Here We Go: Fitch Places Bank Of America, All US Banks On Rating Watch Negative

Here we go - the rating agencies are now officially in the game. Next up - collateral calls and other nasty stuff: "Today, Fitch Ratings issued a number of separate press releases placing on Rating Watch Negative most U.S. bank and bank holding companies' Support Ratings, Support Floors and other ratings that are sovereign-support dependent. The two companies mostly impacted by this announcement are Bank of America Corporation and Citigroup, Inc." BBB+ coming up.

 

 


Fitch Ratings has placed the long-term and short-term Issuer Default Ratings

 

(IDRs) as well as the Support and Support Floor ratings of Bank of America Corporation (BAC) on Rating Watch Negative following initial interpretation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and its implications for systemically important financial institutions.

FI Ratings Potentially Impacted by Proposed FDIC Rules' for additional information. Fitch's ratings of banks have always encompassed a view of intrinsic creditworthiness expressed through the Individual rating, while Fitch's view of Support has been expressed separately through its Support framework. Support Ratings communicate Fitch's judgment on whether a bank would receive support from the U.S. Government should this become necessary.

The recently enacted legislative framework and potential regulatory rulemaking primarily affect Fitch's sovereign Support framework.

At the present time, Fitch's current long-term 'A+' IDR rating for BAC incorporates a three-notch uplift for the long-term rating and a two-notch uplift for the 'F1+' short-term ratings. If Fitch determines on a going forward basis that support from the sovereign state can no longer be relied upon it is not certain that Fitch would immediately lower the IDRs of BAC to its unsupported rating level. Over the near-to-intermediate term, Fitch's fundamental credit assessment of BAC will continue to consider existing support already received, such as debt still outstanding issued under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC's) Temporary Liquidity Guaranty Program (TLGP), in its ratings. As a result, IDRs will continue to incorporate support received during the crisis, as well as recent improvements in BAC's intrinsic financial profile and Fitch's expectations for continued improvement.

Fitch has maintained a '1' Support Rating on BAC, translating into a Support Rating Floor of 'A+', since the depths of the recent financial crisis. Fitch's rating criteria calls for the assignment of the 'higher-of' BAC's Support Rating Floor of 'A+' or its perceived fundamental stand-alone IDR rating (excluding support), which is currently 'BBB+/F2'. Since Fitch is placing on Rating Watch Negative all U.S. bank and bank holding companies' Support Ratings and Support Rating Floors, the IDRs of BAC and its sovereign support dependent ratings are also placed on Rating Watch Negative.

The stand-alone IDRs are driven by the Individual rating which is currently 'C'. In August 2010, Fitch upgraded BAC's Individual rating from 'C/D' reflecting efforts to boost common equity and liquidity combined with stable to improving asset quality trends in various portfolio categories. The upgrades were constrained by BAC's remaining challenges including a still high level of non-performing loans (NPLs), large reps and warranty exposure in the mortgage business as well as ongoing legal issues associated with the Merrill Lynch and Countrywide acquisitions. Further upgrades of the Individual rating and the unsupported IDRs are a possibility if operating earnings stabilize and/or increase, asset quality trends continue to improve, greater clarity emerges on ultimate reps and warranty exposure in the mortgage business and legal risks diminish. The Individual rating could be negatively affected if asset quality again deteriorates, which is not expected at least in the near term. Downward rating pressure could emerge if reps and warranties losses escalate appreciably, particularly in cost result in operating losses and erosion of capital.

BAC is one of the largest U.S. banks in terms of total deposits, loans, branches, mortgage originations/servicing and credit card issuance. Following its January 2009 merger with Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. (Merrill), BAC became one of the top financial institutions in wealth management and investment banking.

 


 

And there's this:

Today, Fitch Ratings issued a number of separate press releases placing on Rating Watch Negative most U.S. bank and bank holding companies' Support Ratings, Support Floors and other ratings that are sovereign-support dependent. The two companies mostly impacted by this announcement are Bank of America Corporation and Citigroup, Inc. This is due to the fact that both entities', and their related subsidiaries', Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) and their respective senior debt obligations have benefited from support provided by the U.S. government.

At the present time, Fitch's long-term 'A+' IDR ratings for Citigroup and Bank of America incorporate a three-notch uplift for the long-term rating and a two-notch uplift for the 'F1+' short-term ratings. If Fitch determines on a go forward basis that support from the sovereign state can no longer be relied upon it is not certain that Fitch would immediately lower the IDRs of Bank of America or Citigroup to their unsupported rating levels. Over the near to intermediate term, Fitch's fundamental credit assessment of Bank of America and Citigroup will continue to consider existing support already received, such as debt still outstanding issued under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC's) Temporary Liquidity Guaranty Program (TLGP), in its ratings of those institutions. As a result, the IDRs will continue to incorporate support received during the crisis, as well as improvements in intrinsic financial profiles and expectations for continued improvement.

Each of these companies has maintained a '1' Support Rating, translating into a Support Rating Floor of 'A+', since the depths of the recent financial crisis after each firm received and benefited from extraordinary direct support from the U.S. government. Fitch's rating criteria calls for the assignment of the 'higher-of' either the companies' Support Rating Floor of 'A+' or its perceived fundamental stand-alone IDR rating (excluding support), which is currently 'BBB+/F2' for both affected companies. Since Fitch is placing on Rating Watch Negative all U.S. bank and bank holding companies' Support Ratings and Support Rating Floors, the IDRs of Bank of America and Citigroup and their respective sovereign support dependent ratings are also placed on Rating Watch Negative. The IDR and issue-level ratings for all other banking companies, except for Bank of America and Citigroup and certain related affiliates, are unaffected by today's actions since the current IDR ratings are all above their current Support Rating Floors.

Today's actions follow Fitch's interpretation of the recently released Notice of Public Rulemaking 'Implementing Certain Orderly Liquidation Authority Provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act' (proposed rule or NPR), which was issued by the FDIC on Oct. 12, 2010. The proposed rule will govern the way the FDIC implements the resolution of financial institutions, such as bank and insurance holding companies or other non-bank financial institutions deemed to be systemically important, an authority granted to the agency by Dodd-Frank. The NPR reiterates that under no circumstances should taxpayers ever be called upon to bail out systemically important financial institutions in the future, nor be exposed to loss in the resolution of these companies. While the NPR also reiterates the FDIC's mission of resolving institutions in a manner that 'maximizes the value of the company's assets, minimizes losses, mitigates [systemic] risk and minimizes moral hazard,' it nevertheless makes clear that creditors, including senior bondholders, should bear their proportion of the loss in an orderly resolution. This more stringent mandate to impose losses on senior unsecured creditors calls into question the very core of Fitch's Support rating framework, the likelihood of full and timely payment in the event that the rated institution faces serious financial deterioration in the future.

Resolution of the Rating Watches will be based in part on language from the final rule once formally adopted as well as Fitch's view on how the final rule will impact its view of support. The FDIC's proposed rule is likely to mean that should intervention be necessary some creditors, namely senior debt, subordinated debt, and preferred and common shareholders will incur losses consistent with their treatment as if the entity filed a Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy petition. Importantly, Fitch has not imputed sovereign support in its ratings for bank holding company creditors, i.e. most U.S. bank holding companies carry a '5' Support rating.

Fitch believes that the NPR is one of many across numerous jurisdictions globally to govern how policy makers and regulators may address failing or failed institutions in the future. Recently introduced resolution regimes in some countries in Europe have so far provided similar wide-ranging powers to the banking authorities to impose losses on bank creditors but have, nevertheless, left open the possibility of taxpayer support.

The proposed NPR appears to divide senior creditors' claims by maturity and stated purpose and introduces a number of considerations for Fitch's ratings of these systemically important institutions. Fitch notes that some obligations, including short-term senior debt and certain other creditors such as 'commercial lenders or other providers of financing who have made lines of credit available to the covered financial company that are essential for its continued operation and orderly liquidation' are specifically differentiated from senior bondholders in the NPR. Should this carve out provision remain as part of the final rules, Fitch would need to consider how best it would rate the segregated obligations.

The proposed rule, as required by U.S. law, is subject to a public comment period of at least 30 days from publication in the Federal Register so it is important to note that material changes to the proposal could occur before enactment. Once implemented, it is believed that the proposed rule will serve as the road map by which the FDIC implements its expanded authority in the resolution of a systemically important failed institution.

In the past, systemically important institutions that became troubled typically received some form of federal support and/or regulatory forbearance that allowed them to continue operating through a rehabilitation period, with creditors and shareholders often becoming significant beneficiaries. The FDIC has used a 'least cost [to the deposit insurance fund] resolution' approach in carrying out its resolution activities since the Financial Institutions Regulation, Reform and Improvement Act (FIRREA) of 1989. This approach is preserved in the NPR and is consistent with the Dodd-Frank mandate of maximizing the value of assets and minimizing losses. The proposed rule additionally preserves many tools for the FDIC to use to further incorporate the requirements of Dodd-Frank that resolutions mitigate systemic risk and minimize moral hazard.

Fitch has long recognized through its Support Ratings the role that support plays in global banking. In most developed markets, governments have historically taken a dual approach to assuring the stability of their financial infrastructure including strong regulatory oversight on the front end and backstopping critical components of the system in times of duress. The proposed rule for implementing Dodd-Frank preserves a wide array of tools for the FDIC to resolve systemically important institutions while also mitigating systemic risk and financial contagion. Under the proposed resolution approach, select creditors may benefit from some forms of support under certain circumstances and where, in the judgment of the FDIC, the alternatives would ultimately put the system at greater risk. That said, whereas bondholders, both senior and subordinated, and even shareholders, have benefited from support in the past, direct support for these creditors is effectively prohibited under Dodd-Frank.