September 9, 2008

In the wake of the Fannie & Freddie rescue comes the news that CDSs on Treasuries are rising:

Contracts on U.S. government debt increased 3.5 basis points to a record 18 basis points, up from 6 basis points in April, according to CMA Datavision prices for five-year credit-default swaps at 4 p.m. in London. Credit-default swaps on German government bonds cost 8 basis points and Japanese bonds 16.5 basis points.

I’m not sure what constitutes a “credit event” under these swaps.

The article makes another point that is being lost amidst the hand-wringing:

The U.S. budget deficit will grow next year to $438 billion, the Congressional Budget Office said today, making it harder for President George W. Bush’s successor to either cut taxes or increase spending.

The CBO Report states:

CBO expects the deficit to rise from 1.2 percent of GDP in 2007 to 2.9 percent this year (see Summary Table 1). The significant expansion in the deficit is the result of a substantial increase in spending and a halt in the growth of tax revenues. In 2008, CBO estimates, federal spending will be 8.3 percent higher than in 2007; at the same time, total revenues will probably be less than they were in 2007.

The CBO Report Web-Page has links to various tables and supporting/extracted data … and even to the CBO Director’s Blog! Geez, you know, my respect for American institutions has been monotonically increasing for the last twenty years, at least. They do things so well there! Too bad their politics is so … um … well, what with the deficit being up so much, maybe it’s time to cut taxes again!

Anyway … my point is: even if Poole’s estimate of $300-billion in Fannie/Freddie costs is correct, that’s still less than a bad year’s deficit. Armageddon is only one year closer. As I have said before, the US will eventually hit the wall on debt, just the way Canada hit the wall in 1994. Hitting the wall caused Canadians fiscal pain, but we got out from under the monster and are now pillars of fiscal rectitude – even with “What debt?” Harper in command. Old what-debt’s policies are indicative of a weakening of resolve, but I wouldn’t have expected 1994’s dose of reality to last more than 20 years anyway; but the point is that the US will eventually hit the wall, raise taxes, cut spending, get their house in order and move on.

I was pleased when Treasury took my advice regarding the structuring of the GSE rescue, but they didn’t follow my instructions of September 5:

I continue to feel that nothing should happen until the GSEs either fall below their regulatory minimum capital (a la IndyMac), or become unable to finance themselves in a normal commercial manner (a la Bear Stearns).

Any GSE bail-out will be politically divisive enough; to take action before the last minute will simply exacerbate the attention paid to side issues while increasing the potential for future moral hazard without providing a solution that is necessarily any more effective.

Instead, they went ahead when it was still possible to argue the companies could survive on a stand-alone basis. So now the squabbling over side issues has started:

Senator Jim Bunning said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, by rescuing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is acting like China’s finance minister and both Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke should step down.

“We no longer have a free market in the United States, we have a government controlled free market,” Bunning said in an interview. Paulson, a former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., “is acting like the minister of finance in China.”

So now we’re headed for twenty years’ worth of idealogical bickering, instead of concentrating on what constitutes – or should constitute – 90% of government business: What’s gonna work best?

Naked Capitalism reprints an opinion piece by Ken Rogoff:

If central banks are faced with a massive hit to their balance sheets, it will not necessarily be the end of the world. It has happened before – for example, during the financial crises of the 1990s. But history suggests that fixing a central bank’s balance sheet is never pleasant. Faced with credit losses, a central bank can either dig its way out through inflation or await recapitalisation by taxpayers. Both solutions are extremely traumatic.

Raging inflation causes all kinds of distortions and inefficiencies. (And don’t think central banks have ruled out the inflation tax. In fact, inflation has spiked during the past year, conveniently facilitating a necessary correction in the real price of houses.) Taxpayer bailouts, on the other hand, are seldom smooth and inevitably compromise central bank independence.

Well, there is one other solution, technically. If you want to spend money you can:

  • Tax it
  • Print it
  • Borrow it

After a period of massive expansion during which the financial services sector nearly doubled in size, some retrenchment is natural and normal. The sub-prime mortgage loan problem triggered a drop in some financial institutions’ key lines of business, particularly their opaque but extremely profitable derivatives businesses. Some shrinkage of the industry is inevitable. Central banks have to start fostering consolidation, rather than indiscriminately extending credit.

Quite true – as was first stated by Bagehot. As the turmoil decreases, the central banks should be tightening the screws, with the “penalty rate” on discount-window (including the new menagerie of special facilities) becoming more penalizing. I don’t think we’re there yet … but I suggest that bank investors should be keeping a sharp eye on their ratios and favouring banks that have, or a building up, large war chests for acquisitions in the coming buyers’ market.

As it is, shareholders are being punished in the usual fashion – huge dilution, unrealized capital losses, lower dividend expectations – and it’s only a matter of degree. It seems to me that Lehmann shareholders aren’t exchanging high-fives about putting one over the authorities:

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. fell as much as 43 percent in New York trading after talks about a capital infusion from Korea Development Bank ended. The Wall Street firm is continuing to negotiate with other potential investors, a person briefed on the matter said.

The lack of a deal “is depressing shareholders and infuriating insiders,” said Richard Bove, an analyst at Ladenburg Thalmann & Co., in a report today. The bank “refuses to take what it believes are fire-sale prices for its key assets,” he said.

In the Everything Bad Always Happens at the Worst Time Department, we have issuer-side damage estimates from the Auction Rate Securities mess:

The collapse of the market for auction-rate bonds put New York state in the same position as millions of homeowners whose adjustable-rate mortgages reset: It wanted to refinance.

The state had $4 billion in debt with interest rates, set in periodic auctions, that soared as high as 14.2 percent after bidders vanished in February. That was more than triple the January average. The cost to taxpayers rose even more when the state’s first option, replacing auction-rate debt with variable- rate bonds, wasn’t available for the full amount.

Taxpayers and not-for-profit institutions across the U.S. are on the hook for the same kinds of fees and added interest as New York. The bill for replacing the $166 billion in auction- rate debt may top $7 billion, not counting extra interest, based on New York’s expenses. Most of that money is going to the same banks that created and controlled the auction market.

“It’s unfortunate that borrowing costs will rise at the very time the state plans to increase bond sales and the budget is under stress,” said Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director at the Citizens Budget Commission in New York, a business-funded group that monitors state and city fiscal issues.

PerpetualDiscounts were down a tad on the day, but nobody noticed since Energy & Materials equities got slaughtered. The fund is doing quite well, solidly positive on the month to date and handsomely outperforming CPD … which I use as a handy external benchmark.

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.
The Fixed-Reset index was added effective 2008-9-5 at that day’s closing value of 1,119.4 for the Fixed-Floater index.
Index Mean Current Yield (at bid) Mean YTW Mean Average Trading Value Mean Mod Dur (YTW) Issues Day’s Perf. Index Value
Ratchet N/A N/A N/A N/A 0 N/A N/A
Fixed-Floater 4.59% 4.60% 65,106 16.02 6 -0.3942% 1,115.2
Floater 4.36% 4.42% 50,312 16.48 2 +0.0525% 902.9
Op. Retract 4.93% 4.31% 127,523 3.25 14 +0.0992% 1,054.6
Split-Share 5.33% 5.84% 50,941 4.33 14 -0.1975% 1,046.1
Interest Bearing 6.41% 7.14% 53,419 5.20 2 -0.4652% 1,101.3
Perpetual-Premium 6.16% 5.51% 58,299 2.22 1 -0.1968% 1,006.9
Perpetual-Discount 6.02% 6.10% 187,131 13.74 70 -0.0811% 883.6
Fixed-Reset 5.04% 4.87% 1,108,592 13.86 7 +0.0134% 1,117.7
Major Price Changes
Issue Index Change Notes
GWO.PR.I PerpetualDiscount -2.0063% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.08% based on a bid of 18.56 and a limitMaturity.
MFC.PR.C PerpetualDiscount -1.9707% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.83% based on a bid of 19.40 and a limitMaturity.
PWF.PR.E PerpetualDiscount -1.7896% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.18% based on a bid of 22.50 and a limitMaturity.
SLF.PR.C PerpetualDiscount -1.3249% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.00% based on a bid of 18.62 and a limitMaturity.
SBC.PR.A SplitShare -1.2733% Asset coverage of 2.0+:1 as of September 4, according to Brompton Group. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.28% based on a bid of 10.08 and a hardMaturity 2012-11-30 at 10.00.
BSD.PR.A InterestBearing -1.0917% Asset coverage of just under 1.6:1 as of September 5, according to Brookfield Funds. Bet it’s less now – they have lots of energy! Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 7.91% based on a bid of 9.06 and a hardMaturity 2015-3-31 at 10.00.
CM.PR.D PerpetualDiscount +1.7473% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.43% based on a bid of 22.71 and a limitMaturity.
Volume Highlights
Issue Index Volume Notes
BNS.PR.R Fixed-Reset 782,940 New issue settled today. Seventeen blocks changed hands and I’m not going to list them all. The two largest were National Bank, crossing 135,000 at 24.99 and Nesbitt crossing 100,000 at 24.94.
RY.PR.G PerpetualDiscount 232,171 CIBC crossed 148,000 at 18.92, then 52,000 at the same price. Almost certainly related to the trades in RY.PR.B, below. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.01% based on a bid of 18.91 and a limitMaturity.
RY.PR.B PerpetualDiscount 206,000 CIBC crossed 148,000 at 19.65 and 51,800 at the same price. Almost certainly related to the trades in RY.PR.G, above. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.03% based on a bid of 19.70 and a limitMaturity.
L.PR.A Scraps (would be OpRet, but there are credit concerns) 105,903 CIBC bought 10,000 from TD at 22.35 and 14,700 from anonymous at the same price. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 8.30% based on a bid of 22.37 and a softMaturity 2015-7-30 at 25.00. Assiduous Reader adrian2 gets his wish and the Loblaws issue – very poorly received when issued in June – makes it on the board (again!) despite its less-than-stellar credit. After two-plus months of trying, the underwriters have found a level where this thing will sell … and that they’re under the gun to get it off the shelf well before bank year end in October.
BAM.PR.O OpRet 53,220 RBC crossed 25,000 at 22.90. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 7.41% based on a bid of 22.91 and optionCertainty 2013-6-30 at 25.00. Compare with BAM.PR.H (6.25% to 2012-3-30), BAM.PR.I (5.42% to 2013-12-30) and BAM.PR.J (6.36% to 2018-3-30) … well … looks to me like they finally found their level and this is the inventory blow-out special!
RY.PR.C PerpetualDiscount 36,700 RBC crossed 25,000 at 19.25. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.03% based on a bid of 19.28 and a limitMaturity.

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

2 Responses to “September 9, 2008”

  1. lystgl says:

    Fearless prediction on who’s next on the nationalization list.
    Lehman will announce that all’s good Wednesday and by week’s end it will be toast. Then again, what do I know?

  2. jiHymas says:

    I won’t say you’re wrong!

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