At 50x Leverage And 2% Tier 1 Capital, Is SocGen Truly A Paragon Of Balance Sheet Invincibility?
The fact that European banks have just a tad more leverage compared to their US cousins has been well-known for quite some time. One need merely to look at the chart from our February 2010 post to see how American financial institutions stack up relative to European ones as a %-age of host country GDP. This issue came to a very violent head last week when market participants finally realized the painfully obvous, namely that even without direct Greek exposure (and there certainly is a lot of that), SocGen is simply not a viable business model for the long-run courtesy precisely of its tremendous leverage. And unfortunately, while SocGen's CEO was quick to appear on any TV station that would have him and deny rumors of the bank's viability, he had little if anything to say about the bank's actual solvency and leverage. Alas, therein lies the rub. As the attached table created by Jean-Piette Chevalier demonstrates, SocGen is back at the leverage it had back in 2007 at just over 50x. As a reminder, not even Lehman was this bad when it blew up (and that excludes the beneficial boost from Repo 105). In other words, SocGen has a Tier ratio of 2.0%... a number which the bureaucrats at Basel will have no choice but tell the bank must go up. And go up it will... assuming SocGen can issue €84 billion in new capital to pad its equity (on €19 billion of market cap... mmhmmm). Of course, in order to raise capital, SocGen would have to admit that the market was, in fact, correct in its assessment that the bank was undercapitalized, which would then send the stock even lower, and so forth, chicken or egg style. While we doubt any of this is new to the market, we doubt the response will be one of buying euphoria. Luckily, the only thing that can send the price tumbling now is actual selling, as opposed to shorting. And as we all know, nobody could possibly sell stocks: after all it is simply the evil shorters who are responsible for every market collapse in history, never the long idiot money which never did its homework, and suddenly becomes the last bagholder standing and first to bail from what is obviously a disastrously bad investment.
The real leverage of Societe Generale is ... 50%!
Indeed, the French bank counts in its equity item 2: Equity instruments and associated reserves which are actually different forms of liabilities related interests subject to some conditions.
Equity published in item 1: Sub-total equity, Group share should be reduced by Equity instruments and associated reserves (item 2) to determine the true equity at fair value (item 3) i.e. 22,535 billion of euros.
Total liabilities are equal to total assets (item 4) less the true equity at fair value (item 3): 1,135.473 billion of euros.
So, the leverage is the ratio of total liabilities on equity: 50.4 i.e. a Tier ratio at 2.0%.
What would SocGen need to do to fix this minor problem: "To be well-leveraged, it should increase the equity until 84 billion of euros!" Uh, problem is SocGen currently has a market cap of €19 billion. Somehow we don't think an 80% equity dilution is very feasible without the bank being partially nationalized by the state. Chevalier agrees:
French state should be recapitalized (nationalized) this Gosbank because it is too big to fail with liabilities at 1.135 trillion of euros for an annual GDP of France nearly at 2.000 trillion: 1,300 € per inhabitant (64 million)!
So unless the much anticipated deux ex machina finally arrives, and Bernanke has been waiting for 3 years now, so far unsuccessfully, we eagerly await the announcement out of ISDA that a partial government take over is actually perfectly normal and won't trigger any and all associated CDS.
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