November 22, 2007

The travails of Fannie & Freddie continued to attract attention, with James Hamilton of Econbrowser reviewing their purpose, capital structure and capital adequacy and concluding:

Perhaps you think we’ll probably muddle through OK, unless the sale of Freddie’s assets would so depress the market as to hinder extensions of new loans to creditworthy borrowers, thereby reducing home sales further, thereby depressing house prices further, thereby inducing more borrowers to default, so that we go from the good equilibrium to the bad equilibrium. But figuring out exactly where we stand currently on that slippery slope between A and B is not an easy matter.

Here’s my bottom line: if Freddie cuts its dividend, that’s a good thing. All the rest is worrisome.

The disagreement at issue is expressed by Felix Salmon:

According to the WSJ, Freddie Mac has serious capital-adequacy problems, and they’re basically the fault of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight

because OFHEO is being strict with Freddie, it’s being forced to sell tens of billions of dollars’ worth of mortgages.

Instead, they’re dumping mortgages onto the secondary market in order to comply with OFHEO’s capital-adequacy requirements. There’s a time and a place for those kind of requirements, and it is emphatically not now.

My position remains that the GSEs walk like banks, talk like bank, make profits like banks and should be regulated like banks – as James Hamilton implied at Jackson Hole. I have been unable to determine what the Tier 1 and Total Capital ratios of the GSEs would be were this to be put into effect, but OFHEO head James B. Lockhart’s March speech to America’s Community Bankers is telling:

Presently, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have low regulatory minimum capital requirements compared with other financial institutions. The 1992 Act that created OFHEO requires them to maintain stockholder’s equity equal to 2.5 percent of assets. The FHLBanks hold 4 percent, albeit with a much different capital structure, and major banks hold over 6 percent. Given Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s present condition, I am certainly more comfortable with today’s extra 30 percent add-on for operational risk.

OFHEO’s risk-based capital test is also prescribed by that 15-year-old statute and needs to be modernized. Risk-based capital should be based on the full array of Enterprise risks — market, credit, and operational risk, as well as the risks they present to the overall financial markets. A new, stronger regulator needs the flexibility and authority to change both the risk-based and minimum capital requirements through a regulatory process supplemented by the ability to respond quickly to changing conditions.

So … my bottom line is that the GSEs are grossly undercapitalized. If they want to grow, let them issue more equity. If it is deemed to be a social good that they grow, enough of a social good that the US Government is explicitly willing to bear some losses if things get really bad (right now the guarantee is only implicit) then fine! Make that decision! Have the US Government buy and pay for a big fat whack of common and preferred stock! 

In other news, it looks as if the MLEC / Super-Conduit is getting under way slowly, though not without carping from Naked Capitalism:

am now wondering who, exactly, will purchase the commercial paper that will fund this new entity. While this is anecdotal, I have heard a fair number of people, including financially savvy ones, say they would take money out of a money market fund that invested in this entity. So retail money market funds are somewhere between a hard sell and a non-starter. Enhanced cash management fund would have been the perfect target, but a number have broken the buck recently. Some mangers are contributing cash to the fund to make investors whole; others are letting investors take losses. As a result, that type of fund is operating under a cloud right now. Expect there to be near-term net withdrawals and greater conservatism in investment, which works against the SIV rescue program.

Hey – show me that the assets are fairly valued, show me that I’m senior to a good whack of mezzanine and capital notes, and show me that there’s a solid liquidity guarantee and I’ll invest! To be fair, Naked Capitalism has been dubious from the beginning as to whether my first condition would be met!

Naked Capitalism also provides a round-up of recent news concerning the bond insurance industry. ACA Capital and its woes – and subsequent vulnerability to a deep-pocketted strategic acquirer – was briefly mentioned yesterday. A ratings downgrade of the firm could have significant effects:

ACA Capital Holdings Inc., the bond insurer under scrutiny by Standard & Poor’s, may have its credit rating cut, forcing banks to take on $60 billion of collateralized debt obligations, JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst Andrew Wessel said.

After all, there has just been a bail-out of a French insurer by those with a deep interest in its continuing health!

Natixis SA’s bond-insurance unit, CIFG Guaranty, will be taken over by the French bank’s controlling shareholders in a $1.5 billion rescue to preserve its top credit rating.

Natixis, France’s fourth-largest bank by market value, rose 16 percent in Paris trading after Groupe Banque Populaire and Groupe Caisse d’Epargne, French mutual banks that jointly control Natixis, said today they will provide the capital and assume full ownership of CIFG. They said the purchase will be completed “as quickly as possible.”

And continuing on the bond insurance theme, Accrued Interest has taken a look at AMBAC and doesn’t like what he sees:

I have completed a deep dive of AMBAC’s insured portfolio. The conclusion: I don’t see how they maintain a AAA rating without raising new capital.

So how much in capital would they need to retain their rating? Probably at least $2 billion.

Whether they can raise this kind of capital or not is difficult to see. It will be a question of whether a well-capitalized partner sees long-term value in their lucrative municipal insurance franchise in excess of the losses expected in ABS. I don’t doubt that many potential partners would be interested in the municipal business.

We’ll see how it goes … speaking for myself, and without having done any analysis or understanding the culture … I say this is a Canadian banking opportunity. Come on, guys! You’ve got great balance sheets and a strong currency behind you! Put them to work!

The links under “US Fixed Income Data” in the right-hand panel of this blog now includes a link to the US Yield-to-Maturity Convention, continuing my struggle to remind the world that YTM is not annualized-IRR.

It was a thoroughly horrific day for preferred shares, although the nature of the market showed itself by having normal volume even though the US was closed. The Floater total return index fell below its 2006-6-30 value – negative total return for floaters over a 16+ month period – on what appears to be a combination of BAM-bashing and a conviction that Canada Prime is going to zero. Split-shares only just barely managed to hang on to positive 16+ month returns, as bids just evaporated.

P.S.: I almost forgot. The PerpetualDiscount index hit a new post-June-30-2006 low today. JH

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 4.81% 4.81% 132,685 15.78 2 -0.0817% 1,044.6
Fixed-Floater 4.88% 4.86% 83,764 15.73 8 +0.0103% 1,043.5
Floater 4.71% 4.75% 59,385 15.84 3 -1.2857% 997.9
Op. Retract 4.86% 2.32% 77,268 3.35 16 -0.0085% 1,032.1
Split-Share 5.42% 6.14% 91,259 4.08 15 -0.8472% 1,000.8
Interest Bearing 6.32% 6.67% 64,514 3.49 4 +0.2573% 1,048.4
Perpetual-Premium 5.86% 5.61% 82,944 8.15 11 +0.0826% 1,006.0
Perpetual-Discount 5.62% 5.66% 335,104 14.39 55 -0.1410% 900.7
Major Price Changes
Issue Index Change Notes
BAM.PR.K Floater -3.1621%  
FFN.PR.A SplitShare -2.4121% Asset coverage of 2.3:1 according to the company. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.85% based on a bid of 9.71 and a hardMaturity 2014-12-1 at 10.00.
SBN.PR.A SplitShare -2.4121% Asset coverage of just under 2.3:1 as of November 15 according to Mulvihill. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.80% based on a bid of 9.71 and a hardMaturity 2014-12-1 at 10.00.
HSB.PR.D PerpetualDiscount -2.2911% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.83% based on a bid of 21.75 and a limitMaturity.
BNA.PR.C SplitShare -2.1739% Asset coverage of just under 4.0:1 according to the company. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 8.27% based on a bid of 18.00 and a hardMaturity 2019-1-10 at 25.00.
WFS.PR.A SplitShare -1.6736% Asset coverage of just under 2.0:1 according to Mulvihill. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 7.49% based on a bid of 9.40 and a hardMaturity 2011-6-30 at 9.40 10.00.
FTN.PR.A SplitShare -1.5936% Asset coverage of just under 2.5:1 according to the company. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.72% based on a bid of 9.88 and a hardMaturity 2008-12-1 at 10.00.
LFE.PR.A SplitShare -1.4563% Asset coverage of 2.6+:1 according to the company. Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.00% based on a bid of 10.15 and a hardMaturity 2012-12-1 at 10.00.
BAM.PR.M PerpetualDiscount -1.3661% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.71% based on a bid of 18.05 and a limitMaturity.
BAM.PR.N PerpetualDiscount -1.3216% Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.76% based on a bid of 17.92 and a limitMaturity.
Volume Highlights
Issue Index Volume Notes
MFC.PR.C PerpetualDiscount 245,332 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.37% based on a bid of 21.00 and a limitMaturity.
BAM.PR.N PerpetualDiscount 190,160 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.76% based on a bid of 17.92 and a limitMaturity.
TD.PR.O PerpetualDiscount 150,871 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.43% based on a bid of 22.52 and a limitMaturity.
BAM.PR.M PerpetualDiscount 40,300 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 6.71% based on a bid of 18.05 and a limitMaturity.
CM.PR.J PerpetualDiscount 38,794 Now with a pre-tax bid-YTW of 5.57% based on a bid of 20.42 and a limitMaturity.

There were thirty-one other index-included $25.00-equivalent issues trading over 10,000 shares today.

Update 2007-11-22: HardMaturity price of WFS.PR.A noted in table of price changes has been corrected. Sorry!

One Response to “November 22, 2007”

  1. Drew says:

    Does WFS really have a hard maturity at $9.40, or did you mean to say $10.00?

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