Category / Credit

Strange days indicator March 13, 2014 at 5:48 am

According to Reuters, Mexico has begun marketing a new 100-year benchmark bond denominated in sterling. Yes, I had to read it twice too.

Advertising their concentration March 3, 2014 at 11:59 am

I’m feeling under the weather, and hence watching more TV than usual. There’s a new TSB ad that strikes me as odd. The punchline is “Every penny our customers deposit with us stays right here in Britain, supporting mortgages and loans for other TSB customers.” So what they are telling us is that their loan book is completely concentrated in one country and thus not nearly as well diversified as it could be. It’s the first `please consider giving us a pillar 2 add-on for concentration risk in the loan book’ advertisement I’ve seen on national TV*. That said, it isn’t as bad as the paypal ad. I really hope I feel well enough to read instead of watch TV tomorrow…

*OK, TSB is part of Lloyds, and Lloyds is better diversified – or at least they don’t advertise that they are not – so it is probably fine, but still, this kind of flag-waving is kinda odd.

Tying Loan Rates to Borrowers’ CDS Spreads February 10, 2014 at 8:23 pm

João Santos blogs about an interesting paper on Liberty Street Economics.

The development of the CDS market has provided banks both with a new way to manage their credit risk and with observable information on borrowers’ default risk. While banks do not seem to use the CDS market extensively to lay off credit risk, it appears that they are relying on information from the CDS market in their lending business. We find that since early 2008 banks have increasingly extended loans to corporations with interest rate spreads tied to the borrower’s CDS spread (or to a CDX index) over the life of the loan, a practice referred to as market-based pricing… We find that the difference between the actual and the hypothetical fixed-rate spread over the life of loan is always negative for loans priced off the CDS market, confirming that market-based pricing has lowered the cost of bank credit.

We know that CDS spreads dramatically over-state the probability of default, but clearly old fashioned bank lending spreads over-stated it even more. I do worry that this approach risks pushing the borrower into default as their spreads blows out, too – whether or not that blow out was caused by a change in fundamentals.

What’s an “equity like” product in the credit market? February 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm

FT alphaville quote this chart from BAML in an article about (amongst other things) Cocos:

Frozen rain

It strikes me that leveraged loans are not much like Cocos. Think of it this way. Start with a senior bond from a good quality issuer. You can make this product more ‘equity like’ in a number of ways:

  • Make the issuer dodgier, so the credit spread goes out to reflect the increased PD;
  • Make the bond more subordinated, so the loss given default goes up;
  • Make the coupons deferrable/PIK’able, creating a risk of loss without a credit event;
  • Make the bond mandatory convertible or bail-in’able so that you can get something other than par back, again without it being a credit event.

Doubtless there are others. The point though is that the first direction – drifting down the credit spectrum towards leveraged loans – slowly moves the loss distribution; whereas the last two add an unlikely but catastrophic event. Cocos or bail-in bonds from good quality banks are unlikely to suffer losses, but when they do, they are bad. This is a different kind of ‘more like equity’ than declining credit quality.

Martin Taylor is seriously out of date January 30, 2014 at 7:38 pm

He says:

In the 1990s IT did not enjoy especially high status within banks. Real men, then as now, wanted to meet property company bosses at the Savoy Grill and lend them huge amounts of money that were unlikely to be repaid.

This is of course wrong. Real bankers now want to meet property company bosses at Petrus and lend them huge amounts of money that is unlikely to be repaid.

Should banks reserve through-the-cycle? January 20, 2014 at 9:56 am

The elephant in the accounts is often loan loss reserves, those oh-so-easy-to-manipulate, oh-so-big (if not actually big-eared) amounts that often drive bank earnings. If you though derivatives valuation was dodgy, welcome to the loan book. The most recent, if not the most egregious examples are surveyed in a recent Bloomberg post:

More than 31 percent of JPMorgan’s 2013 earnings, or $5.6 billion, and about 10 percent of Wells Fargo’s, $2.2 billion, weren’t really earned last year. That money came instead from the banks’ so-called loan-loss reserves… [Bank of America] has received the biggest boost from releasing reserves: The move helped it turn $11.8 billion in losses since 2010 into $11.4 billion in profit. Citigroup, which reported $40.4 billion in net income over that time, would have booked about half that amount without the accounting benefit.

This cuts the other way, too. Bank of America would have reported almost $55 billion in profit in 2009 if it weren’t for the $48.6 billion it put back into reserves that year.

This happens of course because loan loss reserves are annual estimates, and things change from year to year. There are proposals to move to provisions which would reflect losses expected over the life of the loan. This ‘through the cycle’ approach might be more stable, and would certainly result in higher levels of provisions, but they won’t hit any time soon*. Perhaps supervisors should give up on the accounting standards setters and set robust standards for regulatory through the cycle EL provisions?

*The current state of play from FASB is : “The Board discussed the next steps on the credit impairment project and decided to continue to refine the Current Expected Credit Loss (CECL) model in the proposed Accounting Standards Update, Financial Instruments—Credit Losses (Subtopic 825-15)… The Boards will continue redeliberations on the CECL model, considering feedback received through comment letters and outreach activities on Exposure Drafts issued.” Dynamic, huh?

A bad habit November 20, 2013 at 9:33 pm

The claims that senior bankers have been using dangerous drugs are shocking, but the evidence appears irrefutable. Yes, cov-lite loans are growing:


This is going to have a nasty come down…

The problem with bond market power November 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Peter Lee in Euromoney points out that while dealers’ bond inventory has been going down, the big funds have got bigger.

Liquidity is drying up across the bond markets. Regulations designed to curtail banks’ leverage have had the unintended consequence of also sharply reducing their ability and willingness to make markets in corporate and even government debt.

Felix Salmon picks up the story and reposts this chart from Citi as evidence:


As the title hints, what is at stake here is the declining ability of the markets to absorb risk. Twenty years ago, dealers would make ‘risk’ prices for big blocks, committing their balance sheets to take on customer blocks in exchange for a return. That’s rare now, and become rarer. Dealer inventory has declined too as it becomes more costly in capital to hold. The net result is not just a market with wider spreads and less certainty of execution; it is also one that is becoming more and more vulnerable to even mild selling from the two buy-side leviathans, Pimco and Blackrock. It is no one’s interest that these firms are now so big that they cannot change their positions meaningfully without causing market disruption.

The slow reaction of bond indices November 5, 2013 at 6:41 am

From Goldman’s Jesse Edgerton, via FT alphaville:

In the current iBoxx US investment grade index, for example, about 15% of bonds in the index trade less than once a month, and only about 65% trade on any given day. Even fewer bonds trade multiple times per day in substantial sizes. Thus prices and yields for a large fraction of the bonds that are aggregated into published indices must be estimated by the providers of the index data each day.

Unfortunately, it appears that the procedures used to estimate these prices do not incorporate all information available on each day, because future movements in bond indices are easily forecastable well into the future. To illustrate, we regress daily changes from 2010 to present in the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch BBB index yield on contemporaneous and lagged daily changes in 5-year Treasury rates and daily changes in spreads on the 5-yr CDX index of corporate default swaps, a more liquid credit market instrument… Although information reflected in Treasury yields is incorporated into the index quickly, information in CDX spreads is incorporated very slowly. A 1 bp increase in the CDX spread accompanies only a 0.1 bp increase in the BBB index yield on the same day, but it predicts an increase of another 0.3 bps on the following day and further increases up to three weeks later.

This is more important than I have space for, really, so just a few hints:

  • This lag poses a serious methodological challenge to a lot of quantitative work which uses bond spreads – the delays need to be accounted for, and the slow response will be difficult to disentangle from other factors.
  • There might be the nub of an arbitrage here, if you could figure out how to do index arb safely on an index with illiquid components.
  • Issues like this may well get worse, as regulation makes market making more expensive. This is going to present growing opportunities for players willing to take asset illiquidity risk.

Junk ratings May 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Bloomberg reproduces the following chart of Moody’s ratings of major banks with and without government support.

Bank ratings

You could read this at face value: the claim would then be that an unsupported BofA and Citi are junk. But really, is this credible? The BB+ one year default rate averages, depending on period, somewhere around 1 – 1.5%. A fair credit spread, without liquidity premiums or other compensation, and assuming a Lehman-type 25% recovery would therefore be at least 1%, with the actual credit spread being bigger than that.

This does not seem credible to me. The PDs are high; the spreads are high; perhaps it is the stand alone ratings that don’t make sense?

The Lehman recovery advances… March 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm

…a little.

From Reuters:

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc said on Wednesday it plans to distribute about $14.2 billion to creditors early next month… [this] will increase total distributions to about $47.2 billion, with two-thirds going to third parties.

The company has said it hopes to distribute more than $65 billion, on average about 21 cents on the dollar for allowed claims…

Following the distribution, holders of senior unsecured claims against the parent company will have received about 14.8 cents on the dollar on their claims

So, five years on, more or less, we are up to 15% recovery, with 20% in sight. Hmmm.

JP with madeira and a tea cake* March 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

It seems that JPMorgan’s travails have become a spectator sport, to be enjoyed with a snack of your choice. I am only half way through the senate report, let along the appendices, so I won’t add to the (already comprehensive) guides to the action‡.

Instead I want to focus on four key issues which emerge from this debacle.

  1. CIO wasn’t hedging. Like Matt Levine, I had bought the firm’s line that the original portfolio was a macro hedge against the loan book. It is now clear that while that might, in the mists of time, have been the original motivation, the CIO’s office had turned into a prop trading center by 2012. This happened without, as far as I can tell, any authorisation, any redesign of the risk framework, or any changes in oversight. Mind you, given that the risk framework was not based on how well they were hedging anyway, that is hardly a surprise.
    The Machiavellian analysis of this is that they were trying to prop trade while avoiding Volcker. My gut feeling is that it wasn’t that: they were simply out of control.
  2. As Lisa says, mis-marking is key here. The practice whereby, in complete violation of what the accounting standard actually says, US banks are permitted to mark derivatives anywhere between bid and offer must now receive attention. Supervisors must ensure that firms mark at where they can exit the position as it is absolutely clear that external auditors cannot be relied upon to police valuation practice.
  3. My earlier conjecture that capital management was central to the whale losses is born out. But it is worse than I thought: capital optimisation was mostly about changing the model so that it generated lower numbers. This was wholly cynical, and is bound to increase the pressure to reduce the capital benefit available from the use of internal models§.
  4. While JP undoubtedly kept things from the OCC, the OCC’s process allowed JP to make model changes without sufficient oversight, did not exercise control over valuation practices, and had little idea what was going on in the CIO. After all, the story was broken by journalists based on public information.
    While all the focus so far has been on JP’s mis-deeds, JP’s supervisors do not emerge from this covered in roses.

It will be interesting to see if the Senate can keep up the (encouragingly bipartisan) momentum here. One is uncomfortably aware that a confrontation may be brewing with politicians and public on one side, and the big banks, the OCC, and perhaps the FED on the other. If it really does pan out that way, the legitimacy of current regulatory arrangements may not survive the fall-out.

*The reference is to an extraordinary radio interview that Paul Roy, ex-head of equities at Merrill, gave about the old days on the London Stock Exchange, in which he claimed his equity traders used to enjoy a glass of madeira, or perhaps champagne, as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. O Tempora, O Mores.

‡See also here and here. One delicate point, by the way, which I have not seen anyone really pick up on, is what ‘lag’ means in the transcripts. It seems to mean the time between general economic improvements affecting the HY vs. the IG indices, but it could also mean the difference between it affecting the spread of the components vs. the index itself. Given that JP’s opponents where hedging mostly using the components, JP was very exposed to the index/components basis.

§See the recent speech from Stefan Ingves here. Ingves says that “Major [Basel Committee] projects currently under way include: … completing the review of the trading book capital requirements. This entails an evaluation of the design of the market risk regulatory regime as well as weaknesses in risk measurement under the framework’s internal models based and standardised approaches.”

Doing the subsidy maths March 14, 2013 at 12:35 am

There has been a blog-fight between Bloomberg, whose editorial suggested that large US banks enjoy an 80 bps funding subsidy from the tax payer, and Matt Levine, who came to, well, a lower number. Now, I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I was amused to note that SIFMA, a trade association, quoting the IMF, came to a 20bps subsidy.

Let’s assume that the subsidy is indeed 20 bps, and moreover that that 20 applies just to non-deposit funding. We will take JPMorgan, as that seems to be the paradigmatic example. JP has roughly speaking $2.4T of assets, funded by $1.2T of deposits, $200B of shareholder’s funds, and $1T of debt (quite a bit of it short term). So suppose JP enjoys a 20bps subsidy on that $1T*. That comes to $2B. Two billion dollars. To put this number in context, JPM’s last dividend payment was roughly $1.1B (30 cents a share last quarter to 3.8B shares). So the annual state subsidy JP gets, using trade association numbers, covers 40% of what JP gives shareholders. Um. I don’t know about you, but if this is even vaguely plausible, then the US taxpayer could legitimately be quite peeved about it‡.

*Obviously the 20 is a blended number; it won’t apply equally to all maturities of debt, nor equally to secured vs. unsecured funding.

‡For an earlier discussion of the UK taxpayer, see here.

Loan pass throughs March 11, 2013 at 10:01 am

Mortgage backed securities began with pass throughs; these were simply bundles of mortgages in security form. The PT did what it said on the can, passing through payments on the underlying mortgages to the security owner, perhaps after a servicing fee has been taken. Only later did trenching come to the MBS market.

Now, it seems, pass throughs are coming to the corporate loan market. In particular, some European banks are trying to develop a repo market in corporate loan PTs. Nothing has, I understand, been done yet but the ambition is there.

Perhaps some of the lessons of the CDO market have been learned: certainly a PT with full transparency over the underlying loans is simpler than a tranche of a high grade CDO, especially a managed one. But nevertheless this is shadow banking, and one might worry about the procyclicality of haircuts.

Don’t cry for me, Credit Suisse March 1, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Matt Levine is sad:

Today is a dark day.

His grief is for PAF2, an innovative regulatory arbitrage ahem I mean risk transfer deal whereby CS had their bonus pool write protection on a mezz tranche of derivatives receivables to get CVA capital relief. Or not. This deal probably wouldn’t have worked in most jurisdictions, and even in Switzerland it seems that its days are numbered. As IFRE tells us:

Credit Suisse may be forced to scrap or, at the very least, radically restructure [the deal]

The problem is that CS had to get protection on the senior to get relief, and no one really wanted to write that for what CS wanted to pay, so CS had to reduce the liquidity risk of the senior CDS by agreeing that if there was ever a payment on the senior, they would lend the counterparty the money to make it. So if the world goes to hell and CS lose a lot of money on counterparty credit risk – really* a lot of money – then they make a claim on the senior CDS which CS’s counterparty pays with money they have just borrowed from CS**. Um. Is that risk transfer?

As Matt says, Basel says no. Hence the problem.

Now, unlike Matt, I’m not sad, because this deal should never have worked. Regulatory arb that finds a clever way to transfer risk at the right price in order to exploit mis-designed rules is fair enough; reg arb that purports to transfer risk but doesn’t seems to me to be basically an arb not of the rules but of the regulator’s understanding of the trade. Unless, that is, they understood it but didn’t see the problem, in which case we have a bigger issue.

*Matt seems convinced that the senior attachment point was so high there was practically zero risk in the senior; I haven’t seen the trade details so I don’t know, but I will say that wrong way and concentrated sovereign risks can be significant in derivatives receivable securitisation structures, so one would want to be rather careful about the modelling before asserting something like that.

**And which, it appears, they can ‘pay back’ – in a very loose sense – by assigning the CDS back to CS.

Whale watching, the official tour January 16, 2013 at 3:15 pm

How large sea creatures should avoid trying to optimize their capital requirements

The official account of the JPMorgan Whale losses is pretty much in line with the guesses outlined on DEM and FT Alphaville.

First, regulatory capital optimization under the post-crisis rules was a critical motivation:

Two of the recent Basel Accords, commonly referred to as “Basel II.5” and “Basel III,” alter the RWA calculation for JPMorgan and other banking organizations. As the new standards become effective over a phase-in period, certain assets held by banking organizations such as JPMorgan will generally be assigned a higher risk-weighting than they are under the current standards; in practical terms, this means JPMorgan will be required to either increase the amount of capital it holds or reduce its RWA… In 2011, JPMorgan was engaged in a Firm-wide effort to reduce RWA in anticipation of the effectiveness of Basel III. The Synthetic Credit Portfolio was a significant consumer of RWA, and the traders therefore worked at various points in 2011 to attempt to reduce its RWA.

The initial position was long protection to hedge against the naturally long credit position in the CIO bond portfolio:

In the fourth quarter of 2011, the Synthetic Credit Portfolio was in an overall short risk posture

The combination of capital optimisation and trying to add jump-to-default protection to the short credit spread position did not help. In particular, rather than paying out, they funded the JTD protection by selling protection on the IG9s:

the traders began to discuss adding high-yield short positions in order to better prepare the Synthetic Credit Portfolio for a future default. The traders, in late January, also added to their long positions, including in the IG-9 index (and related tranches). These long positions generated premiums, and (among other things) would help to fund high-yield short positions

So what they had was an IG9 5 year short (short credit), high yield short (short credit but specifically long JTD protection) funded by an IG9 10 year long. The net position turned long credit, but they were well positioned against a shortish recession.

The firm’s main problem at this point was that two goals were in conflict. On one hand their position was so large (if unnoticed by regulators) that they would get crushed if they tried to leave too fast: on other other, they needed to leave to reduce capital. The solution, of course, was to try to change how capital was calculated.

the concern that an unwind of positions to reduce RWA would be in tension with “defending” the position. The executive therefore informed the trader (among other things) that CIO would have to “win on the methodology” in order to reduce RWA.

JPM were so big in the IG9s they could not do more — or significantly less. They had to contemplate taking yet more basis risk to balance the portfolio:

[The only option]… was to increase his long exposure in on-the-run investment-grade instruments, such as IG-17 and IG-18,… Beginning on March 19 and continuing through March 23, the trader added significant long positions to the Synthetic Credit Portfolio. These … included additions to the 5-year IG-17 long position (a notional increase of approximately $8 billion), the 5-year IG-18 long position (a notional increase of approximately $14 billion), and several corresponding iTraxx series, most notably the 5-year-S16 ($12 billion) and the 5-year-S17 ($6 billion).

This did not help the RWA usage of the portfolio: all of that basis risk is expensive in an IRC model. As the trader said, this is what kills me. They mis-marked it too, of course, for some definition of mis-marked, because it is impossible for traders to mark something that size accurately. But the real lesson is that JPM did not navigate between the Scylla of upcoming capital requirements and the Charybdis of close out costs very well. What is interesting is that without the RWA motivation, this probably would not have happened.

Capital doesn’t matter if valuations are wrong November 15, 2012 at 7:08 am

Bloomberg has an interesting story on the Danish FSA’s pursuit of mis-stated financials at banks:

Denmark’s financial regulator is warning the country’s banks that an understatement of lending risks won’t be tolerated as it embarks on a hunt to catch what it’s dubbed “backdoor” capital dilution.

The Financial Supervisory Authority will review internal rating models that determine how much capital a lender sets aside to ensure banks don’t find a way around stricter standards. While banks may fulfill capital requirements on paper, recent failures suggest risk weights don’t always reflect reality, leaving buffers too small to absorb losses… When Denmark’s housing bubble burst more than four years ago, it revealed widespread capital shortfalls that have since led to the demise of more than a dozen regional lenders. Toender Bank A/S, the most recent insolvency, followed a reported three- fold increase in profit in the first half and a solvency ratio – - a measure of financial strength — of 17.3 percent at the end of June. Yet an inspection last month by the FSA revealed bad loans almost 10 times as big as those reported by the bank, wiping out its equity.

Bloomberg loses a few marks here for not being precise: the capital requirements are fine, but the capital available to meet them is bigger than it should be because the bank has not taken enough provisions and thus has over-stated its earnings. What is interesting is that when the Danish FSA tightened their standards on impairments, impairment charges doubled at one large (and well-regarded) bank, Nordea. Presumably the impact elsewhere was similar. This kind of solid, boring policing of lending is very important, so kudos to the Danish FSA for doing it. One does wonder what Toender’s auditors were doing though…

Bank spreads vs corporate spreads September 14, 2012 at 7:13 am

FT alphaville had this as their chart of the day:

Bank vs Corporate spreads

Now, there is a lot going on here including deleveraging, corporate cash hoarding, bank use of collateral (reducing the assets available in bankruptcy to support senior debt holders), increasing mortgage quality, and changes in bank resolution & regulation. Still, it’s an interesting chart.

Collateral damage August 16, 2012 at 6:30 am

Four telling graphs, from a great presentation by Citi’s Matt King (HT FT Alphaville).

First, the importance of the repo market:

Repo importance

Second, the growing importance of collateralized borrowing (and the decline of the interbank market):

Repo vs Unsecured

Third, the trend towards the use of ‘safe’ collateral:

Safe Collateral

Fourth, where the bad stuff ends up:

Unsafe Collateral

So… what do we have? It’s hard for a bank to borrow unsecured. It’s hard for it to borrow secured in the private market unless they have the best collateral. But, riding to the rescue (kinda), is the ECB, where you can pledge some of that dodgy collateral. This state of affairs is not sustainable in the long term, though; we need to do something to get banks to trust each other again.

Three links August 8, 2012 at 9:21 am

I’m a little busy trying to finish something, so here are three terse items from my ‘read, and want to blog about’ list for the week so far:

  • A truly shocking article on The Big Picture about the effective tax rates of the most profitable US companies. I really don’t think this state of affairs can continue: people will not tolerate it.
  • An insightful letter by John Hutton in the FT about the EU proposal to extend Solvency II type regulation to pensions schemes. The key point:

    The immediate impact … would be a significant but arbitrary increase in pension scheme liabilities. If these proposals go ahead, funded pension schemes will undoubtedly have to adopt higher funding levels and shorter periods over which they have to make up any deficits… If schemes are forced to adopt ultra-cautious funding models, they will need to disinvest from equities, which would be highly damaging for European financial markets… None of this will offer meaningful protection to fund members – on the contrary, it will undermine the very existence of the remaining defined benefit schemes.

  • A typically over-stated Felix Salmon column that nevertheless makes one good point. He discusses the rise of collateralized funding arrangements such as repo and the decline of the interbank market. This is a bad thing:

    If we’re talking about the banking system, here, we’re talking about a world in which banks simply cease to trust each other at all, and the answer to all interbank credit [extension] questions is “no”. The only way for banks to lend to each other is to either go through some central counterparty, hub-and-spoke style, or else to retreat to the world of repo, where banking prowess counts for nothing and all that matters is collateral quality.

    Clearly a fundamental job of banks is to lend, including to each other: to make credit judgements and to put money on the line based on those. We need to find a way to restore bank confidence in each other (not least because smaller amounts of unsecured debt in a bank’s capital structure gives less of a cushion protecting depositors in resolution).