July 26, 2010

Senator Phil Grassley, well known for his eagerness to support legislated subsidies for Alternative Fool lobbyists, does some more grandstanding with his questions regarding the Goldman-AIG pseudo-scandal:

The fifth largest amount listed is about $175 million that Lehman Brothers would have owed Goldman Sachs on CDS protection. However, given Lehman’s financial position at the time (September 15, 2008), isn’t it true that the real value of this hedge to Goldman would have been much less than $175 million? Wouldn’t it have only been worth the approximate value of any collateral that Lehman had already posted to Goldman up to that date?

2. Similarly, is it possible that financial health of the other institutions on the list may have prevented them from being able to pay Goldman in the event of an AIG default? Does this undermine Goldman’s claim that it was “fully collateralized and hedged” with regard to the risk of an AIG default, and thus demonstrate that Goldman did, in fact, receive a direct benefit from the government’s assistance to AIG?

3. Will the Panel be seeking additional details about these transactions in order evaluate Goldman’s claim to have been indifferent to whether AIG went bankrupt? If so, please describe the scope of your additional requests and inform the Committee if you do not receive complete cooperation.

In other words … ‘I don’t care whether you’ve got battery back-up, a fuel generator and three month’s worth of diesel stockpiled! Is it not true that in the event of the complete collapse of civilization, your electricity supply will fail to function?’

Attachment 1 (“Confidential Treatment requested by Goldman Sachs”) shows that Goldman bought a net value of USD 1.7-billion in CDSs on AIG. Canadian entries are Royal Bank (London Branch) $76-million; BNS, $36-million; BMO (London), $25-million; BMO (Chicago), $18-million; and Royal Bank [$43-million] [sold to] – that’s a net of about $100-million from Canadian banks. Naturally, there is no way of telling whether these positions were laid off against other investors.

Attachment 2 (“Confidential Treatment requested by Goldman Sachs”) shows the collateral shortfall on Goldman’s AIG deals – total of about $1.3-billion. So they were, it appears, over-hedged.

Despite all this, various analysts are still pointing out that Goldman would have lost money had an AIG bankruptcy coincided with a giant asteroid hitting New York City:

Joshua Rosner, an analyst at research firm Graham Fisher & Co. in New York, said the list of counterparties indicates that Goldman Sachs may have had difficulty collecting on those swaps.

“Clearly Goldman’s calculation was more tied to their expectation of the political dynamics of forcing moral hazard than the fundamental realities of the financial strength of counterparties,” Rosner said.

“The financial institutions from whom we purchased protection were required to post collateral to settle their net exposure to us on a daily basis,” Lucas van Praag, a spokesman for New York-based Goldman Sachs, said yesterday. “A default by any particular counterparty would not reduce the effectiveness of a hedge provided by that entity if adequate collateral had already been posted. This was the case with the protection we bought, even during the most stressed periods of the fall of 2008.”

“There’s a question about Citigroup’s ability to pay Goldman if AIG failed, given it had major problems,” said Ed Grebeck, CEO of Stamford, Connecticut-based debt-consulting firm Tempus Advisors and an instructor on derivatives at New York University.

The document shows only the “notional” amount of money Goldman Sachs was owed by its counterparties, Cambridge Winter’s Date said. The firm is likely to have written down the value of at least some of the protection, he said.

Goldman Sachs “should have been haircutting the valuation of that protection pretty significantly as the viability of those firms looked more and more suspect,” Date said.

At least Goldman’s won something – the anti-Goldmanites have shifted their position from ‘an AIG bankruptcy would have killed Goldman’ to ‘an AIG bankruptcy and the simultaneous collapse of more than one other major global financial institution would have killed Goldman, provided they’re lying about the collateral, and even if they’re not lying about the collateral it was probably junk anyway.’

I once did some career mentoring for a young and idealistic high school student who wanted to get into the business – it was probably one of the most cynical mentoring sessions ever presented. But, for free, gratis and for nothing I will present to other idealists the lesson behind the Goldman debate: DON’T GIVE A SHIT AND DON’T EVER BOTHER DOING ANYTHING RIGHT. Goldman’s taking more grief for competently managing their AIG exposure than any of the clown-firms is taking for reckless idiocy.

But then … politicians across North America have shown a breathtaking disregard for creditors rights throughout this crisis – as best exemplified by the General Motors leapfrogging discussed on June 9, 2009. And if you have no rights, why would you want to protect them? The lunatic fringe even turns Goldman’s insistence on collateral into evidence of a dark plot:

Goldman wanted their counterparties to post collateral so they would have protection against corporate downgrades. The monolines refused to have collateral posting requirements in their CDS contracts. The rating agencies supported them in this position on the argument that maintaining their AAA rating was “fundamental to their business”.

AIG, on the other hand, agreed to collateral posting requirements. in fact, they used this as a competitive advantage – they got more business because of it and marketed their flexibility on this issue to the banks.

All of the other banks got comfortable with the monolines not having to post collateral for CDS trades because of their AAA ratings. Goldman never did.

Of course, Goldman was one of the few banks that clearly set out to profit from shorting CDOs. They obviously realized that if their CDS counterparty was on the hook for a lot of ABS CDOs that were going to blow up, the insurance provider would likely get downgraded. If the downgrade of the insurer was very likely, the only way the short-CDO strategy worked was if the insurer would post collateral.

So Goldman only used AIG, who would provide protection against their downgrade, which Goldman knew would happen because they were stuffing AIG with toxic ABS CDOs.

I hate to get sucked into the vampire squid line of thinking about Goldman, but the only explanation i can think of for why AIG got rescued and the monolines did not is because Goldman had significant exposure to AIG and did not have exposure to the monolines.

I spent a little time looking into the woes of CalPERS after reading a brief mention in the Economist:

That [range of benefits improvements], however, is not what outrages Mr Schwarzenegger, a Republican, or his brainy economic adviser David Crane, a Democrat. Rather, it is that the pension plans—above all the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest such scheme in America—pretended that this generosity would not cost anything. In 1999 the dotcom bubble was still inflating, and the plans’ actuaries predicted that their retirement funds would gain enough value to pay the increased pensions. By implication, they assumed that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would reach 25,000 in 2009 and 28m in 2099. It is currently at around 10,300.

Remember, CalPERS is the enormous pension fund that don’t do their own credit analysis. In 1999…:

According to CaLPERS, employer retirement costs have been declining over the last 10 years as the result of significant investment returns and changes in actuarial assumptions. The members and retirees of CaLPERS have not benefited from these returns. As a result, CaLPERS contends that the new retirement formulas provided by this bill mark the first significant improvement in retirement benefits for most state and school members’ in approximately 30 years. It is anticipated that the increase in liability for these new benefits can be funded by the excess retirement assets that have been generated through investment income and changes in actuarial assumptions resulting in no immediate increase in costs to the employer.

2001 Actuarial assumptions of net investment returns between 7.50% and 8.25%. Current assumptions are:

Critics who argue that the current level of retirement benefits are “unsustainable” and should be reduced for new hires say CalPERS is too optimistic about its expected investment earnings, an annual average of 7.75 percent.

Among the experts who think average earnings will be less than 7.75 percent in the years ahead is Laurence Fink, chairman of BlackRock, the world’s largest money managing firm, who spoke to the CalPERS board last summer.

The CalPERS chief investment officer, Joe Dear, addressed the earnings issue last week during his monthly report to the board. He said 5.25 percent of the earnings assumption is “real” and 2.5 percent is inflation.

Dear said the 7.75 percent earnings assumption is below the national average for pension funds, 8 percent, and below the earnings average of CalPERS during the last two decades, 7.9 percent.

He said CalPERS believes, among other things, that stocks will yield 3 to 4 percent more on average than bonds and that private equity investments will average 3 percent more than domestic stocks.

Comrade Peace Prize is seeking to distort the economy even more:

President Barack Obama is on the verge of creating as much as $300 billion in credit for small businesses as bankers raise doubt about whether there’s demand for new loans and how much will be repaid.

The U.S. Senate may vote this week on a bill to funnel $30 billion of capital to community banks, whose business customers typically are small firms. Banks could leverage the sum to make $300 billion in loans that create jobs, according to a Senate summary. That could more than double the commercial and industrial loans at eligible banks as of the first quarter, according to data compiled by KBW Inc.

Bankers say the problem isn’t scarce credit, it’s lack of demand from creditworthy firms in a weak economy.

Banks will be charged an initial interest rate of 5 percent, declining to 1 percent if they increase small-business loans or rising as high as 7 percent if the loans stay the same or decrease, according to Richard Carbo, spokesman for the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship committee.

Wells Fargo & Co., which says it’s the biggest small- business lender, is “sitting here with tons of liquidity and we’re marching double time in search of more loans,” Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf said in an interview. “In most cases when I hear stories about small businesses not getting loans, it’s the case that more credit will not help them. They need more equity, they need more profitability.”

Interesting paper from the FRB-Boston Public Policy series by Scott Schuh, Oz Shy, and Joanna Stavins, Who Gains and Who Loses from Credit Card Payments? Theory and Calibrations:

Merchant fees and reward programs generate an implicit monetary transfer to credit card users from non-card (or “cash”) users because merchants generally do not set differential prices for card users to recoup the costs of fees and rewards. On average, each cash- using household pays $151 to card-using households and each card-using household receives $1,482 from cash users every year. Because credit card spending and rewards are positively correlated with household income, the payment instrument transfer also induces a regressive transfer from low-income to high-income households in general. On average, and after accounting for rewards paid to households by banks, the lowest-income household ($20,000 or less annually) pays $23 and the highest-income household ($150,000 or more annually) receives $756 every year. We build and calibrate a model of consumer payment choice to compute the effects of merchant fees and card rewards on consumer welfare. Reducing merchant fees and card rewards would likely increase consumer welfare.

I was surprised by the following:

The limited available data suggest that a reasonable, but very rough, estimate of the per-dollar merchant effort of handling cash is  = 0:5 percent. Available data suggest that a reasonable estimate of the merchant fee across all types of cards, weighted by card use, is  = 2 percent.

I would have thought cash handling costs would be higher – particularly for high-cash operations, such as grocery stores – given bank charges for cash deposits, security on cash movements, employee theft and bookkeeping problems. The footnote reads:

Garcia-Swartz, Hahn, and Layne-Farrar (2006) report that the marginal cost of processing a $54.24 transaction (the average check transaction) is $0.43 (or 0.8 percent) if it is a cash transaction and $1.22 (or 2.25 percent) if it is paid by a credit/charge card. The study by Bergman, Guibourg, and Segendorf (2007) for Sweden found that the total private costs incurred by the retail sector from handling 235 billion Swedish Crown (SEK) worth of transactions was 3.68 billion SEK in 2002, which would put our measure of cash handling costs at  = 1:6 percent. For the Norwegian payment system, Gresvik and Haare (2009) estimates that private costs of handling 62.1 billion Norwegian Crown (NOK) worth of cash transactions incurred by the retailers was 0.322 billion NOK in 2007, which would imply  = 0:5 percent.

Fed Governor Tarullo doesn’t think we’ll see contingent capital any time soon:

The Basel Committee has a number of initiatives and work programs related to capital requirements that go beyond the package of measures that we expect to be completed by the fall. These efforts include, among others, ideas for countercyclical capital buffers, contingent capital, and development of a metric for capital charges tied to systemic risk. Each of these ideas has considerable conceptual appeal, but some of the difficulties encountered in translating the ideas into practical rules mean that work on them is likely to continue into next year.

The BIS proposal for countercyclical buffers was discussed on July 19.

There was relaxed volume in the Canadian preferred share market today, as PerpetualDiscounts gained 16bp and FixedResets lost 4bp, taking the median weighted-average yield on the latter class back above the magic 3.5% figure. Not much volatility.

HIMIPref™ Preferred Indices
These values reflect the December 2008 revision of the HIMIPref™ Indices

Values are provisional and are finalized monthly
Index Mean
(at bid)
Mod Dur
Issues Day’s Perf. Index Value
Ratchet 2.85 % 2.94 % 22,701 20.17 1 0.0000 % 2,073.2
FixedFloater 0.00 % 0.00 % 0 0.00 0 -0.0392 % 3,151.3
Floater 2.51 % 2.15 % 41,731 21.98 4 -0.0392 % 2,246.1
OpRet 4.88 % -1.20 % 95,895 0.08 11 -0.1307 % 2,340.9
SplitShare 6.27 % 6.18 % 71,398 3.40 2 0.2817 % 2,213.1
Interest-Bearing 0.00 % 0.00 % 0 0.00 0 -0.1307 % 2,140.6
Perpetual-Premium 5.91 % 5.58 % 139,699 5.62 4 -0.1472 % 1,938.9
Perpetual-Discount 5.83 % 5.89 % 181,866 14.00 73 0.1562 % 1,858.5
FixedReset 5.32 % 3.52 % 324,672 3.44 47 -0.0395 % 2,222.9
Performance Highlights
Issue Index Change Notes
BNS.PR.O Perpetual-Discount -2.54 % YTW SCENARIO
Maturity Type : Limit Maturity
Maturity Date : 2040-07-26
Maturity Price : 23.99
Evaluated at bid price : 24.20
Bid-YTW : 5.81 %
CIU.PR.A Perpetual-Discount -1.60 % YTW SCENARIO
Maturity Type : Limit Maturity
Maturity Date : 2040-07-26
Maturity Price : 19.69
Evaluated at bid price : 19.69
Bid-YTW : 5.95 %
IAG.PR.A Perpetual-Discount 1.24 % YTW SCENARIO
Maturity Type : Limit Maturity
Maturity Date : 2040-07-26
Maturity Price : 19.62
Evaluated at bid price : 19.62
Bid-YTW : 5.93 %
Volume Highlights
Issue Index Shares
MFC.PR.E FixedReset 84,500 RBC crossed 15,000 at 26.85; National crossed 25,000 at 26.88; Scotia crossed 37,500 at 26.85.
Maturity Type : Call
Maturity Date : 2014-10-19
Maturity Price : 25.00
Evaluated at bid price : 26.90
Bid-YTW : 3.81 %
TRP.PR.A FixedReset 47,550 RBC crossed 15,000 at 25.70.
Maturity Type : Call
Maturity Date : 2015-01-30
Maturity Price : 25.00
Evaluated at bid price : 25.68
Bid-YTW : 4.04 %
TD.PR.O Perpetual-Discount 24,640 YTW SCENARIO
Maturity Type : Limit Maturity
Maturity Date : 2040-07-26
Maturity Price : 21.59
Evaluated at bid price : 21.59
Bid-YTW : 5.65 %
TRP.PR.C FixedReset 21,000 Recent new issue.
Maturity Type : Limit Maturity
Maturity Date : 2040-07-26
Maturity Price : 23.19
Evaluated at bid price : 25.20
Bid-YTW : 3.95 %
BNS.PR.Y FixedReset 19,502 YTW SCENARIO
Maturity Type : Limit Maturity
Maturity Date : 2040-07-26
Maturity Price : 24.75
Evaluated at bid price : 24.80
Bid-YTW : 3.57 %
BNS.PR.N Perpetual-Discount 18,384 National crossed 10,000 at 23.33.
Maturity Type : Limit Maturity
Maturity Date : 2040-07-26
Maturity Price : 23.12
Evaluated at bid price : 23.30
Bid-YTW : 5.66 %
There were 24 other index-included issues trading in excess of 10,000 shares.

One Response to “July 26, 2010”

  1. […] bill to encourage banks to extend small-business credit has stalled in the Senate: Senate Republicans blocked a measure that would cut taxes and ease credit for small businesses, […]

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