Bill Ackman of hedge fund Pershing Square has gotten a considerable amount of flack for his outspoken, negative views of the bond insurers, particularly MBIA and Ambac, which his firm has shorted. Ackman has been circulating a detailed analysis that estimates that the additional equity needed to maintain an AAA rating at the two biggest firms is roughly $15 billion.
This calculation is sharply contested by new rating agency Egan Jones (which also downgraded MBIA to a B+, a junk rating) which says the industry needs more than an order of magnitude more capital, namely $200 billion.
What is a bit scary is that Ackman gave his findings to New York insurance superintendent Eric Dinallo an unstated amount of time before the presentation of the report at an investor conference in late November. Dinallo contacted Warren Buffett in November about getting into the muni bond business because he recognized the monolines might have trouble writing that business. One has to wonder whether the timing had anything to do with the Pershing Square briefing.
Similarly, Dinallo is trying to raise $5 billion immediately, $15 billion longer term to shore up the bond insurers. The $5 billion seems driven by the rating agencies’ immediate demands; the $15 billion is, shall we say, preternaturally similar to Pershing Square’s estimates.
Now we have a rating agency, which no doubt enjoyed far greater cooperation and access (and presumably insurance industry expertise, which Pershing Square lacks) coming up with a vastly higher estimate. Why is that so troubling? Because it appears the regulators themselves either have no estimates of their own, or lack confidence in them and were therefore influenced significantly by the Pershing Square analysis. In other words, the regulators may be completely clueless.
From the Times:
America’s biggest mortgage bond insurers collectively need a $200 billion (£101 billion) capital injection if they are to maintain their key AAA credit ratings, a figure that dwarfs a plan by New York regulators to put together a capital infusion of up to $15 billion, a leading ratings expert said yesterday.
The failure to maintain their AAA ratings will lead to a further round of multibillion-dollar writedowns among the Wall Street banks and other large owners of the bonds, Sean Egan of Egan Jones Ratings Company, said. It would also push some of them into receivership, Mr Egan added.