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More Insider Trading on Wall Street?

Posted by Larry Doyle on February 1st, 2010 1:56 PM |

Profit over principle. Where does one draw the line?

I worked with some incredibly sharp individuals on Wall Street. In fact, two individuals with whom I worked were banned from casinos in Vegas because of their ability to count cards. While casinos do not appreciate card counters, I would not include that skill as a negative in my thoughts about their personal character. To be perfectly frank, both of these individuals were gracious, charitable, and professional. The overwhelming majority of those with whom I worked were also true professionals.  That said, the very nature of the Wall Street enterprise attracts an element that prioritizes profit over principle. I am reminded of that fact again today. How so?

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Pimco Punts on the PPIP

Posted by Larry Doyle on July 9th, 2009 2:27 PM |

Did Bill Gross just flip off Uncle Sam? It would appear that he did. While the U.S. Treasury is touting the official launch of the Public Private Investment Program (PPIP) as a noteworthy event, the most significant aspect is the absence of Mr. Gross and Pimco as one of the managers. As Bloomberg highlights, U.S. Treasury Opens Distressed-Debt Program Without Pimco:

The U.S. plan to help buy as much as $40 billion in assets from banks got started almost four months after it was proposed and without Pacific Investment Management Co., the world’s biggest bond manager and an early supporter.

The Treasury Department picked nine money managers yesterday for the Public-Private Investment Program, or PPIP, including BlackRock Inc. and Invesco Ltd. Pimco, which in March announced plans to apply, said it withdrew its application in June because of “uncertainties” about the initiative’s design.

Uncertainties? How about if we return to Mr. Gross’ May 2009 Investment Outlook, in which he cautioned us all about business dealings with Uncle Sam:

If the government indeed becomes your investment partner,  you should keep the big Uncle in clear sight and without back turned.

Over and above Pimco’s absence, the other notable development within the PPIP is the fact that Uncle Sam plans on injecting 75% of the initial equity capital while the private managers inject 25%.  Given that equity split, why wouldn’t the taxpayer receive 75% of the returns? In my opinion, Treasury is injecting more capital simply because a $20 billion or even $30 billion launch would render this initiative as nothing more than PPIP: A Virtual ‘Odd Lot’, as I had written the other day.

. . . ‘without back turned’ . . . ‘odd lot’ . . . two strikes before the game has even begun.

Mr. Gross’ absence speaks volumes!!

LD

PPIP: A Virtual “Odd Lot”

Posted by Larry Doyle on July 7th, 2009 8:31 AM |

In Wall Street parlance, a trade of respectable volume is defined as a “round lot.” A large trade is often designated simply as “size.” A trade of relatively small size bordering on insignificant is defined as an “odd lot.” Obviously all of these definitions are relative measures predicated on the magnitude of the market and the prevailing situation. On that note, the initial launch of the Public-Private Investment Program, PPIP, appears as if it will be an “odd lot.”

As Bloomberg reports, Treasury’s Distressed Debt Plan Said to Begin With $20 Billion,

The U.S. Treasury Department may begin its program to spur purchases of mortgage-backed securities from banks with about $20 billion in public and private money, down from as much as $100 billion when it was announced in March, two people familiar with the matter said.

Recall that the PPIP has two programs. The program targeted at raw whole loans has been postponed indefinitely. This program highlighted above is targeted at asset-backed securities (ABS, collateralized by credit card receivables, student loans, and other receivables).

Why is the PPIP getting off with a whimper? Market pundits and government officials would promote the principal that the PPIP is less necessary for the financial industry currently. Why? The banks were able to raise billions in equity capital after the results of the Bank Stress Tests were released. If those investors were comfortable putting money into the system, then why should banks feel an urgency to raise more capital via asset sales utilizing the PPIP? Bloomberg reports as much,

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said then that interest in such U.S. programs may be waning as market confidence improves.

I beg to differ. In my opinion, the PPIP is getting off to such a slow start for a variety of other reasons, including:

1. price:investors continue to believe the underlying assets will experience a greater level of delinquencies, defaults, and foreclosures and thus they are not willing to pay the price banks desire.

2. FASB’s relaxation of the mark-to-market: allows the banks to value these securities at levels above market and avoid taking the loss if they were to sell through the PPIP.  Banks can not avoid the loss, though, as the underlying loans continue to suffer higher levels of defaults.

The New York Times highlighted this exact point this past Sunday in an article, So Many Foreclosures, So Little Logic,

But the most fascinating, and frightening, figures in the data detail how much money is lost when foreclosed homes are sold. In June, the data show almost 32,000 liquidation sales; the average loss on those was 64.7 percent of the original loan balance.

Here are the numbers: the average loan balance began at almost $223,000. But in the liquidation sale, the property sold for $144,000 less, on average. Perhaps no other single figure shows how wildly the mortgage mania pumped up home prices. It also bodes poorly for the quality of the mortgage-related assets lurking in banks’ books.

Loss severities, like foreclosures, are rising. In November, losses averaged 56.1 percent of the original loan balance; in February, 63.3 percent.

3. Uncle Sam: investors have seen how Uncle Sam has changed the rules of the game as he goes along. Examples of Uncle Sam’s abusive tendencies include Congress’ lambasting AIG employees over contractual bonus obligations and the Obama administration ‘running over’ senior creditors of GM and Chrysler. Investors are shying away from doing business with Uncle Sam regardless of the attractive terms within the PPIP.

The PPIP looked good on paper but putting it into practice is a totally different ballgame. Given the strength of these three counteractive factors, I am not optimistic the PPIP will ever move off the “odd lot” desk.

LD

Sheila Bair and the PPIPs Tour: Cancelled

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 4th, 2009 7:56 AM |

What is going on with the PPIPs?

The Public Private Investment Program was “scheduled” to play a grand national tour in helping the banking industry cleanse itself of toxic assets. Did the “lead singer,” Sheila Bair, lose her voice? Did the “backup” in the form of the banks and investors lose their rhythm? Let’s “boogie” on over and check it out.

The FT reports, FDIC Stalls Sale of Toxic Loans:  

Details of the Treasury’s toxic asset plan are in doubt after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on Wednesday said it was suspending a test run of the legacy loans programme.

Sheila Bair, chairman of the FDIC, said development of the programme – designed to encourage investors to buy toxic, or legacy, loans from banks in order to restart the flow of credit – would continue but a pilot sale of assets was on hold.

“Banks have been able to raise capital without having to sell bad assets through the LLP, which reflects renewed investor confidence in our banking system,” Ms Bair said in a statement.

Is this all that it appears to be or is there more of a smokescreen on the stage inhibiting all parties – Uncle Sam, the banks, and investors – from “giving it their all”? Let’s dive into the mosh pit.

Sense on Cents views the situation as follows:

1. Impetus for banks to liquidate toxic assets (now called legacy assets by the Obama administration) is dramatically lessened. Why? Are they now less toxic? No, anything but that. With the relaxation of the mark-to-market accounting standard, banks can now “mark to model.” As such, banks are not forced to write the asset value down. In so doing, banks are now not compelled to sell it at a price which would incentivize an investor to purchase.      

2. What about all of the equity capital raised by banks over the last few weeks after results of the Bank Stress Tests? Has that had an influence on banks need to raise capital via the PPIP?

Yes, but remember that the Bank Stress Tests only covered the largest 19 banks in our nation. These banks have been largely successful in raising new capital. That said, the toxic legacy assets remain on their books. Do not forget, though, that many small to medium sized banks and thrifts have a sizable amount of underperforming loans (residential mortgages, commercial real estate, corporate loans) on their books. These banking institutions were neither put through a “stress test” nor are they in a position to raise capital as easily as the large banks.

A successful PPIP program would have helped these institutions.

3. Hints of potential self-dealing by banks involved in the PPIP, both as seller of assets and buyer of assets, would have created a firestorm. I addressed this problem in writing, Putting “The Fix” in the PPIP.      

4. With all due respect to the lead singer, Sheila Bair, all indications are that her handler – an individual named “Uncle Sam” – can not be trusted. Potential investors have been very reluctant to get overly involved with Sam. Why? In other performances, Sam has “strip searched” individuals upon entry and also played various iterations of “bait and switch.”

As the FT reports:

Banks and investors, meanwhile, had misgivings over taking part in the PPIP amid fears the politically charged climate could prompt Congress to change rules on issues such as executive compensation for those firms that participated in the programme.

While this tour is being cancelled, don’t get overly despondent. I am sure our Summer concert series will be able to provide plenty of entertainment going forward!!

LD  

Putting “The Fix” in the PPIP

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 27th, 2009 7:03 AM |

Is the Obama administration once again going to be party to “underworld” business principles in an attempt to promote the success of a program to clean up the banks? Let’s go down into ‘the street.’

The TALF (Term Asset Based Lending Facility) so far has had middling success. The PPIP (Public-Private Investment Partnership) is yet to be rolled out. Investors have been reluctant to participate in these programs, despite attractive financing terms, because of concerns in partnering with a capricious and at times vindictive Uncle Sam. These programs, as with any transactional program, have one major potential flaw: self-dealing. I highlighted this point on April 7th in my post Games of Chance: TALF, PPIP, TARP, FDIC, FASB. I wrote:

In a slightly different version of the game – and in attempt to attract more players, if not necessarily truly new money – the government is considering allowing the sellers of toxic assets to also be buyers. How does that version of the game work? The sellers (Citi, BofA, JP Morgan, et al):

. . . can put up a few percent of their own money, and swap each other’s toxic assets financed by a bewildered public suddenly bearing more than 90% of the downside risk. The “investors” in this happy “public-private partnership” keep half the upside while ordinary Americans take the downside off of their hands. Some partnership. [From John Hussman at John Mauldin’s Outside the Box

Fast forward to May 27th and this version of the “game” is being proposed by the dealers. The Wall Street Journal highlights, Banks Aiming to Play Both Sides of Coin:

Some banks are prodding the government to let them use public money to help buy troubled assets from the banks themselves.

Banking trade groups are lobbying the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for permission to bid on the same assets that the banks would put up for sale as part of the government’s Public Private Investment Program.

PPIP was hatched by the Obama administration as a way for banks to sell hard-to-value loans and securities to private investors, who would get financial aid as an enticement to help them unclog bank balance sheets. The program, expected to start this summer, will get as much as $100 billion in taxpayer-funded capital. That could increase to more than $500 billion in purchasing power with participation from private investors and FDIC financing.

The lobbying push is aimed at the Legacy Loans Program, which will use about half of the government’s overall PPIP infusion to facilitate the sale of whole loans such as residential and commercial mortgages.

I can already hear the pontificating on how rigorous the oversight of this program will be. Geithner and team will produce a set of selling points to “make the case.” All that said, games of chance are actually exceedingly simple. The dealer and another player or two fabricate a reasonable chance for success for new participants (taxpayers) while knowing full well the table is tilted, the “fix” is baked in, and the “dough” is going home with them. The WSJ highlights these concerns:

“To allow the government to finance an off-balance-sheet maneuver that claims to shift risk off the parent firm’s books but really doesn’t offload it is highly problematic,” said Arthur Levitt, a former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman who is an adviser to private-equity firm Carlyle Group LLC.

“The notion of banks doing this is incongruent with the original purpose of the PPIP and wrought with major conflicts,” said Thomas Priore, president of ICP Capital, a New York fixed-income investment firm overseeing about $16 billion in assets.

One risk is that certain hard-to-value assets mightn’t be fairly priced if banks are essentially negotiating with themselves. Inflated prices could result in the government overpaying. Recipients of taxpayer-funded capital infusions under the Troubled Asset Relief Program also could use those funds to buy their own loans.

The fact that banks want to “play the game” again truly indicates the character and integrity of this crowd. Self-dealing is common practice in the underworld. We have witnessed the violation of private contracts in the housing and automotive sectors.

Will Geithner and team allow taxpayers to be run over once again via self-dealing within the PPIP?

LD

“White House Ties to Wall Street Doom Bank Rescue”

Posted by Larry Doyle on April 17th, 2009 6:37 AM |

None other than Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University provided a direct shot across Washington’s and Wall Street’s bow today. As I read Bloomberg’s Stiglitz Says White House Ties to Wall Street Doom Bank Rescue, the little voice in my head kept repeating, ” he’s right” or “I agree.” I am reluctant to copy and paste entire articles, but this one is so important that I feel compelled and will add commentary or links as warranted. 

The Obama administration’s plan to fix the U.S. banking system is destined to fail because the programs have been designed to help Wall Street rather than create a viable financial system, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said.

“All the ingredients they have so far are weak, and there are several missing ingredients,” Stiglitz said in an interview. The people who designed the plans are “either in the pocket of the banks or they’re incompetent.”

The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, isn’t large enough to recapitalize the banking system, and the administration hasn’t been direct in addressing that shortfall, he said. Stiglitz said there are conflicts of interest at the White House because some of Obama’s advisers have close ties to Wall Street.

Seems as if Stiglitz would agree with How Wall Street Bought Washington.

“We don’t have enough money, they don’t want to go back to Congress, and they don’t want to do it in an open way and they don’t want to get control” of the banks, a set of constraints that will guarantee failure, Stiglitz said.

The return to taxpayers from the TARP is as low as 25 cents on the dollar, he said. “The bank restructuring has been an absolute mess.” (more…)






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