Saturday, April 17, 2010

This is now, that was then: a moral in 4 parts


I. THIS IS NOW ...


Paulson, Looking to Go Short on Mortgages, Found a Willing Partner
Paulson & Co. asked banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to structure mortgage deals that would include some of the poorest quality mortgages. The hedge fund's plan: bet against the deals and then hope for a bursting of the housing bubble

One senior banker at Bear Stearns Cos. turned down the business. He questioned the propriety of selling deals to investors that a bearish client was involved in putting together, according to people familiar with the matter.

Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank AG were among those that played ball.
Merrill Lynch Used Same Alleged Fraud as Goldman, Bank Claims
“This is the tip of the iceberg in regard to Goldman Sachs and certain other banks who were stacking the deck against CDO investors,” said Jon Pickhardt, an attorney with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, who is representing Netherlands-based Rabobank.

II. THIS WAS THEN ...

How to gain from their pain October 24, 2006
About 18 percent of all mortgages issued in the first half of the year were to borrowers considered most likely to default, such as those with high credit-card balances, up from 2.4 percent in 1998, based on data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The ABX index, created by London-based Markit Group Ltd., measures prices of credit-default swaps based on the $565 billion of bonds secured by so-called subprime mortgages and home-equity loans.

Credit-default swaps are financial instruments based on bonds and loans that are used to speculate on the ability of borrowers to repay debt.

"The unequivocally bad housing data we've seen" is prompting investors to seek to profit from potential declines in mortgage-backed securities, said Greg Lippmann, the head of asset-backed trading at Deutsche Bank AG in New York who helped create the ABX indexes in January.

A Merrill Lynch & Co. index of debt securities derived from home-equity loans rated AA to BBB is having its worst month this year, falling 0.01 percent. They have returned 4.54 percent since the end of December. Banks and lenders such as Countrywide Financial Corp. in Calabasas, California, and Washington Mutual Inc. of Seattle typically take mortgages and package them into bonds for sale to investors.
A nice, big, juicy subprime stake October 30, 2006
Since the beginning of 2002, banks and specialized lenders such as ACC Capital Holdings Corp.'s Ameriquest Mortgage Co., New Century Financial Corp., and H&R Block Inc.'s Option One Mortgage Corp. have made some $2.2 trillion in loans. That is more than five times the amount in the preceding five-year period, and includes a growing share of "affordability" products such as "piggyback," "interest-only" and "no-doc" loans. These products, respectively, allow borrowers to avoid a down payment, make extra-low payments in a loan's early years, and state their income without supporting documentation. Subprime loans' actual interest rates are typically much higher than those on more traditional "prime" loans.

A recent study by two researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Jonas Fisher and Saad Quayyum, suggests that subprime lending alone could account for close to half of the four-percentage-point rise in the ownership rate since 1995.

At about the same time, in early 2005, Wall Street bankers were developing a new kind of derivative contract that would allow investors such as Mr. Whalen to make bets based on their misgivings. Called a credit-default swap, it had previously been applied mainly to corporate and sovereign bonds. Like an insurance contract, it pays off if a subprime-backed bond suffers a certain amount of losses to defaults.

In January 2005, for example, Mr. Whalen bought an insurance contract on the Long Beach Mortgage Loan Trust 2004-2, the bond into which Mr. Spirou's loan had been packaged. He agreed to pay the counterparty, Citigroup Inc., $20,300 a year for a contract that would pay up to $1 million if more than 3.35% of the loans originally in the bond went bad. So far, the wager hasn't made money.

Meanwhile, data on loan delinquencies suggest that lending standards have indeed fallen. As of August, about 3% of borrowers who took out subprime loans in 2006 were more than 60 days behind on their payments -- about three times the level two years earlier.

The annual cost of $1 million in insurance against moderately risky subprime-backed bonds has gone from a low of about $21,500 in early August to $25,000 Friday, and has spiked as high as $27,800. Market participants say big hedge funds increasingly are using the derivatives to make outright bets against U.S. homeowners.
This summer, for example, New York hedge-fund manager Paulson & Co. launched a fund that has aimed specifically at profiting on subprime defaults.

III. THIS WAS SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN ...


Lehman Bros goes bankrupt, Merrill Lynch is bought up... Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are taken over by the government. Bear Stearns collapses, America's largest insurance company AIG's share collapse from $22.19 on September 9 2008, to less than $4.00 at the close of trading on September 16, a decline of more than 80 percent of its value.


A.I.G. Lists Banks It Paid With U.S. Bailout Funds
American International Group on Sunday released the names of dozens of financial institutions that benefited from the Federal Reserve’s decision last fall to save the giant insurer from collapse with a huge rescue loan.

Financial companies that received multibillion-dollar payments owed by A.I.G. include Goldman Sachs ($12.9 billion), Merrill Lynch ($6.8 billion), Bank of America ($5.2 billion), Citigroup ($2.3 billion) and Wachovia ($1.5 billion).

Big foreign banks also received large sums from the rescue, including Société Générale of France and Deutsche Bank of Germany, which each received nearly $12 billion; Barclays of Britain ($8.5 billion); and UBS of Switzerland ($5 billion).

Ever since the insurer’s rescue began, with the Fed’s $85 billion emergency loan last fall, there have been demands for a full public accounting of how the money was used. The taxpayer assistance has now grown to $170 billion, and the government owns nearly 80 percent of the company.
Goldman converted to a bank holding company during the crisis, allowing it to receive $10 billion in federal bailout money.


IV. AND THIS IS THE MORAL HAZARD OF THAT STORY ...

The Natural Result of Deregulation
If the allegations against Goldman Sachs are true, then much of the blame for investors’ losses in the Abacus deal can be laid at the feet of an obscure statute passed by Congress in 2000, the “Commodities Futures Modernization Act.”

In one dramatic move, that act eliminated a longstanding legal rule that deemed derivatives bets made outside regulated exchanges to be legally enforceable only if one of the parties to the bet was hedging against a pre-existing risk.

This traditional derivatives rule against purely speculative derivatives trading has a parallel in insurance law, because insurance, like derivatives trading, is really just a form of betting. A homeowner’s fire insurance policy, for example, is a bet with an insurance company that your house will burn down.

Under the rules of insurance law, you can only buy fire insurance on a house if you actually own the house in question. Similarly, under the traditional legal rules regulating derivatives trading, the only parties who could use off-exchange derivatives to bet against the Abacus deal would be parties who actually held investments in Abacus.

If we allow the unscrupulous to buy fire insurance on other people’s houses, the incidence of arson would rise sharply.

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