Credit Rating Agencies
The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) latest civil suit against Bank of America (B of A) is an embarrassment of tragic proportions on multiple dimensions. We're "only" going to explore seven of its epic fails here. The two most obvious fails (except to most of the media, which failed to mention either) are that the DOJ has once again refused to prosecute either the elite bankers or bank that committed what the DOJ describes as massive frauds and that the DOJ has refused to bring even a civil suit against the senior officers of the banks despite filing a complaint that alleges facts showing that those officers committed multiple felonies that made them wealthy by causing massive harm to others. Those two fails should have been the lead in every article about the civil suit. There are many more...
Greed; corporate arrogance; lobbying influence; excessive leverage; accounting tricks to hide debt; lack of transparency; off balance sheet obligations; mark to market accounting; short-term focus on profit to drive compensation; failure of corporate governance; as well as auditors, analysts, rating agencies and regulators who were either lax, ignorant or complicit. This laundry list of causes has often been used to describe what went wrong in the credit crunch crisis of 2008-2010. Actually these terms were equally used to describe what went wrong with Enron more than twenty years ago. Both crises resulted in what at the time was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history — Enron in December 2001 and Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Naturally, this leads to the question that despite all the righteous indignation in the wake of Enron's failure did we really learn or change anything?
The ancient question: how do you extract some moolah while you still can?
This fall, the US government might go the very same way as Detroit and end up filing for chapter-11 help. In other words, it will end up asking itself to bail itself out.
Two days in Washington D.C. kept caterers busy but produced a 2,126 word communique long on slogans and short on anything actionable. The G-20 statement (below) can be boiled down simply, as we tweeted,
G-20 statement: "if we all lie, same as nobody lying"
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) April 19, 2013
And just to add one more embarrassing detail for them, while section 4 discusses "Japan's recent policy actions," not only does Canada's finance minister James Flaherty believe they "didn't discuss the Japanese Yen," but Japan's Kuroda believes, comments on 'misalignments', "were not meant for the BoJ."
It was May in 2010 that Greece suffered its first bailout by its Eurozone peers. At that moment it effectively went bankrupt, however it took nearly three years for reality to set in. Yet it wasn't until months later that Greece's smaller (as we are constantly reminded) neighbor was first downgraded from its legacy "pristine" status, by the jokes that are the "Big 3" credit rating agencies. That downgrade unleashed an "waterfall of reality", shown exquisitely on the chart below culminating with yesterday's S&P cut of the island nation to CCC from CCC+, which is only comparable to the boom to bust ratings of CDS issued in early 2007 only to see full loss a few months later. How long until one or more agencies push the country to the dreaded "D" line?
Thirty cities at the center of the nation’s most populous metropolitan areas faced more than $192 billion in unpaid commitments for pensions and other retiree benefits, primarily health care, as of fiscal 2009. Pew notes that these cities had 74 percent of the money needed to fully fund their pension plans but only 7.4 percent of what was necessary to cover their retiree health care liabilities. Cities typically count on investment earnings from their pension funds to cover two-thirds of benefits. During the Great Recession, though, returns were lower than expected, and unfunded pension liabilities grew in nearly all of the cities. Even cities with well-funded systems struggled to keep up their yearly contributions as local tax revenue plummeted during the recession, and while pension assets have largely returned to pre-recession levels, they still must make up for years of lost growth, as liabilities continue to rise. So pressure for reforms is not expected to lessen. New York and Philadelphia may have the largest unfunded liability per household, but it is Chicago and Pittsburgh that have the lowest funding levels for pensions and the lowest retiree health care funding levels - while Washington D.C. tops the list in both. Benefits down, taxes up.
One of the first axioms of analysis is: "Garbage In, Garbage Out"! If your data is flawed, everything you do with it and the decisions stemming from it are flawed and dangerous to your financial health. Experienced analysts will often be found relentlessly checking, rechecking and validating their inputs and assumptions. If only our economists and the sell side analyst community were this diligent. But then it isn't their money. Only a year-end bonus for the 'extras' in their life is at risk. If economic practitioners were held to higher standards of accountability, they simply wouldn't accept the raft of fundamental data points that are the pillars of most economic assessment. Markets have become so dysfunctional with so much cheap money chasing so few real opportunities, that collateral values within the rehypothecation process are now in jeopardy and exposed to collateral contagion. The question is - what would things look like if the Fed wasn't engaged in Monetary Malpractice?
It is refreshing to see that the SEC has taken a much needed break from its daily escapades into midgetporn.xxx and is focusing on what is truly important, such as barring outspoken rating agency Egan-Jones from rating the US and other governments. From the SEC: "EJR and Egan made a settlement offer that the Commission determined to accept. Under the settlement, EJR and Egan agreed to be barred for at least 18 months from rating asset-backed and government securities issuers as an NRSRO. EJR and Egan also agreed to correct the deficiencies found by SEC examiners in 2012, and submit a report – signed by Egan under penalty of perjury — detailing steps the firm has taken." Hopefully the world is no longer insolvent in July of 2014 when this ban runs out.
"The scaled-down deal passed in the Senate addressed the fiscal cliff but did nothing to address longer term fiscal health of the nation. This puts the US rating at risk for a downgrade. However, credit rating agencies may decide to wait and see what emerges from the subsequent talks. There is an implicit new cliff at the end of February related to the sequester and to the expected exhaustion of extraordinary measures related to the debt ceiling. This date is expected to be used by Republicans as leverage for spending cuts. President Obama has already signaled that a new round of spending cuts – those related to the sequester as well as entitlement spending – will have to be matched by additional revenue increases. Therefore entitlement and tax reform are likely to be at the center of discussions over the next two months."
- Egypt protests continue in crisis over Mursi powers (Reuters)
- Greece hires Deutsche, Morgan Stanley to run Greek voluntary debt buy back, sources say (Kathimerini)
- Executives' Good Luck in Trading Own Stock (WSJ)
- Hollande Presents Mittal Nationalization Among Site Options (Bloomberg)
- Eurozone states face losses on Greek debt (FT)
- Spain's rescued banks to shrink, slash jobs (Reuters)
- EU Approves Spanish Banks' Restructuring Plans (WSJ)
- At SAC, Portfolio Managers Are Treated Like Stocks (BBG)
- China considers easing family planning rules (Reuters)
- European Court to Rule Over ECB’s Secret Greek File (BusinessWeek)
- And another top tick indicator: Asia Funds Buy London Offices in Bet Volatility Is Past (Bloomberg)
- Harvard Doctor Turns Felon After Lure of Insider Trading (BBG)
- Zucker Is Lead Candidate to Head CNN (WSJ) - it's not true until CNN misreports it
- Iran "will press on with enrichment:" nuclear chief (Reuters)
Earlier today, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), one of the few transnational financial "supervisors" which is about as relevant in the grand scheme of things as the BIS, whose Basel III capitalization requirements will never be adopted for the simple reason that banks can not afford, now or ever, to delever and dispose of assets to the degree required for them to regain "stability" (nearly $4 trillion in Europe alone as we explained months ago), issued a report on Shadow Banking. The report is about 3 years late (Zero Hedge has been following this topic since 2010), and is largely meaningless, coming to the same conclusion as all other historical regulatory observations into shadow banking have done in the recent past, namely that it is too big, too unwieldy, and too risky, but that little if anything can be done about it. Specifically, the FSB finds that the size of the US shadow banking system is estimated to amount to $23 trillion (higher than our internal estimate of about $15 trillion due to the inclusion of various equity-linked products such as ETFs, which hardly fit the narrow definition of a "bank" with its three compulsory transformation vectors), is the largest in the world, followed by the Euro area with a $22 trillion shadow bank system (or 111% of total Euro GDP in 2011, down from 128% at its peak in 2007), and the UK in third, with $9 trillion. Combined total shadow banking, not to be confused with derivatives, which at least from a theoretical level can be said to offset each other (good luck with that when there is even one counterparty failure), is now $67 trillion, $6 trillion higher than previously thought, and virtually the same as global GDP of $70 trillion at the end of 2011.
House Republicans Find Corzine Guilty Of MF Global Collapse, Missing Funds; Democrats Refuse To Endorse FindingsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 11/14/2012 18:14 -0500
It appears that these days not even the Corzining of client money can happen without it being split across furiously polarized party lines. As it turns out hours ago, the Committee on House Financial Services released an advance glimpse into a report to be released in its entirety tomorrow, which puts the blame for the collapse of not only MF Global, but also the disappearance of millions in client money, right where it belongs: the firm's then CEO Jon Corzine. Yet that Corzine corzined millions, leaving clients scrambling in bankruptcy court in an attempt to recover what should have been segregated money from the very beginning, and also just happened to blow up one of the 21 Fed-anointed Primary Dealers, is not surprising: this has been long known by everyone. Those who need a refresher are urged to recall the Honorable's testimony before the House... or maybe not: after all it is not as if Corzine himself could recall a whole lot. Where it gets interesting is that the former Democratic governor, and senator, not to mention primary bundler for president Obama, is, in the eyes of the members of the committee, innocent: All the democrats on the Investigations Subcommittee refused to sign off on the findings, meaning that to them, Corzine is completely innocent. That this is purely a political move is glaringly obvious. It is also abhorrent, because as long as political ideology gets in the way of pursuing and imposing justice, the Banana States of America will remain just that.
Europe's chicken or egg problem is about to strike with a vengeance. As a reminder, the biggest paradox of the recently conceived "make it up as you go along" bailout of Europe is that "in order to be saved, Spain (and Italy) must first be destroyed". Sure enough, the markets have long since priced in the "saved" part with the Spanish 10 year sliding to multi-month lows, but in the process everyone forgot about the destruction. Because as has been made quite clear, secondary market bond buying will not be activated without a formal bailout request by a country, in essence admitting its insolvency, and handing over domestic fiscal and sovereign control to the IMF and other international entities. As a further reminder, many, Goldman Sachs especially, had hoped that Spain would request a bailout as soon as Friday. To wit: "With a large (and uncovered) redemption looming at the end of October (and under pressure from other Euro area governments), we expect Spain to move towards seeking support." Alas, as we expected, this is now not going to happen, and the pricing in of the entire "saved" part will have to be unwound as Spain is forced to accept being "destroyed" first. To wit: "I don't know if Spain needs to ask for it," Rajoy told parliament in a debate session, referring to an international rescue for Spain."
The importance of the negative credit outlook from Moody’s lies less in the realm of financial markets, given how little investors seem to value the views of the credit rating agencies. Rather the major importance lies in the policy and political reactions to the rating actions. As UBS notes, there is a risk of popular (not political leadership) adverse reaction. The media in Germany (where there is a tradition of media hostility to the Euro periphery) or in the Netherlands (approaching a general election in September) may portray this as "we are being dragged down by the Euro periphery". If that does transpire it could easily fan the flames of populist resentment of the Euro still further. Critically, if the media attribute (or mis-attribute) the blame to the periphery, there could be obstacles to that integrationist momentum. The reality of a common monetary policy and the necessity of some kind of communalized fiscal responsibility are being brought to bear on the Euro area polity - but markets seem confused. CDS markets are pricing Germany's risk as if it was becoming increasingly encumbered to the periphery and yet the FX market is dragging EURUSD lower on expectations of massive upheaval and potential SPexit with no German 'unlimited' support. CDS appears to fit with raters, FX more with haters - or as UBS points out, perhaps all is not well in Germany as it "has demonstrably failed to grow its way out of debt."