Anonymous bloggers are often discredited because they hide behind a veil of secrecy. As such, they don’t have to suffer the consequences of their actions/comments. However, we at Stone Street Advisors have argued that anonymity is not always “bad.” Many of my followers know who I am and what I do for a “living.” I prefer to “labor in shadows” in an effort to keep my writing uncompromised from corporate edicts. I digress. This is a short note to take stock of my posts over the past two years. Continue reading
Happy New Year and may 2012 not suck as much as 2011!
I’ve been on forced hiatus due to issues relating to a trip to Cuba, a woman named Carla and a small golden statue of significant religious value. I won’t bore you with the details.
Now that I’ve been released …err… returned to work, I’m on my way to the preeminent fixed income structured finance (FISF) conference; the American Securitization Forum (ASF). For those outside of the business, the FISF brought you such fine investment products as Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs), Subprime mortgage backed securities, Liar Loan mortgage securities, Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (CMBS) and synthetic version of the same.
After the colossal market meltdown which lead to the bursting of the credit bubble and implosion of several small countries, the ASF held its 2010 conference in Washington DC as a sign of contrition and to let congress know we’ve learned our lesson and don’t need pesky laws regarding risk retention. In 2011, ASF ventured to Orlando because the business is family friendly and gave Rep. Garrett the forum to espouse his hatred for all things government especially the President, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac though he seemed to forget about FHA/VA loans. The time for slinking around is over and the ASF is back in its favorite city, Las Vegas!!
In a bit of delicious irony, the ASF chose to hold the convention in the opulent Aria Hotel. The Aria is located in the new City Center in Las Vegas. The construction of City Center was financed by a loan originated by a large investment bank with extremely loose underwriting standards (pro-forma underwritten and had interest only payments due). This large investment shop placed the loan into its own CMBS and made themselves a good deal of money.
The City Center loan failed as the construction project ran out of money. The equity owner was highly levered and had no interest in putting his own money into the work. The project stalled for months until a new partner came with a cash infusion for a significant ownership of the project. The ASF, having not learned its lesson, holds its conference in the very hotel which represented a shining example of how messed up the originate to securitize model had become.
BTW, the private residential mortgage backed securities continues to be stalled with two small deals in 2010 and the first deal of 2012 announced just before the convention.
Naked Bond Bear
Presented without graphics. I have been watching BJ’s Restaurants for several months to see if the stock would fall from its Icarus like heights. The short story is that during that time it has yet to come back to a level that seem more “attractive” to my somewhat trained investment eye. For my first post of 2012, I present to you my top 12 reasons why you would be better served to buy one of the menu items before buying the stock.
Nomura’s Richard Koo has a note out today which contains a novel idea for how the larger European peripherals might be able to assuage their two headed problem of both needing more stimulus and having borrowing rates that make it implausible.
“Solution: allow only residents to buy government bonds
As I have previously proposed, one way to solve this eurozone-specific problem is to prohibit member nations from selling government bonds to investors from other countries. Allowing only residents to hold a nation’s government debt will prevent the investment of Spanish savings, for example, in German government debt. Most of the Spanish savings that have been used to buy other countries’ government debt will therefore return to Spain.
During a balance sheet recession, Spanish government bond yields will then fall just like those of the US, the UK, and Japan, providing support for the necessary fiscal stimulus.
Fiscal stimulus at a time when the private sector is not saving is reckless and irresponsible; fiscal consolidation is necessary at such times. But when private savings are increasing sharply and economic conditions are severe, allowing private savings to flow overseas prevents the government from implementing needed fiscal stimulus. This state of affairs in the eurozone is a tragedy that must be addressed.”
We’ve recently switched from wordpress.com to a hosted wordpress.com solution. If you subscribe to our posts via RSS feed, email, etc, there is a non-zero chance you’ve missed this (or thought we just gave up on posting altogether). If you go to http://www.stonestreetadvisors.com you’ll be able to see all of our recent posts (for now). If you subscribe to the RSS feed there, you’ll likely have to do so again as we have one more website transition which should happen in the next week or two.
We apologize for the confusion. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email.
Our resident tech pro Bond Wimp is helping me (aka doing 98% of the work) upgrade the Stone Street Advisors website this weekend. We’re trying to make it as seamless as possible, but don’t be surprised if things get a little screwy over the next few days.
Thanks for your patience!
The Office of Thrift Supervision: A case of Regulatory Capture
Created with fan fare and removed with disdain, the Office of Thrift Supervision ceased to exist after 22 years of existence. President George Bush Sr. signed the law which created the OTS in the wake of the Savings and Loan disaster of the 80s and the failure of their previous regulator, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLB). In typical congressional action, the OTS staff have been absorbed into the FDIC, OCC, Federal Reserve Board and FHFA. Like OTS, FHLB didn’t actually go away until it was merged with the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) to create Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). The OTS represents how legislative good intentions and economic incentives led a regulator to become a slave to the industry.
The Savings and Loan business model was to fund on the short end of the curve (through CDs) and buy assets on the long end. As long as the curve doesn’t invert, they made great money. As long as members kept buying CDs and their long dated commercial loans kept paying, money grew on trees. Even the politicians were involved to make sure the business continued without government interference. Let’s not forget the Keating 5 (which included Deer-in-the-Headlights Senator John McCain). As students of financial history know, the curve inverted, commercial loans stopped paying and short end funding costs soared.
President Bush Sr said “never again will America allow any insured institution operate without enough money” when signed the law which created the OTS. (I guess Jr missed that speech.) Since the GOP doesn’t believe in requiring taxpayers to be taxed for anything (except military based activities), the OTS was funded by a tax on the very institutions they regulated based on the size of company’s assets. Hence, OTS could hire more examiners, have nicer office furniture, and increased regulatory prestige if they could grow their portfolio of regulatees. Initially, the first real leader of the OTS, T. Timothy Ryan (now running the Wall Street lobbying group SIFMA), shut down thrifts and OTS suffered as they lost “clients”.
In the mid 1990s, OTS management, especially OTS Director James Gilleran, made a concerted effort to market themselves as the easier softer regulator. He even brought a chainsaw to a Thrift industry event. Just imagine what their marketing must have been like:
“Capital requirements got you down? We will beat any other regulator’s requirements by 50 bps!”
“No interest rate or credit risk model capabilities? No problem! At the OTS you can use ours!
“Our regulators await your call! Free up capital for those BBB CDOs you want to buy NOW!”
Countrywide and others headed their call. In 2005, Countrywide switched their charter and became a Thrift. At the same time both EMC (a Bear Stearns mortgage originating sub) and Lehman Brothers’s mortgage unit also became Thrifts. OTS staff nearly doubled by the time the economic crisis hit. When Countrywide spun off IndyMac, guess which regulator they chose? OTS of course! Ka-Ching!
As early as 2003, mid level OTS examiners starting finding major issues with thrifts like IndyMac, Countrywide, EMC, AIG and WashingtonMutual and raised them to senior management. These earnest folk actually wanted to reign in these thrifts to protect them. These examiners were no match for the Thrift lobbyists and incompetence of senior management. Even the FDIC couldn’t get past OTS management to protect “their” thrifts.
At the end of the day, OTS was doomed from the start due to its mission and economic incentives. It’s a model for how not to set up a financial regulator. OTS’s failures are well known and thousands of pages of text have been written about it. Regulators are supposed to be the last line of defense when financial institution management goes off the deep end and OTS just furthered their insanity. OTS had lost its way.
In the same vein, assuming the Consumer Finance Protection Board ever gets off the ground (and in a twist of irony are moving into OTS’s old offices) they too will be captured by the industry (and the lobbyists) they are supposed to regulate if incentives are misaligned and independence isn’t protected. (Which may not be a bad thing if you a member of the Banking Lobby).
Further Reading on this topic:
Senate Financial Crisis Report (161-242)