Posts filed under “Derivatives”
Crisis Chronicles: The Commercial Credit Crisis of 1763 and Today’s Tri-Party Repo Market
James Narron and David Skeie
Liberty Street Economics February 07, 2014
During the economic boom and credit expansion that followed the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), Berlin was the equivalent of an emerging market, Amsterdam’s merchant bankers were the primary sources of credit, and the Hamburg banking houses served as intermediaries between the two. But some Amsterdam merchant bankers were leveraged far beyond their capacity. When a speculative grain deal went bad, the banks discovered that there were limits to how much risk could be effectively hedged. In this issue of Crisis Chronicles, we review how “fire sales” drove systemic risk in funding markets some 250 years ago and explain why this could still happen in today’s tri-party repo market.
One of the primary financial credit instruments of the 1760s was the bill of exchange—essentially a written order to pay a fixed sum of money at a future date. Early forms of bills of exchange date back to eighth-century China; the instrument was later adopted by Arab merchants to facilitate trade, and then spread throughout Europe. Bills of exchange were originally designed as short-term contracts but gradually became heavily used for long-term borrowing. They were typically rolled over and became de facto short-term loans to finance longer-term projects, creating a classic balance sheet maturity mismatch. At that time, bills of exchange could be re-sold, with each seller serving as a signatory to the bill and, by implication, insuring the buyer of the bill against default. This practice prevented the circulation of low-credit-quality bills among market participants and created a kind of “credit wrapper”—a guarantee for the specific loan—by making all signatories jointly liable for a particular bill. In addition, low acceptance fees—the fees paid to market participants for taking on the obligation to pay the bill of exchange—implied a perceived negligible risk. But the practice also resulted in binding market participants together through their balance sheets: one bank might have a receivable asset and a payable liability for the same bill of exchange, even when no goods were traded. By the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, high leverage and balance sheet interconnectedness left merchant bankers highly vulnerable to any slowdown in credit availability.Tight Credit Markets Lead to Distressed Sales
Merchant bankers believed that their balance sheet growth and leverage were hedged through offsetting claims and liabilities. And while some of the more conservative Dutch bankers were cautious in growing their wartime business, others expanded quickly. One of the faster growing merchant banks belonged to the de Neufville brothers, who speculated in depreciating currencies and endorsed a large number of bills of exchange. Noting their success (if only in the short term), other merchant bankers followed suit. The crisis was triggered when the brothers entered into a speculative deal to buy grain from the Russian army as it left Poland. But with the war’s end, previously elevated grain prices collapsed by more than 75 percent, and the price decline began to depress other prices. As asset prices fell, it became increasingly difficult to get new loans to roll over existing debt. Tight credit markets led to distressed sales and further price declines. As credit markets dried up, merchant bankers began to suffer direct losses when their counterparties went bankrupt.The crisis came to a head in Amsterdam in late July 1763 when the banking houses of Aron Joseph & Co and de Neufville failed, despite a collective action to save them. Their failure caused the de Neufville house’s creditors around Amsterdam to default. Two weeks later, Hamburg saw a wave of bank collapses, which in turn led to a new wave of failures in Amsterdam and pressure in Berlin. In all, there were more than 100 bank failures, mostly in Hamburg.An Early Crisis-Driven Bailout
The commercial crisis in Berlin was severe, with the manufacturer, merchant, and banker Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky at the center. Gotzkowsky’s liabilities were almost all in bills of exchange, while almost all his assets were in fixed capital divided among his silk works and porcelain factory. Berlin was able to mitigate the effects of the crisis when Crown Prince Frederick imposed a payments standstill for several firms. To prevent contagion, the prince also organized some of the first financial-crisis-driven bailouts after he examined the books of Gotzkowsky’s diverse operations. Ultimately, about half of Gotzkowsky’s creditors accepted 50 cents on the dollar for outstanding debts.
Meanwhile, banks in Hamburg and the Exchange Bank of Amsterdam tried to extend securitized loans to deflect the crisis. But existing lending provisions restricted the ratio of bank money to gold and silver such that the banks had no real power to expand credit. These healthy banks were legally limited in their ability to support the credit-constrained banks. To preserve cash on hand, Hamburg and Amsterdam banks were slow to honor bills of exchange, eventually honoring them only after pressure from Berlin. The fact that Amsterdam and Hamburg banks re-opened within the year—and some even within weeks—provides evidence that the crisis was one of liquidity and not fundamental insolvency.
The crisis led to a period of falling industrial production and credit stagnation in northern Europe, with the recession being both deep and long-lasting in Prussia. These developments prompted a second wave of bankruptcies in 1766.
Distressed Fire Sales and the Tri-Party Repo Market
From this crisis we learn that it is difficult for firms to hedge losses when market risk and credit risk are highly correlated and aggregate risk remains. In this case, as asset prices fell during a time of distressed “fire sales,” asset prices became more correlated, further exacerbating downward price movement. When one firm moved to shore up its balance sheet by selling distressed assets, that put downward pressure on other, interconnected balance sheets. The liquidity risk was heightened further because most firms were highly leveraged. Those that had liquidity guarded it, creating a self-fulfilling flight to liquidity.
As we saw during the recent financial crisis, the tri-party repo market was overly reliant on massive extensions of intraday credit, driven by the timing between the daily unwind and renewal of repo transactions. Estimates suggest that by 2007, the repo market had grown to $10 trillion—the same order of magnitude as the total assets in the U.S. commercial banking sector—and intraday credit to any particular broker/dealer might approach $100 billion. And as in the commercial crisis of 1763, risk was underpriced with low repo “haircuts”—a haircut being a demand by a depositor for collateral valued higher than the value of the deposit.
Much of the work to address intraday credit risk in the repo market will be complete by year-end 2014, when intraday credit will have been reduced from 100 percent to about 10 percent. But as New York Fed President William C. Dudley noted in his recent introductory remarks at the conference “Fire Sales” as a Driver of Systemic Risk, “current reforms do not address the risk that a dealer’s loss of access to tri-party repo funding could precipitate destabilizing asset fire sales.” For example, in a time of market stress, when margin calls and mark-to-market losses constrain liquidity, firms are forced to deleverage. As recently pointed out by our New York Fed colleagues, deleveraging could impact other market participants and market sectors in current times, just as it did in 1763.
Crown Prince Frederick provided a short-term solution in 1763, but as we’ll see in upcoming posts, credit crises persisted. As we look toward a tri-party repo market structure that is more resilient to “destabilizing asset fire sales” and that prices risk more accurately, we ask, can industry provide the leadership needed to ensure that credit crises don’t persist? Or will regulators need to step in and play a firmer role to discipline dealers that borrow short-term from money market fund lenders and draw on the intraday credit provided by clearing banks? Tell us what you think.
The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the authors.
David Skeie is a senior economist in the Bank’s Research and Statistics Group.
Blackstone & Codere amantha Bee investigates the shady, totally legal business dealings of a private equity firm called Blackstone.
Here is the original article: Blackstone Unit Wins in No-Lose Codere Trade: Corporate Finance
Internal e-mails implicate credit rating agencies in the 2008 financial crisis.
Money Boo Boo
Monday June 24, 2013 (04:33)
Jason Jones teaches regulation-loving Canadian bankers the advantages of harmless free-market fun.
Money Boo Boo – The Canadian Banking System
Monday June 24, 2013 (05:49)
Matt Stoller writes: Earlier this week, the House Ag Committee marked up some bills deregulating derivatives. I don’t think they were expecting anyone to really notice, but there was a bunch of press on what they did. The next step in the legislative process is for the House Financial Services Committee to look at the…Read More
Satyajit Das is author of Traders, Guns and Money (2006) and Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk (2102)
It would be ironic if Cyprus, one the smallest countries in Europe with little over 1 million people and about 0.5% of the European Union (“EU”) economically, were to prove a key inflexion point in the crisis.
Since June 2012, it has been known that Cyprus needs around Euro 17-18 billion to recapitalise its banks (around Euro 10 billion) and for general government operations including debt servicing (around Euro 7-8 billion). While small in nominal terms and well within EU’s resources, the amount is large relative to Cyprus’ Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) of Euro 18 billion. It is unlikely that Cyprus can realistically repay it, in the absence of a dramatic change in its circumstances such as the mooted oil and gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The various options considered to generate the required funding included: privatisation of state assets, increases in corporate taxes (from 10% to 12.5%) and withholding taxes on capital income (to 28%) and restructuring of existing bank or sovereign debt. Debt restructuring options included a “bail-in” of creditors (the new fashionable term for a write off of principal). It would also entail easing terms and lengthening maturities of (up to) Euro 30 billion in loans from Russian banks to Cypriot companies of Russian origin.
The package proposed by the EU incorporates almost all of the above measures. Most controversially, ordinary depositors will face a “tax” on Cypriot bank deposits, amounting to a permanent write down in the nominal value of their deposits. The deposit levy will be 6.75% on deposits of less than Euro 100,000 (the ceiling for European Union account insurance) and 9.9% for deposits above that amount. In return, the depositors will receive shares in the relevant banks.
The unprecedented write down of bank deposits expected to raise around Euro 5.8 billion is motivated by a number of factors.
Firstly, International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) participation requires the debt level to be sustainable. The write off of depositors reduces debt and also the size of the required bailout package to Cyprus to Euro 10 billion.
Secondly, Cypriot banks have limited amounts of subordinated or senior unsecured debt. This means that a write down of bondholders would only raise between Euro 1 and 2 billion, below the required amount.
Barry Ritholtz, CEO at Fusion IQ, and Tangent Capital Partners’ Bob Rice talk with Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia about the current state of the derivatives market and a recent initiative by ISDA to write new standards for credit-default swaps.
(if Video does not load, click here)
Josh Rosner (
@JoshRosner) is co-author of the New York Times Bestseller “Reckless Endangerment” and Managing Director at independent research consultancy Graham Fisher & Co. He advises regulators, policy-makers and institutional investors on banking and financial services (a more complete bio appears at the end of this column).
This is part 4 of 5; Yesterday evening, we published the Introduction. We will be releasing a different part each evening and morning culminating in the release of Rosner’s complete report on Friday morning. On that date, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will release their final report on JPM’s CIO Group (aka the London Whale).
In the wake of at least $6.2 billion in losses and an earnings restatement in the CIO’s office, which manages JPM’s excess cash and should therefore be run by top talent, the regulatory response has been surprisingly muted. The two reports issued by JPM in early January were unrevealing and illustrate the current state of regulatory capture where large financial institutions are concerned.
When Freddie and Fannie suffered accounting scandals early last decade, with Freddie understating earnings and Fannie overstating them, the Companies’ and their regulator (OFHEO) recognized the importance of credible investigations. Freddie hired an outside firm to do an independent investigation[i] and their regulator embarked on two detailed and meaningful investigations.[ii] After these investigations were complete, OFHEO issued exhaustive and meaningful demands on the companies in the form of Consent Orders[iii].
On January 14, 2013, without the benefit of a similarly complete investigation, the Federal Reserve issued two fairly narrow Consent Orders to JPMorgan.[iv] The first order related to violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering requirements, the second to the losses in the Chief Investment Office. Neither of these orders appears to have resulted from any meaningful investigation and neither addressed the many other recent failures of the Company’s internal controls. When the rod is spared, as seems to be the standard approach to dealing with violations by our biggest banks, we find ourselves reminded that spoiled children behave badly.
The ability of any management team to steer a company with a balance sheet as large as JPM’s seems an impossible feat, one that bears inquiry and consideration. While the “London whale” losses are generally viewed in isolation they are little more than the most dramatic recent example of poor internal controls.
A Whale’s Tale – a Whitewash Report
When compared to the report the Board of Freddie Mac undertook, JPM’s “Task Force” was a whitewash. Freddie initiated a truly independent investigation by an unaffiliated firm and directed all employees of the Company to fully cooperate with the investigation. There were no limitations proscribed on the scope of the review and as the investigators or the Firm’s independent auditors discovered additional matters they were also looked into[v].
In contrast, JPMorgan’s “Task Force” issued a report of questionable independence and limited in scope. Michael Cavanagh, co-Chairman of JPMorgan’s investment bank, led the “Task Force”. Cavanagh reports directly to Jamie Dimon and is both a longtime “lieutenant” and his possible successor[vi].
For Michael Cavanagh to be tasked with investigating another executive that reported directly to Jamie Dimon[vii] about losses in a unit that he knew, as early as 2010, appeared to have inadequate controls[viii] is more troubling. As former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt said, “It’s incomprehensible to me that they did these reports internally, it’s like asking Joe Paterno to do the Penn State [sexual abuse] investigation instead of [former FBI director] Louis Freeh… having picked Cavanagh to do this strikes me as potentially foolish in the extreme, the only reason you do a review this way is because you don’t want to find anything unduly damaging[ix].”
The Task Force Report
While we will offer some assessments of the primary content of the report it is important to recognize that, as is often the case, some of the most valuable information is buried in the footnotes. As a result, we will first focus on many of those items.
- Footnote 2: The description of “what happened” is not a technical analysis of the Synthetic Credit Portfolio or the price movements in the instruments held in the Synthetic Credit Portfolio. Instead, it focuses on the trading decision-making process and actions taken (or not taken) by various JPMorgan personnel. The description of activities described in this Report (including the trading strategies) is based in significant measure on the recollections of the traders (and in particular the trader who had day-to-day responsibility for the Synthetic Credit Portfolio and was the primary architect of the trades in question) and others. The Task Force has not been able to independently verify all of these recollections.
This footnote raises questions about the thoroughness of the investigation.
- Footnote 10: John Hogan, who succeeded Mr. Zubrow as the Firm’s Chief Risk Officer in January 2012, did not have sufficient time to ensure that the CIO Risk organization was operating, as it should. Nevertheless, the Task Force notes that there were opportunities during the first and second quarters of 2012 when further inquiry might have uncovered issues earlier.
While it may in fact be true that John Hogan did not have sufficient time to address the control problems in the CIO’s office, the reality remains that problems in risk management of the CIO’s office existed, and were known to the firm’s most senior management[x] possibly for several years prior to the 2012 trading losses. This reality calls into question the accuracy of the firm’s filings[xi] and compliance with Title III of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act[xii]. Investors may well wonder whether, as long as those weak controls were generating outsized profits; management was not interested in correcting those control weaknesses.
- Footnote 20: Although the Task Force has reviewed certain general background information on the origin of the Synthetic Credit Portfolio and its development over time, the Task Force’s focus was on the events at the end of 2011 and the first several months of 2012 when the losses occurred.
Did Securitization Lead to Riskier Corporate Lending? João Santos February 04, 2013 There’s ample evidence that securitization led mortgage lenders to take more risk, thereby contributing to a large increase in mortgage delinquencies during the financial crisis. In this post, I discuss evidence from a recent research study I undertook with Vitaly Bord…Read More