As the idiot market relishes in yet another day of foolish self-delusion that the most globalized market in history can simply decouple between the two largest economies in the world (Europe as a whole is far larger than China), things are starting to stir beneath the surface in Europe. While it is now given that no state will be allowed to default, no market will be allowed to trade down, and no bank will ever be impaired as long until the current flawed economic fundamentalist religion is violently overthrown, the question now becomes (just like it did in the America in late 2008) how far down the foodchain with the global Bernanke put stretch? Case in point: Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali (CDS ticker: ASSGEN). The proximal reason - today the company's CDS spread has gone vertical, wider by 34 bps on the day, or about 20%, to 184 bps. Why is this happening? Simple: ASSGEN has total assets of €423 billion, and more worrisome, a fixed income portfolio of €262 billion, of which 93% is European-bond based (Italy 28%, France 22%, Germany 25%). We all know what has happened to Italian bond prices in the past weeks: as of today, Bund spreads have just hit a fresh all time high. But all this is irrelevant since the bank must have a capital buffer to accommodate the losses. After all, what idiot would run a company with almost €300 billion in Euro-facing bond exposure and not factor for deterioration in risk after the events of May... Well the ASSGEN CEO may be just such an idiot. The company's balance sheet as of 9/30 discloses that the firm had a mere €10 billion in tangible capital (excluding €10.7 billion in intangible assets). So let's recap: €262 billion in Euro bonds on.... €10 billion in tangible equity! A 26x leverage on what is promptly becoming the most impaired asset class in the world. We are amazed that it has taken the market so long to realize that European insurers are the next shoe to drop, and doubly amaze that instead of trading points up, ASSGEN is only 184 bps. We give it a week.
Next, a focus of ASSGEN's most recent asset exposure:
A more focused look at the geographic distribution of the company's fixed income portfolio:
Most importantly: the tangible common of ASSGEN: from member equity subtract intangible assets. You are left with €10 billion, or a 42x TCE total asset leverage, and a 26x fixed income leverage.
In other words, it would take just a 4% impairment on the value of the held bonds for the tangible common to be wiped out. Or, looked at another way, assuming 28% of the FI portfolio is in Italy, if the €73 billion in implied Italian bond holdings were to decline by 14%, all else equal, the same end result would be achieved. This is precisely what the market is starting to realize. Keep in mind ASSGEN is only one tens if not hundreds of comparable insurance companies, the bulk of whose assets are invested in sovereign debt, and confirming just why even the smallest dip in Euro bond price levels will set off a contagion across Europe that will make the Lehman bankruptcy like a walk in the park, and why very soon Europe will have to reach out and rescue not just banks, but insurance companies, then reinsurance, then all feeder companies, and so on, until all of Europe has to be backstopped by the ECB, and thus the Fed.
The Lehman unwind has started, only everyone is so busy pretending America is ok, they are doing all they can to ignore the facts. We give this exercise a few days once the bond vigilantes rip ASSGEN a new one.
With Geoffrey Batt