Tuesday, September 30, 2008

just sayin'

Mortgages had one key advantage over junk bonds: they were rated AAA by the major credit-rating agencies. The U.S. government felt that home mortgages were important and it subsidized them, not only allowing taxpayers to deduct interest payments, but by implicitly backing the payments on mortgage bonds.

Salomon stripped these mortgages into pieces in the same way First Boston had stripped junk bonds. Salomon created a trust . . . transferred a pool of mortgages into the trust, and then created a structure to separate the mortgages into different tranches. . . . These strips of mortgages were generally known as Collateralized Mortgage Obligations, or CMOs, and the different varieties had fantastically colorful acronyms . . . In most cases, the wilder the name, the riskier the bond. The riskiest versions were sometimes just called "nuclear waste."
-- Frank Partnoy, Infectious Greed at 103, describing the creation of Collateralized Mortgage Obligations in the early 1990's.
As average investors learned about the losses, they became upset with Wall Street, and bankers briefly became pariahs, as they occasionally do. . . . The bankers didn't seem to care about all the fuss. They knew it would go away soon, as it always did. Instead, they disclaimed any responsibility, and blamed investors for making stupid bets and for failing to supervise their investments.
-- Frank Partnoy, Infectious Greed at 137-38, describing the climate in December 1994 and early 1995 as news began to spread of major losses due to derivatives trading, especially losses in Collateralized Mortgage Obligations due to the Federal Reserve's increase in interest rates on February 4, 1994.
For more than a decade, a massive amount of money flowed into the United States from investors abroad, because our country is an attractive and secure place to do business. This large influx of money to U.S. banks and financial institutions -- along with low interest rates -- made it easier for Americans to get credit. . . . Easy credit -- combined with the faulty assumption that home values would continue to rise -- led to excesses and bad decisions. Many mortgage lenders approved loans for borrowers without carefully examining their ability to pay. Many borrowers took out loans larger than they could afford, assuming that they could sell or refinance their homes at a higher price later on.
-- President George Bush, Address to the Nation, September 24, 2008, describing the economic crisis of 2007-2008.
As we all know, lax lending practices earlier this decade led to irresponsible lending and irresponsible borrowing. This simply put too many families into mortgages they could not afford. . . . A similar scenario is playing out among the lenders who made those mortgages, the securitizers who bought, repackaged and resold them, and the investors who bought them. These troubled loans are now parked, or frozen, on the balance sheets of banks and other financial institutions, preventing them from financing productive loans. The inability to determine their worth has fostered uncertainty about mortgage assets, and even about the financial condition of the institutions that own them. The normal buying and selling of nearly all types of mortgage assets has become challenged.
-- Treasury Secretary (and former CEO of Goldman Sachs) Henry Paulson, Statement to Congress, September 19, 2008, describing the economic crisis of 2007-2008.
Mortgage and asset-backed securities include residential and commercial whole loans and interests in residential and commercial mortgage-backed securitizations. Also included within Mortgage and asset-backed securities are securities whose cash flows are based on pools of assets in bankruptcy-remote entities, or collateralized by cash flows from a specified pool of underlying assets. The pools of assets may include, but are not limited to mortgages, receivables and loans. Additionally, the Company’s mortgage-related trading positions consist of loans purchased as non-performing loans, equity interests in commercial properties and asset-backed securities that are backed by mortgage loans or other assets.

It is the Company’s intent to sell through securitization or syndication activities, residential and commercial mortgage whole loans the Company originates, as well as those acquired in the secondary market. The Company originated approximately $0.5 billion and $2 billion of residential mortgage loans for the three and six months ended May 31, 2008, respectively, compared to the $17 billion and $32 billion for the three and six months ended May 31, 2007, respectively. The Company originated approximately $2 billion and $4 billion of commercial mortgage loans for the three and six months ended May 31, 2008, respectively, compared to the $19 billion and $32 billion for the three and six months ended May 31, 2007, respectively.
-- Lehman Brothers, Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q, July 10, 2008.
Lehman Brothers reported a preliminary net loss of approximately ($3.9) billion, or ($5.92) per common share (diluted), for the third quarter ended August 31, 2008, compared to a net loss of ($2.8) billion, or ($5.14) per common share (diluted), for the second quarter of fiscal 2008 and net income of $887 million, or $1.54 per common share (diluted), for the third quarter of fiscal 2007. The net loss was driven primarily by gross mark-to-market adjustments stemming from writedowns on commercial and residential mortgage and real estate assets

Net revenues (total revenues less interest expense) for the third quarter of fiscal 2008 are expected to be negative ($2.9) billion, compared to negative ($0.7) billion for the second quarter of fiscal 2008 and $4.3 billion for the third quarter of fiscal 2007. Net revenues for the third quarter of fiscal 2008 reflect negative mark-to-market adjustments and principal trading losses, net of gains on certain risk mitigation strategies and certain debt liabilities.

During the fiscal third quarter, the Firm is expected to incur negative gross mark-to-market adjustments on assets of ($7.8) billion, including gross negative mark-to-market adjustments of ($5.3) billion on residential mortgage-related positions, ($1.7) billion on commercial real estate positions, ($600) million on other asset-backed positions and ($200) million on acquisition finance positions. These mark-to-market adjustments were offset by $800 million of hedging gains during the quarter and $1.4 billion of debt valuation gains. The Firm is also expected to record losses on principal investments of approximately $760 million.
-- Lehman Brothers, Press Release filed with Current Report on Form 8-K, September 10, 2008.

I thought the symmetry was striking. What does it all mean? I dunno. You decide. I just blog here.

Oh, here's one more:

Turmoil in the credit markets has pushed Libor—the London interbank offered rate—to an all-time high, according to the British Bankers' Association. . . . Libor . . . [is] the rate at which banks lend to other banks that need temporary funds, by way of the London interbank market. This benchmark is significant because it represents the rate at which the world's most preferred borrowers are able to borrow money, and it's also a widely used reference point for short-term interest rates. . . . After the rejection of the bailout bill by the House of Representatives, banks hoarded cash, driving Libor up to 6.88 percent.

-- U.S. News & World Report, The Low-Down on Libor: Why its Surge Signals Despiration in the Credit Markets, September 30, 2008, noting that more than half of U.S. adjustable rate mortgages are tied to Libor.

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