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All The King’s Horses and All The King’s Men . . .

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 6, 2009 11:37 AM |

Can Barack Obama’s horses and men in the persons of Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Paul Volcker, Rham Emanuel, Sheila Bair, and their minions put Wall Street together again? The glue and putty in the form of trillions of dollars of taxpayer funds and commitments is still wet. Mr. “Humpty Dumpty” Wall Street is still on the ground.

Humpty’s most severe injury is the breakdown of the securitization process in which Wall Street promoted a pure “originate to distribute” model. Obama himself offered in the May 3rd Sunday New York Times Magazine:

. . . we’re going to have to figure out what we do with the nonbanking sector that was providing almost half of our credit out there. And we’re going to have to determine whether or not as a consequence of some of the steps that the Fed has been taking, the Treasury has been taking, that we see the market for securitized products restored.

I’m optimistic that ultimately we’re going to be able to get that part of the financial sector going again, but it could take some time to regain confidence and trust.

Time for the cement to harden and for Humpty to get back on his feet. Why will it take so much time? Very simply, Humpty was not an honest broker in the process of originating, securitizing, and distributing poorly written – if not fraudulently written – loans over the last 5 to 7 years. The Financial Times highlights this fact this morning in Securitization Is Crucial for Revitalizing Lending.” The FT reports:

Securitisation is a way to raise money by repackaging securities based upon underlying assets such as mortgages.

The US government is seeking to restart this market with up to $1,000bn of funding for purchases of securitised debt. But the complexity and risks involved mean it remains difficult to replicate the scale of the market that collapsed under the weight of losses and the departure of leveraged investors.

Meredith Whitney, of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, says about $2,200bn less in funds has been raised by means of the US capital markets since the start of the credit crunch in July 2007, with $2,700bn less money raised globally.

She said: “With debt issuance to date seeing year-on-year gains, it is suggestive to say that things aren’t getting much worse. They just aren’t getting any better.”

The US government’s programme to revive securitisation – the Term asset-backed securities loan facility (Talf) – has made some funds available and it has also led spreads on some asset classes to narrow, reducing the potential funding costs. The programme works by lending money to hedge funds, which can increase the returns on triple A rated securities by means of the cheap loans.

In a sign of a big pick-up in demand, the Federal Reserve said late yesterday that investors requested $10.6bn worth of loans in its most recent round of the programme. This included $2.2bn worth of requests for auto loan bonds and $5.5bn for bonds backed by credit card loans.

If we review those statistics, the government’s TALF (Term Asset-Backed Lending Facility) has facilitated $18.5 billion in sales since its launch in March. While the Fed views the demand as picking up, be mindful that the $18.5 billion figure represents approximately .008 of the total credit that has evaporated from the economy via the shadow banking system. In layman’s terms, we just gave Humpty a swab with a warm cloth while his limb is holding on by a thread.

My concern with the TALF is that the buyers will cherry pick bank assets and simply purchase those which have the most rigorous underwriting. The dregs will be left for the banks and taxpayers to absorb.

If Uncle Sam does get Humpty somewhat propped back up against the wall (note that I’m not even hinting at Humpty getting “on the wall”), how do we make sure Humpty does not once again fall down and take us all with him?

We need to make sure Humpty plays by strict rules and regulations, both in terms of underwriting and business engagement. The FT addresses proposed underwriting rules in “Watchdog Proposes Strict Rules.”  The FT reports,

Yesterday’s Iosco (International Organization of Securities Commissions) report called for minimum levels of due diligence by the originators and suggested mandating far greater disclosure to investors of what checks had been carried out. It also called for ongoing disclosure to investors of the performance of the underlying assets and for originators to be forced to hold on to some tranches of each deal.

Other proposals included imposing standards forcing originators to check that products were suitable for each investor and looking into developing alternative measures of assessing risk other than the credit ratings agencies that were relied on by investors previously.

Wow, you mean Humpty actually has to display a measure of integrity in his operations?  What a novel idea!  Who may be keeping an eye on Humpty to make sure he plays by the rules going forward? The SEC and FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority).

Hey, wait a second. When Humpty fell off the wall, we have very credible evidence that FINRA was actually one of his playmates. None other than Harry Markopolos said that FINRA was on the wall (“in bed”) with Humpty. I have highlighted issues within FINRA that still need to be addressed: FINRA Is Supposed To Police The Market.

President Obama, what do you prescribe for Humpty given his relationship with FINRA? Obama told the Times,

. . . the fact that we had such poor regulation means — in some of these markets, particularly around the securitized mortgages — means that the pain has been democratized as well. And that’s a problem. But I think that overall there are ways in which people have been able to participate in our stock markets and our financial markets that are potentially healthy. Again, what you have to have, though, is an updating of the regulatory regimes comparable to what we did in the 1930s, when there were rules that were put in place that gave investors a little more assurance that they knew what they were buying.

Putting Humpty back together is going to be very challenging. Sense on Cents will be monitoring the operation very closely.

LD

For newer readers who may want to more fully understand how Humpty “had a great fall,” I strongly recommend The Wall Street Model Is Broken….and Won’t Soon Be Fixed.






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