Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Credit Crunch is Dead? Don't bet on it!

Basically what's happened is that we've moved bad paper from the banks, where it needed to get marked to market, at least at some point, to the Fed, where that doesn't have to happen. It's a sort of out of sight out of mind phenomenon. But all those CDOs and MBS and CLOs are made up of individual mortgages, and of hung LBO loans [that were supposed to be bridges but now have become piers]. They will either be paid off in the end, or they'll go into default. Assuming, as I think seems right, that some of them default, the Fed will have another line item on its balance sheet, REO. So as I see it, it's absurd to say the credit risk has "disappeared"; it's just been moved from the banks to the public.

We still have the monolines almost destined to come apart at some point, the fact (as John Dizard pointed out) bigger GSEs are systemically destabilizing due to their pro-cyclical hedging, the not trivial problem that the housing market won't bottom till 2010 at the earliest, with more writedowns resulting, and my pet worry, CDS. As I understand it (and better informed readers can chide me if I am wrong), the CDS market basically has to keep growing to stand still. Again, perhaps I am too old school, but with inadequate margining/equity provisions, it seems guaranteed to go into crisis. You don't get happy endings with ever mushrooming bets on underlying equity that fails to show corresponding growth.

Today, we had the biggest bank fund raising announced to date, RBS's hugely dilutive £12 billion equity sale (and that's in addition to £4 billion of asset sales). Reader Steve pointed us to a key item from the press release: the Scottish bank's write downs are markedly deeper than those taken by US banks to date, suggesting that the worst is not over on this side of the Atlantic. They have marked their US subprime at 38%, Alt-As at 50% of face, and CMBS at 83%.