Collateralized Loan Obligations
The attached Barron’s article appeared in December 2007 as an outlook for the year ahead, and Wall Street strategists were waxing bullish. Notwithstanding the advanced state of disarray in the housing and mortgage markets, soaring global oil prices and a domestic economic expansion cycle that was faltering and getting long in the tooth, Wall Street strategists were still hitting the “buy” key. In fact, the Great Recession had already started but they didn’t have a clue: "Against this troubling backdrop, it’s no wonder investors are worried that the bull market might end in 2008. But Wall Street’s top equity strategists are quick to dismiss such fears."
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."
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)
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)
As part of the Appendixed disclosures in the aftermath of JPM's London Whale fiasco, we learned the source of funding that Bruno Iksil and company at the firm's Chief Investment Office used to rig and corner the IG and HY market, making billions in profits in what, on paper, were supposed to be safe, hedging investments until it all went to hell and resulted in the most humiliating episode of Jamie Dimon's career and huge losses: it was excess customer customer deposits arising from a $400+ billion gap between loans and deposits. After JPM's fiasco went public, the firm hunkered down and promptly unwound (or is still in the process of doing so) its existing CIO positions at a huge loss. However, that meant that suddenly the firm found itself with nearly $400 billion billion in inert, nonmargined cash: something that was unacceptable to the CEO and the firm's shareholders. In other words, it was time to get to work, Mr. Dimon, and put that cash to good, or bad as the case almost always is, use. So what has JPM allocated all those billions in excess deposits over loans? Courtesy of Fortune magazine we now know the answer - CLOs.
A week ago, when Wells Fargo unleashed the so far quite disappointing earnings season for commercial banks (connected hedge funds like Goldman Sachs excluded) we reported that the bank's deposits had risen to a record $176 billion over loans on its books. Today we conduct the same analysis for the other big two commercial banks: Wells Fargo and JPMorgan (we ignore Citi as it is still a partially nationalized disaster). The results are presented below, together with a rather stunning observation.
By the Deceptive means of Misinformation and Manipulation of economic data the Federal Reserve has set the stage for broad based moral hazard. Through Distortions caused by Malpractice and Malfeasance, a raft of Unintended Consequences have now changed the economic and financial fabric of America likely forever. The Federal Reserve policies of Quantitative Easing and Negative real interest rates, across the entire yield curve, have been allowed to go on so long that Mispricing and Malinvestment has reached the level that markets are effectively Delusional. Markets have become Dysfunctional concerning the pricing of risk and risk adjusted valuations. Fund Managers can no longer use even the Fed's own Valuation Model which is openly acknowledged to be broken.
A month ago we warned that JPM's CIO office is nothing short of the world's largest prop trading desk. Not only were we right, but what just transpired is just shy of our worst possible prediction. At the end of the day, the real question is why did JPM put in so much money at risk in a prop trade because we can dispense with the bullshit that his was a hedge, right? Simple: because it knew with 100% certainty that if things turn out very, very badly, that the taxpayer, via the Fed, would come to its rescue. Luckily, things turned out only 80% bad. Although it is not over yet: if credit spreads soar, assuming at $200 million DV01, and a 100 bps move, JPM could suffer a $20 billion loss when all is said and done. But hey: at least "net" is not "gross" and we know, just know, that the SEC will get involved and make sure something like this never happens again.