MBIA Lies in Attack on New York Times

Let’s start with some admissions: Gretchen Morgenson, one of two authors (the other is Vikas Bajaj) of a takedown piece on MBIA yesterday, has some detractors in the blogsphere because, frankly, her understanding of credit instruments leaves something to be desired. Her critics overlook her solid work on executive comp and corporate malfeasance. When she has access to court documents and SEC filings. she is specific and accurate.

Based on watching months of the slugfest between MBIA and Bill Ackman, where MBIA would make vitriolic charges against Ackman which (aside from the obvious fact that he was short) often deliberately misconsrued what he had written (written, mind you, so it was possible to track things back), I’d take Morgenson over MBIA in general, and in particular, since the first two items (the most important ones by far) in its salvo against the piece are a bald-faced lie followed by an attempt at obfuscation that actually confirms the NYT’s position.

The MBIA retort is on its website, with the high-minded title “MBIA Clarifications and Corrections of Media Misperceptions and Errors,” but it devolves quickly from there.

If you read the story, it made two charges:

1. MBIA had reneged on a promise to remit $900 million of its recent $1.1 billion capital raise to its insurance subsidiaries

2. New York insurance superintendent Eric Dinallo can’t use the threat of putting the insurer into runoff mode to force it to downstream the $900 million because terms of MBIA’s credit default contracts, which would reportedly accelerate upon a regulatory seizure and thus give them priority over muni bond guarantees

What is completely amazing is the start of the attack. If you begin with a brazen lie, why should anyone trust anything that follows? This is the first substantive paragraph:

#1 The story leads with the speculative question of “whether regulators will let MBIA…renege on a promise to shore up a crucial unit with $900 million in capital.” That phrasing is erroneous, primarily because no such “promise” has ever been made. The $900 million referenced is part of the net proceeds from the $1.1 billion equity offering that closed in February, which was issued as part of MBIA’s overall capital strengthening plan. The prospectus for the offering stated in the Use of Proceeds section: “We estimate that the net proceeds from this offering and the backstop commitment will be approximately $959 million, after deducting estimated expenses relating to this offering and the backstop commitment. The net proceeds of this offering and the backstop commitment shall be used to support our business plan and operations.” No promise was made to put the capital in MBIA Insurance Corporation.

First, the idea that the parent company has a plan separate from the subs is specious. The parent exists to serve the subs, not vice versa. This is from the former general counsel of a bond insurer:

As for the comment about MBIA’s business plan being that of the holding company rather than the insurer, the business plan of the holding company is to hold the insurer. If any evidence is needed, the “Summary” section of the February pro supp should suffice (http://sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/814585/000119312508025162/d424b5.htm).

Second, MBIA in fact made public statements that it would remit $900 million to the subs, then recanted. Amusingly, the MBIA site references some press releases and statements and argues why it now doesn’t make sense to remit cash to the sub. That does not refute the point that it promised earlier to do so, which is flat out denies in the paragraph above (or are we going to get into Clinton-esque parsings of what “promise” means?)

This appeared in a May 12 Bloomberg story:

MBIA Inc., the ailing bond insurer, rose in New York Stock Exchange trading after saying it will pump $900 million into its insurance unit and reporting a first-quarter loss that was narrower than some analysts’ estimates.

This piece ran June 11 (note the section below is from the original version of the article, but the substance is unchanged):

MBIA Inc., downgraded from AAA by Standard & Poor’s last week, hasn’t given $900 million to its insurance unit as planned and said it is now re-evaluating its business strategy and capital deployment plans.

“Our landscape has changed,” MBIA Chief Financial Officer C. Edward Chaplin said today in a statement distributed by Business Wire.

FT Alphaville, in its post on this contretemps, notes there had been a reversal, and that the change elicited a hailstorm of criticism and selective support.

Let’s move to the second main bone of contention. the issue of whether a regulatory takeover would give the CDS holders the right to accelerate (demand payment immediately). Again from MBIA:

#2 In the second paragraph the story asserts that, “Most of these [credit default] contracts stipulate that if MBIA…is taken over by state regulators…buyers can demand payment immediately” and references “the threat that similar swaps pose to MBIA.” This analysis is misleading. Typically in MBIA’s policies insuring CDS contracts, there are no provisions that allow a counterparty to terminate the insured CDS contract and make a claim under the policy, absent MBIA’s bankruptcy or insolvency or an MBIA payment default on the policy insuring the CDS contract. Each insured CDS contract that MBIA Corp. enters into is governed by an International Swaps and Derivatives Association, Inc. (ISDA) Master Agreement and Confirmation. MBIA’s CDS contracts typically conform to the Monoline Supplement Agreement, where a bankruptcy of the credit support provider, including the initiation of a receivership proceeding by the NYSID, would give the counterparty the option to terminate the swap and receive a termination payment; it would not be an automatic termination event. As MBIA’s financial condition and statutory capital are very strong and its claim paying resources are in excess of $16 billion, even mention of such a bankruptcy or insolvency proceeding is highly theoretical and extremely remote.

This is obfuscation (and I have e-mailed the former monoline general counsel for further comment, so you may want to check this post later for updates). If the NYSID initiates receivership proceedings (initiates, mind you, it doesn’t even have to have taken control), the counterparty can terminate the swap. Pray tell, which counterparty that had an operating brain cell wouldn’t avail itself of that opportunity? You’d want to be at the head of the payment queue in a wind-down scenario. The only question is whether there are any limitations on the NYSID’s ability to initiate receivership proceedings (i.e. perhaps it cannot do so in the absence of default of a bankruptcy filing, but one would assume that would have been stated, if true, since it would represent a powerful argument in MBIA’s defense).

So despite all the huffing and puffing from MBIA, as the its paragraph above stands, MBIA is arguing that the NYT is wrong because they said “demand immediately” and the ISDA standard form agreements (which they conform with) say the swap counterparty has the option to terminate? I fail to understand how MBIA can pretend there is any substantive difference here.

Now MBIA does catch some bona fide errors, such as saying the swaps are against companies as opposed to structured credits. They also disputed the NYT claim that MBIA had $230 billion of “mortgages and related securities”. MBIA says it has only $69 billion of “mortgage and residential real estate-related exposure.” MBIA referenced an operating supplement issued in conjunction with its 10-Q. I searched under “operating supplement” and looked for releases around the time of its 10-Q (and also looked at the 10-Q itself). I can’t verify MBIA’s statement and am left wondering if a definitional difference could make both statements accurate (the Times no doubt included commercial real estate expsosures and may have folded in MBIA’s captive reinsurer, Channel Re, but without further detail, the gap does look awfully large)/

Finally, MBIA also gets into a “he said, she said” regarding Dinallo, starting with “While it is inappropriate for us to speak on behalf of the NYSID..” and then arguing “our highly creditworthy balance sheet and liquidity with over $16 billion in claims-paying resources make talk of a regulatory takeover misleading and irrelevant. ” Um, we’ll turn to the NYT:

Mr. Dinallo confirmed last week that the swaps written by MBIA and other financial guarantors were a big factor in his dealings with the weakened bond insurers.

“It is a concern that possibly if one of the companies filed for rehabilitation or if we move to rehabilitate, the holders of the credit default swaps could move to get preferential treatment,” he said.

Mr. Dinallo said he could refuse to honor acceleration demands if he took over a bond insurance firm, but such a move would almost certainly prompt investors who hold the credit default swaps to press their cases in court.

Let’s get real here. Dinallo was worried enough about the future of the bond insurers to try to organize a rescue in the amount of $15 billion total for MBIA and Ambac, and their subsequent fundraisings fell vastly short of that number. The fact that he has looked into the swaps issue in this level of detail says he still sees risks. If MBIA has not been able to persuade either its regulator or its rating agencies, who presumably see more detail than the monoline presents in its public filings, that all is well, why should the greater public believe their assertions?

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  1. Richard Kline

    Let us hypothesize ‘nother angle o’ finagle to this here-again, there-again $1.1B slip-sliding in the fingers of those in the know at MBIA. Now, I have never understood how anyone’s God could have found a big enough fool to put that kind of money into the equity of a firm with the exposure of MBIA’s insurer. They would have to be fruitcakes with more nuts then bread in their head. . . . Unless . . . Jay Brown & Co. promised that the new equity would ONLY go into a new insurer subsidiary walled off from MBIA’s present insurer’s certain losses. Sooo, the original scheme, by that way o’ thinkin’ was to pipe the $1.1 down to the existing insurer, than split that emperiled entity in two with the new guys encapsulated in the new financial organism holding the crank on a brand new muni insuring money press.

    This kind of concept was, indeed, floated back in February. —But that idea stank like a swollen dead skunk, and we’ve heard nothing more of it for months. If, now, the said $1.1 went into the existing insurer, it’s clear that Dinallo et. al. would insist that it be attached to the existing positions of that existing insurer, i.e. it’s dead money, gone, blooie, lost, ancient history, DUST IN THE TOMB O’ MAMMON, nuff said. Which would kind o’ put Jay B. in, y’know, an _awkward position_ with his new [pirhana] investors since they presumably have his promise, on paper if not on tape, saying that this will NOT be how this deal goes down. Ergo, Jay is holdin’ the cash in the bottom desk drawer of his corner office and turning blue in the face, hoping that Dinallo will let him hive off a new muni insurer from the holding company directly, an act of birthing by spontaneous remuneration. *hor-hor-hor*

    I’m just sayin’ . . . . But this scenario would make a helluva lot more sense in aligning the dots than what I’m hearing so far. That money is supposed to look to the ratings agency and the regulators like it’s a backstop to impending losses, but in fact if was loaned to Brown and others in need of ‘rehabilitation’ to serve as _their personal lifeboat away from the heeling Titanic_ of which they are presently corporate officers. Rehabilitation: isn’t that for, y’know, _criminals_?

  2. insurance guy

    The business plan of the holding company isn’t simply to hold the insurance company.

    The business plan of the holding company has to be anchored by the responsibility to do what is it the best interest of shareholders.

    Now that the downgrades have occurred (or are in process) and the injection won’t help keep the AAA rating, I don’t understand how downstreaming the money helps shareholders.

    Maybe you have an idea, Yves?

  3. stuart

    Help Shareholders? Jesus Murphy the company is a corpse. Look at the share price over the past year. $900 million won’t cover the litigation for the first 3 months when the lawyers get going. It’s a total bust. Business going forward might as well be dead. It’s only kept its triple AAA by some rating company because they’re likely being pressured to maintain it out of fear of the repercussions across any company MBIA is insuring. Dinallo and others are afraid of pulling the finger from the dyke as it were for fear the dyke might open up even though they all know, hell, we all know it, it a lonnnggggg time ago needed to be pulled.

  4. tomd

    Insurance guy: would it be too much to ask MBIA to return the money (rescission) since it was raised for the purpose of holding onto (bogus) AAA ratings that are now out of reach, even with the money?

  5. Ginger Yellow

    That’s got to be the lamest pushback I’ve ever seen. They’re contradicting themselves in successive sentences.

  6. Anonymous

    “There’s not likely to be a man left standing” in the bond insurance industry, Ackman said. “This thing is over already, the market just doesn’t know it yet.”

  7. insurance guy


    While it may be apparent to you that the company is toast, there are certainly people out there with different opinions.

    The bottom line from my perspective is that if management doesn’t think it can help shareholders by downstreaming the funds, then they shouldn’t downstream the funds.

  8. Anonymous

    I’d still like to know, or get feedback on the legal constraints and mechanism by which a corporation like MBIA or Ambac can make a choice to not use rating agencies.

    It seems to me that rating agency actions are a basic issue which must start with incorporation articles and obligations to fiduciary responsibilities — which by law require these companies to use every rating agency.

    What is going on?

  9. stuart

    Those who cannot see MBIA is “toast” are either willfully blind, complicit in MBIA’s deceit or naive beyond description. MBIA’s management raised the funds for a stated purpose, now they are backing out to keep it for themselves under the rouse that it’s in the better interest of shareholders after the stock has since fallen 95%! Gimme a break. Corrupt, lying thieves. Time to call a spade a spade and quit with the political niceties.

  10. Lune

    I hate how bond insurers are holding munis hostage in their attempts to extract as much money as possible from the markets and from the public to line their golden parachutes.

    It’s even worse when you remember that the munis aren’t in trouble, and fail at a much lower rate than even AAA-rated corporate bonds. So they don’t actually *need* much insurance.

    The govt should just call MBIAs bluff, and announce that they will guarantee every muni bond that MBIA currently insures, then shut the company down. The amount of defaults they’ll have to cover in the muni market will be tiny compared to the amount that these crooks are trying to extort.

    Also, I for one am glad that MBIA’s head officials continue to make statements that are so blatently false and continue to piss of their regulators. BSC’s head fund managers were doing the perp walk yesterday for far less antagonistic behavior. As soon as the SEC gets done with BSC, every single one of these statements will be used to do the same to these guys. So keep going, MBIA. Tell all your shareholders that everything is fine and dandy. They’ll repay you with lawsuits and jailtime soon enough.

  11. Anonymous

    I guess Moody’s finally decided to take the plunge and downgrade these “fellow” crooks!

  12. Richard Kline

    So Lune, I’m in complete agreement with both ends of your post. If there is one, clear, potent area where a _direct government guarantee_ is warranted in an otherwise presently illiquid market, it’s a guarantee of existing muni bonds. Now, falling revenues will drive up losses on some of those issues, but the municipal bond market is of intrinsic importance to the country, and it’s total _mismanagement_ by private capital all but demands government intervention.

    And given the indictments we now have of comparatively small time liars at BSC’s captive balloon hedgies, it would do well for every coporate officer of MBIA, Ambac, Lehman’s, Citi, and their ilk to closely reconsider whether or not their public statements are, ahh, less than fully candid. If anything, _anything_ in Lehman’s recent statements about their asset and capital levels turns out to be massaged to make their likely losses appear smaller than they prove to be, I hope and pray for a plague of prosecutors upon senior management there. And MBIA: don’t be thinking about purging any email on this equity raise of 08, now. Long after the wreakage of your dead firms is bulldozed from the econoscape, some of your top names may very well be choosing which side to play in Lay’s Dilemma. . . . Ken Lay.

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