Phorgy Phynance

Archive for the ‘Default Rates’ Category

The word is out… it’s NOT about subprime

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Whenever I read about “subprime contagion”, I feel frustrated. When you get the flu, does the runny nose cause the muscle aches? No. Just because the runny nose came first doesn’t mean the flu can be described as “runny nose contagion”. The subprime mess was just the first symptom to appear in the bursting of a general credit bubble. The corporate high yield market saw very similar aggressive loan covenants. Commercial real estate. Emerging markets. You name it. We’ve been in the midst of a general fixed-income bubble since our friends at the Fed decided to keep rates far too low for far too long.

Think about this. Back in 2005, we were worried about the CDS market reaching $17 TRILLION notional. That is a HUGE number. But the notional amount is not indicative of overall exposure because of hedging, right?

If you want to see a perfect hedge, visit a Zen garden.

What is that number today? More like $45 TRILLION. That is insane. An entire new insurance industry has basically assumed that corporate defaults do not exist anymore. Not only that, a “hedge” can turn into naked exposure at the flip of a switch, i.e. what happens when the entity you bought insurance from no longer exists?

When I get a chance, I hope to start posting some more mathematical analysis of what’s going on (since that’s what I’m good at). For example, a primer on Leverage Mathematics 101 (which is partially complete) followed by Hedge Mathematics 101 would be a good start. In risk management, “hedging” basically means “let’s buy(sell) some similar securities so that we have more capital to buy other stuff.” In other words, hedging allows you to leverage yourself more.

Here is an article that may help spread the word, i.e. it’s not about subprime:

Straight Talk on the Mortgage Mess from an Insider

However, I would go even further. The truth is the current mess is not even about mortgages. Here is the word we should all be thinking about, “Fixed Income Bubble”.

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Written by Eric

December 9, 2007 at 10:16 pm

Another word for hedged… leveraged

with 2 comments

Market turmoil is still quite fascinating to me and I still believe the current environment will be one for the history books and I’m still trying to take as much as I can from this learning experience.

My professional work experience is in fixed income. For two years, I was very “plugged in” to the markets and was meeting regularly with some of the greatest thinkers out there, but now I’m more of a pure “quant” and most of my news comes from blogs, web news, etc. Unfortunately, I’m not yet spending as much time with the traders as I’d like (but that should change soon I hope). Most of the major news sources, e.g. Bloomberg, seem to concentrate more on equity markets than credit and fixed income. I pay more attention to the Dow now than ever before. That is why I am so perplexed by the stock market. I thought stocks were supposed to be easier than bonds, i.e all the smart guys are in fixed income, right?

So while the credit markets seem to be imploding, stocks are doing just dandy. Maybe people are taking cues from the market cheat sheet?

Anyway, I’ve blabbered quite a bit on this blog (and at my former employer) expressing my opinion of CDOs. I even managed to upset quite a few people while expressing my opinions as well. No regrets though. I’m happy to have this hugely public diary, both here and on NP, to later look back and see how I did in regards to thinking events through. Occasionally, I still like to poke my nose in over at NP and I see kr is still giving out the occasional nugget. Here is one of his latest:

A few thoughts:
– If you took all the writedowns at a single med-to-large bank rather than seeing them across the street, you could have reduced that entity’s equity to ZERO. For instance, MER has only something like USD54bn of mkt cap and USD39bn of book equity.
– If the view is that there will be another round of writedowns in the same amount as Q3 then you will have banks desperate to raise equity (i.e. it is not just the monolines). Who would buy that equity right now? Prince Alwaleed for example has floated his own holdings so I see him more as seller than buyer for example. I don’t see guys like JC Flowers or Cerberus well positioned for this job – in retrospect, even Barclays/RBS have not been with respect to ABN, as can be seen by the action in their share price and cost of jr capital.
– Another possibility would be the downgrade to BBB like the Japanese banks, with all the implications that brings with it. I.e. serious change in business model. That has contagion and macro effects. One example is that flow trading of financials has cost people a lot.
– I think investors will call foul on the FAS157 Level-3 assets, and it will hit guys like GS seriously as their L3 reporteds are a big multiple of their mkt cap.
– There was a funny comment in this month’s BBG mag about “nobody really knows how desks are hedging the CDO assets.” That is bull – the answer is that most people were NOT HEDGING AT ALL, BECAUSE THEY COULDN’T. Stuff was originated to sell, and the exit has vanished, or, it was originated to live forever on a trading book even though people tried to avoid saying that, and there is no decent MTM approach so instead banks are showing huge volatility, mostly to the downside.
– Implications of SIV / CDO / CP demise are pretty vast. There seem to be an increasing amount of trade receivables on the market, b/c there are no conduits to fund them… means corp cost of cap is going up in unexpected areas.

My hunch is that the fed cuts on the 11th b/c liquidity is dropping again, especially with year-end. It is out of control – specifically Ben’s control. It looks like political support for the various subprime fixes has stalled. What I think is that liquidity of all things financial (i.e. non-corporate) is going to get weaker and cause a full-on crisis for a market-traded institution. The talk about Citi cutting their div is one tremor, trading activity in Barclays is another, and the fact that even AFTER all the reported loss numbers, people still don’t feel comfortable, is yet another.

I think vols are still cheap, maybe looking to buy some.

All the while I was complaining about CDOs, I was coming at it from the angle of a “quant”, i.e. thinking about how to model CDOs and how those models are used in risk management, asset allocation, etc. Too bad I didn’t understand more about the legal/accounting aspects of CDOs. The term everyone has now heard of is SIV. I was blabbering about off balance sheet leverage and fair value accounting, but didn’t realize that the entire CDO market was (to a jaded eye) a big play on accounting in addition to the obvious play on ratings agencies. If I had known about SIVs, I might have been able to do more to help some who may have now lost a lot of money. Maybe not. That’s all in hindsight. But what am I missing now? Where is the next weakest link? How are corporations hiding off balance sheet debt? Has anyone looked at “Level 3” assets in corporate, i.e. non-financial, balance sheets? Are they as scary as the big banks?

I’ll say it again… this is not a subprime issue. Subprime contagion does not explain the current environment. Subprime was just the first to blow. We are experiencing the blowup of a global fixed income bubble. In fact, some would say we’re experiencing a general global asset bubble.

Who’s going to get hurt? Financial institutions for sure. Anyone who depends directly on the value of paper assets.

Who’s going to win? People whose wealth depends on physical assets.

I’ve already lost all hope in Bernanke. He is not going to let his monicker “Helicopter Ben” go by the wayside in a “time of need”. Bernanke is going to lower rates and weaken the USD until oil exporters are forced to break the peg to the USD and inflation skyrockets. I predict that all these gloom mongers about home prices dropping by 30% will turn out to be wrong in nominal terms even if they are correct in real terms. In other words, home owners are going to be saved by the dropping value of the USD. All those on Wall Street who were so gleeful every time rates dropped are suddenly going to feel the pain when the value of their paper securities go up in smoke.

Watch out for the “happy stage of inflation”, i.e. wage increases. It will be interesting to see what the world will look like when oil is priced in EUR and the USD is no longer the world currency. Fortunately, I still have faith that we’ll come out of the current mess stronger as a country, but there will certainly be pain felt at the higher end of the wealth spectrum.

I’m actually ironically optimistic about the outlook for suburban and rural economic development. A weaker dollar will make outsourcing less attractive. That will bring manufacturing jobs back home. I can imagine a boon in suburban and rural development. Just imagine if communities developed decent broadband via fiber-to-the-home/business. Suddenly, there will be attractive jobs and living standards in affordable places.

Maybe a weak dollar is what this country needs, i.e. a good kick in the pants. Pain is the best teacher, right?

[Edit: PS, the title of the post was inspired by a great article on Financial Armageddon, but I never got around to explaining why, but have a look and it might be obvious.]

High yield pipeline gets its first real test

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Even before things in credit markets went completely haywire, there were technical concerns about the building pipeline of new high yield issues that were feeding into CLOs, which were in turn spurring the LBO boom. My own quantitative analysis had shown that high yield was particularly vulnerable going back to September 2006 (which my models were unfortunately only completed in March-April). That is why I was so certain that July 16 would be a big day. That was the day Bear Stearns was to report their hedge fund losses.

I think we all know what happened after that, but I still think not everyone is aware of the huge buildup of high yield issues that have resulted from delays as brokers “hope” things get better. This has created a bifurcation in the primary market (which is essentially non-existent) and the secondary market. Just as holding of CDOs will eventually be forced to face the music, the high yield market will need to face the music and eventually issue some new bonds. That will (in my opinion) bring in a pretty clear “mark to market” in high yield and there very well could be another general repricing.

Apparently, next week is the first real test as First Data issues $24B of debt ($16B in loans and $8B in bonds)

All Eyes Are On First Data
September 10, 2007

If I were a high yield investor (which I’m not, so don’t take my armchair analyst advice too seriously), I would not be eager to get back in just yet. I think things will still get worse before they get better, but like they say “only monkeys pick bottoms”, so I would certainly be shopping for bargains, while keeping in mind that the definition of a “bargain” has changed. For example, the assumption of continued historically low default rates should be discarded imho.

Written by Eric

September 9, 2007 at 12:34 pm

SFAS 140

with 6 comments

Over on NP, rowdyroddypiper, a.k.a. rrp, on July 26 said:

If you want to see what goes into getting something off balance sheet start reading up on FAS 140. I will send you something if you like on it.

I consider this homework that I haven’t done yet, but thought it was interesting to see FAS 140 appear on one of my favorite blogs, Calculated Risk

SFAS 140: Like A Bridge Over Troubled Bong Water

Physicists often shoot from the hip and go with what feels right. This is a bit more serious than it may sound because you spend years and years of hard core technical training to be able to discern real content from BS. A lot of that thought process becomes subconscious so I’ve learned to trust my gut over time. Another “gut” feeling is that SFAS 140 will come more and more into play as the credit cycle turns. Particularly as default rates increase. Corporate balance sheets appear to be strong and that has been one justification for tight spreads over the past couple of years. I think we’ll discover that the appearance of strong balance sheets will turn out to be little more than smoke and mirrors as default rates increase. Understanding what off-balance sheets exposures to a turn in the credit cycle corporations have will be crucial for investors in the next few months I think.

Written by Eric

August 6, 2007 at 12:00 pm

More on CDS, implied corporate leverage, and default rates

with 2 comments

The interesting discussion continues over on Nuclear Phynance. Here is my latest:

Hi Cheng,

My opinion on CDS has nothing to do with what is going on in subprime. In my opinion, subprime is just the first “zit” appearing on the face of a pubescent teen’s face who has been eating nothing but junk food for the past 10 years and is about to have a massive breakout.

I’ve heard economists blabber about how strong corporate balance sheets are as they have decreased leverage since 2000-2001, but these same economists have absolutely no clue about CDOs and other avenues for off balance sheet implied leverage. In my opinion, the only thing holding default rates down was the availability of easy credit, not some increased sense of corporate responsibility. I think we will find that most corporations are more highly leveraged than balance sheets would suggest. Now that spreads are widening with a return of risk premium (plus some for good measure), the availability of easy credit, especially in high yield, is quickly disappearing.

A logical next step following reduced easy credit is going to be increased default rates. This I think is going to severely test the CDS market (again nothing to do with subprime), especially when a default occurs on a company whose outstanding CDS protection exceeds the outstanding cash debt by factors of 10 or more. Even if the CDS is not settled physically, the cash needs to come from somewhere. Where will that be? What happens when the person you bought protection from defaults?

Regarding treasuries, close to 50% of all outstanding US government debt is held outside the US.

US financial watchdog says economy at risk from ‘non-ally’ bondholders

David Walker, the US comptroller general, indicated that the huge holdings of American government debt by countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Libya could leave a powerful financial weapon in the hands of countries that may be hostile to US corporate and diplomatic interests.


Mr Walker told The Times that foreign investors have more control over the US economy than Americans, leaving the country in a state that was “financially imprudent”.


He said: “More and more of our debt is held by foreign countries – some of which are our allies and some are not.”


Mr Walker, who heads the Government agency that is responsible for auditing the national accounts and is also the arm of Congress that scrutinis-es spending by the Administration, said that the US has been forced to rely on foreign investors more because Americans are saving so little.


Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not all gloom and doom. There are certainly investment opportunities galore even if what I am preaching does occur. For example, oil is going no where but up. Food prices are going no where but up. Gold is going nowhere but up. Call me crazy, but I think land, i.e. physical land, not necessarily structured paper, is going to go up.

Wild times

Written by Eric

July 26, 2007 at 5:36 am