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HAA HAA: Will Another Creditanstalt Be Revealed Once The Hypo Alpe Aldria “Black Box” Is Opened? | Zero Hedge
Recall that the bank which precipitated the first Great Depression was Austria’s Creditanstalt, which declared bankruptcy on May 11, 1931 and which resulted in a global financial crisis, after its failure waterfalled into the chain-reaction of bank failures that marked the first systemic financial collapse. As part of CA’s rescue, Chancellor Otto Ender distributed the share of bailout costs between the Republic, the National Bank of Austria and the Rothschild family (and as a bit of historic trivia, following the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany in 1938, Creditanstalt-Bankverein was targeted for a variety of reasons, leading to the arrest of Louis Nathaniel Rothschild and his imprisonment for the losses suffered by the Austrian state when the bank collapsed. Aggrieved, he emigrated to the US in 1939 after more than one year in custody).
A little over 80 years later, while the world is knee deep in explaining how snow during the 4th warmest January on record is the culprit for an abrupt and dramatic slowdown in world growth, and is following the geopolitical developments out of Crimea with great attention, the real action may once again be taking place in the small, quaint and quiet central European country, where yet another bank may be sowing the seeds of further financial mayhem.
Presenting Hypo Alpe Aldria (or “HAA” although certainly not funny as in funny HAA HAA: more shortly), a bank which in reality has been in the news for years following its nationalization in 2009 by the Austrian government to prevent a bank collapse. In fact, just last week, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said the government is right to avert the collapse of Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank International AG, as he cited the precedent of Creditanstalt, whose crash helped trigger the 1930s depression. “The crash of Creditanstalt in 1931 caused economic meltdown,” Faymann told parliament’s lower house in Vienna today. “There was a consensus in 2009 to act where necessary, to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s, to avoid a collapse by nationalizing and by installing protection measures at the European level.”
As a follow up, as Bloomberg also reports, the fate of HAA – whatever it ends up being – may have significant political consequences for the Austrian government. Again Bloomberg reports that “support for Austria’s ruling coalition is slipping five months after it won a narrow majority as inaction over the nationalized Hypo Alpe-Adria Bank International AG lifts backing for protest parties. Latest polls suggest voters are losing trust in Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann and People’s Party Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger and warming to the euro-skeptic Freedom Party before May’s European Parliament elections. The Green and Neos parties also stand to gain, said Hubert Sickinger, a political scientist at the University of Vienna.”
“The ruling parties have a problem,” Sickinger said in an interview. “They postponed the Hypo Alpe ‘dead bank’ problem hoping that the economy would change but they’ve known since early 2013 that this wouldn’t help.”
One party that has been quite vocal on the issue of HAA is the Austrian Freedom Party nationalists, who seek to restrict immigration, and which has the most to gain from detouring the status quo as they would finish first in the EU parliamentary election, according to a Feb. 14 Gallup poll commissioned by the Oesterreich newspaper. The Freedom Party under deceased leader Joerg Haider helped build Hypo Alpe from a regional lender into one of the biggest banks in the Balkans.
“The European elections will be payback day” over the government’s handling of Hypo Alpe, said Franz Schellhorn, director of Agenda Austria, a Vienna-based research group.
“Anger is growing,” Schellhorn said in an interview today. “This black box has to be opened to see what is going on inside.”
It is the “opening of this black box” that suddenly has the entire investment community on edge, even if most of them hope the story simply goes away as it has for the past five years. Only this time it may be impossible to once again kick the can, er, box.
And while the legacy story of the post-bail out HAA may be known, it is the recent developments that are largely unknown and where the risks lie. This can be seen in the recent dramatic drop in HAA bond prices.
So why should people care about HAA? Bank of America explains:
The real surprise of the Hypo Alpe Adria (HAA) situation is not that bondholders may lose money, but the sight of the third richest country in Europe by per capita income apparently looking for ways out of paying what are clearly guaranteed debts of a 100% nationalized bank, for HAA debt is guaranteed by the Austrian State of Carinthia under a deficiency guarantee. The Austrian Finance Minister may be targeting a contribution from bondholders, according to reports on Bloomberg on Friday, We would consider it an astonishing turn of events if this actually ever came to pass, with wide-ranging negative implications for investors in not just Austria but potentially Europe as a whole.
What are the other implications from a potential HAA fallout? Here are the cliff notes:
- Direct impacts: other Austrian banks?
Erste Bank and RBI will likely trade as proxies in any negative newsflow which could pressure their spreads. They aren’t really affected, though, in our view.
- Indirect: negative for marginal banks
The Carinthia guarantee is a throwback to a very different banking world – when banks enjoyed implicit and explicit institutional support. Those days are over. We underline
that we have moved to a bail-in regime where investors will contribute to the costs of bank clean-up. This has implications for other very marginal banks e.g. the Cooperative Bank in the UK which we think is struggling.
- Why the fuss? Who pays for HAA?
The European Commission in its decision on State Aid (dated 3rd Sept 2013) puts the capital need at €5.4bn in a stressed scenario. Liquidity needs are put at up to €3.3bn, meaning that the total outlay could be as high as an extra €8.7bn, in addition to the billions that have already been committed by the current and former shareholders. HAA’s total assets as of June 2013 were ‘only’ €31.3bn, recall.
- What kind of outcomes for HAA?
We struggle to see how those positing bondholder losses get around the guarantee from Carinthia and all that implies. However, with lower cash prices in many of the bonds, perhaps the way forward opens up for e.g. substitution (of Austria for Carinthia) at a discount. There may also be the time value of return of principal to factor in.
- Negative outcomes: maybe tough to do
If the Austrian Government decides to be tough, then the negative scenarios for HAA bondholders are potentially many. The Government may be somewhat hampered however by the fact that HAA bonds under the 2006 Prospectus are issued under German Law.
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For the extended, and must read, notes on what Hypo may lead to, here is the full note from Bank of America’s Richard Thomas:
Funny HAA HAA or funny peculiar? Implications of Hypo Alpe Adria
HAA – the implications
The emerging crisis re: how to resolve Austria’s Hypo Alpe Adria (HAA) looks like it’s already one destined for the textbooks.
It has been rumbling around in our ‘bank peripheral vision’ for years as a problem child but now seems to be coming to a head because of what appears to be increased political pressure for a solution that potentially involves the imposition of senior bondholder losses in the mix. As such, we need to look at it to see what read-across, if any, there is to other European banks, as it seems to represent a hardening of attitudes to bank resolution amongst one of Europe’s richest countries.
We do not express an opinion or investment recommendation on the securities of HAA itself. Using conventional bank analysis, we believe that HAA is potentially uninvestable not only because of its evident non-viability and the lack of appetite to save it but also because of the allegations of past misconduct, as widely reported in the press, and what appears to be ongoing incompetence e.g. leasing invoicing ‘irregularities’ in Italy provided against as recently as in 1H13 numbers. The outcome for bondholders will ultimately be based on Austria’s view of its obligations and how it deals with the Carinthia guarantee, in our view. We expect that prices will therefore trade according to the last comment from someone important – highly unpredictable. For example, they were down on Friday following comments from the Austrian FinMin, but up this morning on comments over the weekend from the Head of the Austrian Central Bank. A final decision on what happens could be many months out.
For us, the shock of the current situation is not so much about bail-in being applied in the case of a failed bank – like most credit investors, we are used to this by now. The real surprise of the situation is the sight of the third richest country in Europe by per capita income apparently trying to manoeuvre out of paying what are clearly guaranteed debts (HAA debt is guaranteed by the State of Carinthia). We would consider it an astonishing turn of events if this actually ever came to pass, with wide ranging negative implications for investors in not just Austria but Europe as a whole.
The read across from HAA to other banks is weak, in our view. However, there are a few implications to highlight which may impact spreads.
- The most directly impacted bank would seem to be Bayerische Landesbank (BYLAN), former owner of the bank and where there is still some outstanding exposure. BofAML analyst Jeroen Julius talked about this in his note on BYLAN last week here. We remain Underweight-70% the BYLAN 5.75% T2 bonds. There is still an outstanding line of €2.3bn from BYLAN to HAA of which we understand €1.8bn was due at end 2013 – by March (if not sooner) then this will need to move to an impaired classification. HAA is saying that these monies are an equity substitute and are trying to claw back €2.3bn already repaid. Our view is that BYLAN may sacrifice some of the outstanding amount in any settlement but seem unlikely to have to pay back the repaid amount. In the meantime, it seems that they do have a say in some of the levers which Austria may want to use in resolving HAA, so their negotiating stance looks solid.
- Other widely traded banks where spreads could come under pressure are Erste Bank and RBI. We will likely see these banks trade as proxies in any negative newsflow which could pressure their spreads – their illiquid CDS is probably already trading some 10-15bps wider in senior and ~13bps wider in sub CDS. These banks should be much more sensitive to negative news from Central and Eastern Europe rather than Austria though, in our view, given their focus on emerging economies.
- RBI’s exposure to Austria reflects its domicile and the corporate ties between Austrian companies and the EE corporates where most of RBI’s operations are placed. It does not have direct exposure to the Austrian complex in the way that e.g. BAWAG or Erste Bank have. The RBIAV 6% is probably down a point from its highs in the last week or so. We see the impact on RBI as quite tangential: if Austria takes a tough stance with bondholders, it’s more negative for sentiment on the banks, given that it implies a reduced sovereign exposure – so hardly negative for the sovereign from e.g. higher debt levels, albeit lower contingent liabilities.
- About half of Erste Bank’s credit risk exposure is to Austria. It is therefore more of an ‘Austrian’ bank than RBI but that’s not really the problem here, in our view.
- We are still very comfortable with RBI at this point, especially given the recent capital increase. However, we recommend reducing risk by switching into lower cash priced bonds versus higher cash price bonds. That means out of e.g. the 6.625% bond with a cash price of about €113 into lower cash priced bonds like the 6% (€106.5) or the 5.163%, though this is a much more illiquid security. We downgrade the 6.625% bonds to Underweight-30%.
The wider implications of what happens in the HAA case include:
- If we do move to some kind of forced loss imposition from Austria on these bonds, then it probably isn’t a good moment for bank risk (or indeed European risk). However, as we explain, in this case loss imposition is rather tricky to do, given the existence of the guarantees from Carinthia.
- Whatever happens, we see the HAA situation as reflecting a growing impatience with marginal and near-failing banks and that a hard line is likely to be followed in resolving them. It underlines that we have moved to a bail-in regime where investors will contribute to the costs of bank clean-up. This has implications for other very marginal banks e.g. the Cooperative Bank in the UK which we think is struggling. Underweight-70% the 11% T2 bonds of the Coop Bank at £123.
- The Carinthia guarantee is a throwback to a very different banking world – when banks enjoyed implicit and explicit institutional support. Those days are over. Such support often allowed excessive expansion on the back of cheap funding – we can point to the continued need for adjustment in the Landesbank sector for evidence of that.
- One final point: in our view there would be a negative read-across to the German Landesbanken more generally if a way was found around the deficiency guarantee in this case. The Landesbanken heavily rely on State guarantees. For example, HSH Nordbank has a €10bn guarantee (that helps its capital position) form Hamburg and Schleswig- Holstein.
Funny HAA HAA or funny peculiar?
A special case?
We think there is a good argument for saying that HAA is a special case amongst European banks. One can read its downfall and subsequent full nationalization as a familiar juxtaposition of overexpansion (in the former Yugoslavia) without sufficient risk controls being in place as a result of too cheap funding, owing to its funding guarantee from the Austrian State of Carinthia (currently rated A2 by Moody’s). Yet the narrative is worsened by allegations of serious past misconduct involving money laundering, fraud and possibly murder. See for example The Economist, Sept 9th 2010 or the New York Times, October 20th 2010.
Whilst mismanagement may well have been a feature of some European banks before the crisis; we would hesitate to attribute this level of alleged misconduct, however, to even many of the most stressed European banks. The nature of the allegations, in our view, serves to underline Austrian public antipathy for taxpayers having to pay for the continuing losses at the bank. It also differentiates it sharply from other European, and of course Austrian, banks. HAA’s situation and alleged misconduct is simply too severe to have systemic implications for other Austrian banks, in our view.
Could there be a haircut? Wait!
Bloomberg reports that two thirds of the Austrian public is against the use of further public monies being used to prop up the bank. With such a powerful consensus against such a move and elections next year, it’s not surprising that recently the rhetoric has turned firmly towards finding solutions for HAA that involve imposing losses somewhere – anywhere – other than at the door of the Austrian taxpayer. Hence, the comments from the Finance Minister Spindelegger on Feb 21 that Austria was looking at ways to get bondholders to contribute.
So far, so straightforward: the only problem is that the bulk of HAA senior bonds enjoy a deficiency guarantee from the State of Carinthia. This complicates the burden sharing. We note, by the way, that the EC ruling on State Aid for HAA made no mention of senior bondholder losses at all. Is it really possible to get around the deficiency guarantee and impose losses?
Our understanding is that the deficiency guarantee is not quite like other guarantees. It’s this ‘gap’ that allowed Moody’s to downgrade HAA to Baa2 from A1 on Feb 14. It means that a creditor must have attempted in vain to satisfy his or her claims against (in this case) HAA first before he can use the guarantee, though not if bankruptcy proceedings were already started. Non-payment alone may not be sufficient to invoke the guarantee, absent due process. Even so, it still looks to us that it’s just a matter of time before creditors could ask Carinthia to satisfy their claims. It seems doubtful that the State could afford to perform on the guarantee however with the €12.3bn or more of bonds being many multiples of Carinthia’s income, according to Moody’s. It seems hardly credible that we could be looking at bankruptcy of a Federal State of one of the richest countries in Europe.
Hence, the dilemma. This really would be a new departure for a European country – we’ve had bondholder haircuts before, but not on instruments guaranteed by a governmental entity like Carinthia.
What’s the size of the hole at HAA?
The European Commission in its decision on State Aid (dated 3rd Sept 2013) puts the capital need at €5.4bn in its stressed, or worst case, scenario. Similarly, the liquidity needs are put at €3.3bn in the stressed scenario, assuming that the above capital is provided in cash, meaning that the total outlay could be as high as €8.7bn, in addition to the billions that have already been committed by the current and former shareholders. HAA’s total assets as of June 2013 were ‘only’ €31.3bn, remember, and of this, €3.5bn was already earmarked as for disposal – giving a pro forma number of €27.8bn. To put this in further context, existing capital resources at HAA (equity plus sub debt) are €3bn, and provisions existing already are €3.5bn. Loans net of provisions are ~€17bn.
The now former Chairman of the Bank, Mr. Liebscher, has previously commented that HAA could require up to €4bn of further capital (‘only €400mn a year over 10 years’). Capital needs could vary considerably if assets were transferred out of the regulatory capital environment e.g. to an asset management company, since these require much less capital. We note too that Weiner has reported that the loss for the year at HAA may have grown to €1.8bn (from the €0.8bn at half year 2013) – we think it’s likely that is already reflected in the EC’s numbers though we’re not completely sure.
The €5.4bn of capital needs calculated by the EC could be higher or lower therefore but let’s use it as a basis for thinking about outcomes. Are there any offsets? Certainly,
HAA believes so. It is claiming that €4.6bn of funds extended to the bank in 2008 by BayernLB is an equity substitution under Austrian Law. €2.3bn of this is still outstanding (it’s not being serviced by HAA) but HAA has applied to the Munich Regional Court for a return of amounts that they’ve already paid back. Our core case is that BayernLB will lose some of this money (if only to settle the case) but we have no real idea how much they and HAA would settle at, of course, or if they will settle at all.
How (much) could bondholders pay?
Is it conceivable that the senior bondholders could be expected to contribute a sizeable chunk of the €5.4bn? As of end-June 2013, issued bonds at HAA totaled €11.1bn (we exclude Pfandbriefe); we don’t have data for any redemptions in 2H13. We do however know that there is a very substantial redemption of senior debt on March 17th of €750m (the HAA 3.75% bond). Again, the interim financials showed a cash balance of €2.6bn at the bank which on its own should comfortably cover the repayment. We are more skeptical about HAA’s liquidity, given the continued deterioration of its financial position implied by the reported further €1bn loss in 2H13. Perhaps it is this that is focusing the attention of Austrian policymakers on bondholders.
Repaying this bond would be a substantial cash outflow from the bank and bondholders would be getting par – these bonds are currently quoted at a mid-cash price of ~€96 but the bid/offer is something like 5 points, underlining the huge uncertainty. But it would also probably be taken as a pointer towards future treatment of bonds and so, if repaid, would likely positively impact prices.
The €5.4bn additional capital need would imply a forced senior bondholder haircut of anything from 20% upwards in our view depending on what is considered the pool of bailin-able liabilities, though admittedly we find it quite hard to believe this will be the actual outcome at this point. This number could be kept down not least by any settlement with BayernLB – and we can’t really imagine that Austria will make a zero contribution here. Even the €5.4bn total capital needs number calculated by the EC is ‘only’ about 2% of Austrian GDP.
We also struggle to see how those positing bondholder losses get around the guarantee from Carinthia and all that implies. It’s this, we think, that is the really interesting part for European bank bondholders. We have seen headlines suggesting that the Republic of Austria would substitute itself as guarantor for the bonds, subject to bondholders agreeing to a substantial haircut.When the bonds were at par, that looked really unlikely, but with e.g. the 2016 and 2017 bonds having traded down so dramatically in the last few days (currently quoted with a cash price at around €85-86), perhaps the conditions are beginning to evolve for this type of liability management.
Ultimately, we think it’s unlikely that Carinthia could pay back bondholders and remain solvent itself – as Moody’s highlights in its downgrade of the State on Feb 14 2014, the debt outstanding is some six times Carinthia’s 2013 budgeted operating revenue. Recall that HAA is 100% owned by the Republic of Austria – it seems unlikely that the shareholder would enforce the insolvency of a regional State without acting itself.
We also wonder if there is some leeway in terms of the timing difference implied by the final payment under the deficiency guarantee – how prompt might this be? Months? Years? Longer? If it could be demonstrated that bondholders would have to wait many years before getting any of their principal back, then perhaps there is the basis for an offer that gives investors liquidity today, albeit at a discounted price.
What could induce bondholders to agree to any changes?
We suspect that this is currently under consideration – there likely is little limit to the scenarios that could be conceived, but it all depends on the view the Republic takes of itself in the markets and its concerns about any likely fallout from its actions. Freezing the liabilities of the bank and the guarantee? Rescission of the guarantee? Anything is possible but perhaps some of these worst scenarios are not the most probable. However, what is clear is that the outcome for bondholders, as we have seen before in these haircut scenarios, is highly unpredictable and politicized.
In spite of the Austrian Finance Minister’s comments to the contrary, we are of the view that most HAA bonds are still with the original, investment grade, investor base. We believe that the rotation into ‘trader’ or ‘hot money’ hands is probably only still at the beginning – only recently have we heard that blocks of bonds have been coming out, rather than the trading of very small amounts. This could change rapidly in the coming weeks if Austria decides to step up the bondholder loss rhetoric of course but at this point, it would be ordinary money managers, we think, who would be absorbing most of the losses, not hot money or speculators.
As an added twist, we note that HAA bonds issued under the August 2006 Prospectus are under German Law (rather than Austrian). Again, this points in the direction of either repayment of the bonds under the guarantee, or a negotiated settlement with bondholders, rather than the imposition of an arrangement by the Austrian Government, since legally they may not have the flexibility to do much else.
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In conclusion all we have to add is that it would indeed be supremely ironic if the “strong” foreign law bond indenture would be tested, and breached, not by Greek bonds, as so many expected in late 2011 and early 2012, but by one of the last contries in Europe which is still AAA-rated. We would find it less ironic if the next leg of the global financial crisis was once again unleashed by an Austrian bank: after all history does rhyme…
The bailing out of the much-watched ‘Credit equals Gold #1’ wealth management product and safe liquidity-strewn (CNY375 billion from the PBOC) survival of the lunar new year liquidity crunch has many believing the worst is over. Though we discussed this fallacy in great depth here, the following chart of the total collapse in the largest Chinese coal producers says this is far from over. Trading at or below book values, investors are clearly signaling concerns about the quality of assets summed up perfectly by one local analyst – China’s coal industry (whose loans back a massive amount of the wealth management products) is “dead.”
Shares of China’s biggest listed coal producers have dropped to their lowest valuations on record as falling fuel prices make it harder to repay debt.
Bloomberg’s chart above tracks the price-to-book ratio of China Shenhua Energy Co., China Coal Energy Co. and Yanzhou Coal Mining Co. Both China Coal and Yanzhou Coal trade below the value of their net assets, while Shenhua Energy has fallen to about 1 times book. The lower panel shows the CSI 300 Index’s energy gauge traded at a record discount to the MSCI All-Country World Energy Index last month.
Slowing economic growth and efforts to boost use of alternative fuels have dragged down coal prices in China, the world’s biggest producer and consumer of the fuel. The nation’s banking regulator ordered its regional offices to increase scrutiny of credit risks in the coal-mining industry, two people with knowledge of the matter said last month, signaling government concern about possible defaults.
China’s coal industry is “dead,” said Laban Yu, a Jefferies Group LLC analyst in Hong Kong with an underperform rating on all three stocks. “There are 10,000 producers in China. A lot of them are taking on debt. It gets harder and harder to service debts when coal prices keep falling.”
China Coal warned Jan. 24 that 2013 net income will probably drop as much as 65 percent from a year earlier. The second-largest producer had 50 billion yuan ($8.3 billion) of net debt at the end of last year, from net cash of 6 billion yuan in 2011, according to a Barclays Plc note last month. The stock has tumbled 82 percent from its 2008 peak.
Declines in Shenhua, the listed unit of China’s No. 1 coal producer, have erased $178 billion of market value since the stock peaked in 2007 — equivalent to the value of Bank of America Corp. Yanzhou Coal, the fourth largest, has dropped 80 percent from its 2011 high.
So, in summary, the PBOC had to bailout a ‘small’ wealth management product due to fears of contagion, which merely amplifies the future problems, and investors are pricing coal companies (which back a vast amount of shadow bank facilities) for major problems ahead… and the PBC had to pump CNY 375 billion in last week just to prop up the banks through the new year…
But apart from that – yeah, China’s credit crisis must be over because US equities are up for 3 days…
JPMorgan Sued For Crony Justice – Presenting “A Decade of Illegal Conduct by JP Morgan Chase” | Zero Hedge
Earlier today, the non-profit organization Better Markets did what so many others have only dreamed of doing – they sued JPMorgan.
Specifically, as they disclose in the fact sheet posted on their website, they are “challenging the historic and unprecedented $13 billion settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and JP Morgan Chase (“Agreement”). Better Markets alleges in its complaint that the DOJ violated the Constitution and laws of the United States by using a mere contractual agreement to resolve claims of historic importance without subjecting the Agreement to independent judicial review. In effect, the DOJ acted as investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, sentencer, and collector, without any check on its authority or actions, even though the amount is the largest in the 237 year history of the United States. Because the DOJ has declared its intention to use the Agreement as a “template” in future similar cases, it is imperative that the DOJ’s unlawful and secretive approach in the settlement process be subjected to judicial review.”
We wish them the best of luck, as in a “crony jsutice” system as corrupt as this one – perhaps best described, paradoxically enough by the fictional movie The International – where the same DOJ previously implicitly admitted it will not prosecute “systemically important” firms like JPM to the full extent of the law and instead merely lob one after another wrist slap at them to placate the peasantry, any hope for obtaining true justice is impossible.
That said, the key aspects of the Better Markets lawsuit deserve attention. They are broken down as follows:
For years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, JP Morgan Chase allegedly engaged in pervasive fraud in the packaging and sale of thousands of mortgage-backed securities to investors. Those securities were stuffed with subprime loans that failed to meet applicable underwriting criteria. Employees, managers, and potentially high-level executives of JP Morgan Chase knew that the securities were riddled with toxic loans, but they allegedly concealed the truth from investors when they marketed and sold the securities. Investors lost huge but still unknown sums of money as a result of the fraud, and the bank’s illegal conduct contributed directly to the biggest financial crash since 1929 and the worst economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
After negotiating the Agreement in complete secrecy, the DOJ announced the $13 billion deal on November 19, 2013, claiming that it was holding JP Morgan Chase accountable for its illegal activities. Under the Agreement, DOJ grants JP Morgan Chase broad civil immunity in exchange for a $2 billion civil penalty, along with $4 billion in “consumer relief” for the benefit of homeowners with problem mortgages. The Agreement also allocates $7 billion to eight other agencies or states to resolve their claims against JP Morgan Chase.
Key Allegations in the Complaint
The Agreement was struck under the most extraordinary circumstances. For example—
- THE HISTORIC CLAIMS: The Agreement resolved claims of pervasive fraud that contributed to the worst financial crash since 1929 and the worst economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
- THE LARGEST AMOUNT EVER: The settlement amount was the largest in U.S. history from any single entity by more than 300%.
- THE BIGGEST BANK: JP Morgan Chase is the largest, richest, and most well-connected Wall Street bank in the United States.
- THE HIGHEST-LEVEL NEGOTIATORS: The Attorney General and other senior DOJ political appointees negotiated directly and entirely in secret with the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, someone who was considered a possible Treasury Secretary just a few years ago.
- THE $10 BILLION PHONE CALL: The cellphone of DOJ’s third highest ranking official rang with the “familiar” phone number of JP Morgan Chase’s CEO, who called to offer billions of dollars to stop DOJ from holding a press conference and filing a lawsuit in just a few hours. The call worked, and the press conference and lawsuit were both called off.
- THE UNPRECEDENTED AGREEMENT: DOJ gave complete civil immunity to JP Morgan Chase for defrauding thousands in exchange for $13 billion, via a contract that was negotiated and finalized in secret without any review or approval by a federal court.
?Notwithstanding the historic nature of the settlement, the Agreement was never subjected to judicial review, so there has been no independent evaluation of its terms. Furthermore, the vague settlement documents fail to disclose critically important information about every aspect of the deal. For example, the Agreement fails to identify or explain—
- THE LOSSES: How much did JP Morgan Chase’s clients, customers, counterparties, investors, and others lose as a result of its fraudulent conduct? $100 billion? $200 billion? More?
- THE PROFITS: How much revenue, profits, and other benefits did JP Morgan Chase receive as a result of its fraudulent conduct, and was it all disgorged? $10 billion? $20 billion? More?
- THE BONUSES: Who received what amount of bonuses for the illegal conduct?
- THE INVESTIGATION: What was the scope and thoroughness of the investigation that provided the basis for the Agreement?
- THE FRAUD: What are the material facts of the illegal conduct by JP Morgan Chase and the specific violations of law that were committed?
- THE CULPRITS: What exactly did the individual executives, officers, managers, and employees involved in the illegal conduct actually do to carry out the fraud, and do any of them still work for the bank?
- THE CORRECTIVE ACTION: Why did the contract fail to impose on JP Morgan Chase any obligation to change any of its business or compliance practices, which are standard conduct remedies that regulators routinely require? And how can the sanctions effectively punish and deter JP Morgan Chase, given its wealth and its extensive history of lawless conduct?
- THE LACK OF ADMISSIONS: Why are there no admissions of fact or law by JP Morgan Chase, and what, if any, are the concrete legal implications of their so-called “acknowledgment”?
By entering the Agreement without seeking any judicial review and approval, the DOJ violated the Constitution and laws of the United States.
- The Executive Branch, acting through the DOJ, violated the separation of powers doctrine by unilaterally striking a bargain with JP Morgan Chase to resolve unprecedented matters of historic importance, without seeking any judicial review and approval of the Agreement.
- The DOJ violated the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (“FIRREA”) by failing to commence a civil action in federal court so that the court could, among other things, assess the civil penalty.
- The DOJ acted arbitrarily and capriciously by, among other things, entering the Agreement without seeking judicial review and approval.
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But perhaps the most informative aspect of the lawsuit fact sheet is simply stepping back and observing the relentless illegal transgressions by Jamie Dimon’s firm. Better Markets summarizes them best as follows:
Highlights From A Decade of Illegal Conduct by JP Morgan Chase
- United States v. JPMorgan Case Bank, NA, No-1:14-cr-7 (S.D.N.Y. Jan 8, 2014) ($1.7 billion criminal penalty); In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., OCC Admin. Proceeding No. AA-EC-13-109 (Jan. 7, 2014) ($350 million civil penalty); In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Dept. of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Admin. Proceeding No. 2014-1 (Jan. 7, 2014) ($461 million civil penalty) (all for violations of law arising from the bank’s role in connection with Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the largest in the history of the U.S.);
- In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., CFTC Admin. Proceeding No. 14-01 (Oct. 16, 2013) ($100 million civil penalty); In re JPMorgan Chase & Co., SEC Admin. Proceeding No. 3-15507 (Sept. 19, 2013) ($200 million civil penalty); In re JPMorgan Chase & Co., Federal Reserve Board Admin. Proceeding No. 13-031-CMP-HC (Sept. 18, 2013) ($200 million civil penalty); UK Financial Conduct Authority, Final Notice to JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. (Sept. 18, 2013) (£137.6 million ($221 million) penalty); In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., OCC Admin. Proceeding No. AA-EC-2013-75, #2013-140 (Sept. 17, 2013) ($300 million civil penalty) (all for violations of federal law in connection with the proprietary trading losses sustained by JP Morgan Chase in connection with the high risk derivatives bet referred to as the “London Whale”);
- In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., CFPB Admin. Proceeding No. 2013-CFPB-0007 (Sept. 19, 2013) ($20 million civil penalty and $309 million refund to customers); In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., OCC Admin. Proceeding No. AA-EC-2013-46 (Sept. 18, 2013) ($60 million civil penalty) (both for violations in connection with JP Morgan Chase’s billing practices and fraudulent sale of so-called Identity Protection Products to customers);
- In Re Make-Whole Payments and Related Bidding Strategies, FERC Admin. Proceeding Nos. IN11-8-000, IN13-5-000 (July 30, 2013) (civil penalty of $285 million and disgorgement of $125 million for energy market manipulation);
- SEC v. J.P. Morgan Sec. LLC, No. 12-cv-1862 (D.D.C. Jan. 7, 2013) ($301 million in civil penalties and disgorgement for improper conduct related to offerings of mortgage-backed securities);
- In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., CFTC Admin. Proceeding No. 12-37 (Sept. 27, 2012) ($600,000 civil penalty for violations of the Commodities Exchange Act relating to trading in excess of position limits);
- In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., CFTC Admin. Proceeding No. 12-17 (Apr. 4, 2012) ($20 million civil penalty for the unlawful handling of customer segregated funds relating to the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc.);
- United States v. Bank of America, No. 12-cv-00361 (D.D.C. 2012) (for foreclosure and mortgage-loan servicing abuses during the Financial Crisis, with JP Morgan Chase paying $5.3 billion in monetary and consumer relief);
- In re JPMorgan Chase & Co., Federal Reserve Board Admin. Proceeding No. 12-009-CMP-HC (Feb. 9, 2012) ($275 million in monetary relief for unsafe and unsound practices in residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing);
- SEC v. J.P. Morgan Sec. LLC, No. 11-cv-03877 (D.N.J. July 7, 2011) ($51.2 million in civil penalties and disgorgement); In re JPMorgan Chase & Co., Federal Reserve Board Admin. Proceeding No. 11-081-WA/RB-HC (July 6, 2011) (compliance plan and corrective action requirements); In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., OCC Admin. Proceeding No. AA-EC-11-63 (July 6, 2011) ($22 million civil penalty) (all for anticompetitive practices in connection with municipal securities transactions);
- SEC v. J.P. Morgan Sec., LLC, No. 11-cv-4206 (S.D.N.Y. June 21, 2011) ($153.6 million in civil penalties and disgorgement for violations of the securities laws relating to misleading investors in connection with synthetic collateralized debt obligations);
- In re JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., OCC Admin. Proceeding No. AA-EC-11-15, #2011-050 (Apr. 13, 2011) (consent order mandating compliance plan and other corrective action resulting from unsafe and unsound mortgage servicing practices);
- In re J.P. Morgan Sec. Inc., SEC Admin. Proceeding No. 3-13673 (Nov. 4, 2009) ($25 million civil penalty for violations of the securities laws relating to the Jefferson County derivatives trading and bribery scandal);
- In re JP Morgan Chase & Co, Attorney General of the State of NY Investor Protection Bureau, Assurance of Discontinuance Pursuant to Exec. Law §63(15) (June 2, 2009) ($25 million civil penalty for misrepresenting risks associated with auction rate securities);
- In re JPMorgan Chase & Co., SEC Admin. Proceeding No. 3-13000 (Mar. 27, 2008) ($1.3 million civil disgorgement for violations of the securities laws relating to JPM’s role as asset-backed indenture trustee to certain special purpose vehicles);
- In re J.P. Morgan Sec. Inc., SEC Admin. Proceeding No. 3-11828 (Feb. 14, 2005) ($2.1 million in civil fines and penalties for violations of Securities Act record-keeping requirements); and
- SEC v. J.P. Morgan Securities Inc., 03-cv-2939 (WHP) (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 28, 2003) ($50 million in civil penalties and disgorgements as part of a global settlement for research analyst conflict of interests).
Did we mention that nobody from JPM has gone to prison, and instead as of late last week, one of the biggest JPM culprits was set to become a member of the CFTC’s advisory panel before the people and not the regulators, were forced to step in? Why? #AskJPM
According To Bank Of America The Outlook For The Entire World Has “Deteriorated” Due To Cold US Weather | Zero Hedge
It really doesn’t get funnier than this, and explains the 7 figure comp for the Bank of America authors who can certainly get matching compensation in the comedy circuit. From BofA’s Naeem Wahid:
We recommend closing the short EUR/SEK trade that we initiated last week. While Swedish economic data have improved, as we expected, the global outlook has deteriorated – caused by a larger than expected weather effect in the US (the US ISM has fallen to 51.3, from December’s 56.5). As such we close out the trade at 8.8300 (entered at 8.8100) and look to reinitiate once risk appetite turns positive again.
In other words, the outlook for the global economy – that would be the economy of the entire world – has just taken a hit due to…. cold weather and snowfall during the US winter…. ….. …..
Perhaps the only question we have after seeing the attached table, which shows that as of Q3, 2013 JPMorgan owned $65.4 billion, or just over 60% of the total notional ($108.2 billion) of all gold derivatives in the US, is whether the CFTC will pull the “our budget was too small” excuse to justify why it allowed Jamie Dimon to ignore any and all position limits and corner the gold market?
And purely as a reference point, the chart below compares the total value of gold held in JPM’s vault (registered and eligible) as of Friday’s closing price with its reported gold derivative notional holdings.
Finally, for the purists out there, we realize that gross is not net… until there is a breach in the derivative counterparty collateral chain, and gross becomes net.
A classicial economist… and Harvard professor… preaching to the world that one’s money is not safe in the US banking system due to Ben Bernanke’s actions? And putting his withdrawal slip where his mouth is and pulling $1 million out of Bank America? Say it isn’t so…
From Terry Burnham, former Harvard economics professor, author of “Mean Genes” and “Mean Markets and Lizard Brains,” provocative poster on this page and long-time critic of the Federal Reserve, argues that the Fed’s efforts to strengthen America’s banks have perversely weakened them. First posted in PBS.
Is your money safe at the bank? An economist says ‘no’ and withdraws his
Last week I had over $1,000,000 in a checking account at Bank of America. Next week, I will have $10,000.
Why am I getting in line to take my money out of Bank of America? Because of Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, who officially begins her term as chairwoman on Feb. 1.
Before I explain, let me disclose that I have been a stopped clock of criticism of the Federal Reserve for half a decade. That’s because I believe that when the Fed intervenes in markets, it has two effects — both negative. First, it decreases overall wealth by distorting markets and causing bad investment decisions. Second, the members of the Fed become reverse Robin Hoods as they take from the poor (and unsophisticated) investors and give to the rich (and politically connected). These effects have been noticed; a Gallup poll taken in the last few days reports that only the richest Americans support the Fed. (See the table.)
Why do I risk starting a run on Bank of America by withdrawing my money and presuming that many fellow depositors will read this and rush to withdraw too? Because they pay me zero interest. Thus, even an infinitesimal chance Bank of America will not repay me in full, whenever I ask, switches the cost-benefit conclusion from stay to flee.
Let me explain: Currently, I receive zero dollars in interest on my $1,000,000. The reason I had the money in Bank of America was to keep it safe. However, the potential cost to keeping my money in Bank of America is that the bank may be unwilling or unable to return my money.
They will not be able to return my money if:
- Many other depositors like you get in line before me. Banks today promise everyone that they can have their money back instantaneously, but the bank does not actually have enough money to pay everyone at once because they have lent most of it out to other people — 90 percent or more. Thus, banks are always at risk for runs where the depositors at the front of the line get their money back, but the depositors at the back of the line do not. Consider this image from a fully insured U.S. bank, IndyMac in California, just five years ago.
- Some of the investments of Bank of America go bust. Because Bank of America has loaned out the vast majority of depositors’ money, if even a small percentage of its loans go bust, the firm is at risk for bankruptcy. Leverage, combined with some bad investments, caused the failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and would have caused the failure of Bank of America, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, and many more institutions in 2008 had the government not bailed them out.
In recent days, the chances for trouble at Bank of America have become more salient because of woes in the emerging markets, particularly Argentina, Turkey, Russia and China. The emerging market fears caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to lose more than 500 points over the last week.
Returning to my money now entrusted to Bank of America, market turmoil reminded me that this particular trustee is simply not safe. Or not safe enough, given the fact that safety is the reason I put the money there at all. The market turmoil could threaten “BofA” with bankruptcy today as it did in 2008, and as banks have experienced again and again over time.
If the chance that Bank of America will not return my money is, say, a mere 1 percent, then the expected cost to me is 1 percent of my million, or $10,000. That far exceeds the interest I receive, which, I hardly need remind depositors out there, is a cool $0. Even a 0.1 percent chance of loss has an expected cost to me of $1,000. Bank of America pays me the zero interest rate because the Federal Reserve has set interest rates to zero. Thus my incentive to leave at the first whiff of instability.
Surely, you say, the federal government is going to keep its promises, at least on insured deposits. Yes, the Federal Government (via the FDIC) insures deposits in most institutions up to $250,000. But there is a problem with this insurance. The FDIC currently has far less money in its fund than it has insured deposits: as of Sept. 1, about $41 billion in reserve against $6 trillion in insured deposits. (There are over $9 trillion on deposit at U.S. banks, by the way, so more than $3 trillion in deposits is completely uninsured.)
It’s true, of course, that when the FDIC fund risks running dry, as it did in 2009, it can go back to other parts of the federal government for help. I expect those other parts will make the utmost efforts to oblige. But consider the possibility that they may be in crisis at the very same time, for the very same reasons, or that it might take some time to get approval. Remember that Congress voted against the TARP bailout in 2008 before it relented and finally voted for the bailout.
Thus, even insured depositors risk loss and/or delay in recovering their funds. In most time periods, these risks are balanced against the reward of getting interest. Not so long ago, Bank of America would have paid me $1,000 a week in interest on my million dollars. If I were getting $1,000 a week, I might bear the risks of delay and default. However, today I am receiving $0.
So my cash is leaving Bank of America.
But if Bank of America is not safe, you must be wondering, where can you and I put our money? No path is without risk, but here are a few options.
- Keep some cash at home, though admittedly this runs the risk of loss or setting yourself up as a target for criminals.
- Put some cash in a safety box. There is an urban myth that this is illegal; my understanding is that cash in a safety box is legal. However, I can imagine scenarios where capital controls are placed on safety deposit box withdrawals. And suppose the bank is shut down and you can’t get to the box?
- Pay your debts. You don’t need to be Suze Orman to know that you need liquidity, so do not use all your cash to pay debts. However, you can use some surplus, should you have any.
- Prepay your taxes and some other obligations. Subject to the same caveat about liquidity, pay ahead. Make sure you only pay safe entities. Your local government is not going away, even in a depression, so, for example, you can prepay property taxes. (I would check with a tax accountant on the implications, however.)
- Find a safer bank. Some local, smaller banks are much safer than the “too-big-to-fail banks.” After its mistake of letting Lehman fail, the government has learned that it must try to save giant institutions. However, the government may not be able to save all failing institutions immediately and simultaneously in a crisis. Thus, depositors in big banks face delays and defaults in the event of a true crisis. (It is important to find the right small bank; I believe all big banks are fragile, while some small banks are robust.)
Someone should start a bank (or maybe someone has) that charges (rather than pays) interest and does not make loans. Such a bank would be a good example of how Fed actions create unintended outcomes that defeat their goals. The Fed wants to stimulate lending, but an anti-lending bank could be quite successful. I would be a customer.
(Interestingly, there was a famous anti-lending bank and it was also a “BofA” — the Bank of Amsterdam, founded in 1609. The Dutch BofA charged customers for safe-keeping, did not make loans and did not allow depositors to get their money out immediately. Adam Smith discusses this BofA favorably in his “Wealth of Nations,” published in 1776. Unfortunately — and unbeknownst to Smith — the Bank of Amsterdam had starting secretly making risky loans to ventures in the East Indies and other areas, just like any other bank. When these risky ventures failed, so did the BofA.)
My point is that the Federal Reserve’s actions have myriad, unanticipated, negative consequences. Over the last week, we saw the impact on the emerging markets. The Fed had created $3 trillion of new money in the last five-plus years — three times more than in its entire prior history. A big chunk of that $3 trillion found its way, via private investors and institutions, into risky, emerging markets.
Now that the Fed is reducing (“tapering”) its new money creation (now down to $65 billion a month, or $780 billion a year, as of Wednesday’s announcement), investments are flowing out of risky areas. Some of these countries are facing absolute crises, with Argentina’s currency plummeting by more than 20 percent in under one month. That means investments in Argentina are worth 20 percent less in dollar terms than they were a month ago, even if they held their price in Pesos.
The Fed did not plan to impoverish investors by inducing them to buy overpriced Argentinian investments, of course, but that is one of the costly consequences of its actions. If you lost money in emerging markets over the last week, at one level, it is your responsibility. However, it is not crazy for you to blame the Fed for creating volatile prices that made investing more difficult.
Similarly, if you bought gold at the peak of almost $2,000 per ounce, you have lost one-third of your money; you share the blame for your golden losses with Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen. They removed the opportunities for safe investments and forced those with liquid assets to scramble for what safety they thought they could find. Furthermore, the uncertainty caused by the Fed has caused many assets to swing wildly in value, creating winners and losers.
The Fed played a role in the recent emerging markets turmoil. Next week, they will cause another crisis somewhere else. Eventually, the absurd effort to create wealth through monetary policy will unravel in the U.S. as it has every other time it has been tried from Weimar Germany to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Even after the Fed created the housing problems, we would have been better of with a small 2009 depression rather than the larger depression that lies ahead. See my Making Sen$e posts “The Stockholm Syndrome and Printing Money” and “Ben Bernanke as Easter Bunny: Why the Fed Can’t Prevent the Coming Crash” for the details of my argument.
Ever since Alan Greenspan intervened to save the stock market on Oct. 20, 1987, the Fed has sought to cushion every financial blow by adding liquidity. The trouble with trying to make the world safe for stupidity is that it creates fragility.
Bank of America and other big banks are fragile — and vulnerable to bank runs — because the Fed has set interest rates to zero. If a run gathers momentum, the government will take steps to stem it. But I am convinced they have limited ammunition and unlimited problems.
What is the solution? For you, save yourself and your family. For the system, revamp the Federal Reserve. The simplest first step would be to end the dual mandate of price stability and full employment. Price stability is enough. I favor rules over intervention. We don’t need a maestro conducting monetary policy; we need a system that promotes stability and allows people (not printing presses) to make us richer.
Every time a TBTF bank releases its 10-Q, we head straight for the section, usually well over 100 pages in, that discloses the bank’s total profitable trading days.
This is what the most recent Bank of America 10-Q said on this topic:
The histogram below is a graphic depiction of trading volatility and illustrates the daily level of trading-related revenue for the three months ended September 30, 2013 compared to the three months ended June 30, 2013 and March 31, 2013. During the three months ended September 30, 2013, positive trading-related revenue was recorded for 97 percent, or 62 trading days, of which 69 percent (44 days) were daily trading gains of over $25 million and the largest loss was $21 million. These results can be compared to the three months ended June 30, 2013, where positive trading-related revenue was recorded for 89 percent, or 57 trading days, of which 67 percent (43 days) were daily trading gains of over $25 million and the largest loss was $54 million. During the three months ended March 31, 2013, positive trading-related revenue was recorded for 100 percent, or 60 trading days, of which 97 percent (58 days) were daily trading gains over $25 million.
In summary, so far in 2013, Bank of America lost money on 9 trading days out of a total 188.
Statistically, this result is absolutely ridiculous when one considers that the bulk of bank trading revenues are still in the form of prop positions disguised as “flow” trading to evade Volcker which means the only way a bank could make money with near uniform perfection is if it either i) consistently has inside information that it trades on or ii) it consistently front-runs its clients.
In related news, the only more absurd datapoint was JPMorgan’s announcement of how many trading day losses it had in the first nine months of 2013. For those who missed out succinct post on the matter, the answer was clear: zero. The absurdity becomes even clearer when one considers that in the pre-New Normal days, JPM had an almost normal profit/loss distribution in its trading days.
But back to Bank of America, where as we noted, the kind of trading result would only be possible if the bank was aggressively insider trading or just as aggressively frontrunning flow orders in its prop book (a topic we covered back in 2009 as relates to Goldman Sachs, and which the bank sternly rejected).
We now know that at least one of the two almost certainly happened after Reuters report from earlier today that it discovered on the FINRA BrokerCheck page of one of the bank’s former Managing Directors, Eric Beckwith, the following curious ongoing investigation:
WE UNDERSTAND THAT THE USAO (US Attorney Office) -WDNC IS INVESTIGATING WHETHER IT WAS PROPER FOR THE SWAPS DESK TO EXECUTE FUTURES TRADES PRIOR TO THE DESK’S EXECUTION OF BLOCK FUTURE TRADES ON BEHALF OF COUNTERPARTIES, AND WHETHER MR. BECKWITH PROVIDED ACCURATE INFORMATION TO THE CME IN CONNECTION WITH THE CME’S INVESTIGATION OF THE SWAPS DESK’S BLOCK FUTURES TRADING. WE ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT THE COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION IS CONDUCTING A PARALLEL INVESTIGATION INTO THE TRADING ISSUE.
More from Reuters:
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission have both held investigations into whether Bank of America engaged in improper trading by doing its own futures trades ahead of executing large orders for clients, according to a regulatory filing.
The June 2013 disclosure, which Reuters recently reviewed on a website run by the securities industry regulator FINRA, sheds light on the basis for a warning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on January 8.
The warning, in the form of an intelligence bulletin to regulators and security officers at financial services firms, said that the FBI suspected swaps traders at an unnamed U.S. bank and an unnamed Canadian bank may have been involved in market manipulation and front running of orders from U.S. government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Only this time it’s different, because a quick check on the background of Beckwith shows that his expertise is not trading MBS but a different product entirely.
First, it goes without saying that Eric would promptly scrap his LinkedIn Profile as the following URL shows.
What Eric, however, was unable to delete was the mention of his name as the Bank of America contact for an “innovative new product created [by the CME and the banks] based on client demand” –Deliverable Interest Rate Swaps Futures, or as some call them Deliverable Interest Rate Products.
What is this newly promoted product, and why is there demand for it? This is what the CME had to say about the benefits of “DIRPs” (even though the technical acronyms is DSFs):
- Capital efficient way to access interest rate swap exposure
- Flexible execution via CME Globex, Block trades, EFRPs and Open Outcry
- Allows participants to trade in an OTC manner:
- Ability to block calendar spreads
- Lower block thresholds and longer reporting times
- No block surcharges
But, as in the case of CDS, and all other novel products, the main reason for DIRPs is simple: an even lower margin requirement compared to Interest Rate Swaps and Treasury Futures (margined together), allowing one to express a position, or better, manipulate the market in Interest Rate products, using the least amount of margin (initial capital) possible.
The following chart explains just this:
Bottom line: if you want to manipulate Treasurys in a reflexive market, where the derivatve almost always drives the price of the underlying (as perhaps explained best by none other than the then-member of the Fed Dino Kos), this is the best product as you get even more firepower for your buck.
Only in this case, anyone trading with the Bank of America DIRPs desk was apparently also being frontrun on a consistent basis.
We are relatively comfortable with alleging that BofA did indeed allow this to happen (whether it neither admits nor denies guilt at the end of the day), because a few weeks after the notice appears in Beckwith’s Brokercheck profile on June 14,2013, he promptly “left” Bank of America in July as Reuters reports: not exactly the course of action an innocent man would take.
In other words, while Reuters is focused on the Fannie and Freddie frontrunning angle, it appears the frontrunning activity spread substantially to involve the entire Treasury curve as well!
So while HFTs frontrun all equity retail trades in open markets, major banks frontrun all institutional block equity orders in their own dark pools, we find out that bankers also just happen to frontrun clients in “you name it” over the counter product, where the only reason to be involved is to take advantage of the low margin – something JPM’s CIO did quite aggressively and quite well until it blew up of course.
But the best news: we finally know how it is possible that every bank reports quarter after quarter of near uniform trading perfection and close to zero trading day losses.
Finally, our question for the regulators: in a Volcker world in which banks are supposedly not allowed to trade ahead of their clients, why are banks, well, trading ahead of their clients!?
* * *
Appendix 1 – the CMEs overview of Deliverable IR Swap Futures
Appendix 2 – Eric Beckwith’s Brokercheck profile
Last week we were the first to raise the very real and imminent threat of a default for a Chinese wealth management product (WMP) default – specifically China Credit Trust’s Credit Equals Gold #1 (CEQ1) – and its potential contagion concerns. It seems BofAML is now beginning to get concerned, noting that over 60% of market participants expects repo rates to rise if a trust product defaults and based on the analysis below, they think there is a high probability for CEQ1 to default on 31 January, i.e. no full redemption of principal and back-coupon on the day. Crucially, with the stratospheric leverage ratios now engaged in such products, BofAML warns trust companies must answer some serious questions: will they stand back behind every trust investment or will they have to default on some or potentially many of them? BofAML believes the question needs an answer because investors and Trusts can’t have their cake and eat it too. The potential first default, even if it’s not CEQ1 on 1/31, would be important based on the experience of what happened to the US and Europe; the market has tended to underestimate the initial event.
For those who have forgotten, below is a quick schematic of what a WMP looks like:
And as we previously noted,
…borrowers are facing rising pressures for loan repayments in an environment of overcapacity and unprofitable investments. Unable to generate cash to service their loans, they have to turn to the shadow-banking sector for credit and avoid default. The result is an explosive growth of the size of the shadow-banking sector (now conservatively estimated to account for 20-30 percent of GDP).
Understandably, the PBOC does not look upon the shadow banking sector favorably. Since shadow-banking sector gets its short-term liquidity mainly through interbanking loans, the PBOC thought that it could put a painful squeeze on this sector through reducing liquidity. Apparently, the PBOC underestimated the effects of its measure. Largely because Chinese borrowers tend to cross-guarantee each other’s debt, squeezing even a relatively small number of borrowers could produce a cascade of default. The reaction in the credit market was thus almost instant and frightening. Borrowers facing imminent default are willing to borrow at any rate while banks with money are unwilling to loan it out no matter how attractive the terms are.
Should this situation continue, China’s real economy would suffer a nasty shock. Chain default would produce a paralyzing effect on economic activities even though there is no run on the banks. Clearly, this is not a prospect the CCP’s top leadership relishes.
So the PBOC’s efforts are merely exacerbating the situation for the worst companies… and as BofAML notes below, this is a major problem…
The 3bn CNY Beast Knocking
via BofAML’s Bin Gao
CNY stands for the currency, and also a beast
CNY represents China’s official currency. It also stands for Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday for the country and the occasion for family reunions and celebration. But less familiar for many, however, the Year (?) itself actually stood for a beast which comes out every 365 days and eats everything along the way from bugs to humans. The holiday tradition started as a way for people to fend off the beast by getting together and lighting up the firecrackers.
At the same time, custom dictated that people also to paid their due to avoid becoming the beast’s target. In particular, it has been a tradition to settle all debt before the New Year. From the perspective of such folk culture, the trust product Credit Equals Gold #1, referred as CEQ1 hereafter, by China Credit Trust planned poorly for having the maturing date on the New Year, leaving a 3bn CNY beast running wild.
High probability for the trust product to default
Though the term default is used quite frequently, there are actually confusions on what constitutes a default in this case when talking to investors and especially onshore investment professionals. To simplify the issue, we define a default as failing to pay the promised contractual amount on time.
The product, CEQ1, is straightforward. It is CNY3.03bn financing with senior tranches of CNY3bn and junior tranche of CNY30mn. In principle, the senior tranches are also equity investment, but the junior tranche holder pledged assets for repurchasing senior investment at a premium. The promised rate was indexed to PBoC’s deposit rate with a floor for three classes of senior tranches at 9.5%, 10% and 11%, paid annually (detailed structure is illustrated below).
In a sense, the product is in technical default already. The last coupon payment in December, with nearly all the money (CNY80mn) left in the trust account, came in at only 2.7%, falling far short of the promised yield. The bigger trouble is the CNY3bn principal payment, along with the delinquent coupon, on 31 January.
We see high probability of default on 31 January
Political or economic consideration: ultimately, given the government’s strong grip on financial institutions, default may be a political decision as much as an economic decision. From that perspective, CEQ1 would be a good candidate for default. The minimum investment in CEQ1 is CNY3mn, much more than the typical amount required for other trust investment and 75 times of per capita GDP in China. If defaults were to be used to send a warning signal to shadow banking investors, this group of rich investors may have been a good target because the government does not need to worry too much of them demonstrating in front of government offices.
Timing: there is never a good timing for deleverage because of risks involved. But the current job market situation provides a solid buffer should defaults and subsequent credit contraction slow down the economy growth. The government planned 9mn jobs last year; instead it has created more than 12mn by November. So the system could withstand a potential shock.
Financial capability: China Credit Trust has a bit over CNY10bn net assets, which some analysts cite as evidence of the trust company’s capability to fully redeem the product first and recover from the collateral asset later. However, the assets might not be liquid enough, so the net asset is not the best measure. Based on its 2012 annual report, the company has liquid asset of CNY3bn and short-term liability of CNY1.35bn, leaving liquid accessible fund of CNY1.65bn at most. ICBC for certain has much deeper pocket, but it has declared that it won’t be taking major responsibility.
Career concern: To certain extent, the timing was unfavorable for another reason, the ongoing anti-corruption campaign. It is reported that there are around 700 investors involved. On CNY3bn senior tranche investment, it averages CNY4.3mn per investor. We do not know the exact identity but with CNY3mn entry point, we know no one is a small-scale investor. Legally unjustified, if either China Credit Trust or ICBC decided to pay 100% with their capital, the decision maker would have to ensure that he does not have any business deals with any of the 700. Because if he does, his career or even his freedom could be in jeopardy in the current environment of ongoing anti-corruption campaign and strict scrutiny of shady deals/personal favors.
Questionable asset quality and uncertain contingent claim: There are cases in the past of near default, but most of them involved collateral of real estate assets, which have at least appreciated over the years. The appreciation of collateral assets makes it easier for the third party to step in by paying back investors and taking over the collateral assets. This particular product involves coal-mining assets whose value has been decreasing over the last couple of years. Moreover, there have been multiple claimants on these assets, as exemplified by the sale of Yangjiagu coal mine. Although the mine was 51% pledged through two levels of ownership structure, only 20% of the sales proceed accrued to trust investors (Exhibit 1 above). Such a low percentage would be a deterrence and concern to whoever contemplating a takeover of the collateral assets.
Other cases less relevant: In the past, one way to deal with the issue was for banks to lend to shareholders of the existing collateral asset owners for them to payback investors, with explicit or implicit local government guarantees. Shangdong Hailong’s potential default on bond was avoided this way last year. However, in the current case, the owner has been arrested for illegal fund raising, making the past precedence less applicable.
Putting all the above reasons together, we think there is a high probability for CEQ1 to default on 31 January, i.e. no full redemption of principal and backcoupon on the day.
Immediate impact would be for China rates curve to flatten
The case has been widely covered in the media. However, many still believe one way or the other the involved parties will find a last minute solution to fully redeem the maturing debt. So if the trust is not paid, we believe it will be a big shock to the market.
China rates market reaction, however, might not be straightforward. On the one hand, default would likely lead to risk-averse behavior, arguing for lower rates. On the other hand, market players would likely hoard cash in such an event, leading to tighter liquidity condition and pushing money rates higher.
We think that both movements are likely to ensue initially, meaning higher repo/SHIBOR rates and lower CGB yield if default were to realize. We suggest positioning likewise by paying 1y IRS and long 5y CGB. On the swap curve itself, we think the immediate reflection will be a bear flattening move.
Interestingly, an informal survey conducted on WeChat among finance professionals suggests the same kind of repo rate reaction (Chart 1). We think this survey is important because we believe these investment professionals will likely behave accordingly because the default event is not priced in and hard to hedge a priori.
Trust company can’t have their cake and eat it too
Of course, we can’t rule out that the involved parties do find a solution to avoid default. However, with a case as clear cut to us as this one favoring default, we believe such outcome would send a strong signal to investors that the best investment is to buy the worst credit.
Thus, we believe the near term market reaction with no default would be for the AA credit to shine brightly since this segment has been under pressure for quite some time. Trust investment would be met with enthusiasm and trust assets would likely expand further.
However, we see a fundamental problem in the industry; the leverage ratio has gone to a level which requires investors and trust companies to answer some serious questions: will trust company stand back behind every trust investment or will trust company have to default on some or potentially many of them? We believe the question needs an answer because the trust companies can’t have their cake and eat it too.
For the industry, the AUM/equity ratio has nearly doubled from 23 to 43 in less than three years during the period of 4Q2010 to 3Q2013 (Chart 2). Some in the industry has argued that one should only count the collective trusts since other trusts are originated by non-trust players like banks. Thus, trust companies have no responsibility for paying investors other than collective trusts.
We see two problems.
Even if we accept the trust companies’ argument, it is still questionable whether trust companies would be able to pay even a reasonable amount of default. The growth of leverage on collective trusts was much more aggressive. Collective trust AUM/equity ratio was 2.7 in 1Q2010 and 4.7 in 4Q2010 (Chart 2). It rose to 10 by 3Q2013, more than doubled in less than three years and more than tripled in less than four years. Along the way, the average provision has dropped from 84bp to 34bp when measured against collective AUM.
As the case of CEQ1 illustrates, as long as full redemption is on the table, no involved party could walk away totally clean. CEQ1 is a case of collective trust, but the ICBC still faces the pressure to pay. If the bank is being pressured to pay in the case of collective trust default, trust companies will likely be pressured to pay as well should some non-collective trusts get into trouble. If trust companies are on the line for the total AUM, their financial condition is even shakier, with average provision covering barely 7bp of total AUM as of 3Q2013.
On longer term market trend
Based on the analysis in the above section, we see a possibility for trust companies to have to let some trust products default with such high leverage and so few provisions. This is especially likely the case given that there will be more and more trust redemption this year and next year as a result of the fast expansion of this industry over the last couple of years and short duration of such products.
The heaviest redemption in collective trusts this year will arrive in the 2Q (Chart 3). Given that the financial system is stretched thin and there were more cases of near defaults on smaller amount of redemption last year (three cases in December alone), we believe some form of default is almost inevitable in the near term.
The potential first default, even if it’s not CEQ1 on 31 JANUARY, would be important based on the experience of what happened to the US and Europe; the market has tended to underestimate the initial event. Over the last year, China appeared to be mirroring what happened in the US during 2007, the spike of money rate (much higher repo/SHIBOR), the steepening of money curve (14d money much more expensive than overnight and 7d), and small accidents here and there (junior tranches of a few wealth management products offered by Haitong Securities losing more than 60%, a few small trusts and now CEQ1’s redemption difficulty).
Theoretically, China’s risk is best expressed using a China related instrument, but we also think the more liquid expression of China goes through the south pacific. The following points list our longer views on China and Australia rates.
- We have liked using Australia rates lower as a way to express our China concern and we continue recommending doing so as a theme.
- We recommend long CGB and underweight credit product. The risk for such positioning in the near term is no CEQ1 default. But we believe any pain suffered due to overt market manipulation to avoid default will be short lived since it has become much harder to keep the debt-heavy system in balance and the credit spread is bound to widen.
- After a brief flattening on CEQ1 default, we see swap curve steepening as being more likely on more default threatening growth leading to easy monetary policy and more issuance going to the bond market.
- We look for higher CCS rates due to the fact that the currency forward will more likely start expressing the risk.
“There is an unresolved self-contradiction in China’s current policies: restarting the furnaces also reignites exponential debt growth, which cannot be sustained for much longer than a couple of years.”
The “eerie resemblances” – as Soros previously noted – to the US in 2008 have profound consequences for China and the world – nowhere is that more dangerously exposed (just as in the US) than in the Chinese shadow banking sector.
Bernanke’s Legacy: A Record $1.3 Trillion In Excess Deposits Over Loans At The “Big 4” Banks | Zero Hedge
The history books on Bernanke’s legacy have not even been started, and while the euphoria over the Fed’s balance sheet expansion to a ridiculous $4 trillion or about 25% of the US GDP has been well-telegraphed and manifests itself in a record high stock market and a matching record disparity between the haves and the have nots, there is never such a thing as a free lunch… or else the Fed should be crucified for not monetizing all debt since its inception over 100 years ago – just think of all the foregone “wealth effect.” Sarcasm aside, one thing that can be quantified and that few are talking about is the unprecedented, and record, amount of “deposits” held at US commercial banks over loans.
Naturally, these are not deposits in the conventional sense, but merely the balance sheet liability manifestation of the Fed’s excess reserves parked at banks. And as our readers know well by now (hereand here) it is these “excess deposits” that the Banks have used to run up risk in various permutations, most notably as the JPM CIO demonstrated, by attempting to corner various markets and other still unknown pathways, using the Fed’s excess liquidity as a source of initial and maintenance margin on synthetic positions.
So how does the record mismatch between deposits and loans look like? Well, for the Big 4 US banks, JPM, Wells, BofA and Citi it looks as follows.
What the above chart simply shows is the breakdown in the Excess Deposit over Loan series, which is shown in the chart below, which tracks the historical change in commercial bank loans and deposits. What is immediately obvious is that while loans and deposits moved hand in hand for most of history, starting with the collapse of Lehman loan creation has been virtually non-existent (total loans are now at levels seen at the time of Lehman’s collapse) while deposits have risen to just about $10 trillion. It is here that the Fed’s excess reserves have gone – the delta between the two is almost precisely the total amount of reserves injected by the Fed since the Lehman crisis.
As for the location of the remainder of the Fed-created excess reserves? Why it is held by none other than foreign banks operating in the US.
So what does all of this mean? In a nutshell, with the Fed now tapering QE and deposit formation slowing, banks will have no choice but to issue loans to offset the lack of outside money injection by the Fed. In other words, while bank “deposits” have already experienced the benefit of “future inflation”, and have manifested it in the stock market, it is now the turn of the matching asset to catch up. Which also means that while “deposit” growth (i.e., parked reserves) in the future will slow to a trickle, banks will have no choice but to flood the country with $2.5 trillion in loans, or a third of the currently outstanding loans, just to catch up to the head start provided by the Fed!
It is this loan creation that will jump start inside money and the flow through to the economy, resulting in the long-overdue growth. It is also this loan creation that means banks will no longer speculate as prop traders with the excess liquidity but go back to their roots as lenders. Most importantly, once banks launch this wholesale lending effort, it is then and only then that the true pernicious inflation from what the Fed has done in the past 5 years will finally rear its ugly head.
Finally, it is then that Bernanke’s legendary statement that he can “contain inflation in 15 minutes” will truly be tested. Which perhaps explains why he can’t wait to be as far away from the Marriner Eccles building as possible when the long-overdue reaction to his actions finally hits. Which is smart: now it is all Yellen responsibility.