Collateralized Loan Obligations
The total tonnage of economic malarkey being shoveled over the American public these days would make the late Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Nazi Minister of “Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”) turn green in his grave with envy. It’s a staggering phenomenon because little about it is conspiratorial; rather, it’s the consensual expression of a public that wants desperately to believe things that are untrue, and an economic leadership equally credulous, unmanned, and avid to furnish the necessary narratives that might preserve their jobs and perqs.
It wasn’t an edgy blogger but the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that issued the warning.
If the Fed is looking for definitive proof of bubble euphoria it should look no further than the CLO market: according to Bloomberg, so far in 2014, more than $46 billion of collateralized loan obligations have been raised, after $82 billion were sold in all of 2013. As a result of this epic dash for repackaged trash, JPMorgan boosted its annual forecast for CLO issuance from $70 billion to as much as $100 billion, which means 2014 may end up as the biggest year on record. We assume it is with great irony that Bloomberg summarizes: "The business of bundling junk-rated corporate loans into top-rated securities is booming like never before after the implementation of regulation aimed at making the financial system safer."
"You’re picking up pennies on a train track. You are not getting paid much but you are sure that there will be a very negative surprise at some point. The risk / reward profile is as bad as ’07." - Portfolio manager speaking to Citigroup
'Not' as exciting and headline-making as Day 1, as damage control was loud and proud after Tepper's "dangerous markets" call. The number of times we heard "what he meant to say was..." made us laugh but day 2 of the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference (SALT) varied from Leon Cooperman's "S&P to 2000" exuberance to Rubinstein's "markets are not cheap" disappointment and everything in between... with Nassim Taleb's "not enough people paid the price for 2008" conclusion summing it all up nicely.
Some people are either born or nurtured into a time warp and never seem to escape. That’s Janet Yellen’s apparent problem with the “bathtub economics” of the 1960s neo-Keynesians. As has now been apparent for decades, the Great Inflation of the 1970s was a live fire drill that proved Keynesian activism doesn’t work. That particular historic trauma showed that “full employment” and “potential GDP” were imaginary figments from scribblers in Ivy League economics departments—not something that is targetable by the fiscal and monetary authorities or even measureable in a free market economy. Even more crucially, the double digit inflation, faltering growth and repetitive boom and bust macro-cycles of the 1970s and early 1980s proved in spades that interventionist manipulations designed to achieve so-called “full-employment” actually did the opposite—that is, they only amplified economic instability and underperformance as the decade wore on.
Wall Street is back in the business of lending money at the Fed’s gifted rate of zero plus a modest 80 basis point spread - so that the fast money can buy CLO paper on 9 to 1 leverage. There is your triple shuffle. It didn’t work out last time, but that doesn’t matter because the game is obvious. After enough buying on Wall Street’s triple leverage, junk loan prices might temporarily rebound. Then the brokers will put out the call to retail: The junk loan asset class is rebounding - its time to come back. For the final shearing, that is!
- Fed’s Fisher Says Economy Strengthening as Payrolls Rise (BBG)
- Russia Knows Europe Sanctions Ineffective With Tax Havens (BBG)
- EU Cuts Euro-Area Growth Outlook as Inflation Seen Slower (BBG)
- U.S. Firms With Irish Addresses Get Tax Breaks Derided as ‘Blarney’ (BBG)
- Portugal exits bailout without safety net of credit line (Euronews)
- Puzzled Malaysian Air Searchers Ponder What to Try Now (BBG)
- Barclays, Credit Suisse Battle Banker Exodus, Legal Woes (BBG)
- Germany says euro level not an issue for politicians (Reuters)
- Alibaba-Sized Hole Blown in Nasdaq 100 Amid New Stock (BBG)
- Obamacare to save large corporations hundreds of billions (The Hill)
This eruption of late cycle bubble finance hardly needs comment. Below are highlights from a Bloomberg Story detailing the recent surge of leveraged recaps by the big LBO operators. These maneuvers amount to piling more debt on already heavily leveraged companies, but not to fund Capex or new products, technology or process improvements that might give these debt mules an outside chance of survival over time. No, the freshly borrowed cash from a leveraged recap often does not even leave the closing conference room - it just gets recycled out as a dividend to the LBO sponsors who otherwise hold a tiny sliver of equity at the bottom of the capital structure. This is financial strip-mining pure and simple - and is a by-product of the Fed’s insane repression of interest rates.
Over the weekend, there has been some consternation over the report that the CEOs of the 6 largest US banks: JPM, BAC, GS, MS, C and WFC, collectively made $96.1 million in 2013, more than $86.3 million the year before and the most since the financial crisis. However, we are confident those same people would have an aneurism if they were to learn that James "Jimmy" Levin, a 31-year-old hedge fund trader - head of global credit and an executive managing director at Och-Ziff - last year made a whopping $119 million, or more than all of the CEOs of the six largest firms combined.
- Russia's Gazprom says Ukraine did not pay for gas on time (Reuters)
- Ukraine Moves to Keep Control in East (BBG)
- Banks Set to Report Lower Earnings as Debt Trading Slumps (BBG)
- More DeGeners and Obama selfies needed: Samsung's lower first-quarter estimate highlights smartphone challenges (Reuters)
- Citi Is Bracing to Miss a Profit Target (WSJ)
- Another slam from GM? Safety group calls for U.S. probe of Chevy Impala air bags (Reuters)
- Japan drugmaker Takeda to fight $6 billion damages imposed by U.S. jury (Reuters)
- EU court rules against requirement to keep data of telecom users (Reuters)
- White House may ban selfies with president after Ortiz-Obama photo promotes Samsung (Syracuse)
Tomorrow we prepare for a “new” Fed. It looks a lot like the old Fed, but one can hope. In the meantime we wonder if QE is worth it? Does it do what it is “supposed” to do? No. We don’t think it has done much for jobs or inflation or housing. We look at the pre QE data and the post QE data and we are underwhelmed. But what real evidence is there that QE is helping the economy? Would we be the same without it? Better even? I am told no, but I am told a lot of things that turn out not to be true. If it was clear that QE was really helping the economy, I wouldn’t be wondering why we do it. But is there any harm to QE? That is the other side of the coin. Ask any person from an Emerging Market whether QE is harmful and you will likely get a very different answer than the one Ben has given.
- Emerging markets pray for Wall Street tumble (Reuters)
- Yellen Faces Test Bernanke Failed: Ease Bubbles (BBG)
- Samsung sets new smartphone sales record in fourth quarter, widens lead over Apple (Reuters)
- China’s Foreign-Reserves Investment Chief Said to Depart Agency (BBG)
- China’s Rescue of Troubled Trust May Stoke Risk-Taking (BBG)
- Ukraine PM Azarov offers to resign 'to help end conflict' (Reuters) ... And Russia says may reconsider aid if this happens
- But... but... it was all gold's fault: India Unexpectedly Raises Rate as Rupee Risks Inflation Goal (BBG)
- Former Belgian king 'boycotting' public events after complaining £760,000 is not enough to live on (Telegraph)
- Greek disposable income tumbles 8% in Q3 (Kathimerini)
So much for the strict, evil Volcker Rule which was a "victory for regulators" and its requirement that banks dispose of TruPS CDOs. Recall a month, when it was revealed that various regional banks would need to dispose of their TruPS CDO portfolios, we posted "As First Volcker Rule Victim Emerges, Implications Could "Roil The Market"." Well, the market shall remain unroiled because last night by FDIC decree, the TruPS CDO provision was effectively stripped from the rule. This is what came out of the FDIC last night: "Five federal agencies on Tuesday approved an interim final rule to permit banking entities to retain interests in certain collateralized debt obligations backed primarily by trust preferred securities (TruPS CDOs) from the investment prohibitions of section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, known as the Volcker rule." In other words, the first unintended consequences of the Volcker Rule was just neutralized after the ABA and assorted banks screamed against it.
- Winter storm lashes eastern U.S., threatens Thanksgiving travel (Reuters)
- Fed Reveals New Concerns About Long-Term U.S. Slowdown (BBG)
- Private equity keeps $789bn of powder dry (FT) - because they are "selling everything that is not nailed down"
- Merkel and SPD clinch coalition deal two months after vote (Reuters)
- Japan approves new state secrecy bill to combat leaks (BBC)
- CLOs are the new black: Volatile Loan Securities Are Luring Fund Managers Again (WSJ)
- Health website deadline nears (WSJ)
- Norway Debates $800 Billion Wealth Fund’s Investment Options (BBG)
- Set of global trade deals stalls (WSJ)
- Berlusconi To Learn Fate In Senate (Sky)
- Silvio Berlusconi withdraws support from Italy’s government (FT)