Posts Tagged ‘Goldman Sachs’

Keen for ’14

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

The nation’s CEOs are bullish about their prospects for the new year, according to annual PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of more than 1,300 chief executives, which was released on Wednesday.  A full 39 percent were “very confident” that their company’s revenues would grow this year (up 3 percent from a year ago). More than 60% of the U.S. CEOs in the survey said they expect to hire more people this year–the highest in the past five years of the report. Sure they’re feeling good — businesses in the US are sitting on $1.4 trillion in cash; worldwide its $4.5 trillion,  73% more than the pre-recession level in 2006 (of course, you could argue that the reason it’s so high is that businesses hoard cash when they are uncertain about the market).

Add to this, the fact that the indicators have been good:  the IMF has upped its world economy growth prediction to 3.7 percent in 2014 and says the U.S. will grow 2.8 percent. Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) are both expecting this to be the best year since 2011. The World Bank is slightly more tepid but still optimistic , predicting growth of 3.2%, less because of the US and more because Japan and Europe are slowly getting their acts together.

Going back to the CEOs, 44 percent said they believe the global economy will improve in the next 12 months. Last year, 18 percent said so. So where do they see growth? A full 86 percent say it’s in “advancing technologies” that are going to transform their businesses in the next first years. They cite how tech intersects with other industries, such as healthcare and retail, to create new hybrid industries, according to the survey. One of the biggest drivers will be replacing outdated equipment (the average piece of equipment is 17 years old in the US).

That’s the good news. But let’s remember that it still doesn’t feel like a recovery for a lot of people. Despite the unemployment rate falling to its lowest level since October of 2008 at 6.7 percent,  the labor participation rate is still a concern for many. 347,000 people dropped out of the labor force (that is, are no longer looking for work) according to the December report. However, even that number may have a bright side. a A recent study by Shigeru Fujita, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia says that “discouraged workers” only made up about a quarter of those leaving the labor force between 2007 and 2011, while “the decline in the participation rate since the first quarter of 2012 is entirely accounted for by increases in nonparticipation due to retirement.” If this is in fact the case, the current headline 6.7% unemployment rate may indeed reflect the true health of the labor market

Despite the dueling numbers, it is clear that partisans on both sides are correct: we have a lot of work still to do and we have a lot to be positive about.

 

Beware: Double Dip Ahead?

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

The 17-nation Eurozone is at risk of falling into a “severe recession,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned, as it called on governments and the European Central Bank to act quickly to keep the slowdown from becoming a drag on the global economy.  OECD Chief Economist Pier Carlo Padoan warned the euro-zone economy has the potential to shrink as much as two percent in 2012, a figure that the think tank had described as its worst-case scenario last November.  The OECD -which comprises the world’s most developed economies — said its average forecast was that the Euro-zone economy will shrink 0.1 percent in 2012 and grow a mere 0.9 percent next year.  “Today we see the situation in the Euro area close to the possible downside scenario” in the OECD’s November report, “which if materializing could lead to a severe recession in the Euro area and with spillovers in the rest of the world,” Padoan said.

The report believes that Europe will lag behind other countries, especially the United States, where the economy is expected to grow 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2013.  “There is now a diverging trend between the euro area and the U.S., where the U.S. is picking up more strongly while the euro area is lagging behind,” Padoan said.  Europe is split between a wealthier north that is growing and the southern nations that are falling into recession, according to OECD statistics.

The global economic outlook is still cloudy,” said Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary General. “At first sight the prospects for the global economy are somewhat brighter than six months ago.  At closer inspection, the global economic recovery is weak, considerable downside risks remain and sizable imbalances remain to be addressed.”

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, will grow two percent next year after expanding 1.2 percent in 2012.  France, the Eurozone’s second-biggest economy, will grow 1.2 percent next year after expanding 0.6 percent this year, the OECD said.  By contrast, Italy’s economy is expected to shrink 1.7 percent this year and 0.4 percent in 2013.  Spain will remain mired in recession, with contraction of 1.6 percent this year and 0.8 percent in 2013.  Padoan has asked Eurozone leaders to enter into a “growth compact” to promote expansion while cutting deficits.  French President Francois Hollande has made achieving this type of pact the focus of his European diplomacy.

The OECD is chiefly concerned that problems with European sovereign debt are a significant threat to growth around the world. “The crisis in the Eurozone remains the single biggest downside risk facing the global outlook,” Padoan said.  “This is a global crisis which is largely a debt crisis.  It is a result of excessive debt accumulation in both the private and public sectors.  One can not safely say we’re out of the crisis until debt comes down to more manageable levels.”

To protect its economic recovery, the OECD urged the American government to move very gradually to tighten its budget.  A wave of U.S. spending cuts and tax hikes – known as the “fiscal cliff” — are set to take effect in January unless politicians agree to delay at least some of them.  Bush-era tax cuts and benefits for the long-term jobless are both expected to expire.  Another $1.2 trillion in spending cuts on federal programs would take effect as a result of Congress’ failure last year to find a comprehensive deal to cut the budget deficit.  The OECD said these actions would be the wrong fiscal policy given the still-fragile condition of world’s largest economy.  “The programmed expiration of tax cuts and emergency unemployment benefits, together with automatic federal spending cuts, would result in a sharp fiscal retrenchment in 2013 that might derail the recovery,” according to the OECD.

Wall Street economists say that fiscal policy could tighten by about $600 billion in 2013, or about four percent of GDP, if lawmakers cannot agree on what programs to cut.  Goldman Sachs estimates the “fiscal cliff” could trim approximately four percent from GDP in the first half of 2013.  The majority of economists, however, expect lawmakers to act before that particular hammer has an opportunity to fall.

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.”

Economy Reaches Stall Speed

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

The American economy expanded at a snail’s pace of just 1.3 percent in the 2nd quarter, according to a report from the Department of Commerce. Growth in the first three months of 2011 was reduced to 0.4 percent from an earlier reading of 1.9 percent.

“Today’s first look at GDP in the 2nd quarter confirms what we already knew:  The economy isn’t growing as fast as it needs to,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.  “Experts have repeatedly warned that if this uncertainty continues, our economy will pay the price.  We can’t afford to return to the same failed policies that brought us here.  We must build on the progress we’ve made over the last two years and reach a balanced compromise that will reduce our debt and at the same time strengthen our job-creating ability and global competitiveness for the future.”

Soaring gas prices and meager income gains caused consumers to limit their spending in the spring.  The abrupt slowdown means the economy in 2011 will likely grow at a slower pace than in 2010.  Additionally, economists don’t expect growth to pick up enough in the 2nd half to cut the unemployment rate, which rose to 9.2 percent In June.  Economists originally thought that a Social Security payroll tax cut would spur adequate growth to reduce the unemployment rate.  Unfortunately, the lion’s share of that money was spent filling up gas tanks as gas prices soared.  In an unfortunate twist, employers pulled back on hiring because Americans spent less.  Thanks in part to high gas prices, consumer spending was virtually flat throughout the spring.  It grew a mere 0.1 percent, after experiencing 2.1 percent growth in the winter.  Spending on long-lasting manufactured goods — primarily autos and appliances — declined 4.4 percent.

Usually reliable government spending fell for the 3rd consecutive quarter.  State and local governments also slashed spending, the seventh time in eight quarters since the recession officially came to an end.  Corporate spending on equipment and software grew 5.7 percent in the 2nd quarter, down from the 1st quarter’s impressive 8.7 percent pace and below 2010’s double-digit gains.  Additionally, American incomes are not growing.  After-tax incomes, adjusted for inflation, rose just 0.7 percent, similar to the 1st quarter and the weakest numbers since the recession ended.

Kathy Bostjancic, director for macroeconomic analysis at the Conference Board, said the poor new data could push the American economy back into recession.  Although she said that the chances of that are still low. “Anemic consumption, still declining state and local government spending, tepid business investment, and soft housing activity all combined to offset some strength in exports,” she said.  “Concerns about the weak labor market and rising food and energy prices continue to weigh on consumer confidence.”  In June, the Federal Reserve cut its estimate of economic growth for the year.  The Fed now thinks that the economy will grow between 2.7 percent and 2.9 percent, down from an April estimate of 3.1 percent to 3.3 percent.

The economy is struggling to recover from the recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009, a time when the GDP contracted.  According to a government report, the recession was even worse than originally estimated.  Between the last few months of 2007 and the middle of 2009, the economy declined by 5.1 percent.  That is one percentage point more than previous estimates.

Writing in the Washington Post’s “Political Economy” column, Neil Irwin says that “But even if the number comes in somewhat higher than economists are expecting, it will be no cause for celebration.  The U.S. economy is capable of growing at about 2.5 percent a year over the longer term, as the population increases and workers become more productive.  But when the economy grows at that rate, the labor market can only tread water — accommodating the rise in the labor force, but unable to put the millions of Americans still unemployed back to work.  So, what happens to employment when the nation’s economic growth stays below that 2.5 percent rate, as it has in the 1st half of this year?  The U.S. jobless rate has risen for three months straight.  Among the major culprits in keeping job seekers out of work are the financial struggles faced by state and local governments that are cutting tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in spending each month to balance their budgets.  State and local government cutbacks subtracted 1.2 percentage points from 1st quarter GDP, the Commerce Department has estimated.  Friday’s GDP release shows the amount of drag in the 2nd quarter.  States were able to delay those cutbacks when they received hundreds of billions of dollars from the federal government in 2009 to ride out the recession.  That money has all been spent, and now states are being forced to slash spending and raise taxes to comply with balanced-budget requirements.  Congress has given little serious consideration to reviving the stimulus program.”

Some economists see the light at the end of the tunnel.  “The pace of fiscal retrenchment is likely to pick up in coming years,” said Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs’ chief economist, “and this year’s experience confirms our view that this adjustment is likely to weigh on GDP growth.”

Warren Buffet Bullish on U.S. Credit Rating

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Standard & Poor’s may have downgraded the United States credit rating from AAA to AA+ and the bears may have taken over Wall Street, but the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and billionaire Warren Buffett believes that the nation deserves a AAAA rating.

In a recent appearance on CNBC, Buffett said that he still believes that the United States’ debt is AAA and that he’s not changing his mind about Treasuries based on Standard & Poor’s downgrade.  “If anything, it may change my opinion on S&P,” according to the Oracle of Omaha.  “I wouldn’t dream of putting it anywhere else,” Buffett said, noting that at Berkshire, the only reason he’s sold Treasuries in the past is to purchase stocks or make acquisitions.  Berkshire is still buying T-bills, even though yields have declined.  “If I have to buy (Treasuries) at a zero percent yield, I will,” he said.  “I don’t like it, but we’ll do it.”

Buffett has something of a vested interest in criticizing Standard & Poor’s.  Berkshire Hathaway is one of the biggest shareholders in Standard & Poor’s main competitor Moody’s with about 28 million shares. But the billionaire has long urged people to make their own decisions about an investment’s prospects without relying on credit rating agencies.  Buffett said the action doesn’t change his view on the soundness of U.S. Treasury bills.  At least $40 billion of Berkshire Hathaway’s approximately $48 billion cash and equivalents is in U.S. Treasury bills, and Buffett won’t consider investing it elsewhere.

According to Buffett, America’s leaders may have a difficult time agreeing on the country’s financial future and the value of the dollar may slide, but that won’t keep the world’s richest nation from paying its debts.  The United States has a GDP of about $48,000 per person, and the Federal Reserve can always print more money.  “Our currency is not AAA, and in recent months the performance of our government has not been AAA, but our debt is AAA,” Buffett said.

Writing on the InvestorPlace.com website, Jeff Reeves says that “Before you scoff that Buffett is just a bygone relic of an era during which stocks like General Electric truly did have bulletproof dividends and it would have been unfathomable for stocks like General Motors to go bankrupt, consider this: In September 2008, the depths of the financial crisis when nobody knew which bank would fail next, Buffett and Berkshire dumped $5 billion into preferred stock of Goldman Sachs.  Thanks to the 10 percent interest on those shares, Berkshire Hathaway earned a cool $500 million per year in dividends before Goldman bought back the stock several months ago.  What’s more, the investment bank paid a hefty 10 percent premium to buy back those preferred shares.  Maybe it was crazy to jump into banks headfirst when the market was going haywire in 2008.  But it was awfully profitable for Buffett.  You might think it’s crazy to stick to your buy-and-hold strategy now, or to continue to rely on U.S. Treasury Bonds.  But take a deep breath and remember that not everyone is screaming and running for the hills.  Yes, persistent problems with unemployment, the political bickering in Congress and the flatlining of our American economy are serious issues.  But they are hardly new.”

Not everyone agrees with Buffett.  According to the Equity Master website, “We must say that we do not agree with Mr. Buffett.  We are not arguing with the credibility of S&P, whose reputation admittedly became tainted when it gave the highest rating to many mortgaged backed securities in the months leading up to the demise of Lehman.  But that does not mean that the U.S. is without some serious problems.  Indeed, the U.S.’ mounting debt is a huge cause for concern and the government’s latest move to raise the debt ceiling is only likely to postpone an eventual default and not entirely extinguish it.  Moreover, the claim that the U.S. can pay its debt because it can print more money is a dangerous one to make.  Printing money never really solved America’s problems.  The two big quantitative easing programs and their failure to revive the sagging U.S. economy is testimonial to the fact.  One thing that it will certainly do is bring down the value of the dollar and cause inflation to accelerate posing a fresh set of problems for the U.S.  So, while criticisms can be piled on S&P, downgrading of the U.S.’ credit rating is something that the world’s largest economy had a long time coming.”

Firstpost agrees that Buffett is wrong.  “Among other things, he said that the U.S. deserved a AAA credit rating when the S&P decided to bring it down to AA+. He also believes the U.S. will avert a double-dip recession.  Well, Mr. Buffett, you are already half-wrong. A slow-growing nation with a 100 percent debt-to-GDP ratio cannot be AAA by any stretch of economic logic.  It makes India’s 70-72 percent debt-GDP ratio look like the epitome of prudence.  As for the other half of your prediction – that the U.S. will avoid a double-dip recession – the jury is out on that one, but the recession wasn’t the reason for the S&P downgrade anyway.  There are two reasons, or maybe three, why the U.S. is in a mess.  One is that it is overleveraged – in deep debt – both at the level of government and the common people.  Two, the law that the U.S. can indefinitely live beyond its means has a flaw.  It was built on the assumption that dollar debts can be paid off by printing more of the green stuff forever.”

Potential Facebook IPO Could Value Company at $100 Billion

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Facebook is likely to file for an initial public offering (IPO) as early as October or November that could value the popular social networking site at more than a whopping $100 billion.   Goldman Sachs is the top candidate to manage the lucrative offering, which could come in the 1st quarter of 2012.  Facebook, whose chief operating officer last month called an IPO “inevitable,” made no comment on the report.

The company’s IPO likely would probably be prompted by a section of the 1934 Securities and Exchange Act known as “the 500 rule” At heart, the rule mandates that once a private company has more than 500 investors, it must release quarterly financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission, just as public companies do.  Facebook, which is likely to cross the 500-investor threshold this year, would probably launch a formal IPO in advance of a public-company reporting obligation that would be required next April.  Another factor motivating the IPO, according to people familiar with the plans, is Facebook’s wish to increase employee compensation.  Early in 2010, Facebook curbed employees’ ability to sell their company shares privately to other investors — a move that may now be prompting employees to quit Facebook so they can monetize their shares.  If the company goes public, however, employees will be able to sell their stock on the open market, allowing them to cash in on their holdings.

“Unable to sell their private shares, Facebook employees are growing restless,” according to Kate Kelly at CNBC.   “An initial public offering is expected.  A factor in the company’s IPO timing is the Securities and Exchange Commission’s requirement that some companies like Facebook must disclose financial information if they have more than 500 private investors.”  The IPO speculation and record high valuation is comes on the heels of recent numbers showing declining user-ship in some of Facebook’s leading markets.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Shira Ovide says that “Facebook is on track to exceed $2 billion in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for 2011.  That’s even higher than the expected 2011 profit circulated in the early part of the year when Goldman Sachs and Russian investment house Digital Sky Technologies invested in Facebook at a $50 billion valuation.  If Facebook ends the year with $2 billion in Ebitda, would IPO investors stomach a 50 times trailing multiple valuation?  Seems bubble-like.  Trust us.  Wall Street bankers, lawyers, P.R. mavens, caterers and everyone else are slobbering for a slice of the Facebook IPO magic.  Facebook has been meeting with potential bankers that want to shepherd the IPO.  Goldman Sachs is thought to have an inside track to lead the IPO thanks to its recent investment in Facebook, but don’t count out big banks such as J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley, which have led recent big tech IPOs.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been non-committal about an IPO for a long time.  As recently as December, Zuckerberg gave his weird deer-in-headlights stare when ’60 Minutes’ asked him whether he would ever push his baby into the public markets.  ‘Maybe’ was Zuckerberg’s answer.  But momentum is taking over.”

Not so fast, says Fortune magazine’s Dan Primack. According to Primack, “Pay attention to news that Facebook is planning its IPO.  But take its proposed valuation with a grain of salt.  First, the most recent private trades of Facebook stock came in at around $85 billion, and private trades are meant to be done at a discount to public valuations.  LinkedIn shares, for example, traded at $23 per share on the private markets six months before going public at $45 per share.  At that velocity, Facebook actually would be valued at $165 billion next January.  More importantly, it’s impossible to intelligently speculate on an Internet company valuation 6-10 months out.  Will the bubble still be inflating?  Will it have popped?  Will macro trends have continued their anemic recovery, or double-dipped back down?  Facebook is probably immune to the timing issues related to IPO windows, but it does not stand apart from the economy at large.  If we experience a massive advertising pullback, for example, then Facebook could take a hit in its largest revenue pot (or at least a growth slowdown).  Not saying that will happen, but obviously it could.  To me, the only value in today’s ‘$100 billion’ report is in referring back to it when the company has an actual public valuation.”

Government Looking to Require CMBS Insurance

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

President Barack Obama is proposing an option to create an insurance fund for mortgage-backed securities, similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that protects Americans savings accounts. The proposal consists of three legislative options for making long-term changes to the housing finance system, while taking short-term moves to gradually reduce the government’s role in the mortgage market now dominated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The Obama administration is asking the private sector to play the leading role in the residential mortgage market and is expected to unveil several scenarios detailing how that might come about.

More than 85 percent of residential mortgages are now backed by the federal government.  Republicans want to slash that to zero, though they acknowledge that a transition so extreme cannot be achieved overnight.  At its core, the debate over what to do about Fannie and Freddie is an ideological one: How much should the government pay to sustain the housing market?  House Republicans, who want to abolish the government backing altogether, contend that the private market can more accurately price the risk of home mortgages.  By contrast, Democrats believe that government backing is necessary to assure that mortgages are accessible to middle-class Americans.  Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the impact would be approximately one percent.  “Regardless of what policymakers say, global investors will almost surely continue to believe the U.S. government would backstop a badly foundering mortgage finance system,” said Zandi, who has proposed a hybrid system that charges for the guarantee.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned against acting too quickly or making rash changes.  “Given Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s current role in the mortgage market, we must proceed carefully with reform to ensure government support is withdrawn at a pace that does not undermine economic recovery,” he said.  “We believe there is sufficient funding to ensure the orderly and deliberate wind down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as described in our plan.

Geithner has proposed three options, all of which favor seeing the government eventually wind down Fannie and Freddie, whose survival has required more than $150 billion from the Treasury Department since the government seized them in September of 2008.  The first option would privatize mortgage finance and limit the government’s role to narrowly targeted subsidies, like Federal Housing Authority (FHA), USDA and Department of Veterans’ Affairs financing.  The second option adds a layer of government support that could be implemented to ensure access to credit during a housing crisis.  The third option, the one that bears the closest resemblance to the current system, would allow the government to guarantee mortgages but under stringent capital and oversight requirements, termed “catastrophic reinsurance behind significant private capital.”

The probable winners from replacing Fannie and Freddie are mortgage lenders and insurers, analysts at Goldman Sachs said. “While higher rates could decrease origination volumes, growth should still outpace balance-sheet availability,” the Goldman analysts said.  In addition to lenders, mortgage insurers are also potential beneficiaries.  “The stated goal of returning the (Federal Housing Authority) to its traditional role as a targeted lender of affordable mortgages supports the view for better-than-expected private market top-line growth.”

Despite the uncertainty about what entity will ultimately replace Fannie and Freddie, the Obama administration remains upbeat about the cost of winding down the embattled agencies. The administration expects its losses from Fannie and Freddie to ultimately be cut nearly in half.  However, the Treasury Department estimates that after receiving dividends from the GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises) for that assistance, the total losses could shrink to $73 billion by 2021 — 45 percent less than current levels.

An outspoken critic of the Obama plan is Mike Colpitts, who writes for The Housing Predictor.  According to Colpitts, “Like a solider standing alone in the battlefield, the Obama administration’s housing finance reform proposal offers the U.S. a way of ridding itself of the most troubled mortgage giants, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in the real estate collapse.  But it stops short of offering any concrete long term solutions with a housing plan for the nation like a lone soldier Missing In Action.  Realtors, mortgage professionals, new homebuilders and the lending industry compose many of the most fractured industries in the current U.S. economy as a result of the real estate collapse.  They deserve a plan on which they can rest their futures with the rest of America to benefit the entire nation, and for once provide concrete change towards a real economic recovery.”

Federal Reserve Comes Clean on Who Received Bailout Money

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Federal Reserve Comes Clean on Who Received Bailout MoneyAt the instruction of Congress, the Federal Reserve has released the names of the approximately 21,000 recipients of $3.3 trillion in aid provided during the financial meltdown –without doubt the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Not surprisingly, two of the top beneficiaries were Bank of America and Wells Fargo, who received approximately $45 billion each from the Term Auction Facility.  American units of the Swiss bank UBS, the French bank Societe Generale and German bank Dresdner Bank AG also received financial assistance.  The Fed posted the information on its website in compliance with a provision of the Dodd-Frank bill that imposed strict new financial regulations on Wall Street.

One of the biggest surprises on the list is the fact that General Electric accessed a Fed program no fewer than 12 times for a total of $16 billion.  Although the Fed originally objected, Congress demanded accountability because there was evidence that the central bank had gone beyond their usual role of supporting banks.  In addition, the Fed purchased short-term IOUs from corporations, risky assets from Bear Stearns and more than $1 trillion in housing debt.

Reactions to the revelations are both positive and negative.  On the positive side, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said “We owe an accounting to the American people of who we have lent money to.  It is a good step toward broader transparency.”  Sarah Binder, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, disagrees, noting that “These disclosures come at a politically opportune time for the Fed.  Just when Chairman Bernanke is trying to defend the Fed from Republican critics of its asset purchases, the Fed’s wounds from the financial crisis are reopened.”

Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) said “We see this (list) not as the end of a process but really a significant step forward in opening the veil of secrecy that exists in one of the most powerful agencies in government.  Given the size of these commitments, it is incomprehensible that the American people have not received specific details about them.”

Real Estate Bonds More Attractive to Investors

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The two-year swap spread narrowed 1.43 basis point to 15.88 basis points, the lowest level since April 20.  Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are in the process of trying to sell their fourth CMBS package in 2010 with $788 million of debt from 48 properties as investor interest in these vehicles rekindles.  Although the Federal Reserve noted that commercial real estate is still slowing economic growth, bond investors believe that growth is strong enough for borrowers to meet debt payments.  According to Dan Castro, chief of structured finance analytics and strategy at BTIG LLC, “CMBS is an avenue that’s going to provide better returns.  There’s a lot of guys clamoring for these returns.”

Consider that corporate bond yields are only 177 basis points over Treasury, while CMBS yields are 100 bps higher.  According to Business Week, “The difference between the rate to exchange floating for fixed-interest payments and Treasury yields for two years, known as the swap spread, is a measure of investor perception of credit risk.  It serves as a benchmark for investors in many types of debt, including mortgage-backed and auto-loan securities.  The two-year swap spread narrowed 1.43 basis point to 15.88 basis points, the lowest level since April 20,” indicating increased confidence.  So while CMBS still has a ways to go to get back to previous levels, the market is in recovery which is great news for the rest of the industry which relies on CMBS for refinancing.

Volcker Rule Is Giving Big Banks Headaches

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Volcker Rule implementation is scaring the big banks.  Curiosity is growing about which Wall Street banks will be the first to get out of proprietary trading or the private equity business as they restructure to come into compliance with new financial regulatory reform legislation. The Volcker Rule – named for former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker – limits banks from these practices and sets new levels on the size of private equity or hedge fund investments.  In other words, the banks are not allowed to hold more than three percent of their Tier 1 capital – a measure of their financial strength — in private equity or hedge fund investments.

Bank of America is almost in compliance, though Goldman Sachs must act more aggressively and is reported to be weighing several options to comply with the increased regulation.  The good news for the Wall Street banks is that they have several years in which they can reduce their holdings.  “They have time to adjust,” said Mark Nuccio, partner at Boston-based Ropes & Gray.  “I don’t think there’s any intention on behalf of the regulators to create economic dislocation at financial institutions.”

The new rules are driving certain banks to rethink their business, while others see the new law as a welcome excuse to distance themselves from unwanted hedge or private-equity funds.  “If you were leaning toward a strategic change anyway then now is a good time to re-evaluate the business because you have a regulator saying you shouldn’t be in this business anyway,” said Thomas Whelan, chief executive of Greenwich Alternative Investments.  This is particularly true for banks that quickly acquired hedge fund operations during the boom years.  At that time, having a hedge fund was essential to the strategic mix.  Since 2008, however, when hedge funds posted their worst-ever returns and clients tried to cash in assets, the math changed for many banks.