Thursday, December 20, 2007

It is now time to downgrade the monoliners

The shocking and surprising revelation by MBIA – one the leading monoliners, i.e. bond insurers – that it has guaranteed $8.1 billion of collateralized debt obligations repackaging other CDOs and securities linked to subprime mortgages (i.e. it is holding the very risky CDOs of CDOs) – is the last drop in this monoliners’ farce: it is time for the credit rating agencies to downgrade most of these monoliners from their AAA rating status.

The forest issues is simple: a business – the monoliners’ insurance of securities and holding of risky ABS securities – that is fundamentally based on having a AAA rating is a business that does not deserve a AAA rating in the first place: it is clear to all that if a monoliner were to lose its AAA rating the essence of its business model would fail and such monoliner would have to close shop.

Add to this mess the fact that monoliners collectively insure $3,300bn of principal and interest (less than 30% of it ABS) with only a $22bn capital base. Of course a downgrade of monoliners will have a severe knock-on effect of potential downgrade on muni and other bond markets; analysts have estimated that such downgrades could cause losses writedowns of about $200bn. But these risks cannot be an excuse for not admitting that the monoliners don’t deserve an AAA rating. As long as monoliners were only in the muni bonds insurance business one could have made the argument that a prudent monoliner did deserve an AAA rating; but now that monoliners have vastly expanded in the ABS world of insuring toxic RMBSs, CDO, CDOs of CDOs and in some cases even holding these assets on their portfolios such an AAA rating does not make any sense.