Posts Tagged ‘Bloomberg’

The Fed’s Secret Bank Loans Revealed

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In a stunning revelation, Bloomberg has obtained 29,000 pages of Federal Reserve documents detailing the largest bailout in American history.  According to an article that will appear in the January issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine, the “Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on December 5, 2008, their single neediest day.  Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy.  And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates.”

The $7.77 trillion that the central bank made available stunned even Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009.  According to Stern, he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.”  It overshadows the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) program.  When you add up guarantees and lending limits, it becomes clear that the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March, 2009 to rescuing the financial system. That is more than half the value of the U.S. GDP that year.  “TARP at least had some strings attached,” said Representative Brad Miller (D-NC), a member of the House Financial Services Committee.  “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”

According to Bloomberg’s editors, “Even as they were tapping the Fed for emergency loans at rates as low as 0.01 percent, the banks that were the biggest beneficiaries of the program were assuring investors that their firms were healthy.  Moreover, these banks used money they had received in the bailout to lobby Congress against reforms aimed at preventing the next collapse.  By keeping the details of its activities under wraps, the Fed deprived lawmakers of the essential information they needed to draft those rules. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, for example, was debated and passed by Congress in 2010 without a full understanding of how deeply the banks had depended on the Fed for survival.  Similarly, lawmakers approved the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to rescue the banks without knowing the details of the far larger bailout being run by the Fed.

“The central bank justified its approach by saying that disclosing the information would have signaled to the markets that the financial institutions that received help were in trouble.  That, in turn, would make needy institutions reluctant to use the Fed as a lender of last resort in the next crisis.  Fed officials argue, with some justification, that the program helped avert a much bigger economic cataclysm and that all the loans have now been repaid.”

Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, argues that the Fed’s secret bailout is a sign that it was doing its job.  According to Thompson, “First, you can be furious that the Federal Reserve ‘committed’ $7.7 trillion — a sum of money equal to half of the U.S. economy — to save the financial system.  I understand the shock, but we were at the precipice of catastrophe and that money wasn’t ‘spent’ so much as it was put at risk and subsequently recouped.  The economy has struggled in the three years since, but we avoided meltdown.  The trillions worked.

“Second, you can be furious that the banks made a profit off of their own mistakes — but $13 billion is a small price to pay for staving off Armageddon.  Third, you can be furious that the Federal Reserve went to court to keep this information out of the hands of journalists.  There, I’d agree.  It’s Congress’s job (not the Federal Reserve’s job) to pass laws that govern the banking sector, but Congress needs information to make good decisions about regulating banks and it’s disappointing that the Federal Reserve withheld details about its bailouts while the commission and the Dodd-Frank debate were ongoing.  Fourth, you can be furious that our central bank basically did the right thing when it had to, and its counterpart in Europe won’t — at the risk of a continental meltdown.”

Times’ Massimo Calabresi agrees. According to Calabresi, “But the Fed saved the world economy through all this lending without losing a penny in the process.  And after its initial heavy breathing, the article does give the Fed an opportunity to explain itself.  ‘Supporting financial-market stability in times of extreme stress is a core function of central banks,’ said William B. English, director of the Fed’s Division of Monetary Affairs.  “Our lending programs served to prevent a collapse of the financial system and to keep credit flowing to American families and businesses.’  In other words, lending money to banks in a crisis is the whole point of the Fed:  saving the world economy by flooding the system with money when it is about to freeze up is exactly what the central bank was created to do.”

The Fed has been lending money to banks since just after it was established in 1913. By the end of 2008, the Fed had created or expanded 11 lending facilities catering to financial firms that were unable to obtain short-term loans from their usual sources.  “Supporting financial-market stability in times of extreme market stress is a core function of central banks,” said William English, director of the Fed’s Division of Monetary Affairs.  “Our lending programs served to prevent a collapse of the financial system and to keep credit flowing to American families and businesses.”

 

Home Delinquencies Fall; Foreclosures Rise

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Fewer borrowers currently are delinquent on their home loans, a Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) report shows.  Curiously, new foreclosures are rising in states like California.  This is evidence that the nation still must endure significant pain before the housing crisis finally comes to an end.  According to some analysts, the nation is only halfway through the wrenching grip of the foreclosure epidemic.  That’s reflected in the housing market, where sales and prices continue to sag despite record low interest rates.  Five years after the crisis began, 7.99 percent of all mortgages were behind by at least one payment in the 3rd quarter but not yet in foreclosure.  Nevertheless, that’s down by nearly half a percentage point from the 2nd quarter and more than one percent when compared with last year.

The percentage of American mortgages that were somewhere in the foreclosure process at the end of the 3rd quarter was 4.43 percent, a slight increase over last year.  The rate of homes in foreclosure was highest in the East and Midwest that route residential repossessions through the courts, with Florida at more than 14 percent and New Jersey at eight percent.

Rather surprisingly, new foreclosures rose to 1.08 percent of all loans from 0.96 percent in the prior three months, according to the MBA. The rate had been declining since the 3rd quarter of 2010, when regulators began investigating robo-signing.  Some of the nation’s largest banks temporarily halted foreclosures while they addressed claims of flaws in their court documents.  The moratoriums clogged the entire foreclosure pipeline as banks investigated their procedures, said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight.  “Banks are starting to speed up the process now that they’ve cleaned up their paperwork,” Newport said.  “We’re seeing the backlog begin to move.”

Unfortunately, the improvement may be short lived.  For the 4th quarter, the pace probably will slow to 2.3 percent, according to the median estimate among 86 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.  The pace likely will slow to two percent in the first three months of 2012, according to the estimates.  “While the delinquency picture changed for the better in the 3rd quarter, the foreclosure data indicated that we are not out of the woods yet and that the issues continue to vary by geography,” Michael Fratantoni, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s vice president of research and economics, said.

“That’s really just reflecting the modest improvement we’ve seen in the economy broadly and the job market in particular,” Fratantoni said. “Job growth is not what we want it to be, but it’s been good enough to keep the unemployment rate at least level and that’s been beneficial here with fewer people falling behind.”

“While foreclosure activity in September and the 3rd quarter continued to register well below levels from a year ago, there is evidence that this temporary downward trend is about to change direction, with foreclosure activity slowly beginning to ramp back up,” said James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.  “Third quarter foreclosure activity increased marginally from the previous quarter, breaking a trend of three consecutive quarterly decreases that started in the fourth quarter of 2010,” according to Saccacio.  “This marginal increase in overall foreclosure activity was fueled by a 14 percent jump in new default notices, indicating that lenders are cautiously throwing more wood into the foreclosure fireplace after spending months trying to clear the chimney of sloppily filed foreclosures.”

Foreclosure were filed on 214,855 U.S. properties in September, a six percent decrease from August and a 38 percent decrease when compared with September of 2010.  September marked the 12th consecutive month where foreclosure activity decreased on a year-over-year basis.

A report issued by the Center for Responsible Lending found that 6.4 percent of mortgages created between 2004 and 2008 ended in foreclosure.  Another 8.3 percent of mortgages are at “immediate, serious risk.”  According to Fratantoni, “Given the pace of foreclosure sales — about one million foreclosure sales a year — it’s a three- or four-year process to get it back to a more typical level of foreclosed properties.”

The refinance share of mortgage activity fell to 77.3 percent of total applications from 78.6 percent the previous week.  The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.1 percent from 5.8 percent of all applications.  In October, 50.6 percent of refinancing applications opted for fixed-rate 30-year loans, 28.8 percent opted for 15-year fixed loans and six percent went with ARMs.  In terms of applications for home purchase mortgages, 85.5 percent were for fixed-rate 30-year loans, 6.9 percent for 15-year fixed loans and 5.9 percent for ARMs, the lowest share of that vehicle for purchases since January.

Federal Reserve Asks for Comments Before Implementing the Volcker Rule

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Federal regulators have requested public comment on the Volcker Rule — the Dodd-Frank Act restrictions that would ban American banks from making short-term trades of financial instruments for their own accounts and prevent them from owning or sponsoring hedge funds and private-equity funds.  The Volcker rule, released by the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is intended to head off the risk-taking that caused the 2008 financial crisis.  The rule, which is little changed from drafts that have been leaked recently, would ban banks from taking positions held for 60 days or less, exempt certain market-making activities, change the way traders involved in market-making are compensated and assure that senior bank executives are responsible for compliance.

Analysts say the proposed rule could slash revenue and cut market liquidity in the name of limiting risk.  Banks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., have already been winding down their proprietary trading desks in anticipation of the Volcker Rule kicking in.  Banks’ fixed-income desks could see their revenues decline as much as 25 percent under provisions included in a draft, brokerage analyst Brad Hintz said.  Moody’s Investors Service said the rule would be “credit negative” for bondholders of Bank of America Corporation, Citigroup, Inc., Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, “all of which have substantial market-making operations.”  The rule, named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act with the intention of reining in risky trading by firms whose customer deposits are insured by the federal government.

John Walsh, a FDIC board member and head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said that he was “delighted” that regulators had reached an agreement on the proposed rule, “given the controversy that has surrounded this provision — how it addressed root causes of the financial crisis.”  “I expect the agencies will move in a careful and deliberative manner in the development of this important rule, and I look forward to the extensive public comments that I’m sure will follow,” Martin J. Gruenberg, the FDIC’s acting chairman, said.  The rule will be open for public comment until January.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street opposes the rule, saying it will cut profits and limit liquidity at a difficult time for the banking industry.  Moody’s echoed those concerns, saying the current version of the Volcker rule would “diminish the flexibility and profitability of banks’ valuable market-making operations and place them at a competitive disadvantage to firms not constrained by the rule.”  Some Democratic lawmakers and consumer advocates are pushing to close loopholes in the rules, especially the broad exemption for hedging.  Supporters of the Volcker rule take issue with a plan to excuse hedging tied to “anticipatory” risk, rather than clear-and-present problems.  “Unfortunately, this initial proposal does not deliver on the promise of the Volcker Rule or the requirements of the statute,” said Marcus Stanley, policy director of Americans for Financial Reform, an advocacy group.  Additionally, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association raised concerns about whether the exemption for trades intended to make markets for customers is too narrow.

According to Moody’s, the large financial firms all have “substantial market-making operations,” which the Volcker Rule will target.  The regulations also will recreate compensation guidelines so pay doesn’t encourage big risk-taking.  Derivatives lawyer Sherri Venokur said restrictions on compensation are “intended to create a sea change in the mindsets of those who create the culture of our banking institutions — to value ‘safety and soundness’ as well as profitability.”

Equity analysts at Bernstein say that the Volcker Rule — if implemented in its current form – will slash Wall Street brokers’ revenues by 25 percent, and cut pre-tax margin of their fixed income trading businesses by 33 percent.  According to Bernstein, the Volcker Rule’s potential limitations are a surprise because it appears to prohibit flow trading in “nonexempt portions” of the bond-trading business.  Bernstein says inventory levels – and, in all probability, risk taking – must be based on client demands and not on “expectation of future price appreciation.”

A Bloomberg.com editorial offers support to the Volcker Rule, while admitting it won’t be perfect.  According to the editorial, “This week, the first of several regulatory agencies will consider a measure aimed at ending the practice.  Known as the Volcker rule, after Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, the measure would curb federally insured banks’ ability to make speculative bets on securities, derivatives or other financial instruments for their own profit — the kind of ‘proprietary’ trading that can lead to catastrophic losses.  Whatever form it takes will be far from perfect.  It will also be better than the status quo.  The bank bailouts of 2008, and the public outrage over traders’ and executives’ bonuses, laid bare a fundamental problem in big institutions such as Bank of America Corporation, Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“They attempt to combine two very different kinds of financial professionals: those who process payments, collect peoples’ deposits and make loans, and those who specialize in making big, risky bets with other peoples’ money.  When these big banks run into trouble, government officials face a dilemma. They want — and in some ways are obligated — to save the part of the bank that does the processing and lending, because those elements are crucial to the normal functioning of the economy.  But in doing so, they also end up bailing out the gamblers, a necessity that erodes public support for bailouts and stirs enmity for banks.  Separating the bankers from the gamblers is no easy task. Commercial banks’ explicit federal backing — including deposit insurance and access to emergency funds from the Federal Reserve — is attractive to proprietary traders, who can use a commercial bank’s access to cheap money to boost profits.  Bank executives like to employ traders because they generate juicy returns in good times that drive up the share price and justify large bonuses. In effect, both traders and managers are reaping the benefits of a government subsidy on financial speculation.  The Volcker rule will not — and probably cannot — fully dissolve the union of bankers and gamblers.”

S&P Downgrade Costs Investors $1 Trillion

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Shareholders in American companies can blame Standard & Poor’s  for taking $1 trillion of their money after the rating firm downgraded Treasury securities for the first time in American history to AA+ from AAA.  Now, some of the most experienced investors say the stock market losses make no sense.  While the benchmark index for U.S. equities fell as much as 6.7 percent — or $1.03 trillion — since the downgrade, 10-year Treasuries rallied the most in more than two years and the government financed its quarterly debt obligations at the lowest interest rates ever.  Treasuries have returned two percent since the downgrade. 

“One of the most perverse things I’ve seen in 25 years of doing this is that S&P downgrades the United States government, and investors’ reaction is to run towards the securities that they downgrade, selling businesses without asking at what price,” said Kevin Rendino, a money manager at BlackRock Inc., which oversees $3.65 trillion.  “Equity prices have swung too far.” 

The downgrade, which diverged from Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, turned investors’ focus from the 10th consecutive quarter in which S&P 500 companies topped analyst earnings forecasts.  Per-share profits had climbed 18 percent among companies in the index, with 76 percent topping the average analyst projection, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.  Sales grew by 13 percent. 

“It did a lot of damage to confidence, which had been shaky anyway,” Liz Ann Sonders, New York-based chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, said.  “We had started to get a sense of a little bit of a lift for the economy in the second half of the year, and you just kind of wiped it out because of the lack of confidence in our political leaders. S&P reflected that with the downgrade, but what it ended up causing was a real confidence crisis, more than an economic crisis.” 

Additionally, the Chicago Board Options Exchange volatility index jumped 50 per cent to 48, the highest level in 29 months and the biggest jump in more than four years, the first trading day after the downgrade was announced. 

“We’re starting to see real disorderly selling, far more than what we’ve been seeing,” said Matthew Peron, head of active equities at the Chicago-based Northern Trust, which manages approximately $650 billion in assets.  At Jersey City-based Knight Capital, senior equity trader Joseph Mazzella said that “It’s scary.  It really is.  I hate it when the market closes below its low, as it sets the stocks up for a follow-through tomorrow.” 

President Barack Obama said that he blames political gridlock in Washington, D.C., for the downgrade.  He announced plans to offer recommendations on ways to cut the federal deficit.  Agreeing with the president is William Suplee, a financial manager with Structured Asset Management in Paoli, PA.  “Almost universally my clients are blaming this on ‘The Government’, this lack of confidence – and that is what it is.  This sell-off is uniformly blamed by my clients on the government’s inability to act rationally. 

According to Genna R. Miller, Ph.D., Visiting Instructor, Economics Department, Duke University, “In terms of the CPA profession, there may have been some fear that the negative outlook on U.S. sovereign debt, as well as possible increases in interest rates, may have caused a further downturn in the economy.  Such a downturn in the economy may have been expected to reduce the demand for accounting services, as clients’ incomes declined.  However, as there have only, at this point in time, been minimal impacts on the economy and the accounting profession, this does not appear to be the case.  It may be the case that the income elasticity of demand for accounting services may actually be quite inelastic.  The income elasticity of demand tells us the percentage change in quantity demanded for accounting services divided by the percentage change in clients’ incomes.  Thus, if there is a relatively inelastic income elasticity of demand, then clients who have had accounting services in the past may continue to do so, despite any declines in their own income.  On the flip side, some financial planners may have experienced an increase in business as some clients may have needed to re-assess portfolio values from a tax perspective or may have needed to comply with disclosure policies with respect to increased risk.”

Mark Vitner, Managing Director & Senior Economist, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, offers this perspective.  “I think most firms understand that the downgrade does not affect many private businesses.  The downgrade and the problems with the federal budget deficit that precipitated it are primarily a problem for state and local governments and government contractors.  Businesses and governments that receive a large part of their funding from the federal government will be most impacted by the downgrade and renewed emphasis on deficit reduction.”

Rick Mattoon of the Fed believes the downgrade will affect mostly the secondary markets like municipals funds.  Listen to his podcast here.

Basel III Could Slightly Impact Economic Growth

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Basel III Could Slightly Impact Economic GrowthThe Basel Committee on Banking Supervision overhaul of bank capital rules may cut global economic growth by 0.22 percent, which is seen as a reasonable amount.  This will occur over an eight-year transitional period during which the rules are put into place, according to the Basel committee and Financial Stability Board (FSB).  According to the FSB and the Basel committee, “The transition to stronger capital standards is likely to have a modest impact on aggregate output.”

Regulators are reassuring lenders and companies that the Basel III overhaul may force banks to cut back on lending, thus hurting the economic recovery.  According to the Institute of International Finance, an earlier version of the plan would have cut economic output by 3.1 percent in the eurozone, the United States and Japan from 2011 through 2015.  Etay Katz, a partner at the London-based law firm of Allen & Overy LLP, thinks the report “leaves quite a lot more to be desired.  I think bankers, when they see this, will be skeptical of the rigor with which this analysis has been conducted.”  Katz thinks the impact of Basel liquidity rules was not taken into account.

According to the new numbers, yearly growth could be as much as 0.03 percentage points below the baseline scenario – and that assumes that banks won’t have to comply with the revised regulations – over eight years.  Regulators are overhauling bank capital and liquidity prerequisites because the Basel II rules did not protect lenders during the financial crisis.  The Basel III rules have been approved by the G20 nations.

Wells Fargo, LNR Looking to Sell $2 Billion in Distressed Assets

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

One bank, one special servicer, both offering $1 billion in distressed real estate.  Wells Fargo & Company and LNR Property Corporation are hunting for buyers for $1 billion each of distressed commercial real estate assets and loans.  San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest commercial real estate lender, is soliciting bids on $500 million to $1 billion worth of office and hotels.  LNR, the nation’s largest CBMS special servicer, is looking for buyers for approximately $1 billion worth of defaulted loans.

“The availability of capital and better prices than a year ago are driving sellers to move things off their balance sheets,” says Matthew Anderson, managing director at research firm Foresight Analytics.  “Depending on how the auction goes, you may see more of this.”  According to Anderson, banks and special servicers currently are holding approximately $185 billion in distressed loans.  Of those, Wells Fargo had $12.9 billion in non-performing loans in the 1st quarter.  LNR is the special servicer for $24 billion in delinquent assets, according to Bloomberg.

Wells Fargo and LNR were left holding real estate debt once the global credit crisis and recession sent commercial values down a whopping 42 percent from their October of 2007 high.  The majority – as much as 60 percent — of the assets that Wells Fargo is selling were inherited when the bank purchased Wachovia Corporation in October 2008.  If Wells Fargo and LNR can sell the properties, the move would represent an improved market for distressed assets, according to Ben Thypin, an analyst with Real Capital Analytics, Inc.

“We’re certainly aggressive in terms of liquidating the portfolio,” said David Hoyt, who heads Wells Fargo’s wholesale banking arm.  “At the moment, there is a lot of liquidity in the market to resolve problems.”

CMBS Activity Expected to Remain Slow in 2010

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

CMBS transactions might total just $15 billion in 2010Commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) are expected to remain below $15 billion in 2010 as borrowers cope with falling property values.  According to Alan Todd, a JPMorgan analyst, debt sales backed by CBD office, hotel and shopping center loans could be as low as $10 billion this year.  Aaron Bryson of Barclays Capital is more optimistic, predicting transactions totaling approximately $15 billion for the year.

The federal government has promised to revive the $700 billion CMBS market, even as property values fall and securing loans is difficult.  In 2007, a record $237 billion of debt was sold.  That fell precipitously in 2008 to just $12 billion and even further to $1.4 billion in 2009.  Activity isn’t expected to increase until the second half of 2010.

“The banks would like to lend,” Todd noted.  “There are fewer properties to lend against.”  He pointed out that many owners went heavily into debt during the boom and now cannot locate properties not currently encumbered to lend against.  The dearth of new loans cuts off funding to borrowers whose debt is maturing.  Approximately two thirds of loans bundled and sold as securities – totaling $410 billion — may require additional cash as property values fall and underwriting standards get tougher, according to Deutsche Bank AG research.

Moody’s Investor Services reports that commercial real estate prices in the United States are 42.9 percent lower than their 2007 peak.