The "Repo 105" Scam: How Lehman Fooled Everyone (Including Allegedly Dick Fuld) And How Other Banks Are Likely Doing This Right Now

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Presenting a detailed look at "Repo 105" - the next soundbite sure to fill the airwaves over the next weeks and months, as more and more banks are uncovered to be using this borderline criminal accounting gimmick to make their leverage ratios look better. This is the first time we have heard this loophole abuse by a bank, be it defunct (Lehman) or existing (everyone else). There should be an immediate investigation into how many other banks are currently taking advantage of this artificial scheme to manipulate and misrepresent their cap ratio, and just why the New York Fed can claim it had no idea of this very critical component of the Shadow Economy.

From the report:

Lehman employed off-balance sheet devices, known within Lehman as “Repo 105” and “Repo 108” transactions, to temporarily remove securities inventory from its balance sheet, usually for a period of seven to ten days, and to create a materially misleading picture of the firm’s financial condition in late 2007 and 2008. Repo 105 transactions were nearly identical to standard repurchase and resale (“repo”) transactions that Lehman (and other investment banks) used to secure short-term financing, with a critical difference: Lehman accounted for Repo 105 transactions as “sales” as opposed to financing transactions based upon the overcollateralization or higher than normal haircut in a Repo 105 transaction. By recharacterizing the Repo 105 transaction as a “sale,” Lehman removed the inventory from its balance sheet.

Lehman regularly increased its use of Repo 105 transactions in the days prior to reporting periods to reduce its publicly reported net leverage and balance sheet. Lehman’s periodic reports did not disclose the cash borrowing from the Repo 105 transaction – i.e., although Lehman had in effect borrowed tens of billions of dollars in these transactions, Lehman did not disclose the known obligation to repay the debt. Lehman used the cash from the Repo 105 transaction to pay down other liabilities, thereby reducing both the total liabilities and the total assets reported on its balance sheet and lowering its leverage ratios. Thus, Lehman’s Repo 105 practice consisted of a two-step process: (1) undertaking Repo 105 transactions followed by (2) the use of Repo 105 cash borrowings to pay down liabilities, thereby reducing leverage. A few days after the new quarter began, Lehman would borrow the necessary funds to repay the cash borrowing plus interest, repurchase the securities, and restore the assets to its balance sheet.

Lehman never publicly disclosed its use of Repo 105 transactions, its accounting treatment for these transactions, the considerable escalation of its total Repo 105 usage in late 2007 and into 2008, or the material impact these  transactions had on the firm’s publicly reported net leverage ratio. According to former Global Financial Controller Martin Kelly, a careful review of Lehman’s Forms 10?K and 10?Q would not reveal Lehman’s use of Repo 105 transactions. Lehman failed to disclose its Repo 105 practice even though Kelly believed “that the only purpose or motive for the transactions was reduction in balance sheet;” felt that “there was no substance to the transactions;” and expressed concerns with Lehman’s Repo 105 program to two consecutive Lehman Chief Financial Officers – Erin Callan and Ian Lowitt – advising them that the lack of economic substance to Repo 105 transactions meant “reputational riskto Lehman if the firm’s use of the transactions became known to the public. In addition to its material omissions, Lehman affirmatively misrepresented in its financial statements that the firm treated all repo transactions as financing transactions – i.e., not sales – for financial reporting purposes.

And here is the Fed punchline, as it once again implicates Tim Geithner:

From 2003 to 2009, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner served as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (“FRBNY”). The Examiner described to Secretary Geithner how Lehman used Repo 105 transactions to remove  approximately $50 billion of liquid assets from the balance sheet at quarter-end in 2008 and explained that this practice reduced Lehman’s net leverage. Secretary Geithner “did not recall being aware of” Lehman’s Repo 105 program, but stated: “If this had been a bank we were supervising, that [i.e., Lehman’s Repo 105 program] would have been a huge issue for the New York Fed.”

And even though the Fed should have been fully aware of any shadow transaction be they "matched book" repos or the "105 variety, nobody had any clue. Just who the hell was regulating banks???

Jan Voigts, who was an Examining Officer in FRBNY’s Bank Supervision Department, had no knowledge of Lehman removing assets from its balance sheet at or near quarter-end via a repo trade treated as a true sale under a United Kingdom opinion letter.

Arthur Angulo, who was a Senior Vice President in FRBNY’s Bank Supervision department, likewise was unaware that Lehman engaged in repo transactions at quarter-end, under a United Kingdom true sale opinion letter, where the assets would be returned to Lehman’s balance sheet following the end of the reporting period. Angulo said that the described repo transactions appeared to go “beyond other types of [permissible] balance sheet management." Angulo also said that he would have wanted to know about off-market transactions where Lehman accepted a higher haircutthan a repo seller normally would accept for a certain type of collateral.

Thomas Baxter, FRBNY General Counsel, had no knowledge of Repo 105 transactions, either by name or design. Baxter was generally aware of firms using quarter-end and month-end “balance sheet window-dressing,” but did not recall this being an issue linked to Lehman specifically.

Stunningly, nobody at the SEC was aware of Lehman's Repo 105 program. And guess what: NEITHER DID DICK FULD. This is unbelievable - the criminality reaches to the very top, yet the very top denies all knowledge.

Richard Fuld, Lehman’s former Chief Executive Officer denied any recollection of Lehman’s use of Repo 105 transactions. Fuld said he had no knowledge that Lehman treated any kind of repo transaction as a true sale or that Lehman ever removed from its balance sheet assets transferred in a repo transaction. In addition, Fuld did not recall having seen any reports referencing the amount of the firm’s Repo 105 activity. Fuld further stated that he did not know that Lehman removed approximately $49 and $50 billion in inventory off its balance sheet at quarter-end
through the use of Repo 105 transactions in first quarter 2008 and second quarter 2008, respectively. Fuld said, however, that if he had learned that Lehman was temporarily cleansing its balance sheet of assets at quarter-end through Repo 105 transactions, it would have concerned him.

Evidence, however, suggests that Fuld is blatantly lying:

Fuld’s denial of recollection must be weighed by a trier of fact against other evidence. Fuld recalled having many conversations with his executives about reducing net leverage and emphasized to the Examiner how important it was for Lehman to reduce its net leverage. The night before the March 28, 2008 Executive Committee meeting, Fuld received materials for the meeting, including an agenda of topics including “Repo 105/108” and “Delever v Derisk” and a presentation that referenced Lehman’s quarter-end Repo 105 usage for first quarter 2008 – $49.1 billion.  The materials also were forwarded by Fuld’s assistant to other Lehman executives. It appears that Fuld did not attend the March 28 meeting, but Bart McDade recalled having specific discussions with Fuld about Lehman’s Repo 105 usage in June 2008. Sometime that month, McDade spoke to Fuld about reducing Lehman’s use of Repo 105 transactions. McDade walked Fuld through the Balance Sheet and Key Disclosures document (reproduced in part below) and discussed with Fuld Lehman’s quarter-end Repo 105 usage – $38.6 billion at year-end 2007; $49.1 billion at first quarter 2008; and $50.3 billion at second quarter 2008.

Based upon their conversation, McDade understood that “Fuld knew, at a basic level, that Repo 105 was used in the firm’s bond business” and that Fuld “was familiar with the term Repo 105.”3524 McDade recalled that when he advised Fuld in June 2008 that Lehman should reduce its Repo 105 usage to $25 billion, “Fuld understood that this would put pressure on traders.”3525 McDade also recalled that “Fuld knew about the accounting of Repo 105."

Combing through the Appendix on what collateral was actually "sold" (only to be promptly bought back) in Repo 105s:

Most securities Lehman used in Repo 105 transactions were “governmental” in nature, implying a certain level of liquidity. While representing a relatively small percentage of Lehman’s total Repo 105 assets/securities, at times the nominal amount of non-”governmental” securities Lehman used in Repo 105 transactions was quite large. For example, as of February 29, 2008 (the end of Lehman’s first quarter 2008), Lehman utilized over $1 billion of highly structured securities, i.e., CLOs and CDOs, private RMBS, CMBS and asset-backed securities, in Repo 105 transactions. In the market environment that existed for Lehman in early 2008, these structured securities were likely relatively illiquid as indicated by declines in origination volumes, wider bid-offer spreads, and higher margin requirements.

In August 2008, just before it was over, the firm allowed $55 million, or seven securities, rated CCC to be included in a Repo 105 transaction.

The next chart makes it evident it that 105s were used simply to game the firm's assets into quarter end (yellow highlights), by reducing overall asset for leverage ratio calculations.

That this scam was going unsupervised (just who the hell were the counterparties?) for many years, and that many banks are likely using it right now to fool investors, regulators, rating agencies, and the idiots at the FRBNY (who certainly also know about this), is beyond criminal. Yet that nobody will go to jail for this is as certain as the market going up another 10% tomorrow. A full investigation has to be conducted immediately into whether existing Wall Street firms, and in particular those who use Ernst & Young as auditors, are currently abusing public confidence via such transactions.

Full report

Repo 105