Bailed-out bankers to get options windfall: study

September 2, 2009

Wed Sep 2, 2009 11:14am EDT
By Steve Eder

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As shares of bailed-out banks bottomed out earlier this year, stock options were awarded to their top executives, setting them up for millions of dollars in profit as prices rebounded, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The top five executives at 10 financial institutions that took some of the biggest taxpayer bailouts have seen a combined increase in the value of their stock options of nearly $90 million, the report by the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies said.

“Not only are these executives not hurting very much from the crisis, but they might get big windfalls because of the surge in the value of some of their shares,” said Sarah Anderson, lead author of the report, “America’s Bailout Barons,” the 16th in an annual series on executive excess.

The report — which highlights executive compensation at such firms as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Morgan Stanley (MS), Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Citigroup Inc. (C) — comes at a time when Wall Street is facing criticism for failing to scale back outsized bonuses after borrowing billions from taxpayers amid last year’s financial crisis. Goldman, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley have paid back the money they borrowed, but Bank of America and Citigroup are still in the U.S. Treasury’s program.

It’s also the latest in a string of studies showing that despite tough talk by politicians, little has been done by regulators to rein in the bonus culture that many believe contributed to the near-collapse of the financial sector.

The report includes eight pages of legislative proposals to address executive pay, but concludes that officials have “not moved forward into law or regulation any measure that would actually deflate the executive pay bubble that has expanded so hugely over the last three decades.”

“We see these little flurries of activities in Congress, where it looked like it was going to happen,” Anderson said. “Then they would just peter out.”

The report found that while executives continued to rake in tens of millions of dollars in compensation, 160,000 employees were laid off at the top 20 financial industry firms that received bailouts.

The CEOs of those 20 companies were paid, on average, 85 times more than the regulators who direct the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, according to the report.

(Reporting by Steve Eder; editing by John Wallace)


U.S. clears 10 big banks to repay bailout funds

June 9, 2009

Tue Jun 9, 2009 6:09pm EDT
By Glenn Somerville

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – JPMorgan (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS) and eight other top U.S. banks won clearance on Tuesday to repay $68 billion in taxpayer money given to them during the credit crisis, a step that may help them escape government curbs on executive pay.

Many banks had chafed at restrictions on pay that accompanied the capital injections. The U.S. Treasury Department’s announcement that some will be permitted to repay funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, begins to separate the stronger banks from weaker ones as the financial sector heals.

Treasury didn’t name the banks, but all quickly stepped forward to say they were cleared to return money the government had pumped into them to try to ensure the banking system was well capitalized

Stock prices gained initially after the Treasury announcement but later shed most of the gains on concern the money could be better used for lending to boost the economy rather than paying it back to Treasury.

“If they were more concerned about the public, they would keep the cash and start loaning out money,” said Carl Birkelbach, chairman and chief executive of Birkelbach Investment Securities in Chicago.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told reporters the repayments were an encouraging sign of financial repair but said the United States and other key Group of Eight economies had to stay focused on instituting measures to boost recovery.

MUST KEEP LENDING

Earlier this year U.S. regulators put the 19 largest U.S. banks through “stress tests” to determine how much capital they might need to withstand a worsening recession. Ten of those banks were told to raise more capital, and regulators waited for their plans to do so before approving any bailout repayments.

As a condition of being allowed to repay, banks had to show they could raise money on their own from the private sector both by selling stock and by issuing debt without the help of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp guarantees. The Federal Reserve also had to agree that their capital levels were adequate to support continued lending.

American Express Co (AXP), Bank of New York Mellon Corp (BK), BB&T Corp (BBT), Capital One Financial Corp (COF), Goldman Sachs Group Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Morgan Stanley (MS), Northern Trust Corp (NTRS), State Street Corp (STT) and U.S. Bancorp (USB) all said they had won approval to repay the bailout funds.

In contrast, neither Bank of America Corp (BAC) or Citigroup Inc (C), which each took $45 billion from the government, received a green light to pay back bailout money.

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Stress test results lift cloud of uncertainty

May 8, 2009

Results show 10 big banks need $75 billion in new capital; hope rises for economy’s recovery

Daniel Wagner and Jeannine Aversa, AP Business Writers
Friday May 8, 2009, 1:09 am EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government exams of the biggest U.S. banks have helped lift a cloud of uncertainty that has hung over the economy.

The so-called stress tests — a key Obama administration effort to boost confidence in the financial system — showed nine of the 19 biggest banks have enough capital to withstand a deeper recession. Ten must raise a total of $75 billion in new capital to withstand possible future losses.

“The publication of the stress tests simply cleared the air of uncertainty,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics. “The results were not scary at all.”

He said it will take a long time for the banks to resume normal lending. But the test results didn’t alter his prediction that economy is headed for a recovery in October or November.

A key indicator of economic health will be released Friday morning, when the government announces how many more jobs were lost in April and how high the unemployment rate rose.

The stress tests have been criticized as a confidence-building exercise whose relatively rosy outcome was inevitable. But the information, which leaked out all week, was enough to cheer investors. They pushed bank stocks higher Wednesday, and rallied again in after-hours trading late Thursday once the results had been released.

Among the 10 banks that need to raise more capital, Bank of America Corp. (BAC) needs by far the most — $33.9 billion. Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) needs $13.7 billion, GMAC LLC $11.5 billion, Citigroup Inc. (C) $5.5 billion and Morgan Stanley (MS) $1.8 billion.

The five other firms found to need more of a capital cushion are all regional banks — Regions Financial Corp. (RF) of Birmingham, Alabama; SunTrust Banks Inc. (STI) of Atlanta; KeyCorp (KEY) of Cleveland; Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) of Cincinnati; and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC) of Pittsburgh.

The banks will have until June 8 to develop a plan and have it approved by their regulators. If they can’t raise the money on their own, the government said it’s prepared to dip further into its bailout fund.

The stress tests are a big part of the Obama administration’s plan to fortify the financial system. As home prices fell and foreclosures increased, banks took huge hits on mortgages and mortgage-related securities they were holding.

The government hopes the stress tests will restore investors’ confidence that not all banks are weak, and that even those that are can be strengthened. They have said none of the banks will be allowed to fail.

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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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Wall Street’s ‘Disaster Capitalism for Dummies’

October 20, 2008

14 reasons Main Street loses big while Wall Street sabotages democracy

By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch
Last update: 7:10 p.m. EDT Oct. 20, 2008

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (MarketWatch) — Yes, we’re dummies. You. Me. All 300 million of us. Clueless. We should be ashamed. We’re obsessed about the slogans and rituals of “democracy,” distracted by the campaign, polls, debates, rhetoric, half-truths and outright lies. McCain? Obama? Sorry to pop your bubble folks, but it no longer matters who’s president.

Why? The real “game changer” already happened. Democracy has been replaced by Wall Street’s new “disaster capitalism.” That’s the big game-changer historians will remember about 2008, masterminded by Wall Street’s ultimate “Trojan Horse,” Hank Paulson. Imagine: Greed, arrogance and incompetence create a massive bubble, cost trillions, and still Wall Street comes out smelling like roses, richer and more powerful!

Yes, we’re idiots: While distracted by the “illusion of democracy” in the endless campaign, Congress surrendered the powers we entrusted to it with very little fight. Congress simply handed over voting power and the keys to trillions in the Treasury to Wall Street’s new “Disaster Capitalists” who now control “democracy.”

Why did this happen? We’re in denial, clueless wimps, that’s why. We let it happen. In one generation America has been transformed from a democracy into a strange new form of government, “Disaster Capitalism.” Here’s how it happened:

*Three decades of influence peddling in Washington has built an army of 42,000 special-interest lobbyists representing corporations and the wealthy. Today these lobbyists manipulate America’s 537 elected officials with massive campaign contributions that fund candidates who vote their agenda.

*This historic buildup accelerated under Reaganomics and went into hyperspeed under Bushonomics, both totally committed to a new disaster capitalism run privately by Wall Street and Corporate America. No-bid contracts in wars and hurricanes. A housing-credit bubble — while secretly planning for a meltdown.

*Finally, the coup de grace: Along came the housing-credit crisis, as planned. Press and public saw a negative, a crisis. Disaster capitalists saw a huge opportunity. Yes, opportunity for big bucks and control of America. Millions of homeowners and marginal banks suffered huge losses. Taxpayers stuck with trillions in debt. But giant banks emerge intact, stronger, with virtual control over government and the power to use taxpayers’ funds. They’re laughing at us idiots!

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Bailout becomes buy-in as feds move into banking

October 14, 2008

Tuesday October 14, 9:43 pm ET
By Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer

Government moves into banking — to the tune of $250 billion — as the bailout becomes a buy-in

WASHINGTON (AP) — Big banks started falling in line Tuesday behind a rejiggered bailout plan that will have the government forking over as much as $250 billion in exchange for partial ownership — putting the world’s bastion of capitalism and free markets squarely in the banking business.

Some early signs were hopeful for the latest in a flurry of radical efforts to save the nation’s financial system: Credit was a bit easier to come by. And stocks were down but not alarmingly so after Monday’s stratospheric leap.

The new plan, President Bush declared, is “not intended to take over the free market but to preserve it.”

It’s all about cash and confidence and convincing banks to lend money more freely again. Those are all critical ingredients to getting financial markets to function more normally and reviving the economy.

The big question: Will it work?

There was a mix of hope and skepticism on that front. Unprecedented steps recently taken — including hefty interest rate reductions by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks in a coordinated assault just last week — have failed to break through the credit clog and the panicky mind-set gripping investors on Wall Street and around the globe.

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Buffett boosts wealth to top Gates on Forbes list

October 10, 2008

Fri Oct 10, 2008 2:28pm EDT
By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is again the richest American, deposing Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates, after Forbes magazine recalculated the fortunes of some of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

The magazine took another look at the fortunes of some of the billionaires on its Forbes 400 list to assess the effect of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Depression and released a select list naming some of those hit hard.

But while 17 billionaires on Forbes list lost more than $1 billion in the past month, Buffett managed to boost his wealth by $8 billion to $58 billion, pushing him ahead of Gates, whose fortune fell to $55.5 billion from $57 billion.

Gates had been ranked No. 1 on the Forbes 400 list for the past 15 years with his Microsoft fortune.

Buffett made his money by building his company Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRK.a) into a $199 billion conglomerate that invests in undervalued companies with strong management. Late last month his company said it would invest $5 billion in Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS).

“We chose to focus on some of the more high-profile billionaires on The Forbes 400, and print a sampling of those who lost over $1 billion during the month of September,” said Forbes senior editor Matthew Miller.


Buffett says economy needs immediate help

October 2, 2008

Thursday October 2, 12:30 pm ET
By Josh Funk, AP Business Writer

Buffett says financial crisis is an ‘economic Pearl Harbor’ that needs immediate counterattack

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said the nation has been hit with an “economic Pearl Harbor,” and the government must respond quickly.

Buffett talked about the nation’s ongoing financial woes in an appearance on the “The Charlie Rose Show” that aired Wednesday night on PBS stations.

“This really is an economic Pearl Harbor,” Buffett said. “That sounds melodramatic, but I’ve never used that phrase before. And this really is one.”

Buffett’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to messages left Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

Buffett said the nation’s economic problems are already starting to be felt by furniture and jewelry stores such as the ones owned by Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRK.A).

The billionaire predicts that the rest of the “Main Street” economy will start to have problems if the government’s financial bailout plan doesn’t pass Congress soon.

“In my adult lifetime, I don’t think I’ve ever seen people as fearful economically as they are now,” the 78-year-old Buffett said.

The fear in the marketplace has allowed Buffett to make several sizable investments over the past month in proven companies that needed cash quickly. And Berkshire, which had $31.2 billion cash on hand at the end of June, was ready to invest because, Buffett says, he always tries to be greedy when others are fearful.

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New world on Wall Street

September 22, 2008

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to face more oversight from the Federal Reserve. Change provides more funding and opens door to more mergers.

By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Last Updated: September 22, 2008: 7:19 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — And then there were none.

Federal regulators converted Wall Street’s remaining stand-alone investment banks – Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) – into bank holding companies Sunday night.

The move allows Goldman and Morgan to scoop up retail banks and to streamline their borrowing from the Federal Reserve. The shift also is aimed at removing them as targets of nervous investors and customers, who brought down their former rivals Bear Stearns (BSC), Lehman Brothers (LEH) and Merrill Lynch (MER) this year.

But it also puts Goldman and Morgan under the Fed’s supervision, increasing the agency’s regulatory oversight and possibly forcing them to raise additional capital. As banks, Morgan and Goldman will be forced to take less risk, which will mean fewer profits.

And it brings to a close the era of the Wall Street investment bank, a storied institution that traded stocks and bonds, advised mergers and showered lavish bonuses on its executives.

“The separation of investment banking and commercial banking has come to an end,” said Bert Ely, an independent banking consultant.

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Fed OKs Goldman, Morgan as bank holding companies

September 21, 2008

Sunday September 21, 9:53 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve approved applications on Sunday from Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) to become bank holding companies, putting them directly under the regulatory supervision of the U.S. central bank, the latest step to restore calm to chaotic financial markets.

To provide increased liquidity to the companies, the Fed agreed to lend to the firms’ broker-dealer subsidiaries on the same terms as the Fed discount window for banks and the central bank’s Primary Dealer Credit Facility lending window for investment banks.

It said it was making the same collateral deals available to the broker-dealer subsidiary of Merrill Lynch (MER).


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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Stocks tumble after government bailout of AIG

September 17, 2008

Wednesday September 17, 5:54 pm ET
By Tim Paradis, AP Business Writer

Wall Street sinks again after Fed bails out AIG, Barclays buys Lehman businesses; Dow down 450

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street plunged again Wednesday as anxieties about the financial system ran high after the government’s bailout of insurer American International Group Inc. (AIG) and left investors with little confidence in many banking stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average lost about 450 points, giving it a shortfall of more than 800 so far this week.

As investors fled stocks, they sought the safety of hard assets and government debt, sending gold, oil and short-term Treasurys soaring.

The market was more unnerved than comforted by news that the Federal Reserve is giving a two-year, $85 billion loan to AIG in exchange for a nearly 80 percent stake in the company, which lost billions in the risky business of insuring against bond defaults. Wall Street had feared that the conglomerate, which has extensive ties to various financial services industries around the world, would follow the investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEH) into bankruptcy. However, the ramifications of the world’s largest insurer going under likely would have far surpassed the demise of Lehman.

“People are scared to death,” said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist for PNC Wealth Management. “Who would have imagined that AIG would have gotten into this position?”

He said the anxiety gripping the markets reflects investors’ concerns that AIG wasn’t able to find a lifeline in the private sector and that Wall Street is now fretting about what other institutions could falter. Over the past year, companies including Lehman and AIG have sought to reassure investors that they weren’t in trouble, but as market conditions have worsened the market appears distrustful of any assurances.

“No one’s going to be believing anybody now because AIG said they were OK along with everybody else,” Stone said.

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The Shakeout After Lehman, Merrill, AIG…

September 17, 2008

As credit stays tight, power shifts to Bank of America, Barclays, hedge funds, and private equity—and regulators will keep a more watchful eye

by David Henry and Matthew Goldstein

Once-mighty Wall Street has turned into the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. From Bear Stearns (BSC) and Lehman Brothers (LEH) to Merrill Lynch (MER) and AIG (AIG), the punishment for years of bad decisions has been shockingly swift and brutal. As firms wobble, markets gyrate, and investors quiver, the question is: When will the pain end?

The signs aren’t encouraging. Sure, the Federal Reserve’s dramatic bailout of American International Group prevented the full-out global panic that might have unfolded with the collapse of the largest U.S. insurer. But AIG’s sudden lurch toward bankruptcy also showed how dangerously intertwined the financial system has become.

For years that interconnectedness masked enormous underlying risks, but now it’s amplifying them. As each new thread from the crazy web has unwound during the 13-month credit crisis, a fresh problem has emerged. How bad things will get from here depends on how cleanly the losing firms and toxic investments can be extricated from the rest. With each passing day the task seems to grow more difficult. By the end of the credit bust, the total losses, now $500 billion, could reach $2 trillion, according to hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. What’s likely to be left when the Great Unwind is finally complete? A smaller, humbler, highly regulated Wall Street barely recognizable from its heady past, where caution reigns and wild risk-taking is taboo.

Plenty of Skeletons

Merrill’s ties to AIG show just how difficult it might be to untangle the financial system. During the mortgage boom, Merrill churned out billions of dollars worth of dubious collateralized debt obligations, those troublesome bonds backed by pools of risky subprime mortgages. To cut down its own risk, Merrill bought insurance contracts from AIG called credit default swaps, which pay off if the mortgages blow up. Merrill holds $5 billion worth of guarantees from AIG alone. In all, AIG insures $441 billion of CDOs, including $58 billion with the subprime taint. It’s unclear which firms bought those guarantees, but AIG sold many to big European banks.

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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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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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Wall Street’s credit crisis heads into second year

June 18, 2008

Wednesday June 18, 3:59 pm ET
By Joe Bel Bruno, AP Business Writer

More credit losses seen costing global banks $1 trillion as credit crisis hits second year

NEW YORK (AP) — There are new signs that the worst of the global credit crisis is yet to come, and that banks and brokerages caught up in the market turmoil may lose $1 trillion by the time it has passed.

Major U.S. investment banks this week announced yet another painful quarter amid the implosion of mortgage-backed securities and risky credit investments. Regional banks have scrambled to secure fresh capital to stay in business, and by Wednesday there was new talk that embattled investment bank Lehman Brothers might be forced into a sale.

With each passing quarter, Wall Street’s top bankers have indicated that the worst of the market turmoil was over — only to face more pain months later. The uncertainty has caused already battered investors to lose confidence in financial companies, and expectations have increased that more layoffs, asset sales and capital raising will be needed in the weeks ahead.

“We thought this was going to be the kitchen-sink quarter, and we’re finding out that CEOs and CFOs still don’t have a handle on the credit crisis,” said William Rutherford, a former state treasurer of Oregon who now runs Rutherford Investment Management. “We haven’t disinterred all the dead bodies. What else is out there?”

The deepening credit crisis could cost the global financial system some $945 billion by the time it is over, according to a report from the International Monetary Fund. So far, banks and brokerages have written down nearly $300 billion from bad bets on mortgage-backed securities and other risky investments.

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Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

June 16, 2008

Since Bernanke’s bungle (See Wrong Again Ben) in early December, rotation has been everything if you intended to not lose your shirt (possibly even your mind) in this crazy market.

Financials were absolutely the worst sector to be long despite having started to fall as early as April of 2007. Put options on stocks like BSC and LEH and GS proved to be big winners. The XLF Financial Select SPDR ETF fell faster from December to March than it had in all of 2007.

The S&P 500 was not spared, dropping as far as 13.5% from the December Fed meeting to the March bottom.

So where do you hide? Bonds did pretty well relatively.

But commodities really made your money grow!

Here is a comparison of two widely held mutual funds, the Dodge & Cox Stock Fund (DODGX) and the Pimco Total Return Fund (PTRAX). Even though DODGX is a waning fund, crushed by the weight of its own success, the difference here is quite remarkable. By making the switch, a passive buy and hold 401k investor could have saved two years worth of gains (at an average of 8% per year) in only six months. Not to mention the lower stress level that comes with a shallower drawdown in equity.

Update:

What goes around comes around July 17, 2008


Lehman Bros. is Losing More than Money

June 9, 2008

By STEVEN M. SEARS
barrons.com

The investment bank’s credibility is shot and its put options have gotten red-hot.

LEH since suggesting short

ON A DAY WHEN MOST stocks are rising simply because some 90% declined in the previous trading session on Friday, Lehman Brothers (LEH) is an exception.

The stock of the nation’s fourth-largest investment bank fell about 11% in midday trading Monday after the company warned investors that next Monday’s second-quarter financial report will reveal a big loss.

Ineffective hedges, and apparently a breakdown with the bank’s decision making, caused Lehman to unexpectedly announce that it thinks it lost $2.6 billion, and that it will now rebuild its finances by issuing $4 billion of common stock priced at $28 per share and $2 billion of mandatory convertible preferred stock.

Of course, this is just a pre-announcement, and the final results could be different when announced next Monday, said Lehman’s chief financial officer, Erin Callan, in a morning conference call with investors and analysts.LEH performance since suggesting short

The options and debt markets had expected earnings troubles, though arguably not even the legion of traders aligned against Lehman anticipated a loss of this magnitude. Lehman’s expected second-quarter equals $5.41 per share, markedly higher than the analyst consensus of a loss of 20 cents.

Put options on Lehman, which increase in value when the stock price declines, were obscenely expensive last week in anticipation of Lehman’s weakened position. Today, they are still richly priced, and though they have declined somewhat from last week’s doomsday scenario level, anyone interested in hedging against further weakness in Lehman’s stock will pay a princely risk premium.

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Danger Ahead: Fixing Wall Street Hazardous to Earnings Growth

April 29, 2008

By Christine Harper and Yalman Onaran

April 28 (Bloomberg) — Wall Street’s money-making machine is broken, and efforts to repair it after the biggest losses in history are likely to undermine profits for years to come.

Citigroup Inc., UBS AG and Merrill Lynch & Co. are among the banks and securities firms that have posted $310 billion of writedowns and credit losses from the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. They’ve cut 48,000 jobs and ousted four chief executive officers. The top five U.S. securities firms saw $110 billion of market value evaporate in the past 12 months.

No one is sure the model works anymore. While Wall Street executives and regulators study what went wrong, there is no consensus solution for restoring confidence. Under review are some of the motors that powered record earnings this decade — leverage, off-balance-sheet investments, the business of repackaging assets into bonds through securitization, and over- the-counter trading of credit derivatives. Without them, it will be difficult to generate growth.

“Brokerages will have a tough time for a while,” said Todd McCallister, a managing director at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Eagle Asset Management Inc., which oversees $14 billion. “The main engine of its recent growth, securitization, will be curtailed. Regulation will be cranked up. Everything is stacked against them.”

Last month’s collapse and emergency sale of Bear Stearns Cos., the fifth-largest of the New York-based securities firms, demonstrated the perils of Wall Street business practices developed after the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. The change allowed investment banks and depository institutions to compete with each other.

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The degradation of accounting

April 14, 2008

April 14, 2008

Martin Hutchinson is the author of “Great Conservatives” (Academica Press, 2005) — details can be found on the Web site http://www.greatconservatives.com

Fair value accounting, by which debt and equity securities on a company’s balance sheet are “marked to market” — written up or down to their market price — has been hyped by accountants and regulators as the epitome of modern financial reporting, enabling investors to gain a completely true picture of their investment’s financial position. Indeed, Gerald White of the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, speaking at an American Enterprise Institute conference Tuesday, believes it should be applied to all items on the balance sheet, not just financial instruments. There is just one problem: in the turbulence of the last nine months it has completely failed to work, and has indeed shown itself to be pro-cyclical, encouraging economically foolish behavior in both up and down cycles.

As someone who only thinks about accounting once a decade or so, I wasn’t really aware that much had changed from my business school days in the early 1970s. At that time, the values of assets on the balance sheet didn’t move much. Everything the company owned was dumped on the balance sheet at cost price and stayed there for decades while the world turned. The only exception was when the company held bonds or shares that had declined catastrophically in value (the occasional wobble was ignored) in which case they were declared “impaired” and their value written down. The fun for analysts was in finding companies whose downtown real estate was still held on the books at its value of 1926, when it had been bought, since there just could be a little teensy-weensy asset profit that might be unlocked from the company if one could figure out how.

This attitude to values was maintained through the inflation-accounting period of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Assets were assumed to be held for the long term, so buildings were written up by the movement in the consumer price index between the asset’s purchase date and the balance sheet date. US and British accounts differed in their approach to inflation accounting, which may have been one reason why it was abandoned fairly quickly once inflation returned to single digits, but neither system attempted to “mark to market.”

The “mark to market” approach had been used since 1940 by US investment banks, holders of large numbers of tradable securities, who needed to convince their regulators that their capital was adequate. It was not however used by British merchant banks, equally holders of substantial amounts of tradable securities. Only a small portion of merchant bank assets was held in a “trading account.” The remainder was held on a “back book” investment account and valued at cost. In this way, merchant banks were able to manage earnings very effectively; generally they built up large “hidden reserves” in good years which were amortized into earnings in years of unexpected dearth, so that the overall picture was smoothened. The result was to increase the confidence of the market in each merchant bank; people assumed that 200-year-old institutions had accumulated enough “hidden reserves” and undervalued real estate to smooth out any problems that might arise.

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Level 3 Decimation?

October 29, 2007

Level 3 Decimation?

October 29, 2007

Martin Hutchinson is the author of “Great Conservatives” (Academica Press, 2005) — details can be found on the Web site http://www.greatconservatives.com

There’s a mystery on Wall Street. Merrill Lynch last week wrote off $8.4 billion in its subprime mortgage business, a figure revised up from $4.9 billion, yet Goldman Sachs reported an excellent quarter and didn’t feel the need for any write-offs. The real secret of the difference is likely to be in the details of their accounting, and in particular in the murky world, shortly to be revealed, of their “Level 3” asset portfolios.

Both Merrill and Goldman have Harvard chairmen – Merrill’s Stan O’Neal from Harvard Business School and Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Thus it’s pretty unlikely their approaches to business are significantly different – or is a Harvard MBA really worth minus $8.4 billion compared with a law degree? (The special case of George W. Bush may be disregarded in answering that question!)

We may be about to find out. From November 15, we will have a new tool for figuring out how much toxic waste is in investment banks’ balance sheets. The new accounting rule SFAS157 requires banks to divide their tradable assets into three “levels” according to how easy it is to get a market price for them. Level 1 assets have quoted prices in active markets. At the other extreme Level 3 assets have only unobservable inputs to measure value and are thus valued by reference to the banks’ own models.

Goldman Sachs has disclosed its Level 3 assets, two quarters before it would be compelled to do so in the period ending February 29, 2008. Their total was $72 billion, which at first sight looks reasonable because it is only 8% of total assets. However the problem becomes more serious when you realize that $72 billion is twice Goldman’s capital of $36 billion. In an extreme situation therefore, Goldman’s entire existence rests on the value of its Level 3 assets.

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