Posts Tagged ‘hedge funds’

Basel III Compliance Requires 29 Biggest Banks to Raise $556 Billion

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

The world’s largest banks need to raise as much as $566 billion of common equity to meet Basel III rules on capital to be implemented by 2019, cutting shareholder returns, according to analysts at Fitch Ratings.  The 29 global banks that regulators believe are too big to fail need new capital that equals nearly 23 percent of the lenders’ current $2.5 trillion of aggregate common equity, according to the report.  The median lender could meet the requirements with three years of retained earnings, according to Fitch.

Basel III is the latest version of a global regulatory standard on bank adequacy, stress testing and market liquidity risk, requires banks to hold 4.5 percent of common equity, an increase from the two percent under Basel II.  The higher standard is an attempt to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

International banking regulators meeting under the sponsorship of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel are seeking to implement rules to prevent taxpayers being forced to rescue failing banks.  In addition to boosting capital requirements, they are instituting rules on leverage ratios and funding to ensure lenders can withstand future crises.  “There’s a shortfall and we wanted to see what covering that implies,” according to Martin Hansen, a Fitch analyst.  The Basel III rules “create incentives to reduce expenses further and to increase pricing pressure on borrowers and customers where feasible,” he said.  The banks global systemically important financial institutions must hold a special capital surcharge of between one and 2.5 percent of assets weighted by risk.

The banks are likely to reduce their holdings of more volatile, lower-rated assets, potentially increasing borrowing costs for weaker companies and reducing the availability of credit.  The borrowers’ securities would become harder to trade, forcing companies borrow from less regulated lenders such as private equity firms and hedge funds, according to a Fitch report, called “Basel III: Return and Deleveraging Pressures.”  “If banks decide to originate risk and then pass it on to outsiders then it adds to the stability of the banking system,” Hansen said.  “Risk hasn’t been reduced, though — it’s been moved from one part of the system to another.”  The median return on equity of the 29 lenders was 7.3 percent last year and averaged 11 percent between 2005 and 2011.  That is expected to decline to 8.5 to nine percent as the banks make up the capital shortfall, according to Hansen.

Since it is impossible for regulators to perfectly align capital requirements with risk exposure, some banks might seek to increase return on equity through riskier activities that maximize yield on a given unit of Basel III capital, including new forms of regulatory arbitrage,’ Hansen said.

James Moss, another Fitch analyst, said the banks, which have a collective $47 trillion in assets, will have to look at the full spectrum of ways to meet the new capital requirements.  “This is a very dynamic time for banking so the strategic side of bank planning is going to get a lot of attention over the coming years,” he said.  “Basel III creates a trade-off for financial institutions between declining return on equity, which might reduce their ability to attract capital, versus stronger capitalization and lower risk premiums, which benefits investors.”

Our overall objective remains to strengthen the resilience of the banking sector in the European Union while ensuring that banks continue to finance economic activity and growth,” said Michel Barnier, EU Internal Markets Commissioner.  “The final compromise must contribute to financial stability, the necessary basis for growth and employment.”

Government Wants to Sell Foreclosed Properties in Bulk as Rentals

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

The Obama administration plans to work closely with federal regulators, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to start a pilot program to sell government-owned foreclosures in bulk to investors as rentals, according to administration officials.

There currently are approximately 250,000 foreclosed properties on the books of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and millions more are expected.  Last year’s foreclosure processing delays created an enormous backlog of properties yet to be processed and are just now being restarted. One of the program’s initiatives is for the federal government to mitigate and manage new foreclosures.  Late-stage delinquencies still number close to two million, according to a report from Lending Processing Services (LPS).  Foreclosure starts are double foreclosure sales and “the trend toward fewer loans becoming delinquent, which dominated 2010 and the 1st quarter of 2011, appears to have halted,” according to LPS.

“I think there is a fair amount of money in the wings waiting to buy, investors doing cash raises to buy properties on a large scale,” said Laurie Goodman of Amherst Securities. “But that means they have to build out a rental organization; it means they build out a management company, because if you’re accumulating a hundred homes in Dallas that’s very different than running a multifamily building.”

This is good advice. The recession began with housing, and is one of the main things holding back the recovery.   The most recent unemployment numbers — which showed that non-farm payrolls grew by 200,000 in December, and the jobless rate declined to 8.5 percent from 8.7 percent  — join other cautious signs of an improving economy, although the housing situation is worsening.  There’s still a serious risk it might put a halt to and not just delay expansion.

“Foreclosed homes are a complex problem. We need some creative thinking and new processes to solve the problem of so many distressed homeowners.  I would love to see the market handle it on its own but what makes sense for a single home is likely to destroy confidence in the housing market in aggregate,” said Jafer Hasnain, Partner at Lifeline Assets.  “Housing distress needs a Michael Dell to think about streamlining process details, and a Steve Jobs to make it elegant and human.”

House prices fell again in October, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index.  The pipeline of delinquencies and future foreclosures is full, which continues to dim the prospects of a quick recovery.  Efforts so far, such as the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), have helped, but less than hoped.

According to the Federal Reserve, there are no simple answers, but it makes several suggestions that Congress should examine.  One is to encourage conversions from owner-occupied to rental because that market has strengthened in recent months: Rents have risen and vacancies have declined.  A faster conversion rate would hold down rents and ease the pressure of unsold homes on house prices. Fannie, Freddie and the Federal Housing Administration account for about 50 percent of the inventory of foreclosed properties.  Many of these are viable as rentals.  A government-sponsored foreclosure-to-rental program to clear away regulatory hurdles would make a big difference.

A second suggestion is to encourage refinancings.  The administration tweaked the existing HAMP program in October, easing some of the earlier restrictions on eligibility.  Even more could be done, according to the Fed.  One possibility involves the fees that lenders pay to Fannie and Freddie for assuming new risks when loans to distressed borrowers are refinanced. These charges could be cut or eliminated, even though Congress just voted to increase them to help pay for the payroll-tax extension.

Some institutional investors have shown interest in bulk REO deals, but the plan has to incorporate ways to help facilitate financing.  That has been one of the biggest barriers to deals already in the works between hedge funds and the major banks.  There is plenty of cash to buy properties, but creating a management structure for the rentals is costly, and some investors are finding the math doesn’t add up to make it worth their while.

Larger investors want to get real scale in any government program, in the range of 50, 100, 500 properties per deal, or $1 billion-plus in assets. That’s why the government is looking to test several different approaches.  Fannie Mae did a $50 million sale in June, although that was on the small side. Officials are evaluating what larger asset sales would look like.

“We expect several pilots that will involve both local investors and institutional investors. The goal here is to reduce supply by converting foreclosed homes into rental units,” says Jaret Seiberg of Guggenheim Securities. “Less supply – even less fear about a flood of foreclosed homes hitting the market – could stabilize (home) prices.”

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.”

Fed: Banks Easing Up on Credit to Hedge Funds

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

The Federal Reserve has obserFed:  Banks Easing Up on Credit to Hedge Fundsved that Wall Street’s big banks eased credit terms for hedge funds and private equity firms in the 4th quarter of 2010.   More banks believe that credit terms have “eased somewhat” than those that think it has “tightened somewhat” in the last three months of 2010, according to the Fed’s year-end financing survey.  Hedge funds and other investors worked harder to negotiate favorable terms for transactions; 55 percent of dealers responded that clients “increased somewhat” or “increased considerably” their requests for concessions.

According to the Fed, increased competition and general improvement in the market are the primary reasons that explain why the terms eased.  Fully 90 percent of survey respondents cited each factor as “very important” or “somewhat important” in easing their terms.  The Fed, which started the survey in response to the financial crisis, found that the results “highlighted that a significant volume of credit intermediation has moved outside of the traditional banking sector.”

More-aggressive competition from other institutions and an improvement in the current or expected financial strength of counterparties were frequently cited reasons for the easing of terms,” the Fed report said.   In addition, the banks surveyed said borrowers have increased efforts to negotiate better terms.  “Dealers also noted that demand for funding of all categories of securities covered in the survey had increased over the past three months, including demand for funding of equities,” the report said.

Financial Reform Forces Transformation on Alternative Investments

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Wall Street reform law places new restrictions on alternative investment companies.  The alternative investment management business will undergo major changes, thanks to passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Although no specific rules have yet been written, the Wall Street reform law could impact investment returns, leverage and risk-taking, innovation and transparency of private equity, real estate and hedge fund managers.

“This will change the way alternative investment businesses are run.  They will have to use more capital and less leverage and less risk-taking,” said Henry Kahn, partner in the law firm Hogan Lovells.  “This fundamentally changes what types of businesses financial services are in.”  The large financial services firms now must choose which lines of alternatives business they will keep and how they will be set up.  Smaller firms might have to deal with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) registration for the first time.  This will give the world – and regulators – an inside look at their investment strategies, which they do not welcome.

Investors are concerned that increased transparency and greater oversight by the SEC will make investment managers less willing to be innovative because their proprietary strategies will be open to review by regulators and their competitors.  According to Kahn, “Some large institutional clients are concerned that regulations will put additional costs on medium-size advisers and inhibit beneficial innovation in investing.”

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.

Volcker Rule Seeks to Regulate Financial Markets

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

President Obama’s proposed Volcker Rule financial regulation bill faces an uncertain future on Capitol Hill.  A draft of President Barack Obama’s financial reform legislation has been sent to Congress.  Dubbed the Volcker Rule in honor of the former Federal Reserve chairman’s  aggressive pursuit of these regulations, the five-page proposal will ban proprietary trading and mergers that give banks more than a 10 percent market share as measured by liabilities that are not insured deposits.  Passage of the bill would bar banks from owning or investing in private equity firms and hedge funds.

The rule, designed to reduce the possibility of another financial crisis, exempts mergers that exceed the market-share limit in instances where a firm takes over a failing bank so long as regulators approve.  Also exempted are trading in Treasury and agency securities, including debt issued by Ginnie Mae, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The legislation, which has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats, would reduce banks’ ability to take risks.  It is a reaction to the more than $1.7 trillion in writedowns and credit losses that followed the subprime mortgage meltdown in late 2007.  Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, prefers a five-year transition period rather than the two years suggested in the president’s proposal.

Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York says the exemptions may help avoid market disruptions that could impact small investors.  “The market is made up of many unseen hands with different objectives and investment horizons, and if you pull out the speculators making short-term bets, like prop trading banks, then” the individual investor is “going to be the one who suffers.”

Repealed Glass-Steagall Act Played a Role in Financial Meltdown

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Glass-Steagall repeal helped bring on the great recession.  When President Bill Clinton signed legislation to repeal the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, he handed Wall Street  a victory that likely contributed to the recent financial meltdown. Glass-Steagall’s repeal eliminated barriers between normal banking activities – deposits and lending – and riskier areas such as derivatives trading.

“The capital-market rules are going to change,” says Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company in New York.  “It’s going to be much more difficult to trade in the illiquid parts of the market” beyond corporate and government bonds, as well as to finance investments.

President Barack Obama is working with his advisors and Congress to fill the regulatory void that Glass-Steagall’s repeal left.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, now a financial advisor in the Obama administration, prefers a “two-tier” financial system that limits risk taking.  Current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has increased surveillance of the systemically important firms and believes that these companies require “especially close oversight.”

To quote then-candidate Obama in a spring of 2008 speech, “A regulatory structure set up for banks in the 1930s needed to change.  But by the time the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999, the $300 million lobbying effort that drove deregulation was more about facilitating mergers than creating an efficient regulatory framework.”

The result?  Commercial banks seeking to compete with investment banks took on significant trading risks and created off-balance-sheet financing methods to reduce the capital they required to avoid loan losses.  At the same time, investment banks started lending more aggressively to companies and increased their own borrowing to purchase securities or real estate.

All that has occurred clearly demonstrates the need for effective new regulation.

Michael Jackson’s Finances Illustrate Investor Over-exuberance

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

The tragic death of the “King of Pop” provides an interesting insight into how hedge funds and private equity groups buy loans  in anticipation of future earnings. Michael Jackson made real money during his 40 years as an entertainer; unfortunately, he also lost a lot of money, especially over the last 10 years.1df5e0555199fd3d53bd84a1e6ab4

Reports are that Jackson died $500 million in debt.  The crushing debt-service payments – combined with losses totaling millions, due to bad investments and money spent to finance his lifestyle – wiped out his fortune and he ended up in hot water with private equity creditors (it should be noted that Jackson was an extraordinary philanthropist, donating $300 million to a multitude of charities during his career.)

In 2003, Fortress Investment Group purchased some of Jackson’s loans from the Bank of America.  Jackson’s failure to repay caused Fortress to threaten to call in the loans.  Citigroup rode to the rescue and refinanced $300 million of Jackson’s debt.  After he fell behind on payments, Fortress moved to foreclose on the Neverland Ranch.  Yet another potential savior – Colony Capital – purchased his loans from Fortress and created a joint venture with Jackson to purchase Neverland for $22 million and renovate it for sale.  Colony was also backing Jackson’s 50-concert London comeback which had $85 million in sold-out ticket sales at the time of his death.  Clearly, Jackson’s brand was perceived to be so valuable (he sold 750 million albums during his career) that the assumption of risk was deemed to be worth it.

Dr. Geithner’s Harsh Medicine

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

The Obama administration has proposed the most comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s financial industry since the Great Depression.  The measures, as outlined by Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, geithnerwill require regulation of hedge funds for the first time and give government wide-ranging powers to seize and take apart companies that are perceived as threats to the overall economy.  The proposals are strong medicine indeed.

The measures, which require Congressional approval, are structured to entice private buyers by offering the similar supercharged leverage that prevailed during the financial boom-but one where oversight is de rigueur.   While the private sector is cutting back on its debt, the government believes that providing inexpensive financing is the best way to free up the market for illiquid debt.

The proposals give the Federal Reserve the authority to oversee the nation’s economy for signs of “systemic risk”.  The legislation will include significantly stronger requirements regarding the cash reserves and assets that institutions must have on hand to endure economic downturns.  Hedge funds, private-equity firms, derivatives and other private investment funds will be required to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and will be subject to strict regulation.  Additionally, the government will establish a central clearinghouse to closely monitor trades in these markets.  Lastly, the administration will develop stricter requirements for money market funds so withdrawals don’t threaten the broader financial system.

Harsh medicine indeed, but the old system failed us all.  Secretary Geithner sees his proposals as a price worth paying to clean out banks’ balance sheets.  If the plan fails, it will be because banks were not willing to risk of taking a write-down and depleting precious capital.