March 13, 2008

There was a very gratifying article about the lopsided (disfunctional?) CDS Market today in the Financial Times reprinted by Naked Capitalism:

“The credit default swap market has become lopsided,” says Peter Fisher, co-head of fixed income at BlackRock Financial Management in New York. “It’s not deep and liquid the way we normally think of that — it’s more like an insurance market in which few want to write insurance and many want to buy.”

In a normal world or in a world where the derivative is closely tied to the underlying cash security, if the price of the derivative became utterly divorced, market operators would step in to trade away the difference, Mr Fisher adds.

But volumes in the credit derivatives market exploded precisely because most of the bonds hardly trade at all. At Goldman Sachs, for example, for every three dollars of trading in bonds, the firm trades $97 in credit default swaps.

As I mused on February 21:

Despite my interest in the asset class, I’m not convinced that the CDS market is ready for prime time. If their main attraction is the ability to lever up a portfolio significantly, then a huge degree of uncertainty is introduced into pricing, in addition to the uncertainty introduced by debt decoupling. I continue to wrestle with the idea, but these twin, undiversifiable uncertainties probably introduce a required risk premium that makes inclusion of these instruments, long or short, in a fixed income portfolio uneconomic.

Treasury Secretary Paulson has announced an initiative to make everybody feel good:

The group also will propose directing credit-rating firms and regulators to differentiate between ratings on complex structured products and conventional bonds. In addition, it wants rating firms to disclose conflicts of interest and details of their reviews and to heighten scrutiny of outfits that originate loans that are enveloped by various securities.

Mr. Paulson also is planning to encourage the development of a domestic market for “covered bonds,” bonds issued by banks that are secured by mortgages. Popular in Europe, these could be an alternative to securitization. When mortgages are securitized, they generally leave bank balance sheets and banks don’t hold capital against them; covered bonds remain on bank books, and banks must set aside capital to back them.

Covered bonds will be familiar to PrefBlog’s Assiduous Readers. The separate credit rating scale for structured securities is cosmetic nonsense and simply represents more political interference with credit ratings. “Don’t downgrade XYZ, it’s a big employer in my district!”.

In yet another disturbing development, it is felt that indices might attract shorts, therefore don’t have indices:

Markit Group Ltd. shelved plans to create an index that would have allowed investors to bet on the $200 billion market for securities backed by auto loans.

Markit Director Ben Logan confirmed the index was put on hold because of a lack of support from dealers.

The decision follows criticism from analysts at Merrill Lynch & Co. and Wachovia Corp., who said the index would drive down prices of the underlying bonds. Markit had been in talks with firms including Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Morgan Stanley, and Bear Stearns Cos. to create and index allowing investors to speculate on auto-loan securities from issuers such as Detroit-based GMAC LLC and Ford Motor Credit Co.

In happier news, S&P opines that the worst of the write-downs is over:

Standard & Poor’s said the end is in sight for subprime-mortgage writedowns by the world’s financial institutions.

Writedowns from subprime securities will probably rise to $285 billion, New York-based S&P said today in a report. The ratings company previously estimated losses of $265 billion in January. S&P raised its estimate because of increased loss assumptions for collateralized debt obligations.

“The positive news is that, in our opinion, the global financial sector appears to have already disclosed the majority of valuation writedowns” on subprime debt, S&P credit analyst Scott Bugie said in an accompanying statement. Losses on other debt such as leveraged loans are still likely to increase, the report said.

The actual report is available from S&P – thanks to Accrued Interest, who found the link and commented on the implications:

Anyway, so people love to talk about what inning we’re in when it comes to the subprime crisis. But let’s be more positive about it, shall we? We’re in the first inning of the healing process. The subprime contagion has decimated broker/dealer capital. That phase is probably wrapping up.

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney gave a speech today that was also soothing in its message:

some of the world’s largest financial institutions have recorded substantial losses, the cost of borrowing has increased, and the availability of credit has decreased. More than seven months on, the end is not yet in sight, although it is safe to say that we have reached the end of the beginning of this turmoil. This is not because the dislocations in markets have eased; in fact, strains in financial markets have intensified recently, but rather because we are entering a new phase where policy-makers and market participants have a better understanding of both the shortcomings in the current financial system and what needs to be done – by both groups – to address them.

Mr. Carney gave some very strong indications of his desires for financial market reforms going forward; the speech is important enough that I will attempt to review it thoroughly tomorrow.

The preferred market was weak again on more light volume, with the general malaise resulting in some violent pricing moves when some players absolutely had to get some selling done (RY.PR.F was particularly noteworthy). The PerpetualDiscount index has had only one up-day in the twelve trading days following February 26 and is currently down 2.78% from its 2/26 level.

Note that these indices are experimental; the absolute and relative daily values are expected to change in the final version. In this version, index values are based at 1,000.0 on 2006-6-30
Index Mean Current Yield (at bid) Mean YTW Mean Average Trading Value Mean Mod Dur (YTW) Issues Day’s Perf. Index Value
Ratchet 5.43% 5.44% 32,740 14.74 2 +0.3881% 1,098.7
Fixed-Floater 4.76% 5.54% 63,455 14.82 8 -0.0337% 1,044.7
Floater 4.79% 4.79% 83,603 15.91 2 +0.0786% 867.7
Op. Retract 4.85% 3.40% 75,093 2.92 15 -0.1054% 1,043.7
Split-Share 5.37% 5.90% 96,501 4.16 14 +0.0806% 1,025.9
Interest Bearing 6.20% 6.68% 68,635 4.22 3 -0.8349% 1,081.3
Perpetual-Premium 5.77% 5.54% 272,225 8.47 17 -0.1301% 1,021.5
Perpetual-Discount 5.51% 5.56% 309,901 14.55 52 -0.5518% 936.1
Major Price Changes
Issue Index Change Notes
ELF.PR.F PerpetualDiscount -3.6364% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.37% based on a bid of 21.20 and a limitMaturity. No news that I can see!
ELF.PR.G PerpetualDiscount -2.6933% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.20% based on a bid of 19.51 and a limitMaturity.
HSB.PR.C PerpetualDiscount -2.6392% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.41% based on a bid of 23.61 and a limitMaturity.
RY.PR.F PerpetualDiscount -2.3697% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.46% based on a bid of 20.60 and a limitMaturity. 
BSD.PR.A InterestBearing -2.0812% Asset coverage of 1.6+:1 as of March 7, according to Brookfield Funds. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 7.13% (mostly as interest) based on a bid of 9.41 and a hardMaturity 2015-3-31 at 10.00.
FTU.PR.A SplitShare -1.8743% Asset coverage of just under 1.5:1 as of March 6, according to the company. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 8.20% based on a bid of 8.90 and a hardMaturity 2012-12-1 at 10.00.
CM.PR.I PerpetualDiscount -1.7065% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.92% based on a bid of 20.16 and a limitMaturity.
CM.PR.G PerpetualDiscount -1.4894% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.92% based on a bid of 23.15 and a limitMaturity.
BAM.PR.G FixFloat -1.3615%  
CM.PR.J PerpetualDiscount -1.2942% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.76% based on a bid of 19.83 and a limitMaturity.
W.PR.H PerpetualDiscount -1.2778% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.78% based on a bid of 23.95 and a limitMaturity.
CIU.PR.A PerpetualDiscount -1.1765% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.53% based on a bid of 21.00 and a limitMaturity.
BNS.PR.M PerpetualDiscount -1.1715% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.41% based on a bid of 21.09 and a limitMaturity.
RY.PR.W PerpetualDiscount -1.1154% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.36% based on a bid of 23.05 and a limitMaturity.
BNS.PR.K PerpetualDiscount -1.0426% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.34% based on a bid of 22.78 and a limitMaturity.
MFC.PR.C PerpetualDiscount +1.1494% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.13% based on a bid of 22.00 and a limitMaturity.
FFN.PR.A SplitShare +1.8614% Asset coverage of just under 2.0:1 as of February 29, according to the company. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.59% based on a bid of 9.85 and a hardMaturity 2014-12-1 at 10.00.
BNA.PR.B SplitShare +2.0000% Asset coverage of 3.3+:1 as of January 31, according to the company. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 8.18% based on a bid of 20.40 and a hardMaturity 2016-3-25 at 25.00. Compare with BNA.PR.A (5.89% to hardMaturity 2010-9-30) and BNA.PR.C (7.23% to hardMaturity 2019-1-10).
Volume Highlights
Issue Index Volume Notes
TD.PR.R PerpetualDiscount 160,880 Recent new issue. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.65% based on a bid of 24.90 and a limitMaturity.
SLF.PR.E PerpetualDiscount 59,800 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.32% based on a bid of 21.20 and a limitMaturity.
PWF.PR.H PerpetualPremium 30,650 Nesbitt crossed 25,000 at 25.05. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.82% based on a bid of 25.00 and a limitMaturity.
BNS.PR.O PerpetualPremium 23,600 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.65% based on a bid of 25.10 and a limitMaturity.
RY.PR.F PerpetualDiscount 21,373 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW 5.46% based on a bid of 20.60 and a limitMaturity.

There were nine other index-included $25-pv-equivalent issues trading over 10,000 shares today.

One Response to “March 13, 2008”

  1. […] As I indicated on March 13, BoC Governor Mark Carney has delivered a speech reviewing the credit mess and “corresponding priorities for the official sector and market participants”. He commences: The social and economic costs of the events in the subprime market are concentrated in the United States, while the financial costs are both widely dispersed and – relative to the scale of the system – readily absorbable. In short, as painful as they are to those affected, subprime losses have been important primarily because they have revealed deeper flaws in the financial system. While a number of underlying causes can be identified, I will concentrate on three in particular. […]

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