Bloomberg reports that Bear Stearns increased its short subprime position from $600 million in November to $1 billion. The story suggests that this hedge is to offset trading positions; there is no indication that the firm is “net short” as Goldman is.
For those who might think there is something wrong with this strategy, consider: the firm was one of the biggest issuers and managers of subprime paper. One of the expectations of a manager is that it makes a market in the offerings it sold. That obligation necessitates that a firms hold trading positions; what Bear seems to be doing is to use hedges to reduce its inventory exposure. Bear also said it had reduced subprime and CDO long positions.
Bear Stearns Cos., the U.S. securities firm that posted its first-ever loss last quarter on mortgage writedowns, has more than $1 billion of trades that profit if subprime home loans and bonds continue to deteriorate.
The “short” positions on subprime mortgage securities increased from $600 million at the end of November, Chief Financial Officer Sam Molinaro said today at an investor conference in Naples, Florida. The company also reduced its holdings of so-called collateralized debt obligations and underlying bonds, Molinaro said.
The sinking value of assets tied to mortgages led to Bear Stearns’s fourth-quarter loss of $854 million, and Molinaro said today that one of the firm’s biggest mistakes was “not being conservative enough and bearish enough on the subprime market.” The firm has reversed “long” subprime trades that stood at $1 billion at the end of August, Molinaro said.
“There’s definitely a lot of short plays out there,” said Mark Adelson, a founding member of Adelson & Jacob Consulting in Long Island City, New York. Some subprime bonds “could easily be bad enough that they don’t pay off a penny,” said Adelson, a former Nomura Holdings Inc. mortgage analyst.
In an interview after Molinaro’s remarks, Bear Stearns spokesman Russell Sherman said the New York-based firm’s subprime trades are a “hedge” against potential losses on investments in higher-rated mortgages, he said.
“We are using short positions to offset other long positions in our mortgage inventory,” he said. He didn’t provide details on specific trades.