giovedì 6 maggio 2010

Repos per tutti! Il diavolo sta nei dettagli.

Vi ricordate i repos, gli accordi di riacquisto che hanno consentito a Lehman Brothers di nascondere il deterioramento del suo bilancio? Beh niente ne vieta l'uso e pare che siano ancora di gran moda, anzi se la storia ci insegna qualcosa probabilmente sono più di moda ora di qualche anno fa. Ne parla oggi il New York Times che scrive:

The dangers — real and potential — of trying to keep certain assets off the books were made painfully clear during the mortgage collapse. Many bankers thought they had carefully hedged against the risks posed by mortgage investments with other, offsetting trades. Many of those hedges didn’t work. The parties on the other side of the bank deals are often other banks, hedge funds or firms set up simply to service banks’ borrowing needs. They may or may not have full knowledge of how the banks record the transactions on their books. Bear Stearns, which collapsed into the arms of JPMorgan Chase, will be front and center during the hearing on Wednesday and Thursday. Five former Bear executives, including the bank’s one-time leader, James E. Cayne, are scheduled to testify before the panel.
In his prepared testimony, Mr. Cayne, Bear’s former chief executive, says that the firm collapsed because Bear’s clients withdrew assets and its lending partners canceled those loans, which were known as repurchase agreements.
“The market’s loss of confidence, even though it was unjustified and irrational, became a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Mr. Cayne’s testimony says. Before they ran into trouble, both Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers created so-called shadow financial vehicles. In 2001, Bear Stearns publicized a vehicle that it set up for its clients called Liquid Funding. Around the time, Lehman forged a close relationship with a small firm called Hudson Castle, which helped Lehman finance itself.
Such shadow vehicles typically employ repurchase agreements. Repos are a common tool that enable banks to sell assets with the promise to buy them back later. For accountants, the question is whether such deals should be recorded as loans or sales. That decision affects a financial company’s leverage ratio, which is a measure that is important to credit ratings agencies and investors.
Major banks like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs are examining how to use shadow vehicles to help them borrow money in the future. Such entities typically issue short-term I.O.U.’s to investors, and then use the proceeds to make loans to banks. One firm that has created such vehicles to lend to banks in the past is BSN Capital Partners, a firm in London.
For the S.E.C., the financial inquiry commission and, ultimately, investors, the question is whether such deals are transparent.
Window-dressing is so pervasive on Wall Street that some analysts said they have tools to pinpoint how much in assets investment banks are hiding.
Mr. Hintz of Sanford C. Bernstein compares the interest rate expense that firms pay with their assets to see if their interest payments indicate that they often have higher assets during their quarters than they list at quarter-end, he said. Susan G. Markel, a former chief accountant in the enforcement division of the S.E.C., said Lehman’s suspicious repo transaction had put the focus on other firms.
“Obviously, as these come to light, it makes you wonder what was really out there,” Ms. Markel said. 

Il NYTimes dedica altri due articoli al tema della riforma: uno sulla proposta di tassazione degli investimenti più rischiosi delle banche e un editoriale che incita il governo a procedere senza esitazione alla riforma finanziaria. Ecco quanto scrive il NYTimes a proposito dei derivati

DERIVATIVES The central reform of the multitrillion-dollar derivatives market would move most derivative trades, currently executed as private contracts, onto fully regulated exchanges. Banks have fought the change because it would impair their profits — and they have succeeded in carving out many exemptions. More proposed exemptions are expected, like for pension funds that use derivatives. The Senate needs to pare back the exemptions in the existing bill, not add more.
The Senate also should adopt an amendment by Maria Cantwell, a Democrat of Washington, that would make it easier for regulators to crack down on market manipulation in derivatives.
One of the most divisive issues in the Senate bill is a provision that could force big banks to spin off their lucrative derivative dealings. The provision was added to the bill late in the game, without hearings. Opponents fear that it would push derivatives deals into hedge funds or other entities that would be harder to regulate. Supporters say that the bill would adequately regulate derivative dealers wherever they are.
The Senate debate, and hearings that can be scheduled before the House and Senate produce final legislation, can help settle the issue. One thing is already sure: Unless senators close loopholes in derivatives rules and give regulators more powers to police the markets, they should not even think about removing the provision.
There are other big fights in store — on consumer and investor protection, regulation of hedge funds, support for regulatory agencies and reform of credit rating agencies. Each of them will test how serious the Senate, particularly the Democrats, are about this reform effort.

L'idea di standardizzare molti derivati e di creare un mercato regolamentato nel quale confluiscano la maggior parte degli scambi mi vede d'accordo da sempre. Ma sappiamo bene che the devil is in the details...

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