Investors trading 3 stocks that may be doomed

August 27, 2009

Investors still trading Fannie, Freddie, AIG shares, even though prices are likely to hit zero

Daniel Wagner, AP Business Writer
Thursday August 27, 2009, 5:36 pm EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Investors are still trading common shares of Fannie Mae (FNM), Freddie Mac (FRE) and American International Group Inc. (AIG) by the billions, even though analysts say their prices are almost certain to go to zero.

All three are majority-owned by the government and are losing huge sums of money. The Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulators lack authority to end trading of stocks in such “zombie” companies that technically are alive — until the government takes them off life support.

Shares of the two mortgage giants and the insurer have been swept up in a summer rally in financial stocks. Investors have been trading their shares at abnormally high volumes, despite analysts’ warnings that they’re destined to lose their money.

“People have done well by trading them (in the short term), but when it gets to the end of the road, these stocks are going to be worth zero,” said Bose George, an analyst with the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Some of the activity involves day traders aiming to profit from short-term price swings, George said. But he said inexperienced investors might have the mis-impression that the companies may recover or be rescued.

“That would be kind of unfortunate,” he said. “There could be a lot of improvement in the economy, and these companies would still be worth zero.”

The government continues to support the companies with billions in taxpayer money, saying they still play a crucial role in the financial system.

Fannie and Freddie buy loans from banks and sell them to investors — a role critical to the mortgage market. They have tapped about $96 billion out of a potential $400 billion in aid from the Treasury Department.

Officials have said AIG’s failure would be disastrous for the financial markets. Treasury and the Federal Reserve have spent about $175 billion on AIG and AIG-related securities. The company also has access to $28 billion from the $700 billion financial industry bailout.

But analysts say the wind-down strategies for the companies are almost sure to wipe out any common equity, making their shares worthless.

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Housing fix leans on troubled firms

February 24, 2009

Obama is relying even more heavily on mortgage finance agencies Fannie and Freddie to help troubled borrowers and keep the housing market afloat.

By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Last Updated: February 24, 2009: 3:19 PM ET

NEW YORK(CNNMoney.com) — Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) won’t be leaving the federal government’s nest anytime soon.

President Obama is leaning heavily on the teetering mortgage finance titans to help stabilize the housing market, even as it pumps hundreds of billions of dollars into them to keep them afloat.

As the housing crisis deepens, the question of the companies’ long-term future has been set aside.

“The Obama administration has indicated that Fannie and Freddie will continue having a key role in the nation’s economy as we go forward,” James Lockhart, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates the companies, said in a speech last week. “At this point, our primary focus has to be getting through the present crisis.”

Fannie and Freddie, which long straddled the line between private companies and government agencies, were taken into conservatorship last September to prevent their collapse. Each were given a lifeline of $100 billion.

Their importance to homebuyers and lenders is clear – they accounted for more than 75% of mortgage originations at the end of last year, injecting much-needed financing into the lending arena. They own or guarantee almost 31 million mortgages worth $5.3 trillion.
Crucial to foreclosure rescue plan

And they are playing an pivotal role in Obama’s foreclosure prevention program, which was announced Wednesday.

Under the plan, Fannie and Freddie will provide access to low-cost refinancing to borrowers with little or no equity in their home. The administration expects this will help up to 5 million borrowers avoid foreclosure.

The companies are also contributing more than $20 billion to subsidize struggling borrowers’ interest rate reductions as part of Obama’s $75 billion loan modification program. This is expected to prevent up to 4 million foreclosures.

The administration, realizing it needs to boost confidence in the struggling companies, has agreed to double its level of support for the firms to $200 billion each, as well as boost the amount of mortgages they can own or guarantee to $900 billion, up from $850 billion.

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Obama sets aside $75 billion to slow foreclosures

February 18, 2009

Program would seek to bring mortgage payments down to 31% of income

By Ronald D. Orol, MarketWatch
Last update: 2:38 p.m. EST Feb. 18, 2009

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The White House unveiled a plan Wednesday to help 9 million “at risk” homeowners modify their mortgages, committing $75 billion of taxpayer money to back the initiative.

The plan contains two separate programs. One program is aimed at 4 million to 5 million homeowners struggling with loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae (FNM) or Freddie Mac (FRE) to help them refinance their mortgages through the two institutions.

The Obama mortgage plan

Below is a list of key elements of the plan outlined Wednesday by President Obama that aims to aid as many as 9 million households in fending off foreclosures:

* Allows 4 million–5 million homeowners to refinance via government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
* Establishes $75 billion fund to reduce homeowners’ monthly payments.
* Develops uniform rules for loan modifications across the mortgage industry.
* Bolsters Fannie and Freddie by buying more of their shares.
* Allows Fannie and Freddie to hold $900 billion in mortgage-backed securities — a $50 billion increase.

A separate program would potentially help 3 million to 4 million additional homeowners by allowing them to modify their mortgages to lower monthly interest rates through any participating lender. Under this plan, the lender would voluntarily lower the interest rate, and the government would provide subsidies to the lender.

“The plan I’m announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it; by modifying loans for families stuck in subprime mortgages they can’t afford as a result of skyrocketing interest rates or personal misfortune; and by taking broader steps to keep mortgage rates low so that families can secure loans with affordable monthly payments,” President Barack Obama said.

Homeowners that have Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans, who are having a difficult time refinancing and owe more than 80% of the value of their homes, would be eligible to refinance with this program. Even if homeowners with Fannie or Freddie loans have negative equity on their mortgages, they can qualify for this refinancing program. The program would only help homeowners occupying the property, not individuals who own property as investors.

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Seabreeze’s Kass favors U.S. stocks over Treasuries

December 4, 2008

Thursday December 4, 2008, 10:57 am EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hedge-fund manager Doug Kass, who successfully shorted U.S. equities this year including shares of Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), is now buying U.S. stocks on the belief that they have hit bottom.

“What are deemed to be risky, that is equities, are becoming safer and I am gingerly buying,” Kass told Reuters on Thursday. Kass is the founder and president of Seabreeze Partners Management.

Also, Kass said U.S. Treasuries are expensive at current levels, particularly the longer end of the government curve, and is shorting the market. “There is huge price exposure in Treasuries and the longer you go out into the Treasury curve, the riskier you are getting,” he said.

A rally in U.S. Treasuries has pushed yields on the 10-year note to the lowest in more than 50 years this week.

Shorting is a bet that a security will fall in price.

Kass said he is specifically shorting the iShares Lehman 20+Year Treasury Index (TLT), whose buyers have been from non-traditional bond investors such as hedge funds and individuals. The exchange-traded fund is up more than 5 percent in December alone and nearly 13 percent the previous month.

U.S. stocks, which have fallen about 40 percent this year, are trading at attractive prices, but a rebound will take time, Kass said. He has been buying selectively, including real estate investment trusts such as Hatteras Financial and housing-related stocks including Ocwen Financial (OCN).

“The harder question is the slope of recovery in stocks which should be frustratingly modest at first,” he said. “I am not yet in a rush to buy aggressively, but I am increasingly confident that investments made in the next three to six months will look terrific two or three years from now.”

Seabreeze has been incubating a small long/short product for the last two years, which the company is now marketing and launching on January 1.


Massive new Fed programs aimed at loosening credit

November 25, 2008

Tuesday November 25, 6:57 pm ET
By Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer

Emergency rescue efforts totaling $800 billion aim to loosen credit for consumers, businesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rolling out powerful new weapons against the financial meltdown, the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve pledged $800 billion Tuesday to blast through blockades on credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and other borrowing. Total federal bailout commitments neared a staggering $7 trillion.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who has been criticized for constantly revising the original $700 billion rescue program, said the administration was considering even more changes in its final two months in office.

Reports on the nation’s economic health weren’t getting any better. The Commerce Department said the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, declined at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the July-September quarter, even worse than the initial 0.3 percent estimated a month ago as consumer spending fell by the largest amount in 28 years.

In Chicago, meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama named his budget director and said they both will focus on the nation’s soaring budget deficit — but only after economic revival is under way. Paulson stressed that Obama’s transition team was being kept informed of the government’s moves.

Investors digested it all and sent the Dow Jones industrials 36 points higher, a modest gain but still the first time the average had risen three straight days in more than two months.

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Treasury, Fed continue extensive bailout efforts

November 24, 2008

Monday November 24, 2:33 pm ET
By Christopher S. Rugaber, AP Business Writer

Nothing a few more billion can’t cure: Treasury, Fed take more steps to fight meltdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s latest effort to address the financial crisis is a $20 billion investment in banking giant Citigroup Inc. (C), along with an agreement to guarantee hundreds of billions of dollars in possible losses.

The step, announced late Sunday, is the latest in a long list of government moves to counter the financial meltdown:

–March 11: The Federal Reserve announces a rescue package to provide up to $200 billion in loans to banks and investment houses and let them put up risky mortgage-backed securities as collateral.

–March 16: The Fed provides a $29 billion loan to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) as part of its purchase of investment bank Bear Stearns (BSC).

–May 2: The Fed increases the size of its loans to banks and lets them put up less-secure collateral.

–July 11: Federal regulators seize Pasadena, Calif.-based IndyMac (IMB), costing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. billions to compensate deposit-holders.

–July 30: President Bush signs a housing bill including $300 billion in new loan authority for the government to back cheaper mortgages for troubled homeowners.

–Sept. 7: The Treasury takes over mortgage giants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), putting them into a conservatorship and pledging up to $200 billion to back their assets.

–Sept. 16: The Fed injects $85 billion into the failing American International Group (AIG), one of the world’s largest insurance companies.

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Government unveils bold plan to rescue Citigroup

November 24, 2008

Monday November 24, 1:51 am ET
By Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer

Government unveils plan to rescue Citigroup, including taking $20 billion stake in the firm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government unveiled a bold plan Sunday to rescue troubled Citigroup (C), including taking a $20 billion stake in the firm as well as guaranteeing hundreds of billions of dollars in risky assets.

The action, announced jointly by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is aimed at shoring up a huge financial institution whose collapse would wreak havoc on the already crippled financial system and the U.S. economy.

The sweeping plan is geared to stemming a crisis of confidence in the company, whose stock has been hammered in the past week on worries about its financial health.

“With these transactions, the U.S. government is taking the actions necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. economy,” the three agencies said in a statement issued late Sunday night. “We will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions, and promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks.”

The move is the latest in a string of high-profile government bailout efforts. The Fed in March provided financial backing to JPMorgan Chase’s (JPM) buyout of ailing Bear Stearns (BSC). Six months later, the government was forced to take over mortgage giants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) and throw a financial lifeline — which was recently rejiggered — to insurer American International Group (AIG).

Critics worry the actions could put billions of taxpayers’ dollars in jeopardy and encourage financial companies to take excessive risk on the belief that the government will bail them out of their messes.

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Preferred shares find favor

November 9, 2008

ETF portfolios offer tempting yields after sell-off, but risks abound

By John Spence, MarketWatch
Last update: 12:29 p.m. EST Nov. 9, 2008

BOSTON (MarketWatch) — Preferred stocks took a big hit in September and October as the credit crunch and bank failures sent investors for the exits, but the shares have been garnering interest as their yields approach double digits.

Preferred issues have also attracted attention because famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren Buffett has been buying them. Moreover, governments around the world have taken equity stakes in troubled banks through preferred shares.

Although investors shouldn’t expect Buffett-like deals, they can invest in a basket of publicly traded preferred shares via exchange-traded funds.

Many investors like to think of preferred shares as a blend of stocks and bonds. Preferred stocks, which generally don’t carry voting rights, tend to pay higher dividends than the common shares. Preferred shareholders receive their dividends before common shareholders and also have certain advantages if a company liquidates.

There are many types of preferred shares, including cumulative, callable and convertible. The prices of preferred shares typically have had more volatility than bonds but jump around less than common stock.

Another reason investors are drawn to preferred shares is that the dividends, which are fixed, can be taxed at a lower rate than the income thrown off by bonds.

Liquidity crisis

Preferred shares tumbled hard in October; iShares S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index Fund (PFF) , an ETF managed by Barclays Global Investors, is off about 30% year to date. It has a 30-day yield of 9.3% and charges management fees of 0.48%.

Invesco PowerShares Capital Management also oversees a pair of preferred-stock ETFs: PowerShares Preferred Portfolio (PGX) and PowerShares Financial Preferred Portfolio (PGF).

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A short history of modern finance

October 16, 2008

Link by link
Oct 16th 2008
From The Economist print edition

The crash has been blamed on cheap money, Asian savings and greedy bankers. For many people, deregulation is the prime suspect.

THE autumn of 2008 marks the end of an era. After a generation of standing ever further back from the business of finance, governments have been forced to step in to rescue banking systems and the markets. In America, the bulwark of free enterprise, and in Britain, the pioneer of privatisation, financial firms have had to accept rescue and part-ownership by the state. As well as partial nationalisation, the price will doubtless be stricter regulation of the financial industry. To invert Karl Marx, investment bankers may have nothing to gain but their chains.

The idea that the markets have ever been completely unregulated is a myth: just ask any firm that has to deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in America or its British equivalent, the Financial Services Authority (FSA). And cheap money and Asian savings also played a starring role in the credit boom. But the intellectual tide of the past 30 years has unquestionably been in favour of the primacy of markets and against regulation. Why was that so?

Each step on the long deregulatory road seemed wise at the time and was usually the answer to some flaw in the system. The Anglo-Saxon economies may have led the way but continental Europe and Japan eventually followed (after a lot of grumbling) in their path.

It all began with floating currencies. In 1971 Richard Nixon sought to solve the mounting crisis of a large trade deficit and a costly war in Vietnam by suspending the dollar’s convertibility into gold. In effect, that put an end to the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates which had been created at the end of the second world war. Under Bretton Woods, capital could not flow freely from one country to another because of exchange controls. As one example, Britons heading abroad on their annual holidays in the late 1960s could take just £50 (then $120) with them. Investing abroad was expensive, so pension funds kept their money at home.

Once currencies could float, the world changed. Companies with costs in one currency and revenues in another needed to hedge exchange-rate risk. In 1972 a former lawyer named Leo Melamed was clever enough to see a business in this and launched currency futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Futures in commodities had existed for more than a century, enabling farmers to insure themselves against lower crop prices. But Mr Melamed saw that financial futures would one day be far larger than the commodities market. Today’s complex derivatives are direct descendants of those early currency trades.

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Bailout in chaos, feds seize WaMu

September 26, 2008

Fri Sep 26, 2008 3:07am EDT

By Tom Ferraro and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A rescue for the U.S. financial system unraveled on Thursday amid accusations Republican presidential candidate John McCain scuppered the deal, and Washington Mutual was closed by U.S. authorities and its assets sold in America’s biggest ever bank failure.

As negotiations over an unprecedented $700 billion bailout to restore credit markets degenerated into chaos, the largest U.S. savings and loan bank was taken over by authorities and its deposits auctioned off. U.S. stock futures fell by more than 1 percent.

The third-largest U.S. bank JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM) said it bought the deposits of Washington Mutual Inc (WM), which has seen its stock price virtually wiped out because of massive amounts of bad mortgages. The government said there would be no impact on WaMu’s depositors and customers. JPMorgan said it would be business as usual on Friday morning.

Had a bailout deal been reached in Congress, it may have helped the savings and loan, founded in Seattle in 1889. Efforts to find a suitor to buy WaMu faltered in recent days over concerns about whether the government would reach a deal to buy its toxic mortgages.

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. lawmakers had appeared close to a final agreement on the bailout, lifting world stock markets and sending the dollar higher. But things spun off course during an emergency White House meeting between Congressional leaders with U.S. President George W. Bush.

In advance of that meeting, which included the two men battling to succeed him, Democrat Barack Obama and McCain, a compromise bipartisan deal seemed imminent.

After the session, Congressional leaders said an agreement could take until the weekend or longer.

Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby bluntly told reporters, “I don’t believe we have an agreement.” He later said the deal was in “limbo.”

A group of conservative Republican lawmakers proposed an alternative mortgage insurance plan, eschewing the Bush administration’s Wall Street bailout just weeks before the November 4 election as many lawmakers try to hold on to their seats.

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WaMu is largest U.S. bank failure

September 25, 2008

Thu Sep 25, 2008 11:24pm EDT

By Elinor Comlay and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington Mutual Inc (WM) was closed by the U.S. government in by far the largest failure of a U.S. bank, and its banking assets were sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) for $1.9 billion.

Thursday’s seizure and sale is the latest historic step in U.S. government attempts to clean up a banking industry littered with toxic mortgage debt. Negotiations over a $700 billion bailout of the entire financial system stalled in Washington on Thursday.

Washington Mutual, the largest U.S. savings and loan, has been one of the lenders hardest hit by the nation’s housing bust and credit crisis, and had already suffered from soaring mortgage losses.

Washington Mutual was shut by the federal Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp was named receiver. This followed $16.7 billion of deposit outflows at the Seattle-based thrift since Sept 15, the OTS said.

“With insufficient liquidity to meet its obligations, WaMu was in an unsafe and unsound condition to transact business,” the OTS said.

Customers should expect business as usual on Friday, and all depositors are fully protected, the FDIC said.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said the bailout happened on Thursday night because of media leaks, and to calm customers. Usually, the FDIC takes control of failed institutions on Friday nights, giving it the weekend to go through the books and enable them to reopen smoothly the following Monday.

Washington Mutual has about $307 billion of assets and $188 billion of deposits, regulators said. The largest previous U.S. banking failure was Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust, which had $40 billion of assets when it collapsed in 1984.

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List of government bailouts in past century

September 21, 2008

Sunday September 21, 5:18 pm ET
By The Associated Press

List of government bailouts in past century includes banks, corporations and industries

A look at some U.S. government interventions and bailouts in the past century:

1932 — The Hoover administration creates the Reconstruction Finance Corp. to facilitate economic activity by lending money in the Great Depression.

1933 — The Roosevelt administration creates the Home Owners’ Loan Corp. to buy $3 billion in bad mortgages from banks and refinance them to homeowners to stem a rise in foreclosures. The government makes a small profit.

1971 — Congress saves Lockheed Aircraft Corp., the nation’s biggest defense contractor, from bankruptcy by guaranteeing the repayment of $250 million in bank loans.

1979 — Congress and the Carter administration arrange for $1.2 billion in subsidized loans to bail out automaker Chrysler Corp., then the nation’s 10th-largest company. There ultimately was no significant cost to the government, since the loans were repaid.

1984 — Congress effectively takes over the ailing Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust, which failed with $40 billion of assets. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. injects $4.5 billion to buy bad loans.

1989 — Congress establishes the Resolution Trust Corp. to take over bad assets and make depositors whole. Resolving the S&L crisis takes six years and $125 billion in taxpayer money — roughly equal to $200 billion in today’s dollars.

1998 — The government brokers a $3.6 billion private bailout in the collapse of the Long-Term Capital Management hedge fund, although no government money is involved.

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Govt trading ban could have unintended results

September 19, 2008

Friday September 19, 5:07 pm ET
By Marcy Gordon and Stevenson Jacobs, AP Business Writers

Big SEC step to ban short-selling of financial stocks could have unintended consequences

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s unprecedented move Friday to ban people from betting against financial stocks might be a salve for the market’s turmoil but could also carry serious unintended consequences.

In a bid to shore up investor confidence in the face of the spiraling market crisis, the Securities and Exchange Commission temporarily banned all short-selling in the shares of 799 financial companies. Short selling is a time-honored method for profiting when a stock drops.

The ban took effect immediately Friday and extends through Oct. 2. The SEC said it might extend the ban — so that it would last for as many as 30 calendar days in total — if it deems that necessary.

That window could be enough time to calm the roiling financial markets, with the Bush administration’s massive new programs to buy up Wall Street’s toxic debt possibly starting to have a salutary effect by then.

The short-selling ban is “kind of a time-out,” said John Coffee, a professor of securities law at Columbia University. “In a time of crisis, the dangers of doing too little are far greater than the dangers of doing too much.”

But on Wall Street, professional short-sellers said they were being unfairly targeted by the SEC’s prohibition. And some analysts warned of possible negative consequences, maintaining that banning short-selling could actually distort — not stabilize — edgy markets.

Indeed, hours after the new ban was announced, some of its details appeared to be a work in progress. The SEC said its staff was recommending exemptions from the ban for trades market professionals make to hedge their investments in stock options or futures.

“I don’t think it’s going to accomplish what they’re after,” said Jeff Tjornehoj, senior analyst at fund research firm Lipper Inc. Without short sellers, he said, investors will have a harder time gauging the true value of a stock.

“Most people want to be in a stock for the long run and want to see prices go up. Short sellers are useful for throwing water in their face and saying, `Oh yeah? Think about this,'” Tjornehoj said. As a result, restricting the practice could inflate the value of some stocks, opening the door for a big downward correction later.

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The perils of leverage

September 15, 2008

by Martin Hutchinson
September 15, 2008

The investment bank Lehman Brothers (LEH) spent last week teetering towards the sort of bankruptcy which like that of Bear Stearns (BSC), Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), may require a “bailout” by the long-suffering US taxpayer. All four of these institutions shared a common feature: they had far too much leverage, i.e. they had borrowed far too much money to be compatible with their modest capital bases. Excessive leverage is currently a characteristic of the US economy as a whole, and we are in the process of paying the price for it.

Investment banks traditionally had a leverage limit (total assets to shareholders’ equity) of about 20 to 1. That limit was fudged to a certain extent with subordinated debt, but fudging was limited by investors’ unwillingness to buy subordinated debt of such intrinsically unstable institutions. However, while investment bank assets traditionally consisted of commercial paper, bonds and shares that trade every day and can be valued properly, they have now come to include investment real estate, private equity stakes, hedge fund positions, credit default swaps and other derivatives positions that do not even appear on the balance sheet. Thus even 20 to 1 in modern market conditions is excessive. Adding in subordinated debt, and claiming that say Lehman has an “11% capital ratio” works fine in bull markets, but not when things get tough.

Scaling that 20 to 1 up to 30 to 1, as Lehman had at its November 2007 year-end, is asking for trouble. Even if the off-balance sheet credit default swaps and other derivatives don’t lead to problems, and there are no assets parked in “vehicles” that have to be suddenly taken back on balance sheet, an institution that is 30 to 1 levered needs to see a decline of only 3.3% in the value of its assets before its capital is wiped out. Such a decline can happen frighteningly quickly – it represents only a 10% decline in the value of a third of the assets.

Lehman’s leverage is not exceptional among Wall Street investment banks. At the last quarterly balance sheet date (May or June) while Lehman’s leverage had been brought down to 23.3 times through asset sales, Morgan Stanley’s (MS) was still 30.0 times, Goldman Sachs’s (GS) 24.3 times and Merrill Lynch’s (MER) an astounding 44.1 times (or to be fair, 31.5 times at its December 2007 year-end, before new losses appeared.)

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Lehman rescue fails, BofA seen buying Merrill

September 14, 2008

Sunday September 14, 10:58 pm ET
By Joe Bel Bruno, Christopher S. Rugaber and Martin Crutsinger, AP Business Writers

As Lehman’s future dims, Fed and banks offer cash lifeline to financial system

NEW YORK (AP) — A failed plan to rescue Lehman Brothers (LEH) was followed Sunday by more seismic shocks from Wall Street, including an apparent government-brokered takeover of Merrill Lynch (MER) by the Bank of America (BAC).

A forced restructuring of the world’s largest insurance company, American International Group Inc. (AIG), also weighed heavily on global markets as the effects of the 14-month-old credit crisis intensified.

A global consortium of banks, working with government officials in New York, announced late Sunday a $70 billion pool of funds to lend to troubled financial companies. The aim, according to participants who spoke to The Associated Press, was to prevent a worldwide panic on stock and other financial exchanges.

Ten banks — Bank of America, Barclays (BCS), Citibank (C), Credit Suisse (CS), Deutsche Bank (DB), Goldman Sachs (GS), JP Morgan (JPM), Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley (MS) and UBS (UBS) — each agreed to provide $7 billion “to help enhance liquidity and mitigate the unprecedented volatility and other challenges affecting global equity and debt markets.”

The Federal Reserve also chipped in with more largesse in its emergency lending program for investment banks. The central bank announced late Sunday that it was broadening the types of collateral that financial institutions can use to obtain loans from the Fed.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the discussions had been aimed at identifying “potential market vulnerabilities in the wake of an unwinding of a major financial institution and to consider appropriate official sector and private sector responses.”

Futures pegged to the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 300 points in electronic trading Sunday evening, pointing to a sharply lower open for the blue chip index Monday morning. Asian stock markets were also falling.

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Govt, Wall Street races to try to save Lehman

September 13, 2008

Saturday September 13, 4:57 pm ET
By Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer

As financial world frets, government and brokerage leaders try to hash out Lehman rescue

WASHINGTON (AP) — The financial world held its collective breath Saturday as the U.S. government scrambled to help devise a rescue for Lehman Brothers (LEH) and restore confidence in Wall Street and the American banking system.

Deliberations resumed Saturday as top officials and executives from government and Wall Street tried to find a buyer or financing for the nation’s No. 4 investment bank and to stop the crisis of confidence spreading to other U.S. banks, brokerages, insurance companies and thrifts.

Failure could prompt skittish investors to unload shares of financial companies, a contagion that might affect stock markets at home and abroad when they reopen Monday.

Options include selling Lehman outright or unloading it piecemeal. A sale could be helped along if major financial firms would join forces to inject new money into Lehman. Government officials are opposed to using any taxpayer money to help Lehman.

An official from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Saturday’s participants included Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox. The New York Fed official asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the talks.

Citigroup Inc. (C)’s Vikram Pandit, JPMorgan Chase Co. (JPM)’s Jamie Dimon, Morgan Stanley (MS)’s John Mack, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.(GS)’s Lloyd Blankfein, and Merrill Lynch Co. (MER)’s John Thain were among the chief executives at the meeting.

Representatives for Lehman Brothers were not present during the discussions.

They gathered on the heels of an emergency session convened Friday night by Geithner — the Fed’s point person on financial crises.

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Fed’s next move could be to lower rates

September 11, 2008

The central bank is likely to keep its key interest rate at 2% at its September 16 meeting but expectations are growing for a rate cut before year’s end.

By Chris Isidore, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Last Updated: September 10, 2008: 2:51 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — While the Federal Reserve is widely expected to once again hold a key interest rate at 2% when it meets on Tuesday, there is a growing sense that the Fed may have to cut rates by the end of the year.

If the Fed does so, it would mark a dramatic change in the central bank’s assessment of the economy. As recently as the Fed’s last meeting in August, Fed members indicated that their next move would be to hike rates at some undetermined point in the future in order to fight inflation.

The Fed typically lowers interest rates during an economic slowdown in order to stimulate more borrowing and looks to raise them when it is more concerned about inflation.

The Fed slashed its federal funds rate, an overnight bank lending rate that helps determine how much interest consumers and businesses pay on various types of loans, seven times from September of last year through April in an attempt to minimize the damage from the mortgage crisis and credit crunch.

But the Fed has left rates unchanged at its past two meetings and started to indicate that it was growing more worried about rising commodity prices, particularly oil.

However, the U.S. economy, which once seemed on the verge of a recovery in the second-half of the year, has recently shown signs of weakening further.

Inflation fears fade

The unemployment rate jumped to 6.1% in August, the highest level in nearly 5 years. Economic growth is also slowing overseas. That could cut demand for U.S. exports, which was a main driver of the economic growth in the second quarter.

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Fannie Mae, Freddie `House of Cards’ Prompts Takeover

September 10, 2008

By Dawn Kopecki

Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used accounting rules that created a “house of cards” as the housing market descended into its worst slump since the Great Depression.

While the two largest mortgage-finance companies met regulatory requirements for their capital, reviews by the Treasury, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Federal Reserve found they probably wouldn’t weather the highest delinquency rates on record, lawmakers and regulators said.

“Once they got someone looking closely at Fannie and Freddie’s books, they realized there just wasn’t adequate capital there,” U.S. Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, said after a briefing by Treasury officials. “They found out they had a house of cards.”

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and FHFA Director James Lockhart seized control of Fannie and Freddie less than a month after Lockhart, whose job is to oversee the companies, declared them “adequately capitalized” under law. The discrepancy highlights the flaws in legislation and in the regulatory oversight of Fannie and Freddie that didn’t demand they keep more assets as a cushion against losses, according to Joshua Rosner, an analyst with Graham Fisher & Co. in New York.

“Fannie and Freddie’s accounting during the housing crisis appears to have been more fantasy than reality,” said Rosner, who first highlighted problems in 2003, before the two companies were forced to restate about $11.3 billion in earnings.

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Back to the future again and it’s not pretty

September 10, 2008

This post is the latest in a series covering the correlation of S&P 500 price movement during the bear markets of 2001 and 2008.  Previously, Is it really 2001 again? highlighted a number of similarities for both indicators and chart patterns in addition to the timing and relative resistance levels observed by both markets.  This expanded on the first entry Here we are again? 2001 vs. 2008 which started the discussion by showing the two markets spending a similar amount of time above the 1400 level, meeting resistance at a similar level in the area of 1560, forming a similar double top including a final fall retest followed by an extreme decline and culminating in a spring washout setting up an early summer bounce.

The correlation remained tight as both markets failed their early summer bounce by late May in the area of the 200 day moving average and the 50% retracement level of the fall to spring decline.  The correlation weakened over the summer as the current market started a much more drastic decline from the May top than occurred in 2001.  This time the spring lows were broken by July instead of waiting for September as in 2001.  A solid bounce from the July lows this year brought the S&P 500 back to just above the March lows where resistance was encountered around the 50 day moving average in the month of August.  Suddenly the correlation has returned as the market failed in August of 2001 at the 50 day moving average also.  As the calender turned to September in 2001, volume picked up as the market went into free fall.  Of course the 9/11 attacks affected the market as the month progressed and forever after.

But this year, the month of September has not started off any better despite the Feds attempt to stop the bleeding in the credit markets by taking control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE).  High volume distribution has been the theme with the exception of some serious short covering following the announcement this past weekend (and late Friday for those in the loop).  The bad news for the Feds and everyone else is, even as impressive as the short covering rally was Friday/Monday, it still never reclaimed the 50 day moving average nor the March lows.  If the July lows at 1200 don’t hold here, a repeat of 2001 may yet be in the cards.  The S&P 500 didn’t bottom until dropping under 950 in 2001 and the final bottom in 2002 saw intraday trading under 775.  We’re not ready to say it will get that bad this time, but taking out the July lows would suggest scary days ahead.

For those brave longs an entry at the July lows around 1200 is a good place to start.  Lows for the year are regularly made in September/October.


Unraveling according to schedule

September 8, 2008

By Peter Brimelow, MarketWatch
Last update: 12:01 a.m. EDT Sept. 8, 2008

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — A Fannie-Freddie bailout fillip in financial markets? Maybe, but a megabear says it just shows the world is unraveling right on schedule.

Harry Schultz’ The International Harry Schultz Letter was posted last night right about the time the Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac bailout was reported. But Schultz anticipated it, writing sarcastically:

“Flash: As we go to press, the US Government reveals plan to take over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the biggest bail-out by taxpayers in history. It also wipes out the shareholders! Sunday selected to avoid stock market action same day, just as bank closures are told after market close Friday. That tells you what shape markets are in when government and CEOs hide behind holidays.”

Schultz had earlier made his overview clear (I’m translating slightly from of his text-message style):

“Fed maneuver room approximately gone. Any $US injection big enough to avert a depression triggers runaway inflation. If not big enough: depression. US on knife-edge. Gold helps you either way.

“Which brings us to [Pimco bond king] Bill Gross. He went crazy last week, urging government to bail out everyone, to save the system. Either he is a closet socialist, a corporate fascist … or just trying to get government to bail him out of 61% of his toxic waste mortgage backed securities.”

Schultz suggests just two alternative scenarios, both equally appalling:

“If Bush bails them all out, the die would be cast for inflation unseen in the West since 1923 Germany. If no bail: Hello, 1929.”

Gee, thanks.

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US Government takes over mortgage giants

September 7, 2008

Sunday September 7, 9:51 pm ET
By Martin Crutsinger and Alan Zibel, AP Business Writers

US Government seizes control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration’s seizure of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is potentially a $200 billion bet that it will help reverse a prolonged housing and credit crisis.

The historic move announced Sunday won support from both presidential campaigns, but private analysts worried that it may not be enough to stabilize the slumping housing market given the glut of vacant homes for sale, rising foreclosures, rising unemployment and weak consumer confidence.

Officials announced that both giant institutions were being placed in a government conservatorship, a move that could end up costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said allowing the companies to fail would have extracted a far higher price on consumers by driving up the cost of home loans and all other types of borrowing because the failures would “create great turmoil in our financial markets here at home and around the globe.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com predicted that 30-year mortgage rates, currently averaging 6.35 percent nationwide, could dip to close to 5.5 percent. That’s because investors will be more willing to buy the debt issued by Fannie and Freddie — and at lower rates — since the federal government is now explicitly standing behind that debt.

“Effectively, the federal government has now become the nation’s mortgage lender,” he said. “This takes a major financial threat off the table.”

Futures on all major stock indexes rose about 2 percent in electronic trading Sunday night, another sign of investor relief about the takeover plan

The companies, which together own or guarantee about $5 trillion in home loans, about half the nation’s total, have lost $14 billion in the last year and are likely to pile up billions more in losses until the housing market begins to recover.

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Bernanke the Magnificent? or The Amazing Bernanke?

July 18, 2008

Well, our president may not have a magic wand, but it looks like our Fed Chairman does.

This weekend Big Ben got together with his govt. cronies and they whipped up a wicked brew that is the antidote to the housing crisis and savior of all things financial. The SEC put the clamps on the shorts, the Treasury got into the mortgage underwriting business and Big Ben opened the Fed money faucet a little wider.

Hooray!??

Let’s see, that’s $30B for Bear Stearns, $8B for Indy Mac & now $5T worth of mortgages at Fannie and Freddie. I wonder if the cost of printing dollars has gone up with the increased raw material costs?

Our LD President Bush danced on the scene with an empty promise to drill the OCS for a few hundred thousand Bpd in 10 years and the world was right again.

Oil plunged, bank stocks soared. It must have brought a smile to their faces.

But is it reality? Have the finance gods truly been appeased?

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Mean girls

July 15, 2008

Commentary: Pssst … rumor is truth on Wall Street
By David Weidner, MarketWatch
Last update: 12:01 a.m. EDT July 15, 2008

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Wall Street, like a girl in junior high school, has come home crying.

It seems the Mean Girls in the marketplace keep spreading nasty rumors, and everyone’s cell phones are alight with SMS messages. “OMG did you hear Bear Stearns can’t meet its obligations?” they whisper. “Fannie (FNM) and Freddie (FRE) r FSBO.

“B4 the credit crunch Lehman used 2b QT, but has toxic balance sheet; it could go BNKRPT b4 2MORO,” they snicker.

The Mean Girls buy a bunch of short positions and then collect when the stock tumbles. On June 10, there were 90,000 puts in the first hour of trading in the option market against Lehman shares, after a rumor was floated that Pimco had pulled its business from the investment bank. Even though Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEH) has been a big put stock in recent weeks, the puts represented two-thirds of the average daily volume for the stock.

Until Pimco shot down the rumors, it was BBB (bye-bye, baby) for LEH.

News travels pretty fast around here. Text messages, cell phones and the old face-to-face method are the shovels used to move dirt. If recent insider cases are any indication, text messages and emails remain popular even though they are recorded.

It’s been a scandalous spring, but now the Mean Girls are getting some payback. First they’ve been exposed by Bryan Burrough in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. In that article, Burrough alleges that rumors either were transmitted to or originated from hedge funds SAC Capital Management, Citadel Investment Group and traders at Goldman Sachs Group (GS) . He suggests that Bear Stearns may have been ruined by rumors, a tactic that some call a “Bear raid.”

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Government shuts down mortgage lender IndyMac

July 12, 2008

Saturday July 12, 7:21 am ET
By Alex Veiga, AP Business Writer

Office of Thrift Supervision steps in and closes IndyMac Bank; FDIC takes over operations

LOS ANGELES (AP) — IndyMac Bank’s assets were seized by federal regulators on Friday after the mortgage lender succumbed to the pressures of tighter credit, tumbling home prices and rising foreclosures.

The bank is the largest regulated thrift to fail and the second largest financial institution to close in U.S. history, regulators said.

The Office of Thrift Supervision said it transferred IndyMac’s operations to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation because it did not think the lender could meet its depositors’ demands.

IndyMac customers with funds in the bank were limited to taking out money via automated teller machines over the weekend, debit card transactions or checks, regulators said.

Other bank services, such as online banking and phone banking were scheduled to be made available on Monday.

“This institution failed today due to a liquidity crisis,” OTS Director John Reich said.

The lender’s failure came the same day that financial markets plunged when investors tried to gauge whether the government would have to save mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Shares of Fannie and Freddie dropped to 17-year lows before the stocks recovered somewhat. Wall Street is growing more convinced that the government will have to bail out the country’s biggest mortgage financiers, whose failure could deal a tremendous blow to the already staggering economy.

The FDIC estimated that its takeover of IndyMac would cost between $4 billion and $8 billion.

IndyMac’s collapse is second only to that of Continental Illinois National Bank, which had nearly $40 billion in assets when it failed in 1984, according to the FDIC.

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