Tag Archives: credit crisis

Hypo Real Gets EU50 Billion Government-Led Bailout (Update1)

By Brian Parkin and Oliver Suess

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) — The German government and the country’s banks and insurers agreed on a 50 billion euro ($68 billion) rescue package for commercial property lender Hypo Real Estate Holding AG after an earlier bailout faltered.

Germany’s financial industry agreed to double a credit line for Hypo Real Estate to 30 billion euros, Torsten Albig, a spokesman for Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, said late yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The federal government’s guarantee for the credit line remains unchanged, Albig said.

The government and the Bundesbank have said that Hypo Real Estate, Germany’s second-biggest property lender, is too big to fail. They met with banks and insurers in Berlin all day yesterday to discuss a revamped rescue package after private banks on Saturday withdrew their support for a 35 billion-euro rescue package brokered a week ago.

Under the previous rescue plan, the Bundesbank intended to contribute 20 billion euros to a credit line for Hypo Real Estate, while a group of unidentified financial institutions agreed to provide another 15 billion euros. The German government and banks and insurers also planned to provide an additional guarantee for the repayment of the 35 billion-euro loan, of which the government would cover 26.5 billion euros.

Hypo Real Estate, run by Chief Executive Officer Georg Funke, 53, since it was spun off from HVB Group in 2003, was forced to seek the lifeline after its Dublin-based Depfa Bank Plc unit, which lends to governments, failed to get short-term funding amid the credit crunch

Hypo Real Estate spokesman Hans Obermeier declined to comment on any details of the new bailout.

Paris Meeting

Governments from Dublin to Moscow are racing to shore up Europe’s faltering financial institutions as the global banking crisis widens. European leaders meeting in Paris this weekend pledged to bail out their own nations’ banks, while stopping short of a regional rescue effort.

BNP Paribas SA, France’s biggest bank, will take control of Fortis‘s units in Belgium after a government rescue of the Brussels and Amsterdam-based company failed.

Belgium and France on Sept. 30 threw Dexia SA, the world’s largest lender to local governments, a 6.4 billion-euro lifeline. UniCredit SpA, Italy’s biggest bank, plans to boost its capital by as much as 6.6 billion euros and the Icelandic government is reportedly trying to arrange a 10 billion-euro injection into its banking system.

Government Guarantee

The German government yesterday said it will fully guarantee personal savings accounts in a bid to ease concerns about the stability of the nation’s banking system. Until now, private savings accounts, including the accounts of small, privately held companies, have been guaranteed by 180 banks in Germany. This covers 90 percent of an account’s balance to a maximum of 20,000 euros.

Failure to provide the rescue package to Hypo Real Estate “may have triggered unpredictable consequences for the German financial and economic system similar to those of the collapse of U.S. financial group Lehman Brothers,” the Bundesbank and German financial-services regulator BaFin said in a joint letter dated Sept. 29 and addressed to Finance Minister Steinbrueck.

Hypo reported a surprise 390 million-euro writedown on collateralized debt obligations on Jan. 15. The company said Aug. 13 that second-quarter pretax profit plunged 95 percent because of further markdowns on debt-related investments.

A group led by J.C. Flowers & Co., the buyout firm run by Christopher Flowers, bought a 24 percent stake in Hypo Real Estate for about 1.13 billion euros in June.

Hypo Real Estate’s shares have declined 79 percent this year, valuing the Munich-based company at 1.6 billion euros.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Parkin in Berlin at bparkin@bloomberg.net; Oliver Suess in Munich at osuess@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: October 5, 2008 18:24 EDT

How the massive rescue package will affect you

Some will benefit from tax breaks, but impact on markets will take time

ANALYSIS
By John W. Schoen
Senior producer
MSNBC
updated 3:35 p.m. ET, Fri., Oct. 3, 2008
 
John W. Schoen
Senior producer

 

Four days after the Bush administration’s financial rescue package ran off the rails in Congress, the House of Representatives gave the plan a second look and — after loading it up with a bunch of goodies — liked what they saw.

The plan, passed by the House and quickly signed into law by President Bush Friday, is supposed to jump-start the crippled credit markets and get the money flowing normally again to consumers, businesses, corporations and governments. But it remains to be seen whether it will work.

Here’s a look at what may — or may not — happen next.

Are my taxes going up to pay for this?
Over the long term nobody really knows, but in the short run, your taxes may actually go down. To get the bill passed, Congress loaded it up with more than $100 billion in tax breaks and other special provisions.

The biggest was a fix for the alternative minimum tax, a measure originally designed to make sure rich people paid their fair share. But over the years, millions of middle-income taxpayers have been mauled by the AMT beast. Many of those people will catch a break under the bailout bill.

Over the long run, though, those tax breaks will have to be made up with tax increases or spending reductions elsewhere. For decades, the rest of the world has been happy to loan its hard-earned savings to Uncle Sam to help our government fund its deficit spending. Those days are rapidly coming to a close.

Taxpayers also could be on the hook for some — but probably not all — of the $700 billion being used to buy up bad mortgage-backed investments, which the Treasury calls “troubled assets.”

How, exactly, is this going to work?
That’s still the $700 billion question. What Congress has done is to set up what amounts to a government-run hedge fund to buy up troubled securities that nobody else will buy because it is virtually impossible to figure out what they’re worth.

The reason is that no one can predict how many more homeowners will default on the mortgages backing up these investments. Once they do default, it’s even harder to predict how much the house backing the mortgage is worth.

Under the plan, the Treasury will buy these securities and hold them until credit and housing markets settle down, hoping that their value will increase. If so, Uncle Sam will make money. But no one has explained how the government will come up with the right price. Treasury officials have deflected any questions about what they call “implementation issues.”

In theory, the program will jump-start a market for these “trouble assets,” and private investors will then finish the job when they see what Treasury pays for the paper.

I keep hearing that the credit markets are “frozen.” But when I stick my ATM card in the machine, money still comes out. What’s the big deal? What do I care if these big Wall Street firms lose money?

The problem is that for better or worse, the global economy runs on credit. And that credit is drying up. It’s already harder to get a mortgage or a loan to buy a new car than it was even six months ago.

The credit drought has spread to the multitrillion-dollar pool of money that businesses use to fund their operations. The problem has begun to hit big companies such as General Electric, which recently had to pay 10 percent interest on what amounted to a private loan from Warren Buffett.

If that problem continues to spread, businesses will have to start laying off people faster than they already are. (Msnbc.com is jointly owned by Microsoft and GE’s NBC Universal unit.)

Will this keep the economy from getting worse?
If it works, it will prevent a deeper recession than otherwise would be expected. But it should not be expected to boost economic growth, according to the White House.

“No one should be overpromising what this bill will do,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Friday. “It’s not been sold as giving a boost to the economy — it’s to avoid a crisis.”

It could be months before the impact of this plan would be felt. Though the stock market can — and does — turn on a dime, the problem in the credit market is a lack of confidence. That takes longer to fix.

In the meantime, there are clear signs that the economy is still on a downward path. Friday’s employment report showed a ninth straight month of job losses. While the government’s official jobless rate held steady at 6.1 percent, that counts only people who are actively job hunting. If you count people who have given up looking, the so-called “augmented” jobless rate rose to 9.1 percent in September from 8.9 percent in August.

Consumers are nervous and are cutting back sharply on spending. Roughly two-thirds of the economy is based on consumer spending; if that spending slows further, so will the economy.

What about home prices?
In theory, repairing the credit markets could lower mortgage rates and make loans more available for home buyers. That boost in demand could help pull the housing market out of its deepest recession since the 1930s.

But it won’t help reduce the backlog of unsold homes — especially foreclosed, bank-owned homes that are being dumped on the market at fire-sale prices. Every time a bank sells a house cheaply to get it off their books, that price becomes the neighborhood’s new market rate.

It’s also harder for a lender to extend a loan for willing buyers in neighborhoods where home prices are still falling. That means buyers have to put up more money, reducing the number of eligible buyers.

Why isn’t more being done to stop foreclosures?
Good question. Many of the House Democrats who balked at approving the plan last week cited the lack of foreclosure relief as their biggest problem voting for the bill. Congress has been debating this issue for more than a year.

Various plans have been floated, but opponents insist that home buyers who borrowed more than they could afford should not be “bailed out” by the government. That’s one reason supporters of this emergency plan are calling it a “rescue” — not a “bailout” — of the financial system.

The debate over how to stop foreclosures will likely continue, though. Lenders say they’ve been working with homeowners to work out some of the worst mortgages written during the easy-money lending frenzy. But it’s been slow going.

Democrats have argued for more than a year that these voluntary efforts won’t fix the problem. Some want to change the bankruptcy law to let judges set new mortgage terms that will keep people in their homes. The idea came up again last week, but was shot down once more. If judges can cut payments on a mortgage, lenders say they’ll have to charge more for all mortgages to make up for that new risk.

Bottom line: Is all this going to work?
No one knows. Nothing like this has been done before — certainly not on this scale.

 

 

Wachovia Credit-Default Swaps Soar to Record After WaMu Failure

By Shannon D. Harrington and Abigail Moses

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) — The cost to protect against a default by Wachovia Corp., the fourth-largest U.S. bank, soared to distressed levels after Washington Mutual Inc. was seized by regulators and its deposits sold off to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Credit-default swaps protecting $10 million of Wachovia bonds from default for five years traded for as much as the equivalent of $3.5 million initially and $500,000 a year, according to broker Phoenix Partners Group. That compares with $670,000 a year and no upfront payment yesterday.

Wachovia’s 2006 purchase of Golden West Financial Corp. saddled the company with option adjustable-rate home loans that allow borrowers to make minimum payments less than what they owe, which is then added to their total debt balance. With JPMorgan saying they expect 20 percent losses on WaMu’s option ARM portfolio, Wachovia may need to raise $11 billion in capital to protect against losses from its loans, Deutsche Bank AG equity analyst Mike Mayo said in a note to clients today.

Wachovia is an “attractive target,” though “it’s not clear who wants to take them on at this time,” Bert Ely, president of consulting firm Ely & Co. in Alexandria, Virginia, said today in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Seattle-based Washington Mutual was taken over by the government yesterday after customers had withdrawn $16.7 billion from accounts since Sept. 16. New York-based JPMorgan acquired WaMu’s branch network for $1.9 billion.

Potential Suitors

The initial cost for credit-default swaps on Wachovia bonds dropped back to 25 percentage points, or $2.5 million, after the New York Times reported the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank is in preliminary talks to merge with Citigroup Inc.

Wachovia has entered into preliminary discussions with banks including Spain’s Banco Santander SA, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. and New York-based Citigroup, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the situation.

Morgan Stanley broke off merger talks with Wachovia to focus on a partnership with Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., CNBC reported earlier this week.

“We may yet see that type of deal,” Ely said. Morgan Stanley, along with Goldman Sachs Group Inc., “at some point in time need to acquire a large banking franchise, and Wachovia certainly becomes a very attractive target.”

Wachovia Bonds

Wachovia’s credit-default swaps are trading at levels that imply a 63 percent chance the company will fail within five years, according to a JPMorgan valuation model. That assumes bondholders would receive 30 cents on the dollar in the case of a default.

Wachovia’s $750 million of 4.375 percent bonds due in 2010 plunged 29 cents to 51 cents on the dollar, as of 1:03 p.m. in New York, according to Trace, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s bond-pricing service. The yield increased to 51.6 percent, or 49.6 percentage points more than Treasuries with similar maturities.

“We are focused on managing our company and serving our customers with excellence,” Wachovia spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown said. “Our core franchises — retail banking, the nation’s third largest brokerage firm, wealth management and our commercial and corporate banking activities — are extremely valuable and continue to operate well relative to our competition.”

Chief Executive Officer Robert Steel, a former Treasury official who was hired to replace Kennedy Thompson in July, has said he’s firing workers and cutting more than $1.5 billion in annual costs to cope with losses from the loan portfolio.

Morgan Stanley

Credit-default swaps on Morgan Stanley also rose to distressed levels today, coming close to a record high reached last week after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection. Morgan Stanley and Goldman both won approval from the Federal Reserve to become bank holding companies, moving away from a business model that investors have deemed too dependent on borrowed money, or leverage.

Morgan Stanley contracts traded at 17.5 percentage points upfront in addition to 5 percentage points a year, according to Phoenix Partners. That compares with 783 basis points a year and no upfront payment yesterday, CMA data show. They earlier traded at a record 22 percentage points upfront, Phoenix prices show.

Credit-default swaps are financial instruments based on bonds and loans that are used to speculate on a company’s ability to repay debt. They were conceived to protect bondholders against default and pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities should the company fail to adhere to its debt agreements.

Goldman, Citigroup

Credit-default swaps on other banks also rose today. Contracts on Merrill Lynch & Co., which agreed to sell itself to Bank of America Corp. last week as Lehman collapsed, rose 94 basis points to 415, according to CMA. Goldman contracts rose 86 to 449.

Contracts on Citigroup jumped 115 basis points to 325 basis points, CMA data show. Bank of America rose 13 basis points to 161 basis points, Wells Fargo increased 38 to 159 and JPMorgan climbed 34 basis points to 156 basis points.

Contracts on the Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index, a benchmark gauge of credit risk linked to 125 companies in the U.S. and Canada increased 2.5 basis points to 163.5 basis points, Phoenix prices show.

Contracts on WaMu traded at 61 percentage points upfront today, Phoenix prices show, down from 74 percentage points earlier.

To contact the reporters on this story: Shannon D. Harrington in New York at sharrington6@bloomberg.net; Abigail Moses in London Amoses5@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: September 26, 2008 18:13 EDT

Huge shifts ahead after financial titans fall (Wash Post)

Investment banks took ever-greater risks on esoteric investment

Employees leave the New York Stock Exchange on Friday after a tumultuous week. Stocks rallied Friday with the Dow rising 369 points.

Employees leave the New York Stock Exchange on Friday after a tumultuous week. Stocks rallied Friday with the Dow rising 369 points.

The credit crisis shaking the global economy is forcing a dramatic reconfiguration of Wall Street, where the financial industry in recent years has been driven to take ever-greater risks on increasingly esoteric investments.

The fragility of Wall Street’s architecture was exposed this week when two icons of investment banking and the world’s largest insurance company were fed into the maw as their competitors pushed for a historic government bailout to help salvage their own shaky businesses.

It is too early to tell whether Wall Street has truly been transformed by the series of upheavals or is simply witnessing a shuffling of its players. But as dealmakers and policymakers now sift through the debris, some shifts are already evident, both in the structure of high finance and the culture of those who practice it.

“The competitive landscape of finance is changing before our eyes and the losers are the investment banks,” said Roger Leeds, director of the Center for International Business and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University. “What we’re having now is a fundamental correction, not only of the market but of the institutions themselves.”

Three out of five fallen
Three of the five free-standing investment banks have fallen. Bear Stearns was sold at a fire sale, 158-year-old Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and Merrill Lynch is being acquired by Bank of America. The surviving titans, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, remain under pressure and have been weighing their options.

As financial analysts survey the horizon, they see the emergence of a handful of giant, global firms that manage a wide range of business activities alongside several boutique advisory firms that court blue-chip clients. Newer players will remain on the scene, including hedge funds and private-equity firms — both lightly regulated entities that manage pools of money for wealthy investors and often buy large holdings in securities or sometimes directly invest in companies.

These changes could be accompanied by a cultural shift as the sheen comes off a longtime career destination for those with the brains, ambition and fortitude to place high-stakes wagers in return for outsize paydays.

Already, the shakeout is costing jobs and ruining fortunes. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimates 40,000 workers in New York state, including many well beyond Wall Street, could lose their jobs as a result of the financial crisis.

Birth of a new system?
Whether these changes portend a permanent remaking of Wall Street remains uncertain. The answer could turn in part on whether the government’s rescue plan announced Friday succeeds. If the massive bailout fails, the destruction wrought on global financial markets could be staggering, ultimately clearing the way for the birth of a new system.

If the federal plan works, most of Wall Street could be spared and the business model that has powered it in recent years — centered on complex securities, tremendous borrowing and opaque dealings — could resume much as before. That is, unless the inevitable excesses are tamed by new regulation.

The fall of the investment bank was of its own making, analysts said. Starting in the 1980s, investment banks began straying from their traditional roles as intermediaries to mergers and acquisitions, investment advisers to corporations and individuals, traders of securities and portfolio managers for wealthy clients.

Driven by competition and the hunger for bigger profits, they began to aggressively push exotic products like asset-backed securities and other derivatives.

The investment banks not only sold these instruments to investors but also began purchasing them for the firms’ own accounts, using larger and larger amounts of borrowed money. The more risks investment bankers took, the more money they made. Internal controls were lax.

“I don’t think they had a good appreciation of the risks they were taking,” said Ray Hill, a finance professor at Emory University.

Balkanized oversight

Nor were government regulators fully aware of the gathering storm. They were hobbled by balkanized oversight and gaps in disclosure rules.

“The problem is transparency because regulators weren’t able to assess risks at investment banks in the way they are able to with commercial banks,” said Mark Gertler, an economics professor at New York University.

Two of the big five investment houses have landed in the arms of commercial banks with Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill and J.P. Morgan Chase’s takeover of Bear Stearns. Meanwhile, the British bank Barclays is acquiring choice bits of Lehman (a bankruptcy judge in New York yesterday approved the sale of nearly all Lehman’s assets), and Morgan Stanley is considering a merger with Wachovia, one of the country’s largest commercial banks.

With the merger of investment banks into commercial banks and leaders of both political parties pressing for new regulations to enhance transparency and control over banks’ investments, analysts say the new Wall Street could be a throwback to previous decades.

Investment and commercial banking was separated by law in 1933, when Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act in response to a banking crisis that ushered in the Great Depression. By banning banks from selling stocks and bonds, the government aimed to end abuses that caused the collapse of thousands of banks across the country, wiping out the deposits of millions of customers who, at the time, did not have the benefit of federally guaranteed deposit insurance.

In recent decades U.S. banks, facing competition from foreign counterparts that had no restrictions barring them from owning brokerages, found loopholes in the law to open or acquire new business lines. In 1999, Congress conceded to the new reality, repealing the 1933 law with the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

Commercial banks moved increasingly into the traditional domain of investment houses, in some cases acquiring them outright, such as the marquee purchase of Chase Manhattan Bank by J.P. Morgan in 2000. As investment banks faced heightened competition in their traditional business lines, these enterprises leveraged up with borrowed money and went looking for profits, betting on ever-riskier securities and derivatives. That is the trend the crisis of 2008 may reverse, at least for a time.

“It will tend to tone down some of the behaviors,” said Thomas Atteberry, a partner in First Pacific Advisors, who moved 5 percent of his company’s portfolio out of mortgage-related securities in 2006 in anticipation of a credit market meltdown.

‘Take risks to get paid’
But even as the formal line between different stripes of banks became blurry, investment and commercial banking remained divided by culture.

“Investment bankers get paid for performance, so they take risks to get paid,” said Sam Weiser, a former Citigroup employee who now is chief operating officer of the Chicago-based hedge fund Sellers Capital. “The prevailing goals of commercial bankers are to protect assets.”

Investment banks also tend to be more decentralized. “What makes Merrill’s investment banking model work is that they attract high-powered, entrepreneurial people who build businesses within a business, and commercial banks do not work that way,” said Hill, the Emory finance professor. “The question is: Does the culture of Merrill that made it so successful, is that going to survive in a huge organization?”

Traditionally, many investment bankers shunned their colleagues on the commercial side as stodgy and risk-averse. But now, as institutions meld so must the psychology, analysts say.

“There will be a merger of two ways of doing business,” said Seamus McMahon, a financial services partner at Booz & Co., a global management consulting firm. “The stand-alone investment bank may have been an accident of history. It had its run and it’s over or at least vastly diminished.”

The new management, analysts say, will emerge from the ranks of commercial bankers.

“That is the superior force, and that changes the nature of how things are approached,” said Len Rushfield, adjunct professor of finance at Pepperdine University. “The commercial banking world is built on relationships and continuity and not on high levels of incentive compensation.”

Future for compensation levels
The first test for the future of Wall Street banking could come over compensation levels: whether the investment banking stars who placed big bets and were awarded big salaries and bonuses in return continue to get paid.

When John Thain was still Merrill’s chief executive earlier this year, for example, he hired a legendary trading manager from Goldman Sachs named Thomas K. Montag. The tab, disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: annual salary of $600,000, signing bonus of $39.4 million plus a promise to reimburse him for Goldman shares he forfeited for an estimated total of $50 million.

Analysts wonder if Bank of America Chairman Kenneth D. Lewis would agree to pay that amount.

If Wall Street loses its lure of big riches, it could have trouble attracting top talent.

“Most business students don’t go into investment banking because they love finance so much, but because it pays well,” said Francisco Cabeza, a student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business who has a job offer at a private-equity firm in London.

Richard X. Bove, an analyst at Ladenburg Thalmann & Co., predicted that the crisis could spark a start-up boom on Wall Street, with hot demand for small boutique investment firms focused on one or two specialties. He said these firms could fill a niche as behemoths like Bank of America and Citigroup grow so large that they cannot serve all their corporate clients because of conflicts of interest.

World centers to benefit
Some analysts also see some of Wall Street’s influence being redistributed overseas as business migrates to other places with money. “New York will be the first among equals but absolutely not the place. Normally it was London and New York,” said McMahon, the management consultant. “I think we’ll see Abu Dhabi grow. Singapore. I think we’ll see India if they can get their regulations straightened out.”

Nor was the earthquake that rocked U.S. financial markets a tragedy for all involved. For those with strong enough balance sheets and money to spend, the recent weeks have presented a unique chance to buy. Bank of America’s Lewis was one notable winner.

Even Lewis posits that a chastened financial industry is entering a new phase.

“It seems unlikely that most companies would simply volunteer to pull back the reins on profit and growth in a hot market. But, in fact, that’s precisely what needs to happen,” said Lewis, according to a prepared text of a speech he gave Friday in Washington. “We must embrace the reality of what will be, at least in the short term, a smaller industry with a simpler approach to finance.”

Special Correspondent Heather Landy in New York and staff writer Robin Shulman contributed.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company