Category Archives: Credit markets

AIG Bailout Trial Bombshell II: Fed and Treasury Cornered AIG’s Board into Taking a Legally-Dubious Bailout

As we said in our companion post today on the AIG bailout trial, former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg may have a case after all. Mind you, we are not fans of Greenberg. But far too much of what happened during the crisis has been swept under the rug, in the interest of preserving the officialdom-flattering story that the way the bailouts were handled was necessary, or at least reasonable, and any errors were good faith mistakes, resulting from the enormity of the deluge.

Needless to say, the picture that emerges from the Greenberg camp, as presented in the “Corrected Plaintiff’s Proposed Findings of Fact,” filed in Federal Court on August 22, is radically different. I strongly urge readers, particularly those with transaction experience, to read the document, attached at the end, in full. It makes a surprisingly credible and detailed case that AIG’s board was muscled into a rescue that was punitive, when that was neither necessary nor warranted. And the tactics used to corner the board were remarkably heavy-handed.

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AIG Bailout Trial and Whoppers, Um, Crisis Revisionist History

If nothing else, the legal slugfest over whether the US government did former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg a dirty by imposing tough terms on the failed insurer and giving the kid gloves treatment to the teetering-on-the-brink banks who were certain to be engulfed by an AIG collapse will be highly entertaining. Ben Bernanke, Hank Greenberg, and Timothy Geithner are all scheduled to go on the stand next week, to be grilled by America’s top trial lawyer, David Boies.

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Rolling Jubilee: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

Yves here. As much as we we’ve been vocal supporters of many of the initiatives of the Occupy Wall Street movement, such as the excellent work of Occupy the SEC, the impressive relief efforts of Occupy Sandy, the success of local Occupy Homes groups in combatting foreclosures, the many projects of the Alternative Banking Group (including both a book explaining the crisis and its 52 Shades of Greed card deck, and last but not least, Strike Debt’s Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual.

However, Rolling Jubilee is a notable exception.

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Ilargi: Europe Is Crumbling Into Collapse

Yves here. The word “collapse” may seem overwrought when applied to Europe, but cold-blooded, clear eyed colleagues who have good connections and have spent a bit of time there recently say things that are broadly similar to Ilargi’s take. Despite the conventional wisdom that the cost of a Eurozone breakup is catastrophically high
and thus will never take place, that confidence may prove to be the currency union’s undoing. Ideological rigidity about austerity is leading to policies that are crushing large swathes of the population. And Europe, unlike the US, had enough of a tradition of popular revolt that that uprisings, either on the street or in the ballot box, are real possibilities, as the sudden rise of the anti-EU right shows.

My sources, who also read the foreign language press, say that political fracture is underway and the Eurozone leadership is not taking anything remotely resembling adequate measures to halt its progress. That does not mean upheaval is imminent. But the flip side is this sort of unraveling tends to progress not via an clearly discernible decay path, but through sudden state changes.

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Exclusive: How Private Debt Strangles Growth, Stokes Financial Crises, and Increases Inequality

Yves here. Richard Vague has been kind enough to allow us to feature an extract from his recent book, The Next Economic Disaster: Why It’s Coming and How to Avoid It. I first met Richard several years ago at the Atlantic Economy Summit. If my memory serves me correctly, he was then taken with the conventional view that debt was a dampener to growth…meaning government debt. The issue of what caused our economic malaise and what to do about it troubled him enough to lead him to make his own study, and he has come to reject the neoliberal view that government debt is problem and must therefore be contained.

This view implies, as many readers have pointed out, that the great lost opportunity of the crisis was restructuring mortgage debt. That would also have allowed housing prices to reset to levels in line with consumer incomes. Vague also mentions a less-widely-commeneted on debt explosion prior to the crisis, that of business debt. One big contributor was an explosion in takeover debt for private equity transactions. Indeed, a lot of experts were concerned about a blowup due to the difficulty of refinancing these deals in the 2012-2014 time horizon. But ZIRP and QE produced enormous hunger among investors for any type of asset with non-trivial yield, so the Fed enabled the deal barons to refinance on the cheap.

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Battling to Curb “Vulture Funds”

Yves here. Martin Khor focuses on the alarm created by the ruling against Argentina that allowed a Paul Singer’s NML, a vulture fund with a small position in Argentina’s bonds, to vitiate a hard-fought bond restructuring. The particularly ugly part that don’t get the attention warranted is that it is widely believed that Singer took a much larger position in credit default swaps, meaning he was seeking to create and betting on an Argentine default. And another ugly wrinkle is the role of private law in these processes. ISDA, a private organization, determines what is an event of default for credit default swaps.

Singer was on the committee that voted whether Argentina was in default (recall it had made payment under the restructuring to the trustee, Bank of New York, but BONY was barred by the court from remitting payment to the bondholders). This gave him a direct say in an event in which he had a large economic interest. And that was no lucky accident.

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For-Profit Colleges as Factories of Debt

Yves here. The American higher education system has been sucking more and more of the economic life out of the children that supposedly represent our best and brightest, the ones with intelligence and self-disipline to do well enough to be accepted at college.

But even though the press has given some attention to how young adults, and sometimes their hapless parent/grandparent co-signers, can wind up carrying huge millstones of debt, there’s been comparatively less focus on the for-profit segment of the market. While their students constitute only 13% of the total college population, they account for 31% of student loans. Why such a disproportionately high debt load? As this post explains, the for-profit colleges are master predators, seeking out vulnerable targets like single mothers who will do what they think it takes to set themselves up to land a middle class job. This is the new American lower-class version of P.T. Barnum’s “a sucker is born every minute.” These social aspirants are easy to exploit because they haven’t gotten the memo that the American Dream is dead.

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An Accident Waiting to Happen: The $1 Trillion Leveraged Loan Market

A new article in Bloomberg gives a well-researched overview of a mess-in-the-making that regulators are choosing to ignore: the leveraged loan market. For newbies, “leveraged loans” means “risky loans to big companies”. For the most part, they fund private equity buyouts and restructurings. The juicy fees on these financings, 1% to 5% of the amount raised, versus an average of 1.3% for junk bonds, is a big reason why none of the incumbents is particularly eager to change a market that is working just fine for them in its current, creaky form.

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Ilargi: Subprime is Back With a Vengeance

Yves here. While it remains an open question as to whether frenzied efforts to push investors even further out on the risk limb will come to fruition, the fact that so many measures are underway looks like an officially-endorsed rerun of early 2007. If the Fed indeed raises rates in the not-insanely-distant future, getting into subprime and other speculative credits is a quick path to losses. But even if the Fed and other central banks remain super-dovish, risky borrowers can and will go tits up independent of interest rates. Credit risk is not the same as interest rate risk, but the inability to get any return for the latter is producing an extreme underpricing of the former.

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Steve Keen: The ECB’s Eurozone Medicine is Nonsense

Yves here. While the impetus for Steve Keen’s post is the ECB’s latest pretense that it can and is doing something to combat deflation, he provides an excellent and short debunking of two widespread misconceptions about money and banking. The first myth is the money multiplier and the second is that reserves are the basis for bank lending.

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Discrimination: Minority Mortgage Market Experiences Leading Up to and During the Financial Crisis

It took this many studies to get to “Discrimination exists”? Ah well. Important to have the data underpinning the reality. This is another reason, incidentally, why industry rebuttals to the foreclosure crisis and its associated frauds always fell back on the “deadbeat” trope. Quite simply, it’s playing to a crude stereotype, one created by racially discriminatory lending.

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Hidden Bomb in Single-Family Rental Securitizations: Trigger Risk

Yield-hungry investors have been snapping up single family rental securitizations, with recent deals heavily oversubscribed. Buyers have been comforted by raging agency reviews that give the top tranches AAA grades, based on loss cushions that these scorekeepers treat as generous (a dissenting view comes from Standard & Poors, which stated that the “operational infancy” of these rental securitizations made them ineligible for a triple A rating).

However, investors appear to be overlooking a risk component that can deliver large-scale losses. We’ll call it trigger risk.

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