Bank of England Financial Stability Report: April 2008

The Bank of England has released its April, 2008, Financial Stability Report and it’s excellent. There’s way too much good stuff in it to make a series of extracts of managable size, but I will point out that they have highlighted the folly of relying on market prices to estimate ultimate credit losses:

But credit losses from the turmoil are unlikely to ever rise to levels implied by current market prices unless there is a significant deterioration in fundamentals, well beyond the slowdown currently anticipated. That is because prices are likely to reflect substantial discounts for illiquidity and uncertainty that have emerged as markets have adjusted but which should ease over time. While market-based estimates and the write-downs announced by firms may be unduly pessimistic, if such concerns persist there is a risk they could become self-fulfilling.

This suggests that spreads on senior tranches of structured credit products have been dominated by illiquidity and uncertainty premia and a large relative fall in demand for AAA tranches rather than credit risk over the recent period. This is consistent with the analysis in Box 1, which suggests that the largest gap between mark-to-market and cash-flow based estimates of losses on sub-prime securities is in the AAA tranches.

If this were the case, long-term and unleveraged investors could potentially profit by holding these AAA tranches to maturity. But Chart 1.22 shows that, until very recently when AAA tranches have risen in price, an investor following this strategy would have suffered a string of negative month-on-month returns over the past year. And as discussed in Section 3, many long-term investors often face implicit short-term performance targets and increasingly have to mark their portfolios to market, even when they have no intention of selling securities.

The BoE contention that market prices – especially marks implied by such things as the ABX indices – are stupid is something that I’ve been saying for quite some time (in my review of the estimates by Greenlaw, et al. and in the seemingly very closely related IMF report). These reservations were echoed by BoC Governor Carney in remarks reported May 1.

Update, 2008-5-12: Willem Buiter doesn’t believe the Bank’s analysis:

But why oh why did the FSR use American subprime mortgages to make the point that marked-to-market estimates of credit losses may well exaggerate the likely eventual magnitude of these losses? I will quote the Bank’s reasoning at length, so as to be sure I don’t misrepresent it:

“Future credit losses can be estimated by extrapolating forward delinquency rates. In particular, it is assumed that serious delinquency rates of US sub-prime mortgages of different issuance ‘vintages’ continue to rise at their average rates to date until the mortgages are four years old, at which point the rate is assumed to plateau. This is a stylised representation of the way that serious delinquency rates of older sub-prime mortgages have evolved. This method results in peak delinquency rates of 34% for mortgages issued before 2006 H1, rising to 42% for mortgages issued in 2007 H2. Upon becoming seriously delinquent, mortgages are assumed to default with at least 75% probability after one year, and to have a loss given default (LGD) rate of 50%. Chart A (not shown, WHB) shows the resulting projection, in which credit losses eventually reach around US$170 billion. AAA-rated securities do not incur losses in this projection. But there is sufficient uncertainty that even these top-rated securities could conceivably bear some losses.”

This Bank estimate is then contrasted with marked-to-market estimate (or rather marked-to-model estimates using some market inputs from ABX markets to obtain estimates of credit risk on home equity loan asset-backed securities) of US$380bn. Other estimates from the wilder reaches of Wall Street (think of a number and double it) get up to US$500bn or close to US$1 trillion.

The Bank’s analysis, quoted above, is nevertheless likely to turn out to be complete bollocks because it uses assumed delinquency rates that are based on a “stylised representation of the way that serious delinquency rates of older sub-prime mortgages have evolved.” The burst of subprime lending and borrowing between 2003 and early 2007 was, however, unlikely anything ever seen before. A whole new population of subprime borrowers entered the market for the first time. Mortgage borrowers with these characteristics were not in the older subprime population.

So as far as I am concerned, we have no reliable information on which to base an estimate of the value of the subprime mortgages issued since 2003.

Well … I fully agree with that last line taken from Dr. Buiter’s analysis! But investors (and policy makers) have to come up with something.

All in all, I am much more favourably disposed to the Bank’s “bottom-up” methodology of taking observed delinquency rates and extrapolating them than to the IMF’s “top-down” approach of marking-to-ABX-market. One just has to remember it’s a forecast … no better and no worse than any other forecast of financial markets or the weather.

Update #2, 2008-5-12: Research Recap has extracted one of the charts of interest:

The Economist has acknowledged the report but warns:

The report also suggests that market valuations of losses on America’s subprime mortgages—to which British and European as well as American banks are exposed—may prove exaggerated. Eventual losses could turn out to be around $170 billion (£86 billion) rather than the market-based figure of $380 billion.

Another reason for greater confidence is that British banks are making more realistic assessments of their bad debts and raising capital. RBS led the way on April 22nd with a writedown of almost £6 billion and tapped shareholders for £12 billion. A week later HBOS announced a rights issue of £4 billion.

Yet even if the report is right in suggesting that the self-inflicted financial wounds may gradually be starting to heal, the worry now is the damage that has already been done to the economy. The bigger that turns out to be, the greater the potential for a second round of financial pain through defaults arising from a slowdown or recession.

More extracts with light commentary are provided by FTAlphaville.

11 Responses to “Bank of England Financial Stability Report: April 2008”

  1. […] fascinating Chart 1.18 in the April 2008 BoE Financial Stability Report led me to a paper in their 2007Q4 Bulleting by Lewis Webber & Rohan Churm, that seeks to […]

  2. […] is this important? Well, we’ve seen what’s happened in the ABX markets, as the Bank of England has followed PrefBlog’s lead and pointed out that ABX prices are connected to reality only in the very loosest […]

  3. […] those who are interested, I will reprint some material from the BoE Financial Stability Report, showing expected losses by sub-prime […]

  4. […] those who are interested, I will reprint some material from the BoE Financial Stability Report, showing expected losses by sub-prime […]

  5. […] Fitch Ratings has released a Special Report: Subprime Mortgage-Related Losses – A Moving Target which endorses the relatively high loss estimates of Greenlaw et al. and the IMF and contradicts the Bank of England Estimate. […]

  6. […] are influenced by many things. For instance, compare the sub-prime credit loss estimates of the Bank of England with those of the IMF. These estimates are, as has been noted, not just wildly at variance with […]

  7. […] Readers will remember my admiration of the Bank of England Financial Stability Report of April ‘08 and the Figure 1.18 contained […]

  8. […] their estimation of ultimate credit losses (as opposed to mark-to-market losses) initiated in the April Financial Stability Report and conclude: As Chart C shows, it is difficult to reconcile the outlook for expected credit losses […]

  9. […] Readers will remember the Bank of England April ‘08 Financial Stability Report, which opined that banks were, in fact, over-reserved against losses to maturity. That was, of […]

  10. […] It is unfortunate that the authors do not provide more specific support for the $500-billion figure – this has been a topic of interest since the first figure of Greenlaw of $400-billion and much lower ultimate losses projected by the BoE and others. […]

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