment to their planned capital distributions from their initial submissions” before the final decision to accept or reject a bank’s capital plan is made, the Fed said.

I propose a strategy that goes like:

  • take your best guess at how much capital you’ll be allowed to distribute, call it $X;
  • submit a plan to distribute $2X;
  • negotiate.

This appears to be a reaction to the sad fate of Citigroup in the last stress test. Read more »