Book Value

Chris Martenson: "Are We Heading For Another 2008?"

We all know that central banks and governments have been actively intervening in markets since the 2007 subprime mortgage meltdown destabilized the leveraged-debt-dependent global economy. We also know that unprecedented intervention is now the de facto institutionalized policy of central banks and governments. In some cases, the financial authorities have explicitly stated their intention to “stabilize markets” (translation: reinflate credit-driven speculative bubbles) by whatever means are necessary, while in others the interventions are performed by proxies so the policy remains implicit.  All through the waning months of 2007 and the first two quarters of 2008, the market gyrated as the Federal Reserve and other central banks issued reassurances that the subprime mortgage meltdown was “contained” and posed no threat to the global economy. The equity market turned to its standard-issue reassurance: “Don’t fight the Fed,” a maxim that elevated the Federal Reserve’s power to goose markets to godlike status. But alas, the global financial meltdown of late 2008 showed that hubris should not be confused with godlike power. Despite the “impossibility” of the market disobeying the Fed’s commands (“Away with thee, oh tides, for we are the Federal Reserve!”) and the “sure-fire” cycle of stocks always rising in an election year, global markets imploded as the usual bag of central bank and Sovereign State tricks failed in spectacular fashion.

Phoenix Capital Research's picture

I know many of you are thinking “the ECB or Fed could just print money.” That answer is wrong. If the ECB chooses to do this, Germany will walk. End of story. They’ve already seen how rampant monetization works out (Weimar). And if the Fed chooses to monetize everything to hold things up, then the US Dollar collapses, inflation erupts creating civil unrest, interest rates rise killing the banks, US corporations and the US economy… all during an election year.

As First Greek CDS "Anstalt" Appears, A Question Emerges: Did Banks Not Square Off Margins?

The irony is not lost on us that Bloomberg is reporting that KA Finanz, an Austrian bad-bank supported by the Austrian government, faces as much as a €1 billion need for funding to cover its exposures to Greek CDS (coughcreditanstaltcough). In a statement this morning, which we noted in a tweet, the bank noted "activation of the CDS with an assumed loss ratio of about 80% would mean an additional provisioning charge of EUR 423.6 million". KA Finanz's total amount of Greek CDS exposure is around EUR1bn. What is shocking and should be of great concern is that we have been led to believe that very little net cash will change hands on the basis of the $3.2bn net aggregate market exposure. This was based on the now false premise that variation margin was maintained and transferred throughout the process (as we note below from recent IMF filings). What appears to have happened is that dealer to dealer variation margin has been, let's say, less rigorous as perhaps all collateral was netted up across all exposures (or simply ignored on the basis of government backstops). The far bigger question then is: are banks simply marking ALL sovereign CDS at par, and not paying off cash to other dealers? Remember it only takes one counterparty in the chain to turn net into gross and quality collateral seems tied up a little right now at the ECB (or with margin calls).

Ex-ECB's Juergen Stark Says ECB's Balance Sheet "Gigantic", Collateral Quality "Shocking"

The German criticism of a mess they themselves have enabled (and benefit from via peripheral current account deficits funded via TARGET2 as shown previously here) at the ECB continues, and following public protests by Bundesbank head Jens Weidmann about recent ECB activity, it is the turn of former ECB executive board member Juergen Stark to take center stage. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine, warned that following the massive expansion in the ECB's balance sheet, in which it is clear to anyone that the ECB will accept used candy bar wrappers as collateral, that "the balance sheet of the euro system, isn't only gigantic in size but also shocking in quality."

A&G's AIG Moment Approaching: Moody's Downgrades Generali, Cuts Megainsurer Allianz Outlook To Negative

For a while now we have said that the very weakest link in Europe is not the banks, not the ECB, not triggered CDS, and not even the shadow banking system (well, infinitely rehypothecated Greek bonds within a daisychain of broker-dealers, which ultimately ends up at the ECB at a negligible repo discount, that could well be the weakest link - we will have more to say about this over the weekend) but two very specific insurers: Italy's mega insurer Assecurazioni Generali, which at last check had more Greek bonds as a % of TSF than anyone else, and Europe's biggest insurer and Pimco parent, Allianz, which is filled to the gills with pretty much everything (for more on Generali, or as we like to call it by its CDS ticker ASSGEN read here, here, here, and here). Well, Moody's just gave them, and the entire European space, the evil eye, and soon the layering of margin calls upon margin calls, especially if and when Greece defaults and a third of ASSGEN's balance sheet is found to be insolvent, will make anyone who still is long CDS those two names rich. Assuming of course the Fed steps in and bails out the counterparty the CDS was purchased from.

Half Of Citi Pretax Income Over Past Two Years Comes From Loan Loss Reserve Releases

Wonder why nobody trusts bank numbers, and why US financial institutions trade at some fraction of book value? The chart below should explain a big part of it. As can be quite vividly seen, of the $28 billion in pre-tax net income from continuing operations "generated" over the past two years, exactly half, or $14 billion, has been due from a simply accounting trick, namely the release of loan loss reserves, which have been positive for 8 quarters in a row, and which in the just completed quarter amounted to more than the actual pretax number, confirming EPS would have been negative absent accounting trickery (source). One wonders what happens to Citi Net Income once the world openly re-enters a recession, and releases have to become builds again... And for those who enjoy the myth of reported numbers, and are trying to reconcile the resurgence in bank stocks with abysmal earnings, yet wish to understand why Citi has let go the well known Rohit Bansal, and Chris Yanney, who headed the bank's distressed and HY trading respectively, below is also a chart showing the dramatic collapse in the bank's Securities and Banking revenue which just came at the lowest in the past two years, with Norta American top line in particular being decimated.

Citigroup Misses Big On Top And Bottom Line: Earnings Negative Absent Loan Loss Release

Following last week's Easter egg by JPMorgan, the misses by financials continue, with Citi crapping the bed following a big miss in both top and bottom line after reporting $17.2 billion and $0.38 EPS on expectations of $18.5 billion and $0.52 per share. The biggest hit to the top line was the DVA adjustment courtesy of tightening CDS spreads, which while adding to top and bottom line in Q3, took out $1.9 billion in Q4 - of course like everything else it was also priced in. And while we are confident the full earnings presentation will be a labyrinth of loss covering, the first thing to realize is that absent a $1.5 billion in loan loss reserve releases, the bank would have reported negative net income, which was $1.364 billion pretax. Yet there is no way to explain the absolute bloodbath in the Securities and Banking group, which saw revenues implode by 53% from $6.7 billion to $3.2 billion Y/Y, and down 10% Q/Q. Notably, Lending revenues down 84% from $1 billion to $164 million. RIP Carry Trade.

Presenting America's Most Expensive Repossessed Property

When one hears of foreclosed real estate or its sibbling REO (real estate owned) aka repossessed property, typically visions of dilapidated shacks in Detroit, Las Vegas, or the Inland Empire come to mind. And with the average foreclosed home selling at $182,489 according to RealtyTrac, this is understandable. However, such a vision would be wildly incorrect when talking about the property located at 188 Minna St., in San Francisco, which just happens to be America's most expensive bank-owned home. As MSNBC reports, the property in question is quite unlike any other REO out there: because "there's the waterfall in the foyer. And the 2,500-square-foot master bedroom with a hallway just for closets. And the 22-foot glass walls that look out on San Francisco's Arts District." And while we don't know who the original owner is who happens to have walked away on this mortgage, we know which bank got stuck with it. Who else, but Bank of America. Luckily for the bank which recently tested a 4 handle stock price, this property won't be stuck on its books generating zero cash. "According to San Francisco real estate blog, lender Bank of America, which picked up the deed to the 20,000-square-foot penthouse in lieu of foreclosure back in July, just sold the condo. Listed at $35 million, 188 Minna St. was purchased for an eye-popping $28 million, making it the most expensive residential sale in the city's history." To be sure, whoever bought the REO from BAC likely got a good deal on it: "the bank's asking price is half of what the original owner, developer Victor MacFarlane, was seeking for the unit back in 2008, although he did slash the price to $49 million the following year." Which also means that Bank of America was likely largely was underwater on the "half off" sale, which also means a huge writedown on the paper value of the apartment. And one wonders why Bank of America trades at fractions of its book value.