Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Has the US Congress delegated to the Basel Committee the settings of capital requirements for banks?

Can anyone explain why the Basel Committee is not mentioned even once in the 1336 pages long reform bill presented to the US Senate or in the 1776 pages long H.R. 4173 financial regulatory Act approved by the House of Representatives?

Has the US Congress delegated into the Basel Committee the settings of capital requirements for banks? If so is the US citizen aware of it?

For instance is Congress unaware of that the SEC when it on April 28, 2004 allowed the US investment banks to substantially increase their leverage, it did so explicitly stating that “the consolidated computations of allowable capital and risk allowances [be] prepared in a form that is consistent with the Basel Standards”.

Don’t they know that if there is anything that has guided the evolution of the current financial regulations, those that I have for so long sustained doomed the world to exactly the type of crisis we now have, that is the Basel Committee. Basel’s AAA-bomb was ignited on June 26 2004, when the G10 countries, which includes the US endorsed the revised capital framework for banks known as the Basel II standards.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The financial crisis explained to non-experts, dummies and financial regulators.

The play: The dangerously safe playgrounds!
1st scene: Some extremely wimpy parents concerned so much more with their small children’s safety than with their development picked out three independent surveyors to rate the safety of the playgrounds their children frequented.
2nd scene: In order for their small children to want to go to the safest but somewhat boring playgrounds they presented them with the choice of having some very good goodies if they went there or having to settle for some bad cold porridge if they went to the more fun park.

Kids, this or that?

3rd scene: But since the good goodies were too good, and the cold porridge too bad, and there was a natural lack of too safe playgrounds, too many children went to too few parks… where, unfortunately... they trampled themselves to death.
Epilogue: When will they ever learn? Though the kids need some risk to develop strong and not obese, and though the truly safe playgrounds are a fidget of their imagination, during the funerals, we still hear the parents planning on making the good goodies gooder and the cold porridge colder.
What the play teaches us is that with wimpy, gullible and naïve parents like these, the kids are better off running alone in the street.
The cast:
As the wimpy parents, we have the financial regulators of the Basel Committee.
As the young children, we have the banks.
As good goodies, we have a 1.6 percent capital requirements for any bank lending related to an AAA rating.
As cold porridge, we have an 8 percent capital requirements for any bank lending related to an unrated small business or entrepreneur.
As safe playgrounds turned unsafe, we have the subprime mortgages.
As the playground safety rating agency… if you cannot figure it out for yourself you’re just too dumb.
And as all the grandparents or elder siblings who, because they were not interested or did not want to erode the parental authority, did not warn the parents… we have thousands of financial experts and PhDs.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The lover’s spat between Goldman Sachs, Paulson and “sophisticated investors” is not the real problem!

The beauty of the action of the SEC against Goldman Sachs is that it allows us to understand with a real and public example a lot of what happened all over the market. Let us see it here from the perspective of IKB the German Bank who invested $150 million in ABACUS 2007-AC1.

In paragraph 58 we read that IKB bought $50 million of the A1 tranche paying Libor plus 85 basis points, and $100 million of the A-2 tranche paying Libor plus 110 basis points. The average return comes to about 102 basis points.

Since these $150 million were rated Aaa by Moody’s and AAA by S&P when purchased, that meant that IKB’s investment, for bank capital requirement purposes, would be weighted at only 20% signifying only $30 million for which 8% capital requirements had to be held. IKB would therefore need $2.4 million of their own capital to back the operation, a leverage of 62.5 to 1.

$150 million at 102 basis points and $ 2.4 million in capital signifies then an expected gross return of 63.75% on IKB’s capital.

In order for IKB to make a comparable return when lending to their traditional client base of small and medium sized businesses, most certainly unrated, and who therefore are risk weighted at 100%, IKB would have to lend them the funds at Libor plus 510 basis points.

And here we have it, the way the current capital requirements for banks are based on the risks perceived by the credit rating agencies, provide huge incentives for the banks to enter into the virtual world and invest in these “synthetic” operations, instead of lending to the real world... and, that problem is so much larger than a simple lover’s spat between Goldman Sachs, Paulson and “sophisticated investors”.

Do you understand why I beg of you to keep your eyes on the ball? Do you understand why I am upset nothing of this is even discussed in the current proposals for financial regulatory reform?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Goldman’s ABACUS 2007-AC1: The whole truth and nothing but the inconvenient truth!

But the whole truth and nothing but the truth would in the case of ABACUS 2007-AC1 have to include the following facts, no matter how politically or agenda inconvenient they might be:

IKB, a commercial bank headquartered in Germany did not use $150 million to lend to small and medium sized German companies, as they historically had done, but instead invested and lost “$50 million in Class A-1 notes at face value” and “$100 million in Class A-2 Notes at face value” in ABACUS 2007-AC1, exclusively because of the following two reasons:

First both tranches, the A1 paying Libor plus 85 basis points, and the A-2 paying Libor plus 110 basis, points were rated Aaa by Moody’s and AAA by S&P when purchased by IKB.

Second, in order to invest $150 million in these securities which because of their ratings were risk-weighted by Basel II at only 20%, IKB needed only to have $2.4 million of capital, 1.6%, compared to the $12 million it would be required to have if lending that amount to unrated small and medium sized German companies.

If IKB had known that Paulson had had his hand in the picking, and known fully about his motives, then they might have asked for a slightly higher interest rate, maybe 10 basis points more, and still have bought the securities.

If the securities did not have the splendid credit ratings assigned to them by the credit rating agencies then they would probably not have bought them even if Mother Teresa had done the picking.

If the regulators had placed the same type of capital requirements on all assets then IKB would have stayed home, lending to their traditional clients, instead of going to California to dig prime rated subprime gold.

And so while naturally we should lend all our support to efforts to eliminate wrong-doings like those described in the SEC action against Goldman that should not signify we take our eyes of the unfortunate truth of having been saddled with grossly inept regulations, creating grossly bad regulations.

Now all of this does of course not imply that the Goldman Sachs, the Tourres, the Paulsons or the ACAs of this world are angels… it is just about putting it all in the right perspective.

And now, is it time for some “Razzle dazzle 'em”?

SEC’s action against Goldman Sachs in paragraph 53 states:

“IKB… late 2006, was no longer comfortable investing in the liabilities of CDOs that did not utilize a collateral manager, meaning an independent third-party with knowledge of the U.S. housing market and expertise in analyzing RMBS”.

The above sounds a lot like a type of b.s. excuse, construed by someone trying to hide their own responsibility in the affair… that of having invested solely based on the juicy interest rate offered when considering solely the credit ratings issued by the credit rating agencies.

Did for instance IKB really believe what is said on ABACUS 2007-AC1 flip book, on page 34, about ACA Capitals ABS Credit Selection including an “On-site Visit”? What a laugh! Checking up on the individual mortgages?

And so do not take your eyes of the IKB executives either, they most probably perpetrated real silly stuff against their own investors and so they might now be doing a “Razzle dazzle 'em” routine to cover their own fingerprints.

Are not victims inclined to perform as victims… especially when sophisticated? Are we seeing an Oscar class crocodile tears performance here? ... for which the SEC has also fallen?

Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle, Razzle Dazzle 'em,

Show 'em the first rate sorceror you are

Long as you keep 'em way off balance

How can they spot you've got no talent

Razzle Dazzle 'em, Bazzle 'em,

And they'll make you a star!

Widespread criminal negligence!

I quote from the fraud action by SEC against Goldman Sachs… “for making materially misleading statements and omissions in connection with a synthetic collateralized debt obligation … ABACUS 2007¬AC1…tied to the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities… was structured and marketed by GS&Co in early 2007 when the United States housing market and related securities were beginning to show signs of distress.”

“when the United States housing market and related securities were beginning to show signs of distress”?

Absolutely, at the date when ABACUS 2007AC1 was issued, April 26, 2007, I had already made four posts related to the subprime mortgage crisis…

And so: Where had the minimum caveat emptor we should expect from regulators gone? Where were the regulators? This has all the sign of being more complicated than it is been made out to be… Was it not all criminal negligence all over the place?

Hush! Less we lose the chance to beat on a foe or a convenient scapegoat.

The ABACUS 2007-AC1 flip book states:

“Although at the time of purchase, such Collateral will be highly rated, there is no assurance that such rating will not be reduced or withdrawn in the future, nor is a rating a guarantee of future performance.”

The truth is that had it not been because the investors believed that the credit ratings were correct, they would not have invested, no matter how much Goldman Sachs could have argued with them based on other false statements.

But this is of course is something many do not want to be known, because this would take away all the fun of being able to go after such a juicy foe as Goldman Sachs or such a convenient scapegoat to be used by the inept regulators.

We need to get to the real bottom of this... because that is were the truth can be found.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We can’t shame enough the irresponsible silent experts and the plain lousy regulators

As an Executive Director of the World Bank and a member of its Audit Committee 2002-2004, time and again I repeated what I extract below from my book Voice and Noise, 2006.

“From what I have read and seen, I believe there is a clear possibility that much of the world’s financial markets are currently being dangerously overstretched through an exaggerated reliance on intrinsically weak financial models that are based on very short series of statistical evidence and very doubtful volatility assumptions”

I also frequently spoke out on the risk posed by empowering the credit rating agencies too much and, in May 2003, I even had a letter published in the Financial Times which ended with “I simply cannot understand how a world that preaches the value of the invisible hand of millions of market agents can then go out and delegate so much regulatory power to a limited number of human and very fallible credit-rating agencies. This sure must be setting us up for the mother of all systemic errors.”

Therefore if someone like me, a non-expert on financial markets, could have said the previous back in 2003-2004, I can only conclude that a crime of pure negligence, of sheer monumental proportions, was committed against humanity by an incredibly large number of professionals.

And so even though I agree of course that all those who pulled the triggers should go to prison, like those accused in Goldman Sachs, if proved guilty, in that prison, for true justice to be served, they should be accompanied by all those who kept mum because it was generally convenient for them to keep mum… and of course by the plain lousy regulators.

We must not let the intellectual mum-keepers go free! The world deserves more than some mea-culpa, the world deserves to find how to make the responsible speak up in time… if need be even by law.

The largest moral hazard is not having banks-bailed out… it is not shaming enough the irresponsible silent experts and the plain lousy regulators.

Some argue no one saw the crisis, “20.000 blind economists”, this is pure nonsense. Our biggest problem is how some few egos in a mutual admiration club dominate the debate and sell us what they believe sounds the best.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Look what they’ve done to my bank Ma! .....

They placed an 8 percent capital requirement on it when lending to our local small businesses and entrepreneurs who give us jobs.
And then they required from it only 1.6 percent in capital when lending to anything rated AAA... and even zero percent when lending to an AAA rated sovereigns...
And all this while they should know that my bank has really no business at all lending to AAA rated borrowers or sovereigns....
Ils ont changé ma banque Ma!...
And so they led my bank to throw my deposits after some unexplainable AAA rated securities backed with some unknown tranches of low quality subprime mortgages...
And now, when the AAAs are not the AAAs the credit rating agencies had opined them to be, my bank must come up with more capital....
And since my bank can´t it must stop lending to the local small businesses and entrepreneurs who had nothing to do with creating this crisis.
Look what they’ve done to my bank Ma! .....