Readers may recall that AIG had approached the Fed about buying the entirely of its Maiden Lane II portfolio, the off balance sheet vehicle established to hold the non-CDO assets removed from the otherwise bankrupt insurer. The logic appeared to be that the insurer would be able to liquify its equity in the vehicle. It seemed pretty obvious at the time that the Fed could not justify selling the whole book to AIG; if there were any unrealized gains in it, selling it at the current accounting value would be a subsidy to AIG. The bid was also thus a strategy to force the vehicle to be unwound and any gains to be realized (which would lead AIG showing a profit on its position).
The problem is the “profit” appears to have been based on optimistic accounting, something we found to be the case in the Fed off balance sheet we’ve analyzed at length, Maiden Lane III. As Jim Chanos noted by e-mail, “Real transaction prices are not good for some of the ‘marks’ in many portfolios!” Needless to say, this also calls into question the use of Blackrock as asset manager, since the valuations were based on its marks.
Federal Reserve auctions of mortgage securities that the central bank assumed in the rescue of American International Group Inc. are fueling a selloff in credit markets as Wall Street rushes to hedge against losses on stockpiled debt.
Declines in credit-default swaps indexes used to protect against losses on subprime housing debt and commercial mortgages accelerated this month, reaching almost 20 percent in the past five weeks as the cost of the insurance climbs, according to Markit Group Ltd. The plunge this week started infecting everything from junk bonds to the debt of financial companies.
The Fed has been selling the $31 billion Maiden Lane II portfolio piecemeal after rejecting a $15.7 billion bid from AIG for the entire pool in March. Since then, Europe’s sovereign debt crisis has deepened and the U.S. recovery has shown signs of slowing, with unemployment rising to 9.1 percent, the highest level this year, and the economy growing 1.8 percent in the first quarter, less than forecast.
“Dribbling risk into the market makes sense if everything is good and continues to improve,” said Ashish Shah, the head of global credit investments in New York at AllianceBernstein LP, which oversees $214 billion in fixed-income assets. “But when you get yourself into a position where the Street suddenly feels they’re long inventory and the macro backdrop is weaker, now you’re selling into weakness.”